Biarritz has beaten Bayonne and the whole town is alive, vibrant with Saturday night revelling as rugby fans celebrate their local Derby victory. Horns toot and blare, the team anthem is playing from every passing car, people are dancing in the street.
For reasons completely unknown to me many of the red and white support are dressed as Indian Chiefs - full feather headress and warpaint - their wives as squaws. Inside our little bodega the sangria is flowing the paella being scoffed (we are in basque country after all) while outside a little old man dressed head to toe in team colours is waving a red and green version of the Union Jack* and despite his years moving to the music with impeccable grace and quite stylish timing. It is fiesta time. Twickenham, with its loud and leery drunks, was never, ever like this.
The team truck passes with a sound system blasting out the anthem and we repair to another bodega where what appears to be the team are making merry with hundreds of supporters , dancing and singing, waving at passing cars and buses who're blasting their horns now. There are children leaping around, their mothers dancing, their fathers maybe just tapping their toes.
We leave them to it and wander away, passing smaller bars which echo the noise. We are in party town, quite by accident, so rather than go straight home, we're drawn towards a karaoke bar, The Queen, where we have noticed more merrymaking. Inside, a small squad of camp followers, not attached to rugby proceedings, are belting out French and English songs with aplomb, putting their body and soul into it. We have stumbled across "France's Got Talent" and it is wonderful. We have a little grandstand seat and we watch and listen in awe as torch songs echo around the walls, long forgotten french classics see the light of day again, and the occasional Elvis number is enthusiastically performed, complete with finger pointing, fancy footwork, and a snarled lip.
The door opens and in stumble what appear to be rugby revellers, about twelve of them, and they colonise the bar, mincing and preening as they imitate the singers. But they're not rugger buggers, they're a British Stag Night, and they're out for a laugh.
We fall into conversation as they basically take over the bar, much to the annoyance of other customers and staff. Individually, they're all very nice, if a little pissed, but collectively they're givin it large, dismissing the singers as 'pricks' and 'dicks', generally mooning and dancing like Noel Gallagher on a bad day. They try to get their names down to sing but madame, she 'eez 'aving none of it, and a boisterous discussion takes place with the Englanders declaring that it's 'not right' that they're not being allowed to sing, that it's discrimination not to have any English songs sung, and, oh, something else of great import to a bunch of normal guys who've been necking lager since they got off the easyjet.
Madame relents under management pressure and the lads sing. Or rather they get hold of the mikes. They are shit. I mean, really really incomprehensibly embarrassing shit, incapable of singing a single note in tune between them. They roll around the bar, arms around shoulders and generally shout and ball until madame loses it, switches off the track and the barman walks out in search of the gendarmerie. The lads think this is just not on and protest, but sense that it might be time to head off. We are invited to the wedding next week, we shake hands with all of them and promise to meet up the following day (yeah, sure guys). But we politely decline the call to attend other bars, despite my partner being described as a 'fit bird' by a man whose weekday life, we are sure, is spent within the confines of The City.
The bar is quiet, the crowd now depleted, then Biarritz's own Marc Almond gets up and the air is filled with camp melodrama again. He's followed immediately by an emotional duet, and then a riveting performance of 'Suspicious Minds' which has us on our feet. cheering and clapping and demanding an encore, before deciding that, at 2am, it might be time to head home.
* The Ikurrina, unofficial flag of Basque national Autonomy.