Thursday, September 03, 2009


A small cafe in a small town in the Aveyron, a department of South West France barely known to the outside world, including the rest of France. I like the cafe as I can have a coffee, check my email, and watch the world go by. It's clearly mobbed at night, judging by the various artefects, posters and gaming machines dotted about. The blue-smock-and-berets outside smoking this morning don't keep this place alive. And so far, there are no whisks.

There's an odd machine on the bar. A kind of silent digital Pachinko, but without the Japanese addicts, or the baskets of ball bearings. A man is playing in a crazed way, like a late night drunk with a world beating system. Nobody's paying him any attention.

The day, interspersed with rain, 3000 year old statues, spectacular new art and miniature horses, is odd to say the least. En route to dinner I pass a yellow skinned man talking to himself. Not on an iphone - common enough nowadays - but genuinely to himself. Loudly. He only registers because his skin colour.

Dinner is Farcous followed by duck confit with aligot, the cheese is Rebarbe (Roquefort mixed with creme freche and eau de vie) and the wine an Entraygues le Fel. But my eye is constantly drawn to the wall, to a frame containing kitchen implements, mostly whisks. It's the kind of thing you see in Paris and London, bought at car boot sales and designed to make a place look 'old'. This place is old, these things belong to the owner's mother. They're from her kitchen but that's not why I'm drawn to them.

I eventually twig. It's Worthing, one of God's Waiting Rooms on the Sussex Coast, whose genteel denizens were slowly invaded by outsiders who discovered they could claim their long term benefits by the seaside, rather than in a sink estate in the rain.

The whisks? There was a talent show along the south coast which ran for years, Search For A Star, where ancient acts would sing and dance and tell antedeluvian music hall jokes to dwindling audiences until somebody had the bright idea of making the audiences - fired up on lager - the stars. They'd ignore the acts, or jeer them, or read the papers in mid song. There would be organised mayhem, waving and general hilarity, including one night where the entire audience suddenly produced whisks and whirred them above their heads, to the complete bafflement of the act on stage.

It was just about the maddest event I've ever attended. Whisks just never seemed the same afterwards.

As I leave, le patron tells me his favourite customer is Jonathan Meades, the Times journalist and broadcaster who now lives in South West France and suddenly I'm whisked away (geddit?) to Mr Meades' shows, always a delight, and impressed that he likes the same scoff as me.

I'm staying on a high floor and there's a noise outside, from the bar downstairs. A madman is raving at some dark skinned customers, aiming his fingers at them in mock execution, screaming abuse and wandering into the middle of the road, pretending to gun down passing motorists, cocking his fingers, shouting rat-a-ta-tat at all and sundry, looking mad and crazy and constantly coming back to the bar to shout more abuse. It goes on and on and on. A common enough city sight, but incongruous here.

It is, I finally realise, the pachinko playing yellow skinned nutter, now transformed through drink to a demon. It is a sight to make most Americans shudder, their lax laws on handguns have caused many deaths, as he picks off everyone who comes within range. Ptshouw! Ptshouw!

I watch as the police arrive, slow down, stop, and observe. He's relatively quiet, his back turned but still in the middle of the road doing the driveby shooting. The police decide it's not one for them and drive off. He turns and aims at them. Ptshouw!

Mr Jaundice Banshee continues his wailing, shooting, dancing and saluting. I, however, am whisked off to sleep.

Did you see what I did there?

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