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Three Fetes
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Strange things began to happen around me. People became excited and fetched other people who became even more excited.

Did I want to play football, they asked? Of course I did, I replied, I love a kick about.

And the wine flowed and the fromage arrived and glazed apple tart and more wine. By the time the eau de vie made its rounds I would have agreed to anything. Unfortunately it appeared I already had.

I was sure I had said, "I had professional trials when I was fifteen." However, I began to have a nasty suspicion it had been interpreted as, "I was a professional footballer for fifteen years." A subtle difference.

And as I later found out, I hadn't been invited to a kick about either. There would be no sweaters rolled up for goalposts on the village green. I'd signed up to play for Racing Club, the local team. With my forty-first birthday fast approaching and not having kicked a ball for four years, and then not particularly well, I was about to make my league debut in French soccer.

But with the warm glow of red wine and general bonhomie abounding, what did I care? I loved football and there was plenty of time to get fit for the new season. And there were definite advantages - Racing Club were having a fête next week and we were both invited.

My memories of the latter stages of the fête start to fade at this point. I remember the coffee coming round and something to do with sugar lumps. Unfortunately Shelagh remembers it all. And frequently fills in the gaps.

I blame it all on the eau de vie.

Which is a kind of home-brewed schnapps. And amazingly legal. It's a strange quirk of French law - undoubtedly Napoleonic - that certain French families were given the right to distil liquor. A right handed down through the generations, so that most communities have an eau de vie man. Who can generally be recognised by a certain dissolute appearance and a large number of friends.

I am told I had eau de vie in my coffee. Followed by eau de vie neat. And finally eau de vie on sugar lumps - which apparently is the traditional way of taking it. A bit like tequila with salt and lemon, I suppose.

Shelagh tried to stop me but when her own coffee was threatened with topping up she was distracted long enough for the damage to be done. It's amazing how quick people can be with a doctored sugar lump.

We didn't stay for the boules. I remember zigzagging up a hill but had to be told about collapsing through the front door.

The next thing I remember was being woken up that evening by a set of blaring car horns. I'd been happily negotiating the purchase of an end terrace crayfish when suddenly the street exploded in a wall of sound. I staggered to our bedroom window half asleep and peered out at two cars and a drive full of people.

Shelagh called up, "It's for you," and promptly disappeared into the lounge with Gypsy. I don't think I had yet been forgiven for the excesses of the afternoon.

But I was sobering up fast. There's nothing like two car loads of strange men appearing unexpectedly at your house to flush the alcohol from your brain.

I opened the door, not sure whether this was the boules committee on a dusk raid or a team of Joan of Arc's hit men. I was ready to deny all knowledge of ever owning coloured plastic boules - Ce n'est pas moi, I was ready to shout. But I didn't have to. It was the football team. They'd come to fetch me. The bar was open and festivities underway.

I was dragged off.

As I said, I'm not very good at refusing a drink. And even worse in a foreign language.

I thought I heard the words 'Oh God' emanate from the lounge as the car pulled away.

The church square had been transformed since the afternoon. For one thing it was darker. On a more substantive note, the trestle tables had gone, the bar pulled away from the shade of the tree and enlarged considerably. A small stage had appeared with speakers and microphones and someone had lit a bonfire.

Oh my God!

I might have known. I'd seen the film. The newcomer feted, given food and drink and asked to join the football team and then just when he's starting to enjoy himself - it's human sacrifice time. And I had been cast as this year's Joan.

As we approached closer, I could see figures running - or were they dancing - around the bonfire. There was so much noise and so many people in the way it was hard to tell. I was just wondering what the French for coven was when a woman burst into our group and grabbed the face of the man next to me. When she took her hands away his cheeks had turned black.

I was no longer interested in the French for coven.

I was desperately trying to remember the English for that flesh-eating bug that was all the rage a few years back. Didn't that eat people's faces and turn them black?

Or was that a film I'd seen about zombies?