DOWN TO the mairie for a Sunday morning meeting of the CEPDOL, an acronym so convoluted that all I can tell you about it is that the C stands for Comité. It's the village amenities committee. Nowhere else in the world would su
DOWN TO the mairie for a Sunday morning meeting of the CEPDOL, an acronym so convoluted that all I can tell you about it is that the C stands for Comité. It's the village amenities committee. Nowhere else in the world would such a body meet on a Sunday morning. I don't know why Josephine and I are on it. Token foreigners, probably. We take our seats unobtrusively. The average age must be 65 at the very least. If it were a school we'd be in the infants.
There's a packed agenda. The meeting is strictly run by a no-nonsense chairman, but there's a conflict of wills from the start. The floor wants to talk about the mess of bottles, cans and fag-ends the youth of the village leaves in one of the main thoroughfares which, because part of the village is perched on a steep rock, is in fact an ancient enclosed stairway, 6 flights of substantial stone flags. Fingers are pointed, stances are taken, names are named. Solutions in varying degrees of daftness are proposed: CEPDOL members, in passing, should make the delinquents aware of their social responsibilities. Sensibiliser is the verb used, to make aware of, usually against one's will. H'm. The maire, present in an advisory role, suggests writing to the collège. Who is headmaster of the collège? Why, the maire. So it goes on, and it isn't until someone suggests providing a litter bin that the chairman feels he can move on to his pet aversion, the village cats.
Cats overrun certain areas of the village, mangy, ill-favoured strays relying for survival on the kind hearts and handouts of some of the villagers. But the chairman has a Cunning Plan: if CEPDOL bought cages, say 3, then any member with five minutes on his/her hands could nab a stray, stuff it into a CEPDOL cage and haul it off to the vet's for a quick snip. He'd negotiated a special price for sterilisation – but only for toms. Females were more complicated, and beyond CEPDOL's means. So any member would need to inspect their catch to make certain they hadn't inadvertently nabbed a female. What was more, any member would have to be careful not to nab a tom that had been done already. To the lay CEPDOL eye, there wasn't all that much visible difference between a neutered tom and a female, particularly if the coat was fluffy. Moreover, CEPDOL's writ ran only in the village: members must be aware of the legal implications of catching cats from neighbouring communes, presumably enjoying a free run of the local talent.
Hitherto hushed, the meeting erupted with objections. Never mind fleas, never mind tetanus-rife claws, what about any less sensibilisé'd villager borrowing a cage, putting his own cat in it, and profiting from a cut-price job? But we were thinking of dolly catches like Old Deuteronomy, getting on a bit, not quite so nimble, a bit tottery on his pins, asking no more of life than to sleep in the sun dreaming sweetly of past conquests: the clang of the cage, the scent of formaldehyde, the needle in the shoulder, etc. etc. For the fifth time. I think the village cats will be there for some time.
THE LOCAL paper reported our choir's Christmas concert by claiming that the church was too small to hold the audience, which would have been true if many of the seats hadn't been occupied by the singers themselves in between non-choir items. Since then they've shown less enthusiasm for singing than for eating and drinking.
First, there was Le Gâteau des Rois. This happens every Epiphany, which lasts at least three weeks here. No social or corporate gathering at this time of year is complete without a circular bun, sprinkled with coloured sugar. Up-market Epiphany buffs may get theirs in puff pastry and à la frangipane, with almond paste, but either way one of the segments has a fève hidden in it, usually a china favour. The lucky finder announces the discovery joyfully – if he/she hasn't broken a tooth on it – and gets to wear the paper crown included in the pack. We had to curtail the first choir rehearsal of the year for this age-old ceremony. Unthinkable, of course, to nibble at your segment of Le Gâteau des Rois without some lubrication, so the choir got through several bottles of Blanquette de Limoux, a sort of country cousin of champagne, and Jacquot (pron. 'zhacko'), one of our basses, won the crown and drove home wearing it.
Not to be outdone, Edmond, another bass about the same age as Old Deuteronomy, announced the following week that after 57 years of refusal he'd finally decided to accept la médaille militaire he'd been cited for in respect of an act of great courage for the Resistance in 1944. Not even going to Paris to receive his decoration from the hands of the President would give him as much pleasure as fêting his beloved choir in real champagne. So the corks popped and the bubbles winked and the laughter pealed and we all felt very proud of having a Resistance hero in our midst even if it had taken us half a century to realise it.
Could Edmond be the man to deal with the village cats?
WHAT SHALL we celebrate next? The winners of the little competitions I set recently, perhaps? Tony Ford of Surrey, UK, clearly a man with a fine eye for language and ear for music (maybe you'd like to come and sing with us?) successfully disentangled December's phonetic Rou-oka maï sa-oule ine ze bou-zeun ové bra-eum to reveal 'Rock my soul in the bosom of Abraham', a choir favourite; and the cosmopolitan Philip Humphries of Seattle, USA, won the January competition, first reader to identify Montpellier as the French city with a hospital called Guy de Chauliac and as the place where the man the French call Sharlockoms studied coal-tar derivatives. Bravo, Philippe: a chocolate cicada is on its way to you. Bon appetit!