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 The voice on the telphone said Venez déjeuner, monsieur. Come for breakfast. We like to finish each job with a meal. It's just a little custom we have. Please join us. We'll expect you about 7.30. D'accord? 

 The voice on the telphone said Venez déjeuner, monsieur. Come for breakfast. We like to finish each job with a meal. It's just a little custom we have. Please join us. We'll expect you about 7.30. D'accord? 

I replied Oui, d'accord, merci and put the phone down, wondering what I was letting myself in for. Breakfast? I couldn't remember ever having received an invitation to breakfast before. I noted the time, place and date with a publicity pen my breakfast host had given me, one of several he had showered on me in a sudden burst of generosity. A kindly nature, evidently. It it wasn't breakfasts he was giving away, it was pens. The barrel was decorated with seagulls, birds we never see in this part of France, flying about or perched morosely on mooring posts, on either side of the inscription, Bernard Julié, Parqueteur and his telephone number in Mazamet, a medium-sized market town in the Tarn département. 

A parqueteur is a floor specialist. M. Julié had been contracted to sand, seal and vitrify the wooden floors of a house belonging to some friends while they were away. I'm not sure that 'vitrify' exists in English, at least not in the sense I'm looking for, but it's the most convenient translation I can come up with for vitrifier, meaning to spread evenly over the floor a noisome substance looking like treacle which hardens into a glossy non-slip surface like a school gym at the start of term. So 'vitrify' it is: why use thirty words when one will do? The realisation comes to me that all this cod narrative, taking about a hundred words to explain how to reduce thirty words to one, is in itself a metaphor for the science of economics.  

However, I was really much more concerned about an invitation to breakfast, particularly a French breakfast. No Frenchman is proud of his breakfast. If they exist at all French breakfasts tend to be furtive, hurried, hole-and-corner affairs, a rusk or a croissant dunked in a cereal-sized bowl of chocolate or coffee, not the sort of thing you invite guests to. There's a growing market for children's breakfast cereals, which have an unfortunate tendency to be given names that make British kids on holiday in France roll about the supermarket aisles helpless with laughter, names like Plopsies or Jobiz. I was fairly certain that this sort of thing wouldn't be on M. Julié's menu, but all the same I took the precaution of stoking up with porridge, tea, toast and marmalade, and I set off, expecting to be back well in time for mid-morning coffee.   

It had been arranged that I should lock up when M. Julié and his henchman Denis had finished. The job had come to an end the day before, the final drying had taken place overnight, and when I arrived at 7.30 M. Julié had replaced the last of the furniture and was loading his van, a plain white Citroën van disappointingly free of seagulls.  I hardly dared set foot on his beautiful floor, which gleamed and shone like burnished copper; not a speck of dust, a smear, a smudge, a ragged edge anywhere. A truly professional, perfectionist piece of work. I picked my way from mat to mat to reach the table, completely unprepared for the surprise that was to follow. 

We sat down just as the church clock was striking eight. From the capacious cool-box that French tradesmen take about with them M. Julié produced plates, cutlery, glasses and napkins. A fresh flûte, a loaf almost a metre long, lay on the table all ready. He served the first course, jambon de montagne, centimetre-thick slices of upland ham, dark and succulent, a good chew needing something to lubricate it, so the first bottle appeared, a 2-year-old Côtes du Rhone. The French have a habit of half-filling your wineglass and keeping it at that level through frequent toppings-up, so that it's difficult to keep track of how much you've drunk. 

The conversation was lively and unflagging. It turned out that Denis, M. Julié's ouvrier or assistant, had worked on the North Sea oil rigs for some years. He knew Aberdeen well, particularly Pittodrie, the Aberdeen football ground, and recalled the great days when the Dons under Alex Ferguson, long before he was translated to Manchester United, carried all before them, including the European Cup Winners' Cup, the heady days of Strashang and Arshibal, and it took me a moment to identify these as Strachan and Archibald. There's always a comfortable feeling when people come out with small-worldisms like this: you don't feel such a stranger, you feel that at heart there's no lack of bridges between people if only they'll take the trouble to look for them. Of course, a glass of wine at 8.30 in the morning helps these lofty visions along tremendously. 

And not just one. A second bottle appeared with the assiette paysanne, a super-salad of sliced sausage, tomatoes, cucumber, three varieties of lettuce, sliced onion, gherkins, beetroot, a few olives, chick peas, shredded celery, with plenty of bread to wipe up the dressing. Sardines followed, and more bread. Cheese, and more wine. Fruit. Finally coffee, unexpectedly good from a flask, at about 11.30, when I was beginning to feel breathless, if not vitrified. I couldn't have swallowed anything, not even my own words about the direness of ordinary French breakfasts.

We cleared away, consigning the débris and empty bottles to the poubelle, the village wheelie-bin. I locked up as promised, thanked them for allowing me to share their little custom, and we shook hands. I knew where I was going: for an unashamed midday snooze. As for M. Julié and Denis, they had other fish to fry. They had another job to start in the afternoon, but meantime they were going home to Mazamet. For lunch. I raised an eyebrow. For lunch? 

"Oui, monsieur," M. Julié said. "Another little custom . . ."