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PLACE: The village. One of France's most beautiful. It's official. As you drive into the village there are plaques reading Un des Plus Beaux Villages de France. There are only 143 others in all France.

OCCASION: The annual conventi

PLACE: The village. One of France's most beautiful. It's official. As you drive into the village there are plaques reading Un des Plus Beaux Villages de France. There are only 143 others in all France.

OCCASION: The annual convention of the Most Beautiful Villages of France Association. They've chosen to come to us for the weekend. Many of the maires of the 143 other villages are expected too. We're promised at least 40. The village is en fête. Magic wands have been waved, clearing away fly posters, repainting white lines on the roads, removing graffiti, laying fresh gravel in the car park. Volunteers have cleaned out the museum, three days' worth of sweat and toil. The village really does look very fine. Everything's on show, including the church organ - so special that it's listed as an Historic Instrument - and the archaeological dig. A guided tour of the village is laid on for the distinguished visitors. As Titular Organist I've been detailed to man the organ when the tour drops in at the church for a minute or two, no earlier than 5.30.

WEATHER: Perfect. Brilliant warm spring sunshine. Josephine (Titular Organist's Assistant) and I are reluctant to leave the garden. However, at

5.00: we get ready. There's plenty of time, quite enough to scrub hands, get out of gardening clothes and into something smarter, stroll down to the village, collect the church key from the Office du Tourisme.

5.24: There's a mini-crowd, twelve or so, milling about outside the Office de Tourisme. Strange. We expected more, at least fifty. They're wearing suits or posh frocks, not a common village sight. We recognise the village councillors, but there's also the President of the Conseil Général, something like a county council chairman in the UK. We know him from his picture on posters all over the département. A VIP. But where are all the others?

5.25: We greet Emilie, the ever-smiling receptionist at the Office du Tourisme. Bise, bise. (La bise is the kiss on each cheek, a French custom few expats, even those who cling desperately to the apron-strings of Britishness, are slow to adopt.) She gives me the church key. It's massive. St Peter would have had a boy to carry it for him.

5.26: We plod up the 65 flagstone steps of the escalier noir, an ancient vaulted six-flight stairway. It's one of the village's main thoroughfares. Usually it stinks of cats. Today it's been miraculously sanitized. Magic wands have cleared away the fag-ends and lager cans too.

5.27: Into the church. It's dark and dank. Some of the lights don't work. No magic wands here, it seems.

5.28: Up yet more steps and through a sort of gate to the organ loft. There's a small space on either side of the console, a bit like the wings of a ship's bridge. I arrange myself at the organ, Josephine passes behind ready to pull stops, we switch on. The organ creaks and puffs into life.

5.29: Josephine whispers "They're here!" Panic. They're here? Already? They can't be: this is the land of le petit quart d'heure méditerranéen, the Mediterranean 15 minutes' grace between the announced beginning of any event and its actual start. My music's in its usual disorder. Top of the pile is a gavotte by S.S.Wesley. It's a slight piece, reasonably cheerful. I grab at it and get going.

5.30: A photographer appears, nosing over the gate like Chad in the wartime cartoons. I grin maniacally at him, like the naked organist in Monty Python. Josephine hides round the corner, the far wing of the bridge. I'm stopless. I bring the gavotte to an early close.

5.31: More footsteps. More panic. No time to find a suitable piece to show off the organ. I start to improvise. What comes out is loud, fast, modern, rhythmic. Somehow it gets more and more complex, requiring hands and both feet. I squirm about on the bench as though devoured by ants. The maire appears through the gate, followed by an almost spherical man I've never seen before. The photographer is still there, flashing away. I bring my improvisation to its climax, a dramatic 12-note chord, just as the President of the Conseil Général appears, smiling genially and holding his hand out to be shaken. I suppose it's instinctive among politicians. They can't help it. A good thing I'm not a brain surgeon or tic-tac man in full flow. Anyway, my improvisation collapses. Another early close. At least it gives an opportunity for introductions all round. The spherical gentleman turns out to be president of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.

5.34: The President thanks me and takes his leave with a courtly mes hommages, Madame to Josephine and by

5.35: they've all gone. Phew. We shut down, put the lights out, lock up and trot down to the mairie, where we've been invited, as Titular Organist and Titular Organist's Assistant, to the 6.00 reception. Gradually the guests gather, including the village tour leader and his flock. There are accusing looks. He's not pleased. I've let the side down. Where were you, then? he asks. And your recital? We waited a good ten minutes outside the church. If I'd known I'd have taken them to the museum.

I raise my eyebrows. I think of the unimpeachable witnesses I can call. Were there two tours? The culprits turn out to be the President of the Conseil Général and his entourage. Fish out of water in our deep rurality, they've arrived late and will leave as soon as decently possible. They've missed the official tour. Somebody has cajoled them into at least visiting the church.

We were on duty again the next night, not as Titular Organist plus Assistant, but as Les Jeudistes, a 10-strong choir I conduct. For their final get-together The Plus Beaux Villages troops were dining at a favourite restaurant, a heavenly place run by a Danish family. We were engaged to give a short surprise programme at about 10.00, between the main course and the cheese. So we dressed up (red tops, black skirts/trousers), turned up, warmed up and waited . . . and waited . . . and waited, thankful at least that nobody had suggested that to preserve the element of surprise we should be wheeled in in a sort of Trojan Cake out of which we would all jump at a given signal.

No such diversion. All we could find in our waiting room to pass the time was the family Trivial Pursuit set, in Danish. We'd just about worked out the first question, what is the capital of Liechtenstein? - when we were called in, 40 minutes late. Having sung a suitable selection of raunchy-ish Renaissance part-songs we sat down to our own supper at 10.55. Andrew, 2nd bass and mighty eater, sat between Monica (1st soprano) and Barbara (2nd alto). Monica doesn't drink alcohol, so her portions found their way to Andrew. Barbara wasn't hungry, and passed her helpings to him. Sometimes things are worth waiting for. And the capital of Liechtenstein is Vaduz, but I couldn't say that in Danish.