I received an MMS message on my phone the other day from my friend Tim with the above picture of French onion soup and accompanying text saying “Beep, Beep”. I know, sounds odd right? Well it made me laugh out loud as it transported me back to a very unusual holiday.
My Mother owns a cottage in Normandy, France and one summer about 10 of us went to visit. My friend Tim decided to come along as he is a keen runner/cyclist and this particular area of France attracts this ilk of people. Tim is the sort of person who does ironman triathlons and runs or cycles everyday. On a Sunday morning his girlfriend (who also has a fitness fetish) turns to him on waking and says “Let’s go for a 20 mile run”. This kind of insane behaviour is lost on me.
Anyway off we all went to sunny Normandy to my Mothers cottage which before renovated used to be (many years ago) the cafe which served the train station. Across the way is a stunning house (the old train station) which has been beautifully renovated by a local French man named Claude. Now this particular afternoon as we were all drinking wine, eating crusty bread with brie and being the pretentious English snobs on holiday, Claude made an appearance to say hello to my Mum. My first impression was “Oh my God he looks like Anthony Perkins from the movie Psycho” He had a very dark and menacing look which made me think ‘serial killer’. My Mum did her usual effervescent ‘look at me talking French with the locals but only in present tense mind you’ and proceeded to chat in her flouncy manner to her neighbour. The dark eyes of Claude kept roaming over and staring at me and my family and friends in an odd way.
“Why did he keep looking over at us?” I asked my Mother when he had left.
“Oh, well, Claude likes dancing and I told him that you’re a really good salsa dancer and ceroc is a big thing here too and he might take you along next time” she said.
“ERRR...tell me you’re joking and you DID NOT say that to him...” I begged.
“Oh don’t worry, I don’t think he understood me anyway” she breezed in her usual, dismissive manner.
Seriously my Mother never thinks before opening her mouth but I hoped her pigeon French may have been lost on Mr dark and broody.
Anyway, the day turned into evening with fun and copious amounts of wine and I started to get that ‘I’ve been drinking all day, fuzzy warm feeling’ that lends itself well to the holiday environment. All of a sudden at 10 pm there was a knock at the door. Guess who?
Yep! Joy of joy, there stood Claude, suited and booted all ready, apparently to take me to a French discotheque. When my Mother informed me that this was why he was here I wanted to seek immediate legal advice about divorcing parents.
“I can’t believe you’ve done this to me!” I hissed “How can I go to a bloody disco at this time of night? I’m half cut already and he’s odd! You’re my MOTHER. Your job is to protect me from this sort of thing not encourage it!”
I looked at Tim and said in my bossiest voice “Get.ready.now.I’m.not.going.on.my.own.”
“But....Ju....I’m lathered...O..K then” he conceded.
So, I quickly slipped into my party frock and heels all the time practising new and wonderful curse words under my breath about the feelings I had towards my lovely Mummy.
Into Claude’s car we got and travelled what seemed like a million miles away, down unlit, winding country roads. I tried very hard to talk to Claude in my best French but when I’ve had a drink my languages get amalgamated into a mixture of French/Italian/Spanish. I like to call it Splinglish and I have got it off to a tee. Ergo, Claude just looked at me vacantly with the dark eyes of a demon.
We eventually arrived at what I can only describe as a large bungalow in the middle of a field. The fee was extortionate as were the drinks but Tim and I decided alcohol was worth every penny on this occasion. We got seated with some of Psycho’s friends and on came the music. Now, when I think disco I assume the usual loud thumping dance tracks that transport you into oblivion. No. First, it seemed a little ballroom and latin American were what got the French into the mood. Unfortunately, for me in particular (yet again) Claude’s little plump friend who was about 4’10” and came up to my chest, seemed to take a liking to the pasadoble. Specifically with me. As I half drunkenly did the two step with my hobbit, all I could see was Tim helpless with laughter at the moronic sight before his eyes. Oh, how I loathed my family and friends right now. Eventually after much salsa and French jiving along came the proper disco. Tim and I got up to dance to tracks we recognised and found that the DJ too, was very peculiar. Every 2 minutes he would stop the track, blow a whistle and everyone in the room shouted “Beep, Beep” at the top of their voices. I had to check I was actually drinking vodka and not on some sort of hallucinogenic. These people were actually quite mad.
At 4 am it was time to leave and Tim and I got into Claude’s car and travelled towards home. Now in this part of France it is normal to eat onion soup in the middle of the night after partying. Apparently it stops hangovers and it is also rude to refuse should someone offer. As soon as we reached Claude’s house he turned to me and said in his only spoken English “Onion soup?”
“NO,NO,NO” slurred Tim. “ I’m knackered. I’m going to bed. I’m pissed”
“We HAVE to!” I urged “It’s rude not to and he’s paid for everything. We’ll just eat it fast and leave” I promised.
In we went ‘Chez Claude’ and he took Tim on a tour of his train station house. Whilst Tim looked through the doors of each room praising Claude’s interior design he left his other arm out of the room gesticulating at me with his fingers for making him face the ordeal of onion soup. I found this hilarious. I think I’d reached the stage of relentless hysteria and couldn’t stop myself from laughing especially when Claude started to chop onions and make his soup from scratch.
“JESUS! It’s not even out of a frikkin tin! We have to wait for him to make it!!!” spat Tim in drunken stupor.
I still had the giggles as I wandered round the house looking at Claude’s lovely rooms until I came to the cellar and found myself instantly sobering up. There, next to his cider press, stood a coat stand with his DEAD Mothers fur coat on it next to an empty rocking chair. PSYCHO. He is Norman Bates!. I really thought at this stage that I was going to end up dead and be the fermentation for next years cider.
Thankfully, the onion soup was now ready and I began eating mine like a parched dog, eager to get away from this madness. Tim, poor lamb, picked up the salt pot to add some seasoning to his and the lid fell off into the bowl along with half a pot of salt! Ha! Karma!
“You must eat it or he will think you don’t like it!” I said. And he did, trying desperately not to vomit after each spoonful. I don’t believe I’ve ever heard anyone use so many expletives.
Unfortunately, on our way back over to my Mum’s cottage for some much needed sleep Tim threw up about every 4 seconds.
I tell you what though. Neither of us had a hangover in the morning!