All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Thursday, 31 December 2009

Here comes Hogmanay on the half shell

Belon oystersImage via Wikipedia
This is the time of year when French hospital emergency departments are on standby. Not for traffic accidents, but for the incidence of 'oyster knife through the palm of the hand, having drink taken'.

I think myself that the problem is not so much opening the things, but trying to impress the assembled company by doing it at speed, having left the whole operation until the guests arrive rather than, as I favour, wrestling with the brutes shortly before. This gives me time to pick out all the flakes of shell, put the six tea towels that I have used into the wash, and change my clothes. It is a messy operation. I used to have an electric gadget which sawed away at the shells, but it became overheated. I know how it felt.

When we used to go to New Year parties got up by friends using the village hall, I used to watch, amazed, as Frederic or Georges would manage what amounted to a production line, managing closed oyster, oyster knife, oyster duly opened and a glass of Muscadet at the same time. I would have needed as many arms as an Indian goddess, but they managed with the regulation two.

The days of those events are over. The drink driving laws, for a start...and for a finish. Didier is convinced that the gendarmerie, previously relaxed about the coincidence of alcohol and steering wheels, became vicious once the bars were closed down in the gendarmerie barracks, thus their eagerness to breathalyse anything that moves.

Life is difficult enough at the back end of the year. I was warned when I first moved to France not to go into the local town on Friday afternoons in November and December, as the gendarmerie would be trying to pick up on the points and penalties they had been too idle to collect in the rest of the year, and it seemed to be true. Every layby had its' gendarme and pocketbook.

The gendarmerie station in St. Ragondin excelled itself and entered local legend by asking the maire for a special visit by the dustmen to pick up the debris from their New Year party. The dustcart arrived, enormous quantities of bottles were loaded up, and then some bright little gendarme gave the dustmen a ticket because one of the dustcart's tyres was bald. They've been taking their own bottles to the dump ever since.

Two years ago, we ventured out to visit friends on the other side of the nearest town just before New Year, and, coming back in the early hours, were surprised to find all the street lights out. Slowing to a crawl, we became aware that there were lines of paddy waggons in the off street parking, and promptly turned tail to take the ten kilometre deviation through the lanes and villages to get home.

The neighbour had not been so lucky. He had driven through the town and at the roundabout had had the shock of a man wearing a balaclava and armed with a sub machine gun jumping out in front of his car. Convinced he was in the presence of some terrorist, he stopped, only to find that this was a gendarmerie exercise against drink driving.
What amazes me is that the idiot responsible for that good idea assumed that one would stop the car when faced with an unidentified assailant, rather than driving straight over him. Still, I'm forgetting, this is France.

With all this in place, you would have to be mad to go out to a restaurant to celebrate New Year's Eve if you intended to drink more than one glass of wine, as the gendarmerie - surprisingly - know where the restaurants are and where to lurk to breathalyse their customers.
Going to visit friends to celebrate now involves a great deal of mapwork down the lanes and the tracks across the vineyards...just like going to the distillery used to, but this time at night, with more than one glass of wine having been accepted and a torch which is bound to fail at the wrong moment.
It is all too stressful.

We've had our days or muscadet and oysters. We know that 2010 will arrive even if we are in bed at the time. The arrival of a first footer with coal and whisky is highly unlikely. There is no Andy Stewart and the White Heather Club - thankfully - so we're having friends over for a Balti at lunchtime and a quiet drink before bedtime, all to ourselves.

I reckon that the only thing in France that will be lit up tonight will be the Eiffel tower.

A very happy New Year to you.
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  1. And a very happy New Year to you too.

  2. Pueblo girl, thank you! How is the puppy house training getting along?

  3. I'm with you on not bothering to wait up until midnight before celebrating. When I was younger it was unthinkable not to see Big Ben chiming away on tv. Now we are usually wakened by the fireworks going off in the town - having gone to bed about 10.

    As for the gendarmes - we were told by a local bar owner that if they see someone driving slowly they seldom stop them - assuming (probably quite rightly) that the driver is a bit merry. Maybe it's only round here they are too lazy to book anyone; famous last words ,eh? I'll probably get stopped everywhere I go now.

    Anyway, my lovely bloggy friend whom I one day hope to meet, have a good French year ahead


  4. French Fancy, yours must still be in the old mould. Lucky you. Round here they are, as Didier says, vicious.
    Mr. Fly nearly got himself hauled off to the cop shop at one of the controls last year, because his window had stuck so he opened the door, nearly felling the gendarme! There was an awful lot of noise and fury, in the midst of which they forgot to breathalyse him or ask for his papers.

    I've had such fun reading your blog, and wish you all the best in the year ahead.

  5. Your little town sounds like a blast! We don't go out anymore either on NY's Eve. It's too dangerous to drive on the 31st.
    We just have a monstrous family party and then we all stay overnight.
    Tomorrow, my FIL will be opening the oysters with a massive hangover. Hope he doesn't wind up in the ER.
    Meilleurs Voeux!

  6. Wishing you all the best for 2010 you and yours. My new year's resolution is to pop over straightaway...when someone leaves a comment...

    I'm amazed by the attitude of the gendarmes. Times are a'changing. Don't know what we'll do. For the most part I'm enjoying reading C.J. Sansom's "Winter in Madrid". If you haven't read is excellent. Enthralling and it conjures up Old Madrid very well.

    It's snowy here once again so no first footers unless they are Reivers' ghosts. I should imagine! Hxx

  7. Dedene, just bring out all the tea towels you have as a buffer between the oyster and his hand!
    The best new year we had was in the Ardennes with a huge family need to go outside the door except for more wood!
    Happy New Year.

    Hadraina's Treasures, so you won't be answering the door at midnight, then, just in case....
    Have a super New Year, may everything you wish for come about.
    I'm wishing for someone to knock on the door and demand to buy my house.
    It's time to downsize.
    Well, I can wish!
    I will add the book to my next order...getting through the current lot alarmingly rapidly.

  8. This is my 3rd attempt at a comment this evening..and I haven't even had a drink!
    I agree it's wise not to drive on New Years Eve. The jandarma here are much the same.
    I've only tried oysters once and didn't like them, which is just as well as I'm pretty clumsy with knives!

    Have a good evening and a very Happy New Year xxx

  9. Ayak, interesting how the name is the same as well, isn't it?
    I wasn't keen on oysters the first time, but they grew on me rapidly...then I moved to France and went off them, mostly because I was eating them in the winter. Then the family came on holiday and brought some back from the coast on a flaming July day...and they were delicous, so I went back on them again.
    Fickle or what?
    With you on knives...seen those pictures of Shia pilgrims? That can be me on a bad day piecing up the poultry!
    Happy New Year and for goodness' sake get that drink into know it makes sense.

  10. Perhaps I should give oysters another go..I'll just get someone else to open them for me. My knives are always blunt..deliberately. Unfortunately, my friend who was here until yesterday always insists on sharpening them for me so I'm having to be careful now!

    Just about to have that drink! Cheers!

  11. Ayak, they reckon you can do more damage to yourself with a blunt knife than a sharp one. Be careful...I want to be reading your blog next year and you can't type without fingers!

  12. France South - The Blog, and all the best to you.
    You cover an interesting area, though I haven't been down there for ages.
    I never found out while I was there, but are there actually little mutton pies sold at Pezenas?

  13. Yes, I've had them. Delicious. Happy New Year to you.

  14. Rosie, the pies? That's great, I always thought they were one of these culinary legends.
    Did you ever find the CD of carols?

  15. Happy new year Helen,may it bring you both health and happiness xxx

  16. Roz, thank you. Best wishes for a new year that brings your dreams alive.

  17. Happy new year, and decade to you too!

  18. Great post and I wish you a Happy (and gendarme free) New Year x

  19. Cogitator, thank you very much...I'm looking forward to more great photographs on yor blog.

    Crumpet, yes, a 'gendarme free' zone would be a good thing to wish for. Never there for anything important, too busy playing with their speed guns and breathalysers.
    Hope the dog is O.K.

  20. Happy New Year Fly!! I so enjoyed your description of the weird and funny ways of the French police! Yes, I'd say let them take their own bottles to the dump! LOL Here, they would actually have to take them to the recycling center and sort according to clear, brown, and green. But make sure they didn't park their cruisers too near the bins where they might pick up a sliver of broken glass and puncture one of those high performance tires! We too had a quiet New Year's Eve -- and yes, the year did arrive on time. It's such a relief, too. Good riddance to 2009! I'm ready to have a TERRIFIC year! And I'm sending all my best wishes to you for a fabulous 2010, too! May it be your best year ever! :D

  21. Sunflower Ranch, thank you.
    I fear all the recycling is has already hit the family in Belgium who seem to have more designated rubbish bins than furniture.
    Here, out in the sticks, nature has taken a hand. Our friends live quite near one of the two designated dumps for their area. It has been closed for a fortnight because the dumpmeister's toilet froze up in the bad weather, so people have to travel twenty kilometres to dump their rubbish.