Charged with the task of hosting a French travel writer one weekend, a night at a local village Summer Fête seemed like an excellent idea – in the company of my neighbours, their daughter, and their daughter’s boyfriend.
How very British! Delightfully eccentric. And on a night of straw hats, summer frocks, second-hand book stalls, coconut shys and Hoopla, what could possibly go wrong?
The journalist – let’s call him Pierre – even bought-into our idea of country cuisine (hot dogs, corn on the cob, a pint of warm beer). The success of the French Poodle in the dog obedience class was a bit of a bonus. It was all going swimmingly well.
Right up to the moment when my neighbour Jon – let’s call him Jon – realised that the terrible flapping, grating, groaning noise coming from the rear of his car as we drove off the field and into a country lane was a flat tyre.
No panic. “We’ll have this tyre off and replaced sooner than you can say ‘Mon Dieu’, Pierre!”
The rest of the night is now just a blur. A series of cameo performances by the main protagonists.
Jon jacked-up the car, and unscrewed the wheel nuts. I rolled the spare tyre round the side of the car.
The daughter’s mobile telephone rang. She passed a message on to her boyfriend. He turned a whiter shade of pale.
Pierre smoked a French cigarette.
Jon started to look anxious as he searched the boot of his car. He whispered something about needing another tool to remove the wheel. I joined him at the boot. What we needed, we agreed, was a “big tool”. I have no idea why. It just seemed right.
With no idea of how to translate “big tool” into French, I mimed something to Pierre. Our friendship would never be the same again.
He lit another cigarette.
Showing great initiative, Jon’s wife started to stop cars, to ask their drivers if they had a “big tool”.
I found three little tools in the boot, and sat in the lane trying to find a way of fitting them together to make one big one. Jon stared into his empty boot.
The daughter’s boyfriend’s jeans started to visibly fall apart around his derriere.
Spotting the same make of car in the lane, we all had the same idea at the same time. Here was someone who would definitely have a big tool. Or “un outil de grande” as even Pierre had managed to work-out.
Oh, how wrong we were. The driver of that car looked in vain in his boot, and announced, quite angrily, that he was going to go to the garage first thing tomorrow to demand to know why he didn’t have a big tool, either.
As the daylight faded, and the last of the cars from the Fête left the field – and the daughter’s boyfriend did his best to cover up his now nearly naked backside – a 4×4 pulled-up, and the driver got out to ask if he could help. “Not unless you’ve got a big tool”, we suggested.
Then we all stood back and watched as he ran at the car, took a big swing, and kicked the wheel – which surrendered itself to the floor, leaving us space to fit the spare. “Rust”!
“Pah,” added Pierre.
“His Mum rang to say that he’d been sitting on a seat this afternoon which had some spilled battery acid on it,” explained the daughter – pointing to the red-cheeked boyfriend.
And yet…to his credit, Pierre delivered a fantastic article, giving his readers another insight – no doubt – into great British eccentricity.