My blogging rate has been a bit erratic in recent weeks. We have been slogging hard to prepare for the annual fête at the chapel of Teysseroles, which we are helping to restore. Now we can breathe a sigh of relief. It took place yesterday to great acclaim. Lots of people came, the weather was perfect, the meal appeared to go down well and most, judging by what people said, had a good time. Here’s how it went behind the scenes.
Fourteen people sounds like a big team of volunteers. Believe me, when you’re trying to deal with about 220 others, it’s not nearly enough. The preparations have been going on for weeks.
Saturday morning was the time to collect about 30 tables and chairs from the commune’s warehouse and set them up. This was not as easy as it sounds: the placement of each table required a committee decision.
We had cleared the scrub in the wood near the chapel this year but the ground was still a bit uneven. We didn’t want our revellers breaking their ankles or sliding backwards into the undergrowth.
On Saturday afternoon, the women prepared the starters in someone’s garage while the men continued connecting electricity and water. Yes, I’m afraid gender stereotypes are still going strong. Françoise had us well drilled. We peeled and sliced enough potatoes and tomatoes for a battalion, grated carrots and courgettes for a regiment and mixed enough salad dressing for a battleship to sail on. I’m not sure the health and safety police would have cared for the conditions in which we prepared the food. So far, we haven’t heard of any salmonella outbreak.
Dressing the tables, setting up our kitchen and getting the outdoor “church” ready for the open-air mass were the first tasks on Sunday morning.
The temperature started to rise in more senses than one when the first punters turned up. The mass was at 11h00; they started arriving at 10h10.
Since I speak English and French, I was drafted onto one of the tables d’accueil. This is where the fun started. We had to register and take money from people who had signed up for the meal and enrol people who wanted to join our association. They had to be welcomed (and since we know most of them this took some time with all the kissing etc.); given forms to fill in; membership cards; meal tickets; the right change; ticked off on a list; sold a short history of the chapel that we had produced for the occasion; and then pointed in the right direction.
Not being a Catholic, I’m afraid I found the mass tedious, especially as I had to sit through it all, being a member of the Parisot Choir, some of whom were drafted in to sing a couple of pieces. Singing outdoors without accompanist were not the ideal conditions. I’ll draw a veil over the rest.
After that, it was all hands to the pumps. Serving 220 hungry French people (and a fair proportion of English) is not a task to undertake lightly. We thought we’d lost it when the grillades took a long time to arrive. The man we had engaged to do them worked like a man possessed and sweated copiously but he found it hard to keep up with demand. Fortunately, Alan grabbed the microphone and got the punters going in a canon of “Frère Jacques”, which kept their minds off the delay. After that, they entertained themselves, taking turns at the mike with varying degrees of competence.
The SF took most of the photos on the day. Quite how he found the time to do it when I was running around like a headless chicken is beyond me.
Alan’s “Tue le rat” (kill the rat) game proved as popular as last year. He dropped “rats” (cuddly toys) down a length of drainpipe hitched at a 45° angle to a step-ladder and you had to hit them with a stick as they came out. Sounds easy, doesn’t it? Actually, it’s fiendishly difficult.
Jean-Claude then took the mike to announce the tombola results, complete with repartee in French and Occitan.
The last ones left around 17h00. Then it was the washing up. All 220 knives and forks, bought at various vide greniers (car-boot sales) around the region and the bowls, plates and pans provided by the volunteers. Thankfully, the plates and glasses were disposable.
Today, we had to take the tables and chairs back to the mairie’s warehouse and ensure the site was clean and tidy. Then we shared out the leftovers – not many of those.
Now it’s over till next year. We’re meeting on Friday for the post mortem and to find out how much we made for the chapel restoration fund. Watch this space.
P.S. Inevitably, the loos got blocked up after the first hour…
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