I just need five email addresses to start an official petition on gov.org…
With exactly one week to go before Extracting Goats from Jean-Claude’s Kitchen is published, I’d love to share a further extract with you. In this passage, I warn against the dangerous combination of high spirits, hot weather and an abundance of wine when attending a French Chateau wedding, and why it is a poor decision to pretend to be French at such an event…
‘Extracting Goats from Jean-Claude’s Kitchen’, from Chapter 16 – ‘I am the Music Man, I Come From Far Away…’
The biggest enemy of the château wedding is the lethal combination of high spirits, champagne and hot weather. I must avoid being a moral judge here because I love a wedding and, if I am fortunate enough to be invited as a guest, I’m partial to a glass or two of the bubbly stuff. I will never, ever though, be discourteous to a member of staff or fellow guest. If I make a fool of anyone, it will be myself when I fall off a chair or the like.
Some venues rather invite trouble as they identify the ‘Summer French Wedding in the Sunshine’ market as a potentially-lucrative one which can easily be tapped into. Generally speaking, these events require a serious financial outlay, but there are venues who run more of a budget package – supplying gite accommodation or placing ‘glamping’ facilities amongst the trees in the grounds. They will also strike deals with local wine producers ensuring no-one will go thirsty. Whereas the classier châteaux will advertise rooms which have been slept in by 17th-century French aristocracy and a feast produced by Michelin-starred chefs, others will promise enough Prosecco to sink a ship, and an abundance of barbequed foodstuffs at an affordable price.
Venues which are simply holiday complexes rather than châteaux also get in on the act. The results are stressful and painful for the venue and forgettable for the participants, not because they endure a mediocre weekend but because they suffer memory loss due to the effects of drinking industrial quantities of budget rosé.
As I pull up at a venue to play for a wedding, I can, within minutes, discern what kind of experience the afternoon promises, and react accordingly. Having arrived at one particular engagement, for example, I was ambling across the lawns of a historic château close to Bertric Burée when my eye caught the sight of around fifteen lads wearing only England football shorts, kicking a ball around, using 300-year-old oak trees as goal-posts. They had lagers-in-hands and the air was blue with alcohol-induced expletives.
Bearing in mind this was a couple of hours before the ceremony, I politely said my ‘Hellos’ and found a corner well out of the way to set up. One has to be careful with a choice of repertoire at such events as, if I play anything remotely ‘pop’, it risks generating raucous applause and the dreaded ‘requests’. I’m up for doing a few familiar tunes on the classical guitar as much as the next guy, but when I’m asked to play Jay-Z, well, I know my limits. Problems can arise when the invisible barrier between client and guitarist is broken; this can lead to a scene, despite my efforts to be courteous and light-hearted. I’ve experienced lager-fuelled Brits becoming aggressive because I am unable to perform the latest offering from Little Mix spontaneously for their little girl. Funnily-enough, being a hairy middle-aged white bloke, I tend to learn other material in my spare time.
The footie-wedding described above was particularly farcical and seemed to simmer with aggression all afternoon. Luckily for me, I was due to zip away at 6.00pm as it felt as if the event was going to ‘kick off’ in more ways than one. As mentioned, I communicate at length with my couples before their big day. This particular couple had chosen Pachelbel’s Canon in D for the processional (although the email read Canon’s Pachelbel in D) – a pleasant if not trailblazing choice – and, two hours prior to their ceremony, were yet to select a piece for the recessional. In the end, I promised a stressed groom I would bash out ‘something good’ for them, leaving him to quaff Stella Artois number seven before making his vows.
The ceremony itself passed off well enough.
The congregation talked throughout, seemingly unaware that the weekend’s Strictly results were of lesser
importance than a couple vowing to give their lives to one another. During the aperitifs, I found a little corner and settled
into playing my repertoire to some pleasant folks sitting on recliners in the
shade of the building.
The father-of-the-bride was walking in peculiar zig-zag shapes having knocked back enough bubbly to flatten a herd of elephants. He had learned some French for his weekend away in the Dordogne, which was admirable, and was keen to try it on anyone unfortunate enough to be cornered. I was halfway through a bit of Tarrega when he stumbled over, sat next to me and, resembling Officer Crabtree from Allo Allo, attempted a bit of the lingo.
“Bonjourno guitarist. Comment allez vous today?” asked Mr Dad-of-Bride.
“Très bien merci,” I replied unthinkingly, concentrating on my job.
“Comment tu-t’appellez vous your name innit?” he ventured further.
“Dan,” was my ground-breaking reply.
“Je suis English. Anglais-like,” offered Mr Dad-of-Bride.
‘No s**t Sherlock.’ I thought. “D’accord, c’est trés interessant,” I said.
Of course, I was digging myself a very big hole and one which I was going to struggle to climb out of. The good gentleman, beaming all over his face at the marriage of his daughter and perhaps due to the lavish imbibing of cheap bubbly, believed that I was French. To make matters worse I appeared to understand him. Call me stupid (you wouldn’t be the first) but I didn’t have the heart to reveal my Welsh origins, because I felt it would burst his bubble (and his body contained enough champagne bubbles to make quite a pop, I tell you). He seemed so proud of his efforts.
Thus commenced a surreal series of encounters during which he would periodically approach me to try out new phrases, in between mingling amongst guests proudly proclaiming he could communicate with the locals. By divine intervention, he failed to approach anyone who had chatted with me in English beforehand. He sported a little English/French phrase book and, having ‘mastered’ a new phrase, would meander over to try it out on me.
“J’aime le football. Man United. Man City sont les Nancy-Boys,” he offered profoundly.
“Ha ha! C’est trés drole Monsieur,” I said, this being the necessary response.
“He understood me!” he announced to one-and-all with worrying vigour.
I cringed, praying no-one within earshot would reveal my Anglophone identity.
During one particularly arduous exchange, he was trying to tell me how beautiful the Lake District was. He felt a good way to illustrate this would be to introduce mime into the linguistic equation. To illustrate ‘lake’ he repeatedly drew a circular shape in the air with his hands, about six inches from my face. To the uninitiated, this could have been anything from an egg to the solar system.
“Moi – je aime le Lake District,” he said for the eighteenth time.
“D’accord,” I replied, simultaneously fighting with Bach’s Prelude in G major.
Mr Dad-of-Bride then called out to no-one in particular.
“I don’t think he understands me. Hey, Geoff! How do you say ‘lake’ in Froggie Lingo?”
‘It’s ‘etang’ I thought. ‘Please go away before I’m busted’.
He then used the uniquely British multilingual approach:
“Moi – je aime le Lake District!!!” he yelled as if attempting to communicate verbally with someone in the actual Lake District.
At this point, I made the suspiciously quantum leap from ‘understanding nothing’ to ‘all becoming as clear as day’, apparently via the means of volume and circular hand gestures.
“Aha! Ze Lake Deestreect, eet ees very… err… beau n’est-ce-pas?” I offered, unconsciously putting on a French accent.
Dad-of-Bride looked more astonished than anyone at this success and, had he been sober, probably would have had his suspicions aroused, but I seemed to dodge the bullet.
Extracting Goats from Jean-Claude’s Kitchen – and Other Essential Tips from Seven Years of Musical and Family Life in Rural France is available in print of digital formats from Kellan Publishing on January 27th.
I’d love to share with you a second extract from ‘Extracting Goats from Jean-Claude’s Kitchen’ in which I describe the sharp contrast between concert giving in small-town France and that in urban life. I hope it makes you smile and I’d appreciate a share. ‘Extracting Goats… is published by Kellan Publishing on January 27th.
During my formative years as a classical guitarist, I soon came to understand that a formal concert in a British, urban environment is a structured and rather predictable affair. There is a code of conduct which attendees follow religiously: it is inappropriate to applaud between movements of a piece, a concert will start at 7.35pm if it is billed as 7.30pm and the performer will receive an encore – regardless of whether the audience enjoyed their evening or otherwise. How different my experiences were in our little corner of France.
Upon arrival in theDordogne, I was a musical unknown. I needed to expand my pupil base pretty sharpish and to present myself as a guitarist for concert work as there were mounting bills looming on the near horizon. The music schools for which I worked were kindly and energetic in organising events where I could showcase my playing. One of my first concerts was in the beautiful Eglise Notre-Dame-de-la-Paix in Ribérac. Here I was to share the programme with an organist, a pianist and also accompany a violinist. Upon arrival a couple of hours before the event I was thrown into a world of loosely-organised chaos, more akin to a rock gig than a classical concert. The pianist was using an electric instrument and brought along a degree of sound equipment better suited for Megadeath at Glastonbury rather than Chopin at Ribérac. There was also the preparation of the microphone for the Master of Ceremonies or, as he/she is known, the animateur or animatrice. This was my first of, sadly, many experiences of the phenomenon I refer to as Monsieur/Madame Micro. Attendees of concerts in small French towns appear to believe an evening is incomplete without a local ‘character’ bellowing benign information down a microphone at a volume akin to strapping one’s head against the landing gear of a Boeing 747 in take-off mode. More on this in a moment.
As the starting time of 8.30pm approached – notably later than in the UK – I was prepared. I had changed into a snappy suit and red shirt, completed my warm-up routine, and was poised purposefully on a pew to the left of the stage. At 8.35pm, the pianist was still unloading more equipment – reversing up a truck to the ancient oak door and gathering a team of roadies to stagger in with a second batch of bucket woofers. There was no audience. By 9.00pm, I was anxious and my normal zen-like pre-concert state had evaporated. I felt uneasy at such a casual disregard for the starting time. At least though, the church had gradually filled up nicely. It seemed the French audience knew the protocols just as a British audience knows theirs – they were just singing from a different hymn sheet. In small-town France, there is no way that a concert starts at the billed time. It is mutually understood that at 8.30pm, an audience is tucking into dessert which will be followed by an espresso and the obligatory digestif.
Eventually, at 9.15pm, Monsieur Micro took to the stage to rapturous applause. I sensed his performance was of equal, or perhaps greater importance to that of the musicians. He proceeded to introduce the performers at a volume which would have made Pete Townshend wince, giving lengthy biographical details of each of us. This was completely unnecessary as he was simply reading the same programme notes which had been handed to every audience member in print, but it was all a necessary step in the procession of events. Whereas I was bored and mildly vexed at this further meaningless delay to the music-making, the audience appeared enraptured, nodding encouragingly at every already-communicated fragment of information. I soon found myself staring vacantly at the ancient stone domed roof above us, concerned the massive vibrations emitting from the PA may cause structural collapse and kill us all before a note was played. Suddenly, I became aware of a sustained round of applause. I looked at the audience and saw all eyes were on me. I had been introduced and, due to the mixture of 10,000 watts of power and my rudimentary knowledge of the language, I’d rather missed my cue. I hastily stood, grinned gormlessly like a kid with his hand caught stuck in the cookie jar, and took a bow.
The first performer was the organist. He was around ninety-seven years of age and barely able to lift his upper body, never mind place the necessary limbs on the organ’s keyboards and pedals. Once he had installed himself at his instrument, with generous help from a couple of gentlemen in the audience, I looked at the programme to see the works he was proposing. With considerable surprise, and admittedly some apprehension, I read that he would be offering pieces by Charles Gounod. These virtuosic and massively musically-complex works seemed an extraordinary choice of repertoire for an audience who looked more as if they were up for a touch of easy listening, and a performer who would perhaps have been more at ease in charge of a Zimmer frame.
He commenced, with the volume predictably turned up to eleven. As he crashed his way through the rich, dissonant harmonies – some Gounod’s, others of his own inadvertent invention – I found my face wincing into a range of contorted expressions of which I had no idea I was capable. I lost three years’ worth of tooth enamel due to a subconscious grinding induced by each wrong note. At every page-turn, he would stop, raise an arm, and agonisingly turn the sheet before continuing his war with the keyboard. The time taken to do this necessitated a substantial pause which suggested a somewhat elastic interpretation of Gounod’s rhythms. Some pauses occurred for no immediately apparent reason. At one point, I wondered if Monsieur l’Orgue had met his demise at the instrument which would, I suppose, be quite a rock ‘n’ roll way to go, but no, happily (or otherwise, depending on your musical tastes) he jerked back into life and launched into a new phase of his attack. At least these pauses allowed us respite to grab a tissue and dab at the blood discharging from our eardrums. Monsieur l’Orgue’s performance was met with rapturous applause – a standing ovation even. I have no idea who was more surprised, me or him.
From this, I learned an audience in the Dordogne love to hear works by a French composer. It is perhaps a reassertion of the might of their culture. Bearing in mind many in the audience were elderly, it’s possible they remember the war and therefore value their ‘Frenchness’. Secondly, I learned the French like to see a bit of effort – they recognised the gladiatorial element of the performance. Yes, all the notes were there but the audience wanted blood, sweat and tears – as if they were watching a monstrous bearded-bloke from Latvia pulling an articulated lorry in The World’s Strongest Man rather than marvelling at the subtleties of phrasing in Gounod’s melodic counterpoint. I think it also relates to the passion they have for a good spectacle, the artistic consequences being immaterial. Interestingly, the French also adore music of a Celtic origin. I arranged many traditional Celtic songs and melodies for solo guitar and placed these within a classical programme. They went down a storm. Some of them, such as the beautiful song The Water is Wide, have been rewritten with French lyrics. The original meaning is usually completely disregarded and new stories created. The other items, including my own offerings, passed off very well – the audience loving my attempts to tell them about the pieces (Bach, Weiss and Villa-Lobos I believe) in French. Monsieur Micro looked rather affronted as I was stepping into his territory.
I was interested to see and hear the courteous and reverential silence which one habitually experiences during the actual pieces was absent during this concert, and the dozens of similar events I performed at afterwards. It was regarded as perfectly acceptable practice for a group of ladies to noisily drag a table across the back of the church during the slow movement of a sonata, in preparation for the inevitable post-concert aperitif, digestif or rather charmingly named pot d’amitié (pot of friendship) which is a diplomatic way of saying ‘any excuse for a glass of hooch’. To omit this element would be akin to omitting the presence of musicians or even worse, Monsieur/Madame Micro.
Concerts were habitually of
agonisingly-long length. I would frequently share programmes with choirs in the
area and, during pre-concert planning meetings, I would drop to my knees and beg
them to discard some of the proposed items. The response would be that the
audience would enjoy such-and-such a piece or this would be a nice contrast to
that piece, but when buttock has been installed on hard pew for an hour, Monsieur/Madame Micro is in full flow and
you had that second glass of wine during the pre-concert aperitif, believe me, an unbroken hour of music is too long. I
played at a choir festival in Perigueux and the well-meaning organiser allowed
a young folk singer with a guitar to do ‘a small spot’ at the beginning of the
already-groaning-at-the-seams programme. The result was the young fellow,
charming as he was, did that maddening thing all folk guitarist/singers do
where he mumbled indistinct introductions, telling stories which went nowhere,
all the while strumming airy chords and making meaningless adjustments to his
instrument’s tuning. We heard about half-an-hour of chit-chat and seven minutes
of songs, all before the actual scheduled programme had begun.
Dan goes on to explain why pretending to be French at a boozy chateau weddings is a bad idea, how one should avoid flippantly offering to perform at a French funeral and how he is repeatedly mistaken for a celebrity at pop/rock gigs.
Extracting Goats from Jean-Claude’s Kitchen is available for digital pre-order now and in can be ordered in print from January 27th 2019.
Life holds many mysteries. I am fortunate enough to travel quite frequently and consequently find myself at airports a number of times per year. You may, like me, have noticed that Toblerones always seem to be on sale in Duty Free in bars about seven feet long. Whereas I normally don’t give them a second glance, in an airport I have seriously considered buying one of the whoppers and scoffing the lot in one go. So why do I always fancy Toblerone at airports? I wrote a poem on the subject and sent it to Toblerone along with the following letter. Maybe they’ll make me a Toblerone Ambassador or something. I’ll post their response if and when it comes.
Dear Mr Toby LeRone
Allow me to cut to the chase. Why do I always fancy Toblerone at airports? Although I’m certain your bars of three-dimensional triangular confectionary joy are delicious in any circumstance, I have to confess that, upon a visit to a local grocery store or major supermarket, I never give Toblerone a second glance. When in an airport though, I become a pale, drooling, slightly-hysterical Toblerone addict. I truly believe I could buy one of the massive ones and scoff the lot in Duty Free. Why should this be? Have Toblerone discovered an ingredient which triggers psychological chocolate and nougat addiction when the consumer is dragging a wheely-suitcase? Sounds improbable but I am struggling to find any other explanation. This baffling mystery has become an all-consuming preoccupation so, by means of therapy, I have written a poem which I thought I would share with you. It is called Why, Oh Why, Oh Why Do I Always Fancy Toblerone at Airports? You can rap it if you like. I hope you enjoy it.
Why, oh why, oh why, do I always fancy Toblerone at airports? (repeat ad. lib.)
Airport security – a sea of faces
Doing up my belt and tying up my laces
Wondering why I giggle when the burly man frisks me
Pass through the watches, the perfumes and whiskey
But there’s one display, which takes full control
I’m pulled towards it, like a massive black hole
Three for a tenner! Who could decline?
Those chunks of confectionary, with wrapping so refined.
Dark choc, milk choc, or white for the radical
My health-food drive, will take a sabbatical
Why do they sell them, in bars a metre long?
I could scoff the lot, though I know it is wrong
Are you isosceles, or even equilateral
But that much confectionary, is hardly practical
But in the world’s airports, I could eat one or more
Standing in the duty free, drooling on the polished floor.
But why, oh why, oh why, do I always fancy Toblerone at airports? (repeat ad. lib.)
In the local Co-op, there’s no arguments or bickers,
Could be a Mars Bar, or even a Snickers,
A classic Flake, goes down a dream,
Feeling Old School? A Fry’s Mint Cream!
Those honeycomb wonders, which are Maltesers,
A whole tube of Rolos, should the need seize us,
But the golden triangle – out of the question,
Grab myself a Toblerone? What a suggestion!
Revels, Minstrels, will you make a pick for us?
The three-sided wonder? Don’t be so ridiculous,
A classic Double Decker, or maybe a Wispa
Something crunchy, like a Toffee Crisp(a)
But Gatwick, Heathrow, Luton or Stanstead,
The thought of a Toblerone, won’t get out of my head
Little bits of nougat (I used to call it ‘nugget’)
Chocolate powder, sugar, I’m sure I could chug it.
But why, oh why, oh why, do I always fancy Toblerone at airports? (repeat ad. lib.)
Annoying bits of sticky stuff, in between my teeth,
But the need to scoff a massive one, goes beyond belief,
You once made bigger gaps, between your lofty peaks,
Confess it Toblerone, you’re a choccie cheat,
But I forgive you, your sugary charms,
Are always more than welcome, in my outstretched arms,
But only if I’m about, to set off on my travels,
Then your shiny paper, I’m desperate to unravel,
Going on holiday, about to take a flight,
Then the need to devour you, is one I cannot fight,
The weighty temptation, is impossible to bear,
Despite the threat, of the dentist’s chair,
But any other time, like when I’m eating al fresco,
Browsing the confectionary in my local Tesco,
I won’t give you, a fleeting cursory glance,
Buy a cocoa pyramid? Not a bloomin’ chance!)
But why, oh why, oh why, do I always fancy Toblerone at airports? (repeat ad. lib.)
Dan Jones October 2018
P.S. Since publishing my ditty on social media, a number of friends have purchased me Toblerone bars as whimsical gifts (see the handy attached photo). You may wish to pop that into the equation if you are considering sending me something in recognition of my efforts in marketing your brand.
There can be few things more desirable in our society than gender equality but is the solution really to buy your child a doll still sporting more than a few traditional stereotypes? I’d suggest that parental support, hard study and equality of opportunity in the real world may be a little more important. I wrote to Mattel Inc (via their ‘Barbie’ Facebook page) to ask them to back up the claims offered by their Christmas ad campaign with a few guarantees. Here’s the note. I’m still awaiting a response…
Dear Mr/Mrs Mattel I am writing regarding your recent television advert showing several young girls, perhaps only five or six years of age, undertaking roles which were certainly surprising in my book, but what do I know! The sight of mere infants, training a deferential All-Blacks rugby team, delivering a lecture in a purpose-built theatre and taking tourists on an informative tour at The Natural History Museum was inspiring and indeed moving. I must confess to having been forced to wipe away a little tear (and a globule of snot) at their compelling and authoritative displays (handy screenshots are attached).
As the father of ‘Chantel’ a girl of a similar age, living in Barnsley, the only logical course of action in my mind was to buy her a Barbie doll and to encourage both her, as well as her hyperactive brother Zak to play ‘University Lecturers’ with it. My purchase emptied my wallet of a not-inconsequential sum of cash but, as I was investing in my daughter’s future, and hopefully ensuring that my offspring do not, like me, end up working nights in a sausage meat factory, I felt that I could get by with just a six-pack of John Smith’s this weekend. At first all seemed to be going well. Zak’s Power Ranger figures were sat attentively in the back row, with his Action Men placed securely at their desks at the opposite side of the arena (made from an upturned baby’s cot – don’t you think there’s a certain symbolism there).
I left them to it, slipping off quietly to catch the semi-final of the darts on Sky Sports, but worryingly, after only three legs of arrows, all hell was breaking loose upstairs. It seems the problem arose when Barbie wanted to ‘change her baby’s nappy and put her to bed with Fifi the bunny’. My daughter had asked ‘Ken’ if he would read baby a story but he had been abducted by ‘gripping hands’ Action Man and was having camouflage paint applied to his cheeks whilst being tooled up with an AK47. With some diplomatic, albeit stern words, I rectified the situation (with promises of sweets and an extra ten minutes on the X-Box if they would play Daddy’s nice game for a little longer) but the respite was only temporary. Just as Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor was eyeing up double tops, it all kicked off again. Upon vigorous questioning, I learned that my daughter had insisted on restoring Ken to his previous kindly and unpainted self and, upon my entry into Chantel’s room, he was accompanying Barbie down the aisle – the lectern now doubling as a church altar. Barbie’s lecture notes had been reorganised to form a makeshift wedding dress. Ken was in the buff. Meanwhile, the ‘Red Ranger’ and ‘Eagle Eyes’ Action Man had instigated all-out war in the bleachers with heavy casualties being taken on both sides judging by the howls of battle being emitted from my clearly bored-to-tears son.
Now, I recognise it’s early days and that dolly-inspired academic genius surely lies just around the corner so, in preparation for the future, I checked out the tuition fees at Harvard. Crikey! I’d need my numbers to come up big time if that’s ever going to happen. I was wondering if Mattel Inc. would be prepared to put up £50,000 tuition fees, as a kind of insurance policy, in the unlikely event of my purchasing of a Barbie proving insufficient to guarantee a rich, fulfilling and financially-bountiful career. Thank you – I must go – my daughter informs me from the top of the stairs that ‘The Green Ranger is kicking seven shades out of Ken’ and Fifi needs rescuing from a heavily-armed mountain cave in my son’s bedroom. Yours sincerely, D Jones