Well that’s me had my first proper proper bender of 2011.
Paris. Rugby. Lads weekend. Need I say more?
Four days of eating like a Medieval king with worms, drinking like Olly Reed on payday, and making merry with just the best friends a man could hope to have.
Doubtless my weight loss has been blown all to hell by this broadside of Guinness and foie gras, my only exercise being dancing on tables (aye, all 19 stone of me) till the wee small hours.
I really should feel guilty right now. But I have to tell you, it was simply glorious. Every bloody minute of it. Even the rugby.
There are special days in life which men should remember – their anniversary, their mum’s birthday, their kids’ birthdays, Valentine’s Day (CHRIST!), the last day of the season.
For me a day which is writ large is Saturday March 23 2002.
That day nine years ago I was sent out to get a loaf of bread by my wife (then girlfriend), so, naturally, I went straight to the Hebrides Bar for a few pints instead.
From across the road I could hear them before I saw them.
A group of trumpet playing, kazoo waving, noisy Frenchmen, each wearing a beret, in their national colours, I think with French flags draped round them, maybe even a string of onions apiece.
They were heading straight for the bar where I was enjoying my quiet pint and peacefully reading my paper.
In the few seconds before they made it to the door it struck me. This was a rugby international day, Scotland were at home, and the town was awash with pissed, randy Frenchmen whom I had somehow not noticed till then.
And here were a hoarde of them, in the flesh, just about to come in to my local, and disrupt my very Scottish Saturday afternoon reverie.
The barman swore under his breath in a resigned way as they came in the door. The rest of the customers did their Edinburgh aye-very-good welcome and turned to their pals. I crouched over my Guinness and tried to stay inconspicuous.
In they burst, beaming, and with a flourish of trumpet, klaxon and general happiness. They ordered their lagerzzz and then one of them, the ringleader clearly, leaned over to me as I attempted to feign deep interest in the farming page.
“You know”, he said, beckoning my head down towards him at the bar, in conspiratorial tone, “… we are French”
I looked him in the eye, unsure if he was taking the piss, “yes, I know”, I sighed, as I folded my paper away.
That moment, (although I did not know it then), that choice to go for a pint that day, in that bar, at that time, well it simply changed my life. Really changed it forever.
The man who had leaned over to me was a man who would become my friend for life, Vincent Furgerot.
With him that day were his friends Herve Bosch, Jean-Jacques Bories, and Rene Wohlfiel-Ducroz.
Vincent said: “This is our first time in Scotland. We have brought many fine wines and cognacs to make an exchange for some good Scottish wines (pfft!!) or whiskies.
“Would you like to swap with us?”
Now what he did not know then was that Scottish people, or this Scottish person at least, could not be trusted to have cellars of whisky.
However, not wanting to be too bad a host, I told him that if he could be bothered going to the Oxford Bar after the game – which we lost – I would be there, my father-in-law would be there, it would be full of rugby fans, and he was welcome to join us for the craic.
After a last drain and raise of my glass, I left them in the Hebrides Bar and that, I thought, was that. I honestly expected never to see them ever again.
But they came to The Ox that night, and they took the roof down with them.
A friendship was begun that night between us all that has flourished, cemented, and has become among the most important in my life.
The edited version of all this bonhomie is that we see these guys, and new friends too as the group dynamic has shifted, once a year, every year. Paris. Edinburgh. Paris. Edinburgh. and so the story goes on.
They show us hospitality second to none, they party like every night was 1999, and they know how to eat and drink so well it does actually hurt.
While the rugby has become the excuse, the fixed date in the calendar around which we coalesce our attention once a year, it means not a jot. I don’t know my arse from elbow when it comes to the game. We could be watching tiddlywinks for all I care. But I would less think of missing that annual 6 Nations game than I would Christmas.
Over the years that friendship has evolved so that we share holidays, birthday parties, weekend breaks, news of life and loves, promotions and job losses, news of births, and news of illnesses too. When my wife was diagnosed with bowel cancer in 2008 it seemed natural to share my stunned, what-do-I-do-know predicament with my family, friends and then The Frenchies.
I have shared some of the best nights of my life with them in those nine years. Nights in restaurants, round campfires, and in pubs and clubs. Their pictures are on my bog wall, and all over the modern equivalent of the family album – Facebook.
So it was then that I found myself last weekend in Paris with my wife, her mates Anne-Marie, Viki and Jo, and our mates Dererk and Kevin.
The full debauchery of the weekend will have to remain between friends, but suffice to say I think I will still shake my head and chuckle at the thought of it for some years to come.
I have looked through all the photos and in it we are smiling, revelling in being in each other’s company.
It made me happy to be with them, to use my schoolboy French on them so bad that I could see them bodily wince with each sentence I mangled.
And the food and the drink? Words really can not do it justice, and the photos I took don’t do it much either.
But all I can say is that it was beautiful French food from beginning to end. Raclette cheese, goats cheese, melting bries, Breton crepes, Pot au Feu, Tete de Veau, stunning Charcuterie, Foie Gras so rich it should be in the Sunday Times 100, and the wines? The wines?
All of these guys have their own cellars, Christ some have their own vineyards, even their own little home distilleries too for the Eau de Vie, they know food, they know wine, and they love life. And they know that they go together.
That they each take it as some kind of hospitality pissing-up-the-wall contest to fetch up the best for us uncouth Jocks when we hit their beautiful town is just the chance, I guess, that being in the right pub at the right time has given me.
They have given us wines that just make you shake your head, raise your head to the sky, squeeze your eyes and say “Please God, I know I am a bit pissed right now, and I know have wasted enough neurons in my life through drink, but please please just let me remember this taste, this moment tonight with these people, let me store this taste somewhere in the base of my brain that I may conjur it up some other day when I am in need.”
So, while I may have felt like death warmed up by the Monday when I left Paris, the pain of the knowing my body is getting that little bit older was worth it.
And I have to say those post-partying aches and pains (It’s back to the dancing on tables again) were worse than I can remember. I felt poisonous for two days afterwards, but I am back in the gym now powering my way towards 5 million metres on the rowing machine, I feel good, and any pounds I re-gained I will soon lose again.
So to you, my French friends (and Scottish companions) I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
And to anyone reading, Je Ne Regrette Rien…especially the fact I forgot to get that loaf of bread back in 2002.