Last night it was -1°C and I went out in it. Mad? No, I was going to a charity 'do'. Ah, some big, flashy affair with dinner jackets and champagne, big euro bucks and braying laughter? Erm... not quite... at all...
The charity was worthy enough - a day centre for handicapped children. The place.... the local 'maison des fêtes', think sports-hall with stage and concrete floor, at Frontignan, a beachside town which was basking in the balmy effect of sea breezes, bringing the temperature up to a heady 4°C.
I was wearing 3 layers and a coat, boots and gloves and I sat on my coat to ward off piles from the icy plastic chairs. By the time we arrived, one hour late, the evening had only just got off to a start and whilst we thought we had timed it just right to get stuck right into the 'dinner', in fact we were subjected to the entire 45mins of choral entertainment up on the stage; the choir backlit by two incredibly annoying yellow spots which glared upon the audience and rendered the choir indistinguisable from a dish of paella. Well, they were 'themed' dressed in yellow and/or red tops of no descernible style. Frankly, they looked awful - sloppy and ragged, and I was hard-pressed to find their singing any different until I averted my eyes and tried to black out the image they presented. In fact, they weren't too bad, and they were at least enthusiastic which makes up for a lot.
They went on a lot too. It was by now 8pm; we were aperitif-less, cold and about 350 in number waiting for the dinner. There was a worrying lack of food aromas and when dinner was finally announced, we understood why. We had bought, for our 5Euros, a tray of cold food; this in the self-declared gourmet capital of the world, at the end of November on a chilly night. Had we been in the middle of July thankful to be in the coolness of the hall, or enjoying a warm summer's evening outside beneath some umbrella pine trees, the plate of cold pork-based meats (hope there were no Muslims there!) with 2 gerkins and one stoned black olive, a couple of chunks of industrial baguette and a plastic cup of thin local vin de pays would have been most welcome, and may even have had some taste to it. As it was, the whole lot was cold and you could only distinguish one item from the next by its texture. Dessert was a slice of cheese and a wedge of the worst industrial apple tart I have ever tasted.
Now, I know catering for 350 people is not easy, but on a cold night to offer a cold 'meal' does seem to be a tad crude. What I would have given for a dish of hearty soup and hunk of crusty bread! I was now getting colder, from the inside.
Conversation was nearly impossible thanks to the jazz band that did a good job with the music, but was so loud that you had to have something significant to say before it was worth rasping your vocal chords shouting it out. The result was, that as conversation usually starts with smalltalk and can develop into a discussion, I sat more-or-less in silence because I had nothing significant to say; certainly nothing worth losing my voice over.
Finally came the tombola with some artwork on offer and a weekend at a gite. Needless to say I won nothing and it was some thankfulness that we could now declare forfeit and leave the braver, warmer folks to enjoy the rest of the musical entertainment as I was taken back to the comparative warmth of the night air and a heated car. Bliss.
We had turned up to show solidarity with the organisers, and left frozen solid. Still, what is a chilblain or two in aid of a worthy cause.....?