Last night saw another of my loopy friend Bret’s periodic Fêtes des Mecs. We boys of the ‘hood get together to party hearty, which usually involves ‘just hanging’ and doing a range of boyish things and being very, very silly. I usually go along, you understand, only to see some chums and observe the shenanigans. A man of my mature years has to behave with decorum.
Last night, however, the theme was the Wild West. I haven’t strapped on a gun-belt now for almost half a century, so I was in a state of high excitement all week. As a small boy, I was obsessed with cowboys and Indians and barely a non-school day went by when I wasn’t wearing a hat and holster or playing with my Britain’s Limited Swappets. They were the loves of my early life, because you could interchange heads, hats, torsos, legs, gun belts, ‘kerchiefs and create your own custom-built miniature plastic cowboys.
I went to Brive on Thursday afternoon to cruise the Troc-shops in the hope of finding the kind of Western paraphernalia that I’ve been missing for a few decades. I had this idea that some kid might have deposited his Winchester repeating rifle and/or Colt 45 for a modest prize. It was a vain hope: this is France, after all, and not the Panhandle of Texas. In the end, I dropped into an emporium that specialises in cheap Chinese tat, I found me a hat, a plastic pistol and a belt that might serve, and all for just over a fiver.
The Fête de Mecs is a moveable feast these days. What started as Bret’s brainchild and solo venture has now been co-opted by committee. But it’s a committee that works. As Bret suggested – dressed up as Bretina last night, the big-hearted broad and bar room floozy – it’s a case of democracy in action. The chaps get together several weeks before the event to decide venue and theme, to design games and publicity materials and to build props.
Last night’s affair took place at a Dutch friend’s place about a 20-minute drive from here. His wife had gone away for the night to see a relative and had taken their three sausage dogs with them, presumably lest the hounds get caught up in the crossfire of a shoot-out. I arrived as the mysterious man in black, with black hat, black jeans, black shirt (‘sweet Gene Vincent…’) and black Long Rider coat that I bought years ago at Camden Market. It served me for appearances as Nosferatu at a friend’s firework party in Sheffield and as Keith Richards at Bret’s 40th birthday party soon after moving to the Lot. Since then it has hung from a hook in our cave, waiting for just such an event as last night.
It has long been a dream of mine that one day I might push open a pair of swing doors and stride into a joint where the piano player would stop tinkling the ivories and everyone would fall silent. Beautifully as Dmitri’s barn had been converted into a barroom for the occasion, there were no swing doors. Moreover, this stranger in black was clutching a bottle of wine and a big bowl of rice salad I’d made earlier. It somehow detracted from my impact. Lee, the organic farmer, was serving behind the bar in squashed top hat and dirty apron. Moke, the furniture-maker, was dressed as the escaped convict featured in the Wanted posters all over the walls and wearing manacles made from bits of guttering and painted plastic chain. Dmitri, the graphic artist, was a sneering sheriff with a waistcoat and a twin-holster gun-belt that I coveted immediately. Nonno, the serial party-goer, was a Mexican in a serious poncho. And there were a few other hangers-on, who looked like the kind of men that would sell dud rifles to the Injuns. While we waited for Bret – who was in a bedroom upstairs, discovering the tribulations that women go through when putting on make-up – we threw firecrackers, staged shoot-outs and simulated agonisng death.
There’s always an admission price – or frais d’entrée – to pay at these parties. Hell to pay, I call it, because it means drinking some dubious hooch of Bret’s devising. Over time, a merciful choice of grades has crept into it. Lee the barman, who understands that my capacity is strictly limited, advised the fire-water as the least ruinous option. You can’t sip with caution, but have to knock it back in one, as the taste is too foul to describe. I banged the empty glass down on the bar, but couldn’t fulfil another dream by sliding said glass along a great length of bar surface to the bartender, busy polishing his glasses with a dirty tea towel, because the bar was stunted and the surface hadn’t been polished to a suitable shine.
Each guest last night received a starter-pack of five dollar bills with which to speculate in the games in the hope of accumulating enough cash to buy one of the handsome plastic prizes on display behind the bar. I won the kitty at the first game by throwing the only horseshoe that stayed on the pole, but I’m sure the sneering, crooked sheriff kept his share of the prize-money. Moke won the second game, which was to lasso with old electrical cable the cactus that someone had made with an off-cut of chipboard. Meanwhile, some badass had the bright idea of robbing the bar of its evening takings.
A third game involved binding three hombres together so that they were facing different directions. The three-man crab then had three minutes to make their way up the steps onto the terrace and down the other side and across the lawn to a shelter where they picked up as many water-filled balloons as they could manage to carry over to the finishing post – without spilling the nitro-glycerine (represented by a plastic ball in a sawn-off polystyrene cup, which the middle one of the human triad had to hold by his teeth). Complicated – but they did it.
The final game involved crumpling up dollar bills and lobbing them across the bar room floor and into Bretina’s cleavage. I recognised that things were beginning their customary slide into post-midnight disarray and took my leave, which involved the very un-cowboy-like and very adopted-French-like business of shaking hands or even (gulp) double-kissing each and every person in the room. Dmitri had been firing up the family hot tub all evening and, much as I liked the notion of sitting in warm water under the stars, I just couldn’t be fagged with the effort of shedding my clobber unless it was to crawl into the marital bed. Besides, it was now pouring down with rain – and I sure-as-hell’s-flames mean pouring down. Nevertheless, as I left the shelter of the leaky barn, I spotted a single naked figure sprinting across the lawn towards the big wooden bathtub. Ya-hoooooooo!
These affairs normally go on into the wee small hours and involve floors and sleeping bags. Personally speaking, there’s no substitute for waking up in the comfort of my own bed. Soon after doing just that this morning, I shaved off my Clint-like stubble, cultivated over four days or more, not with a cutthroat, but with my disposable Bic razor.