A riveting village night out!

Last Saturday saw the long awaited “School Lotto” night. Well, it was long awaited by my nine year old at least. Both myself and my wife had for the previous three days been desperately racking our brains on how to avoid this awesome and auspicious event. Needless to say in the face of peer pressure from other parents and the constant whining on the said nine year old, we reconciled ourselves to our fate.

I say awesome event, as in our little bit of France, not a lot happens in the winter and usually, any event is better than none. I say auspicious, for surely it must have been, as the start time was given as nine pm. Obviously this is an auspicious time as defined by the ancient Mongolians who presumably used the rotation of Saturn to determine good start times for lotto evenings.

Note that above I said “School Lotto”. Unlike normal “Lotto” the proceeds of which usually end up in barrels of beer in Rugby and Football clubs, the proceeds of this event were to be ploughed back into school trips for the kiddies. A laudable event then. Well it could have been, but the down side of school lotto is that the Kids get to go too. Given the pre-arranged start time of nine in the evening and that the event takes on average four hours, we feared the worst. Imagining 20 or so eight year olds at one in the morning conjured scenes of tears and general mayhem. As it turned out I need not have worried about the late start time. As with all village events the start time given was for indication only, and we duly started the evening at nine forty eight, prompt.

The hall itself was packed. Over 190 of the strangest collection of people I think I have ever seen gathered in one place. The teachers were the easy ones to spot, woolly jumpers and sandals. Next were the farmers woolly jumpers and boots. The professionals were easy to spot. These were to be found as we entered, giving a very good impression of the French rugby team chasing a loose ball. Upon the entrance table were hundreds and hundreds of lotto cards, and these were being scrutinised, and fought over by some exceedingly zealous females. Apparently, getting the right selection of lotto cards is “oh so vital”. Seeing the scrum, my wife and I headed for the “Bar” where we were able to purchase warm Heineken and cold coffee.

We stood and watched as the professionals picked the table clean of all the “good cards”. Each one taking an average of ten cards. Upon regaining their seats, which I have no doubt they had been carefully reserving since the day before, to obtain the best acoustics, they proceeded to lay out, with what can only be described as reverence, the sacred lotto cards. The ceremony was not however over, as each of these “pros”, and there must have been at least 60 of them, then produced their special magnetic see through counters. These were scattered on the table and then magically swept up with a “Star Wars” like magic baton. We were awestruck, what chance would we have against this lot? It was left to my other, wiser half to remind me that, lotto is a game of chance. Looking at the assembled pros, I was not convinced.

Eventually we wandered over to the table and bought two cards each. We did not have magic counters, or light sabre batons, but we did have the contents of the kitchen piggy bank, all the small coppers. As we laid the coins on the table, next to our supply of beer and coffee we attracted some very strange looks, not just from the “pros” but from the rest of the villagers as well. More than once I heard “Ah its Peter, the English” followed by an understanding “Ahhhh” from across the room. It was at this point that we realised that we were the only non French in the room. I immediately thought of Basil Fawlty and had to keep reminding myself not to mention either Azincourt or Trafalgar.

The tension in the room was mounting by the second as one of the woolly jumpers mounted the stage and for the next ten minutes went through the rules. RULES !! It is lotto, children of five play it in the UK, but this is France, the country where the word Bureaucracy was invented. Thankfully there were no questions following the rules explanation and as the balls rolled around in the big metal cage an absolute silence filled the room. Then he was off.

In France there is none of the “Legs Eleven” or “Two slightly overweight ladies”. No. It is straight in with the numbers, and at speed! Number followed number in a machine gun like fashion until, after about ninety seconds, an almighty shriek went up. Some one had got a line. Not one of the “pros” either, but a spindly chap sitting next to the bar with a solitary card. The “Checker” was dispatched to verify his claim, following which he was presented with his prize, a huge hamper full of cheeses and wine. Given that his card had cost him all of two Euros, his broad toothless smile was exceedingly genuine. The other half and I looked at each other and within an instant we too were as avidly involved as every other person in the room.

Number followed number, shriek followed shriek and prizes ranging from whole ducks WITH the Foie Gras to Huge legs of dried ham followed in an endless stream. We were both so absorbed that we did not even get up to replenish the liquid supplies until woolly jumper announced the “Intermission”. This immediately led to a second scrimmage around the bar. Being British we stood back, until we were advised by our erstwhile “Monsieur Le Maire” to get in before all the cold pancakes went. We duly pushed, shoved and generally weaselled our way to the front, which surprisingly brought, not condemnation, but rather admiration from the assembled masses.

Five minutes later we were back at our table with coffees, beer and cold pancakes. Sheer bliss. The fact that the other half had brought a large hip flask with Armagnac in it made the coffee even more enjoyable. We sat and surveyed the room, which contained just under half the entire population of our village. The time did not matter, the fact that there were children everywhere did not matter. Every single person in the room was enjoying themselves, partaking of a simple, yet, oh so serious, fun evening.

We eventually left the Salle de Fete and ventured out into the road at just after half one in the morning. Whole families began walking back up the hill towards the village, which, due to the special event still had the street lights on. We had had a simply fantastic evening, and next year we will get there just a little bit earlier, to make sure that we at least get hot coffee. Oh and it was a bit of a success for the other half as well. She won a voucher for dinner for two at the local café. All in all, a great night!

Copyright with Peter Driscoll



I am looking forward to my " English Fish and Chips " at The Cafe du Centre on Friday. I asked the " Lotto Angel " , Peter laughed, but we did win !!!