Our regular post dinner walk was tonight accompanied by a distant rumble of thunder as the approaching downpour, threatened during the day by the ever-increasing mass of clouds cascading over the foothills of the nearby Alberes mountains, inched closer.
The crickets remained unimpressed, providing a rhythmic accompaniment of whirrs and clicks as we made our way down the road from our villa and past the nearby winery. (In fact a glorified cow shed - by day a rumbling, rich smelling hive of activity with a wizened old man clutching a spanner staring anxiously at his generator as it transformed the ever expanding pile of grapes into the local firewater). However, tonight only the faint glow cast by the irregular street-lighting and the pungent aroma of grape mulch gave any hint of its presence.
The crickets serenaded us all the way down in to Sorede. Despite the threat of rain, the Café de Sports' doors were as usual flung open in welcome, a beacon of light in the darkened village with its usual cast of characters framing the doorway; the genial owner/bartender, florid of features and cigarette hanging jauntily out of month, his wife performing feats of balance with coffee cups and glasses of pastis as she hurried to the remaining diners perched in the small dining area next to the bar; the local motorbike rider resplendent in his knee length leather boots (and no doubt keenly anticipating further opportunities to renew his acquaintance with the arriving Anglais and to share his love of Swindon - apparently acquired following a visit as an exchange student); and finally the blue chinned farm-hand clutching the side of cured ham which seemed to accompany him each evening on his visits to the bar.
The stage was set for a further instalment of the latest local entertainment - watching Les Anglais shoot their evening game of pool and marvelling at their at the lack of understanding of the rules of the game and their inability to adapt to the somewhat eccentric placement of the pool table (adjoining an ice cream-making machine and within half a cue length of the end of the bar - a recipe for knocked over drinks and disaster on many occasions during our two week stay).
Tonight, however, the atmosphere is different. Tonight the locals will take on the visitors. Their champions had been groomed; the local rules had been once again explained in a mixture of heavily accented French and (very) broken English to the tourists. Even the ice cream making machine had been specially moved to a more remote part of the bar to allow greater cue movement.
The sense of an approaching storm is underlined by the occasional burst of static and fading signal of the bar radio - permanently tuned to the French equivalent of Capital Gold with a constant diet of '60's good time music and, somewhat incongruously, the occasional Boney M medley.
The usual round of three demi-pression were ordered for the English participants although further alcohol was not strictly necessary given our (almost) unhealthy obsession with the Muscat Sec wine that we had discovered in the nearby cave (by the end of the holiday we had almost totally cleared out its stock of this excellent white). However, on the age old premise that liquid lubrication positively improves ones performance at pool, we decided to stick to our routine.
A Euro was duly tossed, and it is Les Anglais to break. The local team, lead by the bar owner, retreat to the bar smiling and confident. To reinforce our sporting credentials (and to try to even up the alcohol intake of the two teams), we order a round of drinks for our opponents - pastis being the beverage of choice, and the game begins. Our growing familiarity with the venue pays dividends and a fortunate pot from the break leads to two further balls being despatched into the holes. A safety shot follows leaving the cue ball at the bar end of the table where cue movement is restricted. Much tut-tuting and rearrangement of stools and drinks finally allows the bar owner to play his shot - a rather over-confident attempt at a long range pot into the far pocket given the limitations on space for his cue. After bouncing around the table, the ball hovers tantalising over a pocket.
And so it goes on, nip and tuck interspersed with increasingly lengthy consultations in between shots as the two teams are bombarded with advice from the spectators. Outside, the storm gathers and the dark sky is criss-crossed by lightening. Inside, the tuning of the radio is re-adjusted as the static worsens The game is close, and only the black ball remains. It is the tourists to play and we are reminded once again that local rules only permit the black to be potted (to win the game) by either rebounding the white ball off a side cushion before it strikes the black ball into a pocket or by causing the black ball to rebound off a cushion in to a pocket - no easy task either to explain to uncomprehending Englishmen or to achieve when the pressure is on. A brave attempt is made on behalf of the away team but no success. A sudden buzz of anticipation as the bar-owner steps up to the table to finish the game. Once again over-confidence undoes him and the black remains resolutely unpocketed. A series of increasingly extravagant shots follows as both teams try to find the right combination of ricochets to pot the black ball until, more by luck than judgement the white ball sends the black spinning off three cushions and then into the bottom pocket. Victory for the visitors, and a murmur of disappointment from the spectators.
"C'est facile, n'est pas", smiles the bar owner. We nod, trying to contain our satisfaction. The long threatened rain has arrived pouring through the canopy outside the front of the bar and the prospect of a damp walk back to the villa is not attractive. "Another game?". But of course, although the bar-owner must return to his duties and his place is taken by the motorbike rider with the love of Swindon. And so the evening continues, the deluge outside contrasting with the warmth and friendliness of the competition inside as we spend another convivial evening in downtown Sorede.
AL24, Sorède, Roussillon
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