The Good Ol’ Boys
Wednesday 1 October 2003, by
Every village has them. The good ol’ boys who congregate in the village square or in the bar, gossiping and swapping tall tales and passing comment on the world as it goes by. Our village is no exception.
- Good Ol’ Boys
We are particularly blessed in good ol’ boys. There must be 10 or more to be seen of a morning, whiling away the time till midday, when Madame calls them in for lunch. It’s always midi on the dot, of course - an hour which, in honour of the local accent, we call ’l’heure du paing et du ving’.
They have their favourite spots, the good ol’ boys, and woe betide anyone who trespasses without invitation. The main gathering place is on the circular bench under the big plane tree in the square. Others prefer the benches that line the road, or the shady square by the post office with its war memorial and fish pond.
Three in particular like to park themselves on drowsy afternoons on the bench next to our old-fashioned metal bottle bank. Goodness knows why they favour this noisy spot, but perhaps it’s because they do like to trot out their jokes. They have two. One is "Hey! Don’t wake us up!" and the other is "You can leave any full ones with us." Every time you toddle up with your clanking load, and the good ol’ boys are on duty, you can be sure of being treated to these same two jokes. Laugh dutifully, if you value their good opinion.
This ’front’ part of the village, which abuts the busy road to town, is strictly male territory. In general the good ol’ girls have more important things to do than sitting in the square gossiping. Sitting gossiping on their front doorsteps, on hard wooden chairs, is favourite. If they should fancy a breath of foreign air, they can walk the 20 or 30 yards to the little walled garden beside the church.
The good ol’ boys have their factions. Jean-Bertrand won’t speak to Monsieur Chevallier - a long-standing difference over a game of boules, we believe - and their respective cronies usually follow suit. The three bottle-bankers like to keep themselves to themselves. Remy is popular in any group: our sprightly octogenarian ex-mayor with his tame pigeons and his pretty spaniel who is a tart for sugar lumps. He and I share a birthday, a fact which he never tires of telling anyone who will listen. He always concludes, triumphantly, with "But I had it first!!"
Of course as incomers, and English at that, and mere striplings of fiftysomething, we treat the good ol’ boys with extreme deference. At the very least, a respectful bonjour, messieurs is expected as we cross the square, and certain gentlemen positively require us to go out of our way to shake hands and exchange comments about the weather.
It is true that, if Himself and I have agreed to meet in the square, one or other of us might perch a cautious buttock on the very edge of one of the benches, but only if is empty, and we are always quick to give way should a rightful incumbent come into view.
And then came the day when our status rose among the good ol’ boys. Not a lot, and never to be presumed upon, but it was a start.
It was while I was absent in England on some errand or other. The village was celebrating one of its many traditional foires and Himself had the video camera out. He was doing his best to be inconspicuous, but the good ol’ boys have antennae for that kind of thing. Soon, it seems, they were mugging and playing to camera as if to the manner born.
That evening I got an excited phone call to tell me all about it. I should explain that Himself’s French, which is negligible when I am there to translate, amazingly blossoms into fluency when I am not. "And we had a really good chat," he burbled, "and guess what: they invited me to sit on the bench with them!"
I know my wifely duties. Here was clearly a case for unbridled enthusiasm. "Well done you!" I congratulated him. "You’ve cracked it: you’re an honorary good ol’ boy!"
(First published in French Property News)