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The Secret Cevennes - articles by Samantha David



      A light is shining through the mist and rain.  After weeks of no tourists, no parties, no nothing, Annette has announced a bingo evening.  Hooray.  Cancel everything!  We're off to the village hall to seek well, if not fame at least fortune... the prizes include crates of wine and whole smoked hams.

       I'd never have dreamed of playing bingo back in Blighty, but in Moisson we're all addicts.  The minute the posters go up, the diaries are cleared.  Everyone goes.  People even come from other villages.  I don't know why.  Both crates and hams are small, and the ambiance... well, it's a village hall.  The lights are neon, the heating creaks, and the chairs are those moulded plastic jobs. 

      But if you want to beat the crowds and get a good place (ie not behind the pillar) you have to get there early.  En plus, if you want the pick of the cards... and yes, this is all important because you have to get the right cards... the ones with 89 (la mamie) and 90 (le papie) on them.  They're the lucky ones.  Everyone knows that.  So you have to get there early so as to pick out the winning cards. 

      But that's not all.  There's the dried corn.  There's no point in playing with the broken bits at the bottom of the bucket.  You have to get the fat bits at the top so they don't roll off the cards which are all curly with age.

      If you can follow the game at all, that is.  The amplifier is dodgy.  I know, because it's mine.  It was a cheap practice amp to begin with, way back at the dawn of time, and I can't even remember where the mic came from... anyway, they're both rubbish, so you have to sit where you can actually hear Annette's voice. 

      And watch her lips because even if she had a PA from Glastonbury, it wouldn't do any good.  Everyone talks all evening long.  They bad-mouth the teachers in the local school, crack cheesy jokes, accuse each other of cheating, shout instructions at Annette, muck about, flirt with the old ladies and scrape their chair legs. 

      Annette doesn't mind.  She just doggedly goes on calling out the numbers and making her own mild quips.

      "Doesn't anyone want to win this stylish pottery typewriter?  Come on!  Try harder...  Trente et douze!"

      They all go mad.  What?  That number doesn't exist.  Does she mean 42?  Or has she just called 30 and then 12?  Half the players plunge towards the bar.  The rest scatter dried corn randomly across the abandoned cards until someone wins and Annette gamely battles on.

      "Don't you want to go home?" she shouts.  "Look, a genuine china lamp pedestal in salmon-pink look-alike marble!  Un petit.  Le cinq.  Le sang-que!"

      The break is a welcome oasis of peace.  Smoking is banned inside the village hall so everyone crowds into the bicycle shelter out the back.  (No-one ever leaves bikes there because the keys to the gate were lost back sometime in the last century.)

      Anyway, the bar sells beers and soft drinks, and under the counter there is wine and pastis and whisky - and more often than not Annette's sister opens a catering tin of fruit salad for the kids.

      After which it's back to the fray, and last time I have to admit I wasn't paying attention.  People all over the hall were accidentally knocking their corn off the cards, failing to hear the numbers, and pulling faces under the tables.  The prize was a lily-pad table, featuring five wobbling leaves at various heights and a witty plastic frog at the base, a huge unstable contraption made of plumber's brass and ornamented with vert-de-gris streaks. 

      But guess who thought it was all eyes down for a smoked ham?  And guess who won?  Hooray! 




Next column will be uploaded around 15th Dec.






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