Ties, rugby scarves, and curling photos of celebrations past line every dark nook, cranny and crevice. The beamed ceiling swings low with hundreds of dusty beer glasses. The gruff, comically French looking proprietor nods as you take a seat at the bar. His busy, black and gold shirt tucked in over a small pot belly into the top of his beltless bleu de travaille trousers. Jean Reno, gone to seed. A lunchtime regular jumps through the door, taking refuge from the torrential rain outside. As he walks up to the bar, he pushes his ‘IN/OUT’ block over to announce his presence, his eyes scanning down the dozen or so other names on the list to see who else is there. Several people give him solemn machine gun kisses on alternate cheeks.
‘Qu’est-ce que vous voulez boire?’ Asks Jean Reno. ‘Une bouteille de la vin rouge maison, s’il vous plaît’, I reply in faltering schoolboy French. He smiles. First test passed, I’m happy to have a go at speaking French. I get the distinct impression that if I hadn’t tried the door wouldn’t have even hit our arses on the way out. Halfway through the first bottle of wine, we order off the scribbled chalk board menus. There are cold plates of cheese, charcuterie and rillettes, French onion soup, Toulouse sausages, fish gratin, beef Bourguignon and a specials board with merguez frites and entrecote frites on. I plump for the Toulouse sausages and my partner in crime the merguez. It arrives, a steaming pile of sausage, puy lentils and the smoothest, most butter laden mash I have ever eaten. Perfect for the chilly, volley of rain outside.
Another bottle of wine arrives, the lunch crowd gradually ebb away, goodbyes, till next Fridays and more rapid, staccato kissing. The place quietens down. Characters, boozers and losers pissing the afternoon away. For a little while at least, I join them.