|Me in Epernay railway station 1979|
I hitched to Folkstone and met Dave and we got on the Calais ferry. We soon got in with a gang and caroused across the English Channel. In Calais Dave threw up on the war memorial, what a great ambassador for his country he is. We slept the night in a bus station and next morning caught the bus to Bouloigne which Dave assured me was the best place to start hitching south from. The whole day went by and we didn't get one sodding lift. In the late afternoon we were joined by a crazy lady from Watford. I can’t remember her name so I’ll call her Jane. She was also going on the Vendage but she was under the impression that it involved taking your shoes and socks off and standing in a big barrel squashing grapes. After another two hours of no lifts we gave up and went to a bar and got drunk and then the three of us slept in a ditch by the side of the road. The next day we decided to split up, I would try and get a lift with Crazy Jane and Dave would go on his own and we would meet up at the Railway station in Toulouse. Dave walked off into the distance, it was to be a week before I saw him again. Almost as soon as he disappeared myself and Jane got a lift from a businessman on his way to Paris. Jane took a shine to him and changed her mind about heading south and said she fancied smoking a joint on top of the Eiffel Tower instead. At Abbeville we parted company and I was on my own, It felt great, and I began to get lifts now that I was alone and I headed for Amiens and then on to Rouens where Jeanne D'arc was burned. I walked through Liseaux in the rain on a Sunday evening and I thought of the old hobo in Kerouac’s Dharma Bums who was devoted to St Teresa of the flowers and I felt really holy and beat, I realized this was the only way to live. I had thrown myself on top of the world and I was floating. One of the many things I like about France is that your basic essentials of life like wine and tobacco are really cheap. You could get a bottle of Vin Rouge plonk for 3.5francs and I’d stuff that in my rucksack and take a slug anytime I felt my spirits waning.
"Pardon mademoiselle,je suis pas d'argent ,avez vous un franc pour mange sil vous plait,je cherche pour travail sur le vendage. Merci beaucoups"
Every time we got 3 or 4 francs together we would go and get a baguette and some fromage or pate and some wine and sit around in the park. One afternoon I counted nine different nationalities sat in our gang of wastrels and winos. It was great fun. Then the day came to go and start work for Maurice. It was back breaking work at first until we got used to it but I really enjoyed it apart from when Dave would catch my fingers from the other side of the vine with his secateurs. There were two other English on the farm, students from Oxford University but we didn’t hold it against them and a German lad called Werner who we got on really well with. He was an anarchist. We all slept in the barn on bales of hay and a happy month with Maurice passed really quickly.
"What’s up mate, are you feeling rough?"
"No, cake shop”, he said, pointing at a shop window.
He could never walk past a cake shop in France without buying a gateaux. It was in a little flea pit cinema in this town that I first saw the film The Last Waltz where Van Morrison effortlessly stole the show with Caravan.
"Oh my dear boy, don’t worry, I’ll phone my very good friend Madame Jumel, and she will give you a job".
It was great at Madame Jumel’s, we had a great big dormitory to sleep in. The first night there when I got in bed I realised this was the first bed I’d slept in for two months. In the morning we just had coffee and biscuits, then all piled into the camion. We did about two hours work and then had breakfast out in the fields. Lunch was also outdoors. We used to work our way along the vine singing Old Macdonald had a farm in French, Coupe ici coupe la etc. When you got to the end of the vine there was always a crate of wine there so you would have a good slug of it and start off down the next vine. The evening meal was great, it started about 7.00 and ended about midnight with everyone as drunk as a bishop. We had some great laughs. We were in a village called Cramant. Some evenings we would walk to the next village called Avize and visit Daisy and her friends. We used to get drunk on champagne every night and also champagne brandy which was like rocket fuel. We got really friendly with this couple called Cati & Claude.
|Me with Cati & Claude|