On the last evening of my last trip before we opened for business, as it were, I ate at the village restaurant. It was a pleasant evening and the few customers Jean-Paul had that day were all eating in the garden. As I was enjoying my coffee, Jean-Paul came bustling up (Jean-Paul always bustles, no matter what he is doing) in a particularly self-important way.
"The mayor is coming in for a drink," he announced. "I'll introduce you."
He bustled away to push several tables together, remove the dinner settings and lay out for drinks. Obviously, the mayor had quite an entourage. I could have done with getting back to the house to lay the last piece of stair carpet and collapse into bed, but it would have been rude to slink away without shaking hands with the mayor, who is a Very Important Person in any French village. I called for another coffee to help me stay awake a little longer.
It was not just the mayor who arrived, but the entire village council. They had been holding a council meeting and had decided to wind down afterwards over a bottle or three of wine. Jean-Paul, full of self-importance, introduced me to each of them as they passed my table, which involved me shaking hands seventeen times. No sooner had the mayor and council sat down than Jean-Paul bustled up again to announce that the mayor had invited me to join them. I gathered they were re-hashing what had been discussed at the meeting, but I had some difficulty in following the conversation as all twelve of them were talking at once, with at least four different conversations going on at any one time. Not one of them spoke any English. I struggled through a discussion with the mayor of the difference in house prices in England and France, what the village planned to do for the children in the commune, and the old age pensioners' annual outing. I gathered that this last was the highlight of the village social calendar.
It was with a great relief that I strolled back through the pitch-dark night, the street lights having been turned off as usual at ten o'clock, stumbling over kerb stones and bumping into the occasional lamp-post or tree. On reflection, I decided that the sacrifice of an hour's sleep had been worth it. If nothing else, the mayor and council now knew of our plans to let the house as a holiday cottage and had raised no objection.