You have to keep your wits about you in France as it’s easy to get suckered into drinking wine and forgetting you have work to do. It was common in the days of Fleet Street for everyone to get a bit plastered at lunchtime, though now any sort of day drinking is much frowned upon in England except when it’s someone’s last day or birthday or around Christmas or a Friday. In France that proud tradition is not dead, particularly among the manual workers who drive heavy machinery.
Councils distribute meal tokens to these workers for particular restaurants, where they congregate between 12 and 1 – there’s no flexibility on lunchtimes in France – for a five-course feed. We join them at our local, Madame Boray’s, at a cost of about 12 euros all-inclusive. There the mainly extremely elderly staff plonk your grub in front of you without question or warning – you don’t get any options here, it’s just whatever they decide to make of the leftovers they have on the day.
Monday is usually garlic soup, followed by garlic and grated carrot balls with garlic sausage slices, followed by beef and garlic mash, then slabs of cheese and an ice cream – no garlic usually in those last two. My favourite is Fish Mash Friday – a big bowl of sloppy mash with bits of fish and whole garlic cloves mashed in is produced to the table and we all dollop onto our plates what we want. It’s good honest working men’s food. And it all comes with as much red wine as you can drink. Empty carafes are quickly replaced with full and the men take a leisurely hour devouring all this before driving back to work on their diggers. One thing I love about the French is their refreshingly informal attitude towards health and safety.
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