La Rentrée 2021

A quiet few weeks since my last postcard. A trip to Orléans. A flying visit to the UK to see family and friends. The most interesting thing to occur here in Poitiers was probably my encounter with a delightful lady called Emmanuelle, whom I bumped into when she was walking her pet pig, Banda, down Rue de la Chaîne.

Actually, looking back, I’m not sure who was walking whom. Whichever it was, Banda certainly looked at peace with the world.

***

September means la rentrée here in France, a time when the whole country seems to wake up and get back to work. Smaller independent businesses, including boulangeries, florists, pharmacies, and clothes shops, which have been closed for some or all of August, reopen. Students return to schools and universities. Parliament resumes its sessions, in what is going to be a busy period leading up to next year’s Presidential election. La rentrée littéraire sees hundreds of new books published. There is a general sense of renewal in the air, and it is heightened this year, as we now appear to be over the latest surge of Covid cases, the ongoing vaccination programme giving cause for cautious optimism.

Here in Poitiers, an aspect of this process is the annual Journée des Associations, which was held at the weekend in Parc Blossac. Charitable organisations, sports, and social clubs set out their stalls to try to attract new members. The word association is a bit of a mouthful in French, having six syllables: ‘ah so see ah see yon’. For convenience, it’s usually abbreviated to asso. When I suggested visiting the Journée to Madame, she would only go on condition that I promised not to make any jokes using this abbreviation. It turned out to be good fun, and I have put my name down as a volunteer for the local banc alimentaire (food bank). I must admit I was slightly disappointed that my previous experience at the Ely Food Bank (assistant in charge of baked beans and other tinned tomato-sauce-based products) didn’t seem to count for much.

***

Some organisations have had a more successful rentrée than others, Supermarket chain Monoprix got themselves into a spot of bother by selling rentrée orange juice, which sounds pretty innocuous until you look more closely at the bottles.

They are covered with drawings and phrases more normally seen on public convenience walls: things like … well, I’ll let you read them yourselves. As with all images, if you click on it, it will appear in another window (only do this if you are over 18, obviously). A complaint from the police union Alliance Police Nationale,objecting to the acronym ACAB, has led to the bottles being withdrawn.

***

Much in the news last weekend about 18-year-old Emma Raducanu winning the US Open tennis championship, but it was another sporting story that caught my eye. Tyrone clinched the All-Ireland Football Championship title by beating Mayo 2-14 to 0-15 in the final at Dublin’s Croke Park stadium, the first time Tyrone have beaten Mayo in the past thirteen years.

What makes it fascinating is that this is another example of the ‘Mayo Curse’ that has prevented the county from winning the title since 1951. The curse was placed as the Mayo team were returning home having beaten Meath in that year’s final in Dublin. They were being driven through the village of Foxford when they passed a church where a funeral was under way. The players did not get out to pay their respects, and the enraged priest uttered the fateful words: ‘For as long as you all live, Mayo won’t win another All-Ireland.’

And so it has come to pass. Despite its small population of 130,000, Mayo has reached the final ten times since 1951, but to no avail. The curse endures, as there is one member of the 1951 winning team still alive – Paddy Prendergast, aged 94. Paddy should probably tread carefully if Mayo do well next year.

I sympathise with Mayo supporters but, judging by Fulham’s measly trophy collection, I suspect their team bus has been racing past funerals throughout their history.

***

Overheard on my trip to the UK:

In the Alexandra pub, Wimbledon. Two men in their forties, dressed identically like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, baseball caps, white polo shirts, shorts, and trainers. One eating fish and chips, with condiments in small ramekins:

Non-eater: ‘Don’t do that.’

Eater: ‘What?’

Non-eater: ‘You’re double-dipping, ketchup and tartare.’

Eater: ‘So?’

Non-eater: ‘You can’t do that. It’s turning my stomach.’

In M&S Wimbledon. Elderly couple:

She: ‘I think we’ve still got that tin of custard open in the fridge.’

He: ‘Yeah, and the haddock.’

Young girl to a friend in Pret a Manger, King’s Cross station:

‘I like cheese and onion, but it always makes me …’ [she puts her hands around her mouth and silently says ‘fart’].

On the Paris–Poitiers train home. One of a group of four Englishmen eating their own weight in hot junk food:

‘There was this sushi place in Edinburgh. All you can eat for 12 quid. Fuck me, did me and Eric tear into it.’

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