Image via WikipediaThis is the time of year when French hospital emergency departments are on standby. Not for traffic accidents, but for the incidence of 'oyster knife through the palm of the hand, having drink taken'.
I think myself that the problem is not so much opening the things, but trying to impress the assembled company by doing it at speed, having left the whole operation until the guests arrive rather than, as I favour, wrestling with the brutes shortly before. This gives me time to pick out all the flakes of shell, put the six tea towels that I have used into the wash, and change my clothes. It is a messy operation. I used to have an electric gadget which sawed away at the shells, but it became overheated. I know how it felt.
When we used to go to New Year parties got up by friends using the village hall, I used to watch, amazed, as Frederic or Georges would manage what amounted to a production line, managing closed oyster, oyster knife, oyster duly opened and a glass of Muscadet at the same time. I would have needed as many arms as an Indian goddess, but they managed with the regulation two.
The days of those events are over. The drink driving laws, for a start...and for a finish. Didier is convinced that the gendarmerie, previously relaxed about the coincidence of alcohol and steering wheels, became vicious once the bars were closed down in the gendarmerie barracks, thus their eagerness to breathalyse anything that moves.
Life is difficult enough at the back end of the year. I was warned when I first moved to France not to go into the local town on Friday afternoons in November and December, as the gendarmerie would be trying to pick up on the points and penalties they had been too idle to collect in the rest of the year, and it seemed to be true. Every layby had its' gendarme and pocketbook.
The gendarmerie station in St. Ragondin excelled itself and entered local legend by asking the maire for a special visit by the dustmen to pick up the debris from their New Year party. The dustcart arrived, enormous quantities of bottles were loaded up, and then some bright little gendarme gave the dustmen a ticket because one of the dustcart's tyres was bald. They've been taking their own bottles to the dump ever since.
Two years ago, we ventured out to visit friends on the other side of the nearest town just before New Year, and, coming back in the early hours, were surprised to find all the street lights out. Slowing to a crawl, we became aware that there were lines of paddy waggons in the off street parking, and promptly turned tail to take the ten kilometre deviation through the lanes and villages to get home.
The neighbour had not been so lucky. He had driven through the town and at the roundabout had had the shock of a man wearing a balaclava and armed with a sub machine gun jumping out in front of his car. Convinced he was in the presence of some terrorist, he stopped, only to find that this was a gendarmerie exercise against drink driving.
What amazes me is that the idiot responsible for that good idea assumed that one would stop the car when faced with an unidentified assailant, rather than driving straight over him. Still, I'm forgetting, this is France.
With all this in place, you would have to be mad to go out to a restaurant to celebrate New Year's Eve if you intended to drink more than one glass of wine, as the gendarmerie - surprisingly - know where the restaurants are and where to lurk to breathalyse their customers.
Going to visit friends to celebrate now involves a great deal of mapwork down the lanes and the tracks across the vineyards...just like going to the distillery used to, but this time at night, with more than one glass of wine having been accepted and a torch which is bound to fail at the wrong moment.
It is all too stressful.
We've had our days or muscadet and oysters. We know that 2010 will arrive even if we are in bed at the time. The arrival of a first footer with coal and whisky is highly unlikely. There is no Andy Stewart and the White Heather Club - thankfully - so we're having friends over for a Balti at lunchtime and a quiet drink before bedtime, all to ourselves.
I reckon that the only thing in France that will be lit up tonight will be the Eiffel tower.
A very happy New Year to you.