Marcel Fufas is an ordinary
bloke. Along with his wife Renee and his two children, in the gaps that
are left to him by family life and the demands placed on a lineman by French
Telecom, his passion is pigeon racing. This sport is a very big deal in
Europe. A *very* big deal. There are races for which the glittering prizes
outstrip the dreams of avarice, and amongst the biggest is the annual Prix
de Cul Celebre event staged between Aix-en-Provence and the home lofts
of fanciers from Hamel Hempstead to the shores of the Black Sea.
Imagine Marcel's excitement, then, when on a mild but breezy afternoon in the suburbs of Cherbourg, while tending his birds in the converted attic of a Napoleonic pension he shared with his immediate family and the genetically-challenged siblings of his wife's purported father, he heard the fluttering of wings and the clack of a timer gate from the dormer window at the other end of the room.
"Hercule! Hercule! Mon brave, mon ami supreme et vraiment! Aux mes bras, mon petit, et suck on this!" His ecstasy knew no bounds. Cred at last! Cred at last! Great God Almighty, got cred at last! Visions of spending the rest of his life naked and humming on the Isle des Pines danced on Marcel's inner screen as he stumbled over joists and rafters, occasionally planting his foot through the paster ceilings of the rooms below - to the chagrin of Renee, who was on the toilet at the time - towards the bright but vaseline-hazed light of a secure and famous future.
Helas! We may dream, but there is always a Second Law of Thermodynamics no matter what we may crave. In Marcel's case, it manifested in the person of one Pepe Lopez, the neighbours' enormous and usually indolent ginger tomcat. What was going through the mind of this emissary of the Gods of Nemesis that afternoon will forever be a mystery of no more than passing interest to the denizens of soc.history.what-if and the folks who see black helicopters where the rest of us see mosquitos, but as Marcel approached, arms outstretched, the object and theme of his innermost passions and desires, the pigeon was promptly and unceremoniously snaffled by the cat.
Tragedy enough, I hear you say, but there is a wrinkle to the fraught business of pigeon-racing that here assumes enormous significance. Before these avian rodenta are released upon an ignorant and unsuspecting planet, representatives of Race Management attach to their legs a ring bearing the kind of arcane numerology the rest of us only experience as a result of transmitting our credit card numbers to interested parties doing boffo biz on the World Wide Wank. Sans nombre, rien, merde alors, and as Marcel watched the moggy nip out through the dormer window with Hercule in its mouth, all the centuries of French passion epitomised by Eiffel Tower 1940 rose up in his bosom like a tide which when taken in the flood gets your shoes wet. He needed that number.
"Hercule! Hercule!" he flung himself bodily across the crawl space like Keir Dullea in the airlock. Crashing through the sagging panes, he made a desperate grasp at the furry felon's tail, missed by a miniscule fraction of the distance from Paris to the equator as measured by a baker from Toulon, and, tumbling headlong across the tiles and gargoyles, the lead guttering and anti-German graffiti, over the edge of the roof and down into the parish pissoir with nothing to show for his pains but a few threads of ginger fur clutched between his fingers like the dim memory of a schoolgirl on a crowded bus, saw the cat dart out into the road where it was promptly run over by a Post Office Citroen.
Broken, he lay there in the noisome gutter, moaning and bubbling in a most pathetic manner, but it was 2pm and the entire nation was asleep. Mere metres away lay the key to his future, glittering faintly amongst the blood and feathers , mocking him in his pain with every photon of the fading afternoon light. Occasionally a vehicle would swish by, its GB plates flashing as it ran the stoplight on the wrong side of the road, or one of those panda-coloured Peugots with the hee-haw sirens carrying a sub-editor from Paris-Match to his rendesvous with that tight-buttocked Ukrainian sailor under the plane trees of the Bois du Boulogne would pass unheeding. Eventually <'Manuel' accent, here: *ee-phen-chu-all-lee*> a passing gent des armes responded to the insistent tugging at his trouser cuff from under the wrought-iron wreckage of a listed cultural relic, and, after a few moments of confusion regarding who was to pay whom for what, called an ambulance to the scene.
Insistent through the pain, Marcel managed to convince the attendant paramedics that if they let him make use of their radio-telephone link he wouldn't get nasty about the wallet. Patched through to Race Control at Strasbourg, he stammered out the vital number on which all his hopes and dreams had their foundation.
He came second, and got a nice bronze plaque.