Terry Wogan column

From his holiday home in Gers, our columnist Terry Wogan ponders the loveable eccentricities of his French neighbours

Summer found me sheltering from the intermittent showers that dogged the south-west of France this year. I’m not complaining – nobody goes there for the weather, but for the peace, calm, tranquillity, and the sunflowers that blazed magnificently this year. ‘Fields of Gold’ as the song says...

Not far from me, on the other side of the sunflowers and vines, is a charming town named Condom, beautifully situated on the River Baïse, with an historic cathedral, buildings that could only be French, and friendly cafés and bars. For the passing British tourist, however, it’s the place’s name that seems to be it’s main attraction. They can regularly be seen having their photographs taken beside one of the town’s signs, laughing heartily.

The locals appear bemused. It’s a moot point whether the French look more askance at the Brit than they do the Yank, but, in common with the rest of Europe, they find the British sense of humour something of a puzzle... “Ah, les pauvres Anglais. It’s their bad weather and terrible food. Gets to their brains. C’est dommage.”

Well, I hate to break it to you, but les Anglais are not alone in their peculiarities. The other week, in my relentless search for the ultimate in the cuisine terroir of the Gers, I strayed into a bistro in a traditionally deserted village which, as ever, posed the question: “Where is everybody?”

As I opened the front door of the restaurant, I was greeted by a blast of Brazilian music that was more suited to the frantic rhythms of the Copacabana of Rio than the famous bonheur of the south-west. A smiling boy, obviously from Ipanema, danced us to our table, and in an instant had shaken, stirred and pressed caipirinhas into our grateful hands. A merry matron shimmied up and took our orders with much roguish laughter, as she swayed to the insistent beat. And so the South American theme continued, although the menu owed more to local flavours than the Amazon; unless, of course, confit and magret of duck are as popular in South America as Gascony.

Then, as if to reflect the traditional dishes, the music changed, from merry Jobim to moody Brel. With it went the mood, the service and the staff. Cariocas who, moments before were banging the tambourine while dishing up the grub, were hanging moodily around the bar, smoking and mixing their own cocktails, and the fat lady had obviously danced and sung her last...

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The service, while initially a jolly breath of the warm south, had been more samba than quickstep, but the hours between courses had passed unnoticed amid the music and laughter.

We left, four hours after we entered. I’ve always wanted to see Rio de Janiero. I don’t think I’ll bother now, it might be an anti-climax after my Brazilian evening in the Gers...