I was going through my holiday snaps yesterday and I came across some people that we met in France, in the early 1990s. And I remembered the day they dropped in and the terrible thing we did.
They were a French couple, let’s call them Philippe and Marie, and we had been introduced by mutual friends. They were kind; they fed us copious amounts of delicious French food, and they took us out in their tiny little cute fishing boat and really, how much more hospitality could two strangers want?
So when they turned up on our doorstep, unannounced but most certainly not unwelcome one Sunday lunchtime, we were determined to show them a good time. Unfortunately the first thing I had to do was ring work and throw a sickie. This was not going to be popular as I was down for a really awful shift, and no one was going to be happy about filling in for me. Still, it had to be done.
‘Ill?’ said my boss. ‘You are having a laugh.’
‘No, really,’ I bleated. ‘I am ill.’ And I coughed to prove it.
‘Yeah, right,’ he said. ‘You can come in now, or do late shifts for the next six weeks.’
Cough, cough, cough, I spluttered, and the line went dead.
Still, I had the day off, and we took Philippe and Marie down the pub, a real old English one in a village straight out of Miss Marple, and bought them real English beer, which apparently they had been dreaming of for weeks.
And then we had our second problem. We had decided to treat them to a pub lunch, but by the time we arrived, lunch was over, and they didn’t do evening meals on a Sunday. I have to say now that we live right out in the sticks, and Sunday shopping was, at that time, a happy dream away.
‘What are we going to feed them,’ I hissed at my husband, who was also enjoying the beer.
‘Haven’t we got something in the freezer?’ he muttered.
‘Frozen chips,’ I said. ‘And a bag of ice cubes.’
This was getting serious. Anybody else, and we could have given them egg and chips. But Philippe was a noted cook. And French to boot. Oeufs and frites a l’anglais were not going to cut it.
Then Steve had a lightbulb moment. ‘The rabbit,’ he said.
Philippe and Marie looked at him in some puzzlement, and then around the pub. ‘A lapin?’ said Philippe. ‘Here, in the pub?’
Steve cleared his throat. ‘Rabbit,’ he said. ‘My dad goes shooting, and he got this rabbit. He thought we’d like it for dinner.’
I choked on my beer. The rabbit he was talking about had been brought round by my father in law to give to the dogs.
But Philippe was delighted. ‘Have you got mustard? French mustard?’
We nodded. He gave a little gallic shrug. ‘Then I can make you my special rabbit in mustard sauce. This is proper country food.’
So that was all right then. Several pints later we went home, dug the rabbit out of the freezer and stuck it, tightly frozen in a paper bag, in the microwave.
Strangely, a lovely smell of roast beef began to fill the kitchen. ‘That does not smell like rabbit,’ said Philippe.
I took the package out of the micro, and discovered on unwrapping it, that on top of the rabbit, were the remains of my in-laws’ Sunday dinner, complete with bits of trifle, which they had also very kindly donated to the dogs.
There was only one thing to do. I grabbed the beef, opened a drawer at random and shoved the soggy mess under some tea towels. Leaning back against it, I turned to face our bemused guests. ‘Nearly there with the rabbit,’ I said. ‘A few more twirls in the micro, and then you can work your magic.’
Steve poured more wine and handed Philippe the mustard, and I have to say, he cooked it supremely well.
The dogs weren’t very happy though. And after several days of nightmare shifts, neither was I when I remembered what I had done with the beef.