We were having a lively discussion during dinner in the kitchen – not an argument – which could no doubt be heard outside. But we don’t expect people to be hanging around outside on a cold Sunday evening in January. So it was with some surprise that we heard a knock at the door. Two uniformed figures stood there.
They were pompiers, firemen, except that one was a woman. Their visit was a bit late this year. Normally, it’s before Christmas or in early January. Their mission? To deliver the annual calendar.
Those of you who have read Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence will know that this is a longstanding tradition in France. Representatives of various services turn up with a calendar, which you graciously accept whether you need it or not in return for a contribution to their social fund.
The pompiers, among others, penetrate to the darkest corners of the local communes they serve. No lieu-dit is left unprospected. Even the man who runs the local football club unfailingly turns up every year with their calendar. It’s very bad form not to donate.
And we’re happy to contribute. Most towns have a fire brigade, staffed partly by volunteers who turn out 24/7 in all weathers to attend house fires, forest fires, road accidents and other emergencies. They are trained to provide first-aid and to deal with seriously injured people. They also provide a first-response ambulance service.
Last Sunday, everything was done by the book. We handed over a banknote of a suitable denomination and received a receipt. The pompiers shook hands and melted away into the night.
The odd size of the calendar means it doesn’t fit in the place where one already hangs. But it has its uses. It’s a glossy production, with pictures of pompiers on manoeuvres, adverts from local businesses, and useful contact addresses.
Every page contains a handy safety hint and, on the back, there are instructions for performing mouth-to-mouth resuscitation and securing your swimming pool for children. There’s even a cut-out-and-make model of a fire engine. That’s not for me, I’m afraid. I am congenitally cack-handed.
Long may this tradition continue.
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