Lions share the work for a foire au gras

CHARLES ROBERTS It's Saturday morning at the local parish hall. Coming that evening is a band, plus a good dinner. It's a Lions Club event and there's much to be done.


It's Saturday morning at the local parish hall. Coming that evening is a band, plus a good dinner. It's a Lions Club event and there's much to be done.

A team of Lions is turning up in ones and twos (the French are almost invariably late for events), and any sense of urgency is notably absent.

But the great thing to observe is that the details are so quickly put in hand. There are tables to be set and fixed together, and white tablecloths to be spread. Then several piles of dining chairs were to be carried about, hither and thither

Among others who tackle the job, there's Yves, a retired senior gendarme (and one of our two mayors in the club) whose final years in the force were spent under the balmy skies of the West Indies.

There are times when his authoritative voice gives him away; but doesn't mask the fact that he is the warmest of people

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The event is Foire au gras - a goose, duck and foie gras fair, so the urge is strong to have everything perfect. You have to accept that the electric lighting is as it is - On or Off. Result, a room which has all the romance of a dentist's surgery.

“Who's going to do the flags and banners?” comes the cry. Most people are already busy. Several sets of eyes fix me. “Oh all right”, I respond with no enthusiasm.

The truth is, heights terrify me, even from the top of a modest 6ft ladder.

My partner Guy, quickly spots the problem, and urges me to shin down the ladder. I do so with relief. I put my head into the kitchen. “Can I help anywhere?” “You can polish the wine glasses.” Not sure, but it could have been the voice of Joël, second of our two mayors.

There's a regiment of glasses awaiting attention; but I find myself tackling them with brio and even enjoyment. Then again, it could be that it's the knowledge that the profits of this enterprise are going to deserving good causes.

From the foire au gras market, 1000 euros went directly to France's League Against Cancer. This year, in a quite different field, the Lions will be sending children from deprived backgrounds for a true summer holiday.

There are a vast number of Lions Clubs around the globe. But all share the general pattern of administration - and the wish to help people who are less fortunate than they are.

“Very often the overriding reason for forming a club”, says a spokesman, “is the desire of a group of people to gather socially and cultivate new and lasting friendships, while at the same time offering service to their local community. Such a club is possibly the happiest of all.”

It doesn't always happen so obligingly as that, even in a small club. We have a fairly consistent attendance of a dozen. Here you might expect good-tempered, harmonious response at all times . . . even if one is fuming under the skin.

Eventually these stresses ease off, and perhaps will in the end serve a useful, and happy purpose both inside and outside the club.

“Look for a job well done, and as like as not you'll find a team of volunteers in the background . . . preparing to take the lion's share”.

Meanwhile, catching up on last weekend's news, I noted that Lord (Charles) Forte, the catering and hotel king, had died at the age of 98. He came some years ago to be guest speaker at the annual dinner of the Institute of Journalists. Our President in that year was a highly eccentric individual, whose speech came from slightly to the right of Genghis Khan - and reduced us all to disbelief and acute embarrassment.

Lord Forte, very short in stature, very Italianate, and known as a brilliant and witty speaker, sat blandly beside the President, with the merest smile on his face. As the President finished, to a token scatter of applause, Forte was on his feet, and chirruping brightly: “You wouldn't believe it, would you, but I was once six feet tall, blue eyed and golden haired.”

There was a pause of mini seconds - then the audience exploded. It was not because it was a particularly funny quip, but the sheer nerve of its use which whisked away the embarrassment. In sheer gratitude, we gave Charles Forte a hero's ovation.

One of Lord Forte's favourite jokes took place as he emerged from Buckingham Palace, having collected his knighthood: “The shortest knight of the year”, he declared. To be accurate, 5ft 4ins tall!