France | Well Albi Damned, The Table’s Ablaze

We’ve just left the museum, and I’m drinking a cherry Coke in a town square. Seth sits down beside me and places a weird fluffy tart on the table between us.

“What’s that?” I ask.

He says what it is but I’m not listening because I’m too busy staring at it and wondering what it tastes like.

“Do you want some?”

“It’s okay,” I say. “We’ve nothing to cut it with.”

Seth picks up the tart, which looks a bit like a pastry seashell covered in whipped cream, and tries to break it in half. It doesn’t break easily however, and he is forced to plunge both thumbs into the middle of it in order to rip apart. I watch this, silently, with an expression of frozen horror. Finally he lays my butchered half on the table in front of me and licks cream off his thumbs.

“There you go,” he says.

“What the fucking bollocks was that?”



We are walking through Albi’s mediaeval town centre, exploring avenues idly. We’ve just walked a bit of the way over a bridge, realised it didn’t lead anywhere interesting, and turned back. We walk past old buildings, weaving in and out of cute little folklore streets. Seth is telling me about a scientist in a video he watched. The scientist says that humans are, at their most basic level, doughnuts with three holes.

“What?” I say.

He looks at me and laughs. “What?”

He has baffled me on purpose: I know it. He loves to baffle. I know this, yet I cannot help articulating my rising bewilderment.

“What do you mean doughnuts with three holes?

“Well, basically, we’re just sentient passageways,” he says, as a young couple draws near to pass us on the left. “So there’s the first passageway, which is your mouth to your arsehole.”

He says the word ‘arsehole’ as the couple are perfectly level with us, and I laugh so abruptly that I spit everywhere.

“Fucking hell,” I choke, wiping my lips on the back of my hand. “What are the other two passageways?”

“Oh, I can’t remember. Ears?”


We are sitting around the dinner table, tucking into a gigantic Mont D’or, which is essentially a vat of molten cheese and is so delicious it makes me want to die. We eat it with soft potatoes and ham and gherkins: all of it, slathered in fantastically indulgent ladle-fulls of melted cheese. I am in my happy place, drinking wine with Seth and Blanche. It’s one of those moments where you forget about every bad thing and remember only good things, and feel very grateful for being born into a world that holds such loveliness.

I tell them the story of the time I told a barber I wanted to grow out my sideburns like Steve McQueen: the barber nodded and immediately shaved off my right sideburn, and when I said ‘what are you doing’ the barber said ‘oh sorry I forgot’. This story made them both laugh a lot. I love making people laugh, particularly if I’m fond of them.

As sighs of laughter die away, I reach over the table to take another large slice of ham. As I’m tearing it into little pieces over my plate, Blanche says ‘oh!’ and I look up to see the table is now on fire. I realise that I accidentally nudged the paper the ham was wrapped in over a candle, and the ham paper is now blazing quite steadily in the middle of us all. I do a little ‘ahh’ noise out of shame. Seth barely reacts: he is eating cheese. I blow on the fire but it doesn’t do much. Nobody seems overly phased at the fact the table is ablaze. Blanche is the one to put it out; she extinguishes it by dipping her hand into her glass and sprinkling a few drops of water on it.

Apologising for my faux pas, I go back to my dinner and pick up a gherkin to snap in half; they’re only little gherkins, too fiddly to slice with knife and fork. It’s harder to snap than I anticipated, so I give it some welly. It snaps and one end pings off and pocks Seth in the eyeball; he involuntarily he yells ‘ow’.

I apologise for setting the table on fire and hitting him in the eye with a gherkin.


I sit on a stool beneath an awning as it rains in the street. Seth is on a stool too, and between us is an upturned barrel with two beers on it and a half-finished packet of cigarettes: old habits die hard when I visit my boy. We’re sitting outside an English pub. Seth feels guilty about bringing me to an English pub when I’ve flown to visit him in France, but I don’t mind at all: there are no English people here, and whoever did the decor has clearly never been to England because it looks more like a pirate ship than a pub. I like it.

I ask Seth if he wants to hear a little of my novel – the one about our time on the blueberry farm where we first met in Australia. He says yes and I take out my phone, but then I get all shy trying to find a chapter I think is good enough to read out. I realise I’ve never read any of this book to him, or to anyone who was actually there. It’s a strange feeling.

I read a few paragraphs from a couple of different chapters. Seth laughs when I hope he’ll laugh, and he tells me my descriptions are bang-on. I smile and put my phone away, wondering how he’ll feel when he finally reads the passages that are about him. We sit and drink and talk about the past and the future. We talk a lot about the baby. He says he is nervous, but ready and excited. We talk about the fact that his life will change soon, and acknowledge that our adventures might be over for a while. I tell him he is going to be a wonderful father; that I can’t imagine a luckier child, being born to such good people. He says thanks, and he smiles.

“Boobs,” I grumble, looking away. “Tits.”

Seth looks at me like I’m insane. I realise immediately that he hasn’t seen the TV show I’m referencing: New Girl, when Nick and Schmidt say random manly things to compensate after any moment where they get soft with one another. I double down; I know he’ll pick it up eventually.

“Grrr,” I say. “Pints. Beef.”

Seth watches me, frowning, until he figures out what I’m doing.

“Grrr, lager.”


“Steak and ale pies.”

“Fuckin… big… asses.”


We are walking home after the pub. We’ve both had quite a few beers and some wine, and I’m a little bit giddy. I keep singing ‘War Pigs’. I tell Seth that I’ve had it stuck in my head for around three years, and he finds this very amusing. I sing it in a Brian Blessed voice because it’s funny.

“Do you remember in Tasmania, on one of our last nights, when Chloe convinced us all to try howling?” I ask.


“There was a thunderstorm and we sat outside and we all howled together like wolves.”

“Oh yeah!” says Seth, his expression clearing. “There was something really primal in it.”

“I always try to convince people to do it when I’m drunk,” I said. “No one ever does it.”

“You can give it a go now mate,” grins Seth.

“No, don’t be silly.”

“Why not?”

“People are sleeping.”

“They can go back to sleep. This is our last boys weekend, man. We might not get this chance again. Do it.

He says ‘do it’ in an ironic playground way, just FYI. Not like Emperor Palpatine.

Before my brain can rationalise against it, I let out a shrill howl, throwing my head back. It rains right in my face and it feels amazing.


“How’d that feel?”

“Pretty good actually.”

“Let me try,” says Seth.


We do again, this time together:



And it keeps raining but we’re too jolly to care, and we walk home.

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