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Thursday, 25 December 2014

Thursday 25th December: Christmas Day in Brittany ‏

A very eventful Christmas day. Karl had invited me over to his place and when he discovered Celine was also staying in Brittany over Christmas, he insisted she come too. He had already told me that Stefanie, his daughter, was arriving on Christmas Eve and would be cooking the dinner.
It was a cold, crisp morning and when Celine arrived at my place. She was wrapped in a woolly coat, a long scarf, gloves and a stripy hat. My cottage was warm and and she stood with her back against the radiator, shivering. (Celine hates the cold. I think she'd be far more suited to a tropical climate).
At Karl's the kitchen had been transformed. The big wooden table had been placed in the middle of the of the room and was set for dinner with a tablecloth and napkins and a centre piece arrangement of holly and red candles. Home made paper chains sparkled from the ceiling and strands of tinsel were draped over all the available furniture. (This had to be Stefanie's doing). Jean-Luc was hunched in the corner armchair; an ancient tabby cat purring on his lap. He and Karl were both wearing a red Christmas hats.
Celine was admiring the table when Stefanie came into the room. She was tall and fair, like her dad. She radiated energy, giving the impression of bounding from place to place. She introduced herself and started chatting to Celine about her course at the Free University of Berlin. She too was wearing a Christmas hat and handed one each to me and Celine, insisting we wear them. Karl smiled indulgently at his daughter as he watched us pulling them on. (I have the feeling she can do no wrong as far as he's concerned).
As we were talking there was a loud hooting from outside, followed by a screeching of tyres on the gravel drive. Karl looked out the window and sighed. I guessed it was Marie and her brothers. There was a loud banging on the door. Karl went to open it, whilst Celine and I watched from the kitchen. Marie was standing there in her black knee high boots and dressed in what could only be described as a party frock; a sparkly frilly thing with bows and ribbons, which, on her, looked ridiculous. The twins were standing behind her, arms folded. They were still in their blue overalls, but with one major difference: they were both wearing matching red jumpers, with a design of snowflakes dotted around a smiling reindeer's face. Celine nudged me and laughed. I wondered where on earth Marie had got these from. She said nothing to us, but called her husband's name. Before we had time to say anything, Jean-Luc scuttled past us, out through the door and into the van; no words of thanks to Karl, no Happy Christmas: nothing. We watched as they sped off. Karl shrugged and said in a way he was relieved Jean-Luc was no longer his problem.
In the kitchen Stefanie had put on a CD of Christmas songs, and urged Celine to sing along with her. Karl and I were then treated to a tuneless rendition of "I'm dreaming of a white Christmas". 

Stefanie said she had thought for a long time about the dinner and had decided to include French, German and British traditional recipes. Karl said she'd got up at five o'clock, been for an hour's run through the country lanes, and then started preparing dinner on her return. It might be her age but I wonder if she'll have the same energy when she's fifty.
The first course of grilled leeks and stewed garlic on toast was delicious. Celine asked if Stefanie wanted any help but she was already there, serving the main course; a rack of lamb with Rosemary and thyme. She had prepared whipped potatoes with garlic and cheese accompanied by herbed haricot verts and carrots. She carried over a bowl over to me and proudly lifted the lid to present roast potatoes and Brussels sprouts, saying she'd researched British Christmas traditions and these were in honour of me. The food was excellent! Karl said that a lot of German families have goose for their main course, but having so many in his lake he couldn't do this. Celine had read somewhere that carp is a German delicacy at Christmas, but Karl said it depends on where you live. In Berlin, families would have roasted pork or goose.
For dessert Stefanie had brought over a Stollen from Berlin. This is a cake filled with dried fruit and swirls of marzipan, served with whipped cream. To accompany it we had a large jug of Gluhwein; a mulled wine served warm. We had almost finished when, to my amazement, Stefanie announced she wanted to see the dolmens at Carnac, and now would be a good time. Karl said we were all too full up to go out and it was too cold. But she insisted, saying that as she didn't drink, she would do the driving. It was two o'clock and the light was already beginning to fade, but I could see that Stefanie was used to having her own way and it felt mean to complain after she'd cooked us such a lovely dinner. She took the van keys from Karl, and ran out into the driveway. The three of us wrapped ourselves in hats and coats and followed slowly behind. We set off, Celine giving directions, whilst Karl snored away in the front seat. I could feel myself slipping off to sleep, but Celine kept nudging me.
It took us about half an hour to reach the main site of standing stones, just outside Carnac. The place was deserted, as were the roads: everyone, presumably, at home in the warm. As soon as we arrived Stefanie got out her phone and started taking pictures. She asked if we knew why the stones were arranged in perfect straight lines. Celine said it was because they were believed to be a Roman Legion which was turned to stone by the wizard, Merlin. She said there are more than three thousand standing stones in the area, taken from local rock and erected by the pre-Celtic people of Brittany. They are the largest collection of such stones in the world, some believe they date back to 4500 B.C. The three of us shivered, as we watched Stefanie take endless pictures. 

We were freezing, but Stefanie doesn't seem to feel the cold. Karl called her to come back into the van as darkness was falling and it would soon be impossible to see anything.
Back at Karl's we made coffee while Stefanie went up to her room to use her laptop. Karl told up her mum had died when she was six and it had been hard for both of them. He said he's very proud of her but admits he finds it difficult to say no. Celine said she's a lovely girl and was impressed by her cooking skills. I added she has a good future ahead of her, she's doing well at university. Karl said she hopes to become a lecturer. (It's obvious he loves having her around. I don't think he'll want her to go back).
We drank more of the Gluhwein, and fell asleep on the sofas.
I woke with a start to the sound of music playing. Stefanie was clearing the table, singing along to a Christmas Carol while Celine and Karl were discussing German folklore. The fire in the big old hearth had been made up and the kitchen was warm and cosy. We stayed up late into the night, talking, until all of us (apart from Stefanie) drifted back to sleep.

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Tuesday 23rd December: Familiar Faces‏

Had a nice surprise this morning when Paul knocked on my door. He and his family are staying at the gite over Christmas and New Year. It was good to see him again. He said Isabelle is doing well; the baby is due in April. He had come round to invite me over for dinner this evening. When I mentioned Celine is coming to see me, he said she would be welcome too. I told him I would bring the Banoffee Pie I made yesterday. I also asked if he wanted to use my piano. Knowing he wouldn't be able to resist, he spent the rest of the morning playing Poulenc and Bizet.

Celine arrived about five. She'd been busy interviewing residents of an elderly people's home near Vannes; recording their memories of folklore and local legends passed down by their parents and grandparents. Soon after she arrived we went over to the Gite where Isabelle was about to serve the first course: French onion soup. She looked very well and said that everything was fine with the baby.
Mathilde showed us the little Christmas tree which her parents had bought that morning from the market near Lorient. Isabelle whispered something to her and she handed me one of the presents from under the tree, telling very slowly in French that I wasn't allowed to open it until Christmas morning. When I asked what she wanted for Christmas, she screwed up her face in concentration. Her mum explained that she was crazy about anything to do with the Disney film, "Frozen".
In respect of me, Celine, Paul and Isabelle spoke in English, but to Mathilde, who's only eight, it was in French. I could understand some of it, anything too difficult I asked Celine to fill me in. I was able to follow the conversation when Celine asked Mathilde if she was looking forward to having a brother or sister. I don't think Mathilde would be jealous; she seems excited but she did say that if it's a boy she's going to send him back!
The soup was very good (nothing like the French onion soup I used to make back in England) and the main course (beef bourguignon) was even better. Isabelle said she's taken several cookery courses in Paris and now would like to start up her own catering company.
Over dinner Celine asked if Paul and Isabelle they had ever been to the Forest of Broceilande; a magical forest near Rennes which is believed to be the last resting place of Merlin from the legend of King Arthur. Mathilde was very interested in this and wanted to know more (She's very bright for an eight year old). Celine told her that Merlin's father is said to be one of Satan's devils who was sent to earth to create an evil child who would have control over men. Mathilde listened, enraptured, as she was told how the baby, Merlin, was christened and so lost his evil powers and grew up to use his magic to do good. Celine said the Forest has many magical places including a spring called The Fountain of Baranton. It was here that Merlin first encountered the witch, Viviane, who whom he fell in love. Mathilde insisted her parents take her to visit the forest before they return to Paris (I'd be interested in seeing it too).
My Banoffee pie went down well; everyone seemed to enjoy it. We finished with coffee. Celine asked if Isabelle and Paul had any names for the baby. Paul said they had decided not to find out the sex and so were waiting until the baby was born. Mathilde suggested Beyonce for a girl and Justin (after Justin Bieber) for a boy: her parents were horrified! Celine said her son, Julien, is in Melbourne, Australia. He's twenty-three and a marine biologist. Isabelle thought it must be strange to have Christmas in the Summer, but Celine said he's been there two and a half years and so should be used to it by now. I think she misses him, but it's so expensive to travel there, she said she doesn't know when she'll next see him.
It was nearly ten when we left and made our way back to my cottage. I couldn't believe it when I saw a figure standing at my door. My first reaction was to panic. But as we got closer I saw it was Adele. She was leaning against the door, and had a parcel wrapped in Christmas paper. I asked her what she was doing. she smiled at me, ignoring Celine and said she hadn't been waiting long but had wanted to give me my present. I unlocked the door and she followed us in. Celine said nothing but sat down in one of the armchairs whilst Adele handed me the present. In the light of the living room, her skin had a strange orange tone. Her eyes were overdone with black eye-liner and as usual, her lipstick was smudged. Her eyes were fixed on me. She said she wanted to give me her present now as she was spending Christmas with her mother and would be leaving tomorrow.
We both heard Celine mutter, "Thank Goodness!"
Adele swung round and glared at her. She began shouting at her in French, saying she was a cheap whore and to keep her nose out of her business. Celine said nothing to this but just laughed. This only caused Adele to shout louder. The last thing I wanted was an argument but I told Adele, as calmly as I could, that she should leave. She glared at me, then at Celine before turning away, and slamming the door behind her. I opened the present. It was a framed picture of myself with Adele, taken at a restaurant where we had gone for her birthday. I told Celine what I remembered of that day. As soon as we'd left the restaurant Adele had accused me of flirting with one of the waitresses and had sulked for the rest of the evening. 

Celine said Adele reminded her of Le Lutin; gnome-like fairies who cause trouble and play tricks on people. They take on different forms, including black chickens, white horses and goats. Celine laughed, adding that maybe they take on the form of Adele too! At the home she had visited that afternoon she'd interviewed an elderly man whose grandfather used to tell him Les Lutins had pushed him off his bicycle when he was a young boy. He said the creature would hang around the crossroads and country paths and most often took the form of a goat who would jump out and run into the bicycle, knocking the grandfather off. Celine said the man was convinced this was true.

Although we laughed about Adele being one of Les Lutins, I can't help worrying about what she's going to do next. 

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Thursday 18th December: Cow-Rustlers‏

Early this morning I had a phone call from Karl and he sounded worried. I've been so preoccupied with getting my Amatore's Restaurant published I hadn't given much thought to the Jean-Luc situation. Karl then told me Hilda had been kidnapped.
Karl does tend to panic but after he calmed down and told me what had happened I agreed he had cause for concern. Karl is a light sleeper and was woken at around five this morning by the sound of a truck. He got up to look out of his window and, although it was still dark, he could just make out Marie's brothers leading Hilda into the back of their truck. He got dressed as quickly as he could and rushed downstairs but the truck was already racing up the driveway with Hilda aboard.
He was dreading telling Jean-Luc and imagined him having a fit, but when he finally got up and came down into the kitchen his reaction was not what Karl expected. Apparently he showed no reaction, but went and sat at the kitchen table, said nothing and listened in silence whilst Karl told him what had happened. He had since refused to eat or drink anything and Karl was worried that he might be having some sort of breakdown. As I had known Jean-Luc a lot longer Karl wanted me to come over in the hope that I might be able to get some sense out of him. I doubted this but agreed I would do what I could to help.
When I arrived at Karl's I was shocked by Jean-Luc's appearance. Although he was clean and tidy, his eyes were glazed and he fixed his stare on some imaginary object in the corner of the room. I called his name but he was completely unresponsive. Karl said he hadn't eaten much the whole time he had been staying there.
We decided to go to Marie's to find out what was going on. The morning was damp and misty, just as it has been all week. Karl told me that, despite the freezing weather, Jean-Luc had insisted on sleeping in the barn with Hilda, and Karl had to go out several times during the past few nights to check up on him.
There wasn't much room to park at Marie's as six or seven old wrecks were piled up in front of the farmhouse. The twins were working on an ancient Renault, the type of model once popular in the eighties. They were were dressed in their usual blue overalls and matching caps (I've never seen them dressed in anything else). They both looked up as we parked. I've only ever seen them together and honestly couldn't tell one from the other. Karl got out and approached them, asking what they had done with Hilda. They didn't answer but bolted towards the front door and swiftly disappeared inside the house. I knew they had gone to fetch their sister, and sure enough, after a few seconds Marie appeared and stood in the doorway with her arms folded. She was dressed very oddly; baggy denim blue dungarees, a blue cap and a pair of white lace-up knee high boots. For some strange reason she was wearing a pair of sunglasses. Like her brothers, she said nothing but stood there waiting for us to speak. Karl asked her where Hilda was and demanded to know why the twins had taken her. Marie just laughed. She told us Hilda had been sold for a very good price and it was time for Jean-Luc to come home. She added that they had spent twenty two Christmas' together and this year was to be no exception. She was certain that Jean-Luc would return now all the nonsense with Hilda was over. Ridiculous though it seems, I had the impression Marie is jealous of Hilda.
Karl asked her how she could possibly believe getting rid of Hilda would make Jean-Luc return. She didn't answer this but smirked at him and shook her head.
I spoke to Karl in English, saying that it was useless trying to reason with the woman as she is probably as crazy as her husband.
When we arrived back at Karl's place the kitchen was empty. At first we assumed Jean-Luc must be upstairs, but after calling him Karl started to panic. We searched through the barns, the sheds and the rooms where Karl restores his furniture but it became obvious that Jean-Luc had gone. Karl wanted to take the van and search for him, but I thought he was probably on his way to Marie's. I suggested we wait for a while to see if he turned up (I really didn't fancy going to Marie's again).
We sat in the kitchen, drinking coffee, but Karl couldn't concentrate. He kept glancing at the clock and, after several minutes of fingers drumming on the table top, I gave in.
We had only driven a couple of minutes down the road when Karl called out and screeched the van to a halt. 

Crossing the field to the right and heading towards the road was Jean-Luc. As he emerged out of the mist I noticed he wasn't wearing a coat; the man must have been freezing. He showed no surprise as I opened the door to let him in. Karl asked what he had been doing. Jean-Luc told us he had been to town to buy a lottery ticket. After we'd left, he'd fallen asleep in the kitchen. Hilda had appeared in his dream and he'd written down the numbers she'd given him. He became animated and took out the ticket to show us.
When we returned to the house Jean-Luc took his usual place at the kitchen table, gazed into empty space and said nothing more. (I really don't know how Karl puts up with him).
Back home I phoned Celine and told her about the day's events. I also mentioned that, on the way to Marie's, Karl told me his daughter is coming over for Christmas from Berlin and will be arriving in a few days. He hasn't seen her for over a year. She's studying History and Archaeology and plans to visit the Dolmens whilst she's here. Celine was interested to hear this and said she was looking forward to meeting her. Although we laugh about it, I think we were both wondering if Jean-Luc's lottery ticket is going to be a winner.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Friday 5th December: A Stolen Kiss

Last night was Gavin and Ines' engagement party. I wasn't keen on going but I'd mentioned it to Celine who said she was looking forward to it. When she arrived at my place she showed me the present she'd bought them; a tea set she'd got from a market last week. I was relieved when she said it was from both of us -- otherwise I'd have been going to the party empty handed!
I had already described Gavin's house to Celine, but she was still surprised at how masculine the inside was (all black and minimalist). Ines and Gavin, arms linked, were greeting guests at the door to the conservatory. Gavin moved over to a group of admirers (laughing in his usual boisterous way) as Ines showed us her ring which Celine dutifully admired (big and garish - not what I would have thought was her style). Ines fussed over our gift and placed it with the others arranged around a large framed photograph of the happy couple. I looked around at the guests, there must have been about thirty people and it was clear that no expense had been spared for the event. A firm of caterers had obviously been engaged, as two girls in matching uniforms were serving a buffet one end of the room. A large banner with Congratulations to Ines and Gavin hung from the chandeliers. Celine also pointed out that all the flower arrangements must have been done by a professional florist.
We were introduced to Ines' parents who had travelled up from Spain. Her mother only spoke Spanish but her father's English was quite good and we chatted for a while about Barcelona. Celine said she visited there once. She had taken a tour of the city on an open-top double decker bus, hoping to get a better view but it rained constantly. However, she refused to budge!
Ines' brother and sister-in-law came over and introduced themselves. Her brother is an art teacher. Celine asked what he thought of city's Picasso Museum. He said not enough had been done by the city to promote it's connections with the artist who, after all, had lived there at various times in his life.
I noticed Gavin's elderly mother slumped on one of the black leather sofas (just as she had been the first time we had met). She was humming along to the background music -- one of Gavin's own performances -- and I noticed Ines' songs had not been included.
The food was very good: canapés, vol-au-vonts, assorted meats and a variety of cheese. I was topping up my plate when Alexander called me over. He'd brought Kieron along who told me how he'd taken on a waiter's job at one of the restaurants in Carnac. He didn't want to return to England and planned to stay in France. I asked him about the campsite. He said he was relieved to be away from the place and hadn't been back. He's heard from Rodrigo and Tatiana who are now staying with Tatiana's parents and looking for a place of their own. I can't imagine how any of them would have managed on the campsite in this freezing weather.
Alexander introduced us to a couple of teachers who work at the same language school as Ines. One was from Berlin, so I told her about Karl and gave her his e-mail address, saying he's always looking for the chance to speak to anyone in his own language.
Celine was talking to Michel, our new drummer, and his wife Antoinette. Michel was describing Canada and how much he misses it (I noticed Antoinette said nothing on this subject). I think there's a bit of tension there. I was discussing our last rehearsal with Michel when Gavin, standing at the piano, broke into song. The room waited in silence until he finished the final phrase with a theatrical bow. Ines, standing alongside, beamed while everyone applauded. Michel and Antoinette said they had to leave as they had to get back for the babysitter.

Celine said it was hot and stuffy in the room and needed some fresh air. I watched her wander over to french windows and step out into the night. I was talking to Alexander when I noticed Celine returning from the garden, followed by Ines and Gavin. Both women looked upset. As Celine came over towards me, I could see at once that something was wrong. She beckoned me out into the hallway and told me that Gavin had also been outside. At first they were chatting and joking, then said she was beautiful, grabbed hold of her, and tried to kiss her. She pulled away. But, at that exact moment, Ines came out into the garden and saw them. Although it was obvious she was trying to get away, Ines became aggressive; demanding to know what she was up to. Celine explained what had happened while Gavin just stood there with a stupid smile on his face. When Ines questioned him, he'd shrugged and said he understood how it was difficult for any woman to face rejection. At that point Celine stormed back into the conservatory.
I was not at all surprised by this; Gavin is obviously a serial womaniser and Ines is blinded to it. Celine agreed, there was no way he will be faithful to Ines. She said she wanted to leave and would wait for me in the car.
I went back into the conservatory. Gavin and Ines were talking to her parents, his am round her waist, as though nothing had happened. Ines came over and launched into a rant about Celine, saying I should be careful as I didn't know what she was really like. While I didn't want to spoil her engagement party, I felt I had to point out that Gavin had made a pass at Celine. She dismissed this, saying I was mistaken and I would soon come to my senses.
I said goodbye and left.
Celine was upset but said she'd try to forget it as she was sure Gavin probably does this sort of thing all the time. We both thought it was a shame the evening had been ruined. I felt bad for Celine. She'd already had to change her phone number because of the silent calls she's been getting. And now this. We both wondered when, if ever, Ines will come to her senses.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Saturday 29th November: Hilda's Escape‏

Early this morning I helped Karl pick up two writing desks from a Convent near Pontivy. The house is being sold and the nuns are moving to Rennes. We were given a guided tour of the lovely old building by the Mother Superior, a little old lady who talked incessantly and wouldn't let us leave without cake and coffee. It was almost lunchtime by the time we drove off.
Karl wanted to check on Jean-Luc. The last time he'd called round, he'd found him sleeping in the cowshed with Hilda whilst Marie fussed over her creepy twin brothers. I asked if Jean-Luc had remembered any more Hilda dreams, but Karl thought not. He said he'd been irrational and was impossible to reason with. Karl was annoyed with Marie because of her attitude towards her husband, saying she seemed to have no sense of loyalty towards him.
The rain was falling steadily when we arrived at the farm. Three battered old cars took up the space in front of the house. There was no sign of the twins but their van was parked directly in front of the grimy kitchen windows. I noticed a group of cows sheltering under the trees in the corner of the adjoining field and wondered where Jean-Luc was.
As we got out of the van the front door opened and Marie appeared in a brightly coloured apron over denim dungarees and black knee high boots, closely followed by the twins. With arms folded across identical blue overalls, they adopted a position at each side of her and glared at us. Marie was not pleased to see us. She shouted something and Karl asked where Jean-Luc was. With a wave in the direction of the cowshed she released a torrent of abuse. Karl sighed, shook his head telling me to ignore her, and turned toward the cowshed. 

As we entered I was instantly aware of a damp, musty smell. The place was freezing cold and in the gloom I could just make out a figure in the far corner slumped on a bale of hay. I was shocked by the sight of Jean-Luc; pale and drawn with at least a week's growth of beard. He was staring at us, but said nothing. As we got closer I could smell his body odour and could make out dark shadows under his eyes. The poor man looked as though he hadn't slept in days.
Karl called his name and shook his shoulder. Jean-Luc replied in a flat monotone, saying Marie's brothers were planning to sell Hilda and believed they would get a good price for her, due to her magical powers. He also believed they wanted to take the farm from him, and so he'd decided to go on hunger strike until they left.
We both did our best to change Jean-Luc's mind, telling him he would become ill. But he wouldn't have it. All he did was dismiss us with a wave of his hand and continue to stare into the gloom.
I was disgusted with Marie and Karl was fuming. I have never seen him so angry. He marched out of the cowshed, up to the front door of the house and banged his fist on the door until Marie appeared. He demanded to know if she was at all worried about her husband. She laughed, saying he was useless. She said her brothers were now helping with the farm and complained that Jean-Luc did nothing but sit in the cowshed day in day out. She laughed again, claiming that Jean Luc had more feelings for the cow than his own wife.
"What?" Karl shouted. "You're jealous of a cow?"
There was a moment's silence before Marie stepped out from the doorway, marched up to Karl and spat at him. Before he could respond, she shot back into the house, and slammed the door behind her.
I was speechless. We stood in the pouring rain for a few minutes waiting to see if the door would open. Then Karl turned to me and said he thought Jean-Luc should come back to his place. Although he does have a large house with three or four bedrooms I thought Karl was making a mistake. I was just about to tell him this when Karl added that he would also take Hilda, putting her in one of his sheds. I reminded him about hay and food, but he dismissed this, saying Jean Luc could bring enough to keep her going for a couple of days.
We found Jean-Luc in the same position in the cowshed. He listened whilst Karl told him his plan but shook his head. It was explained that Hilda could come too, but he would have to sleep in the house and not with Hilda. At last Jean-Luc nodded and stood up.
It took us about fifteen minutes to get the food supplies into Karl's van: sisal, a bag of protein supplement and enough hay for a couple of days all banked up against the two writing desks. But then it was time to get Hilda. With the other cows watching with interest, Jean-Luc led her out from the field. She seemed perfectly contented and we had no problems persuading her to climb into the back of the van. However, Jean-Luc insisted on sitting with her, convinced she would be scared.
We said nothing to Marie. As we drove off I caught sight of her brothers staring out of the kitchen window. With their expressionless faces, they could easily have been a couple of statues.
When we got to Karl's we settled Hilda in one of the sheds, arranged her hay and filled a old bath-tub with fresh water.
Jean Luc had a shower and then came down into the kitchen, wearing clean clothes Karl had lent him. While he looked better, the clothes were far too big, making him appear like a clown. We all had some of Karl's chicken soup with Jean-Luc having an extra helping. I asked him how long he had been without food, but he shrugged, saying he couldn't be sure.
When Karl dropped me off at my place I told him I thought he might be making a mistake by letting Jean-Luc stay. He said he was certain it wouldn't be long before Marie came to her senses and asked for her husband back. I hope he's right. I think Karl can be too generous sometimes.
I phoned Celine this evening to tell her what had happened. She agreed with me that Karl could be taking on more than he realises. She also mentioned she'd been getting silent phone calls and, although she's not too bothered about them, told me that she may not say anything when she picks up the phone until she knows who's calling her. It was only later that I wondered if it might be Adele making the calls. It would be typical of her, especially as she found my phone last week at the supermarket: she could have searched through my contacts and found Celine's number. I tried phoning Celine back to let her know, but her phone was switched off.

Friday, 21 November 2014

Friday 21st November: Chance Meeting‏

I've been staying at home over the past few days, working on my writing. No food in my cupboards or fridge this morning! I don't particularly enjoy shopping, but it's either that or starvation, so I forced myself out into the morning mist and drizzle.
The supermarket car park outside Lorient was surprisingly empty. I found a space easily enough but spent ages searching for my keys, which I dropped out of my pocket as I got out of the car. I eventually found them hiding under the driver's seat.
The supermarket was warm and bright; mindless background music interrupted every so often by a flat voice announcing the next bargain offer. 

It was while studying a large gateau de chocolate in the patisserie section, and thinking about stopping off at the town cafe on the way back, when I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Adele; musk perfume and heavily made up face. She said what a coincidence it was to see me here, but then added that she remembered I always used to go shopping on a Friday. Although I didn't comment, I was certain I didn't have any regular routine. She held up a phone - my phone. I felt in my trouser pocket. She laughed, saying she found it next to my car. I reached for the phone but she pulled back, saying something about moving into a new apartment at Vannes. She then twirled round and patted her hair asking if I liked her new style. (It looked no different to me). She also mentioned she would love a coffee. I said nothing to this and we stood in silence with her making a pouting face. I noticed her skin had a strange orange tone and a smudge of lipstick at corner of her mouth, however, I thought it best not to mention this. She asked about Celeste, no doubt pretending to forget Celine's name. I didn't answer to this either, but held out my hand for the phone and told her I was in a rush. "Merde !" she exclaimed and hurled the phone at me before marched out of sight. The elderly man who had been studying the tartes aux pommes next to me, looked up and shook his head saying; "Ah, les femmes, les femmes!"
I was so irritated with myself for dropping my phone. I'm usually very careful. I tried to concentrate on shopping but each time I turned down an aisle, I expected to see Adele there with that stupid grin on her face.
Back home, I was unloading the bags when Karl tapped on the door. I was glad to see him. I told him about the 'chance meeting' with Adele. He thought maybe I should keep a close watch whenever I'm out and try to avoid her. We were having some of the chocolate gateau when Karl mentioned he was concerned about Jean-Luc. He said he'd called round to see him yesterday and Marie's twin brothers have moved in. He thought they were very odd. They didn't say anything and Marie did all the talking for them. He'd discovered Jean-Luc was sleeping in the same shed as Hilda the Cow and asked Marie whether Jean-Luc still believed Hilda possessed magical powers. She didn't seem that concerned but said he did, although she didn't think Hilda had appeared in any of his recent dreams. (It seemed Hilda's days of predicting the winning lottery numbers had come to an end). Karl thought that Marie was less bothered about Jean-Luc's welfare, especially now that her brothers had moved in. When Karl asked how long they were planning on staying there, she said she wasn't sure. I agreed with Karl: we should pay them another visit.
I've been thinking about what Karl had said about Adele. I agree, I just wish she'd stay away. 

Friday, 14 November 2014

Friday 14th November: New Additions‏

Celine came over this afternoon. She had arranged with Solange to bring two of the baby rabbits over for Benjamin and Madeleine. The children didn't know; it was to be a surprise for them when they got back from school.
I've spent the last few days reading academic papers, researching for my historical novel. I needed a break and so decided to make Butternut Squash soup for when Celine arrived. I drove to the market in Carnac to get the vegetables. It was very busy, but well worth the journey. I arrived back just before eleven, I'd managed to find some good quality onions, celery, carrots and an assortment of herbs (thyme, rosemary and sage) and, of course, the squash, which I nearly forgot! I hoped the soup would warm us up, the temperature's dropped over the past few days and nothing but mist and rain.

Celine came at about three, carrying the baby rabbits in Napoleon's cat basket. The journey was obviously a bit traumatic for them: they were huddled together under the newspaper lining.
We had the soup as soon as Celine came in. She had brought two baguettes and watched, horrified, as I brought out the butter saying I would ruin the taste of the bread. I distracted her with the soup which she had to admit tasted very good. We were just finishing when Solange brought the children over. They were so excited when we showed them the rabbits, Celine let Benjamin hold one of them, telling him to be very gentle, while his sister watched on in awe. We then went with them to see the rabbit's new home; a hutch in the old stone barn next to their house. Of course Benjamin splashed in every muddy puddle on the way and Madeleine followed suit.
Solange placed the rabbits in the hutch and they huddled together into the corner. Solange explained to the children that they were very tired and needed a good sleep after their exciting day. Celine asked what they were going to call them, adding that she believed they were both boys. Benjamin was delighted with this news, saying he would throw them into the dustbin if they were girls. Thankfully, Madeleine was out of earshot as she was on the search for fresh puddles to attack. Benjamin thought about the names for a few minutes (his face screwed up in total concentration). He then took a deep breath and announced "Leopold et Lancelot." Solange laughed and explained that these were heroes from his favourite cartoon.
When we got back to the cottage we noticed the door was slightly open. In the living room Pepin was standing on one of the dining chairs with his nose hovering over the casserole dish. and when I laughed, he turned and looked at us with such a guilty expression. Celine said he's obviously very intelligent and knew he'd done something wrong. We could hear Solange calling for him and, with an excuse to escape, he leapt off the chair and bounded back to his house.
While I made coffee Celine told me she hadn't been able to find out anything about the haunted house but she would carry on trying. She said she might go to St.Malo for a couple of days to research for her book and asked if I wanted to go along with her. I said it sounded like fun and asked her when. She said she wasn't sure as she needed to arrange some interviews before we go. I told her about Ines and Gavin, she says Gavin sounds like a self-centred idiot.
Before she left we took another look at the rabbits. They were all curled up together sleeping.

Celine said she's sure they'll be happy in their new home. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Friday 7th November: Clandestine Encounter.

Alexander phoned yesterday to say he'd found a new drummer a couple of days ago working in a music shop in Vannes. He said he would be playing with us at the gig we're doing tonight. I said he could have asked me and Ines before going ahead and taking him on. He said Michel was an excellent drummer and assured me there wouldn't be any problems. This is typical of Alexander. He's appointed himself as leader of our group, complains about having too much responsibility, then goes ahead and does this sort of thing without consulting us.
Our gig was at a hotel near Dinan; a lovely old granite house. It was the hotel's fiftieth anniversary and the large conference room had been prepared with tables for dinner. When I arrived, Alexander and Michel were already there and were setting up on the stage. Michel is about thirty and comes from Montreal. He told me his wife is from Brittany and, as they have a six month old baby, wanted to come back to be near her family. They're living with her parents for the time being which he admitted is not ideal. I asked if he'd had a chance to look at the music, he said he'd ran through the pieces at Alexander's and had played most of them before with a similar band in Montreal.
Ines turned up five minutes before we were due to start. She seemed distracted. Gavin was following a couple of paces behind, beaming at the other guests as he passed. I was surprised he'd come, but I guess the ticket price is nothing to him. Ines introduced him to Michael giving her usual speech which included a list of Gavin's operatic accomplishments. (I really think she has gone out of her mind!) Michel looked a bit taken aback when Gavin shook his hand in his usual theatrical way, but he smiled politely.
The room was filling up with guests and once everyone was seated we began to play. I started to relax as it became clear that Michel was fully capable of accompanying the pieces. When it got to our new version of Summertime I had a simple part to play while Ines was singing and scanned the room. I soon caught sight of Gavin. He was seated at one of the tables at the back with two women who had appeared not long after he and Ines had arrived. They were listening to him attentively; laughing at each pause. (What is it that makes the guy so attractive to women? I just don't get it.) He didn't seem to paying any attention to Ines' singing and I wondered whether she noticed.
I wasn't needed for the last piece before our break so I decided to go out and get some fresh air. The rain had stopped and the full moon lit up the patio. It was a cold clear night and as I wandered out into the gardens, I noticed a small wooden summerhouse, no bigger than a garden shed. 

I walked over to take a closer look and became aware of whispered voices and giggles. I froze. I recognized one of the voices. Ines was still singing on stage, so what was Gavin doing out here? I could hear the summerhouse door creak open and darted behind a bush. Gavin appeared, his arm around one of the women he'd been sitting with earlier. They were kissing and giggling as they ambled back to the hall. As they got close to the patio they parted and the woman went ahead into the dining room while Gavin held back. He followed a couple of minutes later.
I could have confronted him outside, but wasn't sure what to do. It was really none of my business. However, judging from their behaviour, it seem obvious Ines knows nothing about this. I moved back to the patio.
As I stood watching the guests through the windows Michel came out, lighting up a cigarette. I spent the rest of the break chatting to him about Canada; a country I've never visited. He said he misses it and finds France very different to how he imagined it would be. He said he hopes to persuade his wife to return to Canada some day soon. I got the impression she might have given him a few romantic ideas about France which haven't lived up to expectation.
Back inside I noticed Ines sitting with Gavin at a table near the front. The woman he had been with in the summerhouse was now back at the other table with her friend. Michel got the impression I didn't like Gavin much. I just nodded. I didn't want to say too much.
Our second half went well and after the gig several people came over to say they'd enjoyed our playing. As we packed up Ines said goodbye and I watched her hanging on to Gavin's arm as they left.
hen I got home the full moon lit up the night and, although it was cold, I sat outside for a while with a glass of wine, thinking back over the night's events. My worst fears about Gavin were realised. Poor Ines! She's the type who's always going to get hurt.

Friday, 31 October 2014

Friday 31st October: Halloween

Karl arrived this morning in a cheerful mood. He had just sold a nineteenth century sideboard and received a very good price for it. Whilst he was here Madeleine and Benjamin came running over to see me. They were both wearing Halloween masks, waving their arms around, making scary howling noises.
Celine was waiting for us when we arrived at her place. She said she was looking forward to seeing the house. She asked if we knew how old the house was and anything about it's history. I said no and asked Karl if he'd been told anything by the owner, but he was singing along to his blues music and shook his head. I mentioned to Celine that the front of the house looked okay but the back was a mess. We both thought this was odd. 

 Once we arrived we waited in the van whilst Karl collected the key from next door.
Celine said she couldn't wait to see inside. I had described the place to her but she seemed amazed when we went into the kitchen. Everything was as I remembered it last time. Used plates and cups left out, saucepans on the hob and two chairs pulled out from under the table which was littered with newspapers and magazines. Celine pointed out the wall clock which had stopped at ten to three. On the draining board next to the sink was a vase of dead roses, petals scattered everywhere. 
I asked Karl if he remembered these roses from our last visit. He shrugged,saying he wasn't sure. Celine wandered around, opening cupboard doors. She called me over to have a look. The shelves were stacked with tinned soups, cans and packets. She opened the cupboard underneath the large stone sink, pointing out all the cleaning products. She thought it strange that considering the house was for sale the owner hadn't arranged for a cleaner to come in.
Karl was in a hurry to pick up the chest of drawers so we followed him into the living room. Two couches were arranged around the fireplace which was covered with a thick layer of ash and soot. The chest of drawers was in the study, the same room we had collected the filing cabinet from last time.. The drawers were full of papers, documents and notebooks. Once we'd emptied them I helped Karl to carry out and load the chest into the van. Celine followed us. She didn't seem keen to be left in the house alone.
Karl suggested we have a quick look around. We followed him into the hall and up the stairs. Celine made a face, saying she could smell something sweet and sickly. I said Karl and I noticed this on our last visit. As we went up the stairs I became aware of a man's voice. Celine, who was walking between myself and Karl, froze. She gripped onto the stair banisters. Karl laughed and said it was a radio, probably timed to switch on. We went into all of the four bedrooms and sure enough, in the last room, a clock radio was talking away to itself. Something about politics. Karl went over to it and pulled the plug from the wall socket. He laughed, saying he knew there had to be a logical explanation. He smiled but neither of us smiled back.
The master bedroom was very untidy. Sheets were pulled back from the king sized bed. The dressing table was full of lipsticks, mascara, and half used perfume bottles. Celine opened the wardrobes, they were packed with dresses, suits and shirts. On one bedside table stood an alarm clock, a full glass of water and an opened packet of pills. Celine said she was sure the clocks in the study and the kitchen had both stopped at ten to three, the same time as this one.
Karl told us he was going out for a smoke. I got the impression he couldn't wait to get outside.
Celine followed me up to the attic rooms. 

We were standing in one, Celine studying the books, when we heard a door shut down below and footsteps coming up the stairs. Celine called out Karl's name. There was no answer so we went downstairs to meet him but when we reached the middle floor there was no sign of him. I looked out of the master bedroom window. Karl was outside, leaning against the van, smoking. I told Celine to come over and see. She said someone must have come into the house, maybe the old lady from next door but I could tell she wasn't convinced. Karl looked up at the window and waved. At the same moment I became conscious of the voice coming from the radio. I told Celine that the timer must have something wrong with it. We both laughed and then Celine stared at me. I asked her what was wrong.
"Karl pulled the plug out. " She reminded me. "It can't be working. "
We both listened. We could both hear the voice prattling on. Downstairs in the kitchen a cupboard door banged shut and something rolled across the tiled floor. Above us in the attic bedrooms a door slammed. Celine ran to the window. Karl was walking towards the front door.
We were halfway down the stairs when Karl strode into the living room.
He looked at us and asked what was wrong. Then he paused and asked if we had plugged the radio back in. We told him no and asked if he'd been back into the house, telling him about the footsteps on the stairs. He shook his head, stared at us for a moment then said "We've finished now. Let's go." We followed him out through the kitchen and as we passed through I noticed the chairs had been pushed back under the table, but I said nothing.

We went next door where after knocking several times and waiting for what seemed like ages, the old lady finally appeared. She listened as Celine spoke to her, asking about the house, trying to discover it's history. She shook her head and held out her hand for the key. Karl handed it over and she closed the door.
"Well, " said Celine. "She's hiding something but I don't know what."
On the way back Karl turned the volume up and sang along to his C.D whilst Celine and I were quiet.
At Karl's we unloaded the chest of drawers and went into his kitchen where we discussed the events of the afternoon. Karl couldn't explain the radio coming back on and wanted to find a rational explanation. Celine said there was never any logic or reason in life but Karl insisted there must be. I could offer no explanation for any of it. 

Tuesday, 28 October 2014

Tuesday 28th October: Unexpected Arrivals‏

Went over to Celine's for dinner this evening. When I arrived she came out to meet me, telling me to come and take a look at Maximillian, the rabbit we'd saved from the cooking pot a few weeks ago. I'd asked her how he was settling in but she hadn't told me much, just saying he was doing well.
The living room of her little cottage was crammed with bookcases filled right up to the ceiling. I jokingly said I'd need a few weeks to sort all the books into alphabetical and size order!
She had cleared a space in one corner of the room where a rabbit hutch stood. There was no sign of Maximillian. Celine said he must be asleep in the enclosed area of the hutch.
Napoleon was watching us, slumped on a pile of cushions. Celine said he ignores Maximiliian, even when hopping around the room.
She opened the hutch and told me to come and look. Maximillian was laying on a bed of straw.
"Look," said Celine. "Can't you see them?"

I looked closer. Curled up next to their mother were three tiny rabbits. Maximillian had been pregnant when we rescued her. He is a she! Celine closed the hutch, saying it was best not to pick the babies up or fuss over them as this would upset their mother. They were born two weeks ago. She'd decided not to tell me, but keep them as a surprise. She asked if Madeleine and Benjamin would like to take one of them in about six weeks time. I'm sure they would, not too sure what Solange and Pieter will say though!
Celine had made a Coq au Vin (chicken stew) which we ate with plenty of bread, washed down with what was left of the wine. It was cold outside but warm in the cottage with the log fire crackling away in the little brick fireplace.

After dinner, as we sat around the fire, I told Celine that Karl had heard from the owner of the haunted house we went to recently. He wanted some more furniture picked up. Karl had asked me to go along with him and we had decided to go on Friday (Halloween) - just for the scare.
I asked Celine if she wanted to come along. She immediately agreed, saying she would be very interested in knowing the history of the house.
While Celine said she's really looking forward to going, I'm not so sure that I am!

Thursday, 23 October 2014

Thursday 23rd October: Farewells‏

Rodrigo phoned this morning to say that he and Tatiana are leaving for Portugal to stay with Tatiana's parents. I was very surprised by their news and arranged to see them.
I hadn't been to the campsite before and when I finally reached there, the place had an abandoned look about it. The reception appeared empty although the barrier at the gate was up so I drove through to the visitors parking area. As I walked up to the main camping area I passed the small shop with empty cardboard boxes piled up outside and a dirty window displaying a prominent CLOSED sign. 

Rodrigo waved me over to an old style green VW camper van. The interior was taken up with a two ring stove, a small sink and four multi patterned cushioned bench seats. Tatiana was sitting at a tiny table bolted to the floor sorting through piles of sheet music. She looked pale and tired and when I asked where Paulo was I thought she was about to cry. Rodrigo explained her parents had driven up from Portugal at the weekend and taken Paulo back with them. He'd been constantly ill with colds and flu and was miserable. They missed him so much they'd decided to leave Brittany and join him.
Rodrigo's construction work had dried up and they'd abandoned their dream of building their own house, at least for the time being. He said maybe they'd return in the Spring but I saw the look Tatiana gave him. She was definitely not keen!
Tatiana made me a coffee and explained the stove was powered by a gas bottle which fitted underneath. I asked if they had any water supply. She shook her head and pointed to a container of water they had to top up from the shower block. She said she was tired of visiting there late at night and early in the morning only to find the tepid water would run dry after a few minutes. She said the place is so depressing. She was on her way back last night and overheard a young couple arguing in their tent. The girl had been crying whilst her boyfriend was shouting at her to take her passport and go back to Spain. The girl was begging him to go with her.
My sympathies were with Tatiana and Rodrigo. They had always been so lively and cheerful and I couldn't believe the change in them.
Rodrigo said there had been several more night raids at the campsite; flashing police lights and sirens at three in the morning. Last night two young men who had just arrived from Germany were arrested. Rodrigo thought it probably involved drugs. I asked Tatiana about her work in the cafe. She sighed and said it started well but one of the local girls working there had taken a dislike to her, constantly finding fault with everything she did. Last week she had been told she would no longer be needed. She had no idea what the problem was. I said the girl was probably jealous and Rodrigo agreed, saying Tatiana was a million times quicker and far more efficient as well as being a million times prettier!
Two days ago the camper van had failed to start. Luckily there was a man with an identical VW on the site who had not only given them a new battery but fitted some new spark plugs too. He was from Toronto and was travelling through Europe, collecting recipes from each country. Rodrigo said he planned to publish the recipes together in one book. When he went into the van to fetch the battery the whole of the side panel was fitted out with compartments containing tools and different parts for the van. Rodrigo couldn't believe how organised the guy was.
I asked how soon they were leaving and Tatiana said at the weekend. I said goodbye and wished them luck. Tatiana handed me the piano music Rodrigo had borrowed and hugged me, reminding me to send Kieran her love.
As we walked back to the car, Rodrigo pointed out Kieran's caravan. No-one had been there for weeks and there had been no sign of his family. It was obvious they didn't care about him. Rodrigo said he'd seen him at Alexander's a few days ago and he seemed happy there.
On the way out a tall blonde woman with hair tied back was walking two small poodles stopped to speak to us. She had a strong Dutch accent and asked Rodrigo where Paulo was. He explained about the grand-parents. She nodded then asked what exactly they were doing on a campsite in the cold. She said it in an accusing tone, as if she was telling him off. Before he could answer she went on to tell him he had a very nice wife, implying Tatiana had a lot to put up with. At that, she dismissed us with a wave and marched off dragging the dogs behind her.
Rodrigo made a face. It was clear he couldn't stand her.
I laughed, saying the woman sounded very nosy. I also pointed out that she too was living on the campsite. Rodrigo said she had a very expensive and well equipped caravan. She'd taken the best pitch on the site and even created a little garden to mark out her territory. He thought she was probably on the run from something or someone.
He stood watching as I drove off, I could see him waving in the mirror. I was sorry to say goodbye to Rodrigo but I think he's doing the best thing for Tatiana and Paulo; also for himself. 

Friday, 17 October 2014

Friday 17th October: Intermezzo

So pleased I've finally got my car back. However, I've made the most of being marooned in the cottage by spending the last few days writing some missing sections for my historical novel.
Ines phoned this morning asking if I could run through some new pieces with her. She's now moved in with Gavin and described the house to me in great detail. I think she was keen to find an excuse to show off her new home. Her directions were surprisingly easy to follow and it only took me ten minutes to get there. I drove through a pair of imposing gates up a gravelled driveway to a large white house. Ines was already at the door as I got out of the car. She looked different somehow; a little older perhaps, her hair pulled back, and dressed more formally than usual. She led me through a black and white tiled hallway into a living room with a large conservatory off to one side. One of the walls was decorated with photos of Gavin performing in various operatic venues around the world, and framed newspaper cuttings: reviews of his performances. A number of similar photos of him stood on the marble mantle piece. (I wondered if Ines had placed them there).
The room was very masculine and dominated by two large black leather couches. Perched in the centre of one was an elderly lady who was introduced to me as Gavin's mother. She beckoned me over, speaking so quietly I had to bend right down to hear her. I asked about her home in Wales, but could only make out a few words of her reply: something about it being very cold.
No sign of any books, apart from two hardback travel books placed strategically on the glass coffee table. I peeled one from the table top to take a look. (Obviously no readers in this house!) 

We then went to rehearse in the conservatory where a white baby grand piano dominated the room. We were halfway through ComoFue when Gavin appeared at the doorway. Ines stopped, obviously surprised to see him. He continued to lean against the doorway as he watched us. Ines again stumbled over the lyrics a few times, so we started again. I was certain Gavin was putting her off; he was standing, arms folded, without saying a word. We went through the next piece, Aguasde Março, during which time Gavin left the room without a comment. A couple of more attempts and things got better. Ines suggested we take a break for coffee.
Passing through the living room, I noticed Gavin's mother was still seated on the couch, now asleep, snoring slightly with her mouth open. I followed Ines into the large modern black and white themed kitchen where she made us coffee and two slices of chocolate cake. I was asking where Gavin had got to when Ines told me to listen. The sound of his voice boomed into the room.
I followed Ines as she hurried back to the conservatory in time to applaud the final cadence of NessunDorma. Gavin bowed theatrically, inviting me to return to his piano. (The man certainly enjoys being the centre of attention). For the next ten minutes Gavin took up his position at the doorway while we resumed out practice. Whenever we finished a song, he neither clapped nor smiled once and I had the feeling he somehow disapproved.
When I arrived back home I found a plastic bag hanging on my door handle. Inside was a dark blue jumper I hadn't seen for months. I took out a folded note.
"You left this at mine. So sorry we keep missing each other. Adele."

I took the bag and went into the cottage. Why can't that woman leave me alone? I took my mind off Gavin and Adele and spent the evening researching for my book.