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Thursday, 29 January 2015

Thursday 29th January: Common Interests

I have gained a piano student. Solange called over on Sunday and asked if I would be willing to teach Benjamin; just for half an hour each week. He's five and she and Pieter are keen for him to learn to play an instrument. I didn't really want to get back to teaching again, but don't mind making an exception Benjamin. Solange had already bought a beginner's book for children which she showed me and insisted on paying me for the lessons (maybe she'll reduce my rent!)
I was a bit fed up that morning. I'd had a phone call from Celine. Her father had taken a turn for the worse and had passed away during the night. She's understandably very upset and is staying at her brother's until after the funeral. All her family thought he was improving so, although he'd been ill for a long time, his death still came as a shock. She said the funeral will be very quiet. She hopes to be back soon. It's difficult to know what to say.
At four o' clock Benjamin arrived for his lesson. He was very excited and showed me a picture which he'd drawn of himself sitting at the piano. Next to the piano he'd drawn an alien blob like figure which turned out to be me. After admiring his new pair of shoes I persuaded him to sit at the piano and try playing some of the keys. I thought he wouldn't be able to concentrate for very long and my plan was to start with a very simple tune from his book. We got through the first three bars of Alouette when he climbed off the piano stool and wandered around the cottage in his usual routine of opening cupboard doors and inspecting the inside of my fridge. He's a nice little boy, very bright and interested in everything going on. When he eventually returned to the piano and I got him to clap the tune of Alouette and sing a few of the French note names. I said how pleased mummy and daddy would be. When Solange came to collect him we both applauded as he proudly showed her what he had learnt.

Solange mentioned she has a lot more work coming up as she's expanding her accounts business. She's finding things difficult with the children so has arranged for a Swedish au-pair to stay. She'll be attending the language school for three mornings a week and will help with the children in the afternoons and weekends. Apparently her level of English is a higher than her French.
Yesterday morning I'd just parked my car after returning from the supermarket in Lorient as Solange was showing a tall, very fair girl around the garden who I guessed must be the au pair. They came over and Solange introduced Ann-Sofie. I asked when she'd arrived and she answered quietly in perfect English, ten o'clock on Tuesday morning. When I asked if it was her first time in France she just nodded. Solange mentioned that Ann-Sofie is writing a book in English and suggested she could come over to my cottage so I could check the grammar and spelling. Again, she nodded before following Solange into the house.
This afternoon I was practising the new pieces Ines had chosen when there was a tap at the door. Ann-Sofie brought in her lap top and placed it carefully on the table. I made us coffee and asked about Sweden. She comes from Uppsala, a town North of Stockholm. She's a student at Uppsala University but has taken a year off. She hopes to eventually work as a translator either for the United Nations or European Union in Strasbourg. I commented that her English is very good and she said she thinks English is much easier but finds French difficult.
Her book is set after the Apocalypse when zombies rule the world. The remaining humans live in a secret underground world and the main focus is on the struggles of Niels and Elsa, a young couple, who I guess are based on Ann-Sofie and her boyfriend. There were some good descriptions and her two main characters are believable and well-developed. I was surprised at how gory the zombie scenes were. Ann-Sofie clearly has hidden depths! She's written twelve thousand words so far. I asked if she'd seen the original film, Night of the Living Dead, but she didn't know it. She liked the T.V series, The Walking Dead. I've heard of this but haven't yet seen it seen it. Apparently the whole zombie culture is popular with young people in Sweden at the moment, so she's hit on the right subject. Vampires seem to be in fashion too, especially with the recent Twilight series. She didn't like the trend of modern vampires being too nice and thinks they should all be evil as in Bram Stoker's original Dracula.
She asked if I had something of my writing she could read. I told her about Amatore's Restaurant and showed her the book on Amazon but I didn't think it appropriate to give her a passage from there, so I suggested, The Widow of Duxbury, from my historical novel.
She sat quietly reading and when she finished she said she like the description of the widow and thought the she must be a witch. I asked if she writes descriptions of each of her characters. She was enthusiastic about this, saying she'd drawn pictures of them all.
She left abruptly to go next door and came back a minute later with a sketch book full of drawings. She showed me pages filled with groups of zombies which reminded me of scenes from Michael Jackson's Thriller. Her drawings are very good. It's obvious this is where her real talent lies. I asked if she'd always liked drawings and if she'd thought of going to Art College. She said her mother is an artist with her own greeting card business in Sweden, but she's fixed on the idea of becoming a translator. At the back of her sketch book she showed me some cartoons of a super hero she's invented, a flying bear wearing goggles and a cape. She'd drawn these for her brother who's twenty-four and has Downs Syndrome. He loves anything to do with super heroes and has built up a collection of comic books and watches Batman films over and over again. She said she misses him and plans to send him a new cartoon every few days.
I wondered if she feels a little homesick already. When I asked how she's getting on next door, she said Pieter and Solange are very nice and so far she likes the language school in Vannes but has only just started there. Most of the other students are older. There are a couple of German girls but she's the only Swedish student. She said it was nice to meet me and left, saying she was going to talk to her mum and brother on Sykpe.
Outside a storm's blowing. I see on the news there are snowstorms in Scotland and Northern England, also heavy snowfall in parts of New England. I hope we don't get anything like that here. I phoned Celine who said she'd like to call round soon.

Friday, 23 January 2015

Friday 23rd January: Madame Dupont

Phoned Celine this morning. She's returning on Sunday. Her father has improved slightly, is out of hospital and is now staying with her brother and sister-in-law. She's worried as he's still very ill and in a lot of pain.
Wednesday was Karl's birthday. He wasn't bothered about celebrating but I persuaded him to come out for a drink. He's concerned about Stefanie. She and Tomas have only been back in Berlin two weeks and already Tomas has been questioned by the police about a recent break-in by animal right activists at the Bayer Pharmaceutical factory. Stefanie told her dad that hundreds of cages had been broken into, allowing countless rats and mice to escape. She insists she had nothing to do with it, but Karl's not sure what to think. Whilst he has a certain amount of sympathy with Tomas' views, he's understandably concerned about Stefanie getting into trouble.
The bar in town was quiet that evening; just four or five regulars. The television, which is permanently switched on, was showing an old film with subtitles. The picture kept breaking up but nobody seemed bothered. Karl was telling to me about his furniture restoration business when the bar owner, Pascal, interrupted and asked if he was interested in buying some original shop fittings from the 1960s. His aunt had run a ladies clothes shop in the town for nearly fifty years. Now aged eighty three, she had decided to sell up and retire. She was desperate to clear the shop in preparation for her move to Rennes to live with her daughter. He described Madame Dupont as a real character who had never missed a day's work. According to Pascal, generations of women patronised her shop, travelling from all over Brittany to buy fashionable clothes there. He wrote down the phone number of her daughter, Elsie, and recommended Karl phone her as soon as possible.
Pascal was interested to know why we had ventured out on such a cold night. He had guessed we were celebrating and Karl reluctantly admitted it was his birthday. Everyone in the bar cheered. Louis and Yves -- two of the regulars -- broke into a drunken rendition of Happy Birthday. They persuaded Karl (who is fluent in French) to join in. However, finding my pronunciation hilarious, were determined to teach me the words. They continued to sing in high-pitched voices whilst slapping Karl on the back and repeatedly wishing him "Bon Anniversaire". (Although it was obvious they were making fun of us, at least it gave them something to talk about over the long Winter evenings).
The following afternoon Karl phoned Elsie and arranged to meet Madame Dupont at her shop in the town. He asked me to go along in case he should need some help with loading the shop fittings.

Three naked mannequins stood guard in the shop window and an ancient bell above the door announced our arrival. As we entered, we were greeted with an overpowering scent of lavender perfume together with a hint of mothballs (a smell I remember only too well from my own childhood).
Madame Dupont, dressed in a fur coat which hid most of her violet suit, was a tiny woman with white hair, a pale heavily-made-up face with two smudges of rouge across her cheeks. She was perched at the edge of a canvas beach chair with a large leather bag propped against her leg.
Standing behind the chair was Elsie, a plain woman in her sixties who, in contrast to her mother, was dressed in black with her grey hair tied severely back. Apart from the beach chair and two large display cabinets standing against the wall, all the fittings, including the shop counter, had gone.
Madame Dupont held out a heavily ringed hand with fingers adorned with bright red nails and raised her face to be kissed. There was a movement from the bag at her feet and from the opening peered a small dog with a red spotted bow tied round its' head. Karl bent down to pat him. The little dog bared his teeth, fixing him with yellow eyes and growled. The old lady snatched up the dog from the bag and clutched him to her, telling Karl not to scare her little baby. She then spoke to the dog in a high pitched voice, asking if poor Fou Fou was scared of the nasty man. Karl was about to say something, but thought better of it. He asked asked about the cabinets.

I noticed three framed photographs hanging on the wall and I went to have a closer look. They showed several groups of women wearing traditional Breton costume; embroidered dresses, white lace aprons and white head-dresses. Ignoring Karl's request, Madame Dupont raised herself from her perch. As she stood up, her coat reached below her knees and, even in her high heeled shoes, she could only have been about five foot tall. She said the photo's had been taken in her village near Pont L'Abbe in the late 1940's. The women were wearing a traditional head-dress called a Coiffe. She explained there were of different designs in each region and the women in these photos wore the tall round Bigouden Coiffe which is distinctive to Pont L'Abbe. With her daughter acting as translator, she then proceeded to give a history of Breton costumes. I knew Celine would love these photos so I listened closely and tried to take in what she was telling me.
At one point Madame Dupont came to an abrupt halt and slumped back into her chair. She then appeared to nod off. I could hear her gentle snoring while her daughter continued to tell me about the photos. Madame Dupont woke with a start and demanded to know who we were and where we both came from. When Karl told her he was from Berlin she said she remembered seeing many German soldiers when she was a little girl during the German Occupation in the Second World War. She informed us that Lorient had been a U-boat base and that three shelters had been built. The Allies had tried to destroy these shelters by repeatedly bombing the city until it had been virtually destroyed. Karl said that Berlin had also been heavily bombed, and many historic churches and buildings destroyed, but when her daughter translated this, the old lady just waved her hand dismissively.
A framed certificate was produced for us to admire which her daughter explained was a gift from the Mayor of the town to thank Madame Dupont for over forty years service to local commerce. Our host became very animated as she described the presentation at the Hotel de Ville and the report in the local paper. The cutting was produced which showed a photo of a beaming Madame Dupont receiving her certificate whilst local dignitaries and shop owners looked on. She launched into another speech which her daughter translated. She had seen many changes in the last forty years and none of them for the better. She was especially contemptuous of department stores, telling us that she had been able to provide a level of service no department store could possibly match. She was not sorry to be retiring and felt that customer service was not as valued as it once had been. She deplored the latest styles of clothing and thought that French women -- once rightly regarded as the most stylish in the world -- had lost their sense of elegance and no longer took pride in their appearance. Her voice rose to a high pitch as she described how, not so many years ago, a woman wouldn't think twice about spending at least an hour each morning dressing and putting on her make-up. In her mother's day no woman would dream of leaving the house without a matching hat, gloves and bag. At this point she paused and produced a piece of chicken from her coat pocket which she dangled in front of Fou Fou's nose. The little dog, still in her lap, licked his lips and opened his mouth to be fed. Once the meal was over, Madame Dupont smothered the dog with kisses, telling him what a good boy he was and how mummy was so proud of him.
I glanced at Elsie, who was standing motionless with a resigned expression, and guessed she'd never received this amount of attention.
Madame Dupont continued with her lecture, her face taking on a look of utter disgust as she described the everyday uniform of jeans. Her breathing became heavy and she broke into a fit of coughing. Elsie patted her back, telling her in a quiet voice to calm down and not to get stressed. The old lady glared at her daughter and pushed her away, reiterating her previous statement that she was proud to be able to say she had always offered the highest standards of customer care; treating each customer as an individual, guiding them in the right direction and always giving her best advice.
It was difficult to break into Madame Dupont's recollections and I sensed that Karl was becoming impatient. Thankfully, her daughter announced they would have to be leaving.
Madame Dupont said the shop was in the process of being sold but she didn't know what it was to become. She hoped it would not be turned into a bar. Karl smiled and said that wouldn't go down too well with Pascal, who wouldn't like the competition. Madame Dupont sighed at the mention of her nephew and then announced that we could have the cabinets for nothing.
Karl kept a straight face and thanked her, but he couldn't hide his surprise as loaded them up into the van.
He was quiet on the way back; only commenting that he'd lost his grandfather and two uncles during the war. Later, over coffee in his kitchen, he said he was pleased about the cabinets, saying he would get a good price for them at auction. I asked if he'd think of putting a bid in for the shop but he dismissed the idea as too much hard work.
Back at my cottage I cleaned the framed photos and wrapped them up as a present for Celine: just the sort of thing she likes. Spent the rest of the evening updating my website. Still a lot to do.

Sunday, 18 January 2015

Sunday18th January: Opening Night‏

Played last night at a little restaurant in Carnac, run by a friend of Alexander's. The place has been refurbished and we were booked to play on the opening night. Although it's January the place was fully booked. Alexander and Michel had set up by the time I arrived and some of the guests were already taking their seats. 

Ines was late, as usual, and when she did eventually turn up it was obvious she'd been drinking. She ranted on about her taxi turning up late and complained about the driver not knowing where he was supposed to be going. We listened patiently, but I could tell Alexander was fuming. Halfway through the first song Ines forgot most of her lyrics and, during the second verse, resorted to humming. I scanned the room, hoping no-one had noticed: thankfully there was a lot of noise with people chatting. It was then I caught sight of Adele, seated at one of the tables with a dark haired man. At first I thought I must have been mistaken, but no, it was definitely her. She was talking to him and wasn't looking at us. By now Ines had abandoned the lyrics altogether and was humming through the whole song. What a relief when reached our first break. Alexander suggested we meet in the foyer. Michel, desperate for a cigarette, disappeared outside while I followed the other two.
Ines, who was close to tears, apologised and said she's missing Gavin who's performing in Milan. (I guess, from recent events, she wonders what he gets up to when he's away). However, Alexander didn't accept this. He was getting more irritated, telling her we would have to find another singer if she carries on in this way. I've never seen him so angry. This seemed to sober Ines up. She assured us she was ready to continue.
Back inside the restaurant I took a glance at Adele. She was still there, talking to her companion. What was she up to? Surely it couldn't be coincidence she had booked a table here. I tried to focus on the music whilst Ines struggled through the next songs. After our second break Alexander's suggested we play a few instrumentals. I think we were all relieved to get to the end of the evening. Michel said he'd drive Ines back as he was going in the same direction.
After they'd left Alexander introduced me to Andre, the owner of the restaurant, who seemed happy with the way the evening had gone and asked if we could play there again. He talked about the previous restaurant he used to manage near Bordeaux. He's moved to Brittany to be near his daughter and grandchildren. Thankfully Alexander was in a considerably better mood when we packed up. The restaurant was empty now, apart from a couple of waiters busy clearing the tables.
When I got to my car I was surprised to find it unlocked. As soon as I opened the door I was aware of a familiar musky perfume. Adele was sitting in the front seat; a fixed smile on her face. I cursed myself for leaving the car door unlocked and asked her what on earth she was doing? What happened to the man she was sitting with in the restaurant? She laughed saying she'd met him on an internet dating site and found him so boring she told him to go. She'd decided to wait for me and asked if I wanted to go back to her place. She clung on to my arm and started telling me (in her little girl voice) how I was so much more fun to be with and why don't I come back to her place just for tonight. Although I hate arguments I told her no, and said I would just drop her off at her apartment.
She then started to shout, calling me self-centred and inconsiderate and telling me how fortunate I was to know her. But as soon as I said I'd call her a taxi, she calmed down and accepted the offer her a lift. She had recently moved and gave directions to a place just outside Lorient. She was quiet for most of the journey. However she did talk about Ines; criticising her dress sense and making ridiculous remarks about the Spanish temperament. She asked if I thought Ines was attractive. When I didn't answer she questioned me about Celine, asking where she was and why hadn't she come this evening. I said nothing.
When we reached her apartment, a modern nondescript block on the outskirts of the city, she asked me inside. I refused. She glared at me for a moment then got out of the car and slammed the door. I watched her enter the foyer of the building and drove off.
Back at my cottage, she'd already sent me a text: Thanks for the lift. See you soon.
I made myself a coffee and thought about the evening. Whatever I say or do, I can't seem to get rid off the woman. During the journey Adele had said she'd been reading my Amatore novel and asked which of the characters was inspired by her. Although I didn't say so, I wondered if Nicole from La Belle Charente might be appropriate: I certainly hope not.
I phoned Celine and, while she has enough to deal with (her dad has got worse and isn't expected to live much longer), I told her about Adele. She said I should just ignore her. Obviously I agree, but I'm not convinced it'll work.

Very cold tonight! 

Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Wednesday 7th January: Natural Remedies‏

I've been feeling so ill over the last week, coughing and sneezing, I haven't felt like doing anything even though I still have the cover of my book to sort out.
It's been so quiet the past few days. Celine is away, visiting her father who's ill and Paul, Isabelle and Mathilde left for Paris this morning. They came over to say goodbye, bringing me a chocolate cake Mathilde had made. They might be back for a weekend before the baby's born. I hope everything goes well for them.
About an hour after Paul and his family left, I had a visit from Stefanie and her boyfriend, Tomas. He's tall and thin with a beard covering most of his face framed with dreadlocks down to his shoulders. Stefanie said her dad had mentioned I hadn't been well so they'd decided to come and see me. They're leaving later today as the new university term is about to start.
It had been raining for most of the morning and from the state of their wet clothes, they'd obviously walked over. They were pleased to come into the warmth. Tomas sat on the living room floor and asked if the sofa was made from real leather. I said I wasn't sure and soon realised this was a mistake as he immediately launched into a lecture about the evils of animal exploitation (I happened to agree with some of the points he was making but didn't get the chance to say). Stefanie nodded enthusiastically during the episode and I got the impression Thomas was used to having an audience. The two of them kept up the conversation, talking over each other rapidly. Tomas had hitched from Germany and turned up two days ago to see Stefanie. They both wanted to hitch back but her dad wouldn't hear of it and has given them enough money for the train journey. I was surprised to hear that Tomas is sleeping in a tent in Karl's garden and asked why he doesn't sleep in the house. Apparently he prefers to be close to nature. I just don't know how can he stand the cold at night! I asked if they lived together in Berlin. Stefanie said no and Tomas described the squat he lives in. Apparently, its location has to be kept secret, otherwise the police might carry out a raid. They both seemed to find this amusing. (I wonder what Karl thinks).
I offered them a drink .Tomas doesn't drink tea or coffee and asked for water after I assured him it comes from a well. I asked if they wanted anything to eat. Tomas said he's a strict vegan and gave me a list of reasons why everyone should be one. Stefanie said she wasn't hungry. (I wonder what excuse she makes for eating meat).
After yet another bout of coughing,Tomas advised me never to take any conventional medicines, which he described as poison. He knew of a recipe for honey and hot water, which he wrote down for me. I've tried endless variations of this and it never seems to help, but thought it best not to say anything. Tomas opened the windows, telling me that artificial heating would make my cold worse. In his world, all chemical and man made materials are evil. (I noticed his clothes were now warm and dry, but I thought it best not to mention this). 

Tomas was stroking Coco who had been sleeping the whole time on the sofa. He asked if I had any other pets. I told them about Pepin next door and the two rabbits that Celine had given to the children. They wanted to go and see them and I explained where the barn was. They had been speaking to me in English the whole time, so I thought it was odd when Stefanie snapped at Tomas in German. He shook his head and said nothing.
They left, saying they would be back, maybe at Easter. I closed the windows and lay on the sofa after they had gone. The silence was a relief but my headache had got worse. After a few minutes I started to wonder why Tomas had been so keen to see the rabbits. I had a sick feeling as it dawned on me that he's probably an animal rights activist and believes keeping animals in cages is cruel. I got up, pulled on my coat and scarf and went out to the barn. Sure enough the door to the hutch was open and the rabbits were gone. I stood in the damp and freezing barn, trying not to panic. Luckily Solange was out and the children at school. The children would be so upset. I searched behind empty crates and boxes but there was no sign of the rabbits. Thank goodness Pepin was out with Solange. If he'd been in the garden he might have chased them, and scared them to death.
It had started to rain again when I went into the garden to search and I was shivering. After about five minutes I found them huddled together behind the lavender bush. They scratched and kicked when I picked them up but I managed to get them safely into the hutch.
I've decided not to say anything to Karl just yet. He wont hear anything negative about Stefanie. I'm annoyed with myself as I should have gone with them to see the rabbits. I'm just relieved I managed to get them back into their hutch.

Thursday, 1 January 2015

Thursday 1st January: New‏ Year fireworks

Alexander phoned New year's Eve morning, wanting to arrange a practise that day. We have a gig coming up on the 10th and he thought it would be a good time to get everyone together. I asked if Ines was coming and if he'd heard from her since the engagement party. He said he'd spoken to her about the gig and she'd sounded fed up but hadn't mentioned anything about Gavin or the party. Just as I finished the call Benjamin and Madeleine came knocking on the door and ran into the cottage where they started leaping up and down on the sofa. They were closely followed by Pepin and Solange, who had come to invite me to their fireworks party later that evening, She said to come over about nine and mentioned that Paul, Isabelle and Mathilde were coming, although Isabelle might leave early as she hadn't been feeling too well. 

It was a bitterly cold morning and when I arrived at Alexander's, he'd just put an electric heater in the summerhouse in an attempt to warm the place up. Michel turned up and laughed, telling us the cold was nothing and that he was used to far worse. I asked him if it was true that the garages in some parts of Canada are heated. He said his parent's was, and they also had heated car seats and triple glazing throughout their house. (I wouldn't be surprised if they have it in their cars too!)
I asked where Kieron was. Alexander said he was working all afternoon and night at the restaurant, but didn't mind as he was on double pay. His mother and sisters had finally been in touch. They were returning to France and asked Kieron to come back to the campsite. He refused, asking if he could stay with Alexander and Simone. He felt that his mother didn't really care about him. Alexander told us he was no problem and had agreed he could stay as long as he liked.
Ines arrived late. I was shocked by her appearance. She was pale and looked as if she'd crying. After we ran through a couple of songs Michel and Alexander decided to brave the cold for a smoke. Ines asked if she could speak to me. She said she was sorry about having a go at Celine at the engagement party. I asked her if anything had happened since and she told me that two days ago she and Gavin had gone to the big supermarket just outside Lorient. Gavin stayed in the car as he said he wanted to listen to something on the radio. She had gone in but returned to the car park after discovering she'd left her shopping list behind. Walking towards the car, she was surprised to find it empty and, looking around, caught sight of Gavin in another car nearby. He was sitting in the front with a woman and they were kissing. She went over and banged on the window. Gavin immediately broke away and leapt out of the car, making excuses while the woman drove off without saying a word. He told Ines that he had only seen the woman a few times and that she meant nothing to him. He had only agreed to meet her in the supermarket car park as he planned to tell her it was all over between them but that she wouldn't accept this. I didn't know what to say, so just listened. Ines said she's forgiven him but I wonder whether she actually believes him, I think she wants to. I suppose she must really love him.
Just as Alexander and Michel returned from their smoke, Simone brought over a tray of coffee and biscuits for us all. She and Alexander are having a quiet New Years Eve, just the two of them as Kieron is working. We decided to pack up soon after the coffees as the summerhouse was still freezing as it was difficult to play. I also didn't think Ines was in the mood for singing.
When I got back home I phoned Celine, asking if she wanted to come over for the fireworks party. When she arrived I told her about Ines. She felt sorry for her and was certain Gavin would hurt her again. She can't understand what Ines sees in him. (I don't think any of us can!)
When we went next door Pieter was sorting through a box of fireworks. He seemed almost as excited as the children, leading them into the garden with strict instructions to stand well clear. He lit the fireworks and Mathilde and Benjamin chased each other around the garden whilst the rest of us shivered from the doorway. It wasn't long before we retreated indoors and watched through the kitchen window whilst Solange stayed out in the garden with Pieter and the children. I must admit the colours were spectacular, I could see Mathilde and Benjamin were amazed by them. Celine made a fuss of poor Pepin who was trembling in his basket, barking each time a firework went off. Solange had made hot dogs which we had with a glass of champagne; an odd combination but tasted good. At midnight Pieter and Solange brought the children indoors and we all toasted the New Year, with special Good Luck to Isabelle and Paul who's baby is due in the Spring.
I wonder what this New Year will bring for the rest of us?