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Friday, 27 February 2015

Friday 27th February: Voices from the Past

Benjamin's piano lessons are progressing well: I'm pleasantly surprised. I really wasn't keen on teaching a four year old, but he's learning very quickly. Last Sunday he managed to play the whole of London Bridge is Falling Down with only a few pauses. He was so pleased with himself that he ran off, reappearing moments later with Solange and Pieter who gave an enthusiastic applause after hearing the piece. His sister Madeleine, who was dressed as Belle from Beauty and the Beast, also came in to watch. She stood on my armchair and insisted on singing to us in an attempt to drown out Ben's playing. Ben shouted at her, pulling faces and calling her ugly. Pieter carried her outside, but not before she managed to push Benjamin off the piano stool. They're lovely children but, I have to say, I do prefer peace and quiet.
On Wednesday Celine and I went into town to investigate the new second hand bookshop (Madame Dupont's old place). Celine is suffering from writer's block at the moment and her book hasn't been touched for a while. She's desperate to unearth some original information; especially about Merlin the Wizard, who supposedly lived in the Forest of Paimpont.
On the drive into town she told me she was thinking about her father a lot and felt guilty, wishing she'd done more to help him. She also regrets not seeing more of him in his last years. It's difficult to know what to say. I'm sure her father could tell she loved him, and that's all that matters in the end. I said I'm sure everyone has regrets when someone close to them dies.
We were lucky to find a parking place near the bookshop. Every available space in the window was piled high with books. Various sized volumes, precariously balanced, formed a tower as a central display. Celine remarked that, judging by the assorted covers, the owners appeared to have an over-riding interest in military history; particularly aircraft of World war Two. She was intrigued to know who they are.
As I pushed open the door, a familiar bell rang, the same as there had been there when Madame Dupont owned the shop. This, however, was the only similarity: the interior had been completely transformed. The large counter and till was repositioned to the right and the available space was taken up with a variety of bookcases of different sizes; some were new and stood at least six feet tall while others, of half that size, were falling apart. Hand written notes, identifying the subjects in French and English, were taped to each bookcase. Celine headed for the History of Brittany section while I looked over one of the largest bookcases crammed with English text books on the history of World War Two. I was studying an illustration of a Churchill Tank when I heard footsteps. A man, probably in his sixties, was approaching from a door at the back of the room. He had very short, dark hair and small round glasses and was wearing a turtleneck sweater over a pair of black trousers. It wasn't until he was within an inch or two of me that I realised he was a she. She introduced herself as Josephine and spoke in a strange accent, asking if there was anything we were particularly looking for? Celine came over and wanted to know where she was from. She told us Jefferson in Louisiana, although her mother was originally from Rennes. After retiring from the U.S Army, she'd decided to come and live in Brittany for a while. I asked about her interest in military history. Her father had been a fighter pilot in World War II and had served in the U.S Air Force for over twenty years. Her mother had died a year ago and she wanted to see where she'd grown up. She was staying in a small hotel in Carnac whilst looking for somewhere more permanent.
So far, she seemed reserved but when I asked if she had any music books her face lit up. She led me to three bookcases at the back of the shop and asked if I played an instrument. I told her about the band and my piano playing. When I mentioned teaching Benjamin she showed me a pile of children's piano books which she'd bought from a car boot sale a few weeks ago. I sorted through the piano books and found a few which would be perfect for Benjamin's lessons. Celine had found two histories of the Paimpont forest she wanted to buy. She asked Josephine how she was liking France. She said she missed her old home, especially her dog, Bertie, who she'd left with a neighbour. As soon as she finds somewhere more permanent she plans to send for him.
I noticed a ball of wool and knitting needles near the till and I wondered if she'd had any other customers. There was also a CD player on the counter and, from where I was standing, I could hear someone singing a cover of the Madeleine Peyroux song, Don't Wait Too Long. I asked who was singing. Josephine smiled, pointing to herself. I was amazed. She has such a perfect tone (reminiscent of Billie Holiday in the 1950s). She said she used to sing regularly in a jazz bar in New Orleans. I wondered what had made her leave. (Later, Celine said she sensed a sadness about her. They had been talking about the loss of her father and she wondered if this was the reason Josephine decided to move away). 
We paid for our books and I wrote down my number, telling her to get in touch. I'm sure she could sing at some of our gigs. Such a talented singer, but I can't see her making much of a success of the bookshop.

Back at my place Celine flicked through the piano books. Inside one she found three postcards; each written in a child's handwriting. The postcards were of familiar Parisian landmarks; the Eiffel Tower, Notre Dame and Sacre Coeur. They were all dated from April 1975. Celine read them out, translating for me. They were from a boy called Laurent and addressed to his parents. He was obviously on a school trip. He wrote that Paris was amazing but he was missing home and didn't think much of the food. Laurent's name was also written on the inside cover of the piano books with an address; the same as on the postcards. Celine said the place was a village near Vannes; not too far from her. She took the postcards, saying she'd investigate and try to return them (Celine loves a mystery!) We discussed Josephine for a while, inventing various backgrounds for her. I made an omelette and salad before she left, but I think we both could have done with something warmer! It's still so cold here.
This morning I was running through some pieces for the band when Celine turned up. I could tell she was bursting to tell me something, so, just to tease her, I pretended not to notice. It wasn't long before she had to interrupt. She'd gone to the address on the postcards, a little bungalow on the edge of the village. The person who answered the door had only moved in two years ago and the previous owner was now in a residential home. She looked up the details in her address book and wrote down the address.
Celine had gone there early this morning and met Laurent's mother who was now in her mid eighties. She was thrilled to see the postcards. She read them through several times and told Celine she remembered Laurent going on this school trip as if it was only yesterday. He must have been about twelve at the time. She laughed as she recalled how the children were not allowed to take any sweets on the trip. She remembered sewing a secret pocket inside Laurent's coat and filled it with his favourites.
Celine asked what Laurent was doing now. His mother was silent for a while and gazed through the window looking out onto the gardens. Eventually, she spoke in a quiet voice, saying that he'd died when he was twenty two. There had been no warning. He'd been at home for the holidays, back from university and had gone to bed early, complaining of a headache. The next morning she found him, dead, in his bed. A post mortem was carried out, but no explanation was ever found. Celine didn't like to think of the old lady on her own, but she was told her other children visit regularly.
Celine didn't stay at my place too long. She had a meeting with a historian who's published several papers on the legends of Merlin. After she'd gone I kept thinking about the boy. Celine said his mother mentioned he'd done well on the piano, reaching an advanced level. And now I had his music books. I wonder how Benjamin will get on with them.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Tuesday 17th February: Operatic Overtures‏

Practised at Alexander's last Friday as Andre has booked us to play at his restaurant for Valentine's Day. It was freezing cold in the summerhouse, but for some reason Alexander insists on practising there. I get the impression maybe Simone doesn't like to be disturbed. As we were setting up, Alexander mentioned that Kieron's been running through our pieces on his bass and has asked if he could join us. Both Michel and myself could see no problem with this. He was just about to tell us about Kieron's mother turning up when the door was pushed open and Kieron appeared, carrying a tray of tea and coffees. As we were still waiting for Ines I took the opportunity to ask about his family. He said his mum had phoned him a few days ago and was not at all happy. She'd turned up at the campsite with his two young sisters only to find an elderly German couple living in the caravan. She blamed Kieron as he'd been left to look after the place. Far from being upset he mimicked his mother's angry voice and laughed about her shouting at him. He said the caravan was a dump. It had no running water, no electricity, was freezing cold in the winter and boiling hot in the summer. What made his mum angry was the response of the campsite owner. She had threatened to call the police but the manager told her, as the couple were paying rent each week, as far as he was concerned, they were entitled to be there. Michel said it must have been awkward for the couple living in the caravan and asked where his mum is now. She's staying at another camp site and refuses to see or speak to Kieron. He doesn't seem bothered. After all, his mother abandoned him when she made the decision to return to England. He's still working at the cafe in Carnac and he likes living at Alexander and Simone's. I think he did the right thing.
When Ines arrived, she apologised for her behaviour at our last gig, assuring us it wouldn't happen again. She seemed very subdued; probably still embarrassed.
I was impressed with Kieron's bass playing and we agreed he should take part in our gig on the Saturday. Alexander asked if he'd like his mother to come and watch. He laughed, saying she wouldn't be at all interested and it would be a waste of time asking.
On Saturday we arrived early to set up. The place was fully booked. It's very popular both with locals and tourists. Ines was the last to arrive as usual, trailing behind Gavin, who was dressed in a full length smoking jacket with a red rose pinned onto the top pocket. He had brought his elderly mother with him and made a big show of finding their table and getting her seated. I was dismayed to see him. I glanced over at Alexander who raised his eyes. (He can't stand him either and thinks he's full of himself). At least Ines was sober. We played the first few songs; Quando, Quando, Quando, The Girl from Ipanema, a couple of instrumental pieces and One Note Samba. As soon as Alexander announced we would be taking a short break, Gavin approached the stage and took the microphone from Ines. He unpinned the red rose from his jacket, handed it to her, then began to sing O Sole Mio whilst gazing into her eyes. I couldn't believe it! Ines was taken in. She just stood like a statue with a fixed smile on her face. The diners seemed to love it, clapping enthusiastically. I made my escape out into the cold night as they demanded an encore.

The others were already outside; Michel, smoking and chatting to Kieron whilst Alexander was pacing up and down in a rage. He was tempted to tell Gavin to get lost, but reluctant to make a scene in public. While it could have been worse and we were lucky the audience enjoyed his singing, we still couldn't believe the cheek of the man. When we went back into the restaurant I noticed Gavin and Ines were sitting at his table, talking to his mother. During the second half I took a few glances over towards their table. His mother was slumped in her seat and appeared to have fallen asleep. Neither was Gavin paying any attention to Ines' singing. He was studying something hidden in his lap. Of course he was texting someone on his phone. The man is unbelievable!
We were tired at the end of the evening but pleased with the way the playing went. Kieron had fitted in really well. We were congratulating him when Gavin made his way over towards Ines and, once again, took over the microphone. Alexander asked him what he thought he was doing, but Gavin waved him away dismissively and began to sing. Most of the diners had left but a few remained to listen. A few bars into his rendition, he was accompanied by a ring tone to the theme of Nessun Dorma. Ines leapt towards Gavin's jacket pocket, pulled out his phone and demanded to know who was calling. She paused for a moment then hurled the phone across the room where it landed on a table, just missing a couple of guests. There were a few shocked gasps from the audience as she turned and marched out. Thank Goodness most of the guests had gone. I couldn't believe Gavin didn't go after her but carried on singing to the end. He finished with a theatrical bow, ambled over to his table and shook his mother awake.
Michel was amazed at this and asked why Ines puts up with it. Alexander and myself decided it would be best if Gavin doesn't come to any of our gigs in future. (Who's going to tell him I wonder? Hopefully Alexander).
Back at the cottage Coco was curled up on my sofa. I must have shut her in when I left. I made a coffee and listened to some possible arrangements for our next gig. I'm starting to wonder how much longer Ines will stay with us. I'm convinced Gavin would be quite happy to see her give up singing altogether.

"The descriptive writing is excellent" Goodreads review 

read a chapter from this novel each week on

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Thursday 12th February: A Deceptive Propriétaire

It was Ann-Sofie's day off and she asked if I could read through the new chapter of her book. Her English is very good and there weren't too many mistakes in the grammar. Not too sure about her characters though. They're supposedly in the middle of a zombie apocalypse but don't seem overly concerned! I asked if she based her characters on anyone, but she said they were a mixture of different people. She'd brought her sketch pad and showed me some drawings of the Cathedral and Castle in Uppsala. She told me all about the Cathedral which is the oldest and largest in Sweden. Her drawings are very good (better, I think, than her writing). I asked about her family. Her mother and brother are coming over for a few days in March, she's really looking forward to seeing them.
The rain cleared this afternoon and the sun made a rare appearance, so we decided to go and look around Languidic. It was very quiet in the town. We visited the church and then called into the local tourism office. There was a middle-aged lady working there. She'd brought her ginger cat into work with her, who was sprawled across the top of the desk. She told us he's seventeen years old and goes to work with her every day. The cat purred as we made a fuss of him. We had a look at some leaflets about forthcoming festivals and local markets. They didn't have any in Swedish so we picked up the English ones. The ginger tom lifted his head and gazed at us as we made our way out of the office.
I was interested to see that Madame Dupont's shop had been transformed into a second hand bookstore. I wanted to have a look around but there was a hand written notice on the door telling us the place was closed for the afternoon. The centre of the window was filled with a display of historical books, precariously balanced one on top of one the other; mostly reference books about military history, ships and war planes. Each side of the window was devoted to large volumes of encyclopedias; rarely seen these days since the advent of the internet. I made a note to call in there sometime.
Ann-Sofie said she loves reading horror stories and likes Stephen King novels, particularly Pet Cemetery and Salem's Lot. I recommended she read the original Dracula by Bram Stoker. (I might have a copy I could lend her).
We stopped for a coffee at the Pascal's cafe-bar. The place was very quiet when we arrived; only two people and the proprietor. We ordered coffees, a croque monsieur for Ann Sofie and a bowl of vegetable soup for myself. Ann Sofie made a face as she told me about the pickled herring they have in Sweden, saying she said she can't stand it!
Pascal came over to clear our table and asked Ann-Sofie where she was from. She said Sweden and mentioned that her family are coming over soon to stay at the gite next to my cottage. He said he knew a very interesting story about a gite. He sat at our table and and told us about a man called Andre who used to work in the local council office. Pascal described him as a nondescript man who had a stable but boring life. He'd been married for a long time, had two teenage children at school and lived in a bungalow just outside town. His mother had recently died and left him her granite cottage which he decided to let out to tourists.
Amazingly, Andre had been seeing someone; a woman he worked with. Pascal re-considered this and added that perhaps it was not so surprising as Andre's wife was a sour faced nag. Ann-Sofie, speaking in English, said this remark was sexist. Luckily I don't think Pascal understood and continued with his story.
One night, Andre's wife found out about his affair and they had a huge argument which resulted in Andre being thrown out of the house. He couldn't go to his girlfriend's because she lived with her parents who made it quite obvious they didn't approve of the relationship. At the time Andre's gite was let to a family from Paris who had already been there for ten days and had paid for the four week stay in advance.
Pascal related the story to us, taking long pauses, for our benefit, and, while I had to translate a few sentences for Ann-Sofie, her French has already greatly improved. She asked Pascal how he knew all this. He said he would explain as he went along. He paused to serve one of the customers, chatting to him for a few minutes. When he returned, he brought two more coffees and sat with us again. He now had the full attention of his other two customers, one asked if he was talking about mad Andre. Pascal nodded and they both laughed. 

Without his guests realising, Andre ended up sleeping in the garden shed of his property. Naturally, it wasn't ideal, so he decided to get rid of the family and move back into the gite.
As he had a key to the place, over the next week he systematically hounded his guests. When they went out during the day, he would go in and move their belongings, switch on the television and set the clock radio to come on at three in the morning. He would open windows and moved their belongings and, one time, he moved a chair and placed it on top of the kitchen table.

After three days, he'd heard nothing and was growing desperate. He went to see his wife who still refused to speak to him and slammed the door in his face. His girlfriend was also behaving very coldly towards him and, one day, spotted her in a restaurant with their boss at lunchtime. He had stopped going in to work and felt he was going out of his mind; determined to reclaim the gite.
I asked Pascal why the man didn't just give the family their money back and explain the situation to them. Pascal said Andre was incredibly mean. He did not want to refund the family on principle: he viewed them as rich Parisians. He wanted them out and believed he was entitled to keep the money. I noticed Ann-Sofie's disapproving look.
On the fourth day Andre waited until night and crept into the gite. One of the children had left a clockwork train in the kitchen. Andre slammed the unit doors a number of times until he heard movement and whispers from upstairs. He then tip-toed to the front door, switching the hall light on and off on his way out. When the couple came downstairs they were greeted with the toy making it's way slowly across the kitchen tiles.
The following morning Andre had a phone call. His guests insisted the gite was haunted and didn't want to spend another night there. They told him all about the noises, and the furniture being moved. When Andre said he wouldn't be able to refund their money they didn't seem concerned: They were just desperate to leave.
We both wanted to know how Pascal knew all this.
He said Andre's wife still refused to speak to him and, rather than be on his own in the gite, he'd began drinking and spending every evening in the bar. He told his story to anyone who would listen and it wasn't long before word got back to the local tourism office. His property was taken off the list of recommended gites; not that Andre was bothered.
Ann Sofie wanted to know why he didn't want to stay alone in the gite.
Apart from being separated from his wife, there was another reason. When the guests had spoken to him they mentioned that, one morning, the husband got up very early to go outside for a smoke. The front door of the gite is half-glazed, the top half of which has a frosted glass panel. As he approached the gite, he saw the vague outline of a woman descending the stairs and assumed his wife had got up and come down the kitchen. However, when he went inside to look for her, the kitchen was empty; his wife was still upstairs in bed. She insisted she hadn't been downstairs and was intrigued to know who the shape was at the door? This had really scared Andre, who never once considered the possibility of a real ghost.
He and his wife have since got back together. They have now sold the gite and moved away.
A noisy group of Italian tourists came into the bar and Pascal had to leave us. Ann Sofie said she hoped the gite next door to me didn't have a ghost. I said better that, than zombies!
When we got back Ann Sofie came into the cottage to collect her sketch book and lap top before returning next door. I asked how she was getting along with the family. She said she gets along well with Solange and she really likes the children. I think she'll settle. 

If you like historical drama, you must read this! 

A novel set in 17th century Jamaica and New England colonies: 
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Thursday, 5 February 2015

Thursday 5th February: The Watcher‏

As I was on my way out to visit Celine this morning when Solange came over and asked if I could look after pepin for a day next week. She also said she's worried about Ann Sofie who's very homesick. She's missing her mum and brother so much that she's considering returning home. Solange thinks it would be a good idea if I continue to help with Ann Sofie's writing. She's written another chapter for her book and would like to come over but worries about being a nuisance. I asked Solange to pass on the message that she's welcome to visit any time.
When I arrived at Celine's cottage she was standing outside, inspecting the remains of the bedraggled geraniums from last summer. When I spoke to her on the phone yesterday she didn't say much and sounded tired. Her father's funeral took place two days ago but she stayed on to help her brother clear out the apartment. She'd only arrived back home yesterday afternoon. I asked how the funeral had gone but it was clear she didn't want to talk about it.
Inside the cottage was as cluttered as ever; books spilling out of the bookshelves and photo albums piled in a heap on the sofa. A fire was burning away in the hearth. I sat down in one of the armchairs whilst Napoleon fixed his gaze on me from the top of a bookcase. Celine's landlord had been looking after him and the rabbits while she was away. Apparently, Napoleon has been sulking since her return, refusing to pay her any attention. The two rabbits peered out from their hutch in the corner of the living room.
Celine cheered up when I gave her the pictures from Madame Dupont's shop. She was interested to hear about the mad old lady, laughing at my impersonation. I mentioned Ann Sofie and how she was homesick. She remembered how, when she had gone away to teacher training college at eighteen, she had cried the first time a letter arrived from her dad. She suggested that, once the weather improves, we take Ann Sofie out and show her a few places.
She showed me some photos she'd brought back from her dad's apartment. There was a formal one of him, looking very serious, standing in front of his class at the lycee. Another was of Celine aged about six with her brother, Claude, and their grandmother. They were standing on the beach at Carnac, squinting into the sun. All three of them looked happy and relaxed. She handed me a photo of her parents on their wedding day, gazing into each others eyes. Celine's mother had become ill with multiple sclerosis soon after Celine was born and she could only remember her in a wheelchair. Her mother was a prisoner in her wheelchair, yet always seeming cheerful. I can understand how difficult it must be to talk about her. She died when Celine was fifteen.
She told me she and Claude had found a box of love letters written from their parents before their marriage, tied up with faded red ribbon. She had no idea her father was so sentimental. They'd also found a box of her mother's jewellery, along with a pile of her dresses. Her father had kept a scarf Celine remembered her mother wearing. She said it still smelt faintly of her perfume and took Celine straight back to memories of her childhood.
Another album was full of dancing and singing certificates from school, carefully arranged in date order. I asked about the cigar box standing on the dresser which was decorated with sea shells. This had been a summer's project one year at her Grandma's which her father had kept.
Celine brought in two bowls chicken soup and a baguette from her little kitchen and we sat in the armchairs by the fire. I noticed the carriage clock ticking away on the mantle piece above the fireplace. Celine had brought it from her father's apartment while her brother took a watch and some photos. The flat was now empty and ready to sell. I admitted I had never been close to my own parents. My father, an officer in the Royal Air Force, was distant and aloof and my mother who was now in a nursing home in England. Neither of them showed me any genuine affection. Celine said she wished she had done more to help her father, realising he'd been very lonely. She added that the funeral had been awful; far worse than she'd imagined it would be.
It was only after we'd finished the soup and washed up that she said she wanted to talk to me about something. Whilst she had been away her landlords had noticed, on several occasions, a dark haired woman drive up and sit in her car outside the cottage. They asked her what she wanted and she said she was a friend of Celine. When they told her that she was away, the woman thanked them and left. However, they have seen her two or three times since and once, late at night, sitting alone in her car. They had taken down the car registration number, but we both knew it was Adele. 

Celine got up and fetched an envelope from the dresser. Inside was a letter in Adele's handwriting saying that, after meeting up at a recent gig where I'd offered her a lift home, I was now seeing her again. Since that evening, she wrote, I had decided it would not be right for me to see Celine again. She finished by advising Celine not to contact me again. The letter had been pushed through the letterbox and was waiting on the door mat when Celine arrived back.
Apart from keeping the letter as it's signed with Adele's name, neither of us know what to do. I mentioned the police but, on second thoughts, we agreed Adele hasn't actually done anything serious enough to report. Celine said she'll keep a lookout for her car and note down any times she sees her. Adele must have followed her back to the cottage at some stage: it's all a bit worrying.
We found some hooks and hung Madame Dupont's pictures up along with her parents' wedding picture. We looked through the rest of the albums. There were lots of birthday and Christmas celebration photo's and a lovely picture of Claude with Celine as a baby.
Celine took out the rabbits which hopped around the living room until they were tired and stretched out on the rug in front of the fire. Napoleon, all the while, glared at them from his lofty position on the bookshelf.
We talked late into the evening. Celine said wants to concentrate on putting all her collected legends and myths together for her book and I'm determined to get my historical novel completed.
It was after midnight when I arrived back at my place. I tried to work on my writing but couldn't stop thinking about Adele and wondered what she might do next. Although we decided to ignore her for the time being. Maybe I should confront her.