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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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