Thursday, 13 December 2007

Christmas chez Loufoque




A new year approaches at unfaltering speed. Christmas has come and thankfully departed leaving only the remnants of candle stubs and glass baubles and the shredded needles of the sapin de noel to remind us of its brief visit. Apart from a brief diversion caused by the unexpected arrival of a Christmas gift from the Americas (taking the form of a rather large packing case filled with an interesting melange of sprogets, dibbets and preserving jars of muddy coloured unctuous matter labeled peanut butter, which after some careful consideration we conjectured must be some type of engine lubricant)courtesy of our erstwhile friend Elma Bucket of the American flying corps,we were as ever assaulted on all sides with it the usual dull litany of unsuitable and unwanted gifts.

What ever possesses ones friends and acquaintances to burden one with a seemingly endless supply of scented handkerchiefs, un-wearable items of knitwear and utterly undesirable objects d'arte is beyond my understanding. Thankfully we find ourselves blessedly bereft of relations on the Loufoque side and mine only relatives having estates in the Bordeaux region acknowledge sensibly their familiar obligations with a seasonal benison of several cases of their own exceedingly good Bordeaux Superior.I dread to think what My dearly departed Belle-Mere might have felt suitable for our household, a set of mathcing antimacassars embroidered with the passions of Christ possibly or a life size reproduction of the painting of the martyrdom of the 10,000 by Durer,to hang over our nuptial bed, the latter of which at least one supposes might prove to be quite a conversation piece although sadly also likely to squash any lingering passions not already quenched by the hand knitted Khaki bed socks she undoubtedly would have sent with it.I understand from Madame Grognonne that one of the old Madame Loufoques started the knitting of bed socks for the troops during the Napoleonic campaigns and it has become rather a familial tradition one which I have refused to embrace.Some traditions are better left to die a lingering painful death and that one is I fear one of them.

We celebrated the Revellion of Christmas in the traditional manner with the entire family and staff attending midnight mass with Antoine joining our happy band for the feast afterwards, although the term happy may be a trifle over stating the joviality of the atmosphere since the inclusion in our party of the new priest of the parish did nothing to enhance our festive spirits and neither the cloying clerics insistence on telling rather inane jokes although dinner nor the way he brayed like a donkey at his own wit did much to improve any of our tempers.Finally the awkward situation was resolved after Madame Grognonne thankfully suggested to Chief Pattisiers that our honoured guest might enjoy a taste of our special reserve eau de vie, to which he happily agreed. as a result of which the we were able to enjoy the rest of our celebrations in peace and tranquility the cleric having predictable fallen into a comatose state soon after being foolish enough to down his glass in one. Jacques very kindly returned him to the village and propped him up against the main doors of the church where I understand his parishioners found him in the morning his hand frozen to the door knocker.


Since last I wrote, the duties and obligations of the festive season not withstanding, my time has been almost entirely taken up with the task seeking a means of ensuring Eldests future edification and improvement and having sought advise from relaible sources I have taken the step of placing an advertisement in a respectable English newspaper and engaging one Mademoiselle Delacourt as a tutor governess for Eldest whom I hope will be able to polish our not so little rough diamond into a shining gem. She comes highly recommended by Lady Caroline something or other and I understand is well qualified, although in what I am not quite clear.

Miss Amanda Delacourt of Tooting Beck, I pin my hopes then, entirely upon you.

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The painting illustration my small missive is Durer's depiction of the martyrdom of the 10,000 painted in 1508. The topic portrays peasants and servants being dispatched by their betters and was one imagines a reminded to the lower classes to be mindful of their placve in society.Although one can clearly sympathise with Durer's problems with his domestic staff it does beg the inevitable question as to whom Durer thought would do the tiding and cleaning up after all the slaughter,so typical of a man to forget such matters.

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

Serious thoughts from the salle de bain


Having fully recovered from the ructions and ramifications of recent weeks I was lying in the bath the other evening, prior to dinner , and appreciating the milky beauty of my slender and elegant ankles when my thoughts drifted to the contemplation of the physical failings of others less fortunate and thus was, alas, sadly reminded of the rather unpleasantly disappointing thickness of Eldest ankles. A thought that naturally led me to a pondering upon her visage in general and in consequence what the future might hold for her. I ended my ablutions quite depressed as a result and quite unable to do justice to Madame Grognonne’s excellent Rognons de Veau flambés au Madère .

It is, to say the least; regrettable that a couple as handsome as Chief Patissier and myself should produce such a rather plain creature, especially when one considers the unsurpassable beauty of her brothers. Nature can at times be tiresomely unfeeling in the distribution of her bounty, bestowing on our boys the clear nursery complexions of the English upper classes, the large violet blue eyes of their father and the thick dark lashes of their mother whilst absentmindedly condemning our female offspring with straight short lashes, thick eyebrows and a figure that owes more to robust stolidity of the Breton horse than to my own fine elegance. One must blame of course the Loufoque genes of her Fathers Ancestry. I know little or nothing of mine own antecedents but one can clearly see that the boys obviously take after my side.

Children can be such a bitter disappointment. I imagine this is why Helen of Troy never embraced motherhood, what is the point ,after all, of being the face that launched a thousand ships if ones female progeny are naught but puddings?

With a face as lamentable as hers one must accept the fact that she is unlikely to win hearts. After her rather disastrous attempts at learning Russian I have somewhat shied away from interfering in her education however, as good a job as the nuns have done with her in attempting to impart the finer points of needlepoint, piano and watercolours their knowledge of the world is naturally rather limited. Loathed as I am to add yet another domestic appendage to our troubled household perhaps a tutor is called for.
I shall have to contemplate the matter closely meanwhile I have set my self to the task of preparing her for the wilder world and investigating the possibilities which a girl of her background might choose as a suitable career and to that end have managed to get a copy of Cassell’s Book of the household, which has a highly informative chapter on Careers for Girls, sandwiched between an article on the cultivation of Dahlias and a brief history to time. Admittedly it is English and is a little out of date but one must work with what one can.

If all else fails she could of course join the convent although since she has adopted a rather unbecoming habit of truculent door slamming and grunting as her chosen means of communication I think we might seriously rule out a silent order.
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The painting above is one of several studies by Degas of a woman going about her private ablutions. He seems to have been quite obsessive in fact about this particular theme, a fact that perhaps should not undergo too much scrutiny. I am sure that in some artistic circles it is perfectly acceptable for a gentleman to spend his time hanging about the bathrooms of ladies and watching them undress, but no tin my bathroom I can assure you. Far be it for me to comment on his choice of model but I really feel if he was going to concentrate on this particular subject the might have chosen someone slightly more attractive to paint. To be fair her wrists are fairly elegant in a coarse sort of way, even if her hands are a trifle red, but she definitely leaves a lot to be desired in the foot department and as for the state of the water one can only wonder exactly she has been doing that has caused the water to be covered in green scum.

Friday, 2 November 2007

The story ends and all is explained..almost..


If you will recall back we left Madame Grognonne , Loic disguised as the widow, the widow dressed as a woman of ill repute, Jacques frail farmhand and Antoine attired as a sardine gutter, for no apparent reason, at the entrance to Chateau Loufoque. We thus continue to the story’s end, its culmination pieced together from the accounts of all involved.

Arriving then at dawn to be met by the over excited pigs ,no longer confined to the pantry and greedily devouring the hydrangeas, our hearty heroes knew, without doubt, that something was a miss Chez Loufoque. Leaving Jacques and the widow to unravel Loic’s artificial leg from the sacking, Antoine leapt from the cart to unravel the mystery. Sadly this was not all that he unravelled, catching, as he did his petticoats and slipping face first into the festering fish guts. With help from Madame Grognonne, and unperturbed by the awful offal, he drew his cloak around him and pulled up his hood the better to scrub off the sticky sardine scales adhering to his skin, and a good job too for otherwise he would have certainly have come off far worse when he slipped on the pig excrement, as he descended from the cart, their recent meal of hydrangeas obviously not agreeing with their digestion.

The crash of his clattering of his clogs alarming the pigs and no doubt alerting whoever was in the house to his arrival there was now little point in attempting to sneak up on them unawares. He marched onwards then boldly towards the kitchen.
Thrusting open the door, whilst at the same time being careful not to smear the brass handle only recently polished by Madame Grognonne, his eyes smarting from the reek of his fouled clothing, Antoine could see nothing in the darkness save a lone figure at the table. He moved forward to demand the interloper identity themselves only to find his voice hoarse and unfamiliar no doubt from his sleeping open mouthed on a cold night in an open cart. Spying chief Patissier’s decanter of best cognac on the table, he raised his arm to grasp it, intending to rescue it from the thieving hands of that unidentified figure at the table and hoping the restorative liquid might sooth his throat.

However he found, due to the rigidity of the whalebone corset he was wearing, he was unable to lower his arm again, his stays having been rather battered out of shape by his tumble from the tumbrel and he had the unpleasant sensation of something hard and sharp threatening to penetrate his person should he attempt to lower his limb. This was not a risk he was willing to take. In his discomfort he barely had time to give the figure at the table at the table a second thought for in the instant he realized he had been harpooned by his whalebone another figure entered the room, one whom he instantly recognized and at whom he rushed with relief, for if there is any man in the world skilled and experienced in the art of releasing Antoine from the confines of a woman’s corsets this is he! However before he can reach his saviour and seek succour the figure at the table shrieks and slumps in a most ladylike manner as only a person of her breeding and natural poise can do.

Here then is all made clear. The mysterious spectre at the kitchen door is none other than Antoine and here are Antoine’s filching thieves, none other than Chief Patissier and his dear and charming wife Un Peu Loufoque. A rush of relief is felt by all.

Madame Grognonne, stout in limb and heart , hoists her mistress from the floor and carries her off to her chamber to recover her composure and repose in peace. Chief Patissier releases Antoine from his confining corsets and washes away the smell of sardines outside in an as oil drum as off old , a fire is lit and a hearty breakfast is prepared by the widow. Stories are exchanged and tales of intrigue and woe. Chief Patissier tells Antoine briefly about his abortive friendship with Lawrence and Antoine recounts tales of his carousing with the local cleric. All is put right over a shared meal and a few restorative cognacs. Upstairs, sitting in the sunlight, Madame Grognonne silently watches over her mistress sleeping whilst she silently polished her gun and ponders upon life.


But what of the Gendarme? What fate has befallen him?




Only Time will tell, and time, as ever, is in no haste to do so.
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The engraving above purports to depict the rather touching departure of the local cleric shortly after the the conclusion of the events described above. Some say he left to seek his fortune in Vannes where he worked as a missionary to sailors , others that he chose a life of penitence as a hermit on one of the small islands off the coast of Cape Breton. Some tell tales that he was called upon by a mysterious visitor, late one night ,accompanied by a person disguised as a sardine gutter, and that what happened at that meeting caused him to see the error of his ways. Truth is an elusive creature, but all that is certain is that he left the commune and was never seen again, and that the night of his departure the shrine to Loic and his miraculous limb was secretly dismantled and the money collected from it was found all neatly stored in a coffer in the clerics kitchen with a note donating it to the restoration of the church tower.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

Homeward Bound


Whilst our motley band of misfits slept the day away in the cool shade of the woods, and Antoine valiantly stood guard puffing on Madame Grognonne’s pipe to keep the flies at bay, there happened to pass, not far from them, the figure of a young lad intent on his duty.
It was none other than the lost and grubby figure of Jean Luc Perdu, carrying in his satchel an urgent telegram from myself ,which was sadly by now somewhat ragged and stained owing to his unhygienic habit of storing his baguette and bloater paste repas in his satchel along with his mail.
Little did he know that had he but chosen to rest his velocipede under the trees and taken the opportunity to perform some much needed ablutions in the clean waters of the stream he would have stumbled across Madame Grognonne, the rightful recipient of the telegram and thus saved himself several more days on the road.

Of course had he come across Madame Grognonne, there in the woods, he would have very likely not continued along the road to Paimpol and therefore perhaps never had the opportunity to make the intimate acquaintance of one Fleur Fleton a friendly fish filleter who introduced him with to the delights she usually reserved solely for the entertainment of members of the Breton fishing fleet, before sending him on his way back in the direction in which he had come. So overcome was he with Fleur Fletons and her fishy tales that, very soon after delivering his bloater paste stained telegram at Chateau Loufoque, he returned to Paimpol and bound himself as a cabin boy on a cod fishing boat sailing for the far flung shores of Cape Breton in Canada where, having discovered that due to an unfortunate inner ear imbalance he was ill fitted to the life of a sailor, he apprenticed himself to a fur trapper called Finnius Finnigan and eventually married Finnegan’s fine daughter Fenoulla. That however is another story altogether.

Anyway, I digress. As the day began to cool and evening fell the party reassembled themselves and adjusted their disguises, not easy in the case of Loic whose backward facing foot had become inexplicably tangled in the widows garter elastic, then, having eaten a restorative repas of herring fillets and anchovy paste tarts washed down with the remains of the cider, they resumed their journey homewards with many a backward glance fearing with every turn of the carts squeaking wheels that they the perfidious port policemen at Paimpol may even now be pursuing them .

The night being cold, all except Jacques, who was driving the creaking cart, took refuge in the back lying huddled together on top of the sacking in the rear gaining what heat they could from each others bodies and the festering fish guts, which although they make excellent organic fertilizer for the garden do not make particularly desirable bedding. Happily, none of them were discerning characters and were not ,therefore, greatly discomforted by their odiforous mattress although Loic did take the precaution of removing his twisted limb and hanging it over the side in order to avoid further petticoat entanglements and the danger of the joints becoming seized up with sardine scales. There was I am sure many an unfortunate traveller that night who felt their time had come seeing the creaking cart go past in the mist its back piled high with bodies.

On reaching the outskirts of our village the cart stopped with the intention of allowing Antoine to dismount and make his way across country to his home unseen. However he slept so soundly that none had the heart to wake him , and it was in fact lucky for them they had halted for in doing so they narrowly avoided an accident when a small but swift dog cart, its drivers muffled and travelling at speed shot past them unseeing and would have almost collided with them had they not been parked under the protective branches of an overhanging chestnut tree. Who could it have been rocketing past at such urgent velocity and at such an early hour? Fearing they had been found out and suspecting the worst they travelled onwards in silence choosing the little used roads until, as dawn broke the sky with its first shards of tentative light they arrived, Chez Nous ,to find some other person had arrived before them and the door to the silent house stood open...
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The photograph is of none other than that of Finnius Finnigan, future father in law to young Jean Luc Perdu and Grandpere to all the little Perdus that Jean Luc and the fercund Fenoulla produced in the way of offspring, including Fanny, Florence, Fabian, Francois, Felice , Ferdinand, Phillipe and last but not least poor little Elodie . Early on in their marriage they made the sensible decision to ensure all their children were given prenoms starting with the letter F so as to save on the the cost of name tapes for their clothing. Poor little Elodie however was the exception and was named after Jean Luc’s maiden aunt whose crossed eyes she had unfortunately inherited. Phillipe was a spelling error, one that could have happened in even the best regulated families unless sensible precautions are taken.

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Floundering with the fisherfolk.


Having partaken of a restorative luncheon I shall now continue the tale of our intrepid travellers.
You may remember we left our devious band of domestics travelling incognito by night in an open cart borrowed from Yannick for the transportation of fish offal, Jacques disguised as an old deaf farm labourer, Loic garbed as a mariner, the Gendarme dressed as the widow, the widow dressed as a woman of ill repute, Antoine dressed as a sardine gutter and Madame Grognonne dressed as herself. The night was a cold one and their journey long but they were amply prepared for the hardship, Madame Grognonne having assembled a hamper of comestibles and the widow providing an interesting assortment of beverages of various varieties and levels of potency.

The gently plodding of the cart horse well known for its soporific sound unsurprisingly soon sent all into a deep slumber until their sudden rude awakening as the cart wheel struck a rock and the wheel jarred by the jolt , jettisoned the passengers into the ditch. All would have been badly bruised had they not fortuitously fallen on the Gendarme. Happily, with each lending a hand, and using the still comatose and rigid body of the Gendarme as a prop, Antoine and Jacques were able to replace the wheel. Sadly as a result of the mishap Loics leg had become twisted and the foot was pointing backwards, a problem they knew from previous experience could only be remedied with professional help. Therefore after some worried discussion it was decided that he and the Gendarme should exchange disguises, the widows long skirts would thus hide Loics deformity for even in Paimpol , the home of the Breton fishing fleet, the sight of a sailor with a foot facing backwards was bound to draw attention. This exchange of clothes was not easily undertaken for disrobing a drunken man without his acquiescence is not an easy task, and as a result they were forced to leave his corsets and bloomers on under the sailor’s tunic and trousers. However finally they were able to continue.


Cresting the brow of the hill they saw below them the distant lights of ships at anchor in the port shining like stars in the early morning darkness and the cart, now squeaking alarmingly made its way to the town quay where the colourful cursing of female fish filliters drifted across the cold air as they hauled the catches up from the boats below. The plan had been that once they arrived at the bustling port they could easily discard the drugged Gendarme, dressed as a woman in the widows clothing, in some out of the way spot propped outside a tavern where he would eventually sober up. Meanwhile they would fill the cart with fish offal and would all be home and safe before he had been discovered. The Gendarmes recent diet of laudanum laced with eau de vie would almost certainly ensure his amnesia and failing that, his female garb would be sufficient to discredit any tale he told which might implicate the Loufoque households involvement in his predicament.


Unfortuantly, whilst they sat outside a tavern, pondering a new course of action, they were spotted by a Sardine gutter, the very one that Madame Grognonne had seen off with a bucket of water some weeks previously at the height of Loic fever. Recognising her tormentor and casting suspicious glances in Loics direction, for even dressed as a widow woman his charisma stood out, she called upon her friends to come and help her reek her revenge and it could have turned a trifle tiresome had it not been for Antoine’s swift intervention.

Screaming shrilly he leapt from his seat, between Jacques, disguised you will recall as a deaf farm labourer, and the Gendarme, dressed as a Sailor on shore leave, and slapped the sailor soundly about the head accusing him of interfering with his person and making such a fuss that they were soon surrounded by a crowd of indignant dalliers under cover of which Madame Grognonne and Loic were able to slip swiftly away leaving the widow behind to offer the others support. Although even at a distance anyone would have been remarkably desperate to make advances at Antoine dressed as he was, the other Sardine gutters were quick to rush to a fellow woman’s defence and all set upon the Gendarme who, as luck would have it, was just that minute regaining consciousness.
Finding himself aroused from his opiate induced slumbers by a bevy of big breasted beauties he lurched forwards to make himself acquainted but in doing so tore his tunic on a nail thus revealing to all his women’s corsets under his mariners uniform. At the same time his breaches, designed for a smaller figure, burst their buttons and the widows lace bloomers billowed out. Such a commotion followed as the sardine gutters surged forward intent on finding if this was a man in woman’s clothing or a woman in mans and in either event disrobing the pervert. A fish gutters life is not a gay one and thus they must find amusement where they can.

Jacques and the widow managed to remove Antoine, who was eager to remain and join in the fun, swiftly had the cart filled with fish entrails and were safely back on the road homewards before anyone had time to note their dissapearance. As luck would have it the day was a warm one and their progress was accompanied by a swarm of flies to escape from which Antoine and the others drew their hoods over their heads. It was decided it would be safest to secrete themselves somewhere and stop until nightfall thus they might avoid the attention of the flies and other travellers on the road. The rested in a wood where Antoine volunteered to sit guard by the cart whilst the others slept.

Thus we must leave them once more, a little closer to home and perhaps a little closer to phantom at the kitchen door, for I too am tired from their exertions to continue further.
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Above is the photograph is of a group of fisherwomen sorting crabs on the shore at Paimpol. I think you will agree that they look indeed , a formidable force not to be trifled with and that Jacques and the widow were wise to extricate Antoine from their vicinity with such speed for goodness knows what might have happened to him had they discovered that far from being a harmless sardine gutter of advancing years he too was a man in disguise!

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The cunning plan commences...




Whilst anxiously awaiting my response to the urgent letter Madame Grognonne had sent me seeking advise regarding her “spot of trouble” ( by dint of repeated applications of large and regular doses of an intoxicating mixture of absinthe, eau de vie and cider laced with laudanum, and the occasional blow to the head) the Gendarme was successfully concealed in a semi comatose condition in the cellar at Chateau Loufoque for several days. Meanwhile Loic and the widow took turns to stand guard, sharing the domestic tasks in order that Madame Grognonne was able to go about her business and maintain the façade of normality, shopping and visiting the lavoire so as not to arouse suspicion in the village.

When, after almost a week, no reply was forthcoming and supplies of laudanum were running dangerously low, it was decided that help must be found elsewhere, and therefore Jacques was sent out to seek Antoine, who had been left in charge of the biscuiterie in Chief Patissier’s absence. Thankfully Antoine , on hearing the peril in which the entire Loufoque household lay, rushed to their aid bringing with him extra supplies of opiates and fresh engine oil , the latter for Loic’s knee caps which were in danger of seizing up after long hours spent in the cold and damp cellar.

Meanwhile the Telegram I had sent urging Madame Grognonne to do nothing remained un- delivered in the canvas post satchel of Jean Luc Perdu, the delivery boy, who was lost somewhere on the backroads of the Cotes D’armor having taken a wrong turning at Clegerac and headed off in a southerly direction by mistake.

After an ample meal and lengthy discussion around the kitchen table Antoine and the brave troupe came up with a perfect plan to rid themselves of their troublesome guests whilst not arousing the wrath of local law enforcers, none of them having any desire to end their days at the hands of the guillotine!

The plan was this. Dressing herself in the Gendarmes clothes, liberally stuffed with pillows,( the Gendarme being slightly more full frontally endowed than she)Loic’s widow, as dusk was falling ,was to make her way to la place de la poste in the village which lies in the shadow of the church and is notoriously badly lit. There, under the gaze of any late pilgrims still lining up to fondle the miraculous appendage otherwise known as loics limb at the priests make shift shrine , she would , to her utmost surprise, happen upon none other than Madame Grognonne who would be innocently loitering on her way to collect a baguette or two to accompany the servants evening repas. There they would engage in jovial conversation in full public view and part amicably in front of witnesses thus quashing any rumours that the Gendarme had disappeared or that he and she were on bad terms.

As if to answer a call of nature the widow, disguised a the Gendarme would hasten behind the church wall and secrete herself under a blanket in the backseat of Antoine’s automobile which would be conveniently parked there whilst he sought out the curés company for a timely aperitif. Madame Grognonne meanwhile, having purchased her bread, would engage the lurking limb fondlers at the shrine in pleasant conversation regarding the weather until Antoine, returning to his car, would pass the square and , noticing her there ,offer her a lift back to Chez Loufoque .

Once out of site of the village Antoine would drive to a pre-appointed rendevouz point where they would pick up the drugged and drunken Gendarme, now dressed in the widows clothes and supported by Loic who thanks to the contents of the children s dressing up box would be dressed as a sailor on shore leave. Here the group would part company Antoine to return by automobile to the village stopping briefly to have a warming drink at the bar tabac where he would let slip his planned visit the following day to his maiden aunt in Rennes, in order to establish his alibi. The rest of the group would wait in the shadow of the trees for Jacques arrival in a cart, borrowed for the purpose from Yannick under the pretence of needing it to collect fish guts from the sardine fishermen at Paimpol as fertilizer for the vegetable garden. Hidden under the sacks placed in the cart for the transportation of the fish fertilizer, they would travel under cover of darkness towards the coast stopping briefly on the road to Guingamp to collect Antoine, now dressed as a Sardine gutter. There was actually no need for the party to include Antoine dressed as a Sardine gutter but since he still had his old spoon sellers costume and got such obvious enjoyment form dressing in women’s clothing it seemed churlish for the others to draw attention to the fact.

Thus far the plan worked well however the party, which now consisted of Jacques disguised as an old deaf farm labourer driving the cart, Loic dressed as a sailor, the Gendarme dressed as the widow, the widow dressed as a woman of ill repute, Antoine dressed as a sardine gutter and Madame Grognonne dressed as herself, had many hurdles to leap before they were home and dry again in the safety of Chateau Loufoque.

Alas! I fear this story is far too arduous for a woman of exhausted spirit and shattered nerves such as myself to recount in one sitting thus I shall rest here for a restorative cognac and a light luncheon of poached salmon and artichoke hearts dipped in butter and resume my telling later.

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The photograph shows the long line of women siting on the bank by the shrine with some remarkable patience fro their turn at polishing poor loics purloined appendage. Some evenings I understand there are as many as thirty of them gathered there, and they use the opportunity to exchange local news and knititng patterns.

Saturday, 6 October 2007

The story behind the tale...


Over the past week I have been able to piece together, from accounts given by the various members of the household, exactly what it was that happened here, Chez Loufoque, in our absence and an explanation for the appearance of the phantom figure in the kitchen. The story is a strange and complex one but I shall do my utmost to render if faithfully.

As I had discovered from Madame Grognonne’s somewhat idiosyncratic carte postales which I received whilst taking the cure in the South. After a series of unfortunate events she and Jacques had been left in a spot of trouble arising from the Police maltreatment of animals and in consequence had unconscious Gendarme in the confined in the cellar. Jacques immediate reaction had been to finish off the Gendarme and bury his body in the garden however he and Madame Grognonne had been unable to agree on a suitable spot in which to safely inter him, the melon beds having already been earmarked for possible later use, and were in the midst of a heated argument regarding this topic when who should arrive buy Loic and his widow friend who had come to deliver the latest produce from the widows orchard . Cider, and a few bottle of Pomig , a deceptively strong spirit made form cider, of their own fabrication. Loic had of course been in hiding with the widow after the religious fervour surrounding his miraculous body appendages had got a trifle out of hand.

This momentarily distracted Jacques and Madame Grognonne who were, out of politeness, forced to taste the latest alcoholic offerings, a social obligation that inevitably took sometime. However after all were well lubricated from their tasting it was decided to store the remaining drink in the cellar and allow it to mature a little. Loic being the steadiest on his feet, an interesting fact in itself since he has an artificial leg which I understand had at that time an attachment for crushing apples. Unfortunately, whilst removing the cider to the cellar Loic ,who had not his apple picking attachment on his false arm and therefore his grip was not as well as it might be, was startled by the sound of groaning, obviously this was the gendarme gaining consciousness, and accidently dropped the barrel in fright, it smashing on the Gendarmes head and drenching him in the cider. Miraculously, bearing in mind this was the second major blow to his cranium within a relatively short period the blow did nothing worse than render him unconscious again.

Hearing the commotion in the cellar Jacques the widow and Madame Grognonne rushed to Loic’s aid fearing he had been set upon by sardine gutters lurking in the dark , and having discovered the cause Jacques and Madame Grognonne were obliged to tell the whole sorry tale of the Chief Druid and the Gendarme to Loic and the widow. After which they were all in need of further refreshment so they made themselves comfortable, by sitting upon the recumbent Gendarme ,and opened a bottle of absinthe which was fortuitously to hand, whilst deciding what course of action to take next.

It was after the Absinthes bottle was emptied and they had moved on to sample some of the special wines Chief Patissier had arranged to be sent up from Bordeaux that they hit upon their cunning plan. A plan which requires an explanation all of its own and which revealed to me the identity of the terrifying creature whom I encountered upon my return here, the identity of whom I have discovered and will reveal to you. Meanwhile, all I shall add is that, bizarre although the entire tale is it only proves that as I have always perceived it to be, that is that fact truly is stranger than fiction.

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The rather idyllic painting is called The Cider mIll and was painted in 1880 by John George Brown an American artist of rather fanciful tastes who specialized in idealised portrayals of impoverished peasant children at work and play all of them looking remarkably well nourished and clean. I can not imagine that Loic and the widows cidre production however it is cidre none the less for that. I am given to understand from Loic and the widow that hygiene and health and safety is not high on their list of needs when it comes to producing their products and that the odd dead rat in a ask only serves to add to the flavour. I shall not I think be sampling their Pomig.

Saturday, 29 September 2007

Dance with Death


I must have passed out for a mere second, before I regained my senses, the invidious aroma of the spectres pungent scent , as it crossed the expanse of the dark Kitchen lumbering towards my husband , reviving me almost instantaneously. As it approached Chief Patissier, it threw back its hood to reveal its face, and he lept forward to embrace the figure, as one embracing death itself.

It was at this point that, despite being a woman of stoical nature and backbone, I lost all sense of reality; I remember sliding floor wards, the cold sensation of the flagstones on my skin and the sound of wooden clad feet hurriedly entering the kitchen, metal scraping on stone. The noise of a commotion and raised voices and the vague sensation of being lifted up by strong arms and then after that all was quiet and dark until I woke here in my bed with the figure of Madame Grognonne sitting at my side polishing her rifle quietly in the sunlight.
It was as if all was normal, and always had been thus, as if the strange events in the kitchen had never happened.

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The image above is of Ankou, who, in Breton Folklore, is the spectral personification of Death, his appearance usually is taken as a portend of death itself coming to take a member of a family. The Ankou is said to be the spirit of the last person to die in the area. It can be male, but more often is female, and is a tall, haggard figure in a wide hat with long white hair, or a skeleton with a revolving head who sees everybody everywhere. The Ankou is said to sometimes drive a deathly cart with a creaking axle and piled high with corpses. Bretons beleive if one is out late at night and hears a creaky axled cart coming along the lane behind you it's generally not a good idea to try and hitch a lift.

Tuesday, 25 September 2007

Un Peu meets her Nemesis


Seen from the darkness of the hushed kitchen the figure before us stood frozen, a looming shape outlined by the lightening sky, its face shrouded, having thrust the door wide open its arm remained raised in the air, its trembling finger pointed as if in accusation. Even the pigs outside were hushed into deadly silence by its awesome presence.
I clutched the cognac glass and stared resolute at what must surely prove to be my nemesis. Shrouded in dirty skirts and shawl the vision stood a good six feet tall or more, an unearthly height for a Breton. From its body emanated an unholy smell of decaying flesh and excrement as if it had risen from the very bowels of hell itself.

The only sound was that of Chief Patissier in the other room searching in the pantry for the means of lighting a fire and something to cook upon it.

The spectre spoke, shading its eyes as it did so as if the better to see into the gloomy room.
”Who dares to enter here uninvited? “ it demanded its harsh tones gruff and disturbing. “Answer me” it yelled “or I shall set the very hounds of Hell itself upon you!”

I could not speak.

Outside were the sounds of other footsteps moving closer, and the apparition turned its head swiftly so that its face was partly revealed in profile. It was as if the Devil, upon hearing a description of Eve, had attempted to manufacture himself his own feminine companion to rival God's creation, but had instead created a grotesque travesty of womankind. The voice, the height, all was wrong, and yet,I held it strangely familiar in some repellent way.

Chief Patissier called out to me ,some prattle about having found matches and paraffin, and at the sound of his voice the figure tore its attention back to the kitchen as if jolted by electricity. I gasped loudly as my husband, oblivious to the danger therein, re-entered the room armed with his treasure and immediately seeing the intruder cried out in shock. The figure rushed forward, arms outstretched.


The last thing I saw as I collapsed into unconsciousness was the sight of those large strong arms stretching out to encircle my poor husband.

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The illustration is a photograph of the young Bernadette Soubirous who, in 1858 saw the ghostly apparition of a small woman who appeared to her eighteen times. The lady, as she called her, was wearing a white veil, a blue girdle and had a golden rose on each foot as well as "holding" a string of Rosary beads and caused roses to bloom in February. One can only ask oneself why is it that this young uneducated peasant girl is blessed with such a vision when I am rewarded by a grotesque apparition stinking of rot and built like a Blacksmith? Sometimes I really feel there is very little justice in the world!

Friday, 21 September 2007

A dark Dawn Breaking




Chief Patissier made excessively disagreeable company on the return journey home, having had to abandon a camping expedition with his friend Lawrence because of our sudden departure. He was petulant at missing their proposed trip, but was forced to face the seriousness of the situation when we returned to find an empty house. Strange he should be so swayed by Lawrence to camp I really never saw Chief Patissier as a camper, however, I digress.
As dawns light broke, casting its weak rays on the bleak scene of the cold kitchen Chief Patissier ushered the pigs into the yard, they had become quite irksome in their determination to eat his shoes, and closed the door firmly. It was chilly and I shivered although I knew not whether it was from the damp Breton climate or the deep unrest at finding our home thus. He kindly handed me a restorative glass of his best Cognac and I had not the heart to tell him it was really a concoction of eau de vie, cheap brandy, cooking sherry and cold tea the recipe for which Madame Grognonne and I had had long ago mastered in an attempt to curb escalating vintners bills.



Out in the yard the pigs were quite agitated, but I discerned, over their commotion, the sound of footsteps approaching across the cobbles. As the porcine excitement rose to a frenzy I realized that these were the heavy steps of sabot clad peasants and not as I had thought those of our children arriving with the luggage. We had left them to walk back from the station with our cases, Fresh air is, after all, very good for children. The walk from the station would have taken an hour at the very least. We had sensibly made the journey by dog cart in order to make the greatest haste possible.
If not the Children then who could it be approaching our door at this ungodly hour? Was it the sardonic sardine gutters in search of Loic? The might of the law come to waylay me for my part in the demonic Druids demise or perhaps worst still the spirit of a ghostly gendarme returning to seek revenge? As the noise of the pigs reached a crescendo the kitchen door was thrust open and there before us silhouetted against the light was a figure. It was an image I shall never forget.

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The photograph is Madame Illettré, in the very dogcart which we borrowed to travel home from the station, Due to the early hour , and her being, amongst other things, a trifle deaf, we had been unable to raise her thus Chief Patissier had resourcefully left her a note pinned to the dogs kennel advising her that we had taken it. Of course Madame Illettré can not read but hopefully she will get the gist of the message and as Chief Patissier so unkindly pointed out since there is every chance I am currently being sought by the Police for spreading libelous rumours regarding the Chief Druid I may as well add theft of a vehicle to my criminal record. I am sure you will appreciate I found his levity a trifle inappropriate under the rather circumstances. I was not amused.

Wednesday, 19 September 2007

The return of Madame Loufoque


I can not truthfully describe to you the depth of trepidation with which I undertook the long journey north to Brittany. Having received Madame Grognonne’s last communication, and having had no response from my telegram to her, I had no idea what I might find at Chateau Loufoque on our return . It would seem my worst fears were justified when we arrived in the dark hours of the early morning, tired and travel weary from our long journey, to find the doors wide open and no sign of life.
We had come as fast as we could but it would seem we had arrived, alas, too late.

The kitchen range was cold, no lights were lit, and all was dark and empty. There were signs of an apparent disturbance in the pantry plus an all pervading and unmistakable aroma of stale fish in the air. I had neither strength nor stomach to inspect the cellar nor the melon beds but feared the worst. The only sound was the slight snoring and snuffling of Loic’s pigs curled up under the kitchen table, not I admit the most appropriate place for them to sleep but, under the circumstances, I had not the heart to disturb them.

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The etching above is of the Prison in Vannes, an insanitary place with little in the way of comfort. When I imagine Madame Grognonne incarcerated there in, possibly shut away for ever for her crime my blood runs cold. As a housekeeper her faults were undoubtedly many and various but good domestic servants are so hard to find these days and where on earth would I retrieve another capable of pulling a governess cart unaided and wielding a Kendo stick with such accuracy, it has taken me years to get her to understand the finer points of English tea making! Had I been a lesser woman I should have wept.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

URGENT TELEGRAM


URGENT TELEGRAM

FAO Madame Grognonne,

Alarmed to hear recent turn of events. STOP. Do nothing until I return! STOP.Returning by train tonight. STOP. UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES allow Jacques to finish off cellar dweller and inter in melon beds.STOP.

Madame Un Peu Loufoque.
Footnote..
The photograph is of Jean Luc Perdu, the truculent and tardy telegram boy for the commune who sadly, due to a diminished sense of direction delivered this Telegram to its rightful recipient some days after it was dispatched by the sender. The missive eventually arrived at its destination via Paimpol where, by chance, Jean Luc was luckily waylaid by an friendly female fish gutter who recognised the recipients name and , after a short delay, sent him back in the right direction armed with a baguette and a pot of Bloater paste for the Journey.

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

A spot of trouble...


Dear Madame,
I am very (retissent, rottiscent , rattissscent),umm not willing to upset your holiday especially when sir sounds as if he is having a good time rolling in he mud with his new friend Lawrence but we have had a slight problem with the gendarmes here on account of you telling me the chief Druid was dead. I do not know who told you he was dead but they are very wrong because he was here only half an hour ago and very cross with me he was too for telling the sardine gutters he had snuffed it and was in trouble for nicking underwear and such like.
I told him it was you who said it and now the Gendarme has come , him who has a wife whom I shot in the bottom, and he would like a quiet word with you too, only I explained that you were not here and then it got nasty cos the gendarme said “AHA!! “ in a very loud voice “So she has spread rumours and now has run away in to hiding !” and I said no you was on your holiday cos you needed a rest what with Loic and the sardine gutters and you were somewhere and I was pretty sure it wasn’t a place called Hiding cos that dint sound very French to me and he said likely story and I said are you calling me a liar and he said yes and Jacques hit him on the nose for calling me one and then the gendarmes nose bled like a nobodies business and there was lots of shouting and the noise upset Loics pigs who were in the kitchen with us at the time being on account of them still missing Loic like mad and they bit the gendarme on his derriere so the gendarme kicked the pig and Jacques said that was not a nice thing to do to a harmless pig and kicked the gendarme and said ”see how you like it cochon!” and the gendarme fell over backwards and hit his head on the fender and is out cold but breathing..Just. I think.

Jaques says we should finish him off and no one would know and then we could bury him in the melon beds but I said know you and I were saving that place for a just in case we needed it thingy.


Please advise as quick as possible what is best to do.. I await your swiftest response. Meanwhile we have locked the gendarme in the cellar.

Yours Madame Grognonne,
ps I have enclosed a photograph of the gendarmes wife so you can see what she looks like, as you can see she is still having trouble sitting properly as her behind is a bit sore after I accidentally shot her. I Reckon she is an efnic monarity too but Jaques reckons she might be portuguese.

Monday, 3 September 2007

Dear Madame.....regarding efnics...


Dear Madame Loufoque,

I was very sorry to hear that the Chief Druid had drowneded, even though he were a creepy bloke and a bit of a groper as I mentioned in my cartre postale I wouldn’t have wanted him dead. And fancy him being a plant thief and all!! Cor, you know more about it than I do and I is here!! I suppose they are saying it was by accident his being drowneded, probably slipped picking plants by a river or something like that and his dress pulled him under. Although you do hear a lot about police brutality and efnic moniroites so perhaps it was the police what did away with him because he was an efnic.


Not sure quite what an efnic moniroite is, but I reckon wearing a dress and an embroidered muffin cover on his head probably made him one of them, that and the flowers. And what about the Gendarme then I always thought he was a bit odd but never thought he was one for stealing knickers!! Do you reckon that he and the Druids were in carhoots together what with the gendarme stealing womens clothes and the druid wearing dresses?

I told the sardine gutters , who are still lurking about the village green after dark hoping for a quick grope of Loics lower limbs about the chief Druid and they said they were not surprised because he often came to riffle the fish entrails on account of being able to read them or something but they reckoned it was so he could have a closer inspection of their cleavages, probably after fashion tips.


I have asked Jacques why he has an Eparé as requested by you but he says what is one and why should he have one and if anyone says he has one and he shouldn’t then he is a liar. Since it was you who asked I hit him with the frying pan for him being so insubordinatttive, insoorbinateeet, unsabordinatttit, rude to you. He was not very happy about it but we had a new batch of cider from Loic which was very good indeed and we soon made up.
I hope you and Sir are enjoying rolling in the mud with your new friend.

Yourse respectfully

Madame Grogonnne.
ps I am sending you a picture postcard of a Gendarme in uniform whioch the postman thought you might like to see on account of my telling her about the Gendarmes and the Druids, I reckon this one has been knicking ladies undergarments as well.

Wednesday, 29 August 2007

As clear as mud...


Madame Grognonne,

Charming though it was to receive yet another carte postale from you, I do wish that you had headed my advise regarding using my notepaper and writing in a large script. It was rather difficult to follow all of your news but I think I got the gist.
I am saddened to hear that the Chief Druid has drowned whilst under the influence of Cider attempting to steal Aconites from sacred sources, but I suppose it is all one might expect from a man who goes about the place wearing other peoples Muffin covers. Let this be a lesson to you all not to over indulge in the harvesting of deadly poisons whilst having partaken of alcoholic beverages. I do wonder why on earth he was collecting such a toxic plant and can only assume it was something to do with his religion. I must say I had no idea Druids rendered their garments like that. One learns something new everyday!

Do I take it from the references to mud on your face and rolling in murky pond water that you are attempting to replicate the therapeutic experience of the spa waters here? If so I strongly advise against it. It will by no means cure your”ruddy cheeks” nor, as far as I am aware, will the application of chicken droppings. What ever were you thinking of woman? There is more to a Thermal Spa than frolicking naked in the pond and covering your face in mud and if you try it at home you are more likely to gain a dose of dysentery than improve your complexion. If you do get a fever as a result of your pond dipping , you might see if there is any of the Chief Druids aconite left and take it a few drops in water two or three times a day.

I agree with you it is not wise to bury the remains of the Chief Druid in our hot beds no matter what Jacques and the mayor think his dying wishes may have been, we have enough trouble chez Nous with religious fanatics hounding Loic without adding a band of Aconite crazed grieving Druids dancing semi naked in the pond.

Who is the he who has cut a large hole in something and what has he cut a large hole in and why? It is all very confusing! Fancy the Gendarme being arrested by the mayor for stealing women’s under garments! The deprivation of the lower orders never ceases to astound me.
We are having a very tolerable time here in the mountains, Chief Patissier has made a new friend called Lawrence and who is an English baronet of some kind. They do seem to have a lot of interests in common despite a lack of shared language. Lawrence has a motorcycle and he and Chief Patissier have taken to driving off together into the mountains, Goodness only knows what they get up to all day but they come back every evening absolutely exhausted and filthy dirty!
Yours Un Peu Loufoque.

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I have enclosed the carte postale showing the Spa as I thought it might interest you . Please heed my warning regarding taking the waters and do not try it at home. Have just re read your carte postal with some difficulty in order to try and decipher more information and am rather worried about the cellar key , what is an “Eparé and why does jacques have one? Please advise by return of post.

Sunday, 26 August 2007

A postcard regarding something in the water from Madame Grognonne.


Dear Madame,

We have had a slight problem ici on account of me doing as you requested and searching the Chief Driuds garments for incriminating laundry marks.
I just happened to be lying on top of old chicken house on the pond taking advantage of the sudden and unexpected sunshine and indulging myself in a bit of a bain de soliel when who should I hear but him creeping through the gooseberry patch whispering away to someone else. Not wishing to be found in my state of undress and minus all but my undergarments ( I had to keep them on in order to keep the cellar key safe from Jacques like I promised I would) I sculled the chicken house across the water into the cover of the willow tree by the old grotto at the fontaine de la source all the better to hide myself.
However when I got there I discovered that he and his companion had been heading in the same direction and were busily occupying themselves with the filling of copious containers from our spring, which Chief Druid or not I reckoned was a ruddy cheek on his part.
Acting on instinct like any good and reliable chatelaine would in order to protect the families assets I shot up to accost him in his felonious deed only to slip on some chicken droppings catching my all togethers on a protruding nail and falling head long on top of the Chief Druid , ripping my under garments asunder in the process. so that we was both forced to the ground in a tangled heap.
Realizing that I was not dressed for visitors and wishing to protect my reputation I grabbed the nearest thing to cover my bits and pieces up which turned out to be the Chief Druids white thingy wot he wears. In the tussle that followed I accidently knocked of his hat and I must say for a man who has forsaken contact with the fairer sex he certainly knew which bits to grab as we plunged into the murky waters of the pond. Madame believe me when I say for a man of the cloth he could certainly give a sailor a run for his money regarding groping women where he shouldn’t.

Anyway Jacques who was sleeping off some cider from last night (the kind widow lady who has been taking care of Loic has introduced him to the art of cider making and we has been a testing of it quiet a lot of late, being that it is ever so good. The horse likes it too which is saving us no end of money on absinthe ) heard the kafuffle and came running to see what was a miss. Seeing me near naked in the pond flapping about with what appeared to be a strange man and not having much fun with it, he dived in after us and gave the Chief Druid quite a seeing to before pulling him out of the water and holding his head in the fontaine so that he was not able to see me as I climbed out of the weeds and covered up me dignity with the his discarded garment.

Jacques was that cross he was quiet ready to get me gun and have away with the bloke Chief Druid or not but I persuaded him not to, mainly cos he was planning to bury the body under the hot beds and I remembered our conversation regarding that before so persuaded him to take the man to the mayor, I would have suggested the Gendarme but after I shot his wife in the derriere we have not been too friendly with them. Well, it turns out that The Druid and his acolyte what run away as soon as I appeared naked on top of the hen house and has not been seen since, ( I always thought that was a plant but apparently its some sort of follower so I is told) were stealing water with the idea of bottling it and saying it was from Loics holy well and that he had blessed it. Added to which you was as ever perfectly right in your opinion that it was the Chief Druid who had whipped our table linen for there, plain as the mud on my face ,was our laundry mark embroidered on the linen as what you said it would be.
The mayor has gotten the Gendarme to arrest the Druid on grounds of theft of water and laundry and planning to deceive the general public with false claims. He was going to charge him with attempting to defile a woman of good repute but we all agreed we might have trouble getting that to stick.

Anyway I have cleaned and mended the linen but since the Chief Druid cut a large hole in the middle of the cloth I doesn’t think it will be any good for anything but napkins so I have done that with it and made the rest into some new undergarments for myself which I hope you will not take amiss.

On a sadder note in the mayhem and struggle I misplaced the key to the cellar in the water and we can not find it anywhere but Jacques says not to worry cos he has a spare one anyway.

Hoping your holiday is going well.

Yours
Madame Grognonne


Ps the postcard is of the mayor, that the post mistress gave me from her collection. I hope you like it. She did want me to send one of her like the ones she was selling at the vide grenier but I was not sure it would arrive as they are a bit popular and tend to get nicked in the post. I don’t think anyone would want to knick a carte postal of our mayor though so I hope this arrives OK.

Thursday, 23 August 2007

A postcard from Ceret to Madame Grognonne


Dear Madame Grognonne,

How thoughtful of you to send me a cartes Postale of the Chief Druid. However it was rather difficult to decipher as your writing is a trifle small and the tendency to cover the card in script then turn it at an angle and continue writing in the other direction across the original text makes reading if quite impossible in places. May I also point out that ink blots did not make the task any easier? Should you feel the urge to communicate again perhaps you would consider utilising some of my writing paper from my desk and writing in bold script with a sharp pencil and confining the text to one direction only please?

I sit here under the fig tree in the shade and hear nothing but the cicadas and the excited trill of the fast running river beyond the trees, hurrying its eager way to its lascivious rendezvous with the sea. The air is hot and heady with the scent of wild thyme and rosemary. The world is at peace.

Here, on the border with Spain, we have taken private rooms at a chalet at the very foot of the Canigou Mountain where, according to Catalan legend, God placed his hand on the earth and declared that in this place all men would be at peace, which, I imagine, accounts for the distinct lack of Sardine gutters in the vicinity. A fact that is refreshing in itself.

I take it Chez Loufoque is also Sardine gutter free but would appear from what little I can make out from your missive seems to be under attack from Druids. Please take extra precautions with the household’s linen. The last time the chief Druid called in unannounced I recall we discovered, after his departure, several good damask tablecloths missing and a number of other items , including a muffin warmer that I can not help but notice closely resembles the hat he is wearing on the front of the cartes postal. Would it be too much to ask that, should the opportunity arise, you might be able to check the laundry mark on his hat and robe and if they contain the Loufoque crest retrieve them with as much tact as possible? The Muffin warmer was a wedding gift from the Belgium Nuns in Bordeaux and I am quite sure Reverend Mother did not intend it to be used as a hat by a heathen!

We travelled by automobile to Quimper where Jacques loaded us and our luggage on board the sleeper train to Bordeaux, all went well, apart from a minor inconvenience concerning youngest , a freight train and a lump of coal, which I mentioned in passing in my carte postale, and spent a few pleasant days enjoying the busy thrill of the bustling city, the opulence and elegance of a wealth built on fine red wine, the theatre, the opera house, long elegant boulevards, and promenades en Famille in all the fashionable places. The warm days echoing with tantalising half remembered memories, images glimpsed fleetingly in passing, recalling others long lost in childhood. Revitalized by a revisiting of a more civilized world and our wardrobes refurbished for the southern climate we travelled onwards through Carcassonne and Perpignan upwards to the cool mountain air, fresh and welcoming after the intense heat of the plains.

We have come here to the mountains for the cure, three weeks of taking the hot sulphurous waters at the thermal spa, of evenings spent sipping chilled champagne in languid contemplation of nature’s beauty, of mud baths and massage to rinse and pummel and ease away the drab, damp Breton Summer and fortify me for the cold wet winter that inevitably lies ahead. Meanwhile Chief Patissier will indulge himself with good wine, fine food and the company of others of similar persuasion, whilst the children will run wild like street urchins tickling trout in the streams and chasing each other like wild goats on the mountains passes.

I do hope all is well Chez Nous but trust you ,Madame Grognonne, to maintain the family home in some semblance of order in our absence. If there are any problems please do not hesitate to alert me to them.

Yours Madame Un Peu Loufoque


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The painting is by Spanish artist Juan Gris, who was born in Mar. 13, 1887 previously known as Jose Victoriano Gonzalez, he changed his name having become the friend of a man called Picasso in Paris, , although Jacques never mentioned Picasso in person, I wonder if he knew him. Perhaps you might ask him? The painting shows the town of Ceret, through which we travelled en route to our chalet. The painting captures the heat and the strength of the landscape depicted in the cubist style that is so modern and popular here. If you can get to grips with the strange angles and the odd juxtaposition of trees and houses I think you might find it quite appealing in a rather avant-garde sort of way.

Wednesday, 22 August 2007

A postcard to Madame Loufoque from Madame Grognonne



Dear Madame,

I am writing to inform you that the cases of wine master ordered have been delivered and that that I have made sure Jacques has stored 'em with care in the cave chez Loufoque as directed. I have taken the key myself and hidden it in my bodice in order to keep it safe and out of harms way. I had thought to secrete it in my combinations but thought it the first place he would look. Apart from the other evening when I accidently shot the new gendarmes wife in the derriere, mistaking her for an intruder, as she was bending over in the melon beds all has been quiet. having mistaken her for an intruder having seen her bending over in the melon beds. She claimed she was admiring the cantaloupes but I suspect she was hoping for a free fondle of Loic’s appendages when no one was about. What she thought she was doing coming and sticking her nose in uninvited I have no idea but she was most discombobulated she was! A small fight broke out in the village between the chief Druid and the curé regarding sharing the offerings at Loic’s shrine, as the chief Druid says fertility is a pagan thing and the church has no right to go pinching his customers. The druids have set up a rival stall close by the village lavoire and are selling postcards of the chief druid for 2 centimes each so I has got one here to send you so as that you knows what he looks like. I am not sure why he is dressed in a large napkin but think it must be cos Druids is notoriously messy eaters. Meanwhile the pigs have been very lonesome since Loic has been away and Jacques has taken them into the stable with Marron the horse to keep them company. This makes it rather hard for me to sleep what with Jacques, the pigs and the horse all snoring and farting in their sleep. It does however keep the place warm on these unseasonably chilly nights.


respectable regards from Madame Grognonne
Ps please send grosse bissoux to the children.




Tuesday, 21 August 2007

A Postcard from Bordeaux



Cher Madame Grognonne,


As you can see from this carte postal we have safely completed the first stage of our voyage and, despite your fears, have lost neither luggage nor children, although we did have a slight moment of panic on our arrival at Bordeaux station when youngest accidently found himself unexpectedly bound for Italy on a transcontinental freight train, having stepped briefly on board to examine the driving mechanism of the engine.


Luckily he had the foresight to judiciously employ his sling shot and with the aid of a well aimed ,and unusually large, lump of coal ,was soon reunited safely with us unharmed when the train was forced to return to the station in order for the driver to receive urgent medical attention for an unexplained and rather nasty head wound.


Chief Patissier has ordered a quantity of wine for the cellar and asks that you keep an eye out for its arrival and ensure that Jacques does not mistake it for horse liniment in our absence. I trust all is well Chez Nous and that you have had no further trouble with fickle fishwives and others of their ilk.


I leave the household in your capable hands.


Yours un peu loufoque

Friday, 10 August 2007

Adeui mon amis!


Quite frankly it has been rather a vexing week, what with the incident of the sardine gutters invasion and all that came after it, together with the arrival of some rather unsavoury characters dans le village, and a rather unexpected turn in events, regarding which I shall no doubt enlighten you further at some later date. Chief Patissier has decided ,therefore, that he shall close the biscuiterie, it being the week of the assumption, and we shall, as will all of France ,indulge in a small vacances.

Jacques has packed the autombobile, Madame Grognonne has prepared a splendid hamper and the children are all scrubbed and dressed. We shall leave at dusk once the cooler air affords us more comfort to travel. I have no idea where we are headed but trust as ever in my dear Chief Patissier to provide a firm hand on the helm and to steer us to calmer waters, far from the constant clamouring that seems to have invaded our once tranquille home. We felt it wise under the circumstances to leave Loic in the tender care of a rather charming person , whom, he met at the lavoire on the fateful day of his clandestine leg fitting, I am sure in their kind hands he will be safe from unseemly followers and yet more unfortunate events.

The honour of the family name and the chateau are to be left in Madame Grognonnes capable hands and what with the dogs and her rifle I am sure she will be more than capable of dealing with any interlopers in our absence.

Adeui my dearest hearts and I wish you well and hope that we may meet again!
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Today's painting is by the Artist Mark Gertler 1891-1939 Supper (Natalie Bevan), I rather like the languid feel of it, so calming amongst all the frenetic activity of late!!

Saturday, 4 August 2007

Un Peu Loufoque with girded loins and Sardine gutters


I lay in my bed just as the faint light of dawn pressed its way unasked through the shutters, listening intently to the unmistakable sound of the drawing back of a heavy bolt down in the yard below my window. My immediate thought was that it must be Jacques and Madame Grognonne having difficulty lifting the laundry basket in which Loic was concealed and inadvertently dragging his metal leg along the ground in the process, but in my heart I knew it was something far more sinister.

Creeping to the window and gently pushing open the shutters, as far as I dare without attracting attention, I caught that tell tale aroma, the unbegiuling melange of stale fish and unwashed bodies, carried on the light breeze like the exotic scent of some foreign flower but far more loathsome and nauseous, the unmistakeable aroma of a girlish gang of sardine gutters, grappling with our gates!

Taking a restorative glass of Cognac from my bedside decanter, kept there for just such an emergency, I attired myself quickly in a pair of chief Patissier’s trousers and a knitted pullover and, adding Madame Grognonne’s Kendo Breast plate and the colonels helmet for protection, made my way stealthily towards the tower room where I might afford myself a better view. Chief Patissier and the rest of the household having already left on their mission to safely obtain a new limb for Loic; it remained to me to protect the children and chateau Loufoque from the marauding Mademoiselles de la mer! The fish filiters had taken their first false steps and if they were lucky would live to regret their foolishness for the remainder of their days! I was confident for, in the words of the family motto carved above the front door: "Ce n'est qu'un couillon qui embête un Loufoque ".....Only a fool fools with a Loufoque!

From my new vantage point I could see their shapes outlined in the dim light, the great wooden gates were pushed open and a group of 4 fish filleting females were stealthfully making their way across towards the rear of the stables in the general direction of the potting shed that Loic calls home. I say stealthfully but it is virtually impossible for well built women to tiptoe undetected in wooden sabots and the fish filiters, not being renowned for their intellectual quick thinking, had not thought to remove them.

This was there second mistake, the sound of their metal studded clogs on the cobbles alerted the dogs sleeping inside the stables with Marron the horse and they barked vociferously and leapt at the door forcing it open in their haste to get at the intruders. We had had heavy dew in the night, granite cobbles being slippery when wet and metal studded clogs not being designed as footwear for athletic pursuits, it is unsurprising then that one slipped on her efforts to outrun the hounds and was set upon by them having knocked her self unconscious on the granite. Alas, I suspect the liberal application of old cooking oil I had applied earlier on the stones had not done much to help their sure footedness either.

That left three heading off past my potager, their third error of judgement, I find fish filiters so predictable.

Passing past the pottage and into the undergrowth of the overgrown vegetation, it has been a trifle difficult for Loic to successfully tend to the artichokes of late what with his foot being on backwards and his cult status, they disappeared from sight but not until I heard the satisfying sound of a muffled grunt, the like of which might easily have been caused by an unsuspecting fish filliter catching her foot in a well hidden snare and being catapulted skywards to hang upside down in the apple tree, having first been knocked insensible by a cricket ball launched by a giant catapult hidden amongst the potatoes which she had inadvertently triggered by her careless footwork.

That left two, treading down my asparagus and trampling the tomatoes in their unseemly rush to ransack Loics rucksack.

Since returning from Passiondale poor Loic has never quite settled to civilian life, having I suspect left so much of himself upon the battle field, except for the piece of him he carried in a jar pickled in formaldehyde but we try not to think about that too often. He has eschewed all attempts at domesticity and lived like the boy soldier he once was, his scant possessions piled in his grubby military knapsack camping in he corner of the potting shed with the pigs.

During the interminable rainfall of this wet summer Youngest, Loic and Jacques had constructed a sophisticated drainage system designed to divert flood water to the basin at the end of the orchard. The sun being finally with us and fear of flooding past, they had put this to good use as a slurry pit for the fumier from our many and various animals, its bulk being recently increased greatly by a timely contribution from Yannick of this year’s cow dung. Youngest has high hopes of building a machine to produce fuel from methayne gas. In order to preserve the heat the top of the slurry pit is concealed with reeds and straw. Sadly our sardine saboteurs were unaware of my budding physicists plans and I could not help but smile as heard the unmistakable sound of someone falling headlong into the pit having trodden upon the straw.

That left but one wicked wench left crashing her way towards the door of Loics lair, cleverly avoiding the slop bucket left suspended above the door to deter intruders. Alas though for her not clever enough, as I clearly discerned the sound of the door being pulled open was swiftly followed by the noise of disgruntled pigs disturbed untimely from their sleep by the invasion of the potting shed. Pigs are very territorial creatures as our last vile voleur found as she was pushed backwards in the Basin by a dozen cross cochons searching for their breakfast.

Happy in the knowledge that all was now well I returned to my room to dress myself in more suitable attire and having done so flung open my shutters to the jolly vision of the now sunlit courtyard below , with 4 filthy fish filliters retreating out of the gates in an ungainly fashion pursued by barking dogs and grunting pigs.

It is always a fine feeling when one starts the day with a good deed done before breakfast!

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I have included a picture of the fisher girls of finsitere to give you an idea of their general build and dress, although in this photograph they are busily employed transporting fresh tuna from the fishing vessel, I am sure you get the general impression of them and can well imagine their rather odorous aroma, fish being a notoriously difficult smell to banish I can only hope the additional of animal manure can only serve to mask its pungency. One can quite see that they might go to any lengths to get hold of some of Loic’s belongings to act as charms for fertility after all it would take a strong stomach to get close enough to get to know them let alone anything else!

Saturday, 28 July 2007

The Itinerrant spoon seller and other intrigues


Details have been finally completed for Chief Patissiers daring attempt to replace Loic’s missing appendages without the whole operation being turned into a fiasco of pseudo religious mania by his increasingly large group of followers. Under cover of darkness they intend to smuggle Loic out of the potting shed and take him to a secret location where he can have his limbs reconstructed by a skilled blacksmith who is to be paid handsomely for his silence.

Chief Patissier already had the blue prints drawn up for Loic’s first replacement leg and Antoine and he have improved upon the original design and added drawings for a new hand as well. One clever little truc will be a small metal seal embossed on the first digit of the artificial hand so that Loic may stamp his mark on any products sold under his name and thus vouch that they are genuine and meet with his approval. This we hope may stop the recent rash of theft s of handcarts from around the neighbouring villages which appear to be stolen to order to meet the growing market for wooden souvenirs. The mayor who is still rather aggrieved that the church seems to be doing so well out of the destruction of its tower, the churches takings yesterday alone were rumoured to be in excess of 95 Francs , 12 centimes and a pig. He has agreed that only mementos stamped with Loic’s seal will be allowed to be sold in the village, providing that no approval is given to the curé. In return he has promised to provide the labour and any new stone needed to replace the fallen tower. Of course for reasons of safety only we know what the seal will look like and where it is kept. Obviously we do not want to risks Loic’s new hand been stolen and auctioned like his last!

The idea is this before dawn has broken; Jacques will transport Loic hidden inside a laundry basket, in the governess cart, to the outskirts of a distant village. There he will climb out of the basket, dressed as an ancient washerwoman and make his way to the village lavoire along with the basket of dirty linen and Madame Grognonne who will be acting as his bodyguard in case he is spotted by gangs of marauding souvenir hunters intend on stealing his leg. Both will be wearing large shawls and bonnets to hide their faces. There, hopefully having first completed the laundry, they will be met by Antoine, dressed as an itinerant spoon seller, who will offer them a lift in his cart to the crossroads from whence he will take them to a small abandoned Inn behind which Chief Patissier and Jacques will be waiting with the governess cart and automobile. I say him but understand that Antoine has decided to dress as a female spoon seller for reasons that I can not quite grasp.

Once Loic is secreted in the trunk at the back of the vehicle, Madame Grognonne will accompany Jacques in the governess cart back to Chateau Loufoque with the basket of wet washing in time to prepare lunch, leaving the cart in a disused barn at the inn. Chief Patissier and Antoine, who will by then, hopefully, have abandoned his disguise; will drive to a garage where, by prearranged rendezvous, the blacksmith will be waiting. Chief Patissier will claim he has a problem with his pistons and he and the car will be taken inside the workshop. Once hidden inside, they will do the necessary work to reinstate Loic with the normal number of appendages. All being well they should be back before sunset in time for Loic to put the pigs to bed.

There are, risks involved, it goes without saying, but I must say the whole thing is not without an element of excitement as well!! I will of course have to go without my morning tea unless I have it exceptionally early or persuade Eldest to make me one, Madame Grognonne being otherwise occupied. My only fear is that left alone in the house with the children I might be in danger from a surprise attack by rampaging sardine gutters if they get wind of Madame Grognonne’s absence and seize the opportunity to ransack the potting shed for articles of Loic clothing!

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The photograph is of the old woman who sells wooden spoons at Quimper market. I have included it to give you an idea of what Antoine will look like in his disguise. Although of course he is considerably less wrinkled, having rather a nursery complexion, and is better built. According to Madame Grognonne Antoine was very upset when Chief Patissier forbade him to wear earrings and a necklace as part of his disguise. I can sympathise with both sides, no woman feels properly dressed with out a few bijoux but on the other hand I think by insisting on wearing emerald drop earrings and a diamante necklace he may have roused some suspicions, after all I do not imagine spoon sellers make a great deal of money!

Riding Loic's Bandwagon



Wednesday evening we had the unexpected pleasure of a surprise visit from Antoine. Luckily Madame Grognonne was able to stretch the Saucisse au choux she had planned by throwing another head of cabbage into the pot and hurling in some Strasbourg sausages and a spare ham bone so he was able to stay to dinner!



We have hardly seen Antoine at all over recent weeks since he has taken to spending his evenings with the handsome young village curé, what they find to discuss eludes me as Antoine never struck me as one interested in ecclesiastical concerns. However he has now abandoned the curé in disgust, they having had a falling out over the latter’s purchase of Loic’s pilfered appendage.

We are all concerned for Loic and his present position as a walking miracle and had long discussions late into the night as to what we might do regarding the matter. The entire region is in uproar over his supposedly heavenly powers and yet Loic continues as ever, placid as a bovine in a field of clover and apparently oblivious to those who seek to exploit him for their own gain. It would seem to me that Loic is the sole person not profiting from his recent resurrection from the dead. Even the Pompiers are selling their story to the local journal and have posed for photographs with a handcart in front of the now rather grand shrine. I say “a” rather than “THE” handcart as the original has already been dismantled and converted into wooden souveniers for the tourist trade which is growing daily.

Some clever but rather unkind person has hit upon the idea of throwing fireworks in Loic’s general direction thus startling him into freezing rigid in terror. They then rush forward with a camera and take his photograph which they sell to the eager women who seem to have elevated him to some sort of cult status. We also heard that one local farm boy was escorting parties of tourist around the estate and hiding with them behind trees to leap out at Loic then charging them 4 francs a go to fondly his artificial leg whilst he is catatonic. Madame Grognonne has taken to patrolling the grounds wearing her Kendo outfit, Colonel von Krompts German helmet and carrying her gun. So far this week she has shot 4 pheasants, a junior clerk and chased off a troop of school girls from a lycee in Rennes who were accompanied by a nun. She almost got a school master from Plougonevel but he threw himself into the pond and she lost him in the weeds. It is all very tiring and time consuming.

Antoine and the Chief Patissier are of the opinion that ,if handled properly, the affair may be turned to Loic’s advantage and Chief Patissier came up with the clever idea of making Galletes, each bearing a miniature hand print and packaged in a small wooden box bearing a likeness of Loic, and selling them under the name of Loic’s delight at 45 centimes a piece. Jacques has agreed to make the boxes and I have produced a small pen and ink sketch of Loic which I made for an earlier portrait of him as a war hero. All profits will go into a fund for Loic , with a small part put aside for Jaques in payment for the boxes. This hopefully will ensure he has a secure old age as well as providing him with sufficient money to replace limbs as necessary.
Meanwhile we must do something about his lack of a hand and his backward facing foot.




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The rather impressive and stern looking gentleman in the photograph is none other than Le Chef de Pompiers Herve le fol de Tremagat, although I see in the journal they have managed to get his name wrong which I am sure must have proved extremely vexatious for him as he is an extremely pompous fellow as I am sure you can tell by his moustache!