Friday, 29 June 2007

Seeking inspiration...

What am I to do with my time now that I have relinquished Art? This is the pressing question that has tormented me all morning. How is a cultured woman, such as myself, to occupy herself here, in the cultural wastelands of Brittany, bereft ,as it is, of salons and galleries, of expositions and opera and where sadly, the closest thing one is likely to find to the ballet is an impromptu drunken performance, by Madame Grognonne and my one legged gardener Loic, of a traditional Breton Gavotte, complete with wooden sabots, in the salle late a night, after an evening of ill-advised over consumption of champagne and eau de vie!

The normal diversions, of women of my class elude me. I am ill equipped to deal with the sick and elderly of the commune, not, sadly, having been blessed with a stomach for illness or the company of persons of a hygienically challenged nature. There are, I know from bitter experience, no suitable openings on committees, and now that the war is over I can not even usefully employ my talents, knitting socks and mittens for the troops! Not, of course, that I would wish the continuation of fighting in order to fulfill my urge to knit, I could after all knit Madame Grognonne a new balaclava if I felt the need!

Art was my savior from ennui but even that has failed me. I wondered if I might perhaps take to literature but frankly feel life here offers nothing of import about which to write, and yet, I must do something otherwise I shall, I fear, go mad.

Madame Grognonne, who like a true Breton Peasant, has suggested that I should consult a soothsayer for inspiration and is determined to discover for me the whereabouts of a local diviner to read my destiny.

Apparently Claude consulted one when his cow was suffering from ulcerated udders and ,taking his advice and hanging a bunch of mistletoe over the barn door for a week, the cow was miraculously cured. I did attempt to persuade Madame Grognonne that, it is quite likely that the cow would have got better without walking under mistletoe, but she was so horrified, at what she considered to be my blasphemy, that she has now placed small bowls of salt at the threshold of the house in order to ward off any bad luck I may have wrought upon us all. I have tried to point out to her that I did not require veterinary assistance, but she assured me soothsayers and diviners cover all sorts of problems from butter refusing to turn to the future of the nation. I can not help but feel that if this were so, then it might have been wise for our government to have consulted one before now over the small matter of the war with the Germans, then perhaps I might not have been reduced to running our household with a drastically reduced domestic staff consisting of a one armed one legged gardener with shell shock, a groom with an identity crisis and a drink problem and a housekeeper of dubious skill and unpredictable temper!

Ah me! If only my own problems could be resolved with the mere touch of magic under a bunch of mistletoe!

This is a recent photograph of Claude’s cow in its pen after its miraculous cure by mistletoe. If you look closely to the right of the picture you will see Claude’s wife gesturing with a stick to indicate exactly where the mistletoe was hung as directed by the soothsayer. She is the one in the lace cap and checked shawl, the one next to the miraculously saved cow is the family goat, although at first glance it is not obvious which is which and even at close quarters it is sometimes easy, I admit, to confuse the two.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

An awkward day for un Peu...

It has, I fear, been a trifle awkward for me Chez Nous today after the unusual events of the previous evening and the hopefully temporary bridging of the social divide betwixt masters and servants.

Loic is understandably somewhat embarrassed regarding the syllabub episode, and his inadvertently familiarizing himself with my décolletage, but we are both labouring under the conceit that nothing has changed. All was going well remarkably until I ventured to ask him to inspect my melons in the hot house to see if they were approaching ripeness, which ,for some reason I am unable to fathom ,reduced him to a blushing school girl. I do hope he recovers his composure soon otherwise I shall have to return to sending him instructions via Madame Grognonne which is so tiresome as she has a habit of forgetting to pass on messages when it suits her.

Madame Grognonne is a little out of sort herself having consumed considerably more champagne ,wine and eau de vie than might be considered prudent at her time of life, and is therefore in a even more than usual ill temper with everyone.
Chief Patissier has the bilious look of someone who is about to succumb to a rather unpleasant intestinal infection, I suspect for the same reason, Madame Grognonne having generously filled his glass each time she replenished her own. I have no sympathy for either of them. This is a slight consoaltion for the fact that he insisted I sit with Loic and Jacques either side of me at dinner.

Unfortuantly far from being embarrassed by his over familiarity last night, Jacques however is full of himself and I have had to endeavour to remain out of his way, at least until he recovers some sense of decorum and remembers his place. On the two occasions our paths crossed this morning he made rather personal and ribald comments regarding our dancing together last evening, comments which I feel are better ignored therefore I shall not repeat them here.

Thankfully the flood water has receded and the seemingly endless rain has all but ceased at last, therefore, the children have gone to school and Chief Patissier has been driven ,by Jacques, to the biscuiterie in the governess cart to check for damage after the inundations of the past week. So I am free at last to return to my studio in peace and pursue my art.

Oddly, having gone to such pains to procure time on my own to paint , I find that, after last nights soiree I am quite put off the idea of using any of the domestic servants as artists models. I think perhaps I shall give my painting a rest for a time as I quite lost my enthusiasm. The thought of prospect of being closeted in my studio with either Jacques or Loic at close quarters for any length of time is just too much for me to stomach at the moment.


The photograph above is of the staff of domestic servants in some unknown, but evidently well placed ,English household. Oh how I wish sometimes that I were blessed with a retinue such as these , instead of a lascivious groom with an identity problem, a one legged one armed shell shocked gardener and a a disagreeable housekeeper. I do not think a pleasant quiet lady's maid or even an under gardener complete with all his limbs would be to much to ope for, I do not ask for much in life after all!

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

The morning after the night before

When one considers the company and the fact that Chief Patissier insisted I preside at the head of the table with Loic on my left and Jacques on my right I think yesterday’s soiree went as well as one could possibly expect under the circumstances.

There were a few minor problems with etiquette which is only to be expected when facing ones servants with an unfamiliar array of silverware and dining avec ones housekeeper and gardener, however in a flash of egalitarianism I suggested we all follow Loic’s example and settle for abandoning the assorted pieces of cutlery in favour of a fork alone. Although this did make cutting the beef a trifle awkward, it was less nerve wracking and dangerous than having to duck every time Loic’s knife slipped from his artificial hand and shot across the table in varying directions.

On the final occasion prior to him admitting defeat and resorting to his fork, it narrowly missed Chief Patissier’s left cheek but thankfully lost altitude just in time and embedded itself in Madame Grognonne’s elbow as she was stretching across to help herself to more asparagus spears. Luckily she is quite well padded and hardly flinched, although I suspect she may regret stanching the flow of blood with the damask napkins since it is she who will have to launder it. Perhaps if will teach her not to be quite so greedy in future, although one hopes this event is one that no one will feel the need to repeat.

Chief Patissier gallantly allowed Jacques to open the champagne, a sad mistake as, along with many of the lower classes, he appeared to believe that idea was to allow the cork to explode from the bottle with a loud retort, thus he gleefully shook it vigorously before doing so. As you may well imagine this caused poor Loic to freeze suddenly and as a result of his being at the time occupied serving me with dessert, I ended up with a lap full of syllabub and a rigid gardener face down in my décolletage. Not an experience I wish to repeat.

I think it is nothing short of a miracle that the Limoges and crystal survived the meal intact and that the only casualties apart from my dress and Madame Grognonne’s elbow were a pair of rather vulgar glass candle sticks painted all over in gold with roses and cherubs, given to us as a gift to mark the occasion of our marriage by Chief Patissier’s maiden aunt now long deceased, which were shattered by the same cork that stupefied Loic.

In order to keep with the spirit of the evening the children cleared the table whist Loic and Jacques joined Chief Patissier in the library for a cognac. Thankfully they were soon joined by Madame Grognonne, who always likes her pipe after dinner apparently. What Chief Patissier found to talk to them about is beyond me but I was immeasurably grateful that it afforded me the opportunity change out of my syllabub soaked attire in to something a trifle less sticky.
When I returned downstairs to hear the strains of music , and was not pleased to discover that Eldest had been taken with the notion that it might be jolly should all of us retire to the salle to finish our evening with dancing.. Youngest and Middle were put in charge of winding the gramophone and I was granted the dubious honour of leading the dancing with Jacques. As he is a good head and shoulders shorter than myself , I am glad that I had taken the sensible precaution of putting on a high necked dress, should Loic unfortunately free fall into my cleavage a second time.

The evening ended on a high note when Madame Grognonne and Loic became entangled in the curtains whilst attempting to demonstrate the finer points of a gavotte, and her sabot becoming trapped in his grip of his artificial hand which I fear had seized up as a result of the inundation of champagne and syllabub it had succumbed to during the evening.

Sensing that after this anything else could only be seen as an anti climax I made my adieus and left them to hop off to the kitchen in search of goose fat.

I leave you with image above of a rather fine ball,was painted I believe in 1906, although sadly I can not identify the artist. Needless to say our small ball shares no similarities at all excepting possibly the fact that the gentleman on the right hand side of the painting seems as intent as Jacques was at becoming over familiar with his dance partners cleavage, he of course had the advantage of height that Jacques did not, and his partner had not had the foresight to wear something a little less revealing.

A trifling conundrum

I was quite at a loss as to how to extricate myself from the rather awkward position I had created. Even allowing for the fact that we were more or less cut off my rising water, I could think of none with whom I might wish to spend an entire evening, especially as with the present climatic conditions it may turn out that their stay may well be forcibly prolonged for a much longer period!

Here I was with an entire household, at my own instigation prepared and anticipating the arrival of six guests and I had no idea where I was to find even one at such short notice! I toyed briefly with the idea of somehow contacting the entire committee for the public health for the commune (with special responsibilities for fosse septiques) including Nicholas Fartoocozy himself, but stopped myself mid thought, there are limits over which it would be pure madness to venture and this was one of them.

What then was I to do! If I were to admit to my husband that the entire day had been engineered by myself, as a rouse to allow me some peace and quiet in which to practise my artist endeavours he would be furious, I fear that would be the final straw in our relationship. Coming so soon after the incident of Eldest’s hair cutting, and the recent spate of accidents and illnesses amongst the servants of the household as it did. I was horribly aware that, due to a small technicality that arose after my visit to the King of Spain, I had been placed under license into the care and protection of my husband. I could foresee a glum future stretching before me, no more jaunts in the governess cart, no trips to market or anywhere else for that matter, I should be confined to the house, or worst still, the lunatic asylum itself !

Whilst I might enjoy the peace and quiet, I have a refined palate and am sure that the coarse though adequate; menu of which inmates were expected to partake would not, by any standards, meet with my approval. Added to which dear Philippe, King of Spain etc and so on has long since moved back to his family home having recovered his sense of self, so I would be bereft of suitable company.
I stood a desolate figure of dejection before my glass seeking inspiration when suddenly; I was overwhelmed by a flash of inspiration! Calling out to my husband, but receiving no reply, I wrapped my peignoir around myself and pinning up my hair went to confront Chief Patissier in my boudoir, where I had last seen him fingering my evening dresses.

Fired with the conviction of a woman who knows should she say the wrong thing she may end up spending the remainder of her days making baskets amongst the mentally challenged, I held my head high and, with a firm voice, admitted that the dinner party was nought but a sham devised by me for my own ends. Sadly before I could continue with my explanation, Chief Patissier’s not inconsiderable temper got the upper hand and I found myself cowering before him, head downcast as he enumerated my many faults and failings. Whilst gazing downward in dejection, I couldn’t help but notice that an earring, which I thought I had lost some months ago, was lodged behind the leg of my dressing table, just a few inches from my husbands right foot.

Letting out a stifled cry, at relief at finding the lost earring, I fell to the floor at his feet, taking the opportunity to scoop it up and secure it tightly in my handkerchief. I perhaps should point out that I am not usually so emotionally attached to my jewellery but this is one of the few family pieces I had from my mother and I am particularly fond of it.

I suspect that Chief Patissier may have mistaken my emotion as being caused by my realising the truth in his accusations , and, noting a sudden silence in the ranting above my head I realised he had halted his diatribe on the role of a good wife, and thought now might be a good time to speak before he continued on the well warn theme of my poor housekeeping skills and mothering.
I therefore looked up at his figure towering darkly above me, not the prettiest angel to view him from as from that position I could see his nose hairs needed a good trim, sobbing quite beautifully even if I do say so myself, I told my husband how right he was as always and that I should indeed been punished. I declared between weak sniffs that I was indeed selfish for I had made so much work for all of them, yet in truth, all I had wanted was in some small way to say thank you to our wonderful household for all they had done, and he to, I thought it wise to add that for extra, in supporting me through what had been a difficult time for me starting out, as I was, with my fledgling skills as a painter. I could think of no fitter manner in which to thank them all than by inviting them to dine en Famille chez nous by way of thank you

For want of anything further to say I threw myself upon the carpet at his feet, making a mental note as I did so to instruct Madame Grognonne to give them a good beating as the smell of dust was quite unpleasant at such quarters and very probably unhealthy to boot.

He was completely taken aback and thus in a small space of a few minutes and within the comfort of my own bedroom I have been transformed from a conniving selfish woman who cares only for herself to a caring mistress who thinks only of her servants, not to mention having found my earring!
Whether I shall feel such a sense of Bonhomie after having to sit through dinner with Jacques, Loic and Madame Grognonne remains to be seen but as long as I manage to judicially place the children either side of me at table I shall at least be spared the need to make conversation with any of them.
..................................................................................................The painting Oberon and Titania is by a talented English artist who was totally mad and spent a great deal of his life in a mental asylum in London. His name was Richard Dadd. I do wonder whether it might be worth my inquiring whether French asylums allow inmate to study and practise oil painting, after all one never knows when one might need a bolt hole!

Monday, 25 June 2007

Un Peu finds herself a trifle out of her depth!

I was mightily pleased with myself having managed a good three hours painting yesterday before I was disturbed by the arrival of Madame Grognonne wishing me to approve the menu for the evenings soiree, grumbling as she habitually does under her breath.

Considering she had such short notice and that the larder was uncharacteristically bare after our being confined to the house due to the unseasonal weather, I must say that she had put together the makings of a rather impressive repas .

Loic and Eldest had managed to procure a quantity of offal from Yannick as well as a side of Beef and plenty of cream and butter. En route, Loic had clumsily caught his leg in a pot hole and fallen into the fosse by the side of the road. Eldest in her attempt to rescue him, tumbled in on top, so that by the time they arrived at the farm, both were almost entirely sodden with mud and therefore there was , thankfully, no fear of her being recognized by Yannick .

Youngest had discovered quite a fine cache of eggs which the hens had laid in Madame Grognonne’s best boots, and middle had salvaged several pounds of raspberries and the odd strawberry as well, despite stiff competition form the slugs.

The menu thus boasted an entrée of pate a la champagne, followed by roti de bouef with new potatoes asparagus and artichoke hearts as la plate de resistance and a selection of desserts including syllabub, meringues filed with whipped cream and fresh fruit puree and sweet biscuits.

Having informed her the menu would do, I sent Madame Grognonne off to find Chief Patissier to allow him to check his chosen wines against the approved menu and managed a further two undisturbed hours before having to stop again, alerted to a impending disaster by the strong smell of smoke drifting up the stairs.

Jacques had performed his task splendidly had dutifully lit blazing fires in the downstairs hearths, which were warming up the place wonderfully. Unfortunately we had all forgotten about the Hirondelles nest which had it appeared to successfully have blocked the chimney and the house was filling rapidly with smoke.
Thinking quickly Chief Patissier , affixing Loic’s dibber attachment to his leg and the leg to the kitchen broom handle, and, giving it to youngest to hold, pushed child, artificial limb and broom handle up the chimney where, with a few well judicious thrusts the nest fell down in a shower of sparks! As you may imagine I was quite anxious as chimney fires can be notoriously disastrous and I really not relish the task of redecorating the salle. Chief Patissier was much relieved as he said that he really could not have a soiree with our guests choking on smoke!

Busy as I had been all day with my art, I had totally forgotten that my little dinner party had been nothing but a clever ruse to rouse the household from their turpitude and, with a rising sense of panic, it dawned upon me that, in less than a few hours Chief Patissier, along with everyone else would be expecting guests to arrive. Since I had none invited I could clearly see a fatal flaw in my plan and a creeping feeling that once they discovered my duplicity, I would, yet again, be persona non grata chez nous! I was sorely tempted to make a dash for it in youngest’s boat!

The photograph is by the Scottish photographer John Thomson and is, not wishing to state the obvious, of a chimney sweep and his boy. I am happy to say that neither Chief Patissier nor youngest were quite so dirty after the chimney fire incident, which just goes to show that had chimney sweeps the sense to employ a combination of small boys, artificial limbs and broom handles their job would be far less messy. I wonder if I might ask Chief Patissier about designing a chimney sweeps brush attachment for Loic’s leg?

Enough is enough or un peu takes charge!

Enough is enough, raining or not, I will not put up with the households sullen sluggishness a moment longer. I am determined to lift their spirits and get them all out of doors if only so that I may continue to paint in peace. To that end I have informed them that I had arranged a small soirée chez nous for this evening, a fact that had quite slipped my mind until I checked my agenda this morning, and that regardless of the precipitation we shall keep to my plans. Despite considerable complaints each has been allotted a task and has been sent out to accomplish them in preparation for tonight.

Jacques has been sent to the barn to collect dry wood for the fire. He is well wrapped in an oil cloth, with his head covered by Madame Grognonne’s German helmet which she has thoughtfully lent him and his chest liberally rubbed with goose fat to ensure he does not catch cold again.

Loic has been dispatched to visit Yannick and see if he will provide us with some fresh meat, butter and cheese. Eldest has gone with him to help extricate him should he get his leg stuck in the mud. I am certain no one will recognize her wrapped in old army overcoat, her head well covered with sacking, but just in case I have instructed them that should anyone comment Loic is to inform them that Eldest is his cousins half wit son up from the Ardeche for a change of air and Eldest is to act as if she were simpleminded, say nothing and keep her head bowed, all of which I am sure she will have now trouble managing.

I did ask Madame Grognonne to go instead of Loic but she flatly refused as she says she is not welcome at Yannick’s Farm, he suspecting her, as he does, of having something to do with the disappearance of his prize calf. This reminds me, I must ask Madame Grognonne if she has any salted veal left in the larder that we may add to the menu.

Since she will not go to Yannick’s Madame Grognonne has been sent out to the pottager in search of whatever vegetables have survived the torrential rain. Middle, meanwhile, is picking what ever raspberries have not gone mouldy in the fruit cage and youngest is gathering eggs from the hayloft. Madame Grognonne has told him to check in the chamber pot under her bed as, apparently, the poultry have taken to nesting there.

I myself shall be busy laying the table with the best Limoges and damask cloth and generally making the salle a manger look splendid. Chief Patissier is quite convinced that no one will come in such foul weather but I have assured him he is wrong and have laid the table for eight in anticipation.

I have left Chief Patissier sulking still at the Studio window but have discreetly let the fire go out in the stove there so, no doubt, he will soon stir himself when he begins to feel the cold. When he arrives down stairs I shall send him off to the cellar to bring up something special for the table, and then go back upstairs myself to paint. I am sure with the judicious application of an oil soaked rag and a bit of kindling I shall soon have the fire roaring.

This rather splendid painting is called Kant and Friends at Table, and was Painting by Emil Doerstling. I do think it looks quite jolly, although obviously a trifle dated. I do wonder though if I might get Jacques to wait at table dressed in this style. I know he is a tad short to carry off the look but the wig would cover his hair quite well. Initially I thought of Loic but his artificial leg might detract from the elegance of the costume and obviously Madame Grognonne would look ridiculous in breaches, her derriere being far too big!

Sunday, 24 June 2007

The Rain continues

It is still raining, Chief Patissier remains sitting brooding in my studio, whilst Eldest remains brooding in her room, both as damp and dismal as the weather.

Madame le Couteau tried her best with Eldest’s hair but, since her experience is limited to cropping the hair of the noviciates at the convent, she rather lacks knowledge of the latest styles. Where once she had long wavy tresses Eldest now sports rather a short coife of tight curls, her locks having reacted to the wet weather by curling themselves up tightly against her scalp, giving her the look of a rather startled poodle. Eldest claims she is never ever going to leave her bedroom again.

Middle is sulking as he very sweetly took Eldest’s shorn hair to plait into a bracelet for her, which upon receiving she screamed hysterically and threw back at him in a rage. He now says he is going to use it to make a voodoo doll of his sister to stick pins in. Madame Grognonne has already given him candle stubs to melt done and he has borrowed all my best hat pins. Personally I am not sure this was wise as we may well need all the candle stubs we can muster should the power fail.

The only one who is showing any sign of jollity is youngest who is progressing rapidly with his boat building project. His vessel now has an anchor, constructed from a granite cross which, when questioned regarding its origins, he claimed to have found lying around in the grenier but which looks suspiciously similar to the one that has gone missing from village Calvary. He has also added a cabin in the form of the old chicken house, the chickens having been moved to the hayloft to save Madame Grognonne having to splash her way out to the far end of the vegetable garden to collect the eggs.

Jacques is disgruntled as I have refused to let him use the governess cart for the hull of youngest’s boat, Loic is disgruntled as youngest has used the spade attachment to his leg as a rudder without asking him first and Madame Grognonne is disgruntled as she claims the chickens are keeping her awake at night roosting on her bed frame.

I swear, should they continue like this, I shall be forced to steal youngest boat one night, whether it is finished or not, and sail away leaving them all here to drown in the sea of their own bad tempers.


The painting is by French artist Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) and is called Tiger in a Tropical Storm(surprised!), well of course the tiger is surprised no self respecting cat regardless of its size would choose to plod about in the pouring rain voluntarily! I have included it as it reminds me of the feral cats hiding from the rain in our barns. He painted it in 1891, claiming that it was based on his extensive travels in Mexico. Of course, the nearest Henri Rousseau ever got to a tiger or a jungle was the zoological gardens in Paris, but one must not let the fact that the man was a liar detract from ones appreciation of his work.

Saturday, 23 June 2007

The Rain it raineth every day

I am seriously of the opinion that if it continues to rain with such insistence, we may well have to move to the upper storeys of the house and live on the family emergency supply of biscuits! The roses are rotting on their bushes and the wonderful crop of raspberries we had are all mildewed, and yet still it rains! I am quite aghast at the weather it is so unseasonal, I am certain even the chickens are developing webbed feet, but since it rained on the fete to St Barnaby what can one expect ?

Meanwhile Youngest has decided, bearing in mind the intemperate conditions, that he will build a boat, in case it is necessary to send Madame Grognonne out to the village in a rowing boat to retrieve provisions, and has abandoned his aeroplane altogether . Happily this new project does not appear, as yet, to require the use of any more of my art materials; however, I suspect it may be wise to lock away the best table linen should he think of incorporating it in his craft. I imagine, had the French Nuns who lovingly embroidered all our sheets and tablecloths known they were to used as sails one day, they may have incorporated nautical themes.

He has already cannibalized some old cider barrels from the barns and with the help of Loic and Jacques, both of whom have now almost completely recovered from their illnesses, (although to be fair Loic is still having trouble with rust in his knee joints) has attached them to some long abandoned oxen yokes and a disused table from the potting shed to form quite a respectable raft.

The plan is that, should the worst come to the worst, they shall install Loic’s gardening tent on top for protection and paddle down the lane to the village for help, using a broom handle to punt with. Not wishing to stifle youngest ingenuity, I have not enquired how they intend to make the return journey as it is, for at least part of the way, uphill.

Chief Patissier is quite put out by it all and has taken to sitting in my studio staring silently out of the windows, wearing a glum expression and nursing a glass of Cognac to keep his spirits up. His brooding presence is doing nothing for my creativity, although perhaps, should it continue to rain, I may immortalize him as Noah watching for his lost dove.


The painting today is entitled Paris Street: Rainy Day, by the French artist Gustavo Caillebotte. Dare I say that, although I see evidence of many umbrellas, I see no evidence of rain as such, where I to paint my own scene of rain chez nous today it would be nothing but a dull sheet of grey striations over the lurid green of the vegetation down upon which it is lashing with brutal persistence.

Thursday, 21 June 2007

Bobbing along unhappily

Eldest is in disgrace as a result at her attempts at home couffer. Fortuitously she has finished with education for the summer hence can be kept secluded at home away from public gaze. The weather is so bad here should she need to venture outside she can cover her head with a water proof hat of some kind and avoid notice.

Meanwhile we must do something to repair her coiffe . I realise of course that it is impossible to re attach her long curls but we can at least take steps to improve upon the effect she has achieved with the kitchen scissors. What we can not repair we may perhaps hide under a bandeaux .

Apparently the bobbed look is quite the rage amongst the fashionable young things both In France and in America. That may well be so but here in Brittany we have our standards. If this is the look at which she was aiming, clearly she missed her target by quite a distance. I was somewhat horrified to discover that the style originated her in France in Paris no less. The fact that it was the creation of one Antoni Cierplikowski who was as one might guess by his name a Pole,explains everything !

Eldest, who seems alarmingly up to date regarding this rage, claims it was started by an actress called Irene Castle,who had her hair cut for the war effort, How cutting ones hair could help Frane win the war one can only imagine!

Eldest tells me it was to prevent women's long hair getting caught up in factory machinery. I did try to point out that had Charlotte at her Fathers Biscuiterie had bobbed hair she still would have fallen in to the vats and had her apron strings caught but this held no water. I do hope the discusions Chief Pattiser and I have had concerning safety in the biscuiterie have not brought back memories of her Uncles unfortunate accident.

I fear her juvenile Psyche has been scarred by fear of being accidentally consumed by a dough mixer. Motherhood is so fraught at times!I can quite see why the English have Nannies.

I shall have to investigate this whole hair bobbing matter further.Meanwhile Madame Grognonne and I have smuggled Madame le Couteau, who is the nearest thing the village boasts to a hairdresser, into the house to see what she can do to recity Eldest's handiwork.


The photograph is of Irene Castle, not an icon of feminine beauty, but then sine the entire style was according to its Polish inventor based onte hJoan of Arc look one can hardly be surprised. Next thing it will be chain mail vests and metal rivets in undergarments, God only kows what the Breton rain would do to that! There is not enough goosefat in the country to keep women rust free should metal corsety become the vogue!

Un Peu is bereft!

I should, of course, have known that such peace would not last Chez Nous!
Here I am, vexed to extinction only hours after I wrote of my haven of tranquility which surrounded me! I tempted the Gods and they have risen to my challenge and destroyed all I held dear.

I can blame no other; I have truly brought this thing upon myself preoccupied with my own pleasures as I have been. I am an undeniably selfish and an unforgivably distracted mother and henceforth, am destined each day to have the evidence paraded before me as proof of my perfidiousness!

Yesterday whilst I sat in my studio admiring my own art Eldest was in her room with the door firmly closed , not as I thought safely engaged in doing whatever girls her age do in solitude but performing such an unprecedented act of folly that I shudder even now at my discovery of it!

She has carried out an act of deliberate self mutilation and it is I who am to blame! Oh how I weep for myself that I did not think to tap at her door and beg her to sit with me in the studio whist I painted. Why , oh self regarding personage that I am, did I not call her to pose for me by the clear light of the window so that I might capture the innocence of her smile, the light playing on her dappled cheeks, her unbound curls rippling splendid about her pale shoulders! Ah but now it is too late and I am bereft as only a mother can be!

Eldest has done the unspeakable, the unforgivable, She has , with the aid of the kitchen scissors she has cut off her lustrous hair! Chief Patissier is understandably furious with his dear daughter for inflicting this upon herself. Even Madame Grognonne is horrified! The boys however find it a lively joke for, when all is said and done she looks like a boy!

Comfort me not with the thought that I must be thankful that she did not follow Jacques lead and dye her hair red, or heaven forbid green, that would be but a trifling thing compared to the horrors she has already accomplished.

I am so overcome I have taken to my room with nothing but the decanter of Cognac and a chilled bottle of Champagne for consolation, and here I intend to stay until her hair has grown.
The painting above is titled Jeune fille peignant ses cheveux by the artist Pierre-Auguste Renior, who as a Frenchman fully appreciated the importance a girls hair plays in her overall beauty. I am considering purchasing a copy of the painting to in Eldest’s dressing room to act as a constant reminder of all that she has discarded. I, of course, need no reminder as I have the dubious pleasure of seeing the result each day at mealtimes.

Wednesday, 20 June 2007

A tranquille day at last !

It has been perfectly calm and peaceful here today, which is quite a relief after all the recent excitement. Youngest has been occupied with the construction of his flying apparatus, middle has been busy reciting poetry to Jacques, he has an examination at ecole tomorrow and is wisely taking advantage of his captive audience, and Eldest is n her room with the door firmly closed doing whatever girls her age do in splendid solitude. Meanwhile Madame Grognonne is engaged in diving for freshwater langoustine in the pond and Loic is pottering in the potager.

At last after interminable delays the donut machine has been set up successfully and we have, to prove it, much to the delight of the all, several large boxes of gallettes chez nous.

Despite Chief Patissier’s fears that there might be an accident, dwelling as he does on the horrific demise of his elder brother, the inauguration of the machine passed without incidence. Although there was a brief moment of unease when Charlotte, one of the girls at the biscuiterie, lent too far into the bowels of the machine and caught her apron in the paddles, However Eugene ,who was passing carrying a bucket of butter, threw himself in after her and retrieved her before any harm was done.

Luckily Chief Patissier was able to adjust the recipe to allow for the extra butter and Charlotte’s chignon now looks exceptionally glossy, which has made such a difference to her appearance and quite takes ones attention away from her squint. So much so that Eugene, who is under normal circumstances quite brusque, has softened noticeably towards her to such an extent that he has spent the afternoon counting palettes with her in the packing room.

Safe in the knowledge that all is well with our world, I have spent the day in my studio, putting the finishing touches to my painting of war heroes. I felt it safer to complete my work from memory rather than risk further Doctors bills and domestic upset.

It is on days such as these, sitting here looking out over the countryside and our gardens, when there is nothing but the sound of the birds,the clatter of Loics metallic foot on the cobbles and the splashing of Madame Grognonne in the pond, that I sit and reflect on how full and happy my life is and how incredibly lucky I have been to have been thus blessed.

The painting of the young Breton woman is by the French artist Paul Serusier and looks not unlike poor little Charlotte, in fact if one looks closely I think one may even be able to detect a slight squint in the left eye!

Monday, 18 June 2007

A day like any other..

I am pleased to be able to report that Jacques appears to be making a remarkable recovery, especially when one considers that such a fuss has been made of his illness. His fever has broken and I was heartened to hear that it is, as I expected, not entirely my fault that he was taken unwell. Madame Grognonne was given short shrift by the Doctor for using red lead polish as a hair colourant and was chastised liberally by him, which quite buoyed me up after her gruff treatment of me yesterday. As a result normal routines were resumed and I was brought my cup of tea au lit comme habitude by Madame Grognonne, which I took to be a sign of remorse on her part, and no doubt the nearest I shall get to an apology from that quarter!

However she rather ruined the effect by commenting that she had only done so as she felt far safer making my tea than having me set fire to the house again. I do admit I had a slight conflagration in the kitchen yesterday but it was not entirely of my doing. I had placed the pot on the range for heating, and was suddenly distracted by the sight of an object hurtling ground wards at speed past the window. This was followed by a thump, a clank and a muffled cry.

I was naturally quite taken aback, frightened that one of the children may have hurt themselves, but need not have feared as it was merely youngest attempting to launch himself sky wards in a home made flying machine, he having been quite taken with chief Patissier’s tales of Elmer Buckets airborne exploits in defense of France. It was constructed, I was not amused to discover, from some of my canvases, one of which bore the nearly completed image of a camel. Luckily he and his aeorplane landed on Loic who was bent over weeding, and this broke his fall nicely. I dread to think what might have happened if he had hit someone else on his descent.

Happily the accident seems to have loosened the rust on Loic’s artificial leg and as a result he was able to unscrew the spade attachment and replace it with the hoe for weeding which I am sure made his job easier. I am certain he will be able to straighten the leg with a little bit of effort on his part and meanwhile that fact that he now walks with a limp is hardly noticeable, bearing in mind his other afflictions.

Assured that Jacques is now out of danger Chief Patissier has returned with a light heart to his task of adapting Captain Buckets Donut machine to biscuit making and installing it in the biscuiterie. Of course if my husband had not been so churlish and allowed me to use his spare German Machine Gun for the my painting in the first place I would not have had to pose Loic and Jacques in the rain at the village Calvary and there is every chance that Jacques might have been taken quite so ill, and he would, no doubt, be already producing his gallettes with alacrity. However I thought it sensible not to mention this to him.


The illustration above is of a French aeroplane from La Guerre a model of which Elmer bucket has kindly sent to youngest and which undoubtedly formed the model for his own flying apparatus. Of course Youngest’s version was slightly more colourful, having half a camel on one wing and an Arab in full headdress on the other all on a background of a midnight blue sky with myriad stars. It was also, I hope it goes without saying, somewhat smaller as otherwise , of course, Youngest would have been unable to launch it from the parapet single handed.

Sunday, 17 June 2007

Un peu Loufoque.persona non grata!

I awoke this morning to discover to my utter surprise that I am not a popular woman Chez Nous, and through no fault of mine own I must add, despite stern accusations to the contrary from Chief Patissier and black looks from Madame Grognonne. It would seem that Jacques has been taken rather poorly in the night with a serious fever and the blame for this has been placed squarely at my door. Though why I have no idea!

I knew something was amiss when I did not receive my early morning restorative cup of tea in bed, a routine which has gone unbroken since the departure of our unfortunate Polish émigré Alexi Vlodaflodavodavitch in a flurry of red riding boots and shrunken trousers.

When I enquired of Madame Grognonne the reason for this she tartly retorted that she had far too much to do attending to Jacques' needs and that even I, she was sure, might manage to make my own beverage for once. I thought that was quite uncalled for especially as not long ago I did in fact do that very thing. Admittedly it had been a tad disastrous and had necessitated the purchase of a new coffee pot afterwards but I did try, which is after all the important thing surely.

I am well aware that she is the old Loufoque family retainer and has been here far longer than I, but really I think she might grant me a little more respect, I am, after all ,Chief Patissier’s wife and, as such, in theory at least, her mistress . I felt quite hurt, after all she is the housekeeper and I was not brought up to do such things!

Chief Patissier and Madame Grognonne have quite joined ranks against me. She, having alerted him to Jacques deteriorating condition last night upon his return from Antoine’s at a very a late hour, he immediately went out again to fetch the Doctor and bring him back Chez Nous. This is doubly hard to bear since when Middle child was taken ill with vomiting in the night only last week It was I who had to deal with it alone, with only a decanter of cognac and Eldest to support me, since Chief Patissier was quite unarousable!

The Doctor was most concerned about his condition and ordered hot mustard baths and plenty of fluids or some such so Chief Patissier sat by him all night administrating large doses of eau de vie and elderberry cordial which I am given to believe is good for bringing down temperatures. I think someone might have mentioned that to me when poor middle child was so feverish! Perhaps it only works on the labouring classes?

Apparently long hours standing in mud and driving rain whilst posing for my painting had made his slight head cold, which he failed to alert me to I may add, develop into pneumonia and here I am apparently to blame. The fact that it was probably exacerbated by a constitution brought low by blood poisoning from inferior hair dye and red lead polish has not I notice been mentioned at all! Since I myself was out in the same weather conditions but still managed to remain in perfect health is neither here nor there of course!

The Doctor will be back tomorrow evening to check on his patient so until then no doubt I shall remain persona non grata Chez Nous!


The painting is by Van Gough and shows Doctor Gachet, looking rather glum. Personally I am of the opinion that this particualr physician may well have been taking a dose of his own medicine, or in this case several doses,as he looks rather the worse for wear, which just shows that Doctors are not infallable and that one can have too much of a good thing!He does look rather like our own village physician however I do not think it would do my case any good to reveal this insight to Chief Patissier as he is still extremely angry with me on Jacques part!

Saturday, 16 June 2007

Un Peu Loufoque Strikes a Pose!

I was rather vexed with Chief Patissier this morning as he refused absolutely to allow me to utilize his spare German machine gun in my painting. He claims, totally unreasonably, that having two unwashed and wounded servants dressed as soldiers, one of whom has a weeping head wound the other 3rd degree burns on his knees, which I may add are only very slightly infected, contravenes his idea of what is appropriate in a biscuiterie and further more may well distract the staff from their gallette making. I can not help but feel that my husband is being less than supportive of my art!

However I shall not give up and therefore took Loic and Jacques to the village Calvary in the dog cart, along with all my painting paraphernalia and commenced work there. Alas it had rained rather heavily all night and has continued to do so on and off all morning so that the road was somewhat muddy, and at one stage the governess cart became bogged down in a rut. Fortunately Loic managed to dig us out with his spade attachment whilst Jacques held the horse’s head. The fresh splattering of mud on their costumes added quite an authentic touch, which cheered me up no end!

All went exceptionally well, despite the inconvenience of my having to re-arrange the tableau several times after Loic began to list uncontrollably sideways when his leg sunk into the mud and Jacques complained of feeling faint. I finally settled on a pose with the two of them positioned at the foot of the large stone crucifix, and had just started my preliminary outlines on the canvas when the heavens opened and a tremendous thunderstorm announced itself with a deafening crash!

Luckily I had had the foresight to direct Jaques to rig up a large tarpaulin over the governess cart so that I and my canvas were admirably protected from the deluge. However Jaques made himself quite a nuisance, complaining repeatedly about being cold and wet. Loic of course posed perfectly, the unexpected thunderclap having reduced him, comme habitude, to a catatonic state.
Despite my determination to continue I had to sadly admit defeat as the failing light was making it impossible to continue and the rain so heavy that I was unable to see my subjects clearly, so reluctantly I packed my things away and returned Chez Nous to a rather pleasant lunch of warming soup, roti de porc, followed by ile flotant.
Loic and Jaqcues being covered in mud and soaking wet I could not of course permit them to travel back with me in the governess cart and risk staining the upholstery so I left them to follow on foot, Jacques carrying Loic over his shoulder. This seemed to take them an inordinate length of time so I was forced to direct Madame Grognonne to go and see to Marron, the horse, and give him a good rub down for fear of his catching cold, which would never do at all!

I believe this painting to be by the artist Gauguin and is a rather bizarre depiction of local Breton Women in their Sunday best sitting by the village cross. Why Christ is yellow is a mystery, possibly the artist had been staring to long into the sun patiently attempting to control his mounting temper whilst waiting for his models to sit still and decease from chattering so that he might continue his work. One can only sympathize, as a fellow artist; I know from today’s tedious experiences that ones models may be unbelievably vexatious should the mood take them!

Friday, 15 June 2007

Un Peu Loufoque and the battle torn warriors!

Finally, after what seems an age of anticipation, I have received my order of Titanium white oil paint this morning by post and am eager to proceed with my grand designs for the epic painting of Loic and Jacques immortalized as soldiers wounded in battle which I have so clearly envisioned!

I was most anxious in case Jacques scalp recovered some semblance of normality before I was able to commence, but luckily the red lead paste that Madame Grognonne used to try and tone down his green hair seems to have dyed his skin a very convincing dried blood colour and as the bandages she covered his head with are already quite grubby, as a result of his helping youngest to rebuild the automobile carburetor yesterday after school, thus he still looks quite the part of a soldier returned wounded from the war! Happily he has also developed a rather virulent allergy to either the hair dye or the lead paste and has several dramatically oozing sores on his face which add to the effect wonderfully! Madame Grognonne is quite concerned about the rash and suggested he might visit the Doctor for treatment but I have said I will allow no such thing until my painting is completed. After all one must suffer for one’s Art, even if one is only the artist’s model!

Loic however has posed a little more of a dilemma for my composition, as we have had excessively heavy rain and, despite being reminded on several occasions, he forgot to lubricate his new limb with the jar of goose fat Madame Grognonne gave him. As a result the leg has quite seized up. However nothing is insurmountable to an artist such as myself, and I may yet be able to position him behind some thing suitable to masque the fact that he has a spade attached where one would normally expect to find a foot. At the moment I am torn between posing Jacques and Loic next to the ancient stone crucifix on the outskirts of the village, which I feel will add some intriguing religious symbolism, or asking Chief Patissier if I might have them drape themselves over the German Machine gun, which Elmer Bucket sent for use as spare parts for the new dough mixing machine.

This painting, by Henri Gervex, dated 1915, depicts wounded French soldiers being treated at the train station in Poitiers after the battle of the Marne. I was considering including a nurse in my own masterpiece as I feel the clean starched whiteness of the uniform would serve as an interesting foil to the grime of the soldiers. However, Madame Grognonne, my only available model, is busy with domestic duties and I fear Chief Patissier would not fully appreciate my utilizing all of our domestic staff in my work.

Thursday, 14 June 2007

On Green Hair, Camels and Shepherdesses

I fear the pharmacist at Guemene-Sur-Scorff may have played a cruel jape on poor Jacques yesterday as, having used his new dye last evening, he arrived to drive Chief Patissier to work this morning with his hair a rather startling shade of green. It is most unbecoming but at least on a positive side it goes rather better with his livery than the red, which I always thought clashed rather.

Madame Grognonne attempted to rectify the problem by toning the colour down a tad, with the red lead paste she uses to polish the kitchen grate, but it was a rather unsatisfactory solution, as it runs down his forehead at the slightest provocation so that he looks as if he has some sort of festering head wound. I fear there is nothing for it but to have his hair shaved off completely.

Meanwhile Madame Grognonne has bound his head in bandages and He is masquerading under the falsity that he has injured his cranium in an unfortunate accident Chez Nous involving youngest, Madame Grognonne’s rifle, and a cider barrel suspended from a rope.

I think if one is planning to tell an untruth then it is always better to keep it simple. In my experience most people will believe anything, providing one says it with sufficient conviction and it is not too convoluted. I remember when I was a small child boarding at the convent in Bordeaux one of the girls claimed to have seen a vision of three wise men complete with camels travelling through the convent grounds one of whom had stopped to talk to her to seek directions. Of course if she had only kept her story simple and chosen to see the Virgin Mary instead she might well have achieved sainthood by now. As it was we were confined to our dormitories for a week as punishment and she was required to write, “I must not tell lies” five hundred times in four different languages. Interestingly enough, we discovered some weeks later that she had indeed seen the camels who were from a travelling circus and had got separated from their companions having taken a wrong turn at Grenoble. Her family had her removed from the school soon after.

I do hope my paint arrives soon as, what with Loic and his bandaged knees and Jaques and his head wound, I feel I have the makings of a heroic painting entitled “our brave young soldiers returning from in la guerre”. I would have, of course, to get Loic to remove the spade attachment on his leg first.


The painting today is of Joan of Arc who, as a young girl, claimed she saw visions of the Virgin Mary and held long conversations with various catholic saints, as a result of which, and possibly as well because of her penchant for wearing armour and men’s clothing, she was burnt at the stake as a heretic. Bearing this in mind my school friend was perhaps wise to stick with camels as I am certain that the catholic church does not view visions of dromedaries transversing convent lawns as quite so heretical, however, with the current Pope one can never be to sure of course.

Wednesday, 13 June 2007

A trip to GUEMENE-SUR-SCORFF and other interesting things

Oh what Joy! Our long awaited parcel from Elmer Bucket has at last arrived and Chief Patissier now has all the sprokets, flanges and wiggets be might ever need plus many more besides! It would appear that the delay was caused by the French railway parcel service being unable to fully decipher the rather abysmal handwriting of Captain Bucket and, judging by the station masters stamps on the rather large parcel it was sent initially in error to Pont Aven via Paris from whence it was forwarded to Avingon, then all along the coast of France via Bordeaux as far as Nantes, at which point the station master redirected it inland to Guingamp.

Elmer Bucket had enclosed a very large gift of donuts with the spare parts but owing to the parcel having travelled the entire length and breadth of the country and endured sometime on a hot platform in Carcasonne, it had begun to fester rather alarmingly and the station master at GUEMENE-SUR-SCORFF sensibly had the box destroyed as it was attracting rats.

Sadly no sign yet of my Titanium white from Paris which is quite vexing as I am eager to commence several new paintings including a portrait of Loic with his new leg, with which he is understandably very happy. I will of course need the white for the bandages on his knees but perhaps if I wait long enough I may get away with using ochre and ox blood red as they are beginning to stain rather a lot now that he has recommenced gardening duties.

Now that Chief Patissier is fully engrossed with the installation of the dough mixer I can not possible ask him to divert his intention to building a wheel barrow attachment for Loics leg so have arranged for Jacques to drive me down to GUEMENE-SUR-SCORFF to purchase a conventional one. I am sure we may quiet easily be able to purchase one closer to home but the village carpenter is still busy making coffins in the wake of the eau de vie disaster and it will provide an opportunity for me to deliver in person a thank gift of some of our own biscuiteries gallettes to the station master there for his quick thinking.
It will also allow Jacques to make a discreet purchase of red hair dye as he is now rather dark at the roots and beginning to look more like the old Henri everyday. He could of course purchase it from our own pharmacist but I know he prefers to shop where he is unlikely to be recognised. That poor man is so excruciatingly shy! It is painful to see him. He wears his livery hat pulled right down over his eyes and his collar high up to his ears whenever anyone approaches which I am sure makes it rather dangerous to drive! I fear for him in the hot weather, as I am sure he may well faint form the heat, so much so that I may have to consider taking Madame Grognonne with us on longer journeys to be on hand to resuscitate him in an emergency! A terrible waste of her time and upsetting for everyone since it is bound to have repercussions on the serving of repas and Chief Patissier can we all know be rather irked when his routine is disturbed!


The photograph is of Jean Le Gare, the stationmaster from GUEMENE-SUR-SCORFF. His is holding his official tampon or stamp, which he uses to mark all parcels and tickets that travel through his station. Despite his rather unwashed appearance he is perfectly harmless as long as one remembers to stand down wind and keep an eye on his hands at all times. He has a strange fetish for mother of pearl buttons which he snips of the clothes of unsuspecting travellers to sew onto his waistcoat. Many an unwary voyager having passed through his station has spent the rest of his journey holding very tightly to his trousers Jean Le Gare having had his wicked way with his buttons snippers!

Tuesday, 12 June 2007

un Peu Loufoque and the return of life's natural balance.

At last middle child is well enough to return to school with his brother. The fresh air yesterday did him a power of good and of course all that rain whilst he was weeding the vegetable patch certainly brought his temperature down a great deal. I am so relieved; children can be incredibly irksome when they are unwell.

Loics leg fitting went splendidly, although there was a tricky moment when the blacksmith, anxious to get back to his repas before his crepes cooled, welded his foot on backwards. However luckily Antoine noticed and, once they got Loic back on the anvil and fiddled about with the hammer, tongs and a red-hot poker, they soon put that right. Loic seems very satisfied with the result and as long as he remembers to carry a pot of goose fat with him to oil the joints in wet weather I am sure it will work splendidly. He assures me that the burns on his knee will heal in no time and anyway I feel sure you will agree, third degree burns are a small price to pay for a new leg complete with its own dibber and fork.

Sadly, to avoid the risk of Loics woodworm infecting our wheelbarrow it has had, as a precaution, to be burnt along with the remains of the wooden leg. I wonder if it might be possible to make a wheelbarrow attachment for Loics Leg? I must ask Chief Patissier.

On a happier note, Madame Grognonne tells me that Nicholas Fartoocy has had rather an unpleasant mishap .It appears he turned up unannounced at Fatimas family home, demanding he be allowed to inspect their plumbing very early on Saturday morning and inexplicably slipped into the Fosse septique, having tripped over someone’s outstretched foot. Sadly it being a Holy day, the family was not able to pull him out themselves but Fatima’s kindly grandmother offered to go to the village to fetch help. Of course grandmere being rather elderly, she was obliged to stop several times en route to catch her breath so by the time she could find someone willing to come and help Nicholas had been there for some time and as a result has developed quite a serious case of gastroenteritis and an unpleasant skin infection so the Doctor has hospitalised him until both clears up.

This paintng is anopther by the artist John Singer Sargent and shows an arab woman scenting her body and clothes with sweet perfumes from a charcoal incnese burner at her feet. I imagine it is something that Fatima and her family may well have had to do several times after Nicohlas was dragged from the fosse septique to rid them selves of the stench in their nostrils.Fosse septiques do give off rather a powerful aroma if distrurbed by someone swimming in them I understand.

Monday, 11 June 2007

A new leg for Loic!

I received vexing news regarding Loic this morning. It appears alas that his wooden leg is riddled with worm and we would therefore be left without a gardener until the village carpenter had time to turn him a new one! Normally this would not take long however, there has been an outbreak of sudden deaths in the village after the clog maker tried adding wood shavings to the last batch of eau e vie to give it an oaky flavour. The experiment might have worked had he used any other wood rather than yew and not included the berries, hence the carpenter is tie up with a rush job on coffins and will not be free until Friday. This is intolerable, as unless something is done soon I shall be forced to pick the soft fruit myself!

Chief Patissier is still awaiting deliveries of sprogets and flanges from Brest but meanwhile he and Antoine have come to my rescue with a cunning plan to save the day Using only some spare parts from the old dough maker, a discarded bicycle and an old horse harness, they have designed a splendid artificial limb for Loic and are at this very moment transporting him by wheelbarrow to the village blacksmith to have it made and fitted. They would have of course have taken him in the governess cart but it being Dimanche Jacques has the day off and it would look foolish to transport ones gardener by motorcar.

If all goes well Loic should be back in action by Tuesday. His new leg has the added benefits of interchangeable attachments made from garden tools, which I am sure, will be a great bonus when it comes to double digging.

Meanwhile I have put the children on weeding duty. I am sure the fresh air will do middle child some good and at least if he vomits in the garden I shall not have to fetch Madame Grognonne to clear it up.


Today’s painting is a rather fetching seen of children playing with lighted matches in the garden by Sargent. I know it is not terribly relevant but thought you might find it preferable to an image of the either the village clog maker in his death throws or the carpenter employed in making coffins. I do hope you will forgive me if I am wrong.

Sunday, 10 June 2007

An unfortunate accident chez Loufoque

There has been a rather unfortunate incident Chez Nous. In an effort to liven up poor middle child’s spirits, he still feeling a little unwell, Madame Grognonne and Jacques arranged a small entertainment in the form of a target shooting competition. Youngest being the marksman and Jacques the moving target. It was all terribly well thought out. Jacques was to leap up from behind strategically placed objects dans le jardin wearing a flowerpot strapped to his head. The idea being that youngest would then try and shoot the rabbit whose head and shoulders were protruding gaily from the pot.

Middle was propped up in bed by the nursery window surveying all like some diminutive Pasha and all was going splendidly well until youngest accidentally miss fired and the shot ricocheted off the water butt and hit Loic, who was of course standing inside his tent, rendered immobile by the sound of the shots. Unfortuantly as a result he fell foward into the asparagus bed causing untold damamge to the vegetable plot.

It took some time to disentangle Loic from the canvas but when they eventually extracted him it was to find his leg had been blown clean off. Luckily it was his wooden leg and he does have a spare, manufactured from an old garden hoe, which he can use until a replacement is made.

It did however at least cheer middle child up a trifle and put a bit of colour in his cheeks.

Still no sign of either wiggets, flanges, sprokets or my titanium white paint but no sign of donuts either, so one must thankful for small blessings.


The painting today is The Sick Child by J. Bond Francisco. Yet again despite my valiant efforts to find a suitable illustration Art history has failed me abysmally. I would not think it too much surely for a woman to expect at least one renowned artist to have accomplished even a small pencil sketch of a groom sporting a terracotta flowerpot on his head in which a rabbit is hiding. Obviously far too everyday an image for great painters to waste their valuable time on, of course if I had wanted something like the rape of the cyrenian womenthey would have been ten a penny.

Friday, 8 June 2007

Chief Patissier's exciting project to mechanize the family bisuiterie is, it appears, fraught with problems of a highly technical nature! It is all terribly frustrating. Despite he and Antoine's noblest efforts and much groping inside Elmer Buckets marvelously impressive tool, they have been unsuccessful in locating the wiggets on the Dough making machine's sprangles although we all know perfectly well that the flanges had been more than adequately well greased and braced with grommets before their transportation, there is a real fear they may have fallen off en route somewhere between here and Brest. It would have been far safer perhaps to transport the machine in one piece rather than attempt the mammoth task of dismantling and reconstructing it, however to do so would have meant our taking the tent in which it was housed which just impossible.

It is all very well to accept the gift of one small American army tent, which I am sure will be very much appreciated by Loic once he gets used to it, but to accept two might be considered imprudent. Some one would be bound to notice and it would be almost bound to give rise to all sorts of petty jealousies which are best avoided whenever possible when one lives in a small community. I am not one to speak ill of another, however, now that Nicolas Fartoocozy is not only chairman of the twinning committee but also the chairman of the public health committee for the commune (with special responsibilities for fosse septique )one must be doubly cautious about offending the awful man for, given the slightest excuse, he will be barging his way into Chateau Loufoque and with out even a by your leave we shall find our plumbing inspected whether we like it or not!

Since Middle was unwell I was not in a position to be of any help to Chief Patissier regarding the missing wiggests so he was forced to seek out our Mayor to act as translator and telephone Captain Bucket in Brest. Happily the Mayor has recently recovered his power of speech almost completely. You may remember he made himself rather over familiar with the Turkish Raki the night of Nicholas Fartoocozy's election party and has taken some time to recuperate. We are very hopeful that by next Christmas he will be quite his old self again.

After several false leads they were finally able to locate Captain Bucket in a Bar in the Brest Dockyards where he informed Chief Patiiser he was being well cared for by two sisters, who had been very kindly helping him apply his ointment.Well they think that is waht he said. Bearing in mind Chief patissiers rather rudimentary grasp of Englsih Grammar and the Mayors temporary speech impediment I think they did extremly well. They are pretty certain that they managed to explain the problem to Captain Bucket and that he has promised to send not only a complete set of new wiggets, several flanges and a box os sprokets but half a German Machine Gun and two dozen nearly new bayonets plus a large box of donuts. Thankfully the Mayor managed to persuade him that we were already well supplied with agricultural machinery as he was rather keen to send us a plough as well.

I have no idea what I am going to do with the donuts if they arrive .I wonder if one dried them sufficiently whether they might not be useful as firelighters ?

The painting is of a nun from the order of the sisters of mercy at teh bed side of an injured soldier. I suspect she is probably reading to him from something suitable on the perils of the administration of self medication. The Sisters of mercy are I would imagine the order of sisters to whom Captain Elmer Bucket eluded as they do a great deal of charitable work amongst soldiers and sailors in need of succour and Elmer Bucket did say he met them in the dockland area of Brest. I presume them to have been visiintg nuns who had entered the Bar to seek direciton to the local convent, and whilst there kindly offered to rub in Elmers linament for him.

Un peu loufoque and a mothers lot is not a happy one...

We have had a very worrying 24 hours Chez Nous since last I had the chance to sit here and write my diary and reflect upon events for alas for us all, Middle child is unwell.

Our day started happily enough and soon our time was spent in the routine tasks of daily life. Chief patissier’s day being almost in entirety spent in the tedious business of the collection, transportation, and commencement of installing the famous American dough mixing machine in all its glory at the family Biscuiterie. My day filled with the equally taxing pursuit of deciding the menu for the coming week and organizing the purchase of household provisions accordingly. This took considerable fortitude on my part since Madame Grognonne is still persisting in serving veal in some for or other at every meal. I must say that some of her recipes have been quite ingenious, breaded veal cutlets in Kumquat sauce was great improvement on the calf liver surprise for instance, however I am beginning to yearn for something a little less bovine.

Due largely to her resistance to my suggested changes to the menu our trip to the local market was not the a particularly pleasant experience. Fruit and vegetables were not a problem and we did manage to purchase some fish and mussels , which Madame Grognonne has agreed to turn into a seafood soup but were unable to get what we required in the way of dairy produce as the dairymaids insisted Madame Grognonne move away from the churns for fear of curdling the milk with her scowl. On the way home we were accosted by Yannick who is still it seems searching for his lost calf but sadly we were unable to help him with any information as to its whereabouts, As I pointed out to him I am sure I would have noticed if we had suddenly acquired a young calf chez Nous, after all they are quite boisterous creatures! I did however promise to ask the children if they had noticed a calf loitering around the grounds somewhere.

After dinner, Blanquette de veau with asparagus tips ,Chief Patissier and I retired to bed early, each of us still not quite recovered from our recent and somewhat taxing trip away. I was awoken in the early hours by a large bang and a shout which I presumed to be Madame Grognonne accidentally discharging her firearms in the hayloft but swiftly realised it was no such thing for it was followed by a pitiful wail which any mother’s heart would recognise immediately, even though it was slightly muffled and had travelled over the long distance between our wing and that of the children’s nursery. It was the sound of our poor middle child calling in distress for his mother!

I did what any Mother in her right mind would do when summoned by her anguished male child in the cold dark chill of the night, and swiftly alerted Chief Patissier to the situation by means of a sharp kick to the shins. I do think after all the relationship between fathers and sons is a vitally important one. Sadly despite my valiant efforts I was totally unable to arouse Chief Patissier from his slumber so was forced to rise to the occasion myself. Slipping on my pearl studded pantaloufes and wrapping myself in my lilac peignoir with the ostrich feather trim I staunchly set out in the direction of the cries in the fervent hope of all mothers in that situation, the hope that by the time I had arrived all would be well and I could return to bed once more to sleep.

It took me some time to reach Middle child’s bedside as I had inadvertently got lost on the second floor, easily done in a house this size, and found myself in the East wing so had to retrace my steps. In fact there is a rather poignant family legend of a young bride who rising on of her wedding night in search of a glass of cognac to steady her nerves after her nuptials , inadvertently took a wrong turning and opening a door to what she presumed to be the drawing room found herself stepping into the tower room and in the darkness plunged down from the parapet to the cobbled courtyard below. Needless to say her branch of the family tree stopped there . Her phantom is said to walk the chateau at night moaning for her foolishness and still desperately searching for a large cognac.

Amway I digress , by the time I finally reached Middle’s bedside Eldest had thoughtfully dealt with his cauchemar and put him back in his bed , from which he had evidently fallen, hence the bang, and he now lay slumbering peacefully as only a child who has managed to rouse his mother from her bed can. I thus returned to my boudoir, stopping en route to partake of a large cognac in memory of the poor lost bride, and was just climbing into bed when the commotion started again.

With grim determination to be a good mother I again donned my pearl studded pantaloufes and lilac peignoir and I retraced my steps to the nursery via the library where I refilled my cognac glass just in case of emergencies and to keep out the chill night air, I repeated the entire procedure at least four times until I really did not have the energy to go on any further each time reaching Middle child’s bedside to find him sleeping albeit feverishly but sleeping none the less which was significantly more than I was able to do under the circumstances. I therefore decided for his sake if not for mine he would be better transported to our chamber where at least if he woke I would be close at hand to deal with his call.

As you can I am sure appreciate it is not easy task to carry a feverish and by now slightly delirious nine year old boy down four flights of stairs along several inter connecting corridors through an unlit kitchen and back up another three flights to his parents bedchamber in the dark of night whilst one is wearing only a thin nightshirt and dressing gown . However I am proud that Eldest managed it very well only dropping him twice , the second not being her fault at all as was totally unaware that I had planned to stop in the library to refill my glass taking as I did so the candle with me, and thus can be excused for tripping over one of the cats in the dark.

This morning as Middle was still in rather a fitful state and complaining of headaches I sent Jacques, previously known as Henri to fetch the Doctor who on his arrival immediately diagnosed some sort of over heating of the constitution possibly fuelled by a imbalance in his diet. His has prescribed syrup of figs, rhubarb cordial and calfs foot jelly ! with a few days quiet bed rest in a darkened room . I have therefore arranged for a small bed to be made up next to mine and Chief patissier has volunteered to sleep in the study on the day bed until Middle is fully recovered. I have taken the precaution of placing a decanter of Cognac by the bed for emergencies just in case. I always maintain one can not be too careful when one is dealing with a child’s health.

This painting, from about the year 1600 is by the Dutch artist Metsu and poignantly portrays a woman holding a sick child on her knee. I ,as many mothers before me , recognised instantly the expression on the poor infants face. It is one of feverishness and resignation which comes, in my experience, only moments before the child vomits violently and unexpectedly and in vast quantities usually all over some item that is not easily cleanable or replaceable. Please note the strategically placed receptacle to the woman’s left. It is a sing of a good mother to be able to grab such a receptacle and position it accurately and at speed at just the crucial moment. It takes years of training and practise. I have high hopes that one day those maternal skills will eb recognised and it may be included as an Olympic sport/

Thursday, 7 June 2007

Un peu Loufoque and the fishmongers daughter

What a glorious day and how reassuring to be woken by such homely and familiar sounds . There is sharp retort of Madame Grognonne’s rifle as she shoots Rabbits from the Kitchen window, followed swiftly by the clatter of Loics axe as he drops it , freezing with shock at the sudden noise, and over in the courtyard I can clearly hear the deep melodious voice of Jacques, formally known as Henri, mucking out the stables. and singing a jolly Breton Folk song about a fishmongers daughter who one dark night having consumed rather too much eau de vie ,with her lover the elderly by amorous one eyed clog maker, foolishly mistakes her aged grandmere for a lobster and, having accidentally cracked her head open with a mallet, is forced to flee her natal village never to return ending her days disguised as a deaf mute strawberry picker in Plougestal .

With such a merry start to my morning, I am determined not to dwell upon our unfortunate experiences in Brest and therefore have put all thoughts of bed bugs and Elmer Bucket’s unfortunate afflictions behind me, having first taken the extra precaution of instructing Madame Grognonne to scrub the bathroom and the interior of the automobile out one final time with a mixture of lime and carbolic acid which should kill any lingering germs nicely.

Chief Patissier, has recovered admirably from the burns to his leg and one hardly notices the nasty rash he has mysteriously developed , thanks to a timely application of an ointment of sheep fat and sulphur as prescribed by our local pharmacists , whom you may remember my mentioning before, in connection with Monsieur Fartoocozy the president of our twining committee , who broke the heart of the said pharmacists daughter by reneging on his engagement with her and running off with a Russian girl here on a cultural exchange trip. The sheep fat liniment does have a somewhat pungent aroma but if Chief Patissier remembers to stay down wind of everyone and not to stand too near a warm fire I am sure that no one will notice.

Madame Grognonne has managed to remove the coffee stains form his trousers and repair the torn lapels on his overcoat. She is beyond doubt, at times ,a veritable treasure although I personally think it was sheer pigheadedness on her part to attempt an invisible repair with white thread on black astrakhan, but she was determined to prove that it could be done. He has this morning gone with Antoine to the shunting yards to oversee the arrival of the dough mixer and to check that Elmer Bucket’s chest of medicinal mercury and Iodine have been safely dispatched to him by return. I have suggested he also send Captain Bucket a consignment of Sheep fat and Sulphur ointment as a token of friendship.

Despite my protestations that enough was enough after fried veal liver for petite déjeuner and escalope de veau for lunch we are apparently having Veal again for dinner this evening, cooked in a sweet Anjou wine with crème fraiche on a bed of rice. Madame Grognonne professes that it is either that or donuts, the recipe for which Elmer Bucket has telegrammed to us in case Chief Patissier changes his mind regarding including it in the biscuiterie repertoire.

I am certain I would rather eat French veal for a month than American donuts dunked in sweet milky coffee and covered in cinnamon icing. Why they are not all the size of houses is beyond my comprehension when they seem to survive entirely on a diet of fat and sugar deep fried in inferior cooking oil!

I think it might be wise tomorrow if Madame Grognonne and I take the governess cart into the next town and pay a call on their boucherie to purchase some household provisions and a trifle more variety to our diet. It being a Friday we may even go as far as the fishmonger , although having listened to the fate of the fishmongers daughter in Jacques ( formally known as Henri) heart rending folk song this morning I think Lobster and is out of the question. However strawberries I may just be able to stomach.

As an after thought I neglected to mention that Elmer Bucket has very kindly offered to send us by train a small canvas tent which he assures us is easily demountable and light enough to be carried by one person in its erected state. This is can then be put up at a mere moments notice and I am sure will prove extremely useful for placing over Loic during the summers thunderstorms or during heavy rain . In exceptionally bad weather I am considering advising Loic to work within the tent and carry with him as he moves around the flowerbeds like a carapace, thus will save Jacques formerly known as Henri the not inconsiderable inconvenience of searching for Loic and then having once located him lifting Loic in his rigid state and placing him in the stables for safe keeping.

The painting above is a rather fetching still life containing largely strawberries and was executed by and Artist called Adriane Coote. When I say executed I mean of course that he painted it, not that he killed the strawberries, as far as I am aware no strawberries were harmed in the making of this painting. I did search in vain for a portrait of a deaf mute strawberry picker from the Plougestal but sadly to no purpose it would appear that no one has been inspired to paint this rather charming subject. Perhaps I might consider it as a suitable theme for my next painting .

Wednesday, 6 June 2007

Un Peu Loufoque and the dunking donuts.. amongst other observations.

Finally this morning I have awoken with hardly an itch at all and the bites seem to be healing well. I think the topical administration of a mixture of iodine and absinthe recommended by Jacques, formerly known as Henri seems to have worked! Now, I must tell you about our encounter with Captain Elmer Bucket and his amazing dough beater, after which I promise to never mention again our trip to Brest or if I must to do so only briefly and then with sufficient warning, for I am beginning to feel terribly as if this tale is far longer in the telling than it was in the actual doing.

During breakfast taken in our tent, a place not ideally suited to entertaining visitors as it was somewhat lacking in furniture, I sitting on my bed and Chief Patissier and Elmer on the other each of us cautiously clutching tin mugs, which had obviously seen quite a deal of war service, I ventured an attempt at pleasant conversation and enquired of our host, or rather since he was in our tent our guest, why it was that he still remained in Brest ? Still languishing on French soil whilst most of his compatriots have left for home?

Why indeed? He is here, he told us, for his health, or rather due to his lack of it and until he recovers that health, here , apparently, he will remain, for, sadly he is unable to be cradled within the bosom of his mother country due to a rather persistent and virulent disease of a rather personal nature, which he inadvertently acquired whilst becoming a tad over familiar with the local girls of ill repute and low moral standing. What with his telling me the above and giving a rather over detailed description of the de lousing operation performed on all the American servicemen before they were allowed to leave la Belle France I was beginning to wish I had not offered him breakfast, and was immeasurably grateful that he sat upon Chief Patissier’s bed and not upon my own! . If it were not for the fact that I am a woman of the world and as such quite unshakeable I might even go so far as to suggest that I was shocked.

Whilst one can do nothing but admire the urge to offer succour to the troops who have travelled so far around the globe to protect and defend “la Belle France” from the onslaught of the German hordes one must also consider that it might have been more sensible all round had the girls in question offered succour to the troops by sewing on their missing tunic buttons or serving them good decent strong French coffee as and when needed rather than in the more intimate way they chose. Of course had they done so we may never have had the fortune, good or otherwise to make the acquaintance of Captain Elmer Bucket of the US Aviation corp, but at this moment that would seem from my position a small price to pay.

Enough of this let us turn to our inspection of Elmer Buckets splendid toll, for Elmer Buckets machine for the mixing of Dough was indeed impressive he had devised it originally for the preparation of an American patisserie called strangely a “doughnut” a strange greasy deep fried sugar coated confection which the Americans dip in their coffee. On those grounds alone one might condemn them as an uncultured and uncouth nation , but since over two million of them fought for our liberation I feel in no position to cast doubt on their moral character nor their cuisine. However tempting it may be.

Anyway, suffice to say, Chief Patissier examined Elmer’s implement with obvious excitement and they discussed how it might best be adapted for the making of galletes. Plans were drawn, an agreement made and the dough making machine is even now en route to the biscuiterie ,Chief patissier having brought the patent outright in exchange for a six month supply of iodine and mercury, which hopefully might help alleviate Elmer Bucket’s little problem.

Business finished with we made our farewells as hastily and politely as possible and boarded the train for home. A journey which was as unpleasant as the previous one but made less so by the knowledge that clean sheets, hot soapy water and the administrations of Madame Grognonne awaited us.

Despite Chief Patissier telegramming Chez Nous with news of our expected arrival Jacques otherwise known as Henri was late arriving at the station at Guingamp. This was most inconvenient as we were moved along by the Gendarmes twice who were of the mistaken impression, due to our travel soiled state, that we were some sort of itinerant beggars. I was not amused. When the car did arrive it was lacking in a drivers seat and Jacques, was thus obliged to sit on an overturned cider barrel. Nonetheless it was pleasant to return home.

All seems in proper order Chez Nous although there a strange odour about my salle de bain which I cannot for the life of me identify and I note some strange red stains on the marble floor therein which I am certain are new. Madame Grognonne, for some inexplicable reason, appears to have developed quite a fetish for veal and has served it up in some disguise or another at every meal since our return. Perhaps she feels we need restorative nutrition after our foray into Finistere, however I can not for the life of me imagine where she is buying it all from since I understand our local butcher is currently in hospital as a result of an unpleasant incident between him and Yannick concerning the inexplicable disappearance of one of his prize calves. The Butcher, poor fool, has only himself to blame for he should know better than to rile Yannick, whom everyone knows, has exceptionally large clogs.


The photograph is of Captain Elmer Bucket and a team of volunteers greasing the wiggets on the Dough making machines sprangles after the flange slipped inadvertently. Captain Buckets has assured us that the machine is now perfectly safe as the flange has been braced with a grommit. However as a precaution Chief patissier has issued an edict stating that under no circumstances is anyone to operate the machine whilst wearing braces.