Tuesday, 5 June 2007

Elmer Bucket I presume!

I am much refreshed this morning after a relatively restful night, barring the odd fit of scratching, and having partaken of a light breakfast and copious cups of restorative tea together with a small Brandy, am sitting at my desk comme d’habitude ready to continue with fortitude avec “mon carnet de voyage “.

We had been expecting to be met upon our arrival by Captain Bucket or at the least one of his associates however we were several hours late and he had quite plainly not had the courtesy to wait. We were quite at a loss as to what to do next when out of a large building to our right appeared a jaunty young man of about 23 years wearing riding breaches and carrying a large box of sweet pastries .

The young man welcomed us heartily, pumping my hand in a rather over frenetic fashion and slapping my husband jovially on the shoulder. Wishing to avoid further displays of gratuitous bonhomie , I introduced myself and Chief Patissier in my excellent English and enquired of him his identity. After our somewhat taxing day I felt it better to confirm who we all were at the offset as one never knows what strange foreign bodies may be found lurking in semi derelict army camps!

We need have had no fear for he was indeed the ingenious inventor we had travelled so far to meet. We should have known him any where by his doughnuts. I explained to him that we would like to freshen ourselves up before dinner and asked him if he would kindly direct us to the Hotel , a suite of rooms at which he had kindly agreed to reserve for us for use during our stay. It would appear however that our request that he find us suitable accommodation had sunk with out trace somewhere in the great cultural divide and he had taken it upon himself to accommodate us within the camp itself, close to his own quarters, and grasping our valises he marched onwards through the gates along a path constructed of wooden pallets towards of a row of rather uninviting looking canvas constructions.

Our tent he assured us was suitably equipped with everything we might need and bade us “spruce ourselves up” and meet him in the large building opposite where he would” rustle up” dinner for us. I translated this information as best as I could and entered into our acomodation with confidence remembering fondly my own recent camping expedition with the children in the woods and the pleasant ambiance of Fatima’s Bedouin tent.

However I soon realised this facility was slightly less commodiously equipped. There were two single truckle beds of dubious cleanliness and stability upon which lay rough blankets of an unappetising green shade, bearing ominous dark stains in places which it was evident repeated boiling had failed to remove The floor was made of slatted boards which, though effective in raising the beds above the mud, were not awfully functional for a lady wearing even marginally fashionable boots. Washing facilities were in the form of a somewhat battered tin ewer and basin and polished metal disc above them hanging on a thin wire. Under one of the cots was a rather chipped pot presumably thoughtfully provided for my use.

Surveying the interior of our temporary abode, Elmer Buckets reassurance that it contained all we might need echoing in my ears, I could only assume an American ladies needs may be somewhat different than those of a Frenchwoman of some social standing such as myself.

Tired though we undoubtedly were we were also ravenous and did not wish to affront our host by appearing late for dinner so we therefore swiftly changed out of our travelling clothes, I into my blue brocade with the peacock feather trim at the neck and Chief patissier into his evening dress, and made our way across the duck boarding to what Captain Bucket had indicated to be the dinning room, lifting my hem delicately to avoid the mud as much as possible.

It is never a wise thing to toy with a Frenchman's digestion and Chief Patissier was, as was I, anticipating of course, an aperitif before gong to dine. As we entered the echoing dining room we swiftly realised that this was unlikely to be the case. What I had hoped may turn out to be a splendid officers mess was a vast almost empty vault of a place equipped with sufficient batteries de cuisine to feed more than a few thousand men at a time. On one of the large stoves in the otherwise abandoned building Captain Bucket was griddling some type of unidentified viande in a large skillet. Indicating over his shoulder ,with some implement of the kitchen I was not qualified to identity, he jovially invited us to “pull up a pew and park our selves and to grab a drink”. I do find the American vernacular a trifle irksome.

Unable to find any pews we resorted instead to perching uneasily on two wooden benches and failing to locate any aperitifs Chief patissier helped himself to a small bottled beer, which as he was unable to find a suitable receptacle he was forced to drink fromm its bottle with an expression of rigid politeness on his face. For myself he poured a glass of what turned out to be an infinitely inferior red wine the like of which we French would consider fit for nothing other than cooking.

Dinner for I must presume that is what it was, consisted of slightly charred meat of dubious origin a rather gritty baguette and a salad which being raw was at least free from the risk of being ruined by over cooking. Through out the meal our host plied Chief Patissier with beer and I with wine and talked expansively of the gay time he had experienced here in France. All of his ramblings I was obliged to translate for Chief Patissier who by this time had given up any pretence of understanding Elmer Buckets drawling tones.

Having eaten as little as was polite we regretfully excused ourselves from the table, and made our way to our tent , where we secretly partook of the emergency rations of pate de fois grasse small gateaux and some excellent camembert that Madame Grognonne had mercifully packed. Thank goodness she had also included a small bottle of cognac .As we left the dinning room Elmer Bucket had wished us a cheery goodnight and hoped” the bed bugs did not bite”, something I mistakenly took to be some sort of American pleasantry until the early hours of the morning when we discovered much to our horror we were indeed sharing our rough blankets with an assortment of crawling nibbling creatures the like of which we had never encountered before! .

Less than twelve long hours since we left the comfort of Chez Nous and we had been eaten by goodness what insects, fed some indescribable food forced to travel in what could only be assumed to be converted cattle trucks and still not had sight of the famous mechanized dough maker!

And to think Chief Patissier would not take me to Paris on the grounds it as no place for a lady of my sensibilities! I shall never complain about Chateau Loufoque again!


Today’s illustration is a photograph of the very army tent in which Chief Patissier and I stayed for our thankfully brief sojourn chez Bucket at Brest. I discovered it lodged in the duck boarding whist trying to rescue my left earring which had become inexplicable tangled in Chief Patissier’s lapel whilst trying to disrobe in a confined space. Our tent is the one on the left, if you look carefully you may be able to see the top of the dough making machine protruding from the roof of the second tent which belonged to Captain Elmer Bucket. One can only presume that the men outside the tent appear to be equipped with what seem to be life preservers due to the threat of inclement weather. It rains a great deal in Brest, what with that and the terrible offshore winds one would only have to bend over inadvisable and one could be airborne and half way to America before anyone was able to even consider a rescue attempt..


sally's chateau said...

Your fortitude is admirable under the most trying of circumstances. I shall endeavour to take a leaf out of your book today !!

ChrisH said...

Aaaah! Just what I needed! Do, however, keep a weather eye open for further infestations.. Lily came back from a school trip staying in a youth hostel with... scabies!!

The Country Craft Angel said...

You are SO entertaining UPL!!-I laughed out loud that you should know him anywhere by his donuts!!

warm wishesx

snailbeachshepherdess said...

For heaven's sake woman . am now itching fit to draw blood...That reminds me ....de flea the dogs ...toodle pip off... to the vets...thank you Un Peu

Exmoorjane said...

When we moved in here the whole place was knee-deep in fleas (and I do not jest!)..... You can always tell a good man by his doughnuts, couldn't agree more.

Inthemud said...

Under the circumstances you coped very well, sounded horrendous conditions to be in!

Wonderfully told as usual.
I've missed your tales, so glad to catch up

bodran... said...

Where could i purchase one of those tents they look like they'd slide perfectly over my branches..see blog xxoo i've got to catch up with your others soon..

Cait O'Connor said...

Glad you liked my blogs, pics, music and all.
I have to sayI love yours; they are guaranteed to make me smile every time. Merci.
Bonne nuit, or as they say in Wales
Nos da

Frances said...

Bon soir UPL,

Your strength is an example to us all. Inasmuch as I do know that you successfully returned to the chateau, my concern about your awakening in the tent is somewhat eased. However, I do await your fullest description.


Pondside said...

Good night, Sleep tight.
Don't let the bed bugs bite.
If they do, take a shoe
And beat them til they're black and blue.
Oh dear Un Peu you can only be grateful that the camp was an American one as we all know that the Canadian military is much less well-equipped than the Americans!

Pipany said...

Just the laugh I needed today! And thank you so much for your lovely comments on my blog today, UPL. I really appreciate your very sound advice and will try the photograph suggestion. I think you're right - I am floating around and need to take time out to see the wood from the trees. Thank you again, you lovely, lovely person! xx

WesterWitch/Headmistress said...

Oh good grief I am itching just thinking of it - no fleas here, but it is midge time again.