Saturday, 20 October 2007

Homeward Bound

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Floundering with the fisherfolk.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, 9 October 2007

The cunning plan commences...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Saturday, 6 October 2007

The story behind the tale...

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

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

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

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

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


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