Saturday, 20 September 2008

Autumnal musings on a Lions Lunch

It has been some considerable time now since the unexpected departure from our lives of Mademoiselle Amanda Delacourt. Her time with us is a period upon which we chose not to dwell too deeply.
As a lady, I naturally pride myself on coping with what ever fate and my servants throw at me with the resolute measure of decorum and tact that is to be expected of my station. Past experience has shown that I can be relied upon to provide, without faltering, the appropriate mot or gesture to suit even the most unfortunate occasion. However, in my opinion, even I cannot be expected to be deliver at the drop of a hat, the necessary dictum to deal with a situation whereby a member of my domestic staff chooses to be devoured by a lion at the Saturday afternoon performance of a travelling circus and in full view of the entire commune. Even my inestimable resources I have their limits.

I am quite at a loss. It was so typical of that Mademoiselle’s attention seeking to make her demise a public spectacle, and wearing vivid green tutu and orange sparkling stockings. The English have no dress sense whatsoever. It does not say much for her claims to have been a cat lover to find herself eaten by a “Panthera Leo”, after foolishly berating him about the nose and a decidedly poor specimen at that. It is so difficult to get good staff these days.

Soon after the event and by way of distraction, Madame Grognonne, supervised by myself, carried out the irksome task of packing Mademoiselle Delacourt’s effects away. In amongst the unsuitable garments and fripperies stuffed into the Amoire we were astonished to discover a Russian Samovar which had been missing for some weeks, several pairs of dentures, a large road sign indicating the direction of Rennes, numerous ecclesiastical candlesticks, statues and icons, and a set of fish knives. Under the bed was an old trunk containing a large bottle of petroleum spirit, a box of matches and inexplicably a box of cartridges from Madame Grognonne’s shot gun. I have no idea what she planned to do with the latter items I am sure. And finally tucked inside her night dress, one of dirty Loic’s sock in which was secreted a significant horde of Francs and what appeared to be personal items stolen from his potting shed. Of course having only one leg Loic can not be expected to have noticed he had a sock missing but one might have thought he would have been alerted to the absence of his thermal underwear, especially since it has been such disappointing summer weather wise.

Where possible, we have returned those items we could to their rightful owners, the rest we have bundled in the attic until someone emerges to claim them. The money will of course go towards defraying the unforeseen expenses incurred by her inopportune departure.

We were obliged to pay compensation to the circus for loss of earnings and veterinary fees. An amount that put rather a severe dent in the family house keeping and about which Chief Patissier was far from happy but as I pointed out, we were ,at least we were spared the cost of a funeral as there was nothing left of her but her boots and hat and the curé felt that to be insufficient remains to merit a Christian burial, particularly when evidence suggested that the deceased was a kleptomaniac with a taste for, amongst other things, the religious artifacts.
It appears that Mademoiselle did not agree with the King of the Jungles regal digestive system and he was taken rather poorly as a result. As I sternly informed the children, this is what one must expect if one indulges ones appetite unwisely between meals. On top of everything we also had to purchase a new dibber attachment for Loic as the lion had mauled it quite terribly when attempting to eat Miss Delacourt‘s hat by way of dessert.

It is one of life’s little ironies that, although during her time with us we had tried unsuccessfully to find some evidence of her kith or kin so that we might return her to the bosom of her family, once news of her death reached the lower ranks of the British public via the gutter press several hitherto unknown relatives appeared to make claims on her estate. However, as one might expect of such people, all swiftly evaporated once we presented them with the bill for a new dibber plus vets fees.

Life here has, at last, begun to return to normal. The bean harvest is in and the potato harvest well under way . The chestnuts are beginning to fall from the trees and autumn is upon us. Madame Grogonne and the widow are preparing for the cidre making season which will soon here, although this years crop of apples is sadly disappointing and Loic, armed with his new attachment, is merrily engrossed in the potager once more. Even Chief Patissier is relativly happy.
All it seems is right with the world and the rightful order of our lives has been restored now that the circus has finally left town.
The illustration above is the new poster produced by the travelling circus after the demise of Madmoiselle Delacourt, for whom she proved to be the Lion's lunch. As you can see the Lion fully recovered from his ordeal and it proved to be the making of both him and the circus itself. It is my understanding that, after it became common knowledge that he had eaten her , audience sizes increased considerably in the hope of his repeating the act with some other unfotunate person . Under the cicumstances one might have thought that we would be refunded the vets fees but alas no. Sometimes the labouring classes can be so churlish when it comes to the matter of money.

Sunday, 13 July 2008

A night at the circus

I apologies, for it is some time since last I wrote and I realise, with discomfiture, that I have been shirking my duties to the less fortunate amongst you, in not writing more promptly, for I am only too aware that some of you lead dull, sad, lives and may well have been bereft, awaiting the next installment in the tiresome yet true escapades of Mademoiselle Delacourt and the more interesting goings on chez Loufoque. I hope you will forgive my tardiness and understand that there are some of us who have lives of our own to live and thus you must either learn to be patient or take up knitting. When last we spoke myself and the children were about to endure an evening of tent bound tedium in an effort to avoid an entirely more wearisome one at the chateau in the company of the afore-mentioned Delacourt and her halitosis and horrendous head gear.

As it happened we might have avoided both by staying at home Mademoiselle Delacourt, wearing her mobile lightening conductor, having accompanied us uninvited only to vanish into the ether somewhere between the entrance to the circus and the make shift public amenities erected at the rear of the field.

Breathing a sigh of relief at her ungainly departure and with Madame Grognonne instructed to keep a weather eye out for signs of our misplaced mad woman, we had settled ourselves in our ringside seats all prepared to be amazed and enthralled by the pathetic posing of the rather weak strongman and to endure the painful pantomime of the decidedly toothless lion cringing in its cage whilst the trainer, wearing a faded red tail coat and a top hat that had seen better days, attempted to cajole it into leaping through a ring of flames. When the petrified lion refused to perform the clowns were called in to distract the crowds who were getting a bit restive. Youngest for one was particularly disgruntled that the lion showed no sign of savaging the ring master.

The diminutive entertainers scuttled about the sawdust ring drawing the audiences attention away from the miserable big cat whilst a small person wearing a rather vivid green tutu and orange sparkling stockings attempted to tempt to lure the lamentable lion down from his star spangled perch by tempting him with morsels of sardine fillets. I remember thinking to myself that they might have done better with horse meat. After some difficulty the figure managed to attach a large blue ribbon about the neck of the reluctant Lion and finally dragged him down from his plinth. The beast however was patently not happy and was further more greatly agitated by the cavorting dwarf sized harlequins who seemed for some bizarre reason to be intent on the dangerous task of distracting the unlikely lion tamer, much to the amusement of the masses.

All at once, and quiet unexpectedly, the king of beasts found his spirit and, roaring a deep primeval roar , with one giant paw swatted the head of his captor ,knocking her finery askew and causing her to rock backwards and fall heavily amongst the scattering clowns.

The audience ceased to laugh.

All was frozen.

With one communal intake of breath all were transfixed by the enormity of what was unfolding before their eyes. Looking more surprised than hurt the small lion tamer raised her head and turned her face to the creature with a look of confusion and betrayal. In that instant each of our party recognized under the swathes of pink toile, purple ostrich feathers and sequins the unmistakable millinery of Mademoiselle Delacourt, her face painted in a terrifying parody of a smile and her voice ringing crystal clear in the silenced tent.

” Naughty Fleur must not hit mummykins” and smacked the lion hard across his nose.

By way of response the Lion ate her.


It was an irksome task to find a painting suitable for the illustration of this missive. however "The Circus" by Georges Seurat portraying the crowd holding its collective breath at the dangerous act performed for their delectation is, I think , fairly fitting. It was his last large-scale painting, on which he worked between 1890-1891 and is both abstract and decorative,. The Circus was left unfinished at Georges Seurat's death. I do not however believe this was caused by his being eaten unavoidably by a lion. However I am happy to be proved wrong, after all stranger things have happened.

Tuesday, 24 June 2008

A Quiet evening out

It must be said that in terms of the mental stability of our erstwhile English employee events are moving from bad to worse. Mademoiselle Delacourt has added to her already interesting head gear a startling appendage in the form of, what one may only assume to be, a primitive lightening conductor of some sorts. Admittedly the weather has been excessively close and a storm is threatening but I feel this is a trifle unnecessary and typically attention seeking, after all Madame Grognonne has been struck by lightening several times and has suffered very few long-term side effects. The overall effect is bizarre in the extreme, added to which its appearance has played havoc with the asparagus bed as Loic is convinced that this newest fashion accessory bears a remarkable resemblance to the dibber attachment to his artificial leg which has been missing from his potting shed for some time and as a result he is thoroughly disagreeable and therefore is most unwilling to leave the potting shed incase anything else goes missing.

It was, with some relief then that yesterday afternoon my spirits rose at the site of an unusually large erection in the Place de l’Eglise. A garish board covered in images of prancing horses and women in sequins heralding the arrival of a travelling circus in the village and a chance for some much needed distraction. At last something to inflame the senses and keep ones mind off malevolent milliners.
With vivid memories of the magnificent circuses of my childhood, in a rash moment of “espirit maternelle “, I sent Jacque out to reserve seats and gathered the children up for a family sortie to the premiere evening performance. Sadly Chief Patissier was unable to attend as he and Antoine had a prior engagement, a soirée of oiling sprockets at the biscuiterie which alas could not be rescheduled.

Dressed in our finest and with the children scrubbed to within an inch of their lives we set forth in the motorcar myself, the children and Mademoiselle Delacourt, the latter of whom was an unexpected and late addition to the party having secreted herself in the front seat of the vehicle and refused to move so that we were forced to allow her and her ridiculous hat to accompany us. In consequence Madame Grognonne was also obliged to join the outing and rode between Mademoiselle Delacourt and Jacque to act as a form of human shield should there be a need to restrain the mad English woman. What I had hoped would prove to be a merry interlude was developing farcical facets even before we even left the Chateau, with Mademoiselle, her head thrust out of the window at a strange angle in order to accommodate the lightening conductor whilst at the same time attempting to wrest the wheel from Jacques . Happily Madame Grognonne, who had worn her padded Kendo suit for protection, repeatedly intercepted her lunges with admirable skill, thus saving us all from almost certain death several times.

On stopping the car at the entrance to the circus encampment, Mademoiselle Delacourt broke free of Madame Grognonne and fled into the milieu of the milling crowds shrieking hysterically. Try as they might neither Jacque nor Madame Grognonne were able to recapture her and I watched helpless as her bobbing hat disappeared behind the tents in the direction of the caravans. Thus frankly our arrival did not have quite the elegant air one had imagined, but then alas neither did the circus.

It was, without doubt, a shabby affair, the canvas of the tent faded and patched, the painted images flaked and chipped in places the whole thing wrapped in a llachrymose air of dejection, but needs must and when one is seeking some sort of distraction from deranged domestic staff one circus is very much like another in a time of need. We had at least lost Mademoiselle Delacourt for a short time, for which we were all extremely thankful.

Circled around the main tent were a menagerie of exotica, a rather moth eaten Lion who had seen better days, several small ponies adorned with bedraggled feathers , an Ostrich advertised as the biggest chicken in the world, and an aged tattooed lady with a colourful map of France penned across her chest . Sadly her splendid art work had somewhat drooped with age and the expansion of girth the passing of time had evidently brought her.This had an interesting effect on the geography of the French Nation, giving the uneducated the impression that Paris had been relocated and was now only slightly above Provence. By her side sat “The Strong Man” with baggy tights and a vast moustache whose appendages far from being muscular rivaled Loics by their noticeable absence. Moving around amongst all these were an assortment of jaded circus folk wearing spangled costumes that obviously predated the Great War and possibly even the Crimean one, and in many cases still being worn by their original owners.

As we took our places in the main tent, one could not help but notice that on each available surface the handsome face of one man was posted. The once blazing star of his generation, who had in his youth performed in front of the crown heads of Europe. The redoubtable Sebastian Sommellier, the last remaining of the three once famous Sommelier triplets, the other two having tragically met their death as a result of a freak accident during a gala performance in Rennes some seasons earlier. Their act (in which two of the brothers, blindfolded and with one arm tied behind their backs, juggled flaming torches with their toes , the third supporting them on his feet whilst at the same time balancing on one hand on a spinning ball on the high wire the other hand somewhat incongruously holding an umbrella) was renowned through out Brittany. Alas on the fateful night of the accident it was Sebastian who was the one supporting the other too. It was a tragic story. He fell asleep mid spin thus causing his brothers and the Opera House to go up in Flames. Had it not been for the fast thinking of the Elephant it is very probable that Sebastian Sommelier too would have perished? Of course had his illness been diagnosed earlier the whole history of the French Circus may have been entirely different. As it is he now the only surviving narcoleptic tightrope walker and acrobat in France. It is, I am sure, a dying art.


The photograph is of a once rather famous tattooed lady who travelled the world and worked under the unlikely name of Princess Beatrix. Thankfully no photograph is available of the tattooed lady at our visiting circus; suffice it to say something’s are best left to the imagination.

Monday, 23 June 2008

Mad as a hatter

Besotted as she was with her dear departed pussy, soon after his disappearance the already odd behavior of Madmoiselle Delcaourt has taken a strange turn and she has fallen , if that were possible , even further into foolishness. In an effort to divert her Madame Grognonne has been feeding her dishes of rabbit in exceptional sauces , all to no avail and she has taken to rambling the byways , wearing a fur trimmed hat, fashioned by herself from an old military helmet of Loics and what appeared to be some discarded animal skin of vaguely familiar markings, to which she has attached , a brids wing, species unspecified, a large blue ribbon, twisted into a ostentatious bow, and a somewhat avant-garde red flower made of the torn remnants of what appear to be flannel petticoats.

Regardless of the weather Miss Delacourt can be seen tramping the lanes and calling piteously for Fleur and her behaviour has begun to attract comment about the commune. Monsieur le Mairee , in a rare sober moment, called upon Chief Patissier at the biscuiterie and suggested some thing must be done to curb her excesses. But here lies the dilemma. we, having no return address for her, and thus being unable to dispatch her back to the shores of Tooting Beck from whence she came , have become by default, utterly responsible for her. Madame Grogonne has kindly offered to take her for a short walk in the woods and return alone, but alas it is too late, should she dissapear now her absence might prove difficult to explain. She has become like one of those foul plaster ornaments depicting a vaguely obese cherub frolicing amongst badly formed flowers and holding an impossibly large cornucopia above its head in whihc the artist intends one should dispaly fruit or flowers. A gift given to one fro Christmas by an affluent but annoying aunt. One cannot bear to look at the thing but can not risk parting with it incase awkard questions are asked later.
I fear the time is fast approaching for steps to be taken to be provide her with suitable lodgings at the local mental hospital and very probably at our expense , since, despite our extensive enquiries, and the pacing of adverts in the Tooting Chronicle, she appears to possess no living relatives willing to claim her.
The painting above is by Henri Matisse of his wife who , alas, seems to have ungone an unfortuante millinary experience. simular to that of Madmoiselle Delacourt. Madame Matisse, one hopes was lucky enough to recieve suitable help form a local habidasher before it was too late. Although one might well imagine being married to an Artist madness may well be an occupational hazard. No doubt he inadvertantly cleaned his brushes on her best lace collar uthinkingly mistaking it for a rag. That at leat would explain the strange splodges of colour on her face and neck and teh utter contempt in her eyes.

Wednesday, 11 June 2008

More than one way to skin a Rabbit.

We have been luxuriating in a few splendid days of early summer, the orchard is heavy with the promise of apples, still no bigger than hazelnuts but growing by the hour and the garden is a mass of blooms. All has been tranquil and calm, and Eldest and I have spent pleasant hours together reading in the garden in silence whilst the boys are at ecole and Chief Patissier engrossed in the world of biscuits. We did plan to entertain ourselves with an energetic game of tennis only to discover the rackets needed re stringing, youngest having unstrung them to make traps with Loic in the vegetable patch. Madame Grogonne has been busy diving for fish in the lake with her harpoon and the widow has been baking numerous gateaux and desserts to make use of the glut of eggs our generous hens have provided.

The only fly in the ointment has been Mlle Delcacourt who, if it were possible, has become daily more distracted since the unexplained disappearance of her incontinent pussy Fleur who mysteriously vanished sometime after the unfortunate incident involving the stolen lobster.

I remember the day well. It had been the first day of the warm weather and on doing my habitual tour of the chateau to check on the housekeeping I was overcome by the unmistakable smell of Cat Pee emanating from the copious folds of newly hung summer curtains in the Salle. On closer inspection I was most distressed to discover the cream damask curtains tinged with yellow fluid the source of which was too obvious. Alerting Madame Grognonne to the problem she and the widow spent the entire morning washing the curtains and laying them out to dry in the sun, pausing only to prepare luncheon .

I recall that lunch was a light affair, with one’s staff unexpectedly occupied one must make do with what one can but one endeavours to be stoical about such things. However her household tasks done Madame Grogonne prepared a miraculous feast for dinner of terrine of salmon, Rabbit cooked in cidre and garnished with prunes, new potatoes steamed , asparagus tips and served with a choice of several excellent desserts.

By dinner time Mlle Delacurt was in full cry searching everywhere for her pungent pussy and I remember well how uncharacteristically kind Madame Grognonne had been by especially preparing Mlle Delacourt her own special dish of something called ”Mumbled rabbit”, from an English recipe, which she served her on a platter all of its own. I must say it looked and smelt quite unlike any lapin I have ever know, and it seemed to have rather considerably more meat than one would expect on a bunny. I did venture that I might try it but Madame Grognonne was adamant I really should not, thus I took her advice and refrained. One knows the English palate is quite different to our own and despite her obvious distress Mlle Delacourt finished the entire dish on her own.

Sadly, no one appears to have seen neither hide nor hair of Fleur the felonious feline since that day. On a totally unrelated point I am happy to announce that Loic has managed to source a plentiful supply of cat gut and thus repair our tennis rackets at last, so that Eldest and I will be able to enjoy our game again. I do thank God that I have been blessed with such splendidly resourceful servants.

The illustration is by Albrecht Dürer a German artist and engraver who painted it in 1502 and is one of a series of paintings in watercolour of meadow life inspired by an earlier trip to the Alps. People often refer to it as Durers Rabbit It is not of course a rabbit at all but a large hare, however for things are not always as they appear at first glance.

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Nocturnal Omissions

I am not, alas, at my best this morning. I slept badly last night. It was hot and I was unaccountably plagued by a fly that seemed intent on tangling itself in my coiffure, and, if that were not enough , after Chief Patissier finally retired to bed I had to contend with unwanted attentions from another quarter.

The evening itself had been a pleasant enough one, Antoine had joined us for dinner and Madame Grognonne and the widow had prepared a veritable feast, with oysters, lobster and Wild Boar , followed by chilled champagne on the terrace by candle light. The tranquility of the latter only slightly marred by the robust, if muffled, accompaniment of Madame Grognonne and Jacque singing traditional Breton sea shanties in a somewhat discordant harmony , as they made space in the cave for next weeks delivery of wine. I have stopped purchasing Absinthe for the horse, much to Jacques disquiet, but he seems to do very well on rough cider and it saves a fortune on the vintner’s bills. After dessert Mademoiselle Delacourt had retired to her room early with a headache, a restorative gin and lemon, and her revolting Tom cat Fleur, her absence making the end of the evening far more agreeable than it might have been otherwise.

Antoine and Chief Patissier had, comme habitude, taken themselves off to the library to look at some new purchases, which include a rather rare first edition copy of Pierre Choderlos de Laclos’ " Les liaisons dangereuses", which I understand to be an early treatise on health and safety in the workplace . I must admit I find the idea of spending an evening perusing such a book quite tiresome. I understand , of course that , since his brothers unfortunate accident, it is a genre that interests Chief Patissier immensely, although I am sure poor Antoine must have been bored to tears.

About 1.30 this morning, I was disturbed by Chief Patissier entering my boudoir, and was startled , a short time later, by an altogether unexpected stirring under the bed sheets and the rather unpleasant sensation of something hard and damp against my thigh. I lay absolutely rigid not wishing to alert Chief Patissier to the fact that I was awake, I find on nights, such as last, where he has over indulged with Antoine in the Library, it is better to feign sleep rather than risk being forced into activities best suited to the day light hours, activities such as discussing whether Antoine's cuff links are in fact real diamonds and where he might obtain a pair for himself.

Beside me in the dappled dark , Chief Patissier's breathing was heavy and laboured and as the hard damp object dug against my skin I fell an extremely unpleasant sensation of moisture on my night attire and a strong smell of something fishy. Realising instinctively that something was horribly wrong, I shrieked in alarm and flung back the bed covers to reveal a nauseating sight, a sight that no woman married or otherwise should be forced to view without sufficient warning, that of the wretched Fleur devouring the remains of a large crustacean in our bed.

Having been woken untimely from his somewhat intoxicated slumbering and not being quite awake, Chief Patissier grabbed the offending feline without a seconds thought for his own safety and hurled it with great presence of mind , out of the open shutters where it landed with a crash beneath. I was so overcome at this unexpected bravery I quite forgot myself.

Luckily Mademoiselle Delacourt ,being unable to sleep and seeking the comfort of her pussy and the cool night air , had chosen that particular moment to take a turn in the courtyard below our bedroom and it was therefore, she on whom the cat landed, the Lobster still clasped in its jaws. Had she not been there there is every possibility that the foul creature might well have landed in the large ornate flowerpot below . An event which would have caused poor Loic deep distress as he has been training a rather impressive passionflower for weeks to entwine itself around the obelisk therein which he and youngest had cunningly constructed from his discarded artificial leg and a few old iron bedsteads acquired at the local decheterrie. As it was all was well and only a few tendrils were displaced. Mademoiselle Delacourt however was most taken aback and retired to her room with her cat where both have remained since.

The painting today is by an unknown 19th century Indian Artist . After the disintegration of British Colonial Rule in India, which inevitably resulted in a lack of patronage for artists, Bengali art turned away from the Mughal and traditional Hindu schools of art towards the rustic styles of folk art. The area around Kalighat , its art typified by its sweeping brushstrokes and bold forms, of which this is an excellent example, producing some of the most invigorating. Initially the Kalighat art concentrated mainly on Hindu religious subjects for themes. But later turned to more contemporary social and political Indian Artist . This painting is entitled “Cat with Lobster”. How horribly apt.

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Un petit Fleur de pee...

We have, en famille , unwaveringly attempted to avoid reacting to the failings of Mademoiselle Delacourt with anything but the most stoical politeness. The position of governess companion is always a tricky one in any household, the post falling, as it does, somewhere above the class of servant but below the status of family member or guest. In the case of Miss Delacourt it must be acknowledged to fall considerably lower. I have always felt that it is ones duty as a personage of some social standing to rise above the inconveniences of life and to set an example to those of less fortunate position and bearing. However even with my unequalled breeding and well honed comportment there are some things with which I find hard to tolerate. Miss Delacourt has pushed my composure to the brink for she has, it appears, fallen hopelessly and unwisely in love. With a cat.

I am well aware that felines have a fine part to play in many households, with their catching of mice, their useful skills in decimating bird populations and saving the family fruit trees from marauding sparrows.I know also that there are many to whom a cat is a cherished thing, a boon companion in an otherwise friendless life, even perhaps in some bizarre circumstances a child substitute. All this I can understand and to a certain extent empathise. Small fluffy kittens with saucer eyes have even to my eye a certain appeal, albeit transitory in nature. However, and here there is no kind way to state my case more clearly, Miss Delacourts cat is none of these things. Hers is not a fluffy kitten and what is more, Miss Delacourts cat stinks.

The cat has been named "Fleur" and is she assures us in her lilting lisping way that "Fleur is her mummies very own widdle fluffy kins". The latter statement was met initially with perplexed glances by the household and it took sometime to be able to decipher the exact meaning of the word" widdle". The name "Fleur" was only slightly less confusing but for different reasons. As a name it is not inapt for a kitten. It conjures up images of freshness , and of beauty, a lightness of spirit , a certain fragrant joy in life . It would be endearing as a name if it not for the in alterable fact that the creature is not only sloth like and the size of a small piglet, but is very certainly a male. Under the circumstances one feels perhaps "Widdle" might have been a more appropriate .
I am given to understand that Fleur was discovered by his new love at the edge of the river when she was out walking and was alerted to his piteous cries. How he managed to get himself stuck inside a sack weighted with stones and tied tighly aroudn thetop one can only hazard to imagine. But he was rescued and brought home where he now resides in splendour complete with a large satin bow of a floral design in shades of pink about his rather beefy neck. Since his arrival he has divided his time between the scratching of our furniture and his fleas and has taken upon himself the odouress task of scent marking all the household linen with his urine. Anyone who has tried in vain to remove the smell of Tom cat from white Damask table clothes will appreciate this has not made him popular with Madame Grognonne ,who may be seen scouring her cook books for a recipe for cat stew which she insits is a eastern European delicacy.

On a more positive front insufferable though her presence has made our daily life and as unpleasant as her unfortuante appearance, choice of garments and unforgivable halitosis may be there is a bright side to this dank dark English cloud of a woman. The mere mention of her name has proved sufficient to quell even the greatest flurry of insolence in Eldest, and her arrival in any room sends our daughter to swiftly seek refuge in edifying pursuits such as reading and needlework , she has taken to studying her catechism with vigour and even volunteering to assist her youngest siblings with their homework unasked.It would appear anything is to be regarded as better than being obliged to endure even five minutes longer than necessary with her English companion.


The illustration is by the unfortunate Artist Mr Louis Wain, who is a great favourite of Madmoisele Delacourt. She arrived from Tooting Beck with several representaions of his work wrapped in plain brown paper, a fact that in itself should have rung loud warning bells with me had I not been more than usually occupied at the time. He was , she tells me, born at Clerkenwell in 1860 and married his sisters' governess, a fact that I fear gives our own governess companion aspirations to do simular,. Add to this the fact that after his marriage he took to drawing nothing but cats , a subject with which he became unaccountably obsesive, I think is perfectly understanable that the poor man ended his days in a mental assylum.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

The terror of Tooting Beck

Months have passed unnoticed since I last wrote to you. It is incomprehensible how time has flown. See how the lily of the valley are breaking into flower, the cherry trees frothing with exuberant pink blossom, the birds playing their seasonal game of cache-cache between the branches, and yet still it does not feel spring like Chez Nous for with us lives the very chill and epitome of winter, One Miss Amanda Delacourt.

Let us consider then this , our latest arrival. Let us examine her with the scrutiny deserved by any new member of a respectable household. Who is she and whence has she come?

Her title implied maidenhood or at the least a celibate state however these things can be frankly deceptive, take for instance mademoiselle Salope in the next village who although unmarried and therefore technically still a maiden has managed to bring forth 7 smaller Salopes onto this earth within a space of 6 years, all of whom bear an uncanny resemblance to the local curé. Even allowing for God working in mysterious ways, one would, I suggest be hard pressed, to deny the family connection as they all have his ears.

Jacques dispatched on the feast of the epiphany to collect Miss Delacourt from the station went armed with a photograph kindly supplied with her application for employment. It showed a clear skinned young woman with fine features and a good head of hair.

He returned with a withered bag of bones bearing a sour face and a pinched mouth. I am well aware that travelling can be frightfully debilitating if one allows it to be and does not take the correct precautions however, even allowing for this, our new governess had either undergone some sort of unpleasant metamorphosis en route from Folkestone or the photograph was an extremely old one.

Sadly, we were swift to discover, her temperament matched her face. She is a woman of indeterminate age brimming with the bitterness of one whose life has failed to live up to her expectations. The slightest hint of joy or humour in others she squashes with a tart word or a sneer which renders her face even more unattractive, if that were possible. She will have the last word on any subject as she is convinced she knows all. Added to all her charms is her indecipherable French spoken in what one presumes, she views as an appealing lisp and delivered with a coquettish angle of the head, which renders it all but inaudible hence one must, should one wish to understand, bow ones head towards her, having first taken for oneself a large breath of clean air in defence against her halitosis. Her simpering, which was no doubt alluring in her youth, and her style of dress all give the impression of some nightmarish hag dressed in a young girls clothing. Although she must have undoubtedly been a maiden once I suspect her fruits have long since been tasted and discarded by many in favour of riper and more luscious morsels. It is perhaps this that has soured her.

In short, she is not the joyful addition to our entourage that we had hoped. Madame Grognonne has taken to ominously polishing her gun at the slightest provocation and Jacques for whom Miss Delacourt appears to have taken a fancy may be found at all hours hiding in the shrubbery with Loic to avoid her attentions. This is proving to be a trifling irksome should one require his services. She is the fly in our ointment the grit in our familial eye, Loic’s widow who kindly has adopted the habit of helping Madame Grogonne in the kitchen, in order to prevent the latter from accidentally discharging her firearm should Miss Delacourt enter her domain, swears one look from her will curdle the milk and prevent the butter form churning.

Life has become under her presence more than a trifle vexatious. I fear something must be done to rid us of this carbuncle on the face of our happy family. The question remains is what and by whom?

The painting above entitled Old Woman Drinking Tea,( c. 1907) is by Antonio Mancini an Italian artist born in Naples in 1852, although not a portrait of her will, I hope, give the reader a fair impression of the visage of Miss Amanda Delacourt of Tooting Beck. Mancini once said that “Vulgarity is often the daughter of poverty” and in this case I fear that the same may be said of Miss Delacourt. I have instructed Chief Patissier that should I ever show the slightest inclination to visit Tooting Beck he has my permission to have me committed to the care of the local mental institution where I am sure, if Miss Delacourt is anything to go by, I would find the inhabitants far better educated and agreeable.