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.