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.