TIGGER ON SPEED
Following on from yesterday’s lengthy tome, I hinted then of a second instalment.
After the frenzy of tree, perennial, lavender and wisteria planting at the Chateau back in May 2017, someone needed to look after the place. There was a grass cutting team who attended less frequently than I thought suitable, but certainly always before an ‘owner’s visit’. No-one local seemed to know the difference between a peony and purslane.
The usual French idea of gardening is very different to the English way - one such noticeable clash is the French way of planting a red shrub, usually photinia ‘Red Robin’ and then a green shrub, often elaeagnus, alternately along unending lengths of hedging. I cannot abide it but as long as they can, that‘s probably all that matters.
The owners asked if I could help out by visiting every so often by weeding the flower beds and lavender edging. I agreed until they could find a permanent solution. In a perfect world, there would have been someone local to take this on each week. The Dordogne may currently be considered as another British ‘Shire’, but the population is scant and overall pretty lacking in professional gardening know how for the most part. Exceptions are rare and should be treasured.
There appeared no one local, despite both the owners and I enquiring.
Thus, I ended up going back for ten of the twelve months of the year, every month or so and weeding for hour upon hour, for a couple of years. Most times this was a solitary experience, borne with the help of large and loud doses of singing to myself for those tedious hours. There were only about ten other houses in the hamlet and some of those were second homes, so there was no one around to call the psychiatrists in.
The hamlet’s one eyed farmer certainly wasn’t bothered one jot. He was too busy enforcing his scorched earth policy under his walnut orchards, with hideously concentrated doses of weed killer.
Even though the grass cutters were coming in more often than me, it has to be said that their idea of grass cutting was to a somewhat different standard than ours when we had worked back in the UK. It did not appear to them a problem only to cut the ‘easily accessible with a tractor mower’ areas. This left a horrible fringe around all the edges of the paths which if allowed to get too tall, it completely smothered the lavender edging. So it meant I would spend hours of those hours and hours, cutting back what should have been kept in check with a weekly grass cut. Only when the owners were due to visit would there be a frantic, sudden dash by the groundspeople for this fringe to disappear.
But I was still going back up to the chateau grounds every month, for the relentless weeding sessions. In general, it would be between 20-30 hours of weeding at each session, sometimes a straight 13 hours in one day.
Again, each time the owners kindly agreed for me to stay on site, usually in what they called the Gite for two or three nights. Occasionally, a friend or my sister Sue would come along and give me a hand.
It was December. I only remember this because Simon had decided to strip the roof off the house and I recall thinking surely summer would have been better? Still, it was the old thing I mentioned yesterday about time versus money.
Weeds still grow in South West France in December. There’s not much time in the year when weeds don’t grow in actual fact. It’s often warm enough for us to sit outside for lunch as late as that in the year.
Had it been possible, I would have deferred going to the chateau on this occasion but Lovely Dawn who had offered to help me on this occasion could only manage this particular time slot.
The weather forecast was dire: high winds and torrential rain. We both had brought several spare sets of clothing and footwear with us. My concern though, was not for us as I knew we could retreat to the warmth of the ‘more-luxurious-than-my-house’ gite we were staying in and it would seem a joy compared to living in our house.
My serious concern was for Simon.
By this time, he had stripped the entire roof off and had spent the day battening down a tarpaulin over the framework, in readiness for the forecast storm to arrive.
Dawn and I arrived at the Chateau as the light was beginning to fade. I called the housekeeper and he said there were problems with the gite so they had prepared The Fermette for us.
I picked up the keys and parked the car down at the bottom of the hill. A stone’s throw from that bloody great stone pile in fact.
This was the oldest house on site, apart from the derelict castle. Renovated recently, it had the most beautiful original floorboards I had ever seen in it - fully 40cm wide and buffed with hundred of years of footfall.
Unlocking the door always me a tad nervous in this house. I couldn’t put my finger on why but wondered if this was the house the owner’s friends had found scary?
We put the lights on and unpacked the car. I had brought food and of course, the all important wine.
I had stayed here once before with Simon in the double room but that night, Dawn and I were sharing the twin room. It was beautifully appointed but something about it made my skin prickle.
Stupid nonsense. I put it to the back of my mind.
The anticipated true luxury for me that visit, was the promise of heating, living as we do in a mostly un-renovated and unheated house. I gaily whacked on the heaters through the house.
The power went off immediately. Several phone calls later and after much turning on of switches, which instantly flicked all the power off, it was established there was a problem with the electrics. We could have only the kettle, or one heater, or the induction hob or an oven on, with two lights as well. That was it. Until the electrician arrived the following week, nothing could be done.
Big sigh! Very tedious indeed and looking dismal with the lashing rain we were expecting to continue throughout the following day.
I turned on the tap to make a cup of tea. No water.
Oh FFS! This was really bad.
More phone calls to establish that it had merely been turned off and would need switching on in the spooky side cellar.
Venturing in there with all those spiders and creepy, dusty, doll-like artefacts was not perfect but soon it was sorted.
Tea soon brewed, I made an executive decision that as we could not have the oven and hob on at the same time, trying to cook supper would be pointless, so we jumped back into the car and went to look for a local restaurant.
We walked through the Christmas evening market that lined the streets until we found a restaurant that was warm and jolly with a pre-Christmas atmosphere.
When we returned back to The Fermette later, it became a balancing act as to how long the heater would be on in which room until we tried warming another. A bottle of wine was required to do this, and suffice to say, it disappeared pretty smartly.
We toddled off to bed as the gale gathered pace and the rain rapped on the windows.
As I got into bed, I had a message from Simon. He had given up holding on to the tarpaulin as it had completed ripped in half and the wind was lifting him off the floor.
Visions of Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz flashed through my mind.
Rain was apparently pouring down the walls in the inside of the house and everything was soaked. It was going to be a long night for him.
Dawn and I chatted for a while then both of us fell asleep.
I was disturbed at some point later by a noise. Momentarily I had to recall where I was, then blearily thought ‘Dawn must be next door in the bathroom’. Even though my eyes were closed, I could ‘see’ a lightness through my eyelids in the closed doorway.
The noise continued. Just a gentle movement like a cat was trying to get in or out of a door, that was all.
Hang on a cotton picking moment!
I could hear another noise.
Very gentle, deep breathing emanating from the single bed a couple of metres away from me. Dawn wasn’t in the bathroom at all. She was fast asleep in bed.
Two noises in the room. One by the door to my left and one coming from the other bed on my right.
It was at that point I opened my eyes and was greeted with a very strange vision indeed.
Something I can only describe it as Tigger on speed.
A large mass of white, orange and black swirls surrounded by a bright white light were cavorting and twisting up in the corner of the room above the doorway. I watched it disbelievingly for a few seconds and then it was as if it sucked itself down a plug hole and disappeared.
Not sure what we had eaten that night but it certainly wasn’t the drink as I had soberly driven to and from the restaurant. At most, I had had a half a bottle of wine when we got back to the house - situation completely and utterly normal for an evening with a precious friend I saw rarely.
Dawn slept on through the whole thing.
Never had I seen anything like it before and I couldn’t fathom it out.
Strangest thing about this was that it didn’t freak me out at the time, I simply went back to sleep. However, when I awoke the next morning I had the feeling Dawn wouldn’t believe me. Not sure to this day if she did, but that’s by the by really. It had definitely been there in all its glory.
We got absolutely soaked that day as we soldiered on. With only one heater to dry our several changes of clothing out, we wore sodden clothes for the following two days work.
Tigger stayed in his lair the following night, never to be seen by me again.
In a strange and satisfying, slightly spooky twist though, the garden is now looked after by Ginny, an old school friend of one of my dearest friends Penny, who lives in the same UK village as we used to. Ginny lives just a hop and a skip down the road from the Chateau.
Best of all, she certainly does know her perovskia from her plantains, and the place looks as beautiful now as I always visualised that it would.
And yes, it was that house, The Fermette, that the owners friends found unsettling.