We had a rendezvous in a neighbouring hamlet that afternoon – with the younger brother of Papi. Three people emerging through a picket gate from the allotments pointed us down a narrow lane. Raymond was out for the day hunting (my mistake with dates) and he had told his wife that she should show me around if I did arrive. “But I cannot sell you anything”, she said. I didn’t take this too seriously, and spent a freezing hour in the hangars, up rickety steps in the attic space, brushing off dust and mouse droppings, looking at antique ledgers and boxes of ceramics and glass. Meanwhile Hope had retreated under a duvet in the van trying to absorb the last warmth from the already apricot sun. Madame was adamant that she could not sell me anything – despite me having made a little pile of the items that I wanted. We agreed that I would return early in the new year. Coming out from her 1970’s style neat little garden with metal rails I caught the faint strains of Maxime Leforestier singing “Ce soir a la lune……” as the temperature dropped with the setting sun and chimney smoke rose in the still, chill air.
Now we had a drive north up to Lisieux with a stop planned en route. It was dark when we arrived, but the shop façade was illuminated and a wreath of bright orange seed heads hung on the studded oak door. The eagle-eyed dealer there had an exquisite establishment of many rooms, all beautifully presented, packed with the polished and the gleaming. She followed us closely as we looked round. Did we realise the number of hours it had taken to refurbish this bureau? And look at this table, you can take the whole top off, yes it would fit in your van. Across her courtyard in another building I found two dozen splendid wine glasses. “I suppose you want a box to put them in,” she tutted. It was something of a relief to finally leave. I had a fleeting thought that the bones of many an unsuspecting customer could well have been buried below our feet! “You’ll find nothing between here and Lisieux,” was her parting comment, “everyone has closed.”
We found our way to the farmhouse chambre d’hote. We were shown to our loft room over a barn, frost sparkling already on the stair rails outside. In the main house a log fire burned in the stone fireplace and our supper was made from local products – cheeses, apples, cider and Pommeau.