Slim pickings

bitsI’d booked a chambre d’hote just south of Le Mans, a large farmhouse with a new wing for guests. Moe was directed to a large open-sided barn where she was dwarfed by some massive agricultural equipment. Dinner would be served at 8pm. The dining room held a table big enough to accommodate twenty. At one end were already seated a group of five women, deep in conversation. I joined them, feeling a little odd one out, but also enjoying the random throwing together of people around a table. What were they doing there, I asked? Le Mans being a centre of commerce, the women were on a three week training course for a men’s clothing company. One of them, Celine, told me she knew “Binglay” in Yorkshire very well – she had spent a year there at Courtaulds. Don’t people get to the strangest places. A sociable and unexpected evening, and Madame came out to join us for coffee and a digestif. Finally off to bed to watch the French equivalent of CSI.

Next morning the first antique shop I come to is closed – they are all up at Les Puces Sarthoises. The day didn’t get much better. I spent most of the day driving without buying much at all. But I did discover the little town of Baugé, built of white Anjou stone, a delight of a place. The antiques shop there was shut too. I rang the owner who was out doing valuations, and we promised to meet another time.

broc closedI drove past other places all empty except for cobwebs and dust, but found one place in a large hangar with a bright painted sign on the side “Bracobroc.” The very disinterested owner was dealing with an elderly couple who’d brought a small trailer of things to leave “en Depot.” I wandered up and down the long isles and collected some items – thick linen sheets, a wooden carved fronton off the top of a wardrobe, some glasses, a Digoin jug – but came away feeling rather gloomy. On into the nearby town where the prospects were positively depressing. Only one of three establishments were still there. In the cold and half-empty warehouse by the railway station a tall and uncertain youth in blue worker’s overalls said he was only the trainee restorer and couldn’t give me any information at all. How bleak!

bracobrocLater that afternoon, I’d arranged to rendezvous with the owner of a warehouse in Parthenay that had closed definitively since my last visit. It was dark when I arrived and Monsieur came out to slide open the metal gate. I’d wondered how much stock would be left, imagining that a huge closing down sale would have been held. But the place was full. The plate glass windows were lined with shelves that jostlied with glass ware; the ceiling was hanging with baskets, buckets, dining chairs. The furniture was mostly heavy 19th century buffets and commodes, but I did find a late 19th century slipper armchair. Springs hanging out, one leg broken, and a bodge job of re-upholstery – it had a lovely shape though and great potential. The goodly pile of objects gathered up growing and made a harmony of colours – the faded ochres, greys, aged fruit wood and battered whites. I was relieved to have at last made some good finds. Monsieur helped me load the van. He told me there were possibly plans for a renaissance of the business, so “Next time, let us know you are coming, come and eat at the house”. I thank him and then am on my way. It is 19h and I am expected at the house of some friends. Driving through winding lanes, the Sat Nav gets befuddled and indicates I should take a track into a pitch black field. And as I am doing (yet another) three point turn a large white owl swoops down onto the lane in front of me. An hour later I am very glad to arrive in the warm embrace of dear friends and a warming supper.

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