A soldier, a parrot and a Frenchman.
During the winter months we often let our cottages to French people on semi-long lets. This keeps the cottages aired and heated during the low season, brings in some money, and solves a housing problem for people who often would otherwise have difficulty.
The people we let to are sometimes in full-time work and are simply between houses, and the use of one of our cottages from September through to May is very handy for them. Quite of lot of people, however, are unable to find housing because they are self-employed, or they have no references, are temporarily out of work … or whatever. Taking them is a risk because they may be difficult to get rid of when May comes round, but to date we have had no problem, and most people are sincere hard-working folk who simply need somewhere to live.
We nearly had one disaster, however. I take pride in being able to tell a lot about a person simply by talking to them, but one man had me fooled good and proper.
He arrived, all smiles, with his girlfriend. They were both from the island of Oleron (nearby) and he told me he was a gardener. He looked pretty rough, and was certainly extremely ignorant, but the girl was sweet. They paid their deposit, filled in the forms and moved in. Alarm bells started to ring when they hadn’t got their first rent. No worries, said the young man, it’ll be paid straight on to your account.
To cut a long story short, after three weeks no money was forthcoming, the young couple argued noisily and constantly, they were both frequently drunk or drugged or both, the police came round to talk to him not once but twice, the girl’s mother came round to see me no less than every day, usually in floods of tears (I agreed with her – what was that lovely girl doing with this moron?) and they had a parrot – we have a strict no-pets policy. I decided these are people I do not want.
So, being the shrinking violet that I am, I went round, knocked on the door and told them to get out. We can’t, they said. Yes you can, I said. We won’t, they said. Yes you will, I said. You can’t make us, they said. Just watch this space, I said.
My friend Karen, who was with me, decided to go and fetch her husband. Now, her husband is not just any husband. He is Matthew. He is ex-army and a force to be reckoned with. He is a big man, 6’ tall and accustomed to dealing with difficult and stupid young men. More importantly, however, is that he was badly wounded in Kosovo – yet his authority was unquestionable.
“Get out,” said Matthew in English, and he pointed to the door. That was important because Matthew at that time spoke no French and The Moron (I’ve forgotten his name) spoke no English. “Get out, and get out now. Grab your things and go. The pair of you.”
The Moron sat with his mouth open. The girl stood with her mouth open. The Moron then stood with his mouth closed. He took a step towards Matthew.
“Do not try it,” said Matthew in tones that needed no translation. “Do not even think about it.” He turned to the girl and pointed to the staircase. “Get your things! Hurry up! Get up those stairs! Pack your stuff and go. And take that parrot with you!”
As if on queue the parrot raised its head and looked at us all. The Moron and girl grappled around with boxes and cases.
“Move it!” said Matthew. “Come on! Hurry it up there! That’s it. That’s the door! Out! Out you go!”
Just at that moment the parrot opened its beak, looked ceilingwards, and burst in to song. Of all the songs it might have known, it was the Marseillaise:
“Allons enfants de la patrie,” it sang loudly, “le jour de gloire est arrive …”
The jubilant and blood-thirsty tune accompanied The Moron and his girl out to their old car, and even as they drove off down the road we could hear the parrot, its screechy voice rising and falling in odd places and the words dotted with sqwalky sounds:
“…l’etandard sanglant (sqwalk) est leve! aux (sqwalk) armes citoyens ! …. les bataillons (sqwalk) ! Marchons! Marchons ……….!”
Catherine Broughton is a novelist, a poet and an artist. She is widely travelled and writes regularly for magazines and blog sites. Her sketches are on her web site http://www.turquoisemoon.co.uk . Her books are available from Amazon and on Kindle, or can be ordered from several leading book stores.
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