My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full – Part 19

In My Father’s Words Directory

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My Unfinished Father – A Life Lived to the Full

A Life Lived to the Full

03/07/1938 – 18/10/2018

Brian Matier

Part 19 – Pages 187 – 193

NB; Final part to the manuscript

 

L’ANNEE DE LA BICHE

1991 proved to be a pivotal year in my life.

In that year I met Jeanne. Jeanne turned my life around in a way I would not have believed.  I fell in love with her and remained in love for twenty seven years up to the present day.

I was still living in my rented flat in Epsom when we met and Sally who also lived there arranged a get together of some people whom she had met on holiday in Africa.  Jeanne was one of these and I was immediately attracted to her. She had just gone through a divorce.  Her ex husband had left her behind in a house they had owned in Burgess Hill with a number of problems.  He was called James Bond.  No not that one.

At the time she was a sad frightened girl but I did not understand all her problems.  I would find out in due course.  She was French from the region of Savoie in the Alpine area of France. The mountain area produced a tough breed of people. It had not even been France until the 1860’s.

Our first date was in a restaurant in Sussex where we had dinner.  As it had occurred we very nearly didn’t.  It wasn’t until after we had eaten that the lady in charge told me she didn’t take credit cards.   I had to borrow £20 from Jeanne to pay the bill. This was an embarrassing start to a first date. I paid her back a few days later.

For several months after we met she continued to live in Burchess Hill while I lived in Epsom.

My purchase of the house in Christchurch Gardens was coming to fruition. It was a ground floor flat of two or three bedrooms.  The flats were built In a semicircular construction in blocks of three.  There were 34 flats in all and mine was number one. 

In these short months Jeanne was obviously going through a most difficult time.  On one occasion when I called to pick her up for a date I could hear her involved in a terrible row.  The bedroom window was open and the abusive language was horrible.  My poor sweet little Françoise was using stuff I would never use.

After some time of this I knocked on the door and was screamed at from upstairs “Go away.”  I went back to my car and sat and thought for a while. Eventually I found a newsagent and bought some kind of soft card on which I put a few lines and went back to her house and slipped the card through the letterbox.

It was three days before I heard from her.  She apologised and asked if I still wanted to see her.  I said yes I did.  We met a few days later and the world was back on its axis again.

In the meantime, work went ahead with a trip to Spain and Gibraltar.  I was working with the Spanish Security Manager Quelo, a very nice man. We travelled down the lower east coast of Spain to Gib.  Here, as was the practice in those days we parked up outside Gibraltar’s airport and walked across.

There had been a referendum in Spain on the question of joining Spain.  The result was disappointing for the Spanish.  Over 12,000 voters elected to remain British and 17 voted to go with Spain.  I told Quelo this story on the drive south.

“What? 17000 voted for Spain?”

“No, Quelo, seventeen voted for Spain.”

On the Gibraltar side of the airport we hired a car.  It took us to the bottom of High Street.  “How much is that, please/” asked Quelo.

“Two pounds sixty mate,” replied the cabby.

“How much in pesetas?” asked Quelo?

The driver mentioned a figure in pesetas.

Poor unfortunate Quelo then stepped right in it.  “Last year it was only four hundred”, and he mentioned a much lower figure.

The cabby then got very angry and a dreadful row erupted.

“Listen, mate, if you come into my country you will pay what I ask you in the currency in sterling.”  This then developed further with the conversation or shouting match descending into Spanish.  At one stage, my loyalties divided, I offered to pay the man.

His reply was unequivocal. “I don’t want your money, mate, I want his.”

Eventually Quelo went to the bank to change some money and paid.

Together we walked up the High Street in silence.  At last Quelo spoke.  “Brian,” he said. “I do not think that man was one of the seventeen who voted for Spain.”

My romance with Jeanne progressed and we spent the odd night together.  There were certain difficulties as sometimes I awoke in the middle of the night to find her crying.  I would gently hold her in my arms until she quietened and fell asleep again.  In the morning she could not remember anything about her crying.

On other occasions she would have a fevered conversation while still sleeping, in a language I did not understand.  I am not sure that Jeanne would have understood it herself if she had been awake

These things diminished over the weeks.  She struggled with the burden under which she had been saddled until the time cane.  I suggested she come and live with me.  Thankfully she agreed.

I arranged with a work colleague, to swap my smaller MG for his larger Volvo station wagon and we did a moonlight flit, or a 7 pm flit.

We settled down to live together and deal with her problems.  I learned quite successfully to lie.  “No, she doesn’t live here.  She has gone back to France.”

Of course work and travel continued and I had a short trip to the Netherlands to carry out a survey of a fuel terminal.  This fuel terminal was a bit different. The bunds in which the fuel tanks were housed were grassed over and on the grass, sheep were grazed.  This was the first time I have ever seen this.

Jeanne and I then went on a trip to Wales where we stayed with my sister and her husband for a few days.  I guess that by this stage they had become a little bit fed up with all the strange ladies I was sleeping with. We visited the castles and the coast.  Jeanne seemed to be happier and getting rid of some of her demons.

Our next trip was to Cyprus or Isle de Sheep as la Biche wanted to say it.  I was doing a security survey and she came along for the ride.  She met some of my security colleagues and got along very well with them. We stopped at the Lordos Beach Hotel in Larnaca In between work sessions.  We went to Nicosia and Aya Napa.

In Aya Napa we bought six black plates etched in gold plate which still hang on my wall in the dining room.

I then went on a trip to Dallas.  I don’t know why, and then to Rolando.  Biche came along to Orlando and spent time on the beach.  I was pleased to see that she was shedding the horrors she had gone through. We went to Tampa Bay and drove back along the magnificent bridge, Sunshine Skyway.

We visited an Indian, or Native American reservation and bought a couple of gifts.  It was quite a sad place. We also visited an alligator farm where I viewed the residents with a great deal of suspicion.

At this point we began a slow drive down the Florida Keys, starting at Key Largo. As I remember Kay largo because it was here I bought a toy elephant, whom we called Jumbo; what else.  He could, thanks to a battery, walk around, raise his trunk and make elephant noises.

The saleslady thought we were married and when I said we weren’t she said she ought we should be.  I agreed.  Jeanne did not.

From there we drove further south and found a lovely motel at Marathon, which was about three quarters of the way to Key Largo. The following day we spent our time on the Gulf side of the motel, swimming and sunbathing.  It was pretty magic.

The following day we completed the drive south to Key West where we found a decent motel.  The rest of the day we acted as tourists, visiting Earnest Hemingway’s house.  Sunset saw us in traditional pose, sitting at the dock of the Bay with our legs over the side of the harbour wall watching the sun die away in the west.

The day after we drove to the airport.  On the way we were stopped by the police for speeding.  Fortunately the officer was sympathetic to a British accent and I got away with a rollicking.  As we drove away, Jeanne was killing herself with laughter.  Yes, yes, Madame it is very amusing.

We had a few days in the Ps de Calais.  Jeanne stepped outside the front door and looked round and sniffed.

“Where is this?” she demanded. “It is not France, it is not France.” As I may just have mentioned in the past, Jeanne could be tres Francaise when the mood took her.

We spent a day in Amiens and visited the Cathedral.

I then had a long and fascinating trip in West Africa with Peter Roussreau to Senegal, Mauritania and Mali. Peter was the Safety Manager for Africa.  Someone decided that it would be an economy if the safety and security reviews should be combined for Africa.  It was not a good idea and was not repeated.

Mauritania was by far the poorest of all these countries with severe problems.  These occurred mainly between the Muslim peoples in the north of the country and the black Africans in the south. We as Europeans had a little trouble travelling between Nouadibou and Nokkachok, but the locals did have difficulties.

It struck me as a little bizarre when I compared the sometimes quite splendid hotels in which we stopped with the countryside alongside. We did have a splendid evening party on the beach with a whole sheep being roasted. Mauritania had flocks of wild goats roaming about, all, it seems to be living on an appetite of plastic bags.

We spent a short visit to Paris for a day or two before travelling on to Savoie to spend Christmas with Jeanne’s parents and family. I was made very welcome in the family which had removed a great deal of early worry. It was, of course, winter and Savoie was blanketed in snow.  Despite that we got out a lot and became friends’ with Savoie.

Early in January 1992 we spent time in a trip to Washington where we visited Williamsburg. We had a jolly time flitting around Washington and DC before coming home.  Looking back from this distance I seemed to spend a lot of time in DC and to be able to take Jeanne with me.  We both enjoyed ourselves.

Early in January 1992 we went to see Les Miserables in London.  It was truly a stunning show with thrilling music.  Over the years I have been to see Les Miz perhaps six times, , in London and Broadway, getting more from it on each occasion.

Shortly after that we went to North Wales where we had a really good time.. In particular we metthe lady my brother was to marry. I was delighted that after so many wrong turnings in his life my brother had found someone with whom he could share his life As I write this some twenty six years later, they are still married with two lovely girls, aged twenty-two and twenty.

We almost got into a spot of bother in Wales.  We went to spend a couple of days in Port Merion. This is very much a tourist destination on the North Wales Coast.  It was used as a setting for a popular sci fyi television show made in the 1970’s.Out in the Bay was an island which could be approachable on foot at low tide.  We made our way to the island and explored for about thirty minutes too lon. It was obvious that the tide was beating us.

Jeanne led the way.  She stripped off her trousers and plunged into the sea in her knickers.  We all followed to the best of our abilities. No one drowned.  There followed a short trip to Turkey.

And then we were off again to France.  We stayed with her parents, of course, but spent time in Chambery having fun with statues of th elephants in the town square..  Jeanne told me that the nickname for the elephants was les quatres sans coux.  This meant the four without arses.  The four elephants or half elephants slid backwards into the four alcoves to commemorate Hannibal’s crossing the Alps in about 300 AD.

On our return home we went wind surfing off the beach in west Sussex.  Well at least Jeanne went wind surfing.  I went along to do the heavy lifting.  I enjoyed sitting on the beach watching the Biche enjoying herself.

Our next trip was a invitee to the Isle of Man where invited by a friend and to attend a conference. It was a good and interesting event but not really any of my business.  We hired and drove round the island including going the top of the highest mountain in the island.  From here we could see all four nations of the United Kingdom.

On the day we left the Isle of Man we drove up into Scotland to Gretna Green where Jeanne and I got married. Unfortunately it did not count and we came away as unmarried as we had started out.  

Part 19 – Pages 187 – 193

That is where the manuscript ended, officially on page 198, or 1992. My father claimed he was too ill to write any more. However, whilst l do not deny the man was ill, he was not too ill to write further – he simply didn’t have the heart to. Jeanne and he were together l believe for five years tops.  He stopped moving forward from the years 1998 – 2018 when he died.

He never got over their parting.  I could never understand why they had split when it happened … however since my father’s death and reading his estate administrations, letters, diaries, emails, Jeanne’s letters and listening to his neighbours and my sister, l believe l finally have the answers, however l will write my summary up – perhaps next week some time.

END

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