Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Brittany: the writer's house

Prehistoric standing stones, Brittany (pic.: Barry Kellington)Saturday, 26th May.

We arrived in the village of Guenin, southern Brittany, at around lunchtime, having taken the overnight ferry to St. Malo. The house was easy to find with its bright yellow walls and blue window frames; colours you would normally see in southern France. We opened the door and stepped tentatively inside, looking quickly around.

It felt a bit familiar, a similar-aged house as ours. Each room was like a work of art, a designed room setting, a pleasure to be in, considered in a the way an artist would consider every part of a painting. Pictures hung on the walls, some good quality originals, with a post impressionist style matching this French house. Some were prints of quality, important works of art, like Picasso’s Guernica, a picture that depicts the bombing of Guernica in the Spanish Civil War, hanging in a bedroom.

The interior was not expensively finished, but was considered and personal. It looked as if the house had been gutted, with the plaster and paint stripped off to expose the old battered beams and wooden floor boards. The house had a smell that was a mixture of a house being left empty and not aired enough and still with the reminder of the acid that had been used to strip the pine furniture.

Amongst the collection of pictures, pottery and ornaments, there was a 50’s theme that showed up in every room. The famous and very kitsch Vladimir Trechikoff, the Chinese Girl with black hair and a gold dress, hung in another bedroom. The hall walls were lined with cream painted boards with grooves running vertically. The hall lamp shade was a swirling stainless steel, with 5 circular balls containing the light bulbs. In the bathroom there were 3 china ducks and a round 50’s patterned mirror. A set of 50’s looking plates hung on the hall wall. Each had the same scene of 2 small yachts.

On the marble table in the sitting room were 6 glasses with Babycham and the deer logo etched into the glasses together with a jug bearing the phrase – Senior Service Satisfies. The fire surround had been replaced but had a piece of wood missing, cut off from the mantlepiece as if it was about to be chopped up. But these owners didn’t mind the fact that it was not perfect and it even added something to the charm of the place by being damaged.

A 50’s radio was on a drop leaf table with carved barley twist legs. Next to it was a picture of the owner, showing a lively sharp pose. He is looking back at the camera, clearly staring full faced, a cigarette in his hand, hair in full rich brown. Someone who possibly has been preoccupied, drinking a glass of wine or writing outside and only turns and smiles because he is expected to. Inset is a picture of him as a young boy aged about 6, with short back and sides, and clearly a boy of the 50’s.

His wife is in a frame next to him. She is posed showing her right arm blown up and out of focus, half smiling, slightly thoughtful, about to say quite a lot. A very chatty person I would say. Both colourful characters I would guess with strong views on France and culture of all kinds.

The bookshelves were filled with a good collection of books, showing an interest in writing and theatre.

A pouffee in green and red leather was on the sitting room floor, ideal to put your feet up on as you read one of their books. Clues are left everywhere, in every room, on every wall, in every drawer. It is was if they were proud of their lives and wanted to show off a bit, and let you know a bit about them; at least their edited version of themselves.

Maybe these were people who didn’t quite make it, a bit like you and me. They would have loved to be celebrities, theatre and writing careers taking off a lot more, but who did not get the breaks. But they have kept going, and enjoyed the pleasure that comes on the route and have no longer any thoughts of the glittering prizes.

Sunday 27th May

I wake up early, 6 am and I can see in front of me the most amazing black and white curtains with the morning sun showing through. The design is a simple with a bold repeat of a bowl of tulips resting on a table, showing the corner of the table crudely shaded by a broad brush.

It is very warm and as I walk around the village at 9.30, I see a man sweeping the centre near the church. But in this half hour a few cars went by but not many stopped in Guenin itself. The village had a butcher’s and a patisserie and 3 bars. But for how much longer, I wonder? And yet there is always a welcoming smile on the faces of the shopkeepers.

House martins swarmed around, catching flies, and sometimes entered a nest in the eves of one of the granite stone buildings.

The village almost echoes the house as a place with memories of better days and a doubtful future.

Barry Kellington


Lindsay Townsend said...

Thanks, Barry, for a fascinating peep into another writer's house! I was vastly intrigued by it and by the 'fading' village.

Lovely atmosphere in the whole piece.

Thank you!

Jane Richardson, writer said...

Barry, I have friends who lived and worked in France doing up houses that English people bought as holiday homes. I saw a number of them, and the 'before' look of many of them was exactly as you describe. :) What a gorgeous glimpse into other peoples' lives and homes. I especially loved your summing up of the village as 'a place with memories of better days and a doubtful future.' How true of many of those villages.

Jane x

Savanna Kougar said...

Barry, even though it's France, your house and the excellent descriptions bring back the memories of my fifties' childhood.
There were so many undercurrents going on beneath a facade of what was considered to be a normal modern life.

Margaret Maguire said...

Hi Barry I really enjoyed reading your travel piece. The colouful discriptions of the house and contents brought the house alive. Loved the photos and paintings.

Lindsay Townsend said...

I agree with all you say, Jane, Savanna and Margaret. Especially re the undercurrents... always a lot going on in these sleepy-looking places.

LK Hunsaker said...

I'm curious. Is this a place you were renting for vacation or only visiting?

Loved the notice of the artwork inside.

Graham A said...

Atmospheric, about right for a 'Clousou' week-end, Inspector Barry.