Chere Julie, dear Jules. (Part 15)
Jules Lablagues xx
My chere Julie,
You must not be afraid of meeting me but if you would rather not then, of course, I will respect your wishes. Maybe it is too early and it would be better next year when we have known each other longer. For my part, I wish it was tomorrow we should meet. Your image glitters in my mind and the sun dances like diamonds in your hair. You are the friend I have been seeking all my life and you are all that Jacqueline is and much, much more.
I was very interested in hearing what you had to say about rich and poor people. We are, as you know, not rich but neither could we be called poor. I suppose we are fortunate in having enough for our needs, provided we are not greedy, and are prepared to put up with minor inconveniences. To live within one's means seems to me to be the first step on the path to contentment.
I think Keith is misguided in his assertion that the rich people stole their wealth from the poor. There have always been rich and poor and, throughout history, they have frequently changed places; the poor have acquired wealth and the rich have lost it. Our family was considered rich just two generations ago but punitive taxation and high death duties have reduced us to our present condition where my father has to go into the city, four or five days a week, in order to make a living.
When my grandfather was a boy this situation would have been unthinkable. The revenue from the estate made outside employment unnecessary so my great grandfather was able to devote all his time and energy to the daily management of our lands. When he died we were forced to sell land and properties in order to pay the newly instigated inheritance taxes and it was a struggle for my grandfather to retain possession of Chateau Lablagues.
Drastic action was called for and on a bleak day that is remembered in our family as Mardi Noir (Black Tuesday) my grandfather called a meeting of all the staff. More than two hundred were assembled in one of the barns, which was the only place big enough for such a gathering, and, after a speech in which my grandfather thanked them all for their hard work, devotion and loyalty, he dismissed all but ten of them. Within a day, fourteen of the departed staff had committed suicide. Their families had been employed on our estate for as long as it had existed and they had not known, or could contemplate, any other way of life. One man, Pascal Lepouce, shot his wife and seven children dead before taking his own life. My grandfather was devastated and it was weeks before he was seen to smile again.
My father grew up in the post-war era, the only son of a declining dynasty and it is due to his unflagging energy that the Lablagues family is once again regaining its dynamism. We have a lot to thank him for.
I have spoken on the telephone with my cousins and they are completely in agreement with me that your dear mother should be afforded the opportunity to spend a few days at their house. My cousins have some fine, old, pre-war Rolls Royces that they reserve for the purpose of collecting their guests from wherever they may be and one could be despatched. I hope she will take advantage of it. It will be at her disposal for as long as she needs it.
The d'Astugues family are visiting us at the moment and this means I spend most of my time in the kitchen. They have brought their own chef, Gaston, with them but he needs a great deal of assistance as he is very old. He has cooked for the d'Astugues family for nearly sixty years and they go nowhere without him. He was a commis chef in a large London hotel before the first world war and retains the culinary habits he acquired at that time. Sauces must be simmered for forty-eight hours and stirred frequently. Twenty litres of liquid are boiled down to a cup-full. For pommes fondants, the potatoes are cut the size of plums with six equal sides and he measures them with calipers to ensure they are all of exactly the same size. He eschews machines and whips all his egg whites by hand using a wooden whisk. This, as he is very frail, can take several hours.
At the beginning of the century, it was an honour to be allowed to work under the great Chefs de Cuisine employed in the best London hotels and Gaston's father paid a great deal of money for him to enjoy this privilege. There were dozens of commis chefs, all paying for their apprenticeship, and so the Master chefs could afford to create the most time and labour consuming menus imaginable. Quails' eggs were cooked slowly, over a candle flame, being constantly turned by a willing boy who might not do anything else, sixteen hours a day, for weeks on end. At the end of this time he will have learned his lesson thoroughly and would progress to peeling and removing the seeds from grapes for a month or so. It might be years before he made a cake or even a simple mayonnaise. Gaston's apprenticeship lasted seven years, from when he was a boy of eight, until he left to take up his position with the d'Astugues. He has been with them ever since.
It is a privilege for me to share the same kitchen as Gaston but his style of cooking entails a great deal of extra work for me. During the hours that he spends repeatedly sifting flour until it is as fine as dust, I prepare a meal not only for my own family but for the twelve d'Astugues as well. They have two other chefs at their house in the south and I imagine they do most of the cooking.
I must finish now and go back to the kitchen. I wish I had more time to write but I am very busy today.
I wait impatiently for your next letter,
With love and affection,
13 Beach Street
My darling Jules,
I really dont know what to think about what you said about me meaning more to you than the Comtesse Jacqueline de Montfort. Sometimes you writes like you was my boyfriend but your not really although you are kinder and says nicer things to me than anyone I know and if I had a boyfriend I'd want him to be just like you. I've never had a serious boyfriend and my mum says its because I'm too choosy by half but its not I just havent met any boy that I really fancies. Theres chaps on the telly and in films that I fancies but I dont get to meet none of them so all I'm left with is the ones around here. Bert Lawrence asked me out but thats nothing special as he's asked anybody out whose single and wears a skirt. He's so desperate that he'd probably ask my grandmother out. He's really gross and his nose is always running and not just a little bit but really lots. When he was a little boy he used to lick it off with his tongue and then he used to wipe it with his sleeve but now he just dont bother to do anything about it. I bet he's never kissed anybody. I havent kissed many boys. Only three actually and one dont count because I was really drunk. Your probably going to think that I'm strange being 23 and only kissed two boys and that wasnt much anyway and I didnt enjoy it very much. I been out with a lot of men but that was just one night stands and I didnt kiss them not properly not with tongues and everything. I dont know what it is with me but I really got to like someone before I can get really personal with them. Sharon and Kirsty says I should just imagine it was someone else and enjoy it but I dont want to pretend its someone else. I wants to kiss the person I'm with for who they are and not for who I wish they was. Now I'm getting sad because I've started thinking again that I'm never ever going to meet anyone.
My dad was the first man my mum went out with and he pretends he had lots of girlfriends before my mum came along but my mum says its not true. She dont say it to him but she told me that she had to teach him everything about you know what and she had to learn everything from books because her parents didnt tell her nothing. To listen to my dad you'd think that women were begging him to go out with them but my mum lived next door to him and knows that he was home most evenings and she only went out with him in the first place because she felt sorry for him. She went on going out with him for weeks and by then everyone was thinking that they was a couple. After a while she says she got used to him. She says that its funny you can live next door to someone all your life and not know them. I dont think they loves each other and I dont think they ever did. There was nobody else around at that time so they ended up together. I dont want it to be like that for me. I'm not looking for second best.
I've finished the pattern for the dress but it looks really strange because its all in bits and pieces and now I got to cut out the material but I'm scared to make a mistake. I only got just enough material for the dress and they dont have any more of this particular stuff and if I ruins it then thats that. It was the end of a roll and so I got it cheaper and now they says they cant get any more so I got to be really careful. When I thinks that I only got ten weeks left to make it I gets really nervous but I thinks that when I starts cutting and sewing it'll go really quick. I hopes so anyway.
Shaky the cat has been gone for nearly a week now and we thinks that he's probably dead. He's never away for this long at a time and in fact he's never away long enough. He still smells as bad as ever. His fur was starting to fall out and it used to get everywhere. He had great bald patches. We thinks he's dead because nobody would take him in looking like that and they'd only have to smell him once and he'd be back in the street. To tell you the truth we dont miss him much except in a nice way. He was really old and I think thats why he smelled so bad. The smells still here even though he's been gone for a week and it smells like he's still here. It was like that with my grandmother although she didnt smell in the same way but for months after she was gone to the home you could swear she was still here because it smelled like it. Its a couple of years ago and now and again the same smell comes back when you lifts the cushions on the sofa or when the sun shines on the curtains and I looks around expecting to see her. It'll probably be the same with Shaky.
I dont want to wait another year to meet you so you shouldnt take what I says too serious because its all down to nerves. I went to the doctor yesterday because the pains in my back was getting worse and he said it was all due to tension and he could only give me tranquillisers and painkillers but would rather I learned to relax. He gave me a prescription but I havent taken any of the tablets. I dont want to start doing that but its very tempting when its really bad and I sees them on the mantelpiece and I thinks that just one is going to make me feel really calm and peaceful. Sharon did some yoga once and says I should try meditation. She showed me how to do it and I tried but the back pains was so bad that I couldnt concentrate. The only thing that really helps is sometimes when I thinks about you. If I can forget about where you comes from and your cousins and the Comtesse Jacqueline de Montfort and just thinks about you then I feels alright. I feels really comfortable with you but its all the other stuff that gets to me. Its alright in my dreams and then I feels right at home in a big house wearing gorgeous dresses and eating with a knife and fork but then I wakes up and thinks what if I makes a fool of myself. Then the pains in my back start again or sometimes its my neck or shoulders. I'm a real mess.
I been really good with my diet although I havent lost any weight that you can see. I'm not going to weigh myself just yet because it would be really disappointing if I'm still the same as before. I'll wait another week or so and then I really should be able to see a difference.
You seems to spend a lot of time in the kitchen doing cooking and you must be really good at it. Your going to have to teach me some things when we meets because I dont know much at all. I told you about the sausages and mash and cabbage but what I didnt tell you was thats all the real cooking I does except for cakes. Most of the time when mums out working we has frozen pizzas and thats not real cooking although the ovens got to be turned on to the right temperature. Mostly we gets something from the chippy and mum brings herself some fish and chips home with her or sometimes she has deep fried sausages. I been telling myself for years that I should learn to cook better but I never gets around to it. With all the stuff you finds in the shops nowadays ready made you dont really need to know how to cook proper anymore. I'm really good at doing microwave stuff but its not so easy as it looks. You got to know when to give it a slow cook and when to give it fast cook and if you dont shake it around a bit in the middle some parts gets really hot and other bits are still frozen. Usually if theres something to go in the microwave then I'm the one who does it. I'd still like to learn to cook proper because if I ever do end up with a husband and kiddies then I wants them to eat good home cooked food and not just sausages neither. I wants to learn how to do roasts.
You sounds like you was really busy when the d'Astugues were visiting but this Gaston dont seem to have been any use at all.
I'm going to finish now or I'll go on for ever.
Please write back soon and tell me more about what your lifes like in France. I finds it really interesting.
With lots of love,
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