A Piano, A Tree, It Must Be Christmas

Almost from day one of moving into the new house in France, Sadie had wanted a piano.

We had seen a couple in local brocantes, but they were either too expensive, in poor condition, or dark and ugly, and besides it was not an urgent priority while we were busy with all the renovations.

Through our marvellous neighbours, Phillipe and Martine Auclair, we discovered that there was one available for free in Culan, we simply had to collect it.

Apparently, it had belonged to a parent of a local doctor, who was a friend of the Auclairs and the person’s dying wish was that Sadie should have the piano after Phillipe had kindly told the elderly gentleman about their new neighbour, who was also a musician.

We borrowed a van from the theatre company and managed to get a couple of fellows to help with the lifting and Monsieur Auclair brought his flat trolley on wheels, which proved to be very helpful.

The piano was in a house, literally around the corner from us, and as it was a Saturday night and the roads were dead we decided the best way to transport the instrument was to push it on the road, rather than attempt to lift it into the van and out again.

The hardest part of the operation was getting it through the front door and into the house, but good fortune smiled down upon us once more when a couple of lads happened to be passing, which is a rare sight in Culan on a Saturday night, or any other night for that matter, and offered to provide extra muscle to lift it up the steps.

From there it was easy to wheel it into the small reception area in the hallway, where it now lives, next to the Christmas tree, which is obviously a more temporary feature.

My conversion to a middle-class life is now complete. Growing up I never imagined that one day I would own a piano, although rather strangely, my father in his earlier sober times had wanted me to play the piano, like his hero Russ Conway, but he never got around to organizing lessons for me as he probably couldn’t afford them, or couldn’t be bothered, as he spent what little spare time he had in the pub.

We discovered that our piano is an Érard, made in Paris around 1910 and comes complete with candelabras on the front panel. Erard was quite a famous make in its day and was supposedly appreciated by notable composers including Beethoven, Chopin, and Fauré. An Erard is also mentioned in the French version of the novel Madame Bovary.

Our piano needs tuning and maybe a little restoration work, which of course we will be happy to arrange. Madame Auclair informed us that it is not in very good condition because German soldiers were known to have jumped on it with their jackboots during the occupation, according to its former owners.

When one hears stories like that, and of Jewish refugees hiding in a shed in the Auclair’s garden during the second world war, you realise what a different experience people in mainland Europe endured during those dark years.

The bridge in Culan below the Chateau was also the scene of a battle and I believe was blown up by the retreating German army as the Allies swept through France.

When I lived in Innsbruck in Austria when I was much younger, fighting age, I experienced a scene that was quite moving. I went for a walk during winter into the mountains just above the town, and there in the forest was a war cemetery full of young Austrian soldiers who had fallen on the Eastern front. Some of the graves had photos of these young men in German uniform, some with the Iron Cross.

It struck me that up until then, I had never thought of the effect of the war on the enemy, as kids we had always been conditioned to believe the Germans were all bad and somehow inhuman and deserved to lose, and we shouldn’t have any sympathy for them.

After almost a year living in France, I feel myself becoming more European in outlook and willing to embrace another culture and respect the history of other nations, their culture, and traditions while not losing my own identity.

I can’t, however, forgive those “Nazis,” as Madame Auclair referred to them, for jumping up and down on our beautiful piano.

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On 1 January 2021, the UK left the EU. On 30 December 2020 I left the UK with my wife to start a new life in France … here’s what happened next …

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Tony Jemmett

Tony Jemmett

On 1 January 2021, the UK left the EU. On 30 December 2020 I left the UK with my wife to start a new life in France … here’s what happened next …

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