"So what can I do for you Mr. Brighting?"

"Well Sir, I've been thinking about my placement at the end of the course. I've a somewhat special request to make..."

"I'm pleased to hear it. You're a talented young man, Simon and I've already been at work to pulling a few strings for you. If all goes well, then I hope to be able to get you an excellent placement in Rennes. There's even the possibility of your staying on there, as the assistant director is moving on at the end of the school year. And as a result of my efforts your way in should be quite smooth."

The ensuing silence was long enough to make him feel ill at ease. Still I didn't know what to say.

"Well, I expected you to be pleased and surprised but I did think you'd have something to say about it."

I did, and this complete misinterpretation of my reaction woke me to my anger. But I first tried the diplomatic approach.

"I very much appreciate your trouble on my behalf, Sir, but I'm afraid that just won't be possible. As you know, or should know, I've been sent here to prepare the opening of the new espace loisirs in Gensdouce. I'm just not available for another posting."

"Gensdouce? Where on earth is Gensdouce? I'm not talking about some mundane, little, backwater municipality; I'm talking about Rennes, the big city, your big opportunity."

Silence being the only answer I managed to muster, he went on.

"Well now, I'm glad to see that you agree with that, at least. When I got the letter from Javert asking me to do what I could for you, I agreed at once. We were old college friends, you know and we still get together every year at the annual gathering for Mayors. Of course, Gensdouce is only the beginning of his ambitions, and as such it'll do fine, but in a few years I quiet expect him to move onto better things. Anyway, when I got his request to take you in here, and to find you a good post somewhere, I took you in on his behalf. But now I realise you have real talent. You can go to the top, young man, and you should be forever grateful to Javert Demille for providing you with your big opportunity."

I can't remember anything more about this conversation, nor about how I reacted. I remained in a state of trance for the next few hours, and I saw only one way out. I phoned up a couple of friends and we hit the town. But the bottle after bottle only kindled my anger further, so instead of going back to bed to sleep it off, I ended up on the first train to Paris. From there, it was just two hours to home.


Helen walked spritely away from the old schoolhouse where she had just left Daisy. She loved being alone at night and what was there to be afraid about? Her parents always worried too much anyway. She knew there would be trouble when she got home, but she'd face that when she got to it. For now, she had twenty wonderfully free, moonlit minutes all on her own. And after all, it wasn't her fault if her brother had refused to accompany first Daisy and herself, and then just herself, preferring the comfort of a ten minute ride home to the drudge of a thirty minute walk, conveniently forgetting that it was her secret hope all along that he would do so. And what good would Ian have done them anyway. Had there really been a mad sex-attacker on the streets, then her spindly little brother would scarcely have proved a match for him. Besides, their club meeting had been both interesting and dense. There was a lot to think about. And now was the time to think things over. That's why she needed to be on her own.

* * *

Carter had chosen his spot carefully. He'd never been to this town before and no one here knew him. He'd arrived just a couple of days previously and taken a berth at the campsite outside of town. He had paid for a week's stay in advance and mixed easily in with the holiday makers. The mornings he would spend in town. The afternoons and evenings he'd laze around at the swimming pool reading or joining in the various sports activities held for the benefit of the campers. Anyone who'd talked to him, came away thinking this was just another Mr. Normal. True, they had no idea where he came from, but they'd never thought of asking. He just fitted in wherever he was.

During his morning visits to the town he would meticulously prepare his one deed of shame. That was his first rule, and he was totally scrupulous in the way he stuck to it: never more than one attack in the same town. That was the only way to stay free. He had heard of others in his position who'd been taken because they grew too greedy, or they didn't leave enough time between attacks. That would not happen to him.

Shopping bag in hand he melted into the crowds of locals and holiday makers, whilst all the time taking in the information around him. The streets, the narrow alleys and the broader pedestrian areas. The shops, the street vendors, the local meeting places. Where did people congregate? He'd have to steer well clear of those places. What routes did they take walking back and forth into town? And where could he lie in wait? His search revealed several interesting facts. The first was a concert Thursday evening in the large courtyard opposite old schoolhouse. That would certainly attract a large number of young people. True, most wandered home in groups, but if you waited then there was nearly always the odd one out, who either wanted or had little choice but to be alone. Then, he discovered that Ransvereux had no municipal police force - all the policing was done by car. And the moment he had discovered this, he knew where he would lurk.

The town centre was cordoned off by a small metal posts strategically placed just a few months previously, in order to prevent cars from parking on the sides of the wide pedestrian alley and clogging up the entrance. Anyone needing access could come through the back streets but it did mean that there was a stretch of some fifteen metres into which no cars could come. No cars meant no police controls and Carter's heart skipped a beat. Within minutes he had found a suitable hideout between a second-hand bookshop and a baker's. The alley led to a courtyard with nothing but storehouses and the bakehouse. At night, it would be totally uninhabited. Now, all he had to do was wait for Thursday.

* * *

Helen skipped along gaily as she approached the square leading down to the main street. She'd had her time alone, and was now looking forward to getting home. As she went on, she gradually became aware of the sound of music somewhere in the distance. Must be the concert she had seen when she dropped Emily off at home. They'd soon be getting out and the town would liven up again for a brief time. But Helen was in no mood for company tonight, so she carried on home, stopping only to glance into the window of the second bookstore long enough to note that they had nothing new today... on past her favourite baker's, the flower shop where her mother worked and then down the steps and through the small alley that led to her parents' flat. And just one minute later Carter took up position in his lair on the lookout for some unsuspecting victim.

Helter Skelter

Life on the training program wasn't all work and no play. The college was situated in Olonne just a few short miles from one of France's most beautiful and most renowned Atlantic resorts. So we students very often congretated there after class just to relax, chill out and visit the town's many bars and dance halls. As usual, I proved to be quite popular with the girls and rarely suffered for lack of an escort. But more often than not we hung around in groups, grilling on the beach and singing protest songs late into the night. Now and again, a couple of local policemen cast a weary eye on us, in search of various illicit substances. Smelling our breath made little sense, as our alcohol intake on such evenings was usually so high that nothing else could be detected. But after the first few weeks, the police must have put us down as being quite innocuous as they stopped bothering us. And those who did drift our way, usually joined in the fun.

During these long evenings as we sat there soaking up what was left of the descending sun and putting the world to right, my thoughts often went back to Gensdouce and to Violette. I'd not seen her since the night of the meeting in Gensdouce when I was appointed the new director of the espace loisirs. Rumours as to her relationship with Gérard were rife. Some felt they would be married before the summer. Others weren't so sure; she had after all been involved with so many young men in the past... including me, I thought still not able to put the bitterness out my feelings. True, I'd played around with the girls myself and had my fun but I'd never got serious with anyone and would hope that I'd hurt anyone, the way Violette had hurt me. But it was no use crying over spilt milk, so for the umpteenth time I threw my scattered thoughts into the wind and resolved not to think about any girl for the time being. Besides, the last thing I wanted to throw was to throw myself into another relationship right now, especially here, hundreds of miles from where I knew I belonged and would very soon be returning to.

During these months at the college I was in constant touch with Gensdouce. Guillaume and Thérèse wrote regularly, as did Annie. She and John were now converting the little outrooms I had once occupied into a small shop where they wanted to sell Irish products. Annie had met the owner of such a shop whilst on holidays last year and threw themselves into the idea the moment they discovered that Besançon had nothing similar. They hoped this would be a real money-spinner and had even promised to devote part of the profits to the espace loisirs, helped by the promise of a, for once, generous French government to increase the tax-breaks granted on donations to charitable and cultural insitutions.

But despite all this correspondence and the not infrequent phone calls, it soon became clear that if the centre was to open as planned in September, then someone was needed right now in Gensdouce, who would take up the reins and move things forward. My course was due to continue for another four weeks and then I would be assigned to an office somewhere nearby for a three month placement. Would it be possible to return to Gensdouce for the placement? The questions was more than a practical one, as I suddenly realised that I was beginning... no, ... that all along I had been homesick for Gensdouce and for those who were now far more than just friends.

Now, I knew I had to get back, come what may. I jotted down a short note to the course supervisor: "Could I come in and see you sometime tomorrow afternoon," and dropped it off at the office on the way to my afternoon classes. I was cheered up no end seeing a letter from Thérèse in my box and raced to class feeling the world was at last beginning to work out for me. That was before I opened the letter, itself, so full of good news, but finishing with the words:

"I saw Violette coming out of her mother's shop today. I'm afraid she didn't look at all well and she'd obviously been crying. She immediately turned the other way when she saw me coming, but when I followed her she softened and we went for a coffee. She won't let me say too much, but I can say that she's not at all well."

Having Fun

Dylan sat on the benches overlooking the rink watching the kids below him skating their heart out. These kids were having fun. He tried to remember when he'd last had fun on the ice rink. It must have been several years before he quit competition. As a kid it was his dream to become a champion skater. Ever since his Dad first took him onto the ice on the lake behind his house. He spent every spare hour skating and as soon as he could he started to take lessons. He quickly distinguished himself from the others and was soon entering championships. That was when he met Brian. Brian was one of the best skaters in the club. He was destined to become a real champion. Dylan knew he would never beat Dante. So when Brian brought Sheila along to the club, he started skating pairs and soon they were taking the county by storm. Brian was being tipped to make the Olympic team the next year. As for Sheila and Dylan they were still young, so when they only finished fourth in the trials, everyone knew their day would come. But Brian he was the big favourite. Dylan watched his last warm up before he went out onto the rink, just slowly going through some of the easier figures, getting himself ready. In any case, his program was an easy one. Brian had already mastered a triple salto and also a double Lutz, and was hoping to perform a quadruple salto for the Olympics.

All it took was that one simple jump to put an end to everything. Brian went up perfectly but then Dylan saw the concentration go out of his eyes. It seemed to him as if Brian stayed in the air for several minutes, prolonging the agony. Because Dylan knew exactly what would happen. And when the crash came, it was a terrible one. Not only would Brian never skate again, but he'd never walk. That was the last time Dylan ever held a pair of skates in his hand... until tonight. Now, looking down at the kids having fun, Dylan forced himself to put the skates on. His dream of ice-skating fame was forever banished, but he sure could still have a lot of fun.

They were fellow travellers without ever knowing it. Sure, they knew of each other's existence but had never met. Michael was the last of three children, almost an afterthought he'd been nonetheless loved and cherished by his doting parents looking to make up for the loss of their other children. They had crossed the wall some 25 years ago. What was for most a highly hazardous enterprise had been forced on them when the car pulled up in front of the gate and left again five minutes later. Inside the house all their belongings and something far more precious, their one remaining child.

Michael had told me the story one fine summer's day as we were travelling on a coach through the wonderful scenery of the Austrian alps. And everything I was hearing seemed so totally out of tune with what I was going outside. Such magnificence coupled with such barbarity; the human and the divine side by side. As the conversation proceeded the bonds of fraternity snaked their silent way around us uniting first in an unbreakable friendship and later, in something far greater.

Michael was born some three years later. He never knew the brother about which his parents talked so often. Each attempt to obtain a visa to cross the border was turned down in the same cold bureaucratic language. Letters never reached his parents, and it was doubtful whether Michael's letters to him - their parents had never even bothered trying - met a better fate. Any news they did get came from friends and relatives who had managed to find some temporary refuge

Then, the wall came down, just three months after we were wed. That was probably the most wonderful, awful, fear-inspiring greatest day in our life, a helter-skelter of emotions as the news broke, was greeted with jubilation, but still took hours to sink in. So we never made it to Berlin. And I suspect that Michael didn't really care. The politics of the occasion didn't really matter to him. All I could see was that one word moving silently back and fore through his mind - brother. Sometimes it brought a sparkle to his eyes, at others it receded in the invisible, dark matter deep far behind; but not once during those first few days did it ever make its way to his lips. That took time. Then it came, bursting forth like the floodwater irrupting from a burst dam.

A flurry of activity and we were soon able to ascertain this anonymous brother's whereabouts. Several letters and we soon made contact. Could we meet? Did he want to meet? What was there to say to a brother whose very existence had been a mystery up until then. Yes, he did. He would come to Berlin.

So here we are sitting side by side in the train, waiting, wondering, hoping, yet grieving. I was surprised he asked me to come along. It was such an intense and personal moment. Indeed, I might as well not be there. He's not said a word since we left. But I'll not disturb him. I know he needs this, and I know he needs me as we speed through the countryside on our way to the meeting with a brother who even now was sitting in this very same train.

Hard Times

The next six months of my life were probably the most difficult I have experienced so far. But strangely enough, it was my now dead father who saw me through. He had been a literature teacher at a local secondary school for the first 13 years of his professional life but as time went on he grew more and more disillusioned with school life. Not only did he feel like he was trying to teach people things they didn't want to know, but he was keenly aware of the fact that instead of opening up minds, he was closing them down, possibly forever.

A meeting with a former student brought about a radical change in his attitude and his life. As a young man, this student had been difficult and argumentative. He never read and saw little use in discussing stories which meant nothing to him. But one day he came back to our town to publicise his second novel. He even gave a reading at the school and my dad, who knew the author from his first highly-acclaimed book took charge of the visit. Imagine his surprise when the well-known author turned out to be precisely this former student who had never showed any aptitude for, nor interest in things literary. He invited him to our house for dinner and the man ended up staying with us for ten days, entertaining with some fascinating discussions in the kitchen around Mam's Irish Stew. And two days after he left my dad announced he was taking one month's leave of absence and going away on his own.

We heard nothing for four or five days and Mam was getting a bit worried. But then the letters started coming thick and fast. Dad was visiting a centre where a whole new concept in adult education was being tried out. The simple premise on which the concept rested was teach them nothing until they want to learn it, but once they start asking then teach them all they want. This was what had made the difference for Dad's former student and Dad bought into it lock, stock and barrel. He became obsessed and upon his return he resigned his post at the school to much head-shaking from his former colleagues and put all his savings into and adult education centre which he started from scratch. True, we never became rich from this, but the way he was able to impact other people's lives more than compensated for the lack of any real remunerative advantages. Even Mam began to get excited once she got over the worries of those first years, and realised they weren't all going to end up on the street after all.

The one thing I learnt from this, I unfortunately soon forgot. But it came back to me now that I was up against the wall. The training was tough and I had less of an academic background than any of those there. That was the downside of Dad's philosophy as I used it as an excuse for laziness simply stating I didn't want to learn anything. And just like the many thousands that passed through Dad's school and similar ones that were springing up all over the country, for those first few weeks I was sinking rather than swimming. But Dad kept them going by continually reminding them of the potential that is in us all, and every evening I could here him repeating this phrase as I sat at my desk sweating and worrying over all I had to assimilate.

I may have been a bad learner but once I had learnt something then it usually stuck and thanks to Dad's reminding me day in day out, I soon began believing that I could make it. Some of my associates on the course also began to believe in me and before long they began coming to me for help or just to discuss some of the issues I was dealing with. The awkwardness of those first weeks began to melt away. But the real breakthrough came after the first three weeks when classes were limited to the mornings and we started field trips and work assignments in the afternoon. Now, I began to see where everything we were learning in the mornings actually fit in. And I started bubbling over with ideas which I couldn't wait to implement in Gensdouce.

Which was when I learnt my second lesson. As fresh and impatient as I was, I wrote several letters back to my committee telling them all we needed to change in order to innovate. Fortunately, most of them were returned to me and I've kept them as a way of curbing not youthful enthusiasm but immeasurable pride. They make me cringe when I read them now, as much as they made those people cringe to whom they were sent. And although, most passed them over, putting it down to my inexperience and naivety, Guillaume and Thérèse took up the cudgel in a long, reproving letter for which I remain eternally grateful.

Change of Plans

My nomination as Director of the new cultural centre to be set up in Gensdouce came as a surprise. But a bigger surprise was in store when I discovered that it meant my having to leave Gensdouce for six months and follow a training course which would qualify me for most of the tasks awaiting. That was the theory anyway. But I wasn't my father's son for nothing, and I was weary of anything that smacked of academia without actually achieving anything practical. At least, my training course was to include some time actually working in an existing cultural centre alongside the director.

In the event...., but more of that later. Because before I could actually begin the course, I was recalled home. It was now April 1981, almost three years since I left Ireland and set out on my French adventure. I realised now how naive I was at the time. No wonder, Mayor Demille actually threw me down those stairs when I informed him I was coming to stay with his son. And the bottle of whisky I offered as a bribe probably didn't help matters either. In all this time I had not been home once. I didn't think much about home, although I did write now and again just to let everybody know how I was going. So the news of my father's illness brought me up quick. My father was the main reason I had left home. Not that we'd quarrelled, nor was I running away from anything. But he was such a strong personality, I felt strangled whenever I was in his presence. In fact, it was him who first broached the idea that I leave home, though I don't think what he had in mind was quite what actually happened.

I was packing my things away in preparation for my move when the news came. I didn't have a phone so any messages were sent to the pub and it was Annie who came to tell me. As the old saying goes, no one can render bad news like an Irish lassie, and she broke it as gently as she could. By the time the news had sunk in, John had arrived with my ticket and all the papers I needed to leave and come back into the country, so they'd obviously waited a couple of hours with the news. That evening I was on the same train that had brought me here just a few years earlier. But my mind wasn't in the mood for reminiscing, neither could I fix my thoughts on my dad. I just hoped and prayed, I'd make it on time. Indeed, the way I got off and pushed that train would have got me a packet of gold medals had it not been merely in my dreams. My belief that I'd see him again held right up until the end, but the moment the train pulled into Limerick station, I knew it was too late.

Jeanie took me straight from the station to the undertaker's and I spent the next hour in intimate if imperfect conversation with Dad. I began exchanging the latest gossip from Gensdouce, just as I did in my all too infrequent letters, but I slowly warmed to the strangeness of the situation, him there, so quiet, his now miniscule presence and me the overbearing one. I told him all about my new opportunities, about how I was following in his footsteps in becoming a people's educationalist. I know he smiled at that, and for the first time in my life I felt a sense of glowing approval coming from him. With that I said goodbye, not wanting to spoil this one last memory of beauty.

The funeral wasn't all it was cut up to be. Indeed, I remember feeling how sorrowful it was. There was so much that could be said to console, so much hope that could be given, yet the priest made it seem all in vain. And all through the ceremony the words of that African on Christmas day in Guillaume's church kept echoing through my mind. I wasn't yet convinced of the veracity. I had talked the matter over with Guillaume several times. He quietly put forward his belief, or his hope, as he preferred to call it, and urged me to think it over. Now, listening to the meaningless words coming from this pulpit, Guillaume's hope seemed a brightly burning fire. If only, I could bring myself to believe.

In the days following the funeral I managed to get permission to enroll myself on the next course, so I stayed another few weeks with my mother. We didn't do much more than talk, but that was what Mam needed. She talked and made me talk. I told her all about Gensdouce, my work, my friends, and of course, she wanted to know all about Violette, whom I had mentioned in passing in one of my letters. It wasn't easy to make her understand that all that was history. Mothers must be the most eternal optimists ever. When the time came to go, I was glad to be leaving her in excellent hands. Jeanie and her husband were living close by. I knew they would take good care of her. I also promised to get in touch more often than I had done. And with a promise that they would all come and visit me as soon as I was back in Gendouce, I once again left my native Ireland to make good my fortune in France.

A New Day

It wasn't the concept of New Year that Pablo didn't like, but more the crazy idea that you had to stay up until what Janet called the earlier hours to bring it in. Early hours indeed. The moment the true early hours came on, then everyone crawled away into bed. Pablo loved those magical moments. Rarely a day passed on which he didn't see the sun rise. He loved the stillness of the day down by the river, being slowly broken as nature around him came to life. First, the birds with their gentle morning songs, then the first streaks of light bringing the world around him into view as if for the very first time. Behind him, the rustling in the bushes was a witness to the fact that the fauna too was slowly waking to something new. Pablo would not miss this for the world. He would stay there quietly on his little bench until the flowers would start to raise their heads straining to see what was going on. No, it wasn't the New Year that fascinated Pablo, but the regular miracle of a new day.

Lilly sat down at her writing desk, her large leather bound journal open in front of her. It had told the same story for the past three years. It always began with a whole list of New Year Resolutions, things which Lilly was determined she wanted to put into practice over the coming months. By the third of January, at the latest, the entries told the story of failure and renewed determination but after a further few weeks of hovering between hope and failure, the entries started to decrease in frequency, thus sending her final resolution out through the window. From now on, the only entries in the journal told the helter skelter story of Lilly's usually unreciprocated loves.

Lilly took up her new pen. She always bought a new pen to start her journal with. It gave her a greater feeling of success and put her in the mood to attack her resolutions. As the pen hit the paper she hesitated. Could she really do it? In the past, there had been at least fourteen resolutions every year. Sometimes as many as twenty-five. How could she write just... What would happen if she failed. There'd be nothing left to following. She had to concede, however, that multiple resolutions weren't helping her at all. Maybe this really would help focus her mind on essentials.

So with a flourish she wrote the first sentence, and thus begun her usual New Year's Eve ritual of looking back, and plotting for the future. She did this every year before going out to the New Year's party held as always at the family mansion. Her Grandmother, and now her Aunt had kept up this tradition for the past 52 years, and Lilly would not miss it for the world. Had she but thought of enshrining this in her annual list of items with which she would torture herself for the rest of the month, she would surely have one small success. But resolutions weren't about fun, they were about things which were doomed to failure from the start. But this torturing of herself was her way of coming to terms with her life. At least, she could claim she was trying to get the better of herself.

She stopped after the first sentence and read it again.

My one and only resolution for this New Year is not to fall in love.

It seemed a strange resolution for a young girl to make but Lilly was always falling in love. She frittered away the better part of nearly every day sighing after her latest hero, and this inevitably led her to offer herself slain at his altar, only to be rejected by a surprised but unwilling knight, not yet in search of a maiden to rescue. It would have to stop, otherwise her life would come to nothing. She made a mental list of all the young men she had been smitten by over the past 12 months, shooting them down one by one.

True, there remained no acquaintances left, now they had all been buried by the wayside, but that hadn't stopped her in the past. Besides, there was always Mike. Not that she had ever fallen in love with him. That would be wrong. Mike had been her friend and faithful companion as long as he could remember. They had grown up together, attended school together. They were closer than brother and sister. He knew about every one of her past heroic fantasies and had remained stoically unmoved by whatever protestations she had sworn at the time, remaining there to pick up the pieces when the inevitable denoument shattered her confidence once again. Indeed, if ever there was a perfect partner, then Mike must surely be it. But one couldn't fall in love with Mike. Marry him, yes; surely someone would, one day. And they would love him truly, she hoped. But fall hopelessly, altogether head over heals in love - no, not with Mike.

Anyway, there was no time to think about that now. She was late already. Mike would be calling to pick her up in less than an hour, and she wasn't even nearly ready for him. Yet, there was so much she still wanted to write, so many dreams she wanted to share with her journal before the New Year began, and strangely enough Mike began to feature in some of them. She gathered up her journal, pen and all her coloured pencils. She would make time to continue her dreaming at her aunt's, she decided, racing off to the bathroom.

She took more time than usual in the bathroom, that evening; certainly more time than she had ever taken before going out with Mike. But he didn't mind. He was used to her caprices and was glad of a few minutes alone before she came down, as he had something to do. That afternoon, he had ended the undecision which had afflicted him for quite some time now, and declared himself to Lilly. But shy as he was, he couldn't bring himself to do it in person. So he had written her a long epistle in a steady hand and was now looking for a place to hide it where she would surely come upon it the next day. Seeing the journal lying there on the table, Mike quickly slid the letter in the place where the bookmark for that day was, taking great pains not to read what she had written. He didn't have to read anyway. He knew it would be full of tears and sighs as his only friend flitted from one fantasy to another with unrelenting eagerness. Oh, she was so vulnerable, and how he longed to be able to cherish and protect her if only she...

But there she was, coming down the stairs, and who could not help noticing that this evening she was more beautiful than ever. There was a certain gleam in her eyes that he had not noticed before and that he could not help reciprocating, causing Lilly to blush. His surprise turned to consternation when he saw her pick up her journal and make to put it into her bag. She looked at him wide-eyed as the letter slid out from the place he had hidden it and flattered slowly and gracefully to the floor.

In a fever of excitement Lilly bent down to pick it up, tearing open the envelope, reading attentively the first few lines, flicking through the several pages before flinging herself onto his neck and encamping herself there. Then, just as suddenly she broke the embrace, sat herself down at her desk, opened her journal and took up her pen:

18.58. I'm in love with Mike, and he's in love with me. Isn't it wonderful! And what's more, I'm not even breaking my New Year's resolution, since the New Year doesn't begin for another 5 hours and 2 minutes.

On the Move

You can probably imagine the turmoil my mind was in after what Thérèse and Guillaume had told me. On the one hand I couldn't believe it possible. True, I had long since suspected Violette of having no real feelings towards me. She was just playing pretend with me, even if she did come back to me again and again. That in itself was significant since she had not done that with any of her previous boyfriends. And it was the one thing that kept me believing in our relationship. But to actually betray me... I still wasn't sure whether or not it was true. Call me a sucker if you like but even now I still felt there had to be a rational explanation to all this. It took a prolonged absence with no word from Violette to convince me that our relationship was indeed leading up a dead-end.

Fortunately, things began moving so quickly with the espace loisirs that I had no time to sit and mope. And to think, if I'd been able to occupy myself in a similar way following my one and only previous relationship disaster then I might never have come to France and... But playing "what if" is for novelists and similar dreamers and it's not my style. I prefer to stick with the facts. Besides, before long a village meeting was called and the only subject on the table was the future of the espace loisirs. It was now becoming clearer and clearer that the centre could not continue without major outside help. Guillaume had taken up contact with various cultural organisations to see in what way they could help us. Most were not really interested in a small, backwater village near a major city but with two groups we struck lucky. The first wanted to set up a rival centre to the one in Besançon because the latter belonged to a rival federation. They were looking for revenge after losing this franchise. Signing up with them would draw us into a major battle in which we would be nothing but pawns on other people's chess board. The second group, however, was a different matter. They were more than interested in setting up a program in our area and their vision was to develop a centre providing access for a local, rural population to as wide a variety of cultural and educational activities as possible. They wanted to arrange a meeting with members of the town council and anyone else interested - hence our meeting. Getting the town council's support was seen as vital to the project, yet they were very much in Mayor Demille's hand and he, as we thought, could never be brought round to our way of thinking.

The meeting itself promised to be raucous as it was rumoured that the Mayor not only wanted to attend but also wanted to address the assembly. In the event he played a trump card none of us expected. Seeing the danger of his being outflanked, he apologised to the assembly for being forced to make a move he deeply regretted but which was beyond his control. Nonetheless, he would lend his personal support and the support of the town council to any people's initiative that may help put Gensdouce back on the cultural map. His speech was received with the silence, it deserved. But he was not finished yet. With typical, political understatement he announced:

"... In addition, I am recommending Mr. Simon Brighting for the job of administrator of this centre. It's true, we have not always seen eye to eye in the past, and I'm not sure that we always will in the future. But my future daughter-in-law has convinced me of this young man's abilities and his motivation has been quite discernible in all he has said and done this evening and throughout the past weeks and months."

It was not until I noticed Thérèse' raised eyebrows that I fully took in the bit about the "future daughter-in-law" but it didn't worry me unduly. I was already beginning to put Violette behind me. Besides, Violette had been engaged before, and I honestly couldn't see her marrying Gérard, however much Daddy wished for such a union. His announcement caused uproar in the assembly hall, however. Most of the old villagers considered it a cynical plot to sweep the carpet from under our feet. Some of the Mayor's staunchest supporters were taken aback by his sudden support for our camp and for me in particular and they remained tight-lipped. But most of those present welcomed the speech and shortly after a motion was proposed that we seek talks with the Federation of Youth and Cultural Associations with a view to reopening the "espace loisirs" under their auspices.

A four man delegation was proposed and unanimously accepted which included both Thérèse and myself, Guillaume having asked not to be included because of pressure of various other engagements. He would however be more than willing to support the delegation in an advisory capacity if needed.

The negotiations were not very protracted. The federation welcomed us with open arms. They couldn't do much financially other than promising to inform fellow members of our needs but they did put their vast experience in educational and cultural matters at our disposal and also invited us to participate in various open forums held throughout the year to stimulate thinking and improve activities in the various centres. The contract was signed and before we left we were presented with the new FYCA button, two clasped hands above the well-known slogan "Forwards Together".

Three weeks later a second village meeting elected myself to be the centre's new director. I would get the grand income of 4 800 FF per month, in keeping with the minimum wage of the time but enough to enable me to live, and guaranteed for one year by the federation and the regional arts council. After that first year, however, the centre would have to raise enough money to pay their director themselves.

Little did I know that this election meant my leaving Gensdouce for six months. And I've often asked myself since who did, in fact, know?

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