The Tale of Two Machines

This morning, whilst awaiting my friends from Huis Clos, I left the front door open.  The neighbourhood cats seemed to see this as an invitation.  First the black one which marauds the bar, then a more exotic Persian or something.  Of course, when you politely invite them to leave you have to do it in French, being careful to use ‘tu’ rather than ‘vous’.  It doesn’t do to be too courteous.  I learned this last year one night at 3 a.m., leaning out of my bedroom window to dissuade a large Labrador from tearing open my black bag left out for the binmen.

Kim and Saufiene, full of apologies, turned up an hour late.  They knew it was no use phoning me unless I happened to be in the loo and there happened to be a signal.  They had had to go to Bergerac to collect a bigger car.  Not only did they carry the washing machine into the kitchen, but they also fitted it for me.  There was a pair of Kim’s underpants in the drum.  I suggested his grandmother must have forgotten them.  ‘No, it was me.’, he replied.

I joyfully loaded up the machine with some of the wet towels and set it going.  Within a few minutes the ‘finish’ light was flashing.  I started it again.  Same again.  I stared at the dials, trying to decipher what was wrong.  I couldn’t see anything.  I couldn’t, of couse, open the door.  I’d just have to do what Roger did.  This meant first pulling out the dishwasher, then the washing machine.  As I’d run the dishwasher earlier, I thought I’d empty it first.  Practically nothing was clean.  Hopefully, I should have rinsed the contents first rather than allow them to dessicate and coagulate until the machine was full.  I certainly wasn’t about to investigate that problem.  Most likely I will avoid it by washing up in the sink, as we do in Morden.  I diverted myself by doing a week’s washing up. Towels drying 7.12 Then I handwashed the remaining towels and hung them in the garden.  Then I’d run out of delaying tactics.

Saufiene is taller than me, but he had crawled under the kitchen surfaces to make the connections with no problem.  I had thanked him profusely, saying that my back would no longer let me get under there.  Now I was going to have to do it.  Getting down was one thing, getting up required a little more thought.  Anyway, I managed it.  No-one was there to hear my yelps.  Feeling rather chuffed with myself, I pulled out the electric plug so I would be able to open the door when I had applied the Munns method of draining.  There wasn’t any water in the drum.

Then I tried a very small wash.  Just a T-shirt and some smalls.  The flashing ‘finish’ soon came into operation.  Needing time to think and remain calm, I decided to handwash the towels I’d extracted.  It was then I was reminded that I had turned the water off at the mains before draining the drum which hadn’t needed draining.  I turned the water on and tried again.  Same result.  This was the moment which, those who remember the advertisements will know, calls for a Hamlet.  I hadn’t got one, so I’ll just have to wait until someone more knowledgeable and practical turns up.  Jackie, why aren’t you here?

Life’s not all bad.  I’ve received an e-mail from my accountant saying I have been sent a tax refund of £85.

Having wasted most of the day with machines, and booked my thrice-yearly haircut, walking went out of the window.  My locks shorn, I settled for an amble around the village, before going up to Le Code Bar.  This evening I was well satisfied with duck in pepper sauce, chips and salad, followed by  chocolate sponge which we called chocolate surprise pudding, only miles better.  The pepper sauce was so tasty that I saved some of my bread to mop up the last bit.  One large Stella was sufficient for my liquid requirements.

Friends Indeed

Backlit maize leaves 7.12

Following Judith’s principle of setting off early in such weather as this, at 10 a.m. this morning I walked out on the Monbos road, taking a right turn towards Thenac.  I soon came to a signpost promising to lead back to Sigoules.  Eventually reaching an unmarked T-junction I had a 50% chance of heading for Sigoules.  Fortunately I recognised the road and turned right.  Had I gone left I would have wound up in Cuneges.  That would not have been fun, for, after yesterday, I reckoned one hour would be enough.

On the road out I chatted to a very elderly gentleman engaged in persuading, with his stick, a miniscule fallen branch from the roadway into a ditch.  Our Morden neighbour, Ken, specialises in similarly flipping cans from our lawn into the road.  Sometimes this takes several strokes of his club.  Each man seems to take on a quite opposite sense of civic duty.  Today’s putter raised his hat when greeting me.  The bare-headed Ken usually raises his stick.

Maize is flourishing, and hay is being bound up and collected throughout the area.  A tree standing guard over one of the bundles obviously couldn’t stand the heat.

As I reached rue St. Jacques, reflective light was playfully dappling the surface of the road and the stone walls of Le Code Bar and the chateau between us.  This kinetic illumination was emanating from faceted baubles strung on wires between the bar and its marquee across the road.  Much more pleasant than the similar static white blobs seen all over the streets of London.  They are chewing gum, and don’t move at all.

Just as I began to settle down to my daily few pages of Flaubert, I heard water dripping in the kitchen.  I waded through puddles to see it pouring from the washing machine.  Come to think of it, the wash I had put on hours before should have been finished by now.  I couldn’t turn off the machine.  Trying not to panic, I turned the water off at the mains and the flow stopped.  I couldn’t open the machine, which was just as well because it was full of water.  As I vainly attempted to mop up the mess the plastic fitment over the mop bucket disintegrated.  It had been left out in the sun and had suffered the same fate as the plastic garden chairs which had collapsed under Michael and me a couple of years ago.  I raided the armoire and chucked piles of towels into the pool.

Then began the process of finding a plumber.  After several phone calls involving answering machines and emergency numbers I couldn’t decipher, I phoned Roger to see if he knew a reliable plumber.  He immediately offered to come down and have a look at it.  Just before he arrived Kim and Saufiene, from Huis Clos came to inspect the work of the shutter installation.  I was then asked to complete a form giving my assessment of the organisation and the work.  For one mad period I was toing and froing between the sitting room and the kitchen; the two patient Frenchmen awaiting completion of the form; and Roger, enviably crouched down by the machine, coming to the conclusion that it was kaput.  The word I used for this condition caused my two French visitors great amusement because it also means ‘I can’t be bothered with it any more’.  Roger dragged out the water- and washing-filled machine on his own, found, and disconnected the electric lead, and proceeded to drain off the water so we could move it out of the way for a new one.  Thanks a million, Roger.  The two Frenchmen insisted on putting it in the hall for us.  Kim said he was short but strong.  I had been asked earlier if I was a poet.  I pointed out that, in French, Kim’s statement was a poem.

Then came a wonderful surprise.  Kim lives with his grandparents.  They treat him like a king.  His grandmother does all his laundry.  His own washing machine is in their garage.  He will lend it to me.  No money is required.  He and Saufiene will deliver it tomorrow.

Outside the bar this evening I enjoyed Le Code Bar pizza with a glass of red wine followed by creme brulee.  The pizza was very tasty with a runny fried egg in the middle.

Keeping up with Judith

On Saturday my pool of Friends to Bank on (25th. July), as I knew it would, increased by two.  Maggie offered to cash me a cheque, and Sandrine insisted I pay for all trips with one at the end of my stay.

Yesterday morning I finished the delightful ‘Wodehouse at the Wicket’, edited by Murray Hedgcock.  This consists of a brief biography of P.G.Wodehouse the cricketer, and a collection of his writings on the subject.  Whilst I found the poetry rather weak, I enjoyed the great humorist’s prose, which also managed to make tales of our national game exciting.  The book was one of two given to me by Steve at my 70th. birthday party (see 1st. July).  In the evening I began the other, ‘The Best Views from the Boundary’, compiled by Peter Baxter.  My friend had chosen considerately and well.

Backlit thistles 7.12

This was the long awaited day of the walk with Judith.  Roger dropped her off at No. 6 on the dot of 10 a.m.  She arrived in suitable walking gear carrying a backpack.  As we set off past Le Code Bar and up the Eymet road, aiming for the Munns’ home in Razac d’Eymet, Judith asked me if I liked to walk at a brisk pace.  Playing the arrogant male ex-marathon runner, conveniently forgetting my age and comparatively new left hip, ‘Yes, I do’, I rashly replied. ‘But I’m happy to walk at whatever pace you do’.  Judith quietly stepped it out up the slope past the retirement homes, and I knew I’d got a job on.  Up and down the hills at a steady scary stride she led me across the D933, or was it 993?, through St. Julien, pointing out the home of Mary and Robin who would be joining us for lunch.

There is a truism in distance running that states: ‘If you can’t talk, you are going too fast’.  Well, I managed to converse.  Just.  Actually we chatted throughout the journey,  only pausing to take sips of water on the move.  One discussion we had concerned the potential menace of loose dogs for walkers and runners alike.  Judith had received a considerable fright a couple of days ago when she had been surrounded by snarling, menacing canines whose owner, ignoring my friend’s plight, was calmly chatting to someone getting into a car.  Quite unconcerned, he eventually called them off.  Years ago, whilst running, I had had a similar experience with two Rhodesian ridgebacks.  Their owner was nowhere to be seen.  For me, there had been nothing for it but to knock on the door of the house from which they had escaped.  I hoped they wouldn’t savage me for invading their territory.  ‘They shouldn’t be out’, said the woman who answered the door.  ‘Too right’, said I.

Returning to the present, ‘I might stop to take occasional photographs’, I said.  ‘That’s fine’, my companion replied.  Even that respite was denied me.  I had forgotten my camera.  My bag contained nothing but water, wine, and a book I was returning to Keith.  Gutted.  This was a very pleasant morning with some beautiful scenes in view.  Not that I had much chance to look around me, as I concentrated on keeping abreast of Judith, and ensuring I was not reduced to watching her heels.  As we approached St. Julien, Judith pointed out the incongruity of the church tower, recently painted an excessively bright burnt sienna.  Perhaps it will weather in.

When we arrived at Razac, and Judith pointed out her home, still in the distance, I knew the end was in sight.  On entering, I sat down pretty sharpish.  In the characterful home she and Roger are building to her design, we were to be joined for lunch by the couple mentioned earlier, and other friends, Andie and Keith.  Andie had made an excellent Rita in the MADS production of ‘Educating Rita’ at Issegeac last year.  Roger’s mother is now in residence.  She looked fresh, in a pretty dress with an attractive coiffure created by a domiciliary hairdresser.

Not only had Judith set off early for the walk, she had prepared an excellent tradional roast lamb Sunday lunch, which she completed as soon as she got back, taking time out to wash and change into an attractive long dress.  I, on the other hand, not having brought a change of clothes, dried out in the sunshine.  My claim that Judith had ‘knackered me’ caused some amusement.  The alfresco meal was convivial fun, and we all tried our skill with Roger’s catapult.  Late in the afternoon, as the party disbanded, Robin and Mary drove me home.

Before going to bed I watched Stanley Kubrick’s ‘Full Metal Jacket’, an unrelentingly harrowing portrayal of military training and the exercise of the purpose for which it is intended.  Brilliant, if you can sit through it.

Family Pride

Last night at Le Code Bar I was the proudest man there.  The television room seemed to have been commandeered by raucus English pride.  I sat quietly choking throughout the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony.  By the time it finished it was well into today.  Consequently I didn’t wake up this morning until the unheard of hour of 11.15.

I knew that Sam had been involved in the committee adminstration for the whole five years since the bid was gained; that Holly had joined the team a year later as an environmentalist; that Adam had designed and managed a surprise at the end; and that Thea had produce some of the costumes.  Naturally I had told David and Frederick all this.  David enjoyed ragging me with the comment that this ceremony, and, indeed, the whole event, could not have taken place without the Knight family.  In one respect, he was right.  Adam Keenan, take a bow.

First we were treated to a spectacular and stunning live tableau of British social and cultural history.  The Olympic stadium had been transformed into the metamorphosing UK landscapes.  The choreography of the sheer numbers of characters and dancers was absolutely mind-blowing.  I gave up trying to imagine which costumes Thea had designed.  Knowing her, I suspect it was the most colourful.  Being determined to see this through to the end, I was well rewarded.  The lights were dimmed and transformed into a translucent blue.  From a central tunnel, one by one, emerged many magnificent working models of doves of peace.  This had Adam’s stamp all over it.  I doubt that anyone in the vast live audience could have seen that each one was powered by a cyclist.  Even on television this was spectacular.  Flapping their wings, the white doves against the blue of the sky, as they encircled the arena were incredibly effective.  One soared aloft.

We then heard speeches followed by various runners bearing the torch.  A drunken Englishman took pleasure in bawling into everyone’s ears a question concerning who would be the final torchbearer.  I firmly said ‘no idea’ and he left me in peace..  The answer turned out to be a team, each individual lighting points on machinery which rose to meet in the centre.  Well pleased, I went off to bed.

Today, Maggie and Mike collected me for a tour of garden centres, and took me back to Eymet for chicken casserole.  Sandrine drove my taxi home.

A Square Meal

Paella 7.12

Last night Le Code Bar was very quiet.  For this reason Frederick was able to offer me a complimentary glass of wine to drink with him, so I wasn’t quite as abstemious as I’d claimed.  Apparently it is far too hot for people to come out.  He and the staff are very concerned about the cat (see yesterday), which is disturbing for customers.  If only some of the diners would stop feeding it.

After this I watched ‘Ground Control’, a gripping and heart-rending film in praise of Air Traffic controllers, in which Kiefer Sutherland was magnificent in the lead role.  The supporting cast, including Henry Winkler (The Fonze in a previous incarnation) were excellent.

This morning my language skills were tested to the limit.  I had new windows and shutters fitted by Huis Clos.  Having been most impressed by their organisation and the fact that everyone I had spoken to so far, either in person or on the phone had pretty good English, I thought today’s communication would be a doddle.  Two very friendly artisans from the deep South turned up.  They spoke Spanish as well as their regional French, and had the tell-tale accent complete with lisp.  Their understanding of me was better than mine of them.  I knew I was getting somewhere, however, when there were no windows or shutters to the sitting room.  We sat sharing coffee and talked Olympics.  If they didn’t understand what I said, I found other words which did the trick.  So, coffee over, I said they could leave the back of the house as it was because there was a nice breeze coming through.  ‘As you wish,’ said the younger man, making as if to pick up his tools, and extending his hand  ‘Goodbye Monsieur’, a broad smile on his face.  That was the first and only time they sat down until they had finished.  I am extremely satisfied with their work.  I now have beautifully fitting shutters and secure French doors.

With 44 degrees on the garden thermometer and now no breeze, I spent the afternoon inside and finished John Le Carre’s Single & Single.  This novel, still about the Intelligence game and still intriguing, seemed to me much more humorous than other works of his I’ve read.  I enjoyed it.

At 4.15 I ventured out into the blistering heat and glare of sunlight.  I took the circular route round the cemetery to La Briaude and along the Eymet road back into Sigoules.  The French enjoy decorating their streets with flowers, and Sigoules has more than its share of artefacts from a bygone age filled with brightly coloured blooms.

Along the road to La Briaude a cock was crowing.  Perhaps his clocks keep similar times to those in No. 6.  Crickets were being broadcast in stereo.  Various amphibians were splashing about in the now shallow roadside stream.  Someone had extended their garden across the road onto the edge of a maize field.  Our Morden neighbour (see 18th. May post) would be proud of them.  I was relieved to benefit from the brief shade of the tree-lined road around the hamlet.

There was a bit of a wind by the time I got back.  It did more to dry than to cool me.

This evening it was paella and chicken and chips from stalls in the market square and Stella Artois from Le Code Bar.  As I have mentioned before, every Friday evening throughout July and August the square is covered in long tables and chairs; various food suppliers put up their stalls; Les Caves and others produce the wine; and people swarm in from miles around.  There is a pop group singing a fair number of English songs.  With respect to those who want to sleep, everything closes down around midnight. Given my proximity to the square I’d best join in.  If I didn’t there would be no point in going to bed early.  In any case these are delightful occasions, and at one we met Judith and Roger Munns.

The Paris Marathon

Last night I watched a DVD of ‘Burn After Reading’.  In this film political thrillers and computer dating get the Cohen brothers’ treatment.  That is, they make farce out of them.  David Edwards of the Daily Mirror described it as ‘………comedy genius’.  That is what Joel and Ethan Cohen are all about.  George Clooney, Frances McDormand, John Malkovich, Tilda Swinton, and Brad Pitt must have had great fun playing their parts to perfection.

This morning I walked to Monbos and branched off to Ste Innocence from where I returned to Sigoules.  This was a two and a half hour trek in the heat of the day.  And I do mean heat.  As I marched along, carrying a bottle of Perrier, a woman getting into her car told me it was very dangerous walking in this without a hat.  She didn’t quote Noel Coward at me, and I didn’t mention that I was suffering a slight hangover after my second bottle of Adnam’s last night.  I had not realised it is 6.7%.

The scratting of crickets in the hedgerows and of cicadas in the trees reminded me of the latter creatures at The Gite From Hell (4th. June).  I could feel the heat rising from the tarmac, the tar of which was, in places, melting.  It clung to my sandals, just as it had in Stanton Road in 1947, when I returned from play covered in it.  I expect my poor mother had to scrap my clothes.  Even the sunflowers turned their backs on the midday sun.

I have described the church at Monbos before (8th. June), but that was when I was not illustrating my posts.

At Ste Innocence I met a Dutchman called Emil who has a house there.  We swapped stories of such impulse buys.

As I staggered back into Sigoules, I thought of the Italian runner in the lead who was disqualified at the first London Olympics because, as he was wandering all over the place, someone helped him across the line.  I wasn’t marching any more.  The ice-cold water I had set off with was now almost ready for the cafetiere.  I put what was left of it in the fridge and got out another bottle which I consumed pretty quickly.  Rivulets ran down my neck for a while.  My soaking T-shirt soon dried in the 40 degree sauna that was the back yard.  I was in neither the shirt nor the garden at the time.  I had been as relieved to enter the cool shelter of the stone-walled No. 6 rue St. Jacques as Jackie would have been.  She wouldn’t have left it in the first place.

When running a marathon it is essential to drink water at regular intervals.  If you wait until you are thirsty it is too late.  This refreshment is taken in brief sips on the run.  You become accustomed to this by carrying water in training.  On one of our shared holidays with Sam and Louisa and our late wives Ann and Jessica, Don decided to help me out.  Meeting me at regular intervals on a two hour run, he provided the drink stations.  Driving to agreed points on the route, he brought me wonderfully cool, fresh, water.  We called this service ‘Le wagon d’eau’.  Don, where were you today?

That is why, in properly organised races, there are regular drink stations.  In the Paris marathon, some time in the ’80s, there were refreshment stands like no others.  The first was the only one at which I saw any water.  From it were distributed large plastic containers of Evian.  Those, like me, who managed to grasp one drank slowly and passed it on.  Big mistake.  Other tables contained nuts, bananas, and chocolate, none of which I could bear to think about.  Only at the last oasis did I see anything resembling liquid.  Huge containers of yoghurt.  I grabbed one and guzzled the lot.  Second big mistake.

I was quite used to congestion at the start of capital marathons.  In the London one it would take me ten minutes walking to reach the start line and a futher ten to take up anything like my normal pace.  Paris, however, just had to provide a blockage at the finish.  Ten minutes in a situation that reminded me of The Drain (6th. July).

Marshalling during the race was equally chaotic.  There are cobblestones around The Tower in one small stretch of the London event. These always need careful negotiation by the runners, who are left in peace to get on with it.  Not so in Paris, which had far more cobbled areas.  Any spectators wishing to do so seemed welcome to try their luck pacing alongside the contestants.  Cyclists were granted similar freedom.

A French friend, Arnoux, claiming to be there to meet a famous English runner; which, I hasten to add, I am not; smoothed my final passage through the drain.  As I was taking a welcome bath in our friends’ home, up came the yoghurt.  It supplemented the bath water.  I then had to explain why my ablutions had taken such a long time.  It was with considerable relief that, on the ferry home, I learned that even the elite runners had suffered similar embarrassment.  I never ran Paris again.

This evening I exchanged the back garden sauna for the one outside Le Bar for a deliciously tasty fruits de mer pizza with a plentiful side salad.  This was complemented by one glass of rose and a bottle of fizzy water.  After last night I thought I’d be careful.  An excellent creme brulee followed.

The problem with dining alfresco is that it tends to attract the local fauna.  Flies can be dismissed with a wave of the hand, or Australian salute as they tell me in Perth; ants need a well-aimed flick; the cat needed a little more persuasion to desist from climbing up my bare leg in search of my fruits de mer.

Friends To Bank On

On another scorching day Elizabeth drove me to Southampton airport where I boarded a plane to Bergerac to be met by Lydie, waving her arms and striding across the tarmac to embrace me.  She is, incidentally, about a foot shorter than me with the grip of a bear.  I had to drop my bag.  Before paying I asked her to deliver me to the Credit Agricole cash machine in the market square.  Still dopy from the plane, I entered the wrong pin number.  I had to search in my trouser pocket for the correct one, hidden in an electronic device.  So well hidden, that by the time I had retrieved it I had run out of time.  Lydie patiently waiting in the taxi.  Me scrabbling in my trousers, concerned that I was keeping her waiting.  An Englishman just off the plane.  I had to start again.  The machine gobbled my card.

I had given Lydie a list of trips for my friend Don, joining me next week, and me up to 14th. August, the first being in three days time.  ‘No problem’, she said,  ‘Saturday will do.’  Unfortunately this bank is only open two mornings a week , and tomorrow isn’t one of them.  Any visit there also has to wait until Saturday.  Now, my French account is with Barclays.  I originally opened this in Bergerac.  Sometime last year I discovered that that branch no longer does everyday banking.  Without my knowledge my account had been transferred to Paris  I could walk to Bergerac, but no way am I walking to Paris.  There was, therefore, nothing for it today but to telephone my personal banking manager in Paris.  Despite what it says on his card he wasn’t there.  There followed conversations with two different, very helpful, women interspersed with holding, biligual, messages.  Thank goodness, with their English and my French, we got by.  My card has been cancelled and I will be sent a new one which will cost 16 euros.  So far, so good.  But.  They can only send it to England, not to my house in France.  If I could get to Bordeaux, two and a half hours drive away, I would be able to collect my replacement card there.  Patiently, oh, so patiently, I explained that Bordeaux was a very long way away, I had no car, and NO MONEY.  Ah.  I can, however, use my chequebook, I am assured, without the card, although some people will not accept cheques for small sums like 2 euros.  Throughout this I naturally remained my usual calm, unflappable, self.

I then drew 90 euros on my NatWest account.  This, of course, will cost me a transfer fee.  And I’ve just transferred almost everything in my current account in England to my French one in order to pay for replacement shutters and windows, the work to start in two days time.  I may even go into overdraft, incurring another fee, despite having more than enough in a special interest bearing account which earns peanuts.  Now I know why NatWest have changed their Gold Account to a Black one.  Somewhat stymied.

It was definitely time to visit my friend David in Le Code Bar.  David readily allowed me to run up a tab for the duration of my stay and let me have cash if I needed it.  Given that this is a very recent friendship I would call that a generous display of trust.

Never mind.  The house is as I left it in early June.  The agapanthus is blooming for the first time; the lizards are basking in 38 degrees; and I am growing my own tomatoes on a plant which has forced its way through the boards of my compost bin.  There are potatoes coming up in a bed I composted last year.

I’ve just missed the annual wine festival, the bunting for which will stay in the village for the rest of the summer.  UK, of course, has been similarly festooned since the football world cup and the Queen’s jubilee, and now awaits the London Olympics, for which I will also be absent.  I have exchanged Union flags for floral flourishes.

Once I’d settled in, I paid a visit to my friends Garry and Brigitte who live next door.  Unfortunately for me their magnificent house is up for sale; sadly for them the market is depleted.  We had what, for me, is essential, a pleasant conversation with people who  speak the correct French I learned at school with a Parisian accent, delivered at a pace I can understand.  It is good for my ears which cannot pick up the local accent.  Rather like a French speaker trying to understand a Geordie.

In Carrefour I had a cheque accepted without a card.

This evening I dined alfresco at Le Bar.  I sat under a lime tree sadly devoid of caterpillars (see yesterday).  There were, however, a number of flies seemingly interested in my steak and chips; and the occasional wasp attracted by my Adnams Innovation.  Take note of the latter, Don.  Creme brulee was to follow. I was well satisfied.