Blowing my own trumpet

July 20, 2019

It is great when projects work out perfectly. So I am blowing my own trumpet, because it was my idea to bring a brilliant writer and philosopher to Lamastre for a book signing. Not that he lives far away, but he is rather timid – which is a bigger obstacle than miles when it comes to public appearances.

His name is Jean-Pierre Martin and he has just published an “autopianography” intitled “Real Book”.

Jean-Pierre explaining what I am explaining below.

Kate makes a guest appearance.

Just up my street, as I think the famous REAL BOOK, which is the bible of all jazz musicians, is a beautiful example of “power to the people”. Perhaps not as spectacular and politically significant as the Fall of the Berlin Wall, but it shows that when there is a real desire to unite interests, there is a way to avoid all red tape and just get on with it.

During the 60’s and 70’s it was extremely difficult to get hold of printed jazz music, for several reasons. The most usual instruments are in different keys: saxophones in Eb, trumpets in Bb etc so the publisher would need to write the music for three sections on the same score. The new generation of jazz musicians were young and generally didn’t have much money, so buying the score from a Charing Cross Road publisher for the price of three lunches wasn’t an option. What’s more jazz is based on improvisation, so how do you write the score anyway?

Well, each jazz piece has a theme comprising melody and chords. To avoid copyright issues there was one solution: just to write down the chords. And soon an anthology appeared, called the Fake Book. Not much help for a trumpet or a trombone, because we only play one note at a time! So students of Berklee University sat down and – in their spare time – transcribed the melody of each theme, based on the song’s most famous recording and in the key of that recording. Of course the improvisation was up to you. You could always listen to the record and try to imitate Miles, Coltrane or Parker.

To differentiate their work from the Fake Book they called at the Real Book.

All this in the 60’s and 70’s before the electronic revolution. So how to distribute this work?

XEROX!!! The photocopy machine. (I remember being so excited when we had our first photocopier at school that we all stuck our heads underneath the lid and photocopied our faces – making sure we had our eyes closed. I suppose everyone did this. The precursor of selfies!)

Of course you couldn’t buy the Real Book. The only way to get hold of your own copy was to borrow it from a fellow musician, photocopy every page – almost 500 of them – and be sure to get it back to him before the next jam session! Over the next 20 years millions of scores from the Real Book were photocopied. And it didn’t take long: jazz had found a common language. So whether you are in Sidney, Moscow or Arlebosc, if the band plays ‘Round Midnight and you want to join them, you know it is going to be in in E flat minor. (6 flats! – why don’t they play All of me which is in C major!)

Now back to Lamastre and the other Real Book written by Jean-Pierre Martin.

The book talks about his lifelong obsession with the piano. Although starting to play as a child and driven by the desire to master the instrument like Art Tatum or Duke Ellington, his fingers struggled to realise his dream. During an eventful life as a militant student in the Paris of 68, as a factory worker, as a clog maker in the middle of nowhere and finally as a university professor, the piano never left him. He describes his frustration and fascination with his instrument, which he characterises as a despotic mistress. When his career as a writer took off, he finally had to choose between the two keyboards. The piano moved into the background, but the obsession did not. He therefore defines himself as an amateur musician and he is making the point that the word “amateur” has unjustly gained a pejorative connotation in common usage. Amateur means “the person who loves”, so let’s love what we do, and never mind the labels.

The signing took place at the bookshop L’Arbre à Feuilles on Saturday during the farmers’ market – the day when the little town is at its busiest. You may remember from previous blog posts that we have already organized a book signing for “Welcome to the Free Zone” by N. and L. Gara, and a signing session with Jean-Loup Chifflet, author of “Sky My Husband”.

For the presentation of “Real Book” I had organized a trio of musicians to accompany the author (on piano) so that he could illustrate his book by playing jazz standards. Myriam, who runs the bookshop, fully embraced the festive mood and combined the event with the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Arbre à Feuilles.  She had decorated her store front and provided free beer, fruit juice and things to eat.

And we played like real amateurs!

Markus

 

An owl, a hen and a hare

July 15, 2019

“That wouldn’t happen in Paris!” we often find ourselves exclaiming after yet another enchantingly quirky moment. A few examples . . .

The pianist is half an hour late for rehearsal and explains apologetically that he had to rescue a drowning hare from his swimming pool.

Driving home late from a concert we have to draw up sharply to avoid colliding with an owl, sitting complacently in the middle of the road. He absolutely refuses to budge until one of us gets out and escorts him to safety on the verge – he was most affronted at being accosted.

Just the other evening we were enjoying an apéro with friends on the balcony of their house in the village when their neighbour passed underneath, carrying a cardboard box. “Would you like a hen?” he said, “if not, she’s going to Maurice”. This sounded a bit ominous and our friends, who have never kept hens in their lives, immediately said yes. The box was brought up, we peered inside and saw a fluffy mass of grey feathers. “She’s called Bernadette,” said the neighbour as he left.

We went back to our wine, but after a while we realised that their labrador Lychee was sitting next to the box, staring down at it intently. She has been trained as a seeing eye dog and can cope with most things with equanimity but this was strange: a box which smelt odd, which moved and from time to time clucked! We opened it up to introduce them and Lychee leapt a foot in the air. Bernadette seized the chance to escape and it was only François’s lightening reflexes which saved her from tumbling off the balcony.  Not the sort of thing that happens in the salons mondains parisiens!

Earlier this summer we went to spend a couple of nights with Markus’s cousin who has a house in near the Mediterranean. She also has a swimming pool, a kumquat tree and a shady terrace, so it was a perfect place to escape the heatwave. We checked the weather in Arlebosc whilst we were away and were delighted to see that it was raining heavily. Hooray for the garden! It was only when we got home we discovered that not only had we left the roof windows open but also the front door! The rain had not improved the ancestral Stuckelberger table, but had fortunately missed the new computer, and moreover no ill-intentioned person had sauntered through the front door!

No, you certainly wouldn’t get away with that in Paris!

 

All photo credits, Wikicommons – that isn’t really Lychee!

Lunch at the Château

July 1, 2019

The whole of France is sweltering in an unprecedentedly early and violent heatwave and though we have not hit 45C (113F) like the poor city of Nîmes, it has been a steady 37C (99F) for the past week and the garden is gasping.  We live indoors with the shutters closed from early morning until sundown, when we venture out to water the plants.  The blackcurrants are cooking on their bushes and the swiss chard leaves are crisply toasting in the sun, only the tomatoes and courgettes seem to appreciate the heat and have shot up and out in all directions.

So we were lucky that ten days ago it was ten degrees cooler as we set out to mark the paths of the annual hike for the Ardéchoise.

For the fourth year running, Damien at the Tourist Office of St Félicien, where the cycling event is based, has organised three one day hikes for people who are visiting but not partaking in the event, or who are having a day off from cycling.  The aim is to show off the diversity and beauty of the surrounding area, to involve the four neighbouring villages, St Victor, Pailharès, Bozas and Arlebosc and to feature the delicious food of our numerous artisan producers.

Each day the group sets out from St Fé by bus to start their hike in one of the villages, with the opportunity to cheer on the cyclists as they pass through.  They then hike to a farm for lunch and continue back to St Fé, over an average distance of about 14 km.  Damien has cleverly managed to vary the routes every year, since quite a few people return, and on this occasion, instead of lunching at a farm, we were privileged to be invited by M le Comte and Madame to the Château de Chazotte in Arlebosc.

On the two days preceding the event we marked out the hiking route, some of the time in the company of our friend Jacques from St Félicien, who was able to introduce us to a way back to his village which we had not previously known about.  It has been fun over the years to discover new paths linking us to St Fé. There is a considerable hill to negotiate, but Damien is a dab hand at planning out routes and, taking advantage of the numerous paths and tracks linking remote farms, putting together short cuts and wonderful itineraries.

In all the years we have been here we have never had occasion to step into the precincts of the château in Arlebosc, which has been home to the same family for hundreds of years, and although we occasionally run into Madame at the boulangerie we have never, as it were, been formally introduced.  We rolled up at 10 am and presented ourselves in the courtyard.  The de Chazottes turned out to be a charming couple and they showed us into their magnificent barn where the hikers’ lunch was to be held.

We were soon busy with the other volunteers, setting up tables and preparing the lunch.  Everything came from local farms: caillettes (a local speciality made with minced meat, swiss chard and herbs) and jacket potatoes with tomme en salade (a soft cheese, mixed with grilled rape seed oil and garlic, which sounds alarming but is actually delicious).  There was country bread from the baker at Colombier le Vieux, who also provided an excellent bilberry tart for dessert (bilberries grow abundantly in the woods between us and St Fé).  And for those who wished there was artisan beer from St Victor and coffee to accompany the tart – altogether a pretty good lunch, which was greatly appreciated by the fifty hungry hikers.

But what made this occasion really special was the warm and unaffected presence of the chatelains, who sat themselves down with the walkers and chatted away throughout the meal about their house and family.  There had just been a grand celebration for the Count’s 90th birthday.  The entire tribe had been present,  (indeed we had seen them all trooping into church for a special mass on a very wet Sunday the previous week) and, together with balloons and other decorations the impressive family tree was stilled pinned to the walls, documenting the generations from the 18th Century all the way to the current 46 great grand children.

At the end of the meal M de Chazotte made a short speech and then sang a traditional Ardéchois folksong, with his wife encouraging us all to join in the chorus. Then we all trooped out into the forecourt to hear a brief history of the château, during which he told us that he, his father and grandfather had all been born in the house and had run the winegrower’s estate. It was time for a group photo, thanks and farewells.

The walkers still had many kilometres, mostly uphill, before them, but Monsieur was not going to leave it at that! No one could resist the invitation to visit the cellars, which he refers to as the fifth floor of his home and which are reputed to be magnificent.

We skipped the cellars and headed back to the barn to clear up. Our friend Elizabeth, who was born in the village and is very active in all things cultural, has promised to organise a private visit for us, during which we are hoping to learn much more about the history of the Château de Chazotte. Monsieur is known to be an unstoppable fount of information and we can’t wait to hear everything he has to tell.

20,000 steps a day . . .

June 21, 2019

We were delighted to welcome back two American Walksweeks guests from last year, who brought a German friend with them for part of their stay.  The weather was a bit challenging but they were able to fit in a hike every day and we improvised some activities for rainy evenings.  We went to an excellent concert in the church of Arlebosc one night, and Markus conducted a wonderfully atmospheric wine tasting in one of our cellars, which we all enjoyed.

 

Our guests revisited walks and haunts from their previous visit as well as discovering new routes.

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They had brought us some wonderful gifts, including these splendid Walksweeks hats.

A big thank you to Jody and Sue – we are already looking forward to having you back here in 2020!

PS Notice the name of the local beer!

La Transhumance

June 4, 2019

To steal a phrase from Garrison Keillor, it has been a quiet week at les Sarziers . . . .

On Thursday we played an Apéro Swing in Vernoux for Emilie and her dancers, which was a lot of fun.

The next day it was time to get started on the elderflower syrup.

Then the weather suddenly turned boiling over the week end and it was both a real pleasure and a relief to spend a day in Brice and Lisa’s wine cellar helping them to bottle 600 litres of Cuvée Morlanche 2018.

But the highlight of the week definitely came yesterday afternoon when we were able to help our friends Catherine and Robin, from the nearby village of Bozas, to walk their three donkeys and one horse to their summer quarters.

 

They were running out of grass at home  – apparently Pomme the mare never stops eating – meanwhile Brice and Lisa have a lovely little sloping meadow, either side of a stream, which is just crying out to be munched. So it was arranged that the animals should take up residence at Morlanche for a few months. Robin had fenced off an area for them and all that remained was to walk them from B to A.

When we showed up at their place, Couette et Tartine, Robin had got all the animals penned into a small enclosure. He told us that they seemed a little anxious, not sure whether they were going to end up “en sauce” as he put it, but otherwise ready for departure.

He himself took Pomme the mare, Catherine walked with Pilou, Markus had Django, I led his mother, Babou, who was said to be docile (“une crème” affirmed Catherine) and off we went.

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The distance by road is 4 miles, but we took a much more direct series of tracks, some of which we had never walked before. Robin told us that this was once the route between the upper farms between Bozas and Arlebosc but, as was so often the case, when it came to deciding which ones to maintain and surface for road traffic, the longer routes with less steep gradients were often preferred. Incidentally, we learned recently that as late as the 1960’s only 20% of the roads in the commune of St Basile (the setting for much of Welcome to the Free Zone) were tarred, which would explain why the occupying German forces rarely ventured into the more remote locations and hill farms.

The route was enchanting, and the donkeys behaved beautifully for the most part, walking along steadily with occasional halts to get their breath and admire the scenery and sneaking a quick munch of tempting lush grass, clover and wild flowers as they passed. There was a bit of pushing and shoving, especially on narrow downhill stretches, but nothing too alarming and our fears that we wouldn’t be up to the task proved unfounded.

Roger told us that Robin and Catherine’s farm was once home to a famous bull and he remembered frequently walking the route as a young man in order to borrow the bull to put in with his cows. This was of course common practice in the past but only a few years ago a very old lady, who lived alone with her animals in an extremely remote farm in the hills above the village, told us that an equally elderly farmer, hearing that she was looking for a billy goat to put with her little flock, walked 10 miles over hill and dale from the village of Paiharès to bring the bouc to her farm.

Our walk took less than a couple of hours, but it was a wonderful experience. The countryside is looking glorious at the moment, and we passed a couple of farms garlanded with roses and irises and basking in the sunshine. There were also some furious dogs, (mercifully on chains) but everyone arrived safely to be welcomed by Brice and Lisa.

The animals quickly took possesion of their new home and after some pretty enthusiastic intitial grazing, set off to explore, led by Pilou, whilst we all settled down with a glass of Morlanche and reflected on the many quiet pleasures of living in the middle of nowhere.

 

 

Buying a sofa

April 4, 2019

We have been telling ourselves for some time that we really ought to invest in a good sofa-bed, to put up extra visitors or Walksweeks guests.  And endlessly putting it off. It’s not easy to motivate yourself for this kind of purchase when you live in the middle of nowhere. There are no huge furniture warehouse chains in France, no frenetic TV advertising in the run up to Christmas (why?) and in any case we haven’t got a television.  Add to that the fact that French furniture makers have for some years followed an unfortunate trend, set by the up-market Roche Bobois, for sofas with such deep seats that your guests are obliged to sprawl almost flat to reach the back, and so tend to perch uneasily on the edge of the seat, whilst you pass them cushions in an attempt to make them look and feel more comfortable. No, we didn’t want to get caught out like that again!

Of course there is always the trusty Ikea, and indeed we have turned to them many times and always been pleased with the results, but it’s a trek to our nearest store, too much hassle for now, so we kept putting it off.  In any case the questions just mounted up: could we get it delivered? would it go up the stairs? what colour? what to do with the old one? (a rash purchase at the first auction we ever attended, almost immediately regretted) . . .  and so on.

And then I was passing La Maison Richard in Lamastre, a family run establishment which sells everything from sewing cotton to furniture, and spotted what looked like a very possible sofa in the window, reduced by 100 €. A few days later Markus came to have a look and realised that it was indeed a canapé convertible. We went inside to investigate.  It turned out to be perfect, made in France, reasonably priced, comfortable, with a human-dimensioned seat and a high back, and amazingly easy to transform into a full sized bed with just one flick of the wrist.  No cushions to store and a very comfy mattress: c‘est un Dunlopillo confirmed Monsieur.  Deal done.

Could they deliver?  Mais certainement!  Would that evening be convenient? (it was about half past three) Perfect. Would we mind if they came after they had closed the shop as Madame likes to go out for a spin after spending the day indoors?  Yes they would take away the old one for recycling, no we didn’t need to pay, we could write a cheque later.  What address?  We started to explain that we are les Sarziers not Sarzier but Madame stopped us.  Of course I know she said, I was born in the house!

Yes, it’s another of these stories, but each one adds a little to the history of our life at les Sarziers.

They rolled up at about seven and made very short work of getting the new sofa upstairs, re-assembling it, showing us how it works and stowing away the old one in their van.  Then we settled down in the kitchen and Markus opened a bottle of Brice’s wine from the La Mouna vineyard in Empurany.  They took one sip, looked at each other and exclaimed c’est exactement comme le Gamay du grand-père!”  They explained that Madame was only eight months old when her father died and the family left the farm.  Her mother needed to complete her nursing training and so the baby was looked after by her maternal grandparents, who lived above the village of Empurany.  Grandpa must have been quite a character, to judge by the stories they told us.

In the 1920s he travelled with with his ox cart to the Beaujolais, north of Lyon, to buy Gamay plants for his vineyard.   Arlebosc and Empurany were well known at the time as winegrowing villages and Gamay was, and still is, the favoured varietal.  Goodness, we said, how long did it take to get there?  Oh about a week, they replied, adding that it was just as well that the oxen knew their way on the final stretch of the return journey, since there had been a lengthy pause at the village café to celebrate the event, and le Davidou had to rely on them to get him safely home with his precious load.

Later on he had a 2CV which he was liable to drive off the road because he was always interested to check on his neighbour’s crops and animals and was inclined to “turn the steering wheel the same way as his gaze”. He once famously “harvested” a neighbour’s wheat with his Deudeuche, by driving through a patch without noticing!

He drank only his own wine, which he also supplied to all the neighbouring restaurants and cafés, not forgetting his own family. When his older sister had to go into a nursing home he kept up the supply until she died at a ripe old age. He himself died about 15 years ago, accidentally as they said, at the age of 94!

Madame’s husband also lost his parents at a relatively young age and he too was brought up by his grandparents. They both remarked that they were fortunate to have known their grandfathers, since so many of that generation did not return from the Great War and frequently their contemporaries never knew theirs. This particular young man had lied about his age in 1914 – he was 16 – and joined up so as not to be separated from his older brother.  They both only expected to be away for a few months (“over by Christmas”) and instead spent four years at the front.  Both brothers survived the battle of Verdun, which lasted from February to December of 1916, claiming 360,000 French lives, and is remembered by French people as the defining battle of WW1.

The family business will celebrate its centenary next year, having been founded by the grandfather in Lamastre in 1920.  They started out as matelassiers and Monsieur told us how he and his boss would travel each year to distant farms to remake some of the family mattresses.  As he said, with families of fourteen or so, there was always the need.  These were wool mattresses which the family would have unstitched, before taking out the wool and washing it – some people better than others, he added dryly.  Then the wool was re carded and the mattress remade, with 3 or 4 kilos of new wool added to each.  He certainly knows all about mattress making, and his approving comment of le Dunlopillo took on new significance for us.

I have always found Madame to be a trifle intimidating, although she has an unbeatable eye for matching colours when it comes to zips and thread, but on this occasion I discovered her softer side and passed her the tissues as she looked around the kitchen and tried to picture the father and the family life she had never known.  They stayed for a couple of hours and as they rose to leave, the carefully prepared, hand written invoice was produced and we made out the cheque (everyone uses cheques for everything here, even in the market).

After they had gone we reflected on the enormous difference there is between this sort of transaction and the “couple of clicks”, totally automated kind.  La Maison Richard will not continue after this generation as both their daughters are trained district nurses and love their jobs – so crucial to rural areas like ours.  But as long as local businesses like this exist it is a real pleasure to have an opportunity to support them.  We are delighted with our new sofa, and just as delighted with the experience of purchasing it.

 

PS. A while back we noticed this rather saucy description on a double mattress, displayed outside the shop.  So French!

 

 

 

It’s almost Spring, so . . . .

March 8, 2019

Finally, the answers!  Apologies for the delay, but here they are at last.  Many thanks to all of you who submitted entries, we were impressed by the clarity and detail of many replies – a lot of research had clearly been done and the level of entries was impressively high!

 

1      The stone is used to clean the mud off your boots before going inside. It can also be useful to help remove said boots if they get stuck.

 

2      Oxen were led into this structure, strapped in and raised a little off the ground so that the blacksmith could shoe them in safety and comfort. This one is in the village of Grozon near us.

 

 

They are used on our little railway line to attach sleepers to the rails.

 

4 This is a winnowing machine, manufactured in Tarare, a small town north west of Lyon. We had an ancient one in our stable for years, but at the time of the Great Clear Out we broke it up and burned it. This is one of the parts that we kept and still use for sieving stones out of earth etc.

 

5 They are wedges to support a wine barrel.

 

6 This is a high tech “canon à grêle”, (which Brice describes as un oeuvre d’art contemporain), designed to shoot shock waves into the atmosphere and disperse hail-bearing clouds which are a threat to ripening tree fruit, in this case apricots.

It replaces the former practises of shooting into the clouds with a rifle, or laboriously lighting little fires in tin cans placed foot of each tree. Apart from being hideous and intrusive they are causing a great deal of controversy on account of the noise they produce. (Fortunately none too close to us)

 

7 A is used to lift potatoes,

B several uses, including tracing lines for sowing seed.

C is a dibber for planting onions, shallots and bulbs of all kinds.

 

8 It is called a chevalet (or little horse), hence saw-horse in English, and is used to balance logs when sawing them. (Obviously not the ones stacked behind it!)

The same word is used for a painter’s easel and there’s an amusing moment in Welcome to the Free Zone (p 69) where a flustered Delphine confuses chevalet and chèvre (goat), which Bill cleverly translated as easel and weasel:

‘Excuse me, Madame,’ said the newcomer, whose voice was that of a woman despite the man’s trousers, ‘I’m looking for someone who’s supposed to be round here. Maybe you’ve seen her go past! A young blonde woman, quite tall, with an easel.’

‘A woman? With a weasel?’ repeated Delphine, stunned. ‘No, I haven’t seen anyone, I’m sure. Especially with a weasel… anyway, there aren’t any weasels round here…

 

This wire basket is for collecting and transporting eggs.

 

10   This door protects the access to a “source captée” or capped spring.

These are very common around here and serve as a reliable water supply for more isolated properties. The door opens to a stone lined passage, which can be up to 20m in length, leading to a chamber, beautifully constructed of stone, occasionally quite elaborate, on two levels, which constitutes a small reservoir.

 

11      5 nails =14 black caps (you do the maths!)

 

12       

Every farm once had their range of clapiers à lapins and rabbits were bred and fattened up as a manageable source of meat. Our neighbour Mme Banchet used to show us her rabbits with pride, announcing that “à deux kilos cinq on les fait à la barbecue!” * However she was much too soft-hearted to kill them herself and one of her neighbours had to come down from the side valley on his Solex to dispatch them for her! 

*Telle grand’mère, tel petit fils!

 

 

And now . . . . Drum roll . . . . the winners are . . . . .

In Honourable Third Place and Highly Commended:  The Swiss Team – Vreni and Jürg

In a Very Strong Second Place, (making good use of their local knowledge, despite the handicap of The Wrong Language and with a special commendation for facetiousness): The Local team – Brice and Lisa

In an Unassailable First Place, the winners of our Mid Winter Quiz are:  The Welsh Team – Jane and John.

 

Congratulations to our winners and thank you all for playing our Mid Winter Quiz!

 

 

Winter walks

February 9, 2019

Entries to our Mid Winter quiz are beginning to arrive, do keep them coming!  Don’t forget that you have until February 22nd to submit your efforts (no, it’s really NOT that hard!) by email to kate@walksweeks.com.

In the meantime here are some wintry pictures from the past couple of weeks.

A walk above Empurany.

Burning up the prunings.

A walk at Nozières.

More cold birds.

A walk at Monteil.

And a final cold bird!

Mid-winter quiz

January 22, 2019

The temperature is dropping and snow is forecast but we are snug indoors with the wood-burners crackling and a pot-au-feu on the stove – it’s time for our mid winter quiz!  And this time there’s a prize to be won!  We are offering a thrilling ride on the Vélorail down the Doux Gorge for the lucky winner plus one!!  So, thinking caps on and here we go.

1  Apart from cracking your head open when you fall over it, what is this stone used for?

2  It looks like a medieval instrument of torture, but what was the function of this contraption?

3  On the advice of a friend I use these to weight bottling jars in the sterilizer. Where did they come from and what was their original function?

4  What links these three pictures?

5  What should be placed between these four objects?

6  What on earth is this and what is its purpose?

7  Planting, sowing , harvesting …. which tool is used for which?

8  Can you name this useful piece of kit in French and what is it used for? For our French readers, do you know what it is called in English?

9  This wire basket has a specific use, what is it?

10  What is behind this little door?

11  Our bird feeder is proving popular with black caps. Based on the RSPB weight of one bird (21g), how many black caps would weigh the equivalent of these hand made nails?

12  Who once lived here?

We hope you have fun with our conundrums!  We love getting comments so please keep them coming, but answers please only by email to:   kate@walksweeks.com  (You don’t want anyone copying your intelligent responses!)

Closing date for entries is February 22nd!

 

A timely intervention

January 15, 2019

Bonne Année, bonne santé – everyone is wishing their friends, colleagues, the postman … the cat, a happy and healthy new year.

2019 kicked off for us with a burst water pipe. At 2 am, on a nocturnal trip to the bathroom, it was clear that the cistern wasn’t filling, the taps were dribbling and in short we had no water. Fitful attempts to sleep until it was light enough to investigate resulted in vivid dreams, for both of us involving exactly the same point on the lane up to the house, so as soon as it was light, Markus knew precisely where to look! And sure enough at the very spot where in his dream he had been discussing the problem with a neighbour, water was gushing merrily out of a hole in the ground and flowing briskly down the lane to the main road.

We called the water company at 8.30 and they promised to send out their team so Markus popped round to see Roger and, since he too had no water, to drink a glass of rosé – eh oui!

Mid-morning a chap in a van turned up, who proved to be vastly entertaining. He told us he had been able to verify that the pipe had burst at 2 am because water consumption at les Sarziers had hit a noticeable spike on his débitmetre, and he added that he was most grateful that we had refrained from calling the emergency hotline until the morning since he had been on the night shift.

He shook his head at the stream and regretted that he would be obliged to cut off our water supply until such time as the repair team showed up. Markus pointed out that we didn’t have water in any case, and he replied pensively “Ah oui, c’est bien vrai!” Once he had stemmed the flow at the stop tap on the crossroads and the river began to abate, he drew two blue arrows on the road to show the repair team where to look and Markus complimented him on his artistry. “Well”, he said, “I have lots of practice”, adding rather daringly, “and at the week ends I paint them in yellow!”

The next task was to indicate to the repair gang the exact location of les Sarziers. Yes, I know, faithful readers will recall the great naming and numbering operation of a few years ago, which, we were promised, despite the huge waste of time and natural resources, would enable the emergency services and tutti quanti to pinpoint each house in France with unerring accuracy. Abolutely useless of course! We were back to the same old confusion between us and the tiny, almost inaccessible hamlet of Sarzier, where many a lorry has found itself hopelessly stuck. Back to the wrong name for our lane, our crossroads and no knowledge whatsoever of 140 Chemin des Granges. Which is all as it should be.

Once all that had been sorted out, he prepared to leave. Markus asked when the SWAT team might be expected to arrive and the chap said “Ah!” and looked wise. “Well”, he said, “they are at present attending an emergency in St Victor,” a small village about 10 miles away, with a restaurant. It was now 11.30 and he thought they would probably arrive before 12, unload the digger and then go and have lunch. “The thing is though,” he said, “they are very choosy about where they have lunch”. They might of course eat in St Victor, then again they might feel like a change and have a look at Chez Nath in Boucieu, or perhaps check out Empurany, although the cuisine there might not be quite to their taste in which case they would go on to find somewhere in Lamastre of an acceptable standard. “They’ll probably be here by two” he said with a twinkle in his eye as he got into his van and sped off.

Sadly, we had an appointment in the valley and had to set off at 2.30 before there was any sign of these epicures. We were sorry to miss them, although we did spot their lorry, loaded with a cheery turquoise digger, coming towards us on the road from St Victor.

When we returned, it was all over. A neat patch of turned earth and water back on tap. A hugely satisfactory outcome, combining French efficiency, wit and gastronomy. Happy New Year to you all!


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