Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Dose Of Kulcha ...

It has been drawn to my admittedly reluctant attention that there are people, even here in enthusiastically-shagging Ole Yurrup, who are opposed to this thing they call "fracking". No, it's not what you think I'm saying, it's just a method of extracting oil from underground strata by violently rupturing said strata using water under extreme pressure. But you knew that. The doomsayers are all predicting much moaning, the writing of tearful letters home, and wailing, and doubtless gnashing of teeth (I would prefer not to post the original French, it sounds rather like reflux vomiting), and are doubtless preparing their press statements to be released in the case of what they hope to be inevitable disaster. Headline spoiler - "Meddling With Things Man Was Not Meant to Know".

For god's sake, people, we are people, after all. I rather think that screwing about with things we don't understand is part of the job description. But it's true that as a general rule only engineers get paid for it.

Whatever, at some ungodly hour this very moaning young Cédric the Impenetrable (I am talking here about his accent, which is impressively Provençal and rivals Glaswegian for incomprehensibility, not Kevlar body armour) turned up with his jack-hammer to attack the terrace. Quite impressive really, by the end of the day he'd heaved about 5 cubic metres of broken tiles, mortar and sand into the back of his truck, and provided hours of innocent fun for all the passers-by (who all seemed to know him anyway, even if only as the cousin of a friend of the son-in-law).

Still, this is a Good Thing, because it means that Things Are Being Done, and just maybe in three months we'll be living in our apartment up on the top floor and everything else will be hunky-dory, ship-shape, and possibly even Bristol-fashion. (Although for me Bristol refers to sherry, dating back to the days when it was the major port for the importation of the vital fluid from the mosquito-ridden llama-infested south of Spain, so the reference is boozily dubious. And, quite coincidentally, Renaud is headed off there tomorrow to look at a motor that is misbehaving. As they will.)

A couple of days later ... Thursday, to be precise, and the terrace is ready to be waterproofed, have a new cement chape laid on top, and then get tiled. Sadly, the first of these operations requires a guaranteed rain-free 48 hours so that the resin sets properly (or something technical along those lines): the second, too, needs dry weather. Just at the moment, it's hard to predict with any accuracy just what we're going to get so, discretion being the better part of valour, Cédric has been up on the top floor breaking things.

Also, mumble-fucking about the loony that put the walls and such up, using 8cm screws spaced every 10cm to hold things together. Whoever it was must have been paranoid about the possibility of things falling down spontaneously. Which doubtless explains why the little wind shelter for the barbecue that used to be at one corner of the terrace was built out of heavily reinforced concrete. Took him all afternoon to get rid of it, maybe that was a mistake as we could always have used it as a bomb shelter should ever things come to that.

Then we spent all day Friday, after a quick visit to pick out new tiles for the terrace, with Cédric and the plumber and the electrician to go over the work and watch and listen as the future bill gets higher and higher ...

Now a while back we thought we'd better bite the bullet and accept that we are no longer young spring chickens, so Margo signed us both up as members of le club de troisième age (yes, that means what you probably think it does, and yes, I do exaggerate just a wee bit) who organise les sorties patrimoine, and on Saturday we went off with about 40 others on an outing to Mazamet, up in la montagne noire, to learn about the wool industry.

La montagne noire is one of the last bits of the massif central, I guess - an east-west ridge of schist and granite (kind of black, hence the name) that runs from Beziers to north of Carcassonne, with a river valley between it and the actual massif. So there a huge outcrops of black rock everywhere - of which, having sod-all else to hand, they built their houses and chateaux-forts - and it's very green, and that day at least it was raining persistently, so it kind of reminded me of what I imagine the West Coast to be like, or maybe Wales. Half-expected Harry Secombe to wallow into view, doing extracts from The Sound Of Music. Also, Singing in the Rain.

And I suppose you can imagine my pleasure as we went up narrow twisty roads along hill crests and through valleys and got to the snow, at about 700m I guess. That most definitely was not in the tourist brochures.

Whatever, we eventually came down the northern side of the range and into the valley and the centre of Mazamet, parked and found everyone else and then hopped on to the minibus that was going to take us back up to the mediaeval village of Hautpouls, which clings to a rocky outcrop about 300m up above the town.

The guide from the Office de Tourisme did his best, and the story he had to tell about the place was interesting: had it been fine it would have been a lovely visit but the cold drizzle and the fog clinging to the slopes didn't really help and we were extremely glad to get back down and into a restaurant to attack some kangaroo kebabs. (Yes, seriously. With green pepper sauce, which in my opinion could usefully have been replaced by something else, but that's just me.)

Maybe the weather goes some way to explaining why Simon de Montfort was always in such a foul temper: gouging eyes out, cutting off tongues and stoking the flames with a couple of hundred heretics at a time - mind you, being a rabidly psychopathic religious nut-case probably didn't help his mood either, distracted as he doubtless was by visions of lubricious succubi.

It was still drizzling in the afternoon but these old folks are made of sterner stuff than your modern wimpy yoof, so we went off anyway on a tour of the town to learn a bit about its history. They invented the technique of delainage, which basically consists of soaking a sheep pelt in water until the surface just starts to got rotten, at which point you can scrape the wool off in great clumps and find yourself with wool waiting to be cleaned and baled, and skins ready for making leather.

They made a fortune from that - well, a lucky moneyed few made a fortune from it - buying sheep pelts from all over the world (they apparently still get a few visitors every year from Australia and New Zealand, people whose families used to trade with Mazamet back in the day), and exporting wool and skins from their stockpile. Fort Knox, for dead sheep. In a town of some 10 000 people at the time, they had something like 27 banks, and could get a confirmed bank order for a payment in Buenos Aires in fifty minutes, thanks to heavy investment in communications technology. And we're talking around 1905 here, people. I'd always thought they were still using smoke signals back then, but that seems not to be the case.

The few that made the money - very large sums of it - were mainly Protestant: historically there's always been lots of them around in these parts, thanks to the tolerance and, I guess, the physical distance from the (Catholic) seat of power in Paris. They liked to be relatively discreet about their wealth, and the only signes exterièures de richesse that are left are high walls lining all four sides of a city block, with a wrought-iron gate and, plonked in the middle of the garden, an imposing three-storey neo-classical house with a mansard roof. (Incidentally, I never knew that those were named after François Mansard, a 17th century French architect. Did you? Thank me, should ever it turn up in pursuit of trivia. He came up with the idea so that you could stick the servants up there, in what would be otherwise wasted space under the roof.)

Inside was a different story, and neither money nor taste was spared when it came to the interior decoration. High ceilings, stained glass, lush curtains and lashings of guilt gilt everywhere.

The factories - and the banks - have long gone, victims of artificial textiles and ferocious competition. (Or malversation and outright fraud, in the case of the banks.) The windows in the Victorian-era industrial building are all shattered, the chimneys are tottering and odd pipes cling to the walls: the place is slowly dying and even boulangeries are closing down.

Anyway, the trip back home took a bit longer than could have been the case: we were sharing a car with another couple and he took a wrong turning at an unmarked déviation and we found ourselves driving in the starless night along rutted tracks with nary a signpost in view, just the odd isolated dark farmhouse and a marker occasionally to remind us that we were on the D54. Countrycide, anyone?

But we finally made it back to be greeted hysterically by the various animals, and after a nice hot dinner headed off to bed ... as usual something had to go titsup, which is probably why I woke up to no power and no heat.

You'll remember that I said Cédric had demolished the tiles on the terrace, ripping up and getting rid of about 10cm of tiles, mortar and sand in the process? Leaving the surface of the terrace some 10cm lower than the single drainage point? And how, thanks to unfavourable weather, he'd not been able to put down the sealing layer, nor the cement chape? Recall that it rained all yesterday?

So the terrace was looking like a shallow swimming pool, and water had seeped through into the garage (which is kind of flooded, but we'll worry about that later) and shorted out a power point, which is why every time I put the main circuit-breaker back it just cut out again, until I started removing fuses one by one ...

All of which goes someway to explaining why, at 10am on a cold dismal rainy Sunday, I was outside on the terrace with a hammer and a crowbar hacking away at the drain to make it low enough for the 600 odd litres of water to gurgle down, rather than sitting in the warmth with a coffee and hot fresh bread.

OK, you can all go have a good giggle now. I'll wait, it'll be your turn one of these days.

No comments:

Post a Comment