Thursday, May 28, 2015

Eat Another Day ...

We're none of us, I guess, as young as we used to be: exceptionally, I am not an exception to this rule, and sometimes reality sneaks up, bites me on the bum, and this is brought home to me. Like the other night, for instance, when I invited Caroline and Philippe over for dinner but they had friends coming ... so I wound up eating with them. And very nice it was too, but there were five of us, and I had to make my excuses and leave about 1:30, after the seventh bottle was well underway.

Still an'all, we're younger than a lot of people around here, and they sometimes have an inflated expectation of our capacities. Old Helène turned up the other day to see if I happened to have a hacksaw - "Ah have", she said, "une ou deux metal bars to cut". "No problem", I replied, and this moaning I armed myself with the trusty Stanley and she took me off to her remise.

A remise, by the way, is just a barn, or a garage, or some other capacious, dim dusty space where you stick all those old things that you don't want to chuck out just yet because hey! who knows, maybe they'll come in handy sometime, five hundred years on.

So they tend to be full of old plumbing, dangerously wired valve radios and the 1930's vacuum cleaner that only worked on 110 volts, old dolls and metal beds, a few worn tyres and bits of furniture hewn from solid Formica: I guess a lot of antiquaires get their stock by going round villages and snapping up their contents.

Whatever, I turned up and she took me right to the back where there's no light and there amongst the cobwebs were the metal bars in question. Luckily there is actually electricity in there - probably installed about the same time as gravity - so when I saw them I went straight back home and got the big angle grinder.

I mean honestly, three four-metre bars of 7mm thick solid forged steel? Even with the disqueuse it took me ten minutes to do each one.

Around these parts, they used to carve the owner's initials and the date into the lintel over the front door, ours being a solid block of stone over a metre long, and thanks to this we know that the current incarnation of The Shamblings™ was erected by monsieur Politically Correct back in 1811.

I suspect that the plumbing goes back a bit earlier than that.

The municipal gardener, gravedigger and general handyman turned up to change the mains cutoff tap for the water. In principle this is a relatively simple operation: there is a pipe leading from the mains to the house; on this pipe there is a big valve hidden beneath a metal cover in the street; you close this and Robert is your mother's brother.

Of course it's not that simple: over the years the metal covers have themselves been covered over by tarmac because let's face it, it's easier that way and anyway, how many times do you actually need to cut off the water? So the guy brought his metal detector and dug wherever it went ping!

He found a horseshoe, and a bunch of massive old nails and finally, more or less where it should be, something that turned out to be a water valve. Stuck the enormous cast-iron key into it, turned ... and the water was still happily running in the house.

OK, so maybe our house is connected directly to the mains, and there is no shutoff valve. Once again this is simple enough: you shut off the water to rue de l'Eglise, which runs behind our place and is where we are connected.

Except that this turns out not to be the case. Our water comes from rue de la Liberté, second street over on the other side of the house, from whence a solitary pipe does a big dog-leg along the front of the house, left and under the archway to the chateau, and then left again to go up rue de l'Eglise and provide us directly with water.

I guess that in places where the infrastructure is not quite as old this would all be clearly marked on a plan somewhere: this may be the case here but even if so I suspect that the parchment in question is mouldering in an old tin box somewhere in the basement of the mairie.

Still, now I know. I shall make a note of it, just in case.

Whatever, over here in Ole Yurrup a new commercial excuse for spending has arrived: it is, tomorrow, the "fête des voisins". Neighbourhood day, if you like. I guess the idea is that you go out and get neighbourly, eat and drink too much, and possibly sleep with the neighbour's wife/husband - not that you need a special occasion for that.

And of course you have to buy all that extra food and drink, and maybe a romantic present for the intended partner. Which of course makes the supermarkets happy. Hell, even the DIY chains are announcing a "fête des voisins" special on chainsaws. I can see where they're going with that.

Around here we have simpler tastes (and also freezers full of food) and a sort of vague urge apparently came upon everyone in the district to have a small, calm, street party. Nothing over the top, just a few tables out in rue de la Liberté (which is, I admit, sufficiently narrow that a decent sized rubbish bin outside the front door will block vehicular traffic) and everyone outside in the sun for l'apéro and maybe a carefully-planned impromptu barbecue. You know, people having a good time. What can I say, shit happens.

So old Helène got onto us and Nev and a few others, young Helène spread the word, and everyone was fired up to go: only one blot on the horizon because as, technically, we could be impeding traffic on the street (in the unlikely event of an original Mini or Fiat 500 coming down, these being the only cars small enough to get through) an arreté municipale was required to legalise the situation.

In other villages, other places, as you were chatting to M. le maire in the moaning you would just mention that you were planning on a party - would he mind, of course you're invited - and with a minimum of fuss and zero paperwork you're good to go.

Sadly, our esteemed mayor M. Mazet seems to have gone back into anal-retentive mode, or maybe someone's been fiddling with his medications.

Young Helène got the job of broaching the subject with him, and feeling in need of moral support she took old Angela (who gets on with absolutely everyone) with her, but despite that it did not go well. I was not there, I cannot vouch for it, but there seems to have been no meeting of minds.

The answer was a categorical "non!", with rhetorical flourishes, threats to call the gendarmerie, and in a final parting shot - "si vous voulez la guerre, vouz l'aurez!"

Maybe someone stuck a stick back up his arse. It is a shame, because a) I was kind of looking forward to a decent party and meeting people we don't see every day and b) I am now unable to get rid of that kilo of merguez I'd rather planned on frying up.

On the brighter side, old Helène will go absolutely ballistic when she hears about it, and I expect her diatribe to be very educational. Also, we can doubtless piss the old twat off  by hosting, in a decent interval, a decorous and quiet barbecue on the terrace. Honestly, Clochemerle has nothing on Moux.

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