Well here we are back in France after what turned out to be the worst journey ever to get here. As always (and how often have I said this) all the trouble and trauma was on the UK side.
We left home at 10.00am on Saturday 24th March, giving ourselves plenty of time to get our 3.50pm crossing via the tunnel and should have arrived at our hotel in France in good time for dinner in the evening followed by a good night’s sleep. By travelling on a Saturday we had hoped to avoid most of the traffic problems that we would encounter during the week.
With dog and cat on board – Hugo having never travelled such a long way in the car before and Daisy being a seasoned if not a happy traveller – we hit our first problem only five miles from home where the M1 was closed following an accident.
Things went from bad to worse and we ended up having to change our route to avoid closed motorways and delays several times. We arrived at the tunnel after a total journey time of seven hours, double what it should have been. Then we had to wait for two hours at the terminal before we could get a space on a train. The French word for a traffic jam is the same as for a cork – a bouchon.
We arrived at our hotel near Calais at 9pm, too late to order dinner in the restaurant. We were exhausted, Hugo and Daisy on the other hand were extremely lively having spent all day asleep or resting.
Luckily for us the hotel did an excellent room service and at 10pm we were eating a delicious “gourmet platter” in our room, followed by a lovely dessert and accompanied by a nice bottle of wine. How glad we were to get the cork or bouchon out of that bottle and relax with a plate of good food. It’s amazing how a good meal can lift the spirits.
On Sunday 25th we had a typically easy, pleasant run down through France, arriving chez nous in beautiful warm sunshine at about 4pm. We were so pleased to be home again but unfortunately our delight was short lived.
When Nick turned on the main water supply there was the sound of rushing water in a place where we would not expect to hear water running at all. That could only mean one thing – burst pipes.
The rushing sound was coming from behind the plasterboard wall behind the stairs. Frantically he drilled holes in the plasterboard to locate the running water and was met with a horizontal torrent of water gushing along the inside of the back wall of the house from pipes that feed the upstairs radiators. He turned the water off again and we stuffed dishcloths in the holes he’d made in the wall to stop the howling gale that was coming in. The house was really cold inside, despite the spring sunshine outside.
With the heating not working we decided to get the wood burning fires going as soon as possible – but they would not light! Thick wood smoke puthered out of both fires, filling the rooms rapidly. We prepared to spend a very chilly night with the few electric heaters of our own that we had plus the ones that Alex and Nicole rushed round with, bless them.
Three days later the plumbers arrived to fix the leak. This proved to be tricky because the damaged pipes were in an awkward place and also because they were English copper pipes which are a different diameter to French pipes. Luckily Nick was aware that the house had been plumbed with English pipe and fittings so had brought a miscellaneous box of English fittings some time ago for just such emergencies. The mystery was why the burst had occurred at all because we had tried to avoid such problems by leaving the heating on a low setting so that the house would not reach a low enough temperature for any of the pipe to freeze up.
The explanation became apparent when the plumbers started work. Judging by the appearance and condition it seemed that some of the old English pipe had been seeping for a very long time, possibly years. Not enough for a leak to be noticed but enough to gradually cause a loss of pressure in the boiler and cause it to stop working.
In the past the boiler had lost a bit of pressure and Nick had topped it up but in our absence the pressure had continued to drop without us knowing. Unluckily for us this happened at just the wrong time when the infamous “beast from the east” struck and the bitterly cold winds on the north wall of the house caused a drop in temperature in the house sufficient to freeze up this section of pipe.
The problem with the fires was easier to solve. According to the plumbers the cause was a bouchon d’air in both sides of the chimney, a plug or bouchon of damp air sitting in the chimney that was shifted by warming the fires up gradually to disperse it. Nick let a couple of firelighters burn away in each fire before relighting them and to our relief the flames flickered then stayed in and burned normally. With the heating working and the fires going it was lovely to feel warm again!
During our first few days chez nous the neighbour was noticeably absent. On previous occasions when we have returned after being away for a while he had walked up and down the lane from his little house with his dog umpteen times a day, staring at us in his sideways fashion through the fence and the gate. From the end of his lane it looked like his door and shutters were not only closed but also barricaded with planks of wood.
Four days into our stay we learned that he had been taken into a home last autumn and died some time this year.
What a shame. He seemed to us to have a thoroughly miserable life, living by himself with just his little dog for company and the short daily visits from his carer. His shouting and yelling at the top of his voice was hard to ignore. As soon as I went out to hang washing he would stand in front of his house and bellow in such a way that you would think someone was trying to murder him. It was a horrible, unnatural and chilling sound that I will not miss. He would march up and down in front of our house staring at us and shouting when we were out and about and I worried constantly for the safety of Daisy who he had kidnapped when she was a kitten, also for his little dog who he was seen to beat mercilessly, kicking her over and over again. People in the village had described him as harmless but we knew different.
It’s a shame he didn’t have a better life and more human contact, although perhaps it’s wrong to assume that he was unhappy just because he didn’t have the things that make us happy. We will never know. I sincerely hope that if he was a lonely and troubled soul, that he is now at peace.