mardi 28 septembre 2010

T is for Tradesmen

Il a de la bouteille — he’s an old hand

Around the end of November or the beginning of December, a succession of people call at the door selling calendars. One day it’s the Pompiers (fire fighters), the next it will probably be the postman.

At that time of year too, you see groups of people marching into banks and insurance offices. They are off to claim their free year planners. And very useful they are too. We generally stop off at the garage that supplies the oil for our boiler to get ours.

Our fire fighters are part-time and are summoned when needed by one or two blasts of a Blitz-style siren. We actually recognized a couple of them in the group photo on our calendar. There’s the lady who runs the restaurant near the bridge, who also puts on cabaret-style revues at the local community centre; the man who came and mended our dishwasher and the proprietor of the garage that services our car. Incidentally, car servicing seems to be a lot cheaper here than in the UK. And when the service is done, they drive the car back to us and we go along later to pay.

Christophe is the electrician. Luckily he lives a few minutes’ walk from our house and comes quickly when called in an emergency, generally accompanied by one or more members of his extended family, his dog and/or a friend or two. Planned work aside, we tend to call him whenever the lights go out. When he arrives he invariably asks, ‘C’est grave?’ (Is it serious?) We, of course, say yes because we’ve been shuffling round in the dark trying hard not to trip over the cats while lighting the candles for the last half-hour. Christophe fiddles with the fuse box, or something, and 30 seconds later we have light again. He has shown us what to do, but somehow every time it seems to be something different that trips us up. He then just smiles at us, shakes our hands and goes away again with whomever he has brought with him. Invariably he refuses payment for what he’s done, saying it was nothing. We’re a lot happier knowing he is just around the corner.

You soon learn what not to do, electricity-wise. Using a kettle in the kitchen seems to turn everything off, as does using the washing machine and tumble dryer at the same time. So we now boil water a la Francaise, ie in a saucepan. Perhaps, of course, that’s why everyone does it!

René has the unenviable task of looking after our boiler. A Heath Robinson-style contraption, it is housed in its own room and is, to say the least, temperamental. We have a love/hate relationship with that boiler. I hate it; Gavin loves it. (Incidentally, the main topic of conversation among any group of Brits in the winter isn’t the weather but the idiosyncracies of their respective boilers.) Actually, René looks after all our plumbing needs. He has limited English. In fact, the only words he can say are ‘Big problem’. Still, that’s probably all that’s needed chez nous. René also sweeps our chimney — you must have your chimney swept once a year otherwise you could invalidate your house insurance.

Marie and her ‘copain’ (boyfriend) — we have never found out his name — arrive a couple of times a year to cut the hedges and generally sort out the mess we’ve made of the garden. They do a great job, though always seem to be lacking some vital piece of equipment. Given that our gardening vocabulary is not great and her English is non-existent, she tends to draw pictures of whatever implement is lacking. We have tried to find these tools in M. Bricolage (the French equivalent of B&Q), but somehow her drawings never seem to match anything on the shelves.

Thierry looks after the pool and does any other general building and maintenance work. A man of few words (French or English), we couldn’t do without him.

Our doctor and dentist are just five minutes’ walk away — always handy. On one occasion, we took some forms to be signed into the doctor, and asked the receptionist when we should return to collect them. ‘Non!’ she cried. The doctor would bring them round to us himself. And he did, the same day.

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