Sunday, 27 April 2014

A 'Cat'astrophic Day...

I recently wrote a blog entry about how much I loved living here because no two days are ever the same and I detailed strange events that had happened during a 5 day period.  All that pales into insignificance compared to a recent set of very strange experiences that happened over a 24 hour period – and I apologise for the length of this blog but it was a very ‘full’ day!

It started on Sunday evening when my new kitten vanished into the dark and windy night.  Luckily no cars were passing at midnight or they would have seen a lunatic woman in a hideous pink dressing gown standing in the road shaking a bag of cat biscuits and calling his name!  I left the outside lights on and the kitchen door open all night and didn’t sleep very well – mainly imagining what other strange animals might try to come into the house.  The next morning, fearing the worst (although actually the dog looked quite pleased) Loulou and I walked up and down the road looking for a dead body in the hedge, then I prodded the murky depths of the pond with a stick, then grappled with the pool cover imagining that he must have fallen in chasing a lizard and drowned, but luckily found nothing.  We then went to ask the neighbours to keep their eyes open – they are in their 80s, very fit and healthy and are out gardening in all weathers, but I was still rather shocked  to see Madame squatting over a bucket next to the water butt as I approached.  I hid behind a large cactus plant until she had finished and she didn’t seem at all embarrassed to be pulling up her tracksuit bottoms as I greeted her (happily we are on kissing terms not handshakes)   I was almost convinced I had been hallucinating but I googled it later and apparently fresh urine makes perfect compost accelerator, but it has made me wary of accepting their gifts of home-grown vegetables...

My friend Vicky then arrived to carry on painting the living room and I had to leave for work – although the fact she had brought the 5 dogs again made it unlikely that the cat would be brave enough to return while I was out.  At 3pm I received a phone call from the plumber saying that he was at the rubbish tip and that he could see smoke on the top of the hill near my house.  I explained that although I was out there was no problem as my friends were at the house and hung up.  About 30 minutes later I rang Vicky to make sure that everything was OK, only to find that she had left 2 hours earlier.  On a positive note, it took my mind off the missing cat but I then had to ring the incontinent/eco-friendly neighbours just to make sure that my house wasn’t on fire.  It took a fair amount of explaining but they reassured me that everything was OK.  (Later I heard that the Mayor’s vineyard had been on fire but luckily it is not that close to the house). 

Shortly after that I was driving back down one mountain on the way to the second viewing, with the clients following in the car behind, when I heard a motorbike behind me – but when I looked in the mirror there was nothing there.  I then realised the noise was coming from the back of the car so I pulled in to the side of the road but could see nothing (nor could the bemused clients) so I explained to them that I thought I had a stone in the tyre so not to be surprised by any strange manoeuvres I might make once we got to the straight bit of road.  I then proceeded to wiggle the wheel and stamp on the brakes occasionally but nothing would dislodge it so I carried on driving to the next rendezvous almost convinced that I had a wasps nest in the boot but arrived safely in Cassagnes, 20 kilometres up another twisty mountain road.  When we had finished viewing the final property we all spotted that the back tyre was now completely flat.  The clients just happened to have a very handy electronic tyre inflator so they very kindly helped me – but to no avail, the tyre just would not inflate.  I then faced the embarrassing situation of having to unpack the entire boot area (bag of dog toys/dish/water bottles, supermarket shopping, beach towels, christmas decorations (?)) only to find that my car was the type that only came with a puncture repair kit and not a spare tyre. The breakdown service said they would send someone out within 45 minutes.  The policy here is that they get you to the nearest garage, not necessarily a tyre specialist and not necessarily near to where you want to be so the fact I was in a remote village miles from anywhere didn’t bode well.  There was obviously some event going on in the village that afternoon as well-dressed people carrying flowers and/or glasses of wine drifted in and out of the Mairie where I was parked so at least there was something to look at to pass the time, and when at last the breakdown truck arrived, everybody came out to watch, and who could blame them as it was an enormous black and yellow ex-army type vehicle with flags and flashing lights everywhere.   The mechanic found a huge piece of metal in the tyre and couldn’t repair it so was then thrilled to entertain the assembled crowd by using a remote control to engage the gadgets to raise and lower my car several times before towing it off to the garage.

The garage was in Ille-sur-Tet, a town slightly more in the direction of my village (which was a bonus) but by this time it was 7pm and the garage was closing so they would see what they could do to the tyre in the morning, and called for a taxi to take me home (paid for by the insurance company).  I was relieved to know that I would be home within 20 minutes but my hopes were dashed when the taxi driver then announced that he would be picking up another fare from Perpignan ‘on the way’ (local residents will understand my rage at this detour!).  It turned out that he was picking up an elderly person from the Clinic and taking him back to his home in Prats-de-Mollo, a village at the top of the Tech Valley.  Despite the fact that the patient seemed to be still suffering mild effects from the sedatives, he was aware enough to question the route that the driver was taking and had to be reassured several times that taking the ‘wine-route’ and dropping me off on the way would be a short cut!

I finally got home at 8pm, completely stressed and exhausted, to be greeted by an extremely excited dog who managed to convince me that what I really wanted to do was to play with her in the garden, rather than dive into a bottle of wine and relax.  Eventually, with my guilt at leaving her for so long assuaged by an epic game of football and double-portions in her food-bowl I was able to pour myself a generous glass of wine and sat out on the terrace while my Pizza cooked.  I half-heartedly called the cat’s name and heard a rustling sound from the bottom of the hedge.  Given the fact that I have seen a snake under there I thought it was pretty brave of me to investigate but, armed with a tennis racket, I managed to pull some branches aside and peer in and found an extremely shocked and exhausted kitten staring up at me.  It took quite some time to manoeuvre him out from his hiding place as I was terrified of hurting him even more as he was obviously injured, but I was so pleased to hear him purr as I held him in my arms. I had not had him for long and he was usually pretty wary of me - perhaps due to the fact that I had him castrated within a week of his arrival... 

So, apart from the fact that my pizza was burnt to a crisp, my bizarre day ended happily.  And the cat is now doing well – the vet had to operate on some pretty horrible internal injuries and said that he had been run over by a car – but he is now back home with a shaved side and a plastic bucket tied round his head and looks so scary that the dog hides when he appears!

Monday, 7 April 2014

My 'Glamorous' life!

Living in the South of France always sounds quite glamorous and I think some of my friends in the UK fondly imagine that I spend my days lying by a crystal clear swimming pool sipping cocktails in the sunshine, or shopping for chic outfits in the designer boutiques in town.  I have just caught sight of my reflection in the patio window and felt it was time to put the record straight!  (My arms aren’t long enough to take a ‘selfie’ of the full glory of what I am wearing and also the more I stretched my arms out, the more wrinkles appeared in strange places, hence just the headgear). Today is a typical example of my ‘unglamorous’ life – I am wearing walking boots, old jeans rolled up to the knees, a strappy top (it is 25°), and finally, a woolly hat (very hot but due to vanity as I had my hair done this morning and it is very windy!) 

I’m sure when the hairdresser asked if I wanted hair-spray applying that she assumed I’d be going out somewhere nice, but the reality was that I was having to attend to a flood in the pool-house.  (And when I say ‘pool-house’, it is actually a small cave-type area down some steps where the machines that work the pool live) (and also frogs).  Sadly the flood was entirely my fault – I had done nothing about the vast amounts of leaves that had collected on the steps so after 2 days of wind and then a tropical monsoon-like downpour last Wednesday, I should not have been surprised to find that the drain was blocked and there was water all the way up to the second step.  I spent most of the afternoon playing ‘hook a duck’ with all the pool cleaning products that were floating on the surface and then digging out leaves with a rake.  I actually got a bit scared when I suddenly heard a mechanical noise start up (it was only later when I finally gave in and called the plumber that I found out there was a pump down there).

The ‘uniform’ of jeans and walking boots is quite normal for everyday life now as most days involve a walk round the vineyards or to the village for bread or just playing ball in the garden with the Loulou the dog.  On the days that I go to work she looks depressed the minute she hears the sound of heels clattering across the tiled floor as she knows that ‘noisy shoes’ mean I will be leaving her!  And when I say ‘heels’ I don’t mean stillettos – many of the streets here are cobbled and taking clients to view houses often involves walking around gardens and up slopes so the ‘sensible heels’ that my daughter used to laugh at me for wearing are now the norm – as are trousers (all of us in the agency have learned the hard way that you don’t wear short skirts on viewings as many properties have strange staircases, if not ladders...)

Actually on reflection I admit that life here can be glamorous – just the other day I had a lovely lunch next to the beach at a sea-food restaurant in Collioure and there are many occasions where you will find me lying on a lounger by the pool – but just remember that before I have poured the cocktails I will have cleaned the pool (of frogs and dogs), balanced the chemicals, cleared the poolhouse of leaves (HaHa) – and I bet nobody feels sorry for me!