Life certainly has an interesting tapestry here in P’tit Moulin. This morning I was awakened at some ungodly hour—well, just before ten actually, but I am semi-nocturnal—by an excessively enthusiastic clangour (good word that) of my front door bell, of which more later.
Well, I threw on a pair of jeans and a T and went to see who had disturbed the peace in this manner, and there on my doorstep was a rather scruffy individual, definitely of the traditional French horny-handed persuasion. Behind him was a truck that looked, to my bleary and unaided vision, even older and more dilapidated than my Isuzu, and that’s saying something.
He must have recognised my absence of recognition. ‘Sir,’ he said (in French of course, I’m just trying to make it easy for you. Do keep up.) ‘Sir, the last time I passed you said you had some scrap.’
My Neighbour’s Stove
A moment for that to clatter down through the various depths of the Fleming brain, and I realised that the august personage on my doorstep was none other than that rough diamond, the local scrap-metal man. We are quite well off for rough diamonds of that ilk here, so I may perhaps be forgiven for not identifying this one more quickly. Plus I am as blind as a bat without my lenses in. Although bats apparently see quite well. Funny that.
Anyway, I remembered. I changed over the ballon chauffe-eau, better known as the immersion (hot water tank for you….tanks….) when the last one gave up under the relentless assault of water so hard you’d think the ducks would bounce. The old one had been cluttering up my barn, and so serving as the perfect pretext for me not to bother cleaning the damn place up, since November last.
Stopping only to grab a pair of galoshes, I headed for the barn, and minutes later, the horrible object, along with a few other items, was in the back of his truck. We shook hands and I considered what to do next.
I was just in the process of oiling the cogitation with coffee, when the bell rang again, more timidly this time. It turned out to be my neighbour but one. ‘Can you help,’ quoth she, ‘The scrap man needs a hand to load my old stove.’
Well, we all help each other out here, it is rural France, and so off I went with her. Now you see, I had an old Godin stove in the bedroom upstairs, but it was completely kaput and filled the room with smoke, so I had thrown that in the garage around the same time as the ballon chauffe-eau got chucked in the barn. The only difference being that I had earmarked the Godin for eventual repair and refurbishment. (Yeah Like that was ever going to happen, I know. You don’t have to be so blunt you know.)
Where was I?
Oh yes. Anyway, my neighbour’s, while needing a good clean and lick of stove-black (anyone else remember Zebrite? That stuff) was in pretty much perfect condition, so without second thought, I said, ‘Gosh, I’d like that!’
My neighbour shrugged and nodded. ‘Sure,’ she said. ‘You’ll need to shift it though.’
This was not a problem, but as I glanced round I could see that there might be, from the crestfallen look on our loyal scrappy’s phizog. ‘Wait a minute,’ I said. ‘I have another one just like that—you can have that one instead.’
The price of scrap must be high just now, because you’d have thought I’d given the bugger money. Lickety-split he reversed his truck, in a cloud of blue smoke, back up to my place. (It was actually much worse than my Isuzu, I could see now I had my lenses in.)
Anyway, after lunch I hied me down to my neighbour’s with my trusty two-wheeled sack truck, and, not without effort and swearing, got it back chez moi. Where I was confronted with another problem. The damn thing must weigh 300 pounds—how was I going to get it up the stairs? A couple of tentative efforts made it clear that it was not going to be easy—and I am not small, like.
So I decided to have another cogitate with some coffee (I am off the wine just now, but that’s another story). Should I dismantle the damn thing? Looking at the rusted bolts did not inspire confidence, but I wasn’t going to have the damn thing fall down a spiral stone staircase on top of me. Really, it needed two men; job would be easy that way, one lifting at the bottom and the other pulling and steadying. I thought of asking Antoine, my friend the potter, but he’s away just now and anyway I like to have a few favours banked with him. Then suddenly, it clicked: an old friend had, just a few nights before, called to take me up on the open invite to come and visit. Perfect. He can help me up the stairs with my stove. He doesn’t know that yet…
P’tit Moulin is like that, you know. Everything just falls into place.
Except now I suppose I’ll have to tidy up the barn. Oh well.
I did promise more about the bell. For years we had no doorbell, and everybody complained we never answered the door, which was probably true. However the thought of drilling through metre-thick walls to wire in a doorbell…nah. So last year I went modern and bought a wireless doorbell. It works by radio, see? Anyway I duly installed it and then one day my neighbour (another one) called and told me the bad news. ‘Your doorbell doesn’t work.’
She was right, too. I checked the batteries—all fine. Not that. Fiendish thing had packed up. Serves me right for buying it in Lidl, I suppose. Anyway, enough of that nonsense. I sold my sailing-yacht last year and one of the few things I kept was the bell, which was a typical piece of chandlery tat. Now I saw a use, and it has duly been screwed to the front door.
And that is how the scrap man was able to make enough row to wake me from my slumbers this morning.
This story features in my new memoir of the mad Scotsman living in France, Croutons and Cheese! launched, September 2017. Why not buy a copy of the first in the series, French Onion Soup! too?
Also published on Medium.