Which is to say that I have been, indeed, still am, on holiday and will be so for another week to come. The last of the visitors have departed in a deluge of rain which has prevented me from washing the bedding and we are on our own, eating the leftovers and chewing over the lessons learned from giving the house a trial run under real life conditions.
We swapped our house in France for this one and although I spent some time here last year, it was not long enough – nor extensive enough – to see how the house would stand up to visitors, so the descent of the tribes was designed not only to have the pleasure of seeing friends and family again but also to see how the systems coped with seemingly non stop use of swimming pool, showers, baths, washing machines and loos and the effects of same on the electricity bill.
Our journey had not been uneventful.
Leo had booked a seat in the exit aisle of the ‘plane and was informed by a stewardess that he was in charge of the door. In the event of the pilot calling ‘evacuate’ three times he was to seize the handle and pull it sharply upwards, at which point, she said, the door would fly off entirely.
He spent the flight wondering why suicide bombers bother to carry bombs in their underpants if all you have to do is book a seat in the exit aisle and pull the handle to have the entire contents of the ‘plane sucked into oblivion.
And if that is all it takes, in the interests of security might it not be better for airline staff to keep such knowledge to themselves?
All through the flight he kept eyeing that door….
Still, we arrived unharmed in Barcelona and took the shuttle train to the Sants station to book our ticket.
The clerk fancied himself as a comedian when dealing with foreigners and managed, first, to bugger up electronic payment, then to issue only one ticket and finally, as I discovered when queueing to go down the escalators to the platform in the overheated bowels of the station, when finally issuing two tickets had given us seats in different carriages.
Leo had been tiring….it had been a long flight…thanks to the clerk we had only ten minutes to catch the last feasible train….but the discovery was like lighting the blue touch paper.
With a terse, explicit and unflattering description of the clerk he was off like a harrier to the ticket office, the queue parting like the Red Sea, to obtain redress.
The lady clerk – perhaps used to her colleague’s little ways – made no demur and issued new seats immediately so we caught the train for the two hour journey south.
As the gentleman who looks after the house told us on arrival, there had been a violent thunderstorm and the electricity was down in the village and surrounding areas….but as we drove through the pass, lights suddenly came on in the dark countryside below….all was well.
We made a cup of tea and went to bed.
Pottering the next day, there was another violent thunderstorm which drove us indoors and when it cleared we heard a helicopter overhead…backwards and forwards between the village and the pine clad hillside above our house. There had been a lightning strike, a blaze, and the fire brigade were into action immediately, scooping water from the communal swimming pool and dumping it on the fire….
Might be an idea to get insurance…..
The day after that the first visitors arrived….and the water gave out. A bucket chain was set up between house and pool to get water to flush loos, and the men went into conclave. Pipes were traced, blue plastic reservoirs were found, fuses were flicked on and off – and water reappeared.
Only to give out again.
The gentleman who looks after the house was consulted.
The next visitors to arrive were warned to bring wipes.
A plumber could not be found until after the weekend.
The gentleman who looks after the house gave it more thought and remembered that the water board had been at work recently alongside the property.
He hunted around and found that not only had the water board changed the position of the water meter but that they had also turned it off.
They had, it seemed, thought it best as the house was empty.
He had saved us a fortune in plumbers.
Water restored, we relaxed again, apart from rescuing visitors who had become lost in the maze of rooms, stairs and corridors.
One wandering soul found wailing in the third kitchen was given the watchword ‘turn right at the dresser’ to find the stairs to her room and could be heard in the evening repeating it to herself as she turned the corner that cut her off from the rest of the house.
Tables and chairs were set out on the terrace, in the courtyard and by the pool. Mussels were consumed in quantity. Wine descended gullets. More mussels were consumed.
We went to bed at peace with the world.
I was woken by a cry of horror. I ran to the loo where Leo was standing, his hand on the cistern.
I put my hand on the cistern. It was indeed hot. Very hot, and filling with more hot water from the immersion heater.
Scots blood turned to ice. Flemish blood was not far behind it.
Not only metered water, but heated metered water had been flushed down the loo.
‘Quickly! We have to try them all before anyone flushes anything!’
Visitors could have been forgiven for thinking that it was a police raid as their doors were flung open, the lights went on and Leo galloped to inspect the cisterns. Those with hot water were turned off at the tap and, inspection over, we all foregathered in the kitchen in various states of night attire to drink tea and discuss the problem.
Tea drunk, biscuits eaten, someone remembered that there was some ham in the fridge to make sandwiches and the committee decided that the best thing would be to switch off the electricity to the immersion heaters which seemed to be supplying the loos and drew up a rota for morning showers so as not to waste the water already heated.
The gentleman who looks after the house was consulted the next day…and reluctantly said that we would have to have a plumber…and possibly an electrician….
Good job he saved us all that money when the water gave out!
Disasters apart, life went on.
The fossil expert discovered fossils of coral on the steps to the courtyard and, rooting in a cupboard, came up with something like a giant snail, painted gold.
It was a fossil, a large fossil, and is gradually being scrubbed free of paint to take its place under the almond tree in the entrance.
We went to the local mushroom fair where we bought shoes, honey and a truffle…
We went to the seaside…..
We went to see our lawyer……
We visited small villages, roamed on roads made from crushed limestone covered rapidly with an asphalt carpet which led up into forbidding mountains, bumped on rocky tracks to visit remote chapels…
We had a great time, exploring…
Visitors came and left, with shifts in the shopping…red wine took over from white, pork from mussels…and then it was time for me to go to visit my mother in Southampton.
She had a list of things which needed attention, so it was an intensive shopping session – thank the Almighty for John Lewis and the helpful staff – and we sat up talking into the evening, with a consequent late start to the morning.
Up before mother I had been making tea and offered to bring her a cup. She was sitting by the window in her dressing gown, the curtains drawn across.
I made to draw them back but she stopped me.
‘No! Leave them alone!
‘But it’s dark like this…’
‘Doesn’t matter! I’m in my dressing gown and you can see this window from the vicarage!’
Given that there is a belt of trees between the two and that only by hanging out of mother’s window at risk of your life could you see the vicarage back door I felt that mother was exaggerating, but she was adamant.
‘But the vicar has other things to do than to lurk at his back door to see you in your dressing gown!’
‘That’s as may be, but leave those curtains alone!
I’ve never taken to him…he doesn’t visit like the last vicar…
And he’s into vestments…I suppose he’d be happier in Rome but with all those children he’s had to stick to the C of E….’
Remembering the previous incumbent whom I had always considered to be the C of E’s version of Ian Paisley, while being a loving, caring man, assiduous in visiting his parishioners, I began to wonder what social revolution had taken place in the parish.
Mother had the answer.
‘Of course, we old people are dying off and you’ve got the new types…found religion to get their children into church schools and they want value for money….plenty of show and no substance!’
Clothes bought, a new television ordered, I leave at 1.00 a.m. for the coach to Gatwick….and return to the house to find that I can find nothing: neither in the kitchen nor in the rest of the house.
Desperate for a shower and some lighter clothes I look in vain for my old pair of corsair pants which I had left in the machine for the next routine wash….
Nowhere to be seen.
Enquiries are promulgated…one person remembers hanging them out…another remembers seeing them in the laundry pile…no one knows where they are now….
I shall have to rename them my Scarlet Pimpernel pants:
They seek them here, they seek them there….
And until they are found I can’t get up to weed the terraces…