Thursday, July 28, 2011

Indiana Jones and the Water Meter of Doom

Surfacing with the hoover from a corner cranny under the table, I was startled to loom face to face with a Face at the french window!

"Water meter!" he explained, when I’d regained my composure.  (has the uniform changed...?)

"Ah," I frowned, grinning frozenly and thinking, Where IS the water meter?’

"I’ll just find the key…" I shouted, gesticulating idiotically, "Meet you down there…"

The WaterMeterMan comes but once a year (I shan’t bother with the Santa joke), so I always forget where the bloody thing is. We have two cellars at the bottom of the steps outside - I cantered off for the washing-machine cellar, then remembered the meter actually lives in the never-bothered-with cellar, and its key had disappeared, unmissed.

George wasn’t around, so I ran up and down the steps a few times, urged on by the Man looking at his watch and raising his eyebrows, until I happened to notice the key sticking out of the bloody lock.

It was not easy to see, enmeshed as it was by a year’s cobwebs and the remains of their unfortunate captives. The door to this cellar is a sturdy old wooden door, arched, with black metal bands... At least it would be, were it not rather rotten, somewhat splintery and jagged. It has character rather than beauty.

A hundred and fifty years ago before the rain and bashings set in, it probably looked exactly like this: parts.

The door is hidden in an alcove of stone at the bottom of three further steps. "We don’t use this cellar much…" I shrugged to the Man as we battled through the overhanging bushes, and, "Oh! Well I’m sure they won’t sting if we just ignore them…" (Were they wasps or bees, I wondered).

Anyway, having made it to the door and hacked through the webmesh with a big pointy stick I managed (with two hands), to turn the enormous key and very very slowly, opened it. The creeeeeak was magnificent, and I was aware that the Man had stepped back several yards.

There was an illogical yet intense terror in groping for the light switch. But I found it and suddenly the single bulb glared into the far reaches of a cellar packed with wine bottles, bits of cardboard boxes, paint tins, rusty chairs, half a barrel, an open box of rat poison and… a frenzied flock of bats.

I was fairly certain that all the Psycho Screeching was just in my head. Or in the Man’s head… I said to him, "I think the meter’s over there somewhere," and pointed at the far wall. He gazed at me as if I’d asked him to just pop over there and set fire to yourself, will you…?

But, with me gingerly leading the way, we and the bats read the water meter. Then the Man, grinning rictusly, leapt in his van and drove off. Pitiful. Surely it can’t be the only bat colony he’s encountered on his rounds?

And after all, they’d been wonderfully behaved, and much more exciting than the bucket of WWII German rifle cartridges George found a couple of years ago (the gendarmes took them). I read that bats are gentle, docile creatures, just looking for a place to hang out.

It was a pity we disturbed them. Particularly since the episode encouraged us to de-clutter the cellar and now, free of its 1500 empty wine bottles and assorted crotte, it looks splendid… but sadly Batless. They evidently got fed up of our traipsing in and out, and have found calmer quarters - this is an area bursting with appealing old outbuildings they could have mistaken for home. 

So - If you've seen Derek or Tufty, please tell them we've done that repointing on the ceiling...

Monday, July 18, 2011


Grimly we ploughed through the neated rows of vines, ignoring the howling wind and the horizontal rain, focusing only on our Goal – a good view of the Tour de France as it shot through  A Village Near Us!  Rarely does the opportunity come this close – close enough to hear the wheels purring smoothly, to see those muscles pulsing... pulsing, to feel the wind in your hair as the bikes whoosh lycra’dly past - it's an opportunity not to be missed!

A bit of exercise’ – walking instead of driving – had seemed a suitably sporty idea to reach the spot…  But one row of vines looks very like another.  Our water tower marker suddenly appeared on the wrong horizon, then disappeared completely...

George was still sticking to his 'half an hour at most!' forecast; I was losing hope.  “Let’s have a sandwich!” I suggested.  George frowned and pointed out that it was nowhere near lunchtime, and if we just went back along this track until we reached that treeline, we might be getting near the main road...

Some time later..., we did by chance hit the main road, and soon cars started passing us and joining cars already parked along the verge.   People opened their boots to unleash padded coats and canvas chairs (we're generally alone in flinging a jacket on the grass), then strode along to the wide viewing bend, where a crowd shuffled in small clutches, gazing expectantly up the road and muttering, "Should be here any minute...".

After about a week, someone with a mobile yelled, “Caravan in five minutes!”  (Oh thank god!)
And Loh!  It did verily heave into view –  45 minutes of colourful, musical and demented publicity vehicles (of which this is but One - look out for Heroic Gendarme saving child-wanting-hat):

This is George's proud camera-work, and not even our voices are in it, but we were There. I specially loved the veritable Ethos of the Tour, portrayed in giant yellow Balloon Sculpture.

I read that for many people, the Caravan is best part.  (So I'm not the only one...)

Anyway, after It, there follows a lengthy pause before the actual Cyclists arrive. This can be quite handy for erecting foldy chairs, (or brollies as the rain has no doubt set in again), and for shuffling about bagging a better view. Several people had their eye on my lamppost for example, planted as it was on a small hillock.
I leaned menacingly.

Then I had to relinquish my claim because George had gone and  bagged a better view down the road a bit - loads of space, perfect outlook, ditch very leapable - we knew we'd be happy there...

I'd eaten my inadequate sandwich ages before, and was very sorry I hadn't made more effort to grab a flying publicity biscuit.  Messages had got through on the progress of the race, and it was now running an hour late.  Children were getting bored with their death-defying ditch games, and holiday-makers were wishing they'd gone to see another chateau instead.

And then!  A rustle in the throng, an excited murmur and fingers-pointing, the thrub of the TV helicopters (oh god - how's my hair?!) And they're HEEEERE! 

What a Thrill as they burned rubber round that long bend and shot up the Straight towards us!  Such a densely packed crowd of nearly two hundred bikes, looking very like this:

(In fact, this clip was the youtube end of Stage 11, which Mark Cavendish won). 
Our snippet of The Tour was just the same, but without the Pirates of the Caribbean music and the finish line.  It was fabulously exciting and very quick.  What a disappointment when the bringing-up-the-rear van  came past...

Yes - a Disappointment!  Obviously for George the Tour-junkie, but why for a dedicated Unsporty such as I?  The enforced hanging around Anticipating, perhaps..., the frisson of Live Action...

Should I start accompanying George to football matches, one wonders...

Hell No!!

Friday, July 8, 2011

I'm very reasonable - Fly Me!

What can you say about flying Low Fare? 

George and I recently experienced a Low Fares Airline for an intense session of ricocheting between France, Ireland, England and back again, and… well... it's very good In Parts.

It was certainly friendly and it was certainly jolly cheap… as long as you kept your wits about you and just said NO to everything except the seat.

Their first cunning plot was to refuse George’s tiny case at check-in, because it has an avant-garde lump that prevented it from snuggling all the way down into the gauge.   “It’ll have to go in the hold sir – 35euros please”.  (About twelve times the price of the flight).

Undaunted, George dashed back to the car, repacked everything into a supermarket carrier bag, and used that for the whole four-day trip.  A jaunty green, strong and remarkably practical...  In fact, I may use one next time too – who needs stuff neatly folded?

Then it was with a merry grimace that they bustled us through metal detecting, belt&shoe collecting and baggage poking-with-a-big-stick.  

Following that embarrassing procedure you can, if your elbows are determinedly pointy enough, nab a chair for the interminable Departure Containment Area wait, before scuttling across the tarmac and up the rickety ladder to the plane to be counted.

If you’re travelling Not Alone, there follows a tense moment finding seats Together that aren’t over the wing, outside the loo, or in front of the children from hell.  You then open the overhead locker, find it bursting with everyone else’s hand luggage because you’re not the only ones saving 35euros…  So you squish your case under your feet and use your knees as a book rest.  Then you relax and take note of the safety demo…

But Quick! – “it’s Time to start thinking about your first refreshing drink!” (They insist gaily).   "Purple90 – it refreshes your palate; quenches your thirst and helps you relax – Purple90 – the perfect drink!"  I have no idea whether it does all that or what it tastes like – for one thing I was still inwardly chanting Just Say NO, and for another I tend to lose my balance on the turbulent route to the loo, so do my best to avoid it.

I was, however, sorely tempted to take up smoking their “Smokeless Cigarettes…  they could change your life!  As well as win you prizes and help children’s charities!”  Blimey – what the hell’s in them instead of smoke?

Another must-do was Buy the inflight Scratch Cards – “at a very special offer of six for two!”  (Two what…)?   Who needs an onflight  film when there's all this stuff to concentrate on?

As I mentioned, our trip was many-flighted, but on the final one, I was sitting next to a woman who bought packaging for the local viagra factory (how do people find these exciting jobs?).  She didn’t like flying and was nervous before takeoff, so I was taking her mind off it with Jolly Chitchat.

Unusually, the plane launched like a moon rocket with added lurching, and I realised my head was going to come Off.  “Shit!” I yelled inadvertently, clutching the seat in front and trying not to vomit.  The woman’s smile was wan.

She bravely comforted me, though, when we came in to land, accompanied by a splendid fanfare Duddleunh dunh daaaah!  Or something quite like this (whoever Ryanair is...) :-

which is so daft, it brings everyone together into a great grinning blob!

And then - I'm not saying precisely where - but they'd counted us all on, and they counted us all off again. 
But we'll be back, and they know it!