May 31st, 2006

International Kittens of Mystery

Pipe and Plombiers Part Two (How French Dustmen Mark Their Territory)

(to recap: We'd bought the house, moved to France and were now 18 hours into our first encounter with a French plumber)

The next day, our plumber returned, convinced he'd solved the problem. Somehow, the hot and cold water supply had become connected - probably a faulty mixer tap. Did we have any mixer taps?

"Eight or nine," I replied. I'd lost count of the sinks let alone the taps. Several mixer taps later he was still confused. It was then that he found out that Monsieur Cavagnac had been the previous owner.

Several merdes later he was still spitting.

We thought he was going to leave us. At one point he walked off into the garden and we thought that was it. He'd abandoned his car and stormed off into the undergrowth never to be seen again!

But then we saw the traditional legs apart stance and realised … He was using our wall. Which just goes to show what he thought of our plumbing.

But you don't have to stay long in France to appreciate that the French have a different attitude to the British when it comes to urinating in public. In Britain, it's an offence. In France, it's a basic human right.

At the top of an alpine chairlift or the edge of a supermarket car park, I've seen it all. In a manner of speaking. Although the top of the Alpine chairlift was by far the greater of the two surprises. The last thing you expect to find at 3,000 metres in the middle of a blizzard is a Frenchman with his legs apart.

Shelagh is certain it's something territorial. An ancient male need to mark out a territory and ward off other males. Though how many males needed warding off at the top of the chairlift I'm not sure. Certainly I didn't feel threatened or imparted with the need to mark an adjacent spot. But then I'm not French. And it was cold.

But I think she may have a point. And it might explain the strange behaviour of our dustmen.

Our property marks the boundary between the communes of Cassagne and Tuco. And every Tuesday morning the dust-cart wends its way up from Cassagne to empty our bins. And every time, the driver gets out, walks up to the tree at the end of our lane and relieves himself. Every Tuesday without fail, bank holidays included. He then climbs back in the truck, turns round, and drives back to Cassagne.

We've never seen the Tuco dustmen, but we have a sneaking suspicion that a similar border ritual is carried out on another day and another tree.

Having successfully warded off any wandering plumbers from our back garden, our plumber returned. And decided the next step was to dismantle the summer/winter switch. We'd given up on the range by then so it seemed the sensible solution.

Yards of superfluous pipes and taps were removed. It was amazing just to watch. The more I looked at the pipework in our cupboard behind the range, the more I could see a faithful interpretation of the entire London Underground in copper - complete with sidings and points. It was a work of art. But was it plumbing?

Gradually London Underground was dismantled - privatised and stripped down - the hot water tank disconnected and the water drained.

I dreaded the turning on of our kitchen hot tap. But it had to be done. A few swift turns ... and out came the water, as strong as ever.

I thought our plumber was going to cry.

But he didn't, he gave us a resigned smile and proffered an elbow. He'd be back.

(next instalment: The Philosophical Plumber)