Added on Tuesday 24 Jan 2006
January is usually a quiet time of the year here in Salignac. Apart from student enquiries for our courses and with Fiona starting her new courses locally we are normally left with some time on our hands. Not so this year. At the end of December our friend Mairie told us that she was going to sell her house this year and she asked us if we would like some wood for our fire. We of course said yes, as we always need fuel for the stove. The reason that she did not need it any more is that she does not have a stove or fireplace in her house, the heating she has is all central heating. We duly set off to have lunch with her and see how much wood she had for us. When we arrived we realised that it was going to take several trips to move it all in the car even with the seats all folded down.
After a hearty lunch we set about loading as much as I dared into the back of our car, I was more concerned about the weight for my rather elderly Fiat Tipo! After bringing it home we realised that we had enough for about 7/8 days and we estimated that another three or four trips would be needed for the rest. As Mairie lives some 35 kms away this was going to involve some time so we decided to go there once a week. Fortunately Fiona has set up some classes on a Thursday morning in Montignac, which is halfway between Mairie?s house and us so after Fiona?s classes we went along to load up some more wood.
After returning I would have to spend quite a lot of time splitting the logs, which were mostly cut to length, with the exception of the last load which involved our pal Alain coming along with his chain saw. This he obligingly did for us very quickly for the price of a few beers. This all happened just as a cold snap came in and it has now made the house very warm and toasty with the addition of that beautiful smell of burning wood. Much, much better than (and cheaper) than our electric heating. Very comforting! Thank you Mairie, it really has been a godsend.
We have also spent a considerable time and effort dealing with French bureaucracy, which is legendery..even to the French, it always seems a case of the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing. When you speak to one office they tell you one thing and then when you speak to another office they tell you entirely the opposite. All very frustrating and although we have been in France now for nearly six years it doesn?t get any easier.
An example of this was our recent electricity bill where our figures and their figures did not match up at all, after much phoning and visiting their office in Sarlat, phoning their head office in Perigeux we ended up in a 'no win' situation once again. We luckily have befriended the regional assistant sociale (a sort of social worker) so several visits to see her eventually sorted things out for us. This is by no means abnormal in a country that boasts more civil servants and public employees per head of population than any other country in Europe (perhaps even the world) so we have had to frequently pay her visits in order to sort out the log jams that seem to happen here all too often. This all take a lot of time and nervous energy as it just seems that you are hitting your head against a brick wall. She must be a very busy woman!
Every other month or so we receive publicity in the form of a catalogue advertising the forthcoming visit of a travelling shop that goes round all the villages in the region. This is no ordinary shop but is a huge 40ft truck stuffed full of tools, ladders, gadgets and all sorts of useful things that you never really new you wanted or needed until you looked at the catalogue. A sort of 'Innovations' on wheels if you like.
The last time that I bought anything from them was about four years ago when in got some plastic mesh for covering gutters to stop leaves clogging them up. This has worked excellently well as we have a large cherry tree overhanging our roof at the back of the house, which was constantly being clogged up with dead leaves every autumn. A couple of weeks ago the catalogue dropped through or letter box and when I glanced through it I saw a small stand-alone phone for the princely sum of 5 euros.
'Aha' I thought, just what we need as our phone upstairs (brought from Scotland) no longer rings and I made a note to go along on the Saturday and buy the phone. Fiona and I duly went along and joined the queue, these trucks are immensely busy when they visit rural villages, and when we reached the front and asked for the phone the man said (in French of course) 'So you want to ring home to Scotland?' We were both astonished by this because, as I have said, it was four years ago that I last saw him and we were perplexed if he could have remembered me after that time after all he must have seen many thousands of people since then. After a bit of banter with him we left with the phone and took it home to plug it in and try it. This first phone call that I made was to Scotland and, yes, the phone does work well, all for 5 Euros!
The house across the road that went on fire last summer is now being rebuilt and I have been taking photos of its progress and have made them into a slide show which I showed to the owner recently and he was suitably impressed. I have promised to give them on a CD ROM when the work is completed as a souvenir of the restoration. I have been fascinated by the care and the craftsmanship that has gone into the new roof, who said that the French were sloppy workers? These guys really do know what they are doing.
Rural France. I love it!
? Barry Paton. Jan 2006.