It was panic stations at Rancho Notorious this morning. I’ve been getting ahead of myself of late: I thought that today, Sunday, was already the 7th January. In which case… what was the Christmas tree doing still illuminated by the set of cheap but serviceable lights I’d picked up in Casa during the last-minute pre-Christmas mayhem?
I hardly dared to voice it. But… in that case hadn’t Twelfth Night been and gone? My technological wife confirmed it via her iPhone, which has seen some heavy-duty service this Christmas, in the form of seemingly endless on-line Scrabble with a friend. We set to with gusto, stripping our elegant tree of its decorations and gathering up the greetings cards. Half an hour and it was done. The commandos of Lympstone, near whose training camp I lived for a year as a student, would have been impressed by the efficiency of our joint operation. It’s wonderful how an element of panic focuses the mind.
The thing is, you hear of all these terrible eventualities that can befall you if your decorations exceed their sell-by date. A whole year’s bad luck if you miss the deadline. Already the gods of Twelfth Night seemed to have admonished us. I woke up to find that the temperature in the house had plummeted. The portable thermostat, stationed in our reading area, revealed that the heat pump should have been on. But it wasn’t. !(upload://aZOgGx0QTqnrS6IkFeSpNepdinB.jpg)
Clearly, we were being punished for our hubris the previous evening, when we sung its praises to our new neighbours. They invited us round for aperitifs and we cracked open another bottle of seasonal champagne. They’ve moved down here from way up north near Lille in search of the kind of peace and rural quiet to accompany their coming retirement and their dream of running chambres d’hôte in a new house.
As with our previous neighbours, it seems to be a second marriage. We’re busy trying to piece together the clues that were dropped. Something about meeting in a family firm they both worked for. There are children involved, and we suspect that they’re from the previous marriage. We’ve already decided that Madame wears the trousers. Jeans in this case. Over tan-coloured boots. She seems very pleasant, but her wiry frame, uncompromising glasses and rather severe short grey hair suggest nervous energy and, probably, a cork lodged somewhere up her fundament.
She’s continuing to work in what seems to be quite a high-powered job, while her husband is clearly already enjoying a life of newfound leisure. He sports a lightweight beard and the look of someone who will be happy to shuffle around his new domain in cardigan and carpet slippers. A momentary alarm bell sounded when he talked about reading a magazine entitled Chasseur, but we figure that it’s more due to a love of nature than an inveterate urge to go out at the weekends and shoot living creatures. Hope so, anyway. I’m giving him the benefit of the doubt, because he and his wife have been to see the jazz singer, Al Jarreau, in concert. Even though Al Jarreau can veer towards the middle of the road, his fans are not generally killers.
I’m not quite sure how the conversation leaned towards heating systems. I think perhaps it was prompted by a comparison of winters up north and down here in the south-of-middle. In the north of France, as a rule they’re as mild and wet as they are in the south of England. Last February, of course, was an exception and they had the same kind of minus temperatures for the same kind of duration as we did down here. Pipes froze across most of the country. Getting onto the wicked price of propane, we told them about the useless boiler foisted upon us by our useless plumber and the liberation that came from pensioning it off in favour of our Mitsubishi heat pump.
That must have been it. So I’ve learned the dangers of singing the praises of one’s heating system. It’s obviously as sure a kiss of death as a cricket commentator extolling the technique of an English batsman in the dangerous 90s. So I slipped on my pair of plastic Mocks, slimy from early-morning fog, and ventured down to the cave with our wind-up torch from Lidl to see what was up. But what do you look for? Disaster rarely stares you straight in the face. I removed the lid of the electrical doings only to be confronted by such exceptionally complicated printed circuitry that all I could usefully do was to blow off any dust and replace the lid. All the correct lights seemed to be on and there were no on-screen error messages.
So I did the only useful thing that I could think of doing in such circumstances. I took the batteries out of the thermostat in the reading area and swapped them around. The left one in the right space and the right one in the left. Whereupon, the heat pump was heard to come to life on our terrace. Thus it was that catastrophe was averted on this cold, clammy January day.
My timely intervention coincided roughly with our joint discovery that I had got the date wrong. Today is the 6th and not the 7th. So there was still a teeny-weeny window of opportunity. Time enough to grasp our now bare sapin with my new pair of water-resistant work gloves from my mother-in-law, pull it out of the Sheffield chimney pot in which our Christmas trees find their temporary home each year, open the double door and throw it onto the lawn before it shed all its needles on our floor.
Hey presto, it’s Rolf! The decorations are boxed again and restored to their resting place under the roof, the tree has been stripped of its twinkling jewellery and unceremoniously ditched, and Christmas 2012 is but a memory. It passed well? It passed very well, thank you for asking. It’s a very nice memory, but a memory nonetheless. The Daughter is back in her Parisian digs, my wife is back at work and Reality rules once more.
Still, perhaps our last-minute Twelfth Night redemption suggests that 2013 won’t be too bad. Let’s hope not. I certainly offer you my meilleurs voeux and wish you all a happy and prosperous New Year – with, of course, the customary quota of good health. Oh, and may your heating system function well and keep you warm for the coming winter. We ain’t seen nothing yet…