The two chicken-sitters were safely ensconced in their upstairs abode, at the end of a dark French lane in the middle of nowhere. The owners had left for another country and the writers were in sole charge of the estate, five chickens and a cat called Poodle: an almost-free holiday. You know what they say about no such thing as a free lunch …
It began well enough. We’d journeyed into St Remy, wandered the market and, sans coats, taken the aperitif in glorious sunshine on the terrace of the infamous Bar-Tabac des Alpilles. Our dear American writer friend turned up and we three, having met again, cackled our way through a delicious pork fillet drenched in a creamy sauce and accompanied by luscious potatoes Dauphinoise. A dousing of Rosé from the close-at-hand Ventoux served to lubricate the warning signs in Bev’s throat. All was well with the world.
Later, following a much-needed siesta chez nous, we awoke to discover the skies had become more than a whiter shade of pale: downright bloody grey-turning-black actually. What’s the end of that line about meeting again? Oh yes, ‘in thunder, lightning, or in rain’. The writers, armed with a tempting slice of dry bread, persuaded the chickens back into their coop for the night. Bev had several conversations with herself about foxes. To make her feel better, I recounted a funny story about sitting pool-side last summer when a ropey looking vixen turned up for a drink. Bev didn’t laugh so I let her watch a Strictly Come Dancing programme as a treat. She seemed to be sniffing a lot.
I noticed that all the outside lights, including that lovely big one on the Plane tree, had shut themselves off; we couldn’t see a thing but we could hear the wild wind shaking up the cypresses and generally wending its destructive way through Provence. No matter: we’d boarded up the shutters and moved on to Master Chef, delighting in hapless cooks being humiliated by nasty Greg.
Bev thought a cup of tea might make her feel better. It probably would’ve done but there didn’t seem to be any water coming out of the tap. Any of them. Bev said she was going to bed. Downright flaky I say. Personally, I don’t think she drinks enough wine.
The storm was fearful: no point counting the gaps between the thunder and lightning – there weren’t any. All the long night, the rain fell fiercely and fearlessly and the storm rattled one’s very bones. No point getting up until it passed because there was no electricity, so no lights. Just us in our respective rooms with the darkness punctuated only by frequent flashes.
We rose, bleary-eyed, at une bonne heure to try and attempt repairs. In Bev’s boudoir, I entered a large orange box above the malfunctioning toilet and tripped a switch. Hurrah! Electricity. With the aid of our trusty torch, I made my way through the wet gloom of early, silent-birded morning to the even more silent boiler room on another part of the estate where I succeeded in repairs to the water pump. Back in our joint, I took a welcome shower only to have the water dry up before I could even get the conditioner on. Trying to make the best of a very bad hair day, I noticed Bev, still sniffing, had spent valuable time and electricity on making toast on which she’d spread, in my non-judgemental opinion, an excessive amount of Reine Claude confiture. ‘Why can’t you function without breakfast’, I demanded? ‘Why can’t you function without washing your bloody hair’, she retorted? Good point.
We went our separate ways: she to tend chickens, me back to the water pump. Onwards to trip more switches throughout the estate, feed the cat called Poodle, write a diplomatic email to the owners, take a phone call from Portugal, discuss the plan for the day, return to bed for more sleep and, finally, run away to Arles.