With retirement looming, I’d entertained the idea of becoming a ‘trusted house sitter’. You get a free exotic holiday just for looking after a couple of pooches somewhere or other in the sun.
Karil says, ‘why do all these things happen to you when you’re in Provence?’ She asks in her usual kind and caring way but I’m irritable. I’ve been irritable a lot during the last ten days. ‘All what things’, I demand? ‘
‘Well’, she continues, ‘you had to leave early in the summer because you were ill. Then there was all that business with Jack’.
‘That was SIX years ago’, I retort. Karil visibly shrinks and I’m ashamed at being so snappy. She’s made a valid point. Here I am in the South with Princess Bev and everything is literally falling apart. Fair play to Bev, she keeps writing. Me – zilch.
It starts at Marseille Airport which we hit in a torrential rainstorm. The terminal is bloody miles from the hire car joint. Actually, we can’t even find the hire car place because, in the cause of getting the cheapest deal, I have booked with a subsidiary of a subsidiary of an apparently non-existent company. In the offices of the third hire car place I try, a very wet old woman unexpectedly appears and attempts to engage me in conversation. Go away old woman. Suddenly, I realise that it’s Drenched Bev. We finally get a car but it’s only when Drenched Bev sees the size of the vehicle, and I clock the expression on her regal face, that I realise I’m in the company of royalty. This is why, when we finally reach the chicken-sitting place, I allow her to set up store in the Princess bedroom. I take the servants’ quarters.
You only need to read back at the last but one Weasel to be reminded of the terrible storm that night. No electricity, no water, no internet, terrified chickens, traumatised cats and so on. We get over it and press on with our holiday but, make no mistake, that isn’t the end. For a start, the princess has taken a chill so at least my tinnitus, which has reached a debilitating crescendo, is, marginally blocked by the sound of her incessant sniffing.
We make a good fist of the repairs and all is soon well with the world. For a whole enjoyable day. The outside lights are problematic as now they come on in the sun-filled daytime, whilst the night remains as black as the bible. Not to worry – we have a torch. The next morning, up early and refreshed, I go to the owners’ accommodation to feed the cat. I can’t get in. The lock has jammed. I do a Scarlett o’Hara – I’ll think about it tomorrow. However, that’s not good enough as the cat must be fed. WD40 is mentioned. I think this is a British thing: in the event of any crisis, the British only ever have two options – a nice cup of tea or a spot of WD40. I don’t currently have any WD40 in my handbag (later, I won’t even have a handbag). I coat the house key in Fairy Liquid. It works and, rather late in the day, the cat is fed. Apologetically, I give her a little extra as a treat.
The next day, in neurotic anticipation of troubles, the house key and the Fairy Liquid meet again and Princess and maid enter the cat’s domain quite easily. The cat has been rather sick. Princess Bev hates a mess so bravely scoops up the vomit in a tissue and pops it down the loo. (I hope they’re not reading this). Another nice day proceeds and the following morning, with suitably coated key, I’m off to see Poodle the cat. Sadly, the vomit filled loo is now blocked. Bev writes another thirty seven pages and I catch up on The Archers. Bev has a cup of tea and I open another bottle.
This is how it continues. Of course, things get much worse when our car is smashed into and my handbag is stolen. In fact, it goes downhill like an avalanche. We console ourselves by inviting everyone we know for the aperitif and drinking so much wine that we’re even more depressed the following morning. It was a grand cosmopolitan soiree, nonetheless. But I don’t think I’m going to apply to be a ‘trusted house sitter’ any time in the near future. Not without my princess.
This business of saying ‘it could’ve been worse’ is rubbish. It could only have been worse if we’d been murdered at the aqueduct which used to be one of my favourite places. It was TRICKY and we did really well to still be speaking at the end of it. We had no bushtucker trials – apart from the night the Princess cooked but we were severely challenged. And we challenged each other. Our lives are so different that the enormity of it all is unfathomable. Yesterday, we confided that we were both desperate to return to our own respective bubbles. And yet here was such fun.