I don't know if you can conceive of the joy of arriving late in the evening at ones holiday home and not having to hack ones way through the jungle in order to get to the outside lavvy. Carrying a bucket of water. In the dark. Perhaps it's something you have to have done yourself.
We arrived late in the evening, to find that we had indoor plumbing. (The outdoor facility had been fixed as well, for anyone who felt moved to use it, and now had a proper English syphonic tank.) We gazed in wonder at the porcelain throne, and then looked a little further to the large cylinder which in due course would hold hot water, so we could bath or shower without having to boil kettles. So it was connected via a trailing flex to the socket in the bathroom - who cared?
The whole experience of going on holiday had changed. No longer would we be content with just being there, away from our ordinary every-day existence, enjoying the simple life.
Actually our ordinary every-day life had come a lot closer to our French experience since we'd first bought the place. We had both achieved early retirement, so doing as we pleased had become the norm. We had also moved from our modern house in a large village in Wiltshire to a stone cottage in Wales which bore distinct resemblances to our stone cottage in France. Including the impossibility of getting a mobile phone signal. But that's a story for another time.
The work was nowhere near finished, of course, and the next thing, we decided, was the tiling round the bath. We got directions for two places in Caen where tiles were to be had, and set off.
"You can't miss it," we were told. We missed it. We stopped at the back door of a warehouse on the zone d'entreprise and asked for directions. They tried to explain how to get to the first place, but after driving around in circles we gave up on that one. We headed to the second, which indeed you couldn't miss, as you can see it from the peripherique or ring road. And it wasn't one of those places that you can see, but in a Kafka-esque world can never reach. We found it, and went round the tile section.
I don't know, whenever I'm looking for a particular thing,. it always seems to have just gone out of fashion. I wanted a nice light aquamarine sort of colour. There was white. There was bright red. There were mirror tiles,. and ones that looked like beach pebbles, and boring beige ones. Finally we settled on one which wasn't quite what we wanted, but by then our feet were hurting and we'd very nearly come to blows.
As is apparently common in French DIY stores, there were hardly any in stock. Could we order them? Naturally. We gave all the details, paid up. When will they be in? In a fortnight. We shall be back in Wales by then, but we can probably get Brian the Builder to pick them up. Look, the invoice actually says a week, so maybe we'll be lucky.
So a week later we take the forty-five-minute drive to Caen to see if the tiles have arrived. Except that we get almost to the junction and find the back of an enormous traffic jam. Articulated lorries have parked up on the hard shoulder. I fancy the drivers are off playing boules in the field alongside, or enjoying a prolonged lunch break in the restaurant the other side of the dual carriageway. The other side of the dual carriageway that is surprisingly quiet and traffic-free. We inch our way through the slalom of parked lorries to the junction with the peripherique and find, not the major pile-up we had feared, but a pile of, well, manure basically. And old tyres
It seems that the French farmers have chosen that day to demonstrate against low farm prices. "Angry Peasants!" proclaim the placards on the tractors that are blocking the peripherique and the roundabout. They are blocking the exit from the roundabout back to where we have come from, as well, so we can't even turn around and go home. We must plough on, through the centre of Caen, a place we avoid usually by going round the ring-road.
All I can say is thank goodness that when I bought the satnav I made sure it had European maps included. We join the back of another traffic jam of cars avoiding the peripherique. We go past some more roundabouts blocked by tractors and old tyres (but luckily no more manure) and ignoring instructions to "turn around where possible" we inch through the centre of Caen and eventually approach the DIY store from behind.
The tiles, of course, have not arrived.
Doreen lives in the empty bit in the middle of Wales, where since her retirement she has taken up writing. She says it's better than working any day.
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