Sunday, 20 September 2009

21. Farewell to the gite

I’m glad my stay in hospital is behind me.. I’ve just got to go back on 28th January for a final check-up. The staff were really friendly and a cut above the staff in NHS hospitals.. (in my experience)

I remember going to visit my Mum who'd been taken into the Accident & Emergency (A&E) Unit at an un-named NHS Hospital in 2006. As I arrived, an ambulance was parked outside the entrance to the A&E Unit and its crew were cleaning out the inside of it – one of them was holding a bloodied stretcher that looked like it had come from a chainsaw massacre while the other chap was hosing the blood off it. I wouldn’t have minded but this was in the entrance to the A&E Unit and everyone walking in or out had to walk through these pools of bloody water..!! I couldn’t believe it..!

1st February 2008. We’d settled on 1st February 2008 with our Hereford based removals company as the date for the delivery of the bulk of our possessions which had been in storage since the summer of 2007. The New Year came and went and as we neared February the last few jobs in the house neared completion. We had to seek permission from the Town Hall to block the traffic in the road while the removals lorry was unloading.

On the day, we were at the house at 7.15am ready for the removals lorry which was expected at 8.15. We turned the heat on and waited. We cordoned off a part of the avenue with some barriers that the council had kindly dropped off for us. I was half expecting a call from the lorry asking me to direct them here but nothing. Madame was getting increasingly agitated as the witching hour approached with still no sign of them.

At 8.15 I was pacing up and down outside when suddenly the big lorry turned into the avenue on the dot of quarter past.. (with the Dambusters March playing in the background) The driver was the same chap who’d moved us from the cottage into their storage facility in Hereford - so we knew him. Anyway, he and his mate soon got cracking and despite regular pit-stops for cups of tea on the hour every hour (unlike our Basque boys!) they soon had everything unloaded. Where did all these boxes come from I asked myself..? Boxes and still more boxes appeared. I opened one and found they’d packed half a packet of chocolate digestive biscuits we’d left out for them to have with their tea in the cottage five months earlier. I resisted the temptation to offer them to the men..

We managed to position most of the boxes in the right rooms and then we went back to the gite where we were staying for our last night. It was reassuring to see that our old things had emerged safe and sound not only from storage but also the long trip down. I was desperate to read a book other than "Out of Africa" - great though that is.

The next morning we were up early to fetch the rented camionette (light van) from nearby Ustaritz which we were going to use to transport all our things from the gite to the house.. In the end this evolution took 2 trips. We said our final goodbyes to Monsieur and Madame D who in turn invited us for a coffee in a few days time. Then we returned the van and headed off to the house. In the meantime, the last touches were being applied to the kitchen and the bathroom.. When we’d finally created a bit of space around the sofas, we opened a bottle of champagne that a friend from work had kindly given us - with a few bits of smoked salmon.. It felt good to be reunited with all our things again.

On the Friday morning, our new TV was delivered and connected up. We’ve now got hundreds of channels of TV from around the world – including Al-Jazheera which I don’t think we’ll be watching. They also brought round the new dryer and fitted that on top of the washing machine.. Before long Madame had most of our stuff put away and we were starting to see the walls again.

On the Saturday morning at about 8am I was putting together Madame’s old armoire (wardrobe) when I tripped over a piece that I’d put down on the floor and I went down like a sack of spuds - a sack of pommes de terre doesn't have the same ring to it! I landed on top of the attachment fittings for the electric radiator which hadn’t been put back up and whose edges were razor sharp. On getting to my feet I found I had a sliced cut across the back of my fingers on my right hand (across the first joint) which I hardly felt but then they suddenly started leaking blood.. Madame patched me up as best she could with what we had to hand and then I drove into town to find a pharmacy that was open because here in France, pharmacists will dress a wound for you as well as - here's a surprise - identifying edible from non-edible fungi.

When I found one, the woman took one look and said “’Opital!”.. When I got there I was whistled through to the Urgent Dept and where we found to our astonishment that the doctor there was a young Welshman.. His parents live here for six months and the other six months they spend in Welsh Wales so he grew up speaking French.. I had my hand x-rayed in case some foreign body had got into the cuts and I got a tetanus jab.. and they tied my hand up like a parcel and said no work for you this weekend. A result!

However, after a few idle minutes though, I started carrying on with the million and one jobs that needed doing, of which one of the most time-consuming was changing 20+ plugs on everything electrical from the familiar old British 13 amp to your basic untrustworthy foreign jobbies.. (I jest) And so the days of that week passed.. each day we’d open a few more boxes and put things away, downstairs in the basement or out in the garage to go to the dump.

One morning we went to the gite for the coffee as promised.. and as 12 o'clock approached Madame D brought out a few nibbles.. then it was time for an 'apero'.. at which point Monsieur D came in from the farm - then a bowl of soup appeared.. next minute, there's a roast farm chicken on the table, wine glasses, and we're having a real farm lunch.. cheese.. then a tarte and then coffee and a glass of Basque liqueur.. When we finally came to leave, they presented us with a porcelain Basque pattern coffee service.. Words failed me at this point. They are two of the most generous people I've ever met - we'll never forget them.

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