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Sept 5th - Back to the grindstone

French weather amazes me. It never fails. During our August walk-about the sun shone every day, and even when we got back - the day before la rentrée - the sky was still gloriously blue.

“There won’t be any point in wearing your new anorak to school tomorrow,” I told my daughter, “you’ll just boil. You’ll just need a thin cardigan, in case it’s chilly waiting for the bus in the morning.”

Wrong. The next morning we looked out of the window at a cold and gloomy Cevennole mountain. Rain was pelting down, smashing the last geranium flowers and peeling the summer posters off the village notice-board.

“Think I’ll need my new anorak after all,” said The Young Student.

“All walks cancelled today,” said Dolly, heading firmly for the sofa where the black panthers were already curled up and snoring.

“Blimey,” I gulped.

But I shouldn’t have been surprised because, don’t you remember, the weather did exactly the same thing last year. Last day of summer sunny; first day of autumn rainy.

And it did the same thing in earlier this year: after a pig of a winter with temperatures dropping way past what me and Dolly find acceptable... bang on time, March 21st and what happened? The sun came out and overnight temperatures rose into the comfort zone. By the end of the week I was able to let the stove go out.

I don’t know how the French do it, but I do find it typical of their logical organisation. Everything in France is sorted and filed according to a system. Even if, to stupid francophile Brits inhabiting fogotten corners of The Hexagon, the system is usually unfathomable.

The first time I realised this was when my roof started leaking the day after we moved into the house. Up in the attics with a selection of plastic sheets, buckets and washing up bowls, I saw my neighbour in her attic doing exactly the same thing. It was clear enough: the system consisted of placing buckets and washing up bowls in strategic positions. All roofs in France leaked. You were supposed to spend storms mopping up. I was doing the right thing. Child’s play.

I became expert at emptying buckets without flooding the rooms below, and painting out water stains on bedroom ceilings every spring, and spotting new leaks, and as for correct bucket-placement, I was writing a thesis on it paying special attention to sound-proofing techniques. (Nothing worse than being kept awake by a cacophony of drips falling into buckets above your head. The trick is to put an old jumper or pillow in the bottom of the bucket.)

It took several winters before a friendly builder offered to check my roof over and give me an estimate for repairs. I couldn’t actually afford any major repairs, but thought prices might be handy if the roof ever did collapse completely, so I agreed.

I was expecting the figures to be astronomical, but when he climbed onto my pantiles, as well-prepared as I was, I got a shock.

“Nothing wrong with this roof!” he called down. “Just needs a bit of bricolage. You’ve misplaced your moss!”

Crabbing his way across the roof on all fours like Spiderman, he showed me his system: you have to pull the moss off the up-turned tiles and push it up into the gaps between the top down-turned tiles where it forms a waterproof seal and stops the tiles slipping. See? You can do it like this, with a screw-driver.

Right. Sure. Nothing is that easy, I thought. “Fantastic, thanks you so much,” I gushed idiotically. “Brilliant.”

“No problem,” said the old-timer. “You had a couple of broken tiles up there, and I’ve replaced those for you, and given the whole thing a general tidy up, but that’s all it needed. I reckon this roof should last for another 30 years.”

I looked at it. The supporting beams are wonky and in places bandaged up with plastic, the other woodwork is mainly collapsing apart from where it is held up with pit props, and the tiles are a motley collection that wouldn’t look amiss in a museum. The whole thing is quaintly hillocky, sloping up and down along the beams and decorated with aluminium and lead strips where the tiles cannot be replaced. Most of the guttering is attached with binder-twine.

“Oh,” I said faintly. “Really? How much do I owe you?”

He blushed. “Would 20 euros be too much?” he asked.

“Absolutely. No, I mean no, yes. Right, oh yes, here, thanks so much,” I flustered on stupidly.

To be honest, I didn’t think much of his system. I certainly didn’t expect to be able to bail out of the bucket game. But that’s exactly what happened. Not a leak in sight. Not a sausage. The attic is as dry as a biscuit. My roof is now perfectly, 100% waterproof and the buckets are back in the gardening shed. His system works.

Amazing, but true.

Next column will be uploaded around mid Sept.

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