One of the things that happens when one heats up a structure that’s been cold for months is An Awakening. The sheer number and variety of Rip Vans suddenly awoken to their need for a winkle in my Winter abode is breathtaking: thus far, flies, wasps, one hornet and a small, dozy snake have been involved, the last of which was I am afraid subjected to Jihadist treatment on my part, on the grounds he was a viper and thus highly likely to lower the tone of the neighbourhood.
The other thing that happens is An Investigation. Wild animals are quick to spot heat emission, as experience teaches them that such might lead to the discovery of a soft billet. Last Monday night, I was awoken at 3am to find a badger outside my bedroom door. He may well be the chap who took up residence here two years ago , and proceeded to munch most of the ageing lath-and-plaster…..as well as several wires which were, lucky for him, long-dead. As I switched the light on, he blinked, offered an expression suggesting I might be a dangerous member of Occupy, and then gave out a loud squeal before zig-zagging off at high speed into the gloom.
When badgers decide to beat a retreat, it’s like watching undercranked film of a World War II convoy evading U-boats. Too many people read The Wind in the Willows as children, and assume that old Mr Badger is a thoughtful and kindly sort of cove. He has the sort of claws to prove any deluded townie badly wrong on the subject; on the whole, the three I have met in my 67 years have struck me as scatty loose cannons. But that doesn’t stop something inside me feeling sad when I see these beautifully marked creatures lying dead beside the road. It’s daft I know, but it feels like such a waste of a lovely fur coat.
As all veterans in this space know very well by now, I do not harbour the same feelings about mice. If one lives in the open countryside far from City Slickers, there is no respite from mice without resorting to the Death Penalty being handed out above and beyond anything remotely resembling the Rule of Law. The reasoning behind my radical views are many and varied, but chiefly they involve a few simple facts: mice nibble wires and water tubes, mice eat one’s food, mice destroy the packaging containing food, and above all, mice shit like the rest of us breathe. Mice may not be City slickers, but my God they are country shitters sans pareil. They shit on work surfaces, under cupboards, into their own food and on each other. At least snakes have one saving grace: they eat mice. There is no such point to mice: they live, eat, and shit a life of constant mess, following which they die and leave a smell behind the walls that would turn the stomach of the Devil herself.
The other advice I have to offer tonight about taking up residence in a new build is don’t do it in France. In Spain they might one day make you pay for a new surburb you didn’t want, in Greece the person who sold you the new property may have had no right so to do, and in Wales they might burn the bloody thing down if you’re English….but none of this comes close to the pain level of purchasing, altering, restoring or even looking enviously upon a property in France.
A good deal of this involves skating upon wafer-thin planning laws, family succession complications and the inevitable (indeed, incomprehensible) Notaire system of collecting taxes. But most of it involves service providers….and the worst of the lot by a country kilometre is the France Telecom/Orange axis of anarchic ambling in any direction other than that desired by the customer.
The following is an unexpurgated and exaggeration-free account of what I had to go through simply to order works for the main house landline to be moved 150 yards to the new barn conversion this morning:
1. A lengthy explanation online of of how the FTO privatisation alliance came into being, and what its myriad advantages ‘are’ for the client
2. An even lengthier investigation of the website, navigation of which made a trip up the Orinoco in a paper hankie seem like a minor chore by comparison
3. The discovery of a special 5-digit number I could ring free from anywhere in the world 24/7
4. The more enervating discovery when I rang it – after choosing from three menus – that five million people had made the same discovery, and so I should call back in about ten years
5. The revelation that an 0800 number could be dialled to put me in touch with an operator from 7am to 11pm every day except Sunday
6. The exciting information after trudging through five menus that this wasn’t the number I should be ringing, what I needed was 2013
7. The by now familiar explanation that both 2013 and 2014 had now been closed, and the number I needed was 3900
8. Making the acquaintance of an echoing metallic robot at 3900 who asked things like “Oloorr, vous volley changeee du réseidonsh, weeoononn?” and “Le teffalonnn ne marshh pos weeoononn?” and the inimitable “Vooz sharsh dascistance du nuumairooy zorrosinkskintwatkartercurrantstroptwatssuziewong weoononn?”
9. Battering the robot into submission until I eventually got through to a female human voice
10. Explaining to this truly charming young woman what I wanted, and being told it would take at least three weeks. Expostulating THREE WEEKS? and being told with genuine charm that she was désolé, but there was nothing she could do.
Whatever they’re paying this last remnant of humanity at Orange, it isn’t enough. They should treble her salary, employ 200 others of equal ability and sensitivity, and then fire three non-exec Vice Chairs in order to make up the difference.
Such would not be the beginning of the end of dysfunctional, grasping neoliberal bollocks. But it would be the end of a beginning aimed at setting hundreds of economies around the world on the road to recovery.