Image via WikipediaIn a British owned house in rural France one sunny morning in July.
The telephone rings.
'Bonjour....oh, Poppy! How are you? I wasn't expecting...'
'You're coming out earlier than usual this year?...Next week.'
Yes, of course the house will be ready, I'll just have to do the usual last minute things...
Yes, I can rearrange my schedule, though I might need to get someone for a few extra hours as I'm pretty committed at this time of year and I couldn't foresee you'd change the dates...
No, not a problem at all, all part of the service.'
'Yes, thank you, if I do have to get someone to help I'll do a time sheet for them ...just as I do for everything through the year.'
'Yes, e mail me your shopping list and it will all be ready for you, wine chilling in the fridge and glasses in the ice box.'
'Bye, Poppy...thanks for giving me a few days warning. 'Bye.'
A number is punched on the telephone memory pad.
'Howard? Oh, sorry, Will, I was looking for Howard.'
'His father's ill? Oh, I'm so sorry....so he's in the U.K.? For quite a while to come...yes, of course, he'll have to wait and see how things go. Do give him best wishes when he calls.'
'What's happening with his gardening jobs? I know there's not much during the season, luckily...
Oh, you're doing them on your own.....how're you getting on with the strimmer?'
'Yes, Molly told me all about it..she wasn't too pleased about her plate bande, was she!
Border, Will...it's French for a border...'
'No, if Howard's not there then I'll leave it..you'll have enough on your plate as it is. Give Howard my love. 'Bye.'
The address book is unearthed from under the cushions on the Roche Bobois sofa.
'Hello Mike! Yes, it's me...long time no talk...'
'Yes, you guess right, I have an emergency! Well, not exactly an emergency, but you know what I mean...I've got a client coming out without warning and I'd scheduled Howard for the garden tidy up, but not for a week and now he's in the U.K....'
'Yes, I know Will is carrying on, but after what happened at Molly's I don't really trust him on his own.'
'No, I don't think it's his green fingers which attracted Howard either!'
'Listen, seriously, can you help me out? It's the big place out at La Perriere...the grass needs going over and a quick deweed on the paths and terraces with a follow up to clean up in a few days' time. It's a bit of a job, I know, as Howard hasn't been there since Easter, but I know you've got all the proper gear...
You'll have to check with Annie? Don't worry, I'll ring her myself.'
''Lizzie! Yes, it's me! I've got a job going if you'd like to take it on. At La Perriere. Just a one off...but you never know what it might lead to...'
'Yes, I know you're busy with Annie's changeovers, but this is in the week.....no, not all week, you can still do her Thursdays as well as the Saturdays...'
'Well, something's come up suddenly,and I immediately thought of you and Jess. It can't be easy when your own gite isn't doing so well..not your fault the pound went down the chute...but a bit extra always comes in handy.'
'You'll have to check with Annie?'
O.K....I'm ringing her anyway, so leave it to me.....
'Steve? Yes it's me. Can you do the Perriere place as soon as possible...the cow's just rung me to say she's coming out next week, and I don't want any problems with the plumbing. There'll be enough when their brat blocks up all the loos with toilet rolls again!'
'You can? Oh, that's great! I know we'd scheduled it for next week, so it's not too much of a worry.
The telephone rings.
'Bonjour...oh, it's you, Esme! What's the matter?'
'Yes, I have just rung Lizzie and Jess. Lizzie rang you?'
'No, of course you get first pick of the jobs...I've got you down for this one anyway, the Perriere house, as always, but the cow's coming over without much warning so you'll never get through it on your own.'
'Yes, she is picky, isn't she! I sometimes wonder if she's worth all the bother...I swear she counts the tins in the cupboard and she's never brought over a present in all the years I've looked after the place for her.
Anyway, I thought if I could get Lizzie and Jess to do the rough, then you could scoot through the rest...Steve is coming to check the plumbing and you know what a mess he always makes...'
'No, I hadn't forgotten we're using the Perriere bedding in Les Lilas...you'll have to get it first thing on the Saturday and make washing and ironing it a priority...that's why I thought that, thanks to the rush, you'd need a hand. It's a real nuisance because we've got that repeat booking the next week and I'd wanted to use the bedding for them...but not to worry, I'll think of something for Les Lilas.'
'O.K. Esme...no, don't apologise....just Lizzie doing a bit of mischief making.....she ought to watch it in her position. You'll go up tomorrow first thing, then?
After several failed calls to the same number.
'Hello Tom! Yes, it's me!'
'Oh....yes I've rung a few times this morning...perhaps Annie didn't hear the 'phone. Yes, please, I would like a word...'
'Lizzie rang you? And Mike? They're very loyal, aren't they!'
'Yes, it's the Perriere place. Howard's let me down and the owner wants to come out earlier than arranged so I'm stuck for the garden work...could Mike fit in in with his work on your houses?...The problem is having time for the weedkiller to work and cleaning it up before they arrive so I'd need him to go tomorrow.'
'Yes, I know I couldn't help you out with Howard at Easter...but you know what a hell that always is...all the winter catch up work to do and all the houses occupied just when you don't want them to be...'
'Mmm....it's a bit expensive...but I'm over a barrel here...O.K. it's a deal. You'll tell him to go up tomorrow them? Esme will be there with the keys and she knows what needs doing, so he can just get started.'
'Lizzie and Jess? Well, they only do two days for you, so it wouldn't be poaching...O.K., fine, that's great if I can have them. Just a word in your ear, though...watch Lizzie...too gabby for my liking. She rang Esme to warn her that she was being done out of a job.'
'No. I agree. I mean, without us they wouldn't get these jobs at all.....well, just keep an eye on her. Plenty more where they come from, after all, the way things are.
Thanks again, Annie.
'Esme? I nearly forgot! Can you get Jim to haul all the flower pots up to the Perriere place once the visitors have gone? Yes, it's a nuisance...if only she wouldn't chop and change like this...
The telephone rings again.
'Bonjour...oh, it's you, Annie.'
'Oh, thanks...that's really good of you to ring Lizzie. She and Jess can go up with Mike, then to make a start. Esme knows where everything is.'
'Oh, while I think of it....I've got some really special clients coming out to Les Lilas next week....yes, those two....and I want to make things really nice. You're still minding the Americans' house down at Les Mousses, aren't you?'
'Yes, I thought I remembered you saying they weren't coming over this summer. Do you think you can let me have some of the nicer bedding from there - just enough for two doubles will do - and some good towels and bathrobes? Esme will keep an eye on them, she's so good with laundry you would not believe, and they'll be returned as soon as they've gone back. Oh, and if I send Jim, he could bring some of the plants in pots...I know they have some beauties...just for the fortnight.'
'Oh, fine, if you're using it over at Le Pigeonnier....I'll just have to think of something else. But I can have the plants? That's super, Annie! thank you! I'll have Jim go up on Saturday.'
'Esme? It's me. Can you tell Jim to pick up the plants from the terrace at Les Mousses...no need for the key, the garden side is open...on Saturday? Oh, and Esme, better take a note of what he takes - you know how Annie is.....Yes, a bit on the tricksy side... Thanks Esme!'
'Bonjour Monsieur Cot...oh, it's you Jeanne-Marie!
Look the people from La Perriere are coming over..could I pick up the usual order in a couple of days' time?'
'Yes, that's nice of you....one bag in the box of rose and a dozen of rouge will be lovely.....well, it is nice to be appreciated and I suppose I do bring a fair bit of custom your way.'
'No, the Americans aren't coming over, according to Annie.....and anyway she took them to Trichet for their wine last year time...no ....apparently Trichet gave her a case of his champagne.... '
'Yes, that's Annie, I'm afraid, not very loyal.'
'Au revoir, Jeanne-Marie!'
Some days later......an e mail is sent.
Hello Poppy, just me!,
Looking forward to seeing you next week....everything is in order, as always.
I'm attaching the worksheet I told you about on the 'phone.....there are all the usual monthly worksheets, Esme, Jim and Howard, but you'll also see one for Steve, to check the plumbing and another for Lizzie. You'll remember I told you I'd need a hand as I was fully committed and wasn't expecting you to change dates.
I received your shopping list and it will all be waiting for you on arrival.
Saturday morning...the telephone rings.
'Bonjour. Oh, it's you, Esme. Everything O.K.?'
'You're at Les Lilas, yes....'
'No! They can't have! Not lipstick on the 12000 thread Egyptian cotton pillowcases!'