All the stuff you never knew you needed to know about life in rural France.....and all the stuff the books and magazines won't tell you.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

The Poisoner's Wife and the Sands of Time

Alternative version of image:Wooden hourglass ...Image via Wikipedia
It was in April of this year that I heard of the death of The Poisoner.

His house had been destroyed by fire in the previous summer, and he, at 91, could not survive outside his own environment.
The little bungalow in the retirement colony in the village centre, surrounded by other people, with no garden except a strip under his him it resembled a circle of the Inferno.
He, to whom control was everything, was no longer in control of his life.
He gave up.

His widow is still living there, in one of those bungalows.
Six months after his death and more than twelve after the fire.
She wants to return home.
She goes up every day to tend the garden, but she has nowhere to bottle her fruit, nowhere to store her potatoes......Alain and his wife next door do their best to help, but she is fighting a losing battle to get back to her old life, her old routines, the things she knows and which give her value in her own eyes.

Why is she still in her bungalow?

Well, as you might guess, the insurance claim took a long time to settle, despite the clear reports of the fire brigade and gendarmerie.
The cause of the fire was undisputed....she had left the gas on in the back kitchen when summoned by her husband to carry out some task or other...there had been an explosion, and the fire had taken hold.
The amount the insurance company would pay out was, on the other hand, greatly in dispute.

Until the insurance claim was settled, nothing could be done.
The tarpaulins covering the roof flapped dismally all through the winter and were still flapping when The Poisoner died.

The insurance finally settled, her son called on local builders for estimates.
They were all up to their ears in work despite the economic downturn....a phenomenon which I observed over the years of my residence in France.
When times were good, they were twiddling their thumbs looking for clients....once things turned down, they were worked off their feet.
I could only think that the French consumer of building projects has the same reaction time as the French motorist whom you see in the distance as you are driving on the main road, hovering at the exit of a country lane.
He has seen you coming....he has plenty of time to pull out......but by the time his reactions permit him to act  you are upon him in a conflagration of brake pads.

So when times are good, the French client thinks about his project....and eventually engages his builder, who thus starts work when the downturn begins, and as always, takes on far more work than he can perform, given the exigences of French employment and social security provisions.

But in this case another complication has arisen.....the chosen builder's faithful foreman has retired....and he can't find a replacement.
This has dragged out the process yet further and with no solution in sight the Poisoner's widow looks like spending another winter in her 'temporary' accommodation.

Get another builder?

No chance, they are all up to their eyes in wood and plaster, and, moreover.....

When she agreed the estimate there was no provision for timescale in the contract.

She's stuck.
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  1. Getting anyone to do work is a nightmare. I had an estimate done for a couple of bits and bobs back in October 2010. The guy finally came back to me at the beginning of this September - said he'd lost my number, email etc. except he could have asked the agency who engaged him in the first place...

  2. She needs to ring Nick Knowles at the BBC. Provided she doesn't mind a camera crew in her face they'll rebuild her bungalow in 3 days.

  3. Sarah, oh, suddenly he's finished all the other jobs and now thinks he'll turn to yours...

    Steve, I think she'd do anything to get back home again....and I reckon she'd be a match for any camera crew!
    There is a sort of 'sort it out' programme on French TV, but they specialise more in muck ups in administration rather then private problems.

  4. Arrghhh! I still remember the plumber who came to fix our cistern. I was very insistent that he DO IT ALL IN ONE DAY. But he didn't. He packed up when half the job was done, and then didn't come back for another four weeks.

    There isn't much contract signing around here, so the workmen come immediately you call, get started on the job so you're committed to them (supposedly) and then go away and get on, bit by bit, with the other 20 jobs they started the same way for the same reason. Leaving you in chaos for weeks. Or months.

  5. Pueblo girl, when I was first in France a friend warned me off certain 'artisans' and told me that she timed them from the minute they arrived until they left...they had a habit of 'forgetting' something, clearing off for the day and returning just before knocking off time...then she was charged for the day.
    You'd think someone would pull their finger out to help this old girl, though, wouldn't you?
    Alain has spoken to the builder several times but he'll neither give up the contract or get on with the work.

  6. I'm still traumatised by the three week job that turned into 10 months. The builders would look me in the eye and swear that they'd be on the job the next day and then I wouldn't see them again for a fortnight!

    Poor old lass, hope she gets home soon.


  7. SP, so do I. All she wants is to get back home.

  8. It all sounds horribly familiar, Fly. I do hope she gets home sooner rather than later.

    We're thinking of adding an extra bedroom to our French house, but reading this I don't think I'll try holding my breath any time soon.