Image via WikipediaIt 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 windows...to 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.