Friday, 11 January 2008

The Drive to Marmande

We've been "off-line" for most of the time since Christmas day, when our telephone landline (and hence our Orange livebox) went down.

We celebrated Christmas twice here in France: on Christmas Eve (the French and Polish way) a supper of borscht, fish and bottled fruits in liqueur and then the English way with friends on Christmas Day: turkey with all the trimmings, champagne and red and white local wines and a rich, nut-filled dark Christmas pudding from Sainsbury's, brought back specially in my hand luggage. Don't try carrying crackers onto a plane. As I was wandering listlessly around Luton airport, killing time waiting for my flight, the staff at Cotton Traders told me they had already been given ten boxes by people stopped from taking them on board and it was still only mid December.

Boxing Day, we needed to recover from the exertions of the previous two days. So it was the 27th before we set off on the half-hour drive to the Orange shop in Marmande to report our out-of-action phone. Easier face-to-face we naïvely thought. The shop was packed. We signed in, to get our place in the queue and joined the milling throng. An hour or so later, we told our story to an assistant in our pidgin French and she then struggled to get through to the helpline. Finally we were assured that an engineer would be out, that evening or the next day. Amazed at the prospect of such efficiency, we set off on the half-hour journey home.

And to our delight an engineer did arrive on the 28th. Ah, but .... he had not come out to fix the fault, but in true French, bureaucratic fashion, to report it, with signed paperwork, in triplicate.

And so we waited. Quite nice in some ways, being cut off. No wading through the dozens of emails inviting us to spend yet more money in the post-Christmas sales. No means of dialing 3103 to find that no-one had called us while we were out ("Bonjour. Vous n'avez aucun nouveau message").

But by early January, with people to call to say happy New Year and the possibility of some work from the UK, we were getting anxious. It's fine sitting in the South of France so long as we can just email or pick up the phone. Even began to think about sending letters.

Finally, after costly calls on the mobile to reassure friends and clients we were still here, men appeared up a telegraph pole along the ridge behind our house and we were startled to hear our phone ring. A cheerful voice assured us all was well. At least we think that was what was said. I hastily handed the phone over to Tod and was impressed with his confident "d'accord" down the phone as he hung up. "What did they say?" I asked. "No idea!" he said.

Well all the lights on our livebox were glowing encouragingly and we rushed to catch up on our respective emails. We were back in touch! That lasted half an hour. So back to Marmande (half an hour's drive each way), this time to demand a new livebox. But had Monsieur dialed 3900 to report the fault and to have the line tested? Unfortunately without the fault reported, no new livebox would be forthcoming.

Horrors. A conversation must be had with an engineer on the phone! Fortified by a strong French coffee brewed in one of those little metal cafetières that look like an old-fashioned corset, the call is made. Triumph. The line is tested, the lights are on again and there is much wishing of "Bonne année".

How much easier just to pick up the phone than to drive to Marmande. Sometimes we just have to be kicked out of our comfort zone to find that we can cope.

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