A ‘Oui’ From The Mairie!

Upon our return from our smash ’n’ grab visit to the UK, we discover a letter from the Mairie informing us that permission has been granted to convert the outbuilding into an apartment.

We immediately relay the news to Diamond Dave, our builder, and arrange for him to come over for coffee and a planning meeting. He can also pick-up the three multi-packs of Fry’s Turkish Delight for his wife that he asked if we could procure while in England.

In the meantime we start clearing the outbuilding, which had been used by the previous owner as a workshop and storage area — and he left in such a hurry many of his tools lay scattered on the bench and the shelves are still full of electrical sockets, cables, brackets and screws and other bits ‘n’ bobs that he bought for the house, but never got around to using.

He also left some pretty heavy duty and expensive kit such as a new drywall lift, electric sander as well as gardening tools and furniture. Like his work on the house, the workshop looked as though he started off organised and with good intentions and a plan before given up and descending into chaos.

I’m sure the coronavirus pandemic didn’t help matters, and he clearly got into difficulties, hence his hasty departure and readiness to sell. The life of a freelance writer is tough at the best of times, and in my experience, working in newspapers, they are always the first ones to be let go when departmental purse-strings are tightened.

Another unexpected surprise came when we scored some wood from a local dealer. He delivered two pallet loads of seasoned logs, for 50 Euros, that I had to haul up and stack in the garden. With the weather turning chilly again, even though we are in the middle of May, the house is still like a fridge so we keep a log fire burning in the sitting room in the evening while we wait for summer to arrive.

Although Sadie is itching to start on the sitting room and decorate it with her new Farrow & Ball Dix Blue paint from England, we decide to wait until the work on the outbuilding is complete as the disruption would be too much to bear.

For now we rearrange the room, moving out a pair of over-dominating white Ikea bookshelves that almost reach the ceiling and replace with some of our own furniture and furnishings, hanging a huge mirror over the fireplace which immediately doubles the room in size, creating a spacious living area that feels more homely.

On the Sunday evening I detect that the bottle recycling bins should be left out, by looking down the street and seeing a phalanx of blue-topped bins at the edge of the curb.

I dutifully haul my bin to join them, and retire to bed, the excitement over for one week — or so I thought.

The next morning, while out the back checking on the dandelion situation on the lawn, I hear the sound of the recycling truck emptying the bottle bins.

Excitedly I dash out to the street, hoping to see the mechanical marvel in action, as I was told by the neighbour that no human binmen are involved in the operation, apart from the truck driver.

I spot my bin still on the pavement and open the lid to see it is still full of bottles. At that moment the truck pulls up alongside and two mechanical arms grab my bin and the one next to it, almost picking me up in the process, if I weren't so nimble on my feet getting out of the way just in time.

The truck plonked the empty bin back on the pavement in seconds and moved on up the street. I’m sure if I had been swallowed up and cut to shreds, it wouldn’t have stopped.

I wonder what my father would have made of this modern form of refuse collection? For years he drove a council ash-wagon, when men with leather shoulder flaps hauled metal bins on their shoulders and threw all the household detritus into one load ready to be incinerated back at the depot. In the dark old days, which I remember well, the city was thick with smog and soot from the railways and factories. We lived next to the railway carriage works and I can remember a thin layer of asbestos covering cars in the nearby streets. Not surprising many of the men who worked there, some of whom lived in our street, died from asbestosis.

Rumour that while on a collection some hot ashes in a bin set light to the other rubbish in the back, and my father drove through the city with the truck a blaze to the fire station, instead of calling for the fire brigade to come out to him.

He also drove a dustbin wagon to the Rugby League final at Wembley as a favour for his employer, the York Corporation, who must have had it on loan from a London council.

He took a load of his mates with him, not sure how they got back, but I remember he wasn’t in a pretty state when he did, much to my mother’s chagrin.

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