Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Monsoons, French Style

Woohoo, I go away (not literally, just from cyberspace) for a couple of days and I've passed the 500 views mark - and only about 200 of them are me! Mind you, the other 300 could well be my mum!

Well, what a weekend chez nous! France seems to be confusing itself with a the Indian subcontinent (but without the sun) and we've had some serious monsoon-type weather for the past few days. Like erstwhile Pioneers, we battled the rising floodwaters, sandbagging the house with 25kg bags of salt intended for the swimming pool (OK, not very pioneer-like!), moving things to higher ground, clearing gutters, digging out drains.... and all the more unlikely because we live on the top of a hill!

The Sunny Southwest, as the estate agents love to tell you, has months of sunny weather and a short winter of about 2 months. "Sometimes you can even eat Christmas Dinner outside in your shorts" they exclaim excitedly. OH REALLY! Well in that case, how come it's rained since last October, it's June but I've still got the heating on, the farmers, rather than irrigating their fields, are removing them from the road where the rainwater has washed them, the chickens are taking swimming lessons and the dog smells like a ripe old Brie?

The last two weeks have taken the biscotte though. Days of torrential rains, leaving the ground completely waterlogged, gave way to some real Monsoon downpours over the weekend with disastrous results for people living in the valley below us. We sat, smugly, on top of our hill, thinking 'I'm alright, Jaques' and looking sympathetically down on the valley folk as they watched their swimming pools fill with muddy water for the second time in a year and the insurance agents counted the cost of yet more flooding and revelled in the opportunity for lots of sharp intaking of breath and explanations that it's the wrong type of water, the wrong type of disaster, "beh, oui, Madame, this is surely an act of God and désolé we only cover the farmers for that".

All that changed on Saturday though when the ground heaved a huge Gallic shrug and gave in to the rising water table and yet more rain.

Water poured down the drive and into the barn while we struggled to get everything off the floor, including my lovely new mower (I blame the CH) and ten sheets of plasterboard which are intended for finishing off the ceilings in the house.

I cursed the fact that I hadn't cleared out the horses' stalls as turds floated off into the distance and spent 10 full minutes on my knees in the mud and water trying to unblock the drain in front of the barn (thank god I haven't had a manicure since 2004!) but when I realised that water was actually coming up it I knew I was fighting a losing battle.

Our house is built into the hill with the barn attached, then steps down to a smaller barn then steps down into the house. It was imperative we kept the water away from the steps and the house - although I did have a sneaky thought that if it got into the house I might be able to get my knackered old floor replaced. Bit like the time last year when I nearly let the fire in the kitchen take hold so I could get a new one but that's for another day. Mind you, at this point enough water was pouring through the bathroom ceiling that it would hardly have made a difference if the water had made it under the door!

The roof sprang leaks everywhere, in places where it has never leaked before, as the waterproof limitations of the old roof tiles, handmade over the thighs of a hundred virgins (or something like that) became apparent. I'll tell you something, a few of them had pretty chunky thighs!

No sooner had it started than it stopped and within half an hour the waters had receded leaving a thin blanket of mud over everything.

Sunday afternoon, Rebelote (which means 'here we go again'). I stood for about 10 minutes waiting for a ruddy-faced, smiling farmer to come along with just the right implement to sort out our impending flood. Well, that's what happens in all these daft 'Living the Dream' in France books isn't it? Personally I'd sue all the authors for misrepresentation. Neither farmer, nor shiny, happy wife clutching home made preserves (or more likely in our area some unidentifiable part of a duck) arrived at my door and I realised we were on our own.

DS, friend of DS, DD and I spent an hour out in the storm digging run offs from the drive to try and divert the torrent which was now pouring down the drive, into our other barn, filling up the pool that I was desperately trying to empty at the same time to stop it overflowing... I've been in India during the monsoon and this was just the same. Our hill turned into a river with floodwater cascading down taking lumps of the road and alarmingly large rocks with it. One of our fields had a 3 metre wide torrent pouring through the middle.

My hard work clearing out the gutters had exactly the wrong effect as now all the water from the roof of the house was pouring down onto the little terrace at the side and the drain couldn't cope. It started to make it's way under the door and into the cellar. Ah well, that'll save washing the floor.

I was soaked through to my underwear, hair plastered to my face, mascara making it's way down my chest, CH's designer waterproof coat was anything but and my sooper dooper Italian, very chic, neoprene wellies proved about as much use as a chocolate teapot.

Not for the first time I asked myself if I'm really cut out for this country life.


sarah said...

Hi, Rain is called off for the next few days so you can dry out your undies and get new arm bands for the chickens for when the next lot comes! Just thought I would share with you what happened over on the other side of the valley (sounds too welsh for my liking). The farmer left a dead sheep in the middle of the field. He doesn't normally but I think it was too far gone to collect so i dogs have been having a high old time with it. High being the operative word as it became more rancid with the rain and the warm. Eventually my DH decided enough was enough and set fire to it yesterday. This hasn't deterred the dogs and I am just about to emabark on the clean up operation in the house of several piles of the most disgusting smelling dog vomit you can imagine. Oh the joys of life in France! See you this afternoon for a well deserved coffee in the cafe.

Lehners in France said...

Sounds like you had a tough time of it. We too are on a hill, higher than Beaumont so our water runs down to the poor miserable beggars in the valley.

I was looking at a house for sale near Villeneuve Sur Lot, the estate agents pitch was: "the area has a wonderful climate, it's ideal for turning horses out all year round. There is an abundance of grass, not due to rainfall, but due to the heavy dews first thing in the morning. It is a wonderful climate with many hours of sunshine." I read that just before driving to Villereal, the fields looked like flood planes. I take it I'm not alone in thinking "I wouldn't buy a house off you mate!"
I hope we can cut the hay soon, but it's not looking good. Debs x

(Very) Lost in France said...

Sarah - thanks for sharing :)

Debs - meet Sarah, she used to be an (honest) estate agent!