Ça m’a-gas*

So as the UK is reeling from a lack of fuel at its service stations, we here, in our tiny corner of France, are suffering a fuel crisis too. It’s not nationwide. In fact it is only affecting our house. Or our cooker to be precise.

About three weeks ago the bottled gas that powers the hob finally ran out.

The last time this happened we’d lived in France for precisely three weeks. We hadn’t unpacked fully and we were all still getting to grips with a cold house, massive culture shock and, in the case of the kids, dealing with school in a foreign language. And I was making soup.

I was making soup because Grandma M had come over on a surprise visit to cheer everyone up. We’d collected her from Normandy and needed a hot meal. Instead we had solid lumps of carrot and potato in water. We had no microwave and had to hunt around for the slow cooker we knew had come with us on our French adventure. In case you’re wondering, slow cooked soup is not a dish I would recommend. And it certainly wasn’t going to be served up for tea that night. Even the following day the vegetables were still crunchy. Instead, we had the crumpets and Marmite Grandma M had brought in her care package.

Somehow we found out that a shop in town sold bottled gas and, maybe to ensure we were never in the same situation again, we bought two huge bottles and what turned out to be nearly three years worth of gas.

We’ve since bought a log burner, keys and many other necessary things from Descamps in Montreuil-sur-Mer. They’re great people and really helpful. They installed the gas for us, left us a receipt which acted as a deposit and we were, quite literally, cooking on gas again.

And Grandma M felt so sorry for us all that she bought us a microwave as a housewarming present.

Anyway, the first bottle ran out about 16 months ago, so we were expecting this to happen.
Nevertheless, it prompted a lot of discussion. The two gas bottles sit outside the conservatory, in full sun, while an ancient copper pipe runs the full length of the house and emerges in the kitchen to connect to the hob. We all agree that this is not ideal. We have a tiny induction hob that we also all agree we prefer. (It’s seen a lot of action in the last three weeks.)
We also all agree that we need a new kitchen. And that we’re too poor to get one right now.

So we don’t want two large gas bottles, or even one. But the copper pipe won’t reach a small bottle and balancing it on bricks somewhere this windy seems like taking a less than ideal situation and making it actively dangerous.

We decided to ask the nice people at Descamps for advice. But first I needed the receipt for the gas bottles so that we could claim the, not inconsiderable, deposit.

The problem with moving house three weeks before making an unexpected purchase is that your filling system isn’t up and running at peak efficiency. Almost three years later, we have a system of sorts, but I couldn’t quite remember the system I’d used at the time.

Anyway, as a result, our filing system had a thorough overhaul and was soon as neat as a pin. And I hadn’t found the receipt.
Luckily due to a middle-of-the-night brainwave a few days later, I finally found it in a bag of old receipts. Off I went, full of optimism, to ask for advice and purchase some gas.

Apparently, the receipt I had, proving that we’d bought the gas from them and when, was the wrong receipt. I needed a different receipt that proved something else entirely. And it was possible that we’d been so slow in our gas usage that there was no deposit to be had.
And the whole situation with big bottles and small bottles got unbelievably complicated. We could have a small bottle and pay someone to install a new pipe. Or a big bottle and not.
I asked how much a small bottle was. The answer was a shrug. About 10€. Well maybe it was worth getting the pipe moved after all. And then of course there’s the extra 45€ you pay on top. I’m not sure what for. Okay. Maybe it wasn’t. I didn’t even ask how much a big bottle was.

As a result I still need to find a receipt that I don’t think I have and that may not actually be worth anything anyway. I still need to order one large bottle of gas that we don’t actually want but really do need if we don’t want our meals cooked in stages with some elements cold.

And we’re no closer to getting a new kitchen. But we do have diesel in the car, and at our local service station. And plenty of food on the supermarket shelves. And we live in the EU. So that’s something.

*I’m informed by my kids that this phrase spelt correctly – ‘ça m’agace’ – means ‘well that’s annoying’, or words to that effect. I’m trusting them on this one, as they tell me that this play on words works. One day maybe I’ll speak French well enough to know for sure.

Parlez-vous anglais?

Well that was entertaining. I’ve just spent an hour with the vet, who didn’t believe I speak French. This is despite the fact that I spoke French throughout this appointment and the fact that every previous appointment with him, since we moved here nearly three years ago, has been carried out entirely in French.

He spoke in English. As a result I’m fuzzy about what actually happened. I’m used to being fuzzy about it when it’s all in French, but I usually have an idea of exactly what it is I don’t understand. I’m now just thoroughly confused.

Twiglet, who shook so hard her teeth rattled throughout the whole ordeal, now has a French passport. This is good because he told me he would send it to me and we need it on Thursday. He didn’t. He gave it to me.

It’s important not to touch dead foxes, because, and I quote, “it isn’t over.” Nope. Genuinely no idea on that one except it might have something to do with worms. Maybe.

And Twiggy has had a vaccination she should have had five weeks after her last one, despite the fact her last vaccinations were all at that practice. As a result she may or may not be let back into France. I think. Or the UK. I’m not sure.

Before he treated her, he asked if Twiggy would bite him. She was so scared by this point that anything was possible and I said so (in French). As he grabbed her collar and the dog rolled her eyes in panic, he informed me that if she bit him it would be, and again I quote, “Fifteen days no travel and an inquiry.” We both decided that perhaps I would hold her head and give her the pill.

And I got the usual lecture about the importance of cleaning her teeth.

Anyway. If her head swells up to the size of a football I’m to ring him straight away. Which actually sounds entirely reasonable.

It’s wild out there

It all started with a duck tumbling out of the sky. Otherwise it was just the usual incredibly breezy evening dog walk with the cat in tow.

As the duck disappeared from view into a drainage ditch ahead, I began frantically wondering what I would do with an injured duck. Who would I call? How would I catch it?

With some trepidation, I peered into the ditch to see the mallard calmly floating and staring back at me as if to ask what all the fuss was about.

For the rest of the windy walk home I was preoccupied with the possibility of duck concussion and hidden injuries, so when the cat and dog homed in on something by the front door, I lunged forward and grabbed it without much thought.

It was a tiny bat. Almost as soon as I picked it up, I remembered that rabies is a thing in France. Not a big thing, but getting bitten probably wasn’t a good plan. So I put the bat down on a bench and summoned reinforcements.

Picking it up in an old towel, we carefully carried out into the garage, away from cats and dogs and left it there while we wondered what on earth to do.

The bat had a ring, so was clearly being monitored. I did what anyone would do and asked on Facebook. There’s a local group for our town and before long I had numerous suggestions. One of the first was to ring the vet, so I did so. I was surprised that the vet we usually see with our pets answered the phone at 8pm but he willingly gave me some advice.

Following his instructions, I found a cardboard box and some water but quickly realised the small bat could drown in the smallest container I’d found, so I held the water to its mouth and it drank as though it had been in a desert for weeks (rather than the very damp marsh that we inhabit.) As instructed, I closed the box ready to seek further help the following morning.

Consulting Facebook again, I discovered that someone had listed the phone number for the Northern France mammal society.

Again, I was surprised to get through to someone. She was incredibly helpful, even switching to English when I quickly exhausted my bat-based French vocabulary.

There followed a lively exchange of photos and advice and, when she realised the bat was ringed, the woman asked me to try to get the number.

By this time it was dark, so three of us trooped out to the garage armed with torches and, in my case, thick gloves for handling the bat.

I gingerly opened the box and lifted the towel. The bat had gone. The holes through which it could have climbed were tiny, but I’d been very concerned that it may have been injured. I guess this was proof that it wasn’t.

Luckily, the partial number I could make out from my photos was enough for the mammal society to tell me that this was a Geoffroy’s bat (Myotis Emarginatus). It was a four year old male, ringed at the age of one in nearby Montreuil-sur-Mer.

As a result of this encounter, I now have plenty of contacts should I encounter more injured wildlife and I’ve realised just how much support there is locally for protecting it.

And in the excitement I forgot all about the mallard, so the following morning I headed out to the drainage ditch, half expecting to see the poor thing had succumbed to a head injury or that something had grabbed it leaving only feathers behind.

There was no sign of it. No malaise or duckward-facing violence was in evidence, so I can only assume that this particular mallard had developed a new landing technique. But if it all goes wrong on its next attempt, I’ll certainly know where to turn for help.

The sound of silence

The last time I experienced complete silence, I was about 24 years old and surrounded by heather in the middle the Isle of Skye on a beautifully still August day. It was a moment of absolute peace.

I experienced it again this morning as the temperature hovered around freezing and I stood in the sand dunes between the outskirts of Berck-sur-Mer and the beach. The tide was out and the sea too far away and too calm to hear.

It wasn’t a particularly picturesque location, although the beach itself is beautiful. I could see apartment buildings and a large, sandy car park, but the sun was shining and the sky was a still, deep blue. The silence lasted for no more than a few seconds before a seagull cried in the distance and an aeroplane rumbled overhead.

Part of this was down to timing. Being British, we are not compelled to eat lunch between 12.30 and 1.30 every day. In fact, given we had brunch at 11am (Shush, don’t tell the neighbours, we have a reputation to maintain) we were arriving at the beach exactly as most of France was tucking into Sunday lunch. It wasn’t deserted: we’re not the only people to do things differently in this strange limbo time to avoid the crowds, but there was hardly a soul around and no traffic at all on the nearby road.

We’ve visited Berck’s beaches many times, but never this stretch, mainly because part of it is closed to people with underpants on during the summer months.

“The naturist dwarf.” I don’t know what kind of statement this graffiti artist was making.
The covering of private parts is strictly prohibited at certain times of the year.

We have a firm policy of ensuring underwear is in place for walks in our family, so here we were.

And the unexpected moment of silence made the discovery of a vast range of ruined Nazi blockhouses a little way along the beach even more poignant. This beach is beautiful: it’s wild, with vast skies, seals often visible at low tide and a variety of sea birds feasting at the water’s edge.

The blockhouses are a reminder of the area’s ugly past. Nazi occupation was swift and forceful along this coast, and these huge concrete buildings are a frequent sight. These beaches and those further north were the most obvious target for the allied invasion that later happened in Normandy, and they were well patrolled.

The sand was often mined to create a deadly approach and these huge chunks of concrete must have made a formidable statement of force, particularly when guns were trained on the horizon.

Now they are collapsing. They are slowly being reclaimed by the sea and the weather and more swiftly by the artists who have turned them into huge canvases. There’s something joyful about seeing creativity and colour covering these stark symbols of oppression and violence and knowing they won’t survive forever.

And I wondered today if any of the soldiers who manned these blockhouses during the Second World War were ever awed at the beauty of the surroundings they had marred, or experienced the absolute silence of winter sand dunes.

I’m not sure this kind of glimmer of light in such dark souls would have meant very much to the inhabitants of this part of France, living in fear and unable to walk on their own beaches. I’m not sure it can exist anyway alongside a desire to suppress difference and kill opposition.

But I take comfort from these crumbling relics of brutality. Fascism and oppression are always overcome. Beauty, kindness and creativity always triumph. And I will always wear underpants to walk along this glorious stretch of beach.

It’s all a bit rubbish

On Thursday I was backed into a puddle by a refuse collector. And apparently our bin has been confiscated.

This makes it just another normal day in Pas de Calais. In many ways this incident was fortunate. If it hadn’t happened, this blog post would be called ‘The Mystery of the Missing Bin’.

As I do every morning, I set out with the dog for a walk. I nearly waited for the bin men to go past as the dog gets a bit excitable at the idea that anyone would interfere with anything at all on our property.

As it was, I saw the bin lifted onto the back of the lorry but, when I got out into the road it was nowhere to be seen.

Shouting “excuse me” is very rude here. All conversations should start with ‘bonjour’ so, I called out a ‘bonjour Monsieur’, to the man busily emptying our neighbours’ bins.

He didn’t hear me, so my repeated ‘bonjours’ got louder and slightly more desperate as the lorry moved off down the road.

Eventually the non-mask-wearing refuse collector heard me calling and approached rapidly while I, not wearing a mask as we’re so rural it’s rare to meet anyone except adequately distanced neighbours, backed up equally rapidly.

That’s where the puddle comes into the tale, as both trainer-encased feet slowly got wetter and wetter.

Once I had the man’s attention, I asked what had happened to our bin.

“It’s in the lorry,” came the somewhat mystifying reply.

Unsure what to do with this new information, I asked whether we’d be getting a replacement.

“Oui, oui madame,” came the reply. “How many of you live in the house?” The encounter was getting weirder.

After relaying that there were four of us, I guessed this means we won’t get an enormous and unwieldy industrial-sized bin like the one we had before. In fairness it has been slowly disintegrating since we moved in as it’s clearly decades old.

When I asked how long it would take, I was told it would definitely arrive on Friday or Monday. Then the man asked what my address was. From where we were standing I could see the number on our gate, but I told him anyway.

I still don’t know what actually happened to the bin, or how they managed to crush it into the lorry. But I strongly suspect we’d have believed a strange crime had taken place if I hadn’t happened to venture out at exactly that moment.

And despite being absolutely confident that a new, smaller bin would arrive by Monday as promised, it didn’t. So it may not be a mystery, but it is yet another small administrative headache to solve today.

The art of paperwork

Bureaucracy in France has a formidable reputation. From personal experience, I’d say it’s entirely justified. My thesis though, is that it’s actually an art form. Bear with me as I explain.

I’m still trying to apply for child benefit. It’s the only state help we’re seeking, and that’s largely because we have two children with big feet, even bigger appetites and a great long list of supplies required for school. I dutifully informed HMRC that we’ve moved, so have received nothing from the UK government since 2018.

We’ve lived here for nearly two years now and the visit to CAF (Caisse d’Allocations Familiales) was one of the first I made. Since the start of the pandemic, I’ve been continuing to supply the documents that I’m asked for, seemingly at random, online.

That’s the first element of artistic expression: creating a list of forms to request. This could be anything from a birth certificate (no not that one madame, it doesn’t list your parents’ names and every pet they’ve owned since childhood, please try again.) It could be your marriage certificate or your tax return. Nowhere, that I’ve found anyway, is there a complete list of everything you are required to submit.

I thought I was nearing the end of the process. Having submitted everything I could conceivably think of at least twice, surely there couldn’t be anything else? That’s the next part of the creative process. Ask for documents, receive documents and then cultivate an absolutely bland expression (easier before masks were obligatory I grant you) while you state that the documents are still missing.

So I’d reached the end of the line with things that could be achieved during pre-lockdown meetings and I’d reached the end of the line with uploading documents on the website.

Some of this I know is down to my lack of understanding of the wider social context in France. I don’t know exactly which part of the site to visit because I don’t know if I’m changing or updating my situation. I suspect this is another aspect of the art form, by keeping it all amorphous and ensuring the boundaries are fluid. I can’t be sure though, so I may be attributing a creative process to something that is governed entirely by logical reasoning.

I decided I would try to ring someone. And I must say there is a distinct lack of creativity in this part of the tale. I’m English. I know this because almost every time I speak to a stranger here, they either tell me I’m English or start speaking in English. I think this means I have an English accent and the automated telephone system lacks the imagination and flexibility to account for this. I dread the French equivalent of the phrase, “tell us in your own words why you are calling.” I can usually jump the first few hurdles but inevitably it either fails to understand me or asks a question that I can’t reply to.

And here’s where it gets creative again, involving me in an inner exploration of my sanity and an outer exploration of the locality. I decided I needed to speak to someone, so I tried to find out where my local ‘permanence’ or outpost was, as I’d previously been visiting one in the next town. This wasn’t as easy as it sounds and I came up with two potential locations. The website told me in no uncertain terms that I could not visit without an appointment but, in a stroke of sheer genius, did not include a link for booking appointments or a phone number to do so. And I wasn’t going to phone anyway. I’d tried that.

So I turned up at the first potential location. It was wrong, but I was given an address and directed to a location I did know. That too was wrong and, in fact did not match the address. I think you’ll agree that’s inspired.

With the help of Google maps, I found the correct location. The door was locked, because you can’t get in without an appointment and it didn’t list CAF as one of the options available. So I phoned the only phone number given. This time I spoke to a human person but she wasn’t from CAF so was unable to help me at all, despite the fact I told her I was standing outside the office just trying to make an appointment. In desperation I banged on the door. The human person who appeared almost instantly was the one with whom I’d just been conversing on the phone. I think she could probably see me outside the window the whole time. Again, I think you’ll agree this is artistic expression of the highest order.

To cut short a very long story, I finally managed to make an appointment and presented myself to a different permanence today (the local one was closed over the school holidays, because it caters to parents, many of whom will find that the most convenient time to visit. Again, brilliant.)

The man I met with was polite and helpful and a true artist. It was clear that there was a lot of documentation missing. Eventually we established what I needed to supply. (It was, of course, paperwork I had not been asked for before.)

Some of the things he asked for I had with me in anticipation, but he wouldn’t allow me to give him copies at that point. Instead I have to upload everything to the website. But not today. I have to wait until tomorrow to do that. I don’t know why. There probably isn’t a reason anyway. It’s just another artistic flourish.

I’m getting wise to the way the performance unfolds here. (I feel like I’m at the end of Act Three in a very modern play that only the cleverest people in the audience understand.) So I asked the man if he was sure that what he was asking for was absolutely everything they needed in order to process my claim. After tomorrow obviously.

At this point he uttered the word that always strikes fear into my heart: ‘normalement’. What this means roughly is “under normal circumstances yes, this is all fine, but this is France, so random bureaucratic and frankly artistic elements can be thrown at you at any point without warning.”

I asked him, on the off-chance that this would happen and that I could possibly forestall it, if he’d just check for me that they had everything else.

This is where the performance to date peaked. It’s just beautiful. They’re missing my tax declaration and the certificates proving our children are in school. These are not missing because I haven’t supplied them. No, the absolute circular beauty of this unending work of art is that they’re missing because a whole year has passed since I first supplied them. They’re out of date.

I’m trapped in an art installation that I fear I will never escape. And all I can do at this point is admire the creative genius.

English eccentrics

“Everyone knows the English are eccentric,” says my friend and neighbour Anna.

She has a point. We’re talking while I’m out walking the dog – and both the cats who regularly accompany me. I’m sure they think they’re dogs as they use the opportunity to sniff, mark territory and relieve themselves. One often sits and yowls loudly if we leave her behind or scurries along with her tail straight up and puffed out like a bottle brush. Honestly, it doesn’t help us blend in.

And then there’s the fact that we’re (I’m) still using our tiny above ground pool, despite the fact that the temperature has plummeted and the sun has disappeared. And that we have a ‘wildflower meadow’, which looks suspiciously like a weedy front lawn, while the rest of our neighbours mow almost to the point of obsession.

I’d venture to suggest we’re not the only ones though. There’s the jovial neighbour who is happy to chat as he returns from the hunt, in full camo, gun in hand. As soon as he finds out we lived in Wales he’s very keen to ask me about Scotland. My replies are more than a little nervous, due to said gun. But whenever we meet him now, with or without a gun, he hails us as “les gallois” or the Welsh people.

There’s the neighbour who literally uses a ruler to cut his hedge (and makes exceptional hooch.) There’s the neighbour who has a tiny chihuahua with the big attitude. The dog struts his stuff in a light-up red collar at night, making him look like a demonic mini-hellhound. And then there’s Anna.

Often our conversations take place while walking. Often it’s raining, because this is the north of France. Often she’s wearing slippers and a dressing gown.

“You and I are the only ones who enjoy walking in the rain,” she said to me one day. I’m a dog owner. ‘Enjoy’ is a strong word for ‘obliged to take an over-excitable dog out, otherwise she will pester incessantly all evening.’ Anna is just out for a stroll in the rain, on her own, in her night clothes.

She’s wonderful and, like all our neighbours, has made us feel thoroughly welcome. I’m not sure whether the Ch’tis are renowned for eccentricity or whether we just got lucky, but I wouldn’t change a single thing.

Waiting for la rentrée

We knew it was coming. We’ve known that for weeks and we knew there was a plan in place. But with Covid-19 cases rising here in France, we’ve all been waiting to see exactly what the return to school would be like.

I didn’t think anything could be harder for our daughters than walking into a new school nearly two years ago, in a new country, knowing no one and with only basic French language skills to call on. I think this rentrée could rival even that experience though in terms of stress.

Our prime minister, Jean Castex, gave a long and detailed speech on Thursday, followed by the education minister, outlining exactly what would happen. Schools will open.  Masks are compulsory for over 11s and for all adults working with children. Pupils won’t be distanced as they were when schools returned in June, but hand washing, sanitiser gel, cleaning and ventilation will become part of the routine. Sports are back on the agenda and everything else is, on paper, largely back to normal.

We’ve known it would happen and I’ve got all the supplies together in preparation, but these last few days have been hard. As a parent our job is to love, protect and reassure our kids, as we prepare them for adult life. How on earth do we reassure teenagers, who keep up with current events, that everything will be okay with a pandemic still raging?

They know that, although infection rates are high, hospitalisation and death is not. They also know that teenagers, although often asymptomatic, could well be as contagious as adults.

They know that, if most students respect the gestes barrières of mask-wearing and hand washing, the spread will be slowed but they know there will probably be those who don’t, because there are always those who ignore or resist the rules, wherever you live.

They know they’ll be able to eat with their classmates at lunchtime, but how that will happen safely is far from clear. In June it involved everyone sitting in a row and facing forward to prevent contagion so lunch, one of France’s most sacred social rituals, could instead become a matter of pragmatic refueling.

I want to protect my daughters. They’re scared, stressed and worried and I want to put my arms around them and tell them they never have to go to school again. But I can’t. As teenagers they need their peers. They need an education and they need life outside our home again.

We knew it was coming, but none of us know quite what this rentrée will bring.

Does confinement ‘derange’ you?

It’s been a funny old spring. Terrifying, stressful, busy and calm, often all at the same time. For months, the only French people I met were our neighbours – all desperate to chat over the garden gate, eager to swap plants and keen to know when my mother-in-law was going to be able to go home.

She still hasn’t, thanks for asking, after her one week stay became four months. We’re all very glad she was tucked up safe and sound here with us rather than alone at home. She’s cooked us inventive meals, after my panicked monthly trips to the supermarket with a scarf wrapped round my face, then with gloves and a mask and then with just a mask, netted most, but not all of the items on our list.

She’s planted seeds, bought on a trip to an RHS garden in Devon last year. She’s watered and weeded them and watched them grow and is now enjoying the courgettes, tomatoes and peas they’ve produced. And she’s learning French.

Her friends are convinced she’ll be fluent when she returns, but it’s only in the last few weeks she’s been further than 100m from our home, due to the strict lockdown rules in France. She’s been stranded in a little British island, with no delicious French cuisine, no French culture and only Fun Radio – the girls’ music station of choice – and occasional forays into French TV to remind her she’s not in Herefordshire. She’s only had croissants once for Heaven’s sake and a trip to a patisserie felt decadent when we all feared for our lives. It’s only since the plastic screens at the counter, strict distancing (sometimes), mask-wearing (by almost everyone now) and contactless payments became part of normal life that we’ve had deliciously delicate French cakes again. They were worth the wait though.

But she, Paddy and I are all diligently practising French every day on our apps. Izzy and Helena have moved on to Spanish, Norwegian and Korean – they’ve clearly nailed French already – but we’re struggling with the grammar and the strange differences that exist between the languages.

I asked the girls today what furniture they need for school, because the French for school equipment (we buy all text and exercise books here) is ‘fourniture’ and my brain just can’t translate. We’re all referring to confinement, because that’s the French word for lockdown, and we’re happy to be deconfined. The weirdest one I find though is the idea of being deranged.

We’ve got a lot of work done in our garden, including along our boundary with our very lovely, elderly and stone deaf neighbour. This has involved me asking another neighbour repeatedly “est-ce que ça lui dérange?” I think it means “does it bother or inconvenience him? Does it put him out?” I can’t help imagining him going mad with rage and becoming quite deranged though at the idea of us painting our boundary bright blue.

And the opposite of deranged is ranged. Because of course it is. So as well as constantly asking each other whether we’re deranged, we also debate how we will range our things.

In French DIY stores, “rangement” has a whole happy wealth of possibilities. You can “rangez” your “dressing” (that’s a walk in wardrobe or dressing area), your kitchen drawers and even your garage shelves.

And the girls, back in the dim and distant past when they actually went to school, would be told “rangez vos affaires” when it was time to gather everything up and leave the classroom.

So I can’t say whether confinement has deranged Paddy’s mum, but I do know that, like everyone else, we all need to get out more.

Shower thoughts

The point at which you want to remember that you disconnected the shower attachment from your ancient shower cubicle and put it in the garage really isn’t while you are standing in front of said cubicle, in a towel, about to turn the water on.

I know this, because that’s the exact point at which I remembered I’d disconnected the shower attachment earlier in the day. And it was now dark outside. And cold. And really dark.

Obviously I wasn’t about to get dressed and go outside, in the dark, into a dark garage to retrieve the shower attachment. That would have been sheer folly. It turned out the girls, who I called on for help, weren’t about to either.

No, instead I forced my head into the gap between the ‘tap’ I’d inadvertently created and the moulded plastic compartment designed to hold bottles. I somehow manage to make my hair wet, and then more or less rinse off the shampoo and conditioner. I won’t even go into the other contortions necessary to get clean.

Once again, this entirely avoidable situation comes down to communication. I was confident that the builder who is currently replacing our 70s/90s fusion bathrooms with modern loveliness such as taps that work, sinks that drain, appliances that don’t leak and colours other than battleship grey was ripping out this bathroom today.

I was equally convinced that he was ripping it out last Thursday and I was wrong then too, but last Thursday I remembered to reconnect the shower attachment, which I’d disconnected before we give away the cubicle because it may come in useful one day.

So if you want an old, but functional, shower cubicle without a shower attachment, please do let me know.  I’m pretty sure it’s being ripped out tomorrow.