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.