DERNIER MOT - Le Lavoir
Spring here is announced by tons of mud being trampled into the house. Bella is of course perfect and so she waits for me to put my slippers on and dry her paws with a towel before coming into the kitchen. But the JMs are hopeless and as for the black panthers, how do you doormat-train a cat?
My first line of defence is the sofa. Me and Bella sit there eating salami sandwiches until the mud is dry. Then I simply hoover it up.
But after a while that doesn't work and I resort to my secret weapon - "le lavoir" - a huge stone edifice down by the river sheltering a cunning series of outsize sinks connected by a series of overflows.
Traditionally, the good housewives of Moisson gathered here to do their laundry and gossip, but these days it's abandoned because why would anyone bother with it now that God has created washing machines?
I'll give you a hint. Mad dogs and Englishwomen. Off I go with a bucket and a mop and a packet of Le Chat, and the folded up carpet in a wheelbarrow. You can't imagine what fun it is; soapsuds flying, me skidding all over the place as I scrub the carpet with a yard broom and heave it into the sinks, Bad Boy Tombo doing acrobatics as he watches and of course water cascading everywhere.
It's marvellous exercise and fantastically calming for the soul. An hour or so of yard-brooming, carpet-sloshing and water-heaving reduces me to a state of such exhaustion that nothing can irritate me for days.
But over-enthusiasm was always my besetting sin. I confess, last week I tilted a 1950s armchair upholstered in pink brocade into le lavoir. What can I say? It seemed like a good idea at the time. It was filthy; a Certain Person had spilt mulled wine on it, the JMs had covered it in mud, Bella added a load of dog-hair and then Sooty ate a large rat on it. It obviously needed a bath.
How was I to know that once wet, it would be too heavy to pull out again? How was I to know that Alphonse-the-Maire had commissioned a postcard photographer?
So there I was, Bad Boy Tombo climbing around my shoulders, heaving at a sodden armchair floating in a pool of soapsuds.
"Come on, you stupid chair!" I groaned, hauling like a maniac. "Come out of there!"
Then I heard voices. "Now, this is one of the oldest parts of the village although the present structure was..." Alphonse choked as he came round the corner and saw me, soaking wet and struggling. The photographer instantly put his camera up to his face.
"No!" I shouted. "No photos!"
I'm camera-shy at the best of times, but the prospect of being snapped wet to the skin with no make-up and my hair skewered on top of my head with a chopstick - not to mention the deranged feline perched on my shoulder - was a nightmare.
There was only one thing to do. I let go of the chair and followed it into the water. Tombo howled and leapt at Alphonse, the photographer backed off and in the ensuing chaos I hid behind the floating armchair.
There was a horrible silence.
"Don't worry," said Alphonse. "I'll send the handyman down here to sort all this out."
"Is that the English writer-woman?" asked the photographer, mopping his lens cap.
Alphonse caught my pleading eye and the corner of his mouth twitched. For one horrible moment I thought he was going to betray me, but then he winked.
"Ah no," he said. "Not at all. That's just the village idiot."
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