The right man for the job

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It’s a rather sad indictment of my life that I’ve been home nearly three weeks now and nothing of any significance has happened – at least, nothing worth writing about.

Nothing to illustrate the contrast between my temporary tenancy in France and my ‘real’ life in the wilds of Kenya.  After all my encounters with the wildlife of Normandy, it would be lovely to be able to regale you with tales of our magnificent animals, or stories of my friends and neighbours and all their exploits.  Nope.  It’s pretty tame here.  No pestilence or crimes of passion, at any rate.

But – I’ve still got plumbing problems.

When I arrived back, I went over to my landlords’ Tony and Maggie for coffee and a catch-up, after ten weeks away.  All had seemed ship-shape at my house and I thanked them.  But Tony looked a bit sheepish.

“Actually, I’m afraid your downstairs loo is leaking,” he said.  “We’ve done a makeshift repair, but next time you go away, we’ll fix it properly.”

I resolved not to let it get me down.  I’d risen above the sanitary situation in France, and at least here in Kenya I do, after all, have a bathroom upstairs.

And everything else was perfect, so I slowly slotted back into life here.

One of my main projects while I’m home this time is to begin the process for applying for dual nationality.  This involves regular visits to the Department of Immigration in Nairobi, entailing many hours in tortuous traffic.  There’s really only one sensible way to do this, and that’s to get up at 5.00 am, and set off to town by 5.30 am.  At that time in the morning it takes literally 25 minutes to drive the seventeen kilometres from my house to the centre of town.  Although it means a two-hour wait once you get there, until the offices open, it’s worth doing, and I go and have a coffee in the café at the nearby Intercontinental Hotel and read till it’s opening time.  If you leave after 5.45, it can take two to three hours to do the same trip, and then you can’t get a car park.  That’s what the traffic’s like these days, in sleepy old Nairobi.

So, one day last week, my alarm woke me in the pitch dark, and I got up and paddled into the bathroom…  No – that’s not a misprint.  Opening the door caused a minor tsunami to ripple across the tops of my bare feet.  I switched on the light.  The sisal mat was semi-afloat, the loo-rolls stored in a palm frond basket on the floor were pâpier maché, and a pair of dirty socks carelessly dropped beside the laundry basket the night before, were now well-rinsed.  There was a persistent dribble coming from the nether regions of the loo.

Determined not to miss my departure time in order to make my appointment, I hurriedly scattered towels and buckets around the bathroom, and left the rising tide to be dealt with on my return…

When I got back, I suggested to Tony I get a plumber, but he shook his head.  No – he’d go and buy a new part, and at the weekend he’d come and fix it with his son-in-law who’d be visiting.  Poor Andrew, I thought, but it didn’t stop me accepting the offer.  Meanwhile, I worked out a low-impact rota of using both loos, with strategically placed damage-limitation buckets on hand.  Regular readers may share my sense of déjà vu…

Andrew duly arrived and he and Tony appeared at my door on Saturday morning armed with tools and pipes and various implements.  I left them to it and set to making coffee.

It’s been several years since I’ve seen Andrew, as his work for the UN has taken him away from Kenya, first to Islamabad, and now to New York.   So it would be good to catch up.  Besides, offering refreshments was the least I could do to someone who’d come all the way from the USA to fix my loo.

Plumbing sorted, the pair descended for coffee.  We began chatting.  I couldn’t remember what his role was in the UN, knowing only that he visits Africa regularly in whatever capacity it is.

“Remind me what it is you do, Andrew?” I asked.

He raised his eyebrows and smiled, wryly.  “I’m in charge of water and sanitation.”

If anyone needs a plumber……

There’s a quaint custom round here, of local fundis (artisans) nailing their boards to trees and electricity pylons advertising their trade, giving a phone number to call.  I’ve never had to resort to calling any of these guys, as have always tended to use more conventional established businesses with office premises and business cards, rather than tree trunks and lamp posts.  (Or had friends with ample qualifications to help!)  But, I’ve begun reading, with interest, the array of signs in my neighbourhood, and can’t help feeling grateful that plumbing problems are all I’ve got to worry about.

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Splitting hares

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“Come to dinner on Wednesday?”

I’d just dropped over to tell Odette that as I’d finally had the car repaired and could now make plans to leave, I was aiming to set off at the weekend.  So her invitation was timely and I accepted gratefully.  Odette knows I’m a vegetarian, and always goes out of her way to make something nice for me.  Like all French women she’s an excellent cook.  It seems to be in their genes.

I always regret not having inherited Mum’s talent for cooking (she may not have been French, but her kitchen always smelled delicious and she made her friends in France over eye-watering platefuls of prawn masala, turkey vol-au-vents, steaming moussakas and mouth-watering cream-laden desserts.)  My own failings in the kitchen are further exacerbated by my vegetarianism:  in France, not only is it expected that all women can produce meringues as light as clouds, and perfect pastry, but that they can joint a carcass and concoct gastronomic wonders from any part of a beast’s body.  So my offerings to guests – when returning the compliment – of nettle soup, lentil lasagne or cauliflower curry, always draw awkward throat clearings, and doleful glances at the array of greenery in the spread.

The table was laid for nine, each place setting prettily adorned with a posy of muguet – lily of the valley.  Half the party were there, and soon everyone had arrived and we were ushered immediately to take our seats, as plates of nuts and nibbles were put on the table to go with small glasses of spiced red wine as an aperitif.  Conversations rose and fell at either end of the table and I managed to follow the drift of snatches of each.

An enormous bowl of delicious tabouleh was served and we all ladled polite spoonfuls onto our plates, as white wine was poured into our glasses.  But when everyone had finished, Odette suggested I take more, as the next course was meat, so I happily shovelled a small mountain onto my plate as a piping hot tureen of blood-black casserole took the place of the first course.

What meat was it? someone asked, as steaming dollops drowned in gravy soon filled everyone’s plates and knives and forks were seized for attack.

“Hare.”

That would have been enough for me, if I’d been the one asking.  But evidently it was deemed necessary to supply more information.

The unfortunate creature had been ‘dechirée’ by an agriculture machine, and Achilles’ father had found it in a ditch down the lane when he was out walking the dog.  Actually I suppose the dog found it.  Anyway, it was carried home for the pot.  I shuddered inwardly, and was just reflecting that the word ‘dechirée’ was becoming far too familiar for my liking, when the conversation gained momentum.

Apparently, the hare was a female and she’d been pregnant.  Knives paused at their industry as the diners looked up with interest.

With three babies.

Some forks found their ways uninterrupted into the waiting mouths of the listeners, their contents swallowed down in appreciative gulps, while others began waving around in the air as heated discussion was held as to whether it was normal for a female hare to give birth to more than two young at a time.

It was definitely time for the vegetarian to zone out, so I shut my ears to the conversation and looked around the room.  It’s quite a familiar room, but even so, I had forgotten that on the wall, overlooking the dining table were the mounted heads of a sanglier (wild boar), and two chevreuil  (roe deer).  The trio stared accusingly down at the pastiche below, and I squirmed guiltily under their glassy gaze, offering up a silent prayer of repentance on behalf of all humankind who ever did wrong to animals.

Odette’s layered almond mousse, striped with kiwi fruit, raspberries and mint went some way to aiding my recovery and a pungent selection of cheeses with a nice drop of red wine rounded the meal off.  By the time I bade bon nuit to everyone, I was feeling less traumatised.

The next evening I went to see my friends Yves and Delphine to say goodbye.  Somehow, the subject of the previous night came up, so I related the story from the vegetarian’s point-of-view knowing, as true carnivores – and Yves a passionate sanglier hunter in the season – they’d find it hilarious, at my expense.  They were both laughing when I ended the story with the reproachful looks cast down from the stuffed wildlife on the wall, and Delphine interjected:

“I’m surprised Achilles has trophies on his wall – he’s not a hunter is he?”

“Not now,” said Yves, “but he used to be.  Until the gendarmes took away his guns after he shot Odette’s ex-husband…”

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What goes around, comes around…

In this part of rural France, we take our recycling to special bins in the outlying villages and towns, and dump our rubbish in large purpose-built, green-painted receptacles which are conveniently placed along certain country lanes and taken away on a weekly basis, to be replaced with clean, empty ones.

Sorting my plastics from my paper, my glass from my tin, my batteries and my bulbs, gives me great satisfaction.  Being a vegetarian, virtually all my food waste goes onto the compost in the garden, so there isn’t much left to go into the bin.  A toddle, once or twice a week, to drop off a bin bag is all that’s required to keep the house nice – and hopefully, the house mice at bay.

The other day I had a bag of rubbish, which I stopped to drop off on my way home from a trip to town.  I drew up at a poubelle, pulled on the handbrake and placed the car in ‘park’.  I grabbed the bag and got out, walking the three or four steps to the bin.  The car door blew shut behind me.  Rubbish disposed of, I walked back to the car and opened the door… except – it didn’t open.  I tried again, and then I tried the back door, and both on the other side of the car.  And the boot.  All the doors had locked.  The key was still in the ignition, the motor running; my bag, phone and housekey were all lying in tantalising view on the passenger seat, and Crystal Gayle was belting out “Here I go down the wrong road again” on the car stereo.  At least she was going somewhere.

I stood there contemplating my predicament.  I couldn’t call anybody for help.  It would have been simple enough to walk the twenty minutes back home, get the spare key from the neighbours and let myself in to retrieve the extra set of car keys – except I couldn’t leave the car with all my valuables on full view – and with the engine running.  I’d be away almost an hour all told, and anything could happen – even in rural France.

It was half past one.  Of course, in France, that means everybody (and there is no exception to this) would be eating lunch.  No chance, on this quiet country lane, of someone coming along to rescue me – and in all honesty, even if someone did happen by and offer me their own phone to use, I couldn’t call anyone because in these days of mobile telephones, and ‘press to call’, I don’t memorise anybody’s telephone number anymore.  I couldn’t go away with another person, and leave the vehicle.  There was only one option left.

I knew my neighbour, Odette, would have gone home for lunch, but she would be setting out for work at the village boulangerie at around two o’clock, and she’d pass me on the way.  I could wait…

I wonder who came up with the word poubelle  (trash can)?  If you divide the word into two phonetic parts, you get ‘pue’ (stink) and ‘belle’ (beautiful).  Well, there was certainly a beautiful stink emanating from the almost-full container, which was evidently due to be changed at any moment.  And, as if the smell wasn’t enough, a lightning movement caught my eye, and I stared in horror at one of the biggest rats I’ve ever seen, running from the bin into a clump of nettles growing along the verge.  (And I thought I had rodent problems?)  I was glad I didn’t have the job of collecting the bins each week.

I couldn’t stand next to the car for more than a few seconds at a time, so spent the next half hour marching up and down the road and trying to identify the profusion of wildflowers in the hedgerows, until – with all the predictability of a Swiss watch – my trusty neighbour hove into view.

Rescue!

Within moments, Odette had turned around and raced back home to fetch Achilles.  He stayed with my car while she turned around a second time and took me home to search for the key, and – by half past two I was motoring again.

What neighbours we have!  I’m very lucky…

But, from then on, the car doors kept up a continual ‘click, click, clicking’ – locking and unlocking themselves as I drove along.  So, next stop – the garage…

It didn’t take rocket science to put two and two together.  When I’d first got back to France, whenever I’d driven the car for longer than five minutes a pungent reek of ammonia had engulfed the car and it was impossible to drive without the windows wound down (despite it being winter still).  Fearing the worst, I’d driven to the garage and asked that the engine be thoroughly cleaned out.  Sure enough, my fears were realised when a rugby ball-sized mouse nest, made chiefly of the felt insulation lining the engine, was removed – along with a much-the-worse-for-wear air conditioning filter which needed replacing.  The smell, of course, was caused by the fumes of puddles of piddle slowly boiling away on the hot engine.  It had been a relief to have the car clean once more.

Now, after another detailed examination in the workshop, it seems the mice also managed to wreak their mischief on the wiring of the central locking system, as well as almost chewing through a wire leading to the starter motor.  Until it can be fixed, I drive at my peril.

Spares have been ordered, but in the meantime, my mice have me hostage.

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She’s definitely toilet-trained

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They say trouble comes in threes.  As a French house-keeper, that’s certainly been my experience.  Do you suppose the French translation for that could be ménage a trois – or might I be muddling my metaphors?

Personally, I consider myself to have got off lightly if there are less than half a dozen catastrophes waiting to greet me when I arrive in France.  But, for once, it did seem that this time there really were only three.  Mind you, they were all pretty major.  What with the neighbour having lost two of his fingers in the garden (and believe me, I’ve been keeping a sharp eye out in case I find any more), and the house being overrun with mice, I felt that was more than enough to take in, but the third waited until my defenses were well and truly down, then snuck up on me from behind…

The toilet wouldn’t flush.

I presumed it was probably caused by lime build-up in the cistern, so opened it up and immersed my arms up to the elbows in freezing water, trying to wipe away the offending crusts of lime and generally de-clog the innards of the cistern.  Then I tried flushing.

Nothing doing.  Even after half an hour of serious de-scaling, the loo absolutely refused to co-operate.

Being particularly broke at the moment, I was loath to call a plumber and end up spending a small fortune on what must surely be a simple job.  Asking Achilles for help was definitely out…  So, as a last resort, I looked up ‘toilet cisterns’ on the Internet.

I learned that a ballcock is no longer called a ballcock.  It’s now known as a float valve.  And the intrinsic workings of a cistern revolve around a siphon, which has a diaphragm.  And, having dismantled my own toilet, I discovered that the diaphragm was – rather like Achilles’ fingers – déchirée.

Realising that there was little I could do, I ended up calling the plumber after all, and asking him if he could come and fix the problem.  He’d come in three days, he said.  Until then, I was quite happy, in true Kenya bush-fashion, to revert to a bucket flush – and it was a good excuse not to have house-guests.

When the plumber arrived he assessed the situation.  Various grunts and expletives – vache! meaning ‘cow’, but upgraded to ‘bitch’ by the exclamation mark, is one of the most popular at times like these – filtered down the stairs to me.  Things weren’t going well, I feared.  Eventually, I was summoned upstairs.  With much shrugging of shoulders and rolling of eyes, and no small measure of heavy sighing, he demonstrated to me how his spare part – a French flushing unit for a French toilet – didn’t fit in my English toilet.  (Years ago, when Mum had the barn converted into a house and had yet to master the local lingo, she’d hired a team of English builders, told the neighbours they were her nephews, and ensconced them in her tiny caravan in the garden, while they did the renovations.  They’d come across the Channel in a large white van, crammed with materials bought in England – and that included the loo.  It had seemed a good idea at the time.)

To prove his point, the plumber demanded a ruler.  I fetched one.  He measured the pipe leading from the base of the toilet into the wall.  And then he measured the pipe in his flushing unit that would feed from the base of the toilet into the cistern.  And there were two millimetres difference in the dimensions.  This meant that not only would the French part not fit in the toilette anglaise – but also, were I to get rid of the old loo and exchange it for a new French one, then the entire plumbing would have to be changed as well.  Plenty of appropriate expletives (that didn’t include vache!) went through my mind.

There was nothing for it but to source a spare from the UK.  The plumber took his leave and told me to call him when I got the new part and he’d come and fit it for me.

Four weeks of bucket flushes later, and a friend came over from England, bringing me the long-awaited spare part.  In great excitement, I called the plumber.  When he arrived, once again I waited downstairs while he wrangled the new unit into the old cistern.  Eventually I heard the reassuring sound of flushing water.  Wreathed in smiles, the plumber descended the stairs and announced success.  I paid him and he left.  And I took the bucket downstairs.

Old habits die hard.  When I got up that night for a pipi, I didn’t bother to flush, so it wasn’t until morning that I was ready to put the loo through its paces.  At first pull, the wretched thing broke.

Vache!

Playing Cat and Mouse

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There’s a saying – fish and friends ‘begin to smell after three days’.  Well, perhaps it’s time to amend that old adage.  There’s distinctive whiff of eau de souris in the kitchen.  And that’s mouse wee (and poo) to me and you.

I noticed it the moment I walked into the house, after having been away for the winter.  Oh dear.  I supposed I’d have to entice the wretched little creature out and banish it to the woods.  These days Noir isn’t up to keeping the mice at bay, but it’s hardly surprising.  She’s about twenty years old, arthritic, deaf and blind in one eye!  Although I’d have no problem with her killing them, I must admit, I’ve never minded the odd mouse-guest.  They’re such sweet little things, and who can blame them looking for a bit of warmth in such a harsh winter?  Generally, they just move in and sleep, and leave again in the spring – don’t they?

After I’d been back about a week, I did begin to notice randomly scattered poos pretty much everywhere I looked – as if a child had carelessly spilled a packet of chocolate sprinkles whose contents had rolled to the four points of the compass about the house – particularly in the kitchen.  I was starting to feel like Cinderella, with all the sweeping I was doing (although, if I’m not mistaken, her mice didn’t leave a trail of droppings behind them – even when they turned into horses).  And the smell seemed to be getting stronger.  I began opening cupboards and drawers, trying to find the culprit.

The more I searched the more I found – poo, that is.  One corner of the larder was knee deep in it.  (Mouse knees, obviously.)  I could see my usual concoction of lemon-and-vinegar wasn’t going to be a match for the embryonic plague hatching among my tins, and jars and boxes of foodstuff, so invested in some bleach.  Rolling up my sleeves and donning rubber gloves, I went to work.

This mouse seemed to exist on a diet of tinfoil and pine nuts, if the shredded tubes and packets were anything to go by, so I began baiting the traps with pine nuts.  Nothing doing.  I got out my field guides and read that in the wild mice will eat berries, so sacrificed a few precious raspberries from my breakfast smoothies, to dangle from the hooks in the cage traps.  Each morning, the raspberries would have been chewed away, but the cages remained open.  Evidently, my poor starving little mouse was so tiny that his weight made no impression on the hair-trigger trap-door.

Each day, there’d be another liberal scattering of droppings back where I’d just cleared them away.  I was getting frustrated, and more than a little cross – and the smell refused to go away.  So, I decided to employ a high-tech strategy, and set up my brother’s remote camera to try to catch Monsieur Mouse in the act, and see if I could devise an alternative way of catching him.

I was in for a shock the following morning, when I played back the CCTV footage.

There were masses of mice.

One shot revealed three of them all together – and a new crime scene…  Not satisfied with meagre raspberries…  they were polishing off the leftovers of Noir’s supper.  She’s a little-and-often girl, and likes to save half her supper for a midnight feast – and evidently she’s definitely not getting the lion’s share of the spoils.

There’s no denying it – the camera doesn’t lie and the truth was, I was all of a sudden pretty worried about just how many unwanted guests I was providing board and lodging to.

It was time for desperate measures.  Much as I hated doing it, I invested in some SuperCat traps.  (Ironic?)  I won’t go into the details, but let’s just say they take no prisoners – and draw a discreet curtain over the ensuing proceedings…

…A couple of nights later, I woke to a howling gale and the sound of wind whistling eerily through all the mouse-holes in the 200-year-old roof, and gently swaying the tall Normandy barn (which has no foundations to speak of).  We’re quite used to these tempetes and tend to reassure ourselves that as the building has stood for so long, it will probably weather a few storms yet…  So I wasn’t unduly worried – until I heard a spooky ‘clump-clonk, clump-clonk’ slowly ascending the stairs.  It sounded like a man with a wooden leg was coming to get me.  I froze, terrified.

After a minute or two the sound abated, and I breathed again.  Another few seconds’ pause was followed by a gentle bounce on the mattress as Noir landed next to me.  Instead of insinuating herself beneath the duvet as is her wont, she climbed onto my pillow and pushed her nose in my face, giving a low mew (which is her way of waking me up at about half past six every morning).  As it was actually about 2.00 a.m., I pushed her down to the end of the bed telling her, in no uncertain terms, to go to sleep.

With that, there was a thunk, and she’d jumped back down to the floor.  Suspicious noises began emanating from the doorway.  I could no longer just lie there and do nothing.  I switched on the light.

Noir was walking towards the bed, with the rear end of a mouse in her mouth.  The front half of the mouse was attached to a mousetrap.  As Noir dragged her macabre prize determinedly towards me (‘clump-clonk, clump-clonk’), I could only smile.

As far as my own Super Cat was concerned, she’d caught dinner, and wanted to share it.

Homecoming

Homecoming

When I first arrived back in France my neighbour greeted me with two alarming pieces of news.  One (which actually paled into insignificance, once I’d heard the other), was that my home is infested with rodents.

With relish, Achilles regaled me with accounts of how, so far during my absence, he’d caught over twenty – a few dormice, but mainly mice.  One day his wife, Odette, had been over here feeding the puss cat, whose mousing days – along with her eyesight and hearing – are long-gone.  On opening the pedal bin to throw away the empty food packet, Odette was startled by a frantic scrabbling as out tumbled two baby mice, but – Achilles assured me – she still had the presence of mind to stamp on them both.

Now, I’m an animal lover.  I don’t like to hear stories of pain (or worse) inflicted on animals, and dislike it when these tales are told with evident enjoyment.  Achilles knows I only use cage traps when I catch the dormice – who usually practice their carpentry skills in the oak beams that hold what’s left of the roof up.  I know he champions the use of spring traps to kill any house invaders, but I always leave my home with the cages on prominent display and hope that if signs of squatters start to show, that he will do the honourable thing and catch the culprits, and then – as I do – translocate them to live happily ever after in a distant forest.

“Ha!” I hear you cry – “They’ll be straight back!”  They won’t, you know.  I’ve evolved a strategy which works.  I know it’s true these mice and dormice and other denizens of the world of Beatrix Potter purportedly have strong homing instincts – and why shouldn’t they?  I’ve worked with giraffes in Kenya, who were once translocated 60 kilometres, and found their way back to their home ground (having been marked with splashes of blue paint on their necks, in a prescient move by the wildlife vet).  But my unwanted house guests happen to have much shorter legs.  And I’m not talking about driving a couple of hundred metres down the lane and dropping them off in a ditch.  Uh-uh.  This is a science.

The first time I was faced with ‘dealing with the dormice’, I went to a pet shop (something I never do, as I hate the places – all those caged songbirds trilling frantically, while giddy fish swim in ever-decreasing circles round their bowls and fat hamsters contemplate their fates) and I bought a mouse house.  Quite a large one actually.  I furnished it with the cardboard tubes from kitchen rolls, and a few sheets of paper, and an apple and old crust of baguette.  And then I installed it in the garage.

Next, I laid my traps – small cages with dangling jujubes (they have eclectic tastes ranging from peanut butter to apple to Twix) and waited.  Sure enough, in the night the slamming of a cage door woke me.  Followed by the shrill screech of a dormouse.  Oh no! I imagined somehow it must have got trapped in the door, and padded from my bedroom feeling sick to the stomach, with visions of a magician’s badly-executed (so to speak) trick going through my mind.  Inside the trap was a large dormouse, scuttling to and fro.  And on the beam above, was another dormouse, yelling at it – “You STUPID IDIOT!  I told you not to go in there…”  (In a rather squeaky French accent.)

I took the trap downstairs and covered it with a cloth until morning.

By which time, the other trap had two young dormice in.  Gorgeous little creatures with adorable Pierrot faces and Zorro masks, and pretty tufted tails.  I took the three of them to the garage and translocated them one at a time into their new temporary accommodation – The DORchester Hotel.

In another couple of days, there were five.  Enough, I felt, to warrant a translocation.  And off we all toddled, eighteen kilometres, to the Foret de Belleme.  I had to drive miles up and down forest tracks to find a quiet corner that hadn’t already been staked out by mushroomers (hopefully the convoluted meandering further befuddled the homing instincts of my passengers), but eventually I found a dell of towering oaks and beeches, which – given their propensity for devouring the stuff in my home – appeared to meet the requirements of a Dormouse Des-Res.  And I opened the door of the Dorchester.  Out they ran – almost hand in hand – and dived for cover under the first hollow log they came to, tails disappearing one after another.  Beatrix would have painted a wonderful picture.

Job done.  I was delighted and, after refuelling the car in readiness for another safari, carried on home to reload the cages for the next batch…

But I’m digressing.  The point being, I don’t want to hurt anything – but equally, I’d prefer it if nothing hurt me – or my house.  I supposed I’d have to deal with the mice and resolved to dust out the Dorchester.

I’d noticed Achilles had his arm in a sling, and the wrist and hand were bandaged, and I asked him what he’d done?

“I injured myself while I was cutting the grass at your house.” he said, in rather tragic tones. I felt suitably guilty, but slightly exasperated at the same time.  (Especially as I pay someone to come and cut the grass at my house, specifically so that Achilles, who has a damaged neck, doesn’t have to.)  Sighing inwardly, and preparing myself for drama, I pressed him for more details.

It turned out, he’d decided that in order for Yves to come and cut the grass with our mower, stabled in one side of the garage, Achilles would make life a little easier, and mow the grass in front of the garage doors (which, in early Spring was already shin-deep), to allow them to open more easily.  Having done this, he decided to further perfect the situation by spreading a tarpaulin over the now trim area so that the grass wouldn’t grow back before Yves came.  But then he had another thought.  In order that Yves didn’t accidentally run his mower over Achilles’ tarpaulin, Achilles decided to mow a boundary along the edge of the spread canvas, and this he proceeded to do.  At one point, he bent down from his seat on his small tractor-mower and lifted up the canvas to allow the blade of the mower to skim just beneath the canvas for a really smart finish.  Except, his fingers got in the way…

“What do you mean?”  I was aghast.

He smiled, enjoying the moment.  “Bah, oui!” he nodded, opening the sling to allow me a peek at his left hand, while telling me the blade had caught two of his fingers.  Apart from looking like the limb of a long-dead Egyptian mummy, I was none the wiser.  The whole hand appeared to be there – bandaged into something of a cloven hoof, in a rather misshapen ‘V’ sign, but I was pretty sure I could discern digits beneath the swaddling.

“What do you mean, ‘caught your fingers?’”  All this of course was spoken in French, a language in which I am far from proficient.

Déchiré!”  Achilles affirmed.  My mental French-English dictionary sprang to life…  Torn, ripped, severed…

Maybe I looked confused?  Achilles hadn’t finished with me.

“Do you want to see them?”

As I started shaking my head, he continued, “They’re in the fridge.”