Monsieur R, the mayor’s brother, is set to dig the hole for our new waste water system this week. He has silky hair and large eyebrows that waggle a lot when the Rat is ranting. ‘The Rat is the sort of man’ he says, his little round eyes darting towards me, as if the presence of a woman is a comfort to him ‘that turns up on Christmas morning when my wife and I are still in our pyjamas and says he has a little job for me…’
We are standing with Monsieur R on the terrace, rows of frosty vines glinting behind us, and someone I have never seen before comes up and offers us yet another calendar, which, we have discovered, is festive French for ‘Gi’s a tenner’. I remember my neighbour’s sage advice – Give to The Three P’s: the Pompiers, the Poubelles and the Postie, and politely decline the offer. We go back to gloating over The Rat. We have, it seems, now got the authorisation of Monsieur C junior to run our clean water under the ‘chemin communal’ (‘Make as little noise about it as possible and it will be OK’, said the Mayor’s brother) and into his reservoir, thus watering their olive trees and garden. With any luck we will not touch The Rat’s land.
Later, I pick up the phone. ‘Hello, this is your neighbour speaking’ said The Rat. ‘I am here with my son and we are talking about what kind of compensation you might offer us…’
‘Excuse me Monsieur A, but I am working’ I said.
‘I thought you were going to see the lawyer tomorrow afternoon and my son and I are preparing a piece of paper…’
‘Well, yes I am going to see the lawyer, but we are looking at other possibilities…would you put your proposal in our letter box and we will look at it’
‘No, I think we should decide this ‘de vive voix’. Can I call you tomorrow? We need to talk about compensation. Are you on the maximum electricity?’
‘Goodbye Monsieur A.’
Julian and I jumped up and down saying very unsavoury things about The Rat. Having been a most unchristian rodent he will now find himself without electricity or water and with a hamlet to renovate. We offered to pay for a waste water system that would have served the whole hamlet, would have filled his ‘bassin’ and flushed his toilets, watered his pool and dealt with his droppings. He said something about not wanting to share anything because good boundaries made good friends, then he came asking to ‘share’ our electricity and drinking water. Bah.
I went to the post office to send off the last of the Christmas prints. Vincent was in a bad mood and, seeing my armful, looked over my head at the person behind me.
‘Marthe, I will take your packet first’ he said.
Vincent thrust a piece of card under the window.
‘Calendrier’ he said.
I, in turn, slid an envelope back with the gift of a print inside.
‘Tirage Numerique. Joyeux Fêtes.’