Who would have thought that there would be such extremes of weather in the Tarn? We certainly hadn’t anticipated foot deep snow falls or 44 degree summer blast furnace. Nor had we given much thought to the gallons of rain that get dumped in a few hours at various times during the year, while the rest of the time, the land dries out to a dust bowl.
Over time, we have come to know each of the personalities that make up the Tarn weather. We are now designing to make the most of the each season. But in the beginning, we were pretty clueless…
The fact that in days of yore Farmer French had built a large water cistern alongside the house should have given us a tiny clue that maybe water would be an issue. Its walls were a good metre thick and it was taking up prime position overlooking the valley. It was the only thing we agreed with the architect on – the water tank had to go.
In a fit of good sense, John decided that it would be best to make a hole at the bottom of the lower wall so that the water could escape slowly (any excuse to get his tools out) and he spent a pleasant afternoon chipping away like Clint Eastwood escaping from Alcatraz. By the end of the first day, he had gone about 6 inches into the wall and had rather a sore back.
Not one to be deterred easily, he went back to chiselling the following morning when he heard the lorry-rattle of Monsieur Pioche. John speaks no French and Monsieur P speaks no English and when I am around, they communicate through me. When I’m not, I have it on good authority that they get on like a house on fire, shouting loudly at each other and giving Marcel Marceau a run for his money.
John therefore made chopping movements at the wall and pointed exaggeratedly at his work-in-progress. Monsieur P scratched his head in a way that we have come to understand means “What the hell are they up to now?”
“Attendez,” he said and disappeared behind the house. A couple of minutes later, he chugged around the corner in his tractopelle. John saw it all happen in slow motion – the arm of the digger reaching over the wall of the water tank, pulling back with a jerk and the water cascaded out like Noah’s flood.
“But, but…” John was saying, his chisel limp in his fingers as Monsieur P leaped down from his machine, beaming from ear to ear.
“Pas de problème!”
It would not be last time that our attempts to lead a simple life would have Monsieur P looking at us as if we were actually just simple.
RIP water tank.
Enter the well.
Yes, we were very excited to be the owners of a well which lived in a little house of its own, built into the wall of the garden.
“Hurrah!” we thought. “We can channel rain from the roof into the well and have a constant supply of water for the garden.” There was a satisfying splosh each time we threw in a stone and the water seemed very deep because we could barely see the surface moving. The lady from the Mairie was going to be very disappointed each time she came to read the water meter.
John rigged up a bucket and rope to the ancient winch and I was allowed to give it an inaugural lowering. It took a few goes before I realized that the plastic bucket needed to be chucked down at an angle so that it would fill with water – this should have been my first clue. I heaved up the first load of water to find the bucket half full of water and – piercing shriek – dead mouse. Not drinking water then, at least not for humans. The poor little mouse had obviously drunk quite a lot before exploding.
After a couple more goes, it became clear that the depth of the well was not deep at all. We started wondering how we could get it cleared out. Romantic thoughts of what we might find occupied a couple of evenings’ conversation over dinner, fuelled by the story the builder had told us of the World War II arms cache found in a nearby village. The area had been thick with Resistance groups at the time so maybe there was an oilskin of sten guns down there. I could even see the Time Team putting in a trench.
A few days later, the farmer came down to feed the cattle. He’s a jolly chap with a mop of white hair and a ruddy, smiling face and the broadest Jean de Florette accent. He burst out laughing when I told him of our plans.
“Inutile,” he announced. Not worth it, hopeless, waste of time – we got the message. So inutile in fact that, after trying to get the water flowing from the well himself, he had resorted to digging out the spring at the bottom of the field so that his cows would have enough to drink.
“So no guns then?” I looked at John for some sign of optimism, but he just shook his head, patted my arm and carried on clearing up the mess at the ex-water tank. Back to the drawing board…