The first problem we encountered was no electricity; the second was rather more personal – an extremely large hole in the roof. Our phones are all electric so I trudged up the hill to Serge. I got through to the emergency service of my insurance company, explained that if it rained again we would have ceilings down in the bedrooms and held on for almost an hour while they tried in vain to find a roofing contractor. As I left Serge pressed into my hands an ancient non-electric phone so I went home, plugged it in and started on Yellow Pages. All I got were wives; the husbands were out fighting their way through thousands of fallen trees to repair other people’s roofs. Then I remembered the last storm in 2004 and the guy the insurance company had found to do an emergency repair, Mr B. I wheedled his portable number out of his wife, rang him and he promised to come round. The only snag was that he couldn’t remember where Le Gardian was and insisted that he would come to Barran, ring us and I would have to go out and guide him in. He made it sound as if he would arrive within minutes but lunchtime passed and finally in mid-afternoon I rang him again. He was still too busy but would come the following morning – amazing because a Frenchman working on Sunday is pretty unusual.
So we were faced with a second night with a gaping hole in the roof and a storm that was far from finished. I got up at, for me, an ungodly hour in anticipation of an early start but no call came from Mr B. Finally I summoned the courage to call him only to discover that our telephone line had gone down. I am totally allergic to them, but Judy has a mobile phone. Of course it’s pay-as-you-go and was completely empty but it seemed that the little shop in Barran not only opens on Sunday mornings but also sells phone top-ups. Judy duly filled up, called Mr B, found he was working elsewhere but that he might be available around five, and returned extremely frustrated but with a workable phone. I said I would ring the insurance company again and some more roofers so she gave me a 30 minute lecture on how to use the totally non-intuitive piece of hardware and I set off, because naturally Le Gardian is out of range of every French network. I went West and further West, then South, North and finally East but nowhere would the bloody thing work. Judy sighed at my incompetence and rushed off to make the calls, only to return confirming that the network had gone down everywhere. So I decided to head off to a close friend in Vic Fezensac and make my calls from there. Trees were down everywhere but all those that had fallen across the roads had already been neatly dealt with. I arrived in Vic to find they had got electricity and telephone back some time before but that water had only just returned although brown and undrinkable. I heard stories of two other friends still blocked in their houses by multiple fallen trees and widespread water cuts. I got through to the insurance company and they said they would try again to hunt down a roofman for me so I returned to Le Gardian.
After our roast goat celebration of President Obama’s inauguration we had quite a bit of meat left and so we had invited six or so people round for Sunday lunch of “goatherd’s pie” – shepherd’s pie but with a change of meat. Judy had managed to contact all but one invitee to cancel the event because of the storm and I arrived back to find Pete in the drive – our sole lunch guest. Amazingly Pete, whom we didn’t know terribly well, turned out to be quite an amateur roofer; he took a look at the gaping hole and said, “I reckon I can fix that”. And he did! And made a superb job of it, too. He finished in rain but the tiles were fantastic and no serious wet penetrated. We had lunch accompanied by a couple of Le Gardian Wines’ finest bottles, Pete left and half an hour later Mr B arrived. I explained what had happened, he looked at Pete’s work, declared it to be almost good enough for a permanent repair, promised an estimate for re-doing a bit of it and some more minor work and left. Another half an hour later, by which time the rain was coming down hard, Mr F arrived, sent by my insurance company. Just like London buses – you wait hours for one and then three come along at once. Mr F also thought Pete’s work was excellent and he fixed a small, three tile hole in the pigeonnier which we hadn’t worried too much about and also promised an estimate. So, what looked like becoming a major disaster ended up pretty well after all, and we have, in Pete, a friend for life. One of our 140 year old cedars came down, a couple of smaller trees are now sitting at an angle and the garden furniture was thrown around a bit but the truffičre appears to have emerged unscathed. We feel very fortunate – several of our friends have suffered much more severely.