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Living France - - Postbag -

Hav­ing just bought our house in a tiny ham­let in ru­ral France, we spent the Christ­mas hol­i­days there un­der­tak­ing ren­o­va­tion work. While there, we ar­ranged for a de­liv­ery of oil for the cen­tral heat­ing sys­tem. A large tanker duly ar­rived on the morn­ing of New Year’s Eve and the driver ex­plained that it re­quired care­ful han­dling, due to the fact that it con­tained some 25,000 litres of oil.

We left him to con­nect a large hose from the lorry to the oil tank in the out­build­ings. Some 10 min­utes later, he’d com­pleted the job and left with a cheery “Au revoir!”.

Imag­ine our sur­prise when no more than a minute or two later, there was a loud ham­mer­ing on the door. We opened it to find an ashen-faced driver, hands shak­ing, puff­ing away on a hastily lit cig­a­rette. He led us round the side of the house where we saw, with in­credulity, that the rear of the lorry had com­pletely dis­ap­peared into a huge hole in our gar­den, leav­ing the front of the ve­hi­cle sus­pended high in the air. The driver paced back and forth, all the time suck­ing heav­ily on his cig­a­rette, swear­ing pro­fusely.

Our anx­i­ety reached fever pitch when we re­alised that liq­uid was pour­ing into the hole, which we as­sumed was the 25,000 litres of fuel oil. Not only that, he con­tin­ued puff­ing away on his cig­a­rette ap­par­ently obliv­i­ous to the po­ten­tial dan­gers.

In des­per­a­tion, we ran to our next-door neigh­bours for help. Our neigh­bour du­ti­fully fol­lowed us back, only to re­coil in hor­ror at the sight that met him and hot-footed it back to­wards his own house.

We thought we were on our own – how wrong we were. Five min­utes later, our neigh­bour reap­peared with half a dozen oth­ers from the ham­let. Within 10 min­utes, they’d iden­ti­fied the liq­uid as be­ing wa­ter from a burst pipe; turned the wa­ter sup­ply off in the road; no­ti­fied the oil com­pany; ar­ranged for the ar­rival of a back-up tanker; and got the agree­ment of the lo­cal farmer for a huge crane to be brought across his field to lift the sunken lorry out and onto solid land.

Four hours later, the job was done, leav­ing us with the prob­lem of how to get our car over such an im­pass­able hole. We needn’t have wor­ried: a short while later, our neigh­bour came back with a dig­ger, and within another hour, the hole had been filled with gravel.

It was, with­out doubt, one def­i­nite way to break the ice! Jonathan Sweet Luche-sur-Brioux, Poitou-Char­entes

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