What keeps you awake at night?

In the pre-Covid days what kept me awake was thinking about what I would be doing the next day or planning holidays.  But now things don’t change from one day to the next.  Every day is like groundhog day.  Nothing to look forward to except freedom from this lockdown that is affecting us all.

I imagine that what keeps Dominic Cummings awake is worrying about his eyesight. And clearly for many people it’s worrying about how they’re going to pay their bills and whether they will still have a job in a few weeks time.

I was surprised the other week to hear a caller to LBC  – who said he was a plumber – bemoaning the fact that he wasn’t able to work. I would have thought that plumbing is one job where you would never be short of work – lockdown or no. 

Twenty years ago OH (other half) and I bought a small flat in France – at a time when they still had the franc as currency and property was really cheap to buy.

In December when we were last there, we noticed a damp patch on our bedroom ceiling. We suspected that rain water had come in through the roof so we reported it to the organisation who manage the development and they said they would check it out. On our return to England they wrote to say they’d been unable to find any leak. This was somewhat reassuring because our part of France had suffered from horrendous storms and floods.

We, of course, have been unable to return to France and have no idea whether our damp patch has got any bigger. For all we know, the ceiling might have fallen in by now!

A few weeks ago we received a letter asking for the usual payment of maintenance costs plus an additional £250 but without any explanation as to what it was for. OH (other half) enquired and found out we were being charged for repairs to our roof – even though we had been told that no repairs had been necessary!

We wrote back asking for an explanation but, as yet, have not received one. So we don’t know whether or not there was a leak or, more to the point, whether or not we still have a bedroom ceiling! It’s the thought of that that keeps me awake at night!

I remember the last time we had problems with damp there many summers ago.  A large patch on our bedroom ceiling.  OH investigated and found that it was coming from the water tank in our loft.

It was late at night and in the morning the leak had got much worse. We moved our bed into the centre of the small bedroom and placed a bucket on the floor.  Whenever we used any water, the drips increased so we turned off the water tap.  It was the first day of a long awaited holiday. The temperature was thirty degrees and we had no water.

I gathered all the available containers and filled them up with tap water so that we could use them later for drinking, washing and cleaning our teeth. If I needed to empty a container I poured it down the toilet, thus flushing the loo at the same time. Such ingenuity!

Our neighbour recommended a plumber. Later that day the plumber arrived. Monsieur Antoine was slim and olive skinned with a charming, friendly manner. First we all had to shake hands. (I don’t know how the French are coping now they can’t shake hands!) Then OH took him up to the loft to see the damage. It transpired that our tank was the original one that had been installed twenty years previously and could not be repaired. Monsieur Antoine said he would phone us with the cost of a new one.  He then did something mysterious and magical with our water system so that we could use the cold water but not the hot.

It took Monsieur Antoine seven days to replace our water tank.

Day one – he came to inspect the damage.

​Day two – he phoned to say that he would visit the next day to remove the tank from the loft.

By day three we were getting to know each other quite well. We knew the details of his family – his four children (two from his first marriage and two from hers), the jobs he had held and where he lived. He informed us that he would be returning the following day to do the work.

On day four he phoned to say that he hadn’t been able to get hold of the right tank but he hoped to do so by the following day.

On the fifth day he arrived at our door but only to let us know that he would need to return the next day as he would not be able to move the tank on his own. He needed to find someone else to help him lift the new tank up the stairs and into the loft.  What’s one more day? We had now coped for five days without hot water and with temperatures of 30 degrees and rising, who needed hot water anyway?

The sixth day was given over to installing the tank. Monsieur Antoine arrived with a younger man whom he seemed to have borrowed for the afternoon – as his helper was wearing a tee shirt imprinted with the name of the local café where he worked as a waiter!  Before they could put the new tank in, they had to remove the old tank . The two men skilfully manoeuvred the old tank down the stairs and out of the house.

When it came to their putting in the new tank, I could not bear to watch as they huffed and puffed their way up the steep staircase, expecting at any minute for the tank to fall and for us all to be killed.

At last the job was done. The men came down from our loft so soaked in sweat that they looked as if they had just emerged from a shower. With much thanks and shaking of hands they prepared to depart but not before OH had handed over the payment for the work.  We had been warned to pay immediately as the longer it’s left, the more likely the original estimate would be to increase!

Monsieur Antoine had not charged us for coming out – just as well as he had been coming out to us for the past seven days!

Eight actually.  On the eighth day he returned, again with a helpmate in tow, in order to remove the old tank from where it had been left sitting outside our front door.  More shaking of hands.

And we said goodbye like old friends.


Have a good weekend. See you next week!


© Andrea Neidle, My Life in Poems


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