Stumpy Down The Drain: Meeting My Neighbours!
Do not listen to anyone who tells you that the French are stand-offish, unfriendly, unwelcoming. I have heard, on a number of occasions, Brits at airports complaining that the French 'don't want us in their country' (to paraphrase). Perhaps it is true that those miserable-faced, moaning individuals are not good ambassadors for the British so......What do they expect in response?
My experience is that the French are friendly, welcoming, helpful; indeed, full of bonhomie! From the first moment of my arrival at my new home I was being waved to, greeted with 'Bonjour!' at every opportunity by my neighbours, from windows, doorways, across the street. Wherever I went in Aubusson I was smiled at and greeted ........everyone with a happy countenance and impeccable manners. And it takes only an initial introduction to move on to the traditional double kiss: sometimes 'air kisses', at other times a brief flutter of contact.
However, it was an unusual, and nearly disastrous, event which introduced me to many more neighbours, bringing us closer still as friends!
My eldest daughter, Charlotte, had been over for a brief visit in May. The weather had been unsettled - a mixture of sunshine and cloud- culminating in a terrific storm over the final May week-end with thunder rolling around Aubusson, crashing overhead followed by striking lightning.
Have I mentioned that I had five cats? (The family has grown since then: another story!)
I drove Charlotte to Limoges airport early on Tuesday, 31st May, the storm having abated, thankfully: a beautiful drive of 1 hour 40 minutes through pretty villages and verdant landcape. On my return I fed my kitties but there was no sign of Stumpy (so named as he has a tiny, curly stump instead of a tail): no matter, I thought at the time: they come and go as they please.
By the evening I was getting concerned: when had I last seen him? I looked back at photos I had taken during Charlotte's visit: Yes, there he was, lying beside me on the settee on Saturday evening........AS THE STORM WAS BREAKING! I couldn't remember having seen him after that, three evenings' ago.
Next day, Wednesday 1st June, I placed a large printed picture of Stumpy, alonside the words 'DISPARU! APRES LA TEMPETE. AVEZ-VOUS VU MON CHAT?' in a window on the ground floor. After only an hour or two, there was a ring at my door. I opened it to see a young man, (Johnny Depp had nothing on him, he was so handsome!) with two small children, all wildly gesticulating and speaking so fast I had to ask 'Doucement, s'il vous plait?'
I understood that Stumpy had been seen beneath a drain cover a few hundred yards from my house. We rushed to look down the drain - the cover already having been removed by one helpful, burly neighbour- but no sign of my poor cat: it was deep and dark, running with water after the downfall.
This is where I met, for the first time, the wonderful, vivacious Keanu - still not sure of the spelling, even today - but who invariably gets called 'Kikou' by me, a name which has stuck and of which she seems quite fond. To cut a long story short: she has a cat with similar colouring and markings (orange and white) to my Stumpy. Stumpy's 'copin', as she called him, was mewing at his 'chum' down the drain, or the 'bouche d'egout' I quickly learned.
A crowd was beginning to gather, despite the light rain. To my amazement and horror, 'Johnny Depp' placed his hands under the armpits of his dainty little son, Mathis, gently lowering him down into the hole (Can you imagine this in Britain?): little Lena, his sister, with her long, wet hair, watching intently yet calmly. Mathis was not at all fazed: he crouched down; 'Oui!'......he could see Stumpy!
Stumpy was, obviously, terrified, not only because it was his fifth day/night down a drain running with cold water constantly cascading out to the swollen river, but also because of the noise: concerned neighbours calling 'Stumpy! Stumpy! (even 'Snoopy! Snoopy!') down the drain: by now there was quite a large crowd as everyone had stopped to ask, to see, what all the commotion was about.
It was generally agreed that 'les pompiers' should be called. Mr Depp removed his little, still smiling, Mathis from the hole. I ran home to phone 18, hoping that my French would be sufficient to explain the situation. And, indeed, within twenty minutes, 'les pompiers' arrived in their massive, red fire engine: they - a lady and two men - looked grave; it was an unusual case which required unusual an unusual response. The larger pompier produced a giant axe: I started to cry and was promptly hugged and comforted by the diminutive 'Kikou'.
What, on earth, were they about to do? The crowd, and any cars which may have been intending to travel any further, was held back while Mr Pompier proceeded to lift the axe above his head, bringing it down heavily, making a great 'Clang!', in the middle of the road, above the route of the 'd'egout'; he repeated this terrifying action for about five minutes before giving it up as a bad idea.
All I could think was: This isn't going to persuade Stumpy miraculously to leap out, either four feet up a drain or, horrors, into the rushing river Creuse!
Les pompiers shrugged their shoulders and drove away: one neighbour placed his car over the gaping drainhole to prevent any passers-by suffering the same fate as poor Stumpy and I collapsed sobbing and soaking wet on the pavement, still with the loyal Kikou's arms around me. We all dispersed, dissprited: I needed to think: I wasn't going to give up on poor Stumpy: no way was I going to let him die so horribly.
I came home, looking for inspiration. Pinned against an inner door post was a hessian cat scratching post, about 2.5 feet in height: I remembered had another one, still unwrapped, in a cupboard under the stairs.......Brainwave! If I could fasten the two together it could be a makeshift cat ladder!
It was dark by now and still raining. Armed with my cat ladder, I returned to the 'bouche d'egout' but I didn't have a chance of reaching it with the vehicle blocking its sight and access. Kikou's house is right next to the drain so she reappeared to see what on earth I was doing, lying in the gutter in the pouring rain (Mad English Woman, probably came to mind!). However,she quickly got the idea so, after several attempts, we succeeded in pushing the contraption down as far as we could, using only our imagination and courage as we could see nothing in the filth and blackness. We were both exhausted, sodden and stinking of drain water: I advised Kikou to go to bed and went home myself: we could do no more.
I was so exhausted I fell into bed in my wet clothes, sick at heart. I woke sometime later (around 5am): in the dark I stretched out an arm to stroke my remaining four cats..........A STUMP! I could feel Stumpy's tail! He had made it! Despite his exhaustion and fear he had managed to crawl up the makeshift ladder!
None of this would have been made possible without the help of my now dear friend, 'KIKOU'. She, like me, was overjoyed when I knocked furiously at her door later that morning to tell her the news.
Stumpy became famous overnight: I had made many friends. However, this is NOT to be recommended as the easiest way to get to know your French neighbours!