Amsterdam, May 8th, 11.34 hrs
The only thing that will help me through today is the thought that this time tomorrow we'll be on our way to Clédat.
If all goes well.
If all goes well - what's going wrong now? I have never been this stressed, this harassed and bad-tempered before when getting ready to leave. Well, I'll have 7 weeks of peace and quiet to think about that and hopefully learn something for the next time.
I have got to get going now. Intend to come back to catch my breath and thoughts sometime later and hope I can tell you everything is under control.
I can already imagine sitting here, typing those words. For the moment, I'll just use them as a mantra, everything is under control, repeat it to myself over and over, and hey, what is the worst thing that can happen? We leave a day later. So what?
Here goes. Wish me luck. Later.
Much later now. 10 days to be precise and I wish I could say I left the stress behind in Amsterdam, for yes, nous sommes arrivés, but it seems the pressure is still on.
I'll spare you the details of the final, frantic packing, like having to try on every scrap of clothing I own before deciding what to take with me, when I know I will be wearing the same stuff for months on end. Odd jobs put off for months, a loose curtain hem that needs stitching, a painting I meant to hang, suddenly require immediate attention. I spent hours searching for mothballs, all my sweaters and t-shirts had neat little holes eaten into them, exactly on the same fold, right in front - only just noticed as the one or two I wear end up lying on a chair or more likely on the floor. The moths apparently prefer to have their meals in the privacy of my closet.
Of course I could have just gone and bought some, would have taken me ten minutes at the most, but I was obsessed with finding them, and so on and so forth I wasted precious time; threw out all the food only to realise Rose would be coming in the next day expecting something for lunch.
By the time, 4 am, I stumbled into bed, I was a nervous wreck.
The alarm clock was set for an early start three hours on and after tossing and turning for two of them I gave up - I would sleep in the car. At least I'd make sure we did actually leave on time.
We didn't. Don't ask me how that is possible, I really can't remember or must have blocked it out.
Anyway, we finally left. Or so we thought. Wrong. Amsterdam had chosen to host the 'Giro di something' exactly on our departure day, right in front of our house and the whole area was cordoned off.
Try explaining to a Polish bloke in a black uniform with impressive red fluorescent stripes, waving his porto-phone, not a word of Dutch, English or French for that matter, that you want to get out, NOW, and not when the effing tour has passed.
Well, we somehow got past him and on our way, which was uneventful to the point of boring, meaning I had to stay vigilant and keep checking Peter did not fall asleep behind the wheel. Needless to say he would not let me drive.
Then, the one thing he had asked me to do, to make sure the mobile was working so he could reach the antique dealer in Paris he had an appointment with - timing was tricky and they needed to be able to communicate - well, when it became apparent we were not going to make it at the hour agreed I triumphantly produced a cell phone that was not only not charged, but after making an emergency stop at a filling station and begging the unwilling attendant to plug it in, I suddenly remembered the French sim card was up the creek.
I have to say Peter is normally a long-suffering person but now he practically accosted an elderly Dutch couple who were innocently stretching their legs at the parking space, slightly bewildered when Peter demanded to know if he could use their phone, throwing money at them in the process.
Dear me. The poor gentleman was much taken aback, turned out he hadn't a clue how to operate the thing, proclaiming he only had it on him for emergencies. Well, bingo - this was an emergency.
By the time the call was placed we got the answering machine.
No deal. Rien ne va plus.
Of course, the good thing was, I might have saved us a few pennies, but Peter was not in the mood of looking on the bright side - he was mourning the marquetry table he had his heart set on.
We had to get a move on to arrive before dark, to assess the evidence of mice and other creatures taking over the cottage in our absence.
Pray there'll be electricity, a working telephone, hot water - I desperately needed a bath.
To our delight everything looked perfect, just as we had left it almost seven months ago. Clean and tidy, save some cobwebs that would have inspired Charles Dickens.
Singing in the kitchen now, I shout out to Peter to turn on the water mains and shortly after I hear the clattering of water, ah, I must have left the shower on, well let the taps run for a while, get some fresh water.
Huh? I am standing in it - freezing cold water - I run to the bathroom and see it gushing from the ceiling, dirty and brown, staining the walls, and it's coming down the stairs too - god, the pipes have burst!
We should have known by now, it happens every year. The frost. Check first.
So the first hour was spent mopping the floor, cleaning up the muddy trickles. It was cold; the ancient house is literally stone cold after a long hard winter - a musty smell, it needed airing.
Irritated and tired after a long and, in more than one way, uncomfortable journey, we find we can't wash or even flush the toilet. I brush my teeth with the last of the Perrier and slide into a cold, damp bed, the words of the 'castle's' caretaker ringing in my ears:
'Welcome to France. Three days ago we had snow up to our knees.'
But we got here, safe and - well?
It's going to be just fine.
Everything under control - I'm just going to keep saying that till it is......