This week I had to head to Rennes yet again to keep my seventh dental appointment in a little less than five months. Annoyingly, the GPS in my car, a Renault Mégane, has gone mental in recent days, perhaps in sympathy with its owner, and as a result I missed a turn entering the city and ended up on the wrong end of a No Entry sign so that I was forced to park in the street rather than in my usual parking garage.
This turned out to be a palaver. French parking meters are too clever for their own good – certainly for mine. They are designed to test their users to the point of digital destruction. The only surprise is that, unlike Indian Railways, they don’t ask you to submit your mother’s maiden name. After three attempts to pay with my bank card ended in failure, I was reduced to begging for change in a nearby bar so that I could feed the meter old-style, meaning that I made it to the surgery with less than a minute to spare.
Max, my dentist – a stickler for punctuality – was waiting. He was in strict business mode. His only words to me were, “Open,” “Shut,” “Bite”. At one point, he appeared to light a match in my mouth and I could see smoke rising up towards the lights boring down above my head. I don’t know what that was about, but I didn’t actually catch fire, which was a relief. At the end, after nearly an hour of prodding, drilling and scouring, with X-rays ever two minutes and my mouth saturated with some foul-tasting liquid, I was told to come back in a month to have the actual tooth fitted. As for the implant on the other side of my jaw that had fallen out, twice, during previous visits, “we will deal with that at another time”. I am starting to wonder if I will live long enough to see the work completed. But at least I’m getting to know Rennes.
Driving home, I was on almost the last lap, the twisting trunk road from Guingamp to Carhaix, when I found myself stuck behind a convoy of slow-moving vehicles. When I say, slow, I mean they were doing no more than 35 kph, or about 26 miles an hour. The reason was that an elderly Range Rover up front was pulling a horsebox with two Breton chevaux inside that by the size of their rear-ends did not fall into the lightweight division. Behind the Range Rover was an equally venerable truck, filled to the gunwhales with what appeared to be tonnes of industrial waste. The driver had switched his hazard lights on to indicate, presumably, that he was enjoying the afternoon and had no intention of trying to pass. Third in line, just ahead of me, was a white van stuffed with God knows what, its rear doors held open with wire to allow heavy pipes to protrude, one of which had a red rag attached.
In this scenario, I was the bull.
I could have been sensible and simply shifted into third gear, paying heed to Radio 4 Long Wave on which someone was droning on about NHS staff shortages. Instead, I seized my moment and veered off to the right along a tiny country road that, unless I was very much mistaken, would bring me out ahead of the convoy a couple of miles further on.
I was very much mistaken. No sooner had I left the main road than a tractor pulling a muck-spreader emerged from a field to my left. There was no way round it. But then my luck changed. The tractor turned off again less than a kilometre further on, so that, shifting to rally mode, I was able to speed ahead, making the requisite left turn that would bring me back to the D787… just in time to see the funeral procession comprising the Range Rover and horsebox, the heavy truck and the pipe-filled van pass in front of me.
Those who are old enough to remember the tv ad in which a man whose plans have gone hopelessly awry lights up a compensatory cigar – “Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet” – will understand the emotions I felt at that moment.
But Ocnus, the God of Frustration and Wasted Time, was not done with me yet. We are having work done in our little house this month: nothing massive, just a new kitchen sink and work surface, a wall-mounted “unit” and a window installed in the downstairs bathroom. The problem, unusually, wasn’t finding someone to do the work. Bill and Peter – one from Kent, the other from the Rhineland – stood waiting. No, it was getting hold of the materials.
LeRoy Merlin is the biggest home improvements group in France. Its stores are in every French town worth its salt, which in our case meant Saint-Brieuc, 60 kilometres from our front door. But there is so much of everything on display, often three, or even five, metres above head height, that it is almost impossible to find anything. Worse than that, even if you do find what you are looking for, it is likely to be indisponible – unavailable – at this time, obliging customers to settle for something else or else to wait weeks, even months, for delivery.
We wanted one of those sinks that has a tiny second sink next to it so that you can wash and rinse dishes at the same time, or at least fill a kettle. None was available. So we chose a rather handsome single model that we were assured – Ooh-la-la! – would be delivered to our door before the end of the week, which it was. But having thrown the (wrong) kitchen sink at Bill, now we had to find a box of tiles for the kitchen and a PVC or aluminium window for the bathroom. This took us to Brico Dépôt, 50 kilometres in the opposite direction, near Morlaix, where windows, reportedly, were the specialité de la maison.
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Or not, as it happened. According to the touch-screen provided to make choice easier for customers, the range of windows was vast. The designers of the Crystal Palace would not have been disappointed. Sadly, the only window they could offer us on the day was the size of a cat flap. As for tiles, we couldn’t have the blue or green ones shown on the charts. They were out of stock. We could only have black or white. We opted for the white.
Back home, I did what I should have done in the first place. I turned to Leroy-merlin.fr ordered the window I wanted from the ether and settled down, like Proust, with a cup of coffee and a madeleine. The window will turn up, we are told, on February 23 or 24. Emboldened, I threw caution to the winds and ordered an oven as well.
But when, I wonder, will I be able to go to the dentist’s online?
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