It’s autumn again, and the long arthritic French winter beckons. I have a problem with the phrase “there’s always someone worse off than you’. For me, what is a more constant niggle as we limp through this veil of tears is not self-reproach that others are having a hard time, but the bitter knowledge of the exact opposite; that while I crumble physically like a lump of Wednesleydale cheese, there are others out there springing out of bed in the morning with more energy than Tigger. That one of them, specifically in fact, is about 90 years old and still delivering six tonnes of chopped firewood to my house every year acts like a taser to whatever limited good humour I have.
Monsieur Maille puts me to shame. He’s less than five feet tall, solidly built if bow-legged, with wispy grey hair, a permanently cheeky glint in his eye and a smile so infectious even I respond to it. He’s probably almost double my age and most definitely not my future; his physical prowess and good humour isn’t even my present. He leapt like a sprite on top of his trailer, stood legs apart across neatly stacked wood and from his vantage point took a good look at me. It’d been a year since I’d seen him last and in that time he’d definitely got younger while I’ve hurtled towards dotage.
“You look well,” he said, a smile playing on his lips as he lied badly. I didn’t look at all well. There I stood wearing a white-bandaged elbow tubigrip, a knee support, a black wrist support, a heavy-duty grey girdle and an embarrassed look on my face. I looked like a man in the midst of a mid-life crisis who’s lately decided to take up skateboarding but who doesn’t have all the equipment. He chuckled to himself.
It’s axiomatic that in my current physical condition the last thing I should be doing is emptying a tractor of six tonnes of dense firewood and then stacking said pile in the woodstore. Natalie said I shouldn’t do it, her parents and the children said I shouldn’t do it, my physio laughed when I said I was going to do it and then looked scared that the result would be that she’d never get rid of me. But when the guy delivering the wood is 90 years old and smaller than Kylie Minogue that, my friends, represents a challenge.
I had to keep my end up as it were. Besides which, I didn’t stack the wood last year, I paid someone else to do it, who then complained when the wood pile he stacked fell on him. So if you want something doing around here…
Between us it took about 20 minutes to unload the tractor, and at the end I gripped a bottle of water like I’d just crawled across the Sahara while he looked at me out of the corner of his eye, then he looked at the discarded wood.
“It won’t be easy stacking this lot, have you got help?” He was genuinely concerned.
“No,” I croaked, “no help”. He stroked his chin as he left. “Maybe I’ll leave it a few days before the next delivery then…”
Two days later he was back, surprised to see everything neatly stacked, and tried to engage me in conversation but I was, following 48 hours in bed screaming for sweet death, in no mood for pleasantries. Besides, I was whacked off my tiny, tiny mind on the kind of painkillers that would floor a rhinocerous.
The only good thing about the painkillers is that they go well with the local wine and can now be enjoyed in front of a roaring fire.
Lead photo credit : © RITA EVANS