April came around and with it the school holidays. Mrs S was able to come over to France to inspect progress and our visit just happened to coincide with the date Emmanuel had given us for the rewiring to start. On the appointed day we were at the house in good time. We had pulled all the furniture into the centre of the rooms and covered it as best we could with plastic dust sheets, although we had taken care to see that the kettle and four mugs were easy to get at. Nine o'clock came and went, but at three minutes past my mobile chirped at me in the way mobile phones do. Emmanuel informed me that he had to attend an emergency but would arrive that afternoon at two o'clock. I could see not just our rewiring, but our first letting disappearing.
My faith was restored that afternoon when, promptly at two o' clock, a van screeched to a halt outside, throwing up a spray of gravel. Emmanuel jumped out and raced across the courtyard to knock on the door, while Philippe, his assistant, tossed tools and machinery out of the van, across the pavement and into the courtyard as if they were so many bread rolls, apparently completely oblivious of the fact that my car was in the direct firing line. Or maybe he just didn't care: after all, it was only an English car. Once the van was empty he scooped up an enormous pneumatic drill, rushed into the house and attacked the kitchen wall. Within five minutes the place could have been used as a location for a film of Lawrence of Arabia struggling through a sandstorm – and our two-foot thick kitchen wall had a trench running across it nearly a foot deep. But I must give them their due: those two worked like demons. They paused occasionally to sip from two-litre bottles of water, refused all our offers of coffee, and worked until nearly seven o'clock. I was exhausted! In the end Mrs S and I gave up trying to do anything in the house that week. We gave Emmanuel a spare key and took a holiday.