So we had arrived at Les Lavandes in this rather swish, black car in which almost everything happened automatically - including the repositioning and reclining of the driver's seat. The Old Bat complained that the light in the living room seemed a little dim - I had not then opened the shutters - but I pointed out that she was wearing poly-wotsit glasses that had shaded because of the reflection off the snow outside.
On the writing desk was a note from Sue, the English lady who keeps an eye on the place when we are not there. She had turned the water off at the main stopcock because the weather forecast for the previous week had been for extremely low temperatures. Indeed, I had noticed the headlines in the French newspapers talking of the Great Freeze, Siberian and polar weather - and reporting the number of people who ad died as a result of the cold.
I picked my way gingerly through the snow - I was wearing only town shoes - lying several inches deep in the field next door and lifted the manhole cover carefully. I had so far had just one shoeful of snow and wished for no more! Under the cover was the sheet of plastic which, although a little muddy, would serve to keep my knees out of the snow as I reached down to remove the lagging and turn the water on.
After returning to the house I went back and turned the water off again. Somewhere between the stopcock and the house the water still lying in the pipe had frozen.
There was no way we could stay there - or even attempt to do the jobs I had wanted to get done. We took out of the suitcase the towels and bed linen - no point carrying too much weight - and set off for the town of Châteaubriant where I knew there to be a cheap hotel. On the way we stopped off at a supermarket to buy a colouring book and then at a toy store for a jigsaw - even in extremis the Old Bat thinks of the grandchildren. I pulled into the car park and even before I got out of the car I could see the notice on the door - "Hotel Complet" (No vacancies). Throwing my innate mean streak to the wind, I suggested trying a hotel just out of town which I expected to be rather expensive. It certainly had an expensive look to it as we drove up the winding drive, having the look of a mini château. Whether or not it was expensive was something I didn't find out. This hotel, too, was full - as was the only remaining hotel in town!
I drove back to Pouancé, to the one hotel in town, only to find that the hotel was completely unmanned until 6.00pm (it was then about 5.00). We went in search of a bar and coffee to while away the time until I was able to secure a room for two nights. I was a bit miffed, though, by the attitude of the young lady on the reception desk who told me she had no rooms available on the ground floor. People arriving after us were allocated ground floor rooms!
This was Monday, and on a Monday evening in February there are very few self-respecting restaurateurs in France who are willing to open their doors. Besides, we had many times said we should try the restaurant at this hotel but had never got round to doing so. Our neighbour Jacques had told us that the food was good but the service poor. Well, we were about to find out.
On walking into the dining room my first impression was, "Hey, this is smart!" All very nicely laid out, with comfortable chairs and the tables spaced, well, perhaps just a tad too close together but not so much as to really spoil things. It was a pity that the girl who welcomed us and led us to our table was the one who had been on the reception desk earlier and she was still wearing her moon boots, jeans and a nylon smock-type overall top. It did rather let the side down. How best to describe the menu? Interesting? Maybe. Different? Certainly. A bit on the pricey side? Yes. Pretentious? Definitely. We decided on our meals and placed our orders - starters of hors d'ouevres for the OB and what was described as "meli mili de gambas" - what "meli mili" might be I have no idea but I knew this was something to do with prawns. The OB went to help herself to the horses doobries while I sat and waited. I sat and waited some more while she ate her food. She had nearly finished when another waitress dressed in track suit trousers and a red nylon overall brought the amuse bouche - glasses of a noxious-looking green liquid with something like cream floating on top. That green liquid tasted as noxious as it looked, but the little pieces of bacon at the bottom of the glass were OK. Eventually my prawns/shrimps arrived - all six of them, two each prepared in one of three different styles. The main courses (and I don't remember what they were) were unmemorable but the desserts weren't bad. The food was, frankly, disappointing, the service poor. We shall not be returning.