This morning, Ezra and I went out to Alet-les-bains, our local source to collect water. Then we were going to go for a quick walk with the dogs. He mentioned a small track he had noticed a few times on the other side of the railway tracks and thought it might be interesting to explore a bit.
Good plan, I thought, especially as several friends live in the village over the other side of the huge hill or small mountain depending on how you regard the terrain, and we could have coffee, tra la la.
Here it is: a typical small road in this region. Craggy rock faces, scrubby oak - both deciduous and evergreen; acres of space, silent apart from the odd jingle of a hunting dog's bell.
Drove on and on until an ancient gateway appeared with a notice that said privé but also said things like dogs must be kept on a lead and do not start fires, which seemed to suggest that other people did go there sometimes. We ignored it and drove on, passing two farmhouses with the usual snarl of old machinery and a few beasts wandering about.
Ezra suggested it might be a good point to turn back as the road seemed to be deteriorating, but as we had just gone over many meters of rubble and fledgling rivers I thought it would be better to carry on. Actually, this isn't true. It was the sense of curiosity . . . just round that bend . . . we could tell our friends that we've just discovered a neat little short cut to get water from Alet.
The road then became a sludgy tractor path filled with huge brown puddles. Our poor Kangoo, it's had its fair share of nasty experiences - Mike in Canada if you read this - but this was probably the worst. It nobley strove on until the puddles became one large, shallow . . . pond.
Tried to turn round. The wheels spun, covering us with sticky mud and not moving the car except to creep it a bit further to the ravine-like edge.
Heroically did things with branches and car mats to no avail, while Ezra stood looking like a potential victim from a John Carpenter film called Lost in a mountain pass without so much as a Mars Bar.
Then it started to snow. Then the car started to overheat.
We walked back down the track in our inappropriate footwear, through all the mud with tiny runty dog and the ancient dog snorting and wobbling. You know that film American werewolf in London . . . the bit on the moorlands with the howling, circling wolves . . . well it crossed my mind. Worth seeing if you haven't.
Anyway. The first farmhouse was in fact just a house. The lady owner came to the door, politely listened to our woes and apologies for being idiots, but informed us that, sadly, they couldn't help. As we stood looking pathetic and trying not to look at the pizzas she was making, her husband appeared and said he would ring the other farmhouse where they had a TRACTOR.
They asked us to come in and wait in their nice warm kitchen and we chatted about the house: they had lived up there for fifty years but now have no water as the source dried up three years ago. Seemed odd as the rain was now living up to the French saying of like cows pissing on a flat rock.
They eventually let the dogs in too who were ringing their paws and howling for a nice sofa, "What are these dogs, and what are they for?" asked the wife.
"They are Italian greyhounds, madame - they were bred to warm the beds of the Italian court people."
"Je vois . . . " (I see)
The tractor arrived and we were impressed. Not some old rusting thing but huge, red and ultra-modern. Ezra stayed with the nice folks and the pizza and I climbed into the cab. Actually I don't think I've ever been in a tractor before; this one was like getting up onto a camel, except it didn't crouch down so that you could climb aboard.
The farmer was charming, despite the fact he had to leave his lunch. He told me that no one uses that track in the winter and even hunter's 4x4's get stuck up there. I said that I was sorry and that I was an idiot, and he said no you're not, which was kind as I was.
The car was still there sprawled across the track, whistling sadly to itself. The farmer expertly tied ropes to its tow hook. I got in after thanking him repeatedly, and asking him how much I owed him, to which he said "Nothing - it was a pleasure."? To leave your Sunday lunch and rescue hapless twerps wearing 'nipping down the shops' clothing.
He towed the car out and reversed the tractor down the slithery hill until it was safe for me to drive on. Stopped to collect Ezra, now kitted out with borrowed thick coat and with pizza in his stomach. Thanked them profusely too, and set off home to Mark who was still waiting to put the chips on, and scolded us for not having a mobile . . . oops. He did look very pleased to see us though.