Three Cords of Wood - Part 1
It’s a Sunday afternoon, early summer 2007, and I’ve spent the last three days stacking firewood. Jane says she’s too tried to help so she’s sitting in front of the TV again. I swear if I have to sit through another True Movie I’ll bloody scream. It seems she hasn’t the energy or the interest to do anything these days but flop in front of the telly. Dunno what’s wrong with her.
I’ll tell you this though, moving firewood is dirty, back-breaking work, and I haven’t had anything to quench my thirst since lunch. The sweat’s pouring off me and running in cleaning rivulets through the dirt and grime on my arms, but Jane can’t even be bothered to bring me a cool drink.
Pissed off I am, and I don’t mind showing it.
If I go into the house I’ll have to take my boots off or drag half the garden in with me. But I have to keep the house clean or Jane’ll have a go at me again. Its funny how still manages to find the energy to shout at me though, isn’t it?
Pausing for a second, I look at the dwindling pile of Chestnut and Oak logs. It’s nearly gone, but I’ll move just one more barrow load before I take a break.
It’s knackering though, moving logs. I’ve moved them, wheel-barrow by wheel-barrow, from the drive where it was dumped in a massive big heap on Thursday morning, to the neat pile I’ve built near my workshop. It’ll be needed there in the winter, protected from the worst of the weather, and close to the house.
The best part of three cords moved now, nearly finished though.
To give you an idea of what three cords looks like, one cord is about one metre deep, one metre high, and three metres long. That’s a heck of a lot of work for an old fart like me and I’m just about done in. Still, I’ll just move one more barrow before I take a break.
About fifteen loads an hour I’m doing - it’s a long way from the drive to the wood stack. Fifteen big logs per load, thrown carelessly on, but carefully removed and stacked at the other end. I’ve been at it for three hours since breakfast so that’s about six-hundred and seventy logs picked up, moved and put down. It’s no wonder my back feel like it’s ready to break. Then I see movement out the corner of my eye.....
A couple of weeks ago, I’m in the local Bar Tabac. It’s the nearest thing to a proper pub in France. I’ve popped in to watch the football on the big-screen, when I see my next-door neighbours, English, handing some money over to another neighbour, French. We mix, you know, we really do. The natives are friendly, but seeing wads of notes passing between Dave and Jean-Luc, (as a Start Trek fan, I call him Capt Picard), my curiosity is piqued.
No, is not a drugs deal; we’re in rural Brittany, not the grimy back streets of Brixton. This time of year, the actions can only relate to fire-wood.
Our house renovation budget didn’t stretched to central heating, so, like most of the locals, Jane and I rely on a stout wood-burning stove for our winter warmth. Mid-August is the time when some locals sell it by the cord, but you have to know who to ask to ferret out the best deals.
Alan and Babs, my Joneses next-door, are in the know, you see. They’re gregarious, affiliated to all the local clubs and associations and, most importantly, they know a man, who knows a man, who owns a forest.
‘Capt Picard’, is a friend of the man that owned the forest.
Apparently, Alan has just put ten per-cent down on ten cords of mixed Oak and Chestnut. Yes, ten cords, and at one-sixty a cord, that’s serious Euros. But he does get a very good discounted price. Capt Picard mumbles something in French about ‘mates-rates’, but I still don’t speak French very well, so it might have been something else entirely. He says it with a wink and a smile, but I think nothing of it at the time.
Anyway, cut a long story short, I order three cords from the Captain and he deliveres it a few weeks later.
So, I turn around to see a pair of Gendarmes walking round the side of my house. Not again! Here they come, bold as brass, along the path and towards me, without so much a knocking on the gate post.
There’s two of them, one little with greying hair at his temples, the other’s tall. Even taller’n me, and he’s at least a decade younger than his mate. He’s large too, wouldn’t want to argue with him on a dark night.
They’re dressed in their finest in summer plumage: flat hats, blue short-sleeved shirts, dark tailored shorts that expose knobbly knees and hairy shins. They wore calf-length woollen socks and black highly polished shoes. Honestly, they’d have looked funny if it isn’t for the black leather belts and the holsters they’re wearing. They aren’t for show either, I can see the butt of an automatic pistol sticking out of Large’s unclipped holster.
I don’t find it funny, not at all.
‘’Allo? M’sieur Donovan?’ Large speaks like Clouseau, but he’s definitely the junior partner, because Little is speaking in rapid French and the other guy’s acting as his translator.
Large stands a bit taller, rests his right hand on the flap that stops his gun falling out of the holster and looks really serious. The next thing he says has my bladder loosening.
‘’Have you bought any fire-wood recently, M’sieur?’
I drop the oak log I’m holding back into the barrow, and I say ‘Moi?’
...... to be continued.