Back in November, I was issued with a mission that no woman would take in vain. Pater familias gave me the personal measurements of a very strangely proportioned lady: 202cm high, 83 cm wide, and 8 cm from front to back. Just as I was imagining a German supermodel after an unfortunate meeting with a tank, he said, «Get me a door for this weekend, please», and loped out of the door with his bag.
As he disappeared down the lane towards the world of parents who go to the office and come home for dinner, I decided that this was going to be a good day. I am accustomed to taking care of logistics for the never-ending worksite we fondly call “home”. The program was simple: get in car, drive to town, buy door, drive home, have a healthy lunch, get impressive amounts of work done, transform into a Nadine de Rothschild-style super-wife and be ready with pristine house, fabulous dinner and intelligent conversation when P.F. gets home from a hard day’s teaching. Bingo.
Not the type to be flustered by a trip to the D.I.Y store and back, I pulled on my boots. At 10 a.m. sharp I parked at “Leroy Merlin”: King Merlin’s D.I.Y super store. I was the lucky winner of the space right in front of the shop door, without suffering the usual rite of being threatened by a red-faced, bad-tempered local at the wheel of a battered Peugeot. I could already imagine myself swinging out of the store with my door, popping it into the boot, and setting off home in time for lunch. Yep, today was going to be a piece of cake.
Things started going sour when I discovered that the huge trolley I had chosen had a jammed wheel and a mind of its own. I successfully avoided colliding with the petite and heavily perfumed local beauties admiring the new collection of cushions and curtains, and headed off towards the Dark Side of the Store: the place where nutters with an unhealthy liking for punishment find the basic materials they need to actually construct the house from scratch. These are the people who start off their project oozing enthusiasm, only to realise that they will be up to their ears in plasterboard and dangling cables until their retirement, when they will finally have the pleasure of checking out the curtain and cushions department with their Zimmer frames and a magnifying glass to read the prices.
A salesman glided up to me, and flashed a Colgate-white smile. «Madaaaaaaaame, bonjour. Can I help you?»
I skidded to a halt with my infernal machine. I was in the starting blocks with my best D.I.Y. vocabulary, the list of top-model door measurements clenched in my hand. Mustering up my best French accent, I said, «Bonjour. Je cherche un bloc porte, s’il vous plaît». He stared at me, chewed his lip, and then smiled again.
«Aha!», he triumphantly replied, « Madame is looking for a door wedge, to block the door! It’s this way».
I don’t know what was more bemusing; the fact that he seemed to believe that women never buy doors, or imagining that anyone could take a huge trolley into a busy store full of customers just for the fun of testing their ability to leave with a doorstop and the satisfaction of not having maimed or killed anyone. Then it occurred to me that in French, «bloque» and «bloc» are pronounced the same way, therefore explaining the confusion.
«Non, non, I really would like to buy a door and a frame». I considered adding a «Go ahead, punk, make my day», but decided against it. I have come to realise that my British sense of humour is not always understood in French climes. «Au fong à droit-euh. Bonn-euh journée». As he hastily sped off into the distance, I wondered if he was getting a head start to avoid being run over.
I will spare you the description of the following few hours. Three D.I.Y. stores later, I was still desperately seeking the door equivalent of Claudia Schiffer. As I saw my afternoon of work disappear before my eyes, the Nadine de Rothschild plan rapidly veered towards a “hysterical wife brains husband with door jamb” scenario.
The last salesman was pleasant and helpful, and when I saw the name on his badge I asked “So are you an Alsatian “expat” too?” He was indeed. In hushed tones, we briefly reminisced about eastern France before getting down to the nitty-gritty of P.F’s dream door. Madame needed an unusual size for the doorframe, so Madame would have to order it. He grinned and said «It will arrive on the 24th of December, with Father Christmas». Mission accomplished. I set off home, wondering how he’d manage to fit this particular gift down the chimney.