As fate would have it, we seem to have chosen the worst spring ever to have the main house roof re-done. It was very necessary but I am more than somewhat grumpy that the World Union of Rain Gods has decided to exercise ancient skills on south-west France. (Also on other areas of France, but I don't live in those.)
As promised Pascal Maillet, our newly accredited roof tiler, arrived mid-May complete with flat bed truck and his over-sized Manitou. It was decided that he, and human employee, should start on the garden side of the house. It was also decided that the 'lawn' would not bear the weight of the Manitou the top of whose driving cabin is just below the edge of the house roof.
A walkway of so- called scaffolding, planks supported on ladders with braces, was created along that side of the house. Some of the ladders are wedged with wooden blocks on the sodden, be-mossed terrace, some sinking into the damp grass in front of the the fig tree. It was decided, to be on the safe side and for aesthetic garden reasons, to keep the Manitou on the drive way side of the house.
Scaffolding, apparently. Spot the planks!
The way it works is like this: the employee climbs up the scaffolding, then up the roof to its ridge. He starts to sort good tiles from bad, to uncover the underlying structure of the roof. The bucket of the Manitou is loaded with new tiles, selected by M. Maillet from the pallet of tiles previously picked up by the Manitou's fork attachment. M. Maillet then brings the Manitou so close to the other side of the house that I have conniptions. He extends its arm to ridge level, switches off the engine and joins his employee on the other side of the roof. Dead, broken and generally rejected toils are thrown into the bucket of the upraised arm. New, impermeable roof felt and new tiles are laid.
Somewhere in the foliage is scaffolding
Next comes a balletic moment of elephantine engines. The Manitou, arm still raised is backed away from the house, does a three point turn to face the flat-bed truck. The truck backs and turns to present its side to the bucket, the bucket tips, the broken tiles rain in. The noise is fearful. Fortunately this is just before lunch, when we are truly awake.
But the most impressive part of this whole exercise is the overal lack of noise with which it is performed. The tilers arrive at around 8 a.m. - we are not what is called in French 'matinal', that is morning people. In fact we have usually gone to bed late, woken at about seven in the morning and need a coffee or hot chocolate, with an half hour's reading, to accept the new day. All the curtains are drawn. All we hear are footsteps on the roof – the tilers' radio is not switched on until they hear ours, their voices do not resume a normal pitch until our curtains are open. And neither speaks to us until we have first spoken to them.
The Manitou at rest