Sweating the little things

Considering the complexity of moving a family around the world, I’ve been remarkably sanguine about the whole thing.

Quitting my job, organising the house, making school arrangements in a foreign language. Solo parenting for two months in a foreign country while running a B&B. None of these big and life changing decisions have ever caused me a moment’s hesitation or the slightest concern.

Instead, I find myself paralysed at the thought of changing a light bulb. What is this phenomenon that has me sweating the little things?

The first thing that hit me was the dread at driving the car. I mean, I drive all the time, quite happily at home, but the thought of driving a strange car, on the wrong side of the road, was stressing me out way more than was reasonable.

In fear of driving, I had initially thought that Tom and I would manage for a couple of months without one. Quillan is pretty self-sufficient and it would be an incentive to get to know people if we needed to hitch a ride anywhere further afield.

But then, the owner of the B&B kindly offered the use of their car, which seemed silly to refuse. He came to collect us in the car from Toulouse, and all the way back in the dark, as he pointed out where things were and the various quirks of the car, the doom of having to be the one driving hung over me like a dark cloud. What if it broke down?

For a further week after he left, I avoided driving, despite knowing it was inevitable. Until finally, when Tom was at school one day in the second week, I snuck off with the keys, and while nobody was watching drove the shortest distance possible to the local supermarket, and proved to myself that there was nothing to worry about. Although I did get a couple of impatient toots at my initial bunny hops. Dang gears.

The next thing to tie me in knots was filling the car with petrol. Which petrol station, what if I got the wrong type? What if I couldn’t operate the pump? What if it wouldn’t accept my card when it came time to pay? What if I couldn’t explain myself? When it came to it, my fears initially came true. The counter was closed and it was pay at the pump only. I slotted my card in – and it spat it back at me – card unrecognised. My heart sank. What now? I told myself to remain calm, and try again. Card accepted. I successfully filled up with diesel, and drove off like I knew what I was doing. Phew.

Meanwhile, I’ve had this ridiculous thing about changing light bulbs. I freely admit that I don’t often change a light bulb at home. There are just some things that someone else mysteriously does. Like magic. Often because they are too high to reach, and I don’t especially like ladders.

Knowing that we would be on our own here for two months, I knew that I would have to change light bulbs, and I got myself a bit wound up over it. Sure enough, light bulbs started dying, and I studiously ignored the fact. Then some more died, and it became a bit annoying. Finally the light bulbs in the stairwell went, along with a light bulb in the guest room, and I knew I would need to deal with it. But I was still procrastinating. Who knows why.

Then, this past weekend, the worst happened. The car broke down, in an unknown village, 100km from Quillan, on a night away to stay with people I’d never met, and I was forced to deal with it.

When, having parked temporarily in a slightly odd place off the roadside to check final directions, the car wouldn’t start again, I was a little annoyed. When, on my second attempt to start it, smoke billowed from the engine I realised we were in a spot of bother.

By this time it was mid-afternoon on a public holiday, ahead of a three-day weekend, and everything was closed. I was tempted, momentarily, to have a wee cry, but as Tomos was in the car with me, I needed to keep myself together and pretend I was in control. So I steeled myself and remained calm. Being calm, I was able to think clearly about what needed to be done.

Fortunately we had the number of the people we were staying with, who were able to come and pick us up. I don’t know my way around a car in English, let alone in French, but with our hosts’ help, we ruled out a few obvious potential causes. I was embarrassed to admit that I couldn’t see the battery under the bonnet. But it was quite funny to then watch the men as they had to admit they couldn’t see it either. Turns out it  was under the passenger seat floor. Logical.

Having by this time found the roadside assistance details in the car, I phoned the insurers, liaised with the tow truck driver, dealt with the mechanics, and confirmed arrangements for alternative transport back to Quillan.

By this time it was 7pm, dark and cold, we’d missed our planned winery tour, had only a few random leftovers that I’d thrown in the grocery bag to scramble together for dinner and no means to get to a supermarket. To be honest, I was too wired from the stress and having to concentrate to understand all the technical French to eat, so a stiff drink was sufficient for me. Staying on a winery, that was fortunately no problem!

I think with all these things, it’s not so much the ‘what’ but the ‘what if’.

On our return to Quillan, we were greeted by the news of a severe 7.5 earthquake in New Zealand, affecting much of the country, with damage to roads and infrastructure, two deaths and some injuries. A lot of people, sleepless and frightened, some having to evacuate their families to high ground in the middle of the night. Others still cut off. That stuff’s actually worth worrying about, but people calmly got on with it.

So this morning, I set about changing all the light bulbs. Every last one, from the straight forward guest room bedside lamp, to the slightly awkward two entrance hall lamps and the two stairwell lights that required me to find and climb the ladder.

Because really, what’s the worst that can happen?

7 thoughts on “Sweating the little things

  1. margaret21

    Rewiring plugs is my nemesis. Won’t the house burst into flames when (‘when’, note, not ‘if’) I get it wrong? So you have my sympathy. And you did alright as well. Congratulatilons.

  2. Nadia

    Weird how little things can worry us sometimes. Having driven myself for 30 years, in several different countries, I too, for no explainable reason was nervous about driving here (and I drove in Paris for several years but that was 23 years ago) and to be honest I have yet to fill the car with gas. We share a car so Stuart usually does it. After reading your post, I am off to the petrol station this afternoon.

  3. fivekiwis

    I know how you feel! It took me ages to feel comfortable driving over here – but now it’s 2nd nature. I still feel like a stunned mullet when I have to talk French though! The quakes are certainly putting a few things back in perspective. x

  4. coteetcampagne

    I hope all your friends and family at OK too Jennifer. It is crazy that it takes a REAL disaster or terrible tragedy to make us realise that our own mini-crises are minor in the great scheme of things


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