It’s a Sunday evening, and I’m about to leave to collect Steve at the airport. The camembert is in the fridge, ready to be turned into fondue à la Jamie. The bathroom is sparkling clean. The flat is tidy for the first time in a fortnight – dishes washed, floor swept, tea stains on fridge cleaned… even my books are arranged in height order on a shelf, as opposed to being scattered across the floor. I’m feeling very satisfied with myself, and I’m about to walk out the door when all of my lights go out with a pop.
“Shit,” is my first thought. “Followed by “shit shit shit shit bastard shit what the hell do I do aaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrggggggggghhhhhhhhhh.” I’m not very good with the whole “adulting” concept, as my former flatmates and Steve can attest to. Wine is my forte, not household emergencies.
- Case study #1: last winter’s broken boiler. I didn’t even know we had a boiler, let alone where it was located.
- Case study #2: the incessant smoke alarms which kept going off during February. The one time I was home alone, I climbed onto a ladder to try unscrew the alarm and couldn’t bring myself to touch it in case I electrocuted myself. Then I fell off the ladder.
- Case study #3: July’s power cut. Trying to be useful, I phoned Dave hoping that he could fix it. His instructions were far too complicated (“Dave, what the f*ck is a fuse box?!”) so Mat and I went out for noodles instead.
The aforementioned noodles.
So when I find myself having to deal with a power cut on my own in a foreign country where I have only a tenuous grasp of the language, I go into panic mode. To make matters worse, of all the possible days when this could have happened, it’s a Sunday evening. As I’ve mentioned before, France essentially goes into a coma on a Sunday. No chance of buying torches or candles from Monoprix, like I would back home. I don’t even know if EDF will have people working their call centres on a Sunday. Oh, and on top of that, my phone is about to run out of battery. And credit. And I can’t get more credit, or charge my phone in a coffee shop, because -again- it’s a Sunday. Shit.
A quick glimpse out the window confirms that it’s just my flat which is affected. I run through a list of options in my head. Hibernate until the power comes back on? Tempting, but Steve is waiting at the airport. Try living without electricity until I move to Italy? (It would be like camping! How quaint!) Phone EDF? Deciding I don’t have any other option, I steel myself to phone EDF. After an excruciating ten minutes listening to some of the WORST hold music ever, I get through to ‘Julien.’ Julien is understandably quite frustrated at my inability to understand words like “fuse box,” “voltage” and “circuit breaker” in French, as well as the fact that I don’t know where my fuse box is located, but after about half an hour he agrees that I need an electrician to come and take a look at it. (Yes, thank you, Julien, that was what I told you the second you answered the phone.) As I’m already late for meeting Steve at the airport, we agree to send somebody later after I phone him back. “Make sure you ask for Julien!” he hastens to add. “I will remember you. JU-LI-EN!” I can feel his unspoken addendum hanging in the air: God forbid anybody should go have to go through this ordeal again.
Unfortunately for Julien, by the time I’ve managed to find Steve at the airport, my phone is dead. Resigned to spending a night sans electricité, we get 2-for-1 pizza from Pizza Hut and eat it in the dark with a bottle of wine. It’s not quite the reunion I’d hoped for, and I think wistfully of the cheese fondue I’d had planned, but it’s fun in a way. It’s like a lucky dip, not knowing what’s on each slice.
The next day I decide to skip class, something which will come back to bite me in the derrière later in the week but at the time I don’t care. All my panic from the previous night has come back ten-fold, and I’m envisioning worst-case scenarios left, right and centre. It might take them weeks to fix it. I’ll have to return to Scotland. What if all my adaptor plugs have blown the entire system up? What if it costs me hundreds to repair? What if it never gets fixed because they can’t work out what the problem is? What if, what if, what if?
Fortunately, I discover that my phone can be charged via my laptop using a Kindle cable – something which surprises me enormously, considering my phone looks like it came from the year 2000. I spend another thirty minutes on hold before being put through to a customer service rep. This one keeps trying to speak to me in English, but it doesn’t help matters. “Ze button. Is he hard or soft?” he shouts at me down the phone after one particularly frustrating run of questions. He also berates me because apparently I don’t live at the address I say I do. I miss Julien. Eventually I persuade him to send out a technician to fix it. He’ll be there before midday, he assures me.
Naturally, this means the technician doesn’t turn up until 2pm – but by this point, I’m so happy to see him that I nearly kiss him. He takes one look at the box and immediately knows what to do. Fifteen minutes later, I have a new fuse box, and as if by magic, the lights come back on. No charge, he tells me. It’s been less than 24 hours without electricity, but I’m so happy I frolic around the studio like a lamb in springtime turning lights on and off just because I can. (No, really. Ask Steve.)
Realisation: maybe I can be a self-sufficient adult after all.