Yesterday was a stunner of a day. I was stunned by both good news and bad news. The bad news came first — I heard it before I got home and learned from Walt that the roofing contractor I'd called, Monsieur Thépot (I'll be more respectful now...), had showed up at our front gate while I was out shopping for groceries. He inspected the damage inside the house. Outside, he stood back from the front of the house so that he could he could see the base of the offending chimney. He said it must be the flashing that has failed. (Why is that metal called "flashing" anyway?) Mr Thépot said somebody would be out to fix it by Monday at the latest. What a relief!
The photos in this post are purely decorative. This is a picture of our doorbell that I took a few days ago.
The first errand I had to run yesterday meant going to our bank. We needed to pick up a new check book. We write very few checks, but we had gotten down to just one check (that's a "cheque" in the UK) left in the book a couple of weeks ago. It had taken us years to go through that batch of 25 or 30 checks. Most of our regularly scheduled payments (electricity, satellite TV, etc., telephone and internet) are drafted from our checking account — those transactions are called prélèvements. We don't have to worry about them. They just happen.
I had gone to the bank 10 or 12 days ago to pick up a new book of checks, only to be told that the one they had been holding for us for more than a year had been, under bank policy, destroyed. "We can only keep checkbooks for three months. Otherwise, there would be so many of them waiting to be picked up by customers that we'd be overwhelmed," the clerk told me. The fact is, the banks, or at least ours, are stingy with checkbooks. They give out one at a time, and they won't mail it to you; you have to go pick it up in person and sign for it. As far as I know, they won't give customers more than one checkbook at a time.
A few days ago I cooked a batch of American
'field peas' (little black-eyed peas), below.
'field peas' (little black-eyed peas), below.
Why are the banks so stingy? I'm no sure. Maybe it's because checks here don't work the way checks work in the U.S. In France checks can't be canceled once they have been issued unless the bank authorizes it. You can't just change your mind. What do we call that in the U.S.? Oh yeah, a "stop payment" order. Payment of a French check that you have signed and sent to the payee can't easily be stopped. French checks are treated as cash, in other words. You can't post-date them either. They'll be deposited even if the date on the checks is in the future.
When you write a check to pay, for example, a deposit on a vacation rental (un gîte), the decision is, in a way, final. The owner of the gîte we've reserved for a week in April wrote me an e-mail to tell me that he will hold our check, without depositing it, until we arrive four months from now. I know of gîte owners who will take an American check and follow that same policy, thinking they are protected from the cost and inconvenience of a last-minute cancellation. Little do they know that the American check-writer can stop payment on a check that has not yet been cashed or deposited. They'd do better to deposit those checks immediately, given American customs and rules. Oh well... I'm not sure this actually has anything to do with the banks' checkbook stinginess.
When I went to the bank yesterday, there was only one clerk on duty (usually there are two) and there were half a dozen people standing in line ahead of me. I stood there waiting, and then I realized that the woman who was at the counter was our across-the-street neighbor, C. She was also picking up a checkbook. She told me that she had had her debit card "confiscated" by a gas pump at the SuperU service station a couple of weeks ago. "Getting old is pénible (for the birds)," she told me. "I forgot my code secret (PIN number) on my debit card, and even on the third attempt to remember it, I got it wrong again. The machine sucked in my card and wouldn't give it back."
I couldn't help but notice this big spider climbing up the wall in the loft yesterday morning.
"Senior moments..." C. continued. She is two months older than I am."When I got back home, I realized I didn't have any checks left. So I had to order a new checkbook. They said they'd have one for me in 10 days or so." I told her I knew that problem, because we also had run out of checks, and we'd had to wait 10 days too. (At least we still have our debit cards.) C. said she would for a time be one of those annoying customers at the supermarket who has to write a check to pay for groceries — show ID, wait for the check to be run through a machine that prints the amount and payee's name on it, etc. etc. It seems to take forever. We laughed about that.
In the course of our conversation, I learned the bad news. Pretty bad for us, but not so bad for our neighbor. More about that tomorrow.