On Christmas Day in the morning there we were sitting at the breakfast table recovering from the traditional French Christmas Eve meal the evening before, when my sister-in-law says: "Isn't that water leaking from your boiler?" I check. It is Christmas Day and there is water leaking from the boiler. Water has been leaking from the boiler for a few hours judging by the sodden state of the cookery books below. Delia is sodden, Jamie is sodden, Nigella, Nigel, Madhur, all sodding sodden.
Everyone stands back so I can take a closer look at the boiler. I am the resident DIY-er. The Frenchman offers to get the pipe wrench. Two joints - the in cold pipe and out hot pipe - are drip, drip, dripping. The dripping gets faster every time someone does the washing up or takes a shower. (Do not believe what they say about the French: for my lot, not spending an hour in the bathroom is out of the question.) The Frenchman tells La Belle Belle Fille to keep the showering short (30 minutes is her usual average). I say: "Well, I'm pretty confident I could change the washers, but if it all went horribly wrong...it is Christmas Day." We stick a Tupperware underneath the drips and dig out the telephone number of Monsieur Mustapha our saviour plumber.
This feels like a last straw, but I said that about the last leak two days before Christmas when the washing machine pipe popped off and flooded the kitchen. In the last seven years we have been flooded on at least six times from various upstairs neighbours, had two mains pipes burst in our apartment, and leaks all over the place, some at the same time and almost always at weekends or holidays. These two are the seventh and eight washers to go in the past six weeks. This is more than coincidence or bad luck. Something is very wrong.
Standing in front of the boiler holding sodden Delia in one hand and a wrench in the other I am tempted to hit something. But it is Christmas Day; the Frenchman is looking at me wondering if I'll cry or scream or hit something and, I suspect, wondering who will prepare and cook the large castrated bird we have for lunch if I lose it.
I can hear water plopping into the Tupperware and think of Chinese water torture. This, for no particular reason apart from random thought association, brings to mind a friend who has been kidnapped and is being held hostage in Somalia. I put sodden Delia on sodden Nigella and sodden Jamie, hand back the wrench and shrug. "Worse things happen," I say. Was that a general sigh of relief or the boiler hissing at me?