Of course it was too good to be true. We've gone, oh I would say a few months without any water leaking in or on our apartment but experience has told us never to become too complacent. This time it was the boiler (again) and this time it was Nigella who took a hit (again). A couple of beautifully illustrated books on French cuisine that I hadn't yet got around to trying out and the very old French cookery encyclopaedia in which I'd pressed some roses from my wedding bouquet and forgotten to take them out, were also waterlogged. The picture of the chocolate gateau I was planning to make looked soggy and unappetising. I call Monsieur Mustapha. "I'll be over later," he says. I don't know why we don't just put him on a permanent retainer.
Rather than sit indoors with the incessant drip-drip-drip of water from the boiler into a salad bowl, La Fille and I decided to go to the Champ de Mars and have a picnic by the Eiffel Tower. In the time it takes us to get there on the Metro - roughly 15 minutes - the sky has gone from sunny June to grey, chilly February and it is raining. We return home and have the picnic on the living room floor. As I lay out the raw carrots and tuna pasta and plastic knives and forks La Fille puts on her My First Nursery Rhymes CD so the sound of dripping and rain is drowned out. "This is fun," she says cheerfully as we sit on the parquet listening to This Old Man sipping apple juice through straws.
Mustapha arrives on time, as always, and greets me like a close relative; big hug, vigorously shaken hand. It would be true to say I have seen Mustapha more times over the last few years than I have some members of my family. La Fille marches into the kitchen as Mustapha is examining the boiler. She gives an exaggerated sigh and announces: "Encore une fuite d'eau" (yet another water leak), which is precisely what her father said this morning minus the swear word. Mustapha declares the boiler 'fichu' (basically stuffed). From where I stand, this is not necessarily bad news and might, eventually, compensate for the ruined cookery books. The whole kitchen of green and black tiles circa 1950 and mosaic floor the colour of vomit and cupboards that are bloated and wonky from successive floods needs replacing. The Frenchman is someone who never does today what can be put off indefinitely - or at least until next year - but this might be the kick needed. Mustapha repairs the leak but warns we'll need a new boiler in "12-18 months max". He adds: "And you don't want to be doing it in winter." I call the Frenchman to tell him, trying to keep the excitement of a new kitchen from my voice. I also tell him that Mustapha has suggested turning La Belle Belle Fille's room into the kitchen and the kitchen into La Belle Belle Fille's room; an idea that might be worth considering when she goes back to university in September, I say. There is silence the other end of the line.
Later I tell a girlfriend the verdict on the boiler. Just before midnight she sends me a message.
"Funny. I was explaining the concept of 'stepmother' to XXXXX (her daughter) and used you as an example of how not all stepmothers were evil like those in Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella etc. You've given it a whole new twist. Generally, the evil stepmother makes her stepdaughter DO the cuisine; you want to make her room INTO the cuisine. You really should contact Disney about this."
I might just do that as soon as I've finished poisoning these apples.