The assessor looked at our stocks of good wine, in polystyrene racks at the back of the cupboard where the fire started, and shook his head. When the cleaning team, Natalie and a young chap called, rather delightfully, Valerian, started emptying that cupboard and lining the bottles up outside, they looked remarkably unscathed, as indeed was the polystyrene around them, which must have protected them from the heat and smoke, most of which went up, and the soot which came down. The thought of our little caches of Pouilly-Fumé and St Emilion, the couple of egregrious New Zealand Semillons found by chance, the vieilles vignes Alsace Gewurztraminers, the little slim bottle of Tokaji, the odd ones of Savennières, Loupiac and Cremant de Limoux, all disappearing, literally, down the drain, breaks my heart, even if we did get the monetary value of them back, and we decide we can but try. A quick wipe across the top of the capsule with one of Natalie's magic sponges, and we are happily able to establish later that they are indeed none the worst, at a belated 4th July barbecue (our hosts were hesitant about this form of cooking for us, and lit it quite a way off, but in fact it was fine). Now the bottles seem to us like like lost sinners that repenteth, to be welcomed back with an extravagance that outweighs their apparent worth, or like the images of saints or other holy things which are fêted and worshipped for their miraculous emergence out of earthquake, fire and flood. We celebrate their survival, and ours, by giving them away like there's no tomorrow, which there might not have been.
Natural materials, except for cotton which absorbs everything, seem to shrug off the smoke and soot and general pollution much better, so our leather shoes which were right by the fire are surprisingly untainted, wooden, wicker and and even sea grass items are easy to put to rights, and my knitting, of wool and alpaca, once hung on the line in the sun and air, is none the worse. Natural things are still breathing, says Natalie.
Elfie starts shaking her head. I feel guilty about the rather wild and over-excited walks we've been having in barley fields and such like, and call Emmy the vet, who says we shouldn't delay, so we leave Natalie and Valerian to it and drive over to her. Emmy fears a grass seed and knocks Elfie out, only to find nothing but a bit of inflammation and a stray hair or two. The three of us cosy down in a clean cage, periodically annoyed by Gina and Mimine and a tortoiseshell Persian cat, while Elfie comes round. In the spirit of the truism, if you want something done, ask a busy person, I take this, and the subsequent flat battery in my car, pretty much in my stride. Elfie acts a bit drunk for the evening but is fine next day, and very easy going about having her ear squirted, though I must say it was something I was hoping not to have to do with a dog again.
'Make yourself at home, Elfie' says the Quiet American, as she gulps down their cat's milk on the way through the kitchen, before even looking at the meat and biscuits. 'It's got no lactose' the German Doctor, 'it's better for them'. We never knew she liked milk, and while she's getting anaesthetised Tom goes shopping and buys a couple of bottles of the lactose-free stuff with Emmy's approval. Now she has a measure of it with both breakfast and dinner, and will eagerly leave her meat and biscuits to lap it up, which pleases us very much, especially as I feel she doesn't really drink enough generally.
We like the sound of the church clock, and the sight of the steeple. Plémy church has never seemed very picturesque, its body being too big for its roof, but from here its proportions seem better. We also like the swifts, a feature of urban life, and I quite like meeting with a happy crowd spilling out of the tiny bar during the France-Germany match on our evening stroll, and being able to walk just round the corner to the garage to get the car battery sorted out.
We sometimes feel like ghosts. Partly because of that weird inkling, beloved of writers of ghost stories, that perhaps we really did die and didn't know it, and are continuing in a kind of parallel existence which will dwindle into evanescence, but also because the episode has jolted us into a next stage, so we have essentially moved on in our minds, yet are hanging around the periphery of our former life and its locations without quite being there.