When I moved to France toute seule three years ago I wasn't worried about whether or not I'd make any new friends or miss my life in London. Nor did the prospect of renovating a house alone really bother me. There was only one tricky problem that I could see: who would I get to help me with the gas bottle?
Since mains gas does not exist in France, most people cook by connecting a bottle of gas to the oven - trust me, this is never as straightforward as it sounds - and first you have to get the cumbersome, heavy thing home from the local Intermarché. (Recently, a friend admitted that replacing the gas bottle was also her chief concern when she split up with her other half shortly after moving to France. Fortunately, she has since acquired a very nice live-in boyfriend who takes care of the problem).
The last time I had to perform the loathesome maneouvre was just over a year ago. After wrestling the enormous empty bottle - as heavy as a slab of concrete - into the boot of my car and back to the supermarket, I struggled home with the new, even heavier, bottle only to find that I couldn't undo the valve. I tried everything including pliers, a spanner and a wrench-like thing that I found in the garage with no success and then - rather than take the blasted bottle back to the supermarket - waited several days for a passing friend to do it.
He finally managed to undo the valve but not before declaring that was probably faulty and pointing out that I'd bought the wrong kind of gas (there are at least half a dozen colours of bottle to choose from). By this point, I'd lost the will to live and was happy to take the risk.
Since then, I have been living in fear - not of being blown up by a faulty bottle - but of the pesky thing running out again. (The worst fear is that it will run out at an untimely moment such as Christmas day or when you've got people over for dinner.)
It finally did so on Saturday afternoon while I was in the middle of making parsnip soup. Since Luis was nowhere to be seen - really what's the point of having un copin if they can't take care of this chore - and since I was going out to dinner with friends, I put off the dreaded gas bottle run until this morning. But I got to the local Intermarché this morning only to find that the gas bottle kiosk has changed its opening times and was closed.
The gas bottle business is enough to make you want to hit a bottle of a different kind.