Thursday, 21 February 2008
My first winter in the house 1
As I said in my last post Czech winters have a special place in my heart. One reason for this is the fact that the first time I ever stayed in our newly purchased Czech home was in the terrible winter of a couple of years ago. All over central Europe roofs were collapsing under the weight of impacted snow. We had bought the house a few weeks before the winter had begun, when we had sat in shirt sleeves in the warm late autumn sunshine. By early February the landscape had changed utterly - the snow was several feet deep in the yard and the house was completely frozen.
We hadn't had time to do anything to the house to make it winterproof and certainly not for one of the worst winters in living memory. The family who sold it to us had assured us that they hadn't had any problems with frozen pipes, and we poor suckers believed them. When asked where the stopcock was, they had taken us out of the yard and up the hill for several hundred metres to the farm above our house. There was the stopcock - but unfortunately for us it was also the stopcock for the water supply to the farm and half the village, so there was no question of cutting off the water to the house.
Now in February with the temperature about minus 15 I arrived for my first stay in our new home. We had arranged that a lady from the nearby town go to the house each day for the week before, light the woodstoves and start the process of warming the place up in time for my arrival. I arrived at my puppeteer friend's house in Cesky Krumlov in the evening. As we sat down to a mug of tea, I noticed something was up. "How are things?" I asked.
"Well since you ask, the toilet exploded this morning!" My friend went on to explain that the poor woman had arrived at the house and stoked up the stove, when the pipe leading to the toilet exploded spraying a fountain of ice cold water into the bathroom. She had run into the village and the neighbours had run to her aid - one, a retired plumber, had spent an hour fighting the torrent and getting soaked. My friend had been dreading my reaction. I just started to laugh.
"Why are you laughing? It's not funny, the poor man will probably get pneumonia." I explained that I was very sorry for the man (I would get him a bottle of rum by way of thanks) and for the poor woman. I felt sorry too for my friend who had clearly been worrying about my reaction all day. But I deserved what had happened, for believing the family in the first place - wishful thinking in the face of what was obvious. The old house was getting her own back on us. Although the Czechs don't think of their houses as female, to my mind ours obviously was - an cantankerous elderly aunt who you ignored at your peril: "You think you can disappear off to England and leave me here unloved and uncared for, I'll show you," she was saying.
My friend, relieved, pointed out that there was now no water in the bathroom and so no toilet. That combined with the problems of heating - the house had barely got above freezing meant surely that I would not be staying in the house this time. No, I still wanted to, it was important to me. It would be "an awfully big adventure" I told her. She laughed, "How very British of you. Your neighbours will think you are mad."