I feel as though I’m on a nightmarish roundabout in a hitchcockesque movie that sends you round and round in circles until you’re driven completely mad. Today I received a letter from SDE24, the organisation apparently charged with the responsibility of connecting me up to the electrical system. But reading between the lines, they’re not, as I’ll go on to explain.
They actually go by the grandiose name of Syndicat Départemental d’Energies de la Dordogne and it would appear that like many public sector organisations in France, they have an over-arching responsibility for nothing very much of any practical value, although you can bet your breeches that they cost the taxpayer a fortune.
Any right-minded person can see that if you have a nationwide, nationalised organisation like EDF it should be easy for a new client (like myself) to ask to be connected up and for them to do so. But not so here in France, where the main objective is to keep people in ‘jobs’ and off the unemployment register no matter what the cost. And you do that by creating lots of separate quangoes and ‘bureaux’ and ‘syndicats’ that can play pass-the-parcel with ‘dossiers’ and hang out even the simplest operation for the maximum amount of time so as to be seen to be ‘doing something’.
A ‘syndicat’ is a union. Now you may ask yourself, what need can there possibly be for a ‘union’ of ‘energies’ (and a départmental one at that, so there’s one in every départment in France presumably) and what role can it possibly play? And you might well be right to do so, given the letter I’ve just received.
The letter is headed ‘request to extend the electrical supply – commune of Fleurac’ at which point you might do a doubled-take, as I did. I’m not asking to extend Fleurac’s electrical supply – I’m only asking for my plot of land to be connected up, like millions of others all over France. But reading between the lines, you can see what’s coming here.
By asking for the electrical supply to be ‘extended’, that will probably involve a major study I’m almost certain. That will involve France Telecom, to ensure that no telephone lines will be affected, and Véolia to make sure that they won’t cut into any water mains. And that, of course, will be both time-consuming and costly. And who will be paying? Why, the client ie me of course.
The letter informs me that SDE24 will arrange for a visit on site by a ‘technical team’ – all this to do what the chap from the contractor sent down by Enedis did a week ago ie confirm that there’s a plastic tube already in the ground into which cable can be fed the few metres to connect me up. They grandiosely also inform me that ‘my dossier is complete’ ie they require no further information, and that they will keep me informed of the ‘study’ effected by the team. With a ‘devis’ for the work they propose also, presumably.
But then comes the the coup-de-grace that makes you want to stick pins in your eyes. They suggest that in order to effect my connection request I should, in parallel, make a connection request without delay to Enedis. So SDE24 will be doing nothing except laying a cable in the ground (I’m guessing here…) and it will still be up to Enedis to actually make the connection.
My mind boggles. At this rate I can’t see me being connected before Christmas. I have never before in my whole life encountered such monumental, crass stupidity and inefficiency. And they all think that they are so bloody intelligent and clever.
Now the next bit. On Tuesday I received the ‘devis’ to connect me to the water main that passes across the top of my land. There’s an access cover there in which it will be a simple matter to make a connection and then I want a water meter and valve to be placed a metre or so away from it, in a ‘regard’, which I think is a plastic box-like inspection chamber. For this I have been presented with a bill of over 1500€ which I must pay in advance of commencement of the work.
It appears that I was wrong when I previously said that Véolia is a nationalised monopoly. It isn’t. The French government owns something like 10% of it, but it is still a monopoly as there is no other water company supplying Fleurac. So I have the choice as to whether I pay this bill, which I think is somewhat extortionate, or not. However, if I choose the latter, I just won’t be connected. Oh, and I forgot to mention, the 1500€+ also includes 20% of VAT, so the government is in for a double helping. Welcome to France’s Brave New (Public Sector) World.
Now onto other things. If all of the morons that I’m dealing with do ever manage to get me connected up to services, even if they can just give me firm dates on which the miraculous events will happen (some hope) then I’ll be able to start thinking seriously again about getting my life in my caravan onto a more organised footing. This is by no means a trivial matter as I’ll be living in the caravan for a good year and you can ‘t do very much living inside a box that is just under 6 metres long and less than 2.5 metres wide with most of that space being taken up by fittings and furniture.
So you have to think about the outside and I’ve already started doing that by acquiring a metal store with a footprint of around 13 m² in which I will be able to keep my ride-on mower, tools and other items. When I can decide where to put it and make a base for it, that is. But I’ve also got other stuff that used to live outside and which will be a great adjunct to the caravan, especially if the current rather miserable, cool, wet weather improves and we end up actually getting a summer.
These include my large glass-topped table with chairs and large parasol and my smaller round glass-topped table and its smaller round parasol, all of which are currently being stored at my old neighbour, Chantal’s house. I can’t do anything with them until I know when I’ll be moving my caravan back up to the top of my land and obviously from what I’ve written above, I have no idea when that might be.
But there’s also something else. When I came from the UK I brought with me a suite of whicker-work conservatory (verandah for my European friends) furniture, comprising a round glass-topped table and four chairs plus a 2-seater sofa and two armchairs. They’ve seen better days and for most of the time, the latter were stored upstairs gathering dust in the ‘grenier’. But they’re still perfectly OK for garden furniture, especially until such time as my new house has been completed and I have a fancy ‘terrasse’ for something better to go on.
But I don’t want to just have them standing out in the open – they have cushions on for a start – and I don’t want to have to keep covering and uncovering them or taking things like cushions inside (where there’s no space anyway) to protect them from the weather. That’s when I had the idea of getting a ‘tonnelle’.
A ‘tonnelle is a bit like a fancy tent. It’s more stylish than a marquee, but when erected it can be left up to protect anything inside from the weather. Plus it’s also nice enough to sit inside in the shade, for a meal or drinks, for example. I was searching for ‘tonnelles’ on the internet and prices, as usual, varied dramatically. I wanted one with side curtains that can be secured to protect the contents and these varied in price from around 300€ to over 1000€ depending on specification (and snob value). And then there was always delivery on top of that.
I then came across someone offering just what I was after, a ‘tonnelle’ of 4m x 3m, for only 80€, brand new and unopened in its carton, and when on further investigation I found that they had 4 of them, I thought that it would be well worth a visit. I was already thinking that I’d be hard-pushed to get a table plus 4 chairs and a 3-piece suite into a single 4m x 3m ‘tonnelle’ but at over 300€ a pop, there was no way that I could justify buying more than one. But at 80€…
And so it was that I found myself yesterday trekking off back to the Gironde. But it was worth it. I’d already decided that I’d have one anyway – after all, I might not need it again after the year in the caravan, but after it had been brought down to my car, I opened up the pack to check its quality. And it was pretty good! So I offered 140€ for two and ending up paying 150€ – 75€ each. And at that price if I don’t need the second one for any reason (although I think I will) I’ll be able to sell it on in any case.
Here’s a shot (of the carton label) that shows what I came home with.
I got back to Fleurac just before 7.00 pm after a drive of over 2½ hours each way but I think that the trip was worth it. I’ve not been feeling too well for the last few days – I think perhaps I might have a summer virus of some kind – and felt very tired as well as a bit rough. So after unloading my two ‘tonnelles’ I crashed out, for about an hour, which surprised me. However, I’m feeling better today so perhaps that was what I needed to help me turn the corner 😉
Wow. It appears that my comments about SDE24 were harsh and totally unjustified. A neighbour who is acquainted with SDE24 appeared on my doorstep a half hour or so ago and said that I needed to go with him to meet a man from SDE24 who was about to arrive on site. When I arrived up at the top if my land the mayor was there as well so it looks as though a few cages may have been rattled.
The mayor left and shortly afterwards the man from SDE24 arrived. He said that they’d received the request from Enedis on 3rd August and had immediately actioned it, as was evident from the date of the letter I received this morning. He confirmed what we already knew and said that now things would be accelerated and not only that, but as the length of cable will be less than 100 metres, I shouldn’t need to make a contribution as SDE24/the commune should pay (if I understood correctly).
I’ll still need to pay Enedis for the connection, however, and it still looks as though I’ll have to wait until September for that. Then there was lots of conversation (as usual in France) between the two of them, much of which I couldn’t understand, but it looks as though progress is being made, albeit slowly…