Owning a chalet in the Swiss Alps was the fulfilment of a dream, but we hadn't reckoned on unforeseen complications. First, we arrived to find that the local farmer hadn't cleared our long, winding driveway and we began schlepping our stuff through knee-deep snow.
The next hurdle was the heating. Inside the chalet the temperature was an invigorating minus five Celsius, though hopefully cold enough to freeze the silverfish that spent their summer vacation in our cupboard and the spiders and earwigs that loved to nestle in shoes at night.
I quickly lit a fire and braced myself for the final obstacle: Turning on the water. The former owner had told us there were four important steps to take each time we left in winter: close the water main, drain the boilers, leave the taps partly open, and siphon the toilet bowl. Janet and I particularly relished the last job on Sunday afternoons before returning to our apartment in Basel.
Now, turning on the water meant trudging about a hundred metres to a pipe sticking out of a farmer's field, and opening the valve with a special socket key. The water was supposed to rush uphill in the main.
I turned the valve to the right this evening to a rumbling emanating from below ground, rather like a stomach coping with a fondue onslaught. Yet, back at the chalet no water came out of the taps! I slid down the hill again and tried again.
Janet was still busy unloading the car and I decided not to say anything yet about the looming disaster, hoping for a miracle. I plodded back up…and still nothing.
On my weary way down the hill once more, I saw Frans, one of our Dutch neighbours. Frans is a strapping guy who can handle himself, so I outlined the problem and he had a go at tackling the valve, vigorously twisting it back and forth with the key until the sound of a "gush". We were saved, I thought...until we started to retrace our steps and heard a high-pitched screech. Surely it was too soon for Janet to express her Yuletide Joy?
"The bathroom is flooded!" she hollered.
She'd been in the basement, storing a case of Glühwein, when water started to trickle down the walls. We dashed back to find the bathroom sink overflowing onto the floor.
"Didn't you pour antifreeze into the drains?" Frans asked, matter of factly.
Janet had a bright idea for melting the ice, and while hunching under a sink with a hairdryer did nothing to enhance our holiday mood, we persevered for a couple of hours until the ice finally thawed. The temperature was now a steamy +15 degrees Celsius inside.
At last we could celebrate Christmas Eve with our friends. The night was beautiful, with snow glistening from the chain of lights strung along the rafters of our neighbours' farmhouse. We entered their living room and the tree had been decorated and carols played in the background. Putting our presents around the tree, we duly sat down with everyone for a light meal. And, as we listened to Bing Crosby crooning ‘White Christmas', I couldn't help but dream that all our Christmases be… dry.
Cartoon: © Edi Barth
Edi Barth, a Swiss/American cartoonist /tattoo artist, will draw a witty cartoon (also in colour) of whatever subject you want for that special occasion. He is the author of "Menue Surprise" (available from the author). His cartoons and illustrations for ad campaigns have been published in many magazines and newspapers.
Photo: © swiss-image.ch/Christof Sonderegger