Life returns to normal

No longer stuck in front of my spreadsheets; instead I’m sitting on a cafe terrace, waiting for my two new tyres to be  fitted. I shudder to think of the cost.

Otherwise I continue my morning walks – shortened for the time being as my hip is really hurting. ( I have a rendezvous with a surgeon – a woman – in Montpellier in three weeks. Then I think I have to hang in there until my summer visits are over.).

April is really a wonderful month, despite the variable weather. Almost all the trees have their wonderful fresh young leaves, splashes of white blossom decorate the hillsides, the purple and yellow irises are still magnificent (despite last night’s high winds), and the roses are joining them.  And in the view from Serres,my house is peers discreetly from behind the growing blanket of green.  The photo cleverly misses out on the neighbouring houses.

I can’t resist another picture of the pool, my excuse being the yellow irises in front.

We are now entering the final stages. Jacky is in Montpellier today, to pick up the pump. The electrician has to come to instal this, together with the pool’s own circuit board. Jacky has tidied up most of what has been a building site for several months round the pool, he has sown grass seed but still has some trees and shrubs to plant. Then we have to wait for the water… …

This is where life resembles Manon des Sources. I have water rights attached to my land. Everybody is in agreement. The trouble is that over the last two decades neighbours above have destroyed and built over the old canal, as well as replacing a magnificent bassin by a particularly ugly pool. The management of water rights and the works needed to effect them (in my case) are controlled by the kings of the valley, Jaques and Eric Combernoux. I need a pipe to run from the source, some 500 metres away, but I’m having the greatest difficulty in getting Eric to produce a quote, let alone do the work. Last time I badgered him he said we could always run a temporary hosepipe along the back road to my land.

Jacky is going to nobble him in the next two weeks. He rightly said that however genial he is, Eric was more likely to respond to another ‘enfant du pays’ – and a man. So I suppose I must be patient and plan a grand filling towards the end of May

Tax returns


I get worked up about these every year – and every year vow that from now on I will file the necessary information and enter it on the spreadsheet throughout the year rather than have a last minute panic. Well, it is not quite last-minute as the deadline is over a month away, but I don’t want these hanging over me when there are visitors.   As a foreigner, I have to complete two additional forms over and above the main income tax form 2042.

It is quite scary completing forms written in sometimes incomprehensible French administrative language, though this is much easier if done online. When the online forms were first introduced early in our years here they were absolutely diabolic; now they have improved vastly and are really rather good (though the ‘helpful’ popup hints are still scarily incomprehensible to a foreigner).

I maintain a spreadsheet showing all sources of income, whether remaining in sterling or being transferred to euros. Given that my USS pensions are transferred to my French bank every month and the amount fluctuates according to the exchange rates, I have to enter all the monthly figures into my spreadsheet.

This is the worst bit, as my French bank has an absolutely awful website (unlike Nationwide) and I had to download 12 pdf files separately. The site went down several times while doing this., so it took me all yesterday afternoon.

Then I have to apply an average annual exchange rate to my state pension, which stays in the UK.  (If I were a foreigner living in the UK, the British Government does a handy conversion calculator, but I can’t use this in reverse as the tax year here is January to December.)  I have tracked down an annual rate on the ECB site.  Last year 1€ was worth an average of £0.849.

A big difference between the two countries is the method of paying income tax.  Tax is not deducted at source, so I pay it up front.  As I have opted for ten monthly payments, from January to October, I am currently paying tax for 2013 income, in advance of the tax declaration.  As sterling was down slightly on the previous year my actual income was also down, so I expect to get a tiny rebate back in October.


What next?

Interestingly I seem completely calm about continuing setbacks.

The day started at the Centre de radiography in Ganges, where I actually had quite a good visit.  I got my echogrphy almost immiately and then the doctor said he was pleased to tell me that there were no anomalies in either gall bladder, liver or kidneys.  No galls stones – so now all I have to do is wait to hear what Maëlle has to say about my problematic kidney blood test results.

Then I saw the rhumatologue, Dr Guérin, who is beginning to grow on me.  He gave me the third and final knee injection and then did an electrogram of the nerves in my left arm and hand.  Here the news was unfortunately not good: I have carpal tunnel syndrome in the left hand and wrist which he says needs to be seen to, and the first signs of it in the right hand.  He wouldn’t be drawn to the cause, but reading between the lines of what he said, it could have been the problems I had after the shoulder operation with a swollen wrist and hand which sparked off the CTS.  At any rate, I suspect more visits to specialists and another, albeit relatively minor, operation. He has written a letter to the shoulder surgeon, whom I see in May.

In the afternoon the man arrived to empty my septic tank.  He reversed his lorry through my entrance gate with centimetres to spare.  Then he and a work experience lad passed a giant pipe behind the house into my septic tank (at present covered with a bed of purple irises).  This is the same man who has emptied our septic tanks for the past 14 years.  He works for CCA (Cévennes Containers & Assainissement) which is another of those curious private-public affairs.  It is a private company, but working hand in hand with SIVOM (Syndicat Intercantonal à Vocation Multiple) which looks after everything to do with drains and sewers for the 22 communes which make up the Pays Viganais. The bill was 424 euros.  Not as bad as I feared, but still, that brings the unscheduled expenditure for April to 2000 euros!!


Setbacks and mishaps

I seem to have had a particularly disaster prone month.

The day before the family arrived, I had friends to lunch and during the meal felt distinctly unwell.  The instant response of one guest and of Deborah was gall-stones.  So, I fitted in a trip to my new doctor, Maëlle,who seemed inclined to agree, but wanted more information.  So I went off for a blood test. I haven’t discussed the results with the doctor yet, but the report from the lab seemed to show that I have some serious problems with my kidneys 🙁  Today I had another blood test, I think in order to discount thyroid problems. And tomorrow I have an ecography of liver and kidneys and then an electrogram of my hand and arm, in an effort to track down the cause of my numb fingers, and then an injection in my knee (to stave off operating on it)!  I’ll know more about all these tests when I see Maëlle on the 5th.

Then, a few days ago, coming up from the guest house, where I have been sleeping, I came into the drive, glanced across to see if anybody was up yet – and on the right side, scraped against the cherry tree, smashing two windows!  I was devastated.  Ed did a good temporary patch up, today the windows were replaced (316€) – and the garage pointed out that I needed two new tyres urgently (MOT equivalent looming next month).

At the same time, the washing machine packed up – electronic dials bizarre and start button stuck.  I ordered and paid for a replacement washing machine while returning from Montpellier airport.  And then yesterday, I fiddled around and managed to unjam the stuck start button!  Too late to cancel the order, so my old machine (12 years) will go down to the guesthouse.  Another expensive mistake.

Then yesterday my two septic tanks had their five-year inspection (180€) each.  Both passed, but the main one has to be emptied asap.  This is happening tomorrow and I dread to think what the cost is.

Curiously, despite this chapter of mishaps I’m feeling philosophic rather than devastated. Ed and Jude were very supportive and that helped.

Jude and family visit

A long silence on this blog while I enjoyed a ten-day visit by Jude and family. Both Ella and Maddie were on great form.

Ella is growing up rapidly. In ten days, she kept announcing, she would be four and a half. Wonderfully cheery and garrulous most of the time (one or two lapses when she failed to get that extra portion of cake or when a parent attempted to brush her tangles) she lives much of the time in a world of princesses, witches and mermaids. She brought an army of princesses with her (infinitely preferable to barbie dolls) and acquired two pocket sized ones here. These lead an active life as the personages in her endless stories and adventures.
Her adventures are imaginative and story telling highly accomplished. On the journey back to the airport she kept us entertained with Snow White – discussing the different versions she has been given by the nursery and by Deborah. (She then listened rapt while Jude told the tale of the Tudors, from the War of the Roses up to the death of Elizabeth.)
Maddie, who will be one this coming weekend, was absolutely adorable.  She has an infectious smile – so like Jude’s at this age – and spent much of her time travelling around with  a peculiar crawl/bottom shuffle (again reminiscent of Jude’s).  She is very vocal now, letting out amazing screeches every time she spotted Poppy. Sadly I could do little to help, given I could not use my left arm to lift her.
We were lucky with the weather: eight out of ten days of sun, albeit sometimes a bit chilly for me.  (Bennion-Pedleys don’t notice low temperatures…). The family went for several walks; Ella was able to do the circuit round our valley and the riverside walk from le Vigan to Avèze. We enjoyed riverside picnics and paddles and a successful trout fishing trip (Ella is unphased by grownups having to bash the fish over the head, Jude and I less so.
The pony riding trip was as great a success as Otto’s.  Ella had a larger pony this time – almost a horse – called Texas. Next time she will have more riding lessons.
And when finally it rained – for the last two days – Ella produced some splendid pictures – princesses and magic of course – and Maddie discovered she could shuffle/crawl in circles round the house, as well as share her play mat with Poppy.

Nerdy Frances

Last year I started to use some public domain software called WordPress to write this blog, as well as slowly transferring the rest of my website to WordPress.  Things have moved on so much since I first started personal publishing on the web a dozen years ago.  In those days I had either to use complicated and expensive (less if ‘borrowed’…) software as well as being able to understand a bit about code.  Blogging tools or content management systems like WordPress have changed all this.  And better still, the basic system is free.

When I first started writing with microcomputers in the eighties, one of my early word-processing applications was Wordstar, and to this day I can remember that to make text bold you had to type ctrl+kb at the start of the text and ctrl+kk at the end.  (And you did not see the result till you printed.) So you had to memorise a range of sequences like this.  Then along came the graphic user interface (GUI), pioneered by Apple, with applications like MacWrite, later picked up by Microsoft with Word, where you could select formatting options for text from a toolbar or menu – and see the results immediately.

The transition to WordPress is a bit like this for web publishing: it is intuitive, code is hidden behind toolbars, menus and themes (like templates), and suddenly publishing becomes accessible to the masses, reducing dependence on technical staff. There has been a resultant explosion in the number of personal blogs like mine.  (In my case I do it mainly for my own pleasure rather than a desire to tell the world at large about my activities. It is therefore a bit like a semi-public personal diary.)

I’ve been finding the WordPress way of treating images a bit limited (unless I wanted to go back to writing code myself).  So last week I tried a new piece of software, or ‘plugin’, which works within WordPress to manage photos.  I chose a plugin called NextGen because it seemed to be one of the most widely used.  I have had several days of grief with it and wasted far too much time going onto forums for answers.

Then this morning I read about another plugin called Envira, installed it, and converted the April 6 images to it, all within the space of a couple of hours.  Typically I have yet to read the documentation…   It’s working hunky dory and I’m feeling rather pleased with myself.

Well, if I can’t be very physically active, can’t (as yet) play the cello much and am not good at reading, it is a good way to keep the brain cells working 🙂



Not the best of birthdays

Still reeling from yesterday’s scans, I started my birthday by tucking into my usual breakfast of coffee and toast.  Out came the large upper right bridge. Phoned my dentist who said come in at 6pm (I suppose the bonus for having dreadful teeth is I don’t have to wait for appointments).

Then off to my physio session at the cabinet which I don’t like; I regard the physiotherapist as more of a manager of a private gym rather than as a caring physio like Joceline.  Did 200 goes on the machine where I pull down weights, and 50 goes on the machine where I lie o my back pushing up weights (agony).  All the time observing the staff and the other patients and getting more grumpy about the whole setup. (The pool where I do my other weekly session is quite another story: a serious, hardworking – and extremely good-looking- physio, who gives me a whole range of exercises which I can see are very sensible.)

Then dash back to collect Poppy to take her for toilettage – hairdresser to cut off her winter coat.  I collected her 90 minutes later.  Not a happy dog.  Worse still, when we got home, we had to stay indoors, despite the lovely weather, because today is the day when Jack and a friend are putting on the final coat for the pool.  This time we dont want a scattering of doggy footprints, so no allowing Poppy to push her ball over the edge into the pool – her favourite game.

A brief pleasant moment eating a birthday cake with Hans and Margaret – and then off to the dentist, who glued back the bridge, but said one of the teeth holding it in place is falling apart.  So,another appointment in May and the prospect of yet another tooth implant.

Another gloomy health report

Last Thursday Maëlle (the doctor) gave me an ordonnance to get my lower back and left hip scanned, to establish which is the cause of the pain. Today (Monday) I had the scans in Ganges (Could the poor old NHS organise this in a matter of days? Though strictly speaking it was I, the patient, who did the organising by ringing the radiology centre.)

The result was not good news: both are in poor shape.  Obviously I now have to go back to the GP for interpretation, but given this is France, I own my X-rays and scans (I have the CD with all the images on it) and the radiologist gives his report to me rather than my doctor.

Anyhow, there seems to be a lot of problems with arthritis in the lumbar discs 3-5, which would explain the sciatica.  As to the hip, the radiologist said that I needed to a specialist (plus ERM), but it looked as if the cement holding the 2000 hip replacement is crumbling.  Plus he noted a fracture to the pelvic socket!  Well, that certainly wasn’t there last time I had x-rays, in 2011.


Walk along River Arre

Beautiful warm sunny day.  Poppy and I walked along the river from le Vigan almost to Avèze and back. Apart from a group of scruffy picnickers there was hardly a soul out – the advantage of walking at mid-day. I finished at the riverside beside the old Romanesque bridge.