Spring progresses

Despite last week’s variable weather – two or three days of miserable rain and some unseasonably chilly weather – spring has suddenly taken a leap forward.  It is magical the way the trees suddenly acquire their fresh young leaves and the irises are coming out.

I heard a cuckoo two days ago, today it was much louder.  And we are now treated to a raucous choir of frogs every evening, joined later by the sound of owls.  No sound of the nightingales, which suddenly started singing in February, thinking it was time, and then were silent. As always I wish I could easily identify the little birds which are darting around in the trees in front of my study window.

Concert in Arrigas

I had a wonderful, unscheduled lunch and afternoon with a new friend, Dessa, whom I bumped into in the market.  She has a superbly restored and modernised massive old granite house, high above St Andre de Majencoules, with magnificent, panoramic views to the south, with Camias and Le Rey way down at the bottom of the valley. (No photos as it needed my wide angle lens to do it justice.)  I’ve run out of superlatives for house and view; Poppy was less enthusiastic about her six large dogs, some of whom were being a little territorial.

Just got back in time to recover before going to a concert in Arrigas with Christine Capieu.  I always love the drive to Arrigas, over the hill at Mouzoules, the beautiful descent to Aumessas and then the final winding road to Arrigas, a tiny village just this side of the tunnel which separates the pay viganais with Alzon and the road to Aveyron and the motorway.

Arrigas had a turbulent history during the wars of religion, and its 12th century church was completely destroyed.  Its replacement dates from the 17th century and is quite extraordinary.  I think it is the shock of entering a Catholic church in this predominantly protestant region, but one is hit by the extravagant use of ornamentation and colour, the abundance of statues of course, and some really elegant chandeliers.  The acoustic is good, so this is a popular venue for concerts like yesterday’s.

The first half was an ensemble of recorder players, aided by their teacher plus the Bréau primary school teacher.  It was really not bad for school kids, though not a patch on one I heard a few years back with two outstanding pupils (one the son of my builder) and the teacher.

The second half was a group of four men playing the sackbut (I prefer the French version – sacqueboute), the predecessor to the modern trombone.  The trombone is not my favourite instrument, but the sackbut is definitely a less harsh, acceptable version for me.  But I cannot say that the music, mainly seventeenth century, set me on fire.  Not helped by the fact that I am not a fan of  one of the four musicians who is the director of our local école de musique.  (In particular I don’t think he makes enough effort to promote string playing and in particular to make the case for a cello teacher for le Vigan.)



Bassin (pool) progresses

View from drive beside house
Foreground: will be sitting area beside pool with plants
Decking for sun worshippers.
Douglas fir, will darken when aged.


Under decking, storage for seating and pool toys
…and dogs
View of neighbour’s house will be partially hidden behind plants


Continuing saga of me and the French health system

I have not talked about my health for the past six weeks, partly to give readers a break.  But much of this time has been taken up with trips to physiotherapists.

I have continued to see Joceline, my usual kiné, twice a week.  She gently manipulates and massages the joints and muscles.  I don’t know whether it is helping or not, but I have increasing understanding of what she is trying to do and respect for the way she thinks about my problems.

All that is using the clinic’s original prescription made when I left at the end of January.  At the same time I have been using the surgeon’s prescription to have two sessions a week with a more traditional physio, since the surgeon wanted me to work with pulleys and weights, to try to hasten the strengthening of the tendons and muscles.

There is not much choice in le Vigan and I have ended up with a practise which to me feels more like a business gym than a physiotherapy centre.  There is an impressive array of kit and while others pedal and work on treadmills, I puff away doing over a hundred pulls on a complicated machine with pulleys, followed by an even more exhausting lifting of weights (lying on my back pushing the weights up).  There is little personal contact with the physio – ‘le grand chef’ as the secretary (his sister) refers to him – who wanders around dispensing encouragement and little words of advice to people.  I reckon the others (mainly women) are regulars.  Some come armed with plates of  home baked biscuits (there is much exchanging of recipes – not by me…).

One of the two sessions I spend in the pool.  This is quite different.  The physio is a handsome young man with a pleasant, sympathetic manner, who works hard at giving each person  routine for their particular ailment.  I find the exercises, which are much more ike those I was doing in the clinic, have an obvious relation to the needs to make my shoulder more mobile.  Yesterday one of the other women was someone who I had already met in the pulleys and pedals room.  One of the baking enthusiasts, she was also a failed candidate on the Divers Droite list in le Vigan – I get the feeling that the general politics at the kiné is right rather than left.  About 50, she simply fell at work, broke both arms and tore the tendons in her shoulder.

Am I getting better?  Well, my mobility is better, though for me the acid test, reaching for the cups on the second shelf up in the kitchen, has not yet been passed.  But worryingly my hand problems remain: in particular the thumb and first two fingers are both numb and sensitive.  I know the surgeon has said that this will eventually disappear, but I am not convinced.  Nor is Joceline and she has urged me to see a  local doctor.

Rather than going to my rather strait laced, uncommunicative GP, I made an appointment to see the young woman who is currently renting the other room in his practice for two days a week.  Maëlle is the daughter of a friend of mine and her husband, a goat farmer, is the nephew of Jacky, the guy building my pool! I shouldn’t be surprised, as the ‘alternative’ society here is quite a small network.

This is the second time I have seen Maëlle.  I went to ask  for advice rather than treatment, both concerning my hand and my left hip, which is becoming increasingly painful and disabling. I was delighted with the nature of the session (She took nearly an hour with me!).  She is young, friendly and informal (she instantly used tu rather than vous).  More important, she really listened and in her examination took pains to explain problems, diagnoses, options, and was ready to admit that she was not at all sure of the cause of either problem.

The problems with my fingers are almost certainly caused by a pinched or damaged nerve, but the question is where – hand, wrist, elbow or shoulder.  She rang a couple of people to find out the best place to send me for an electromyogram of the hand (she is too young and new to know her way round the specialists yet).  I’m getting this done at the end of this month by the rheumatologist in Ganges (the same one who is injecting my knee tomorrow!).

Her take on my hip was more depressing. I have convinced myself (and Joceline agrees) that the increasing pain is because the original hip replacement, dating from 2000, is wearing out. Maëlle was not sure that the problem was not my back, as many of the symptoms suggest pressure on the sciatic nerve.  Or it could be both.  Anyhow, she has given me another prescription, for a scan of the sacra lumbar region of the spine and the left hip.  I get these done on Monday. It sounds silly, but I’m hoping it is just my hip and that the problem can be resolve by a new hip replacement this autumn.

Another decision I have to make, probably quite soon, is whether to switch doctors.  For years Chris and I were looked after by Doctor Steimer, who retired a couple of years ago..  I have never been at ease with his replacement.  He is a decent enough man, but much more strait-laced and conventional than Steimer, and I don’t get the feeling that he listens.  It is true he has taken over a huge practice – that of both Steimers, husband and wife.

Maëlle is about to open a new practice with two other doctors, one of whom is an acupuncturist.  The emphasis will be much more on Chinese and alternative medicine, alongside traditional stuff. The main problem is that Maëlle has four small children (including toddler twins), plus she and her husband are home educating the two older ones, at least for the time being.  She she  is unlikely to work for more than two days a week for the foreseeable future. On the other hand, it is getting increasingly difficult to see my current doctor  within a week, unless I say it is urgent.  So what have I got to lose? Or rather, what have I got to gain: a young, personable GP who listens and explains and would be there for the years to come.


French politics in a mess

Everybody agrees that the results of the local elections last month were no so much about local politics, but more a statement of disaffection with the Government and in particular François Hollande. Support for the Right did not really increase; rather the Socialist Party did not manage to get its supporters out to vote.

The FN vote was a result of slick, clever political strategy by Marine Le Pen, disaffection with the UMP and the usual tendency to blame others – Europe and immigrants – for things going wrong. I can’t decide whether this support is here to stay or not.  I hope NOT.

The press find it very easy to take a tilt at Hollande, and it is true that he lacks both charisma (thank goodness!) and decisiveness.  What people were really voting about (or not voting) was his management of the economy and failure to halt the rise in unemployment. (None of this applied to little communes like ours, of course, where there was no party politics as such – even though this area has a strong record of being controlled from afar by the Socialist Party.)

But it is also difficult to know what room he has actually had to manoeuvre, given the inherently conservative nature of most French people. They might agree to change in principle but complain when this affects them.  In particular there has been the dilemma of how to sustain the state’s services, in particular education and health, while attempting to reduce debt.  In fact, to Hollande’s credit, much of the debt reduction was initially  achieved by not increasing budgets and by raising taxes (got a lot of negative press for this).  More recently he has been forced to yield to reducing business charges and agreeing to cut government spending instead.

There are some disturbing comparisons that can be made between Hollande and Miliband, both in terms of the dilemma of pushing for left wing policies but remaining credible with banks and businessman, and the fact that neither man sets the electorate on fire.

Hollande’s cabinet reshuffle is strange.  I’m glad Royal is back.  But the  really interesting appointments are Manuel Valls as Prime Minister and Arnaud Montebourg as minister for economics (industry and economic policy) and Sapin as minister of finance. I don’t know much about Valls other than he seems to be on the right wing of the Socialist Party (referred to by the British Press as the French equivalent of a Blairite).  He has made alarming noises about immigration, which makes him unpopular with the left but perhaps reassures non-Socialist voters.

Montebourg was a candidate for the Presidency and  the impression I gained then was of someone very much on the left, but personally ambitious and with a tendency to be abrasive. He has been outspoken in the past about globalisation and favours a keynesian growth strategy for dealing with the budget deficit. Sapin is apparently  on the right, social democrat wing of the party and therefore more likely to go for austerity rather than growth.

So it remains to be seen whether this is a clever balancing act between ‘safe’ politicians to reassure the electorate and Montebourg to help him retain some semblance of socialist programme, or whether this is a last desperate attempt to govern which will fall apart.