Curtains on May

Despite two good visits, from Sally and Peter, I’m glad this month is over.  Apart from the dodgy weather, this has been a month dominated by health issues.  The forthcoming operations on first my hand and later my hip have meant visits to my GP in le Vigan, and three trips to Montpellier, to the two surgeons involved, as well as checkups by anaesthetist, cardiologist and blood tests. The final straw was picking up yet another speeding ticket when coming back from Montpellier the last time.  St Gély is a notorious speed trap, but this time I forgot to put on the car’s automatic speed control.

2014-05-20 pvOh, and I forgot to mention septic tank bills, the root filling and two crowns at the dentist, and two tyres replaced and a third having a puncture repaired.


Plumbing problems

The plumbing in our original little house has always been a nightmare – merci Albert.  The septic tank is at the same height as the bathroom, so the bathroom pipes travel horizontally or possibly even uphill….

We eventually solved the problem for the loo by installing a sanibroyeur – a macerator pump – and thank goodness, since then Chris and our friend Arnard no longer had to periodically débouche this pipe.  The shower pipe has been getting progressively worse, and in preparation for August visitors, I got Joris, the lad who helps  in the garden, to unblock it.  Hopefully this will improve things over the summer.


In September I plan to do a complete overhaul of the bathroom, including installing a sanibroyeur which deals with the shower and basin as well as loo.

Manon des Sources

Two brothers are kings in this valley.  Jaques Combernoux is the farmer, with an ever expanding empire of onion terraces.  He also  inherited from his father the responsibility (right?) to direct the flow of water from various sources in the hills above us through the ancient network of béals – the irrigation canals.  Obviously an awful lot of it goes to the onion fields …  His brother, Eric, is the builder:  you see him driving around in his lorries and bulldozers, shifting earth, rocks, sand and cement.  Jaques is the smooth operator; Eric is the wilder looking one, who does not care what anybody thinks of him.  He knows he is king and one of his two sons has recently been elected to the council and will inevitably one day end up maire.

I am assured by all that my land has water rights (I have not checked how many hours a week).  In February I went to Jaques to discuss how I could be connected to the system.  It will not be easy as I am about 500 metres from the source and the béal above my house has been broken by the three houses built in recent years.  But I am assured this is not a problem as a pipe can be run along the site of the old béal.    Jaques referred me to Eric, who has promised since then to come and sort this out.  A week ago he stopped me and said he would come this week.  This morning he said he would pass by at the start of next week.

This is getting very urgent as the bassin is now complete.  It needs filling so the water can warm up before Jude and family come in a month. It awaits, lovely but dry.


Post election trauma

Our local voting station in Serres
Our local voting station in Serres

Four days on from the European elections and all my friends here are in acute depression over the results in France.  The size of the Front National (FN) vote took people by surprise, and what hurt was that the local results reflected the national trends.

Many have waxed lyrical, bitter and angry against these results, for example, in the Huffington Post:

Je me suis donc réveillée avec une colère dirigée non plus vers nos partis politiques, mais vers ceux qui ont déposé un bulletin FN dans les urnes. Comment, aujourd’hui, en tant que citoyen du pays des Droits de l’homme, pays des Lumières, pays de Montesquieu a-t-on pu en arriver là ? Comment peut-on voter pour un parti dont l’ancien Président a dit que “les camps de concentrations ne sont qu’un détail de la seconde guerre mondiale.

Yes, I am  despairing that people can be racist, blindly anti- immigrants and can vote so stupidly.

Le Monde presented a good breakdown of the election results.

This makes for grim reading.  We are part of the South West, which has nine seats in the European Parliament.  Historically a stronghold of the Socialists, the Front National were well out in front, with 24.71% of the votes and therefore three MEPs. The UMP and Union de la Gauche (Socialists etc) trailed with 18 and 15% respectively, and two MEPs each, while the Greens and Modem (French equivalent of the Liberals) each get one MEP.  Things are complicated by the low turnout and the presence of 27 parties or alliances!  But it is enough to make you despair.

The results from our two nearest cities, Nimes and Montpellier don’t make for good reading. Nimes has been in the hands of the right for some time now, but the Front National and the UMP together captured 50% of the votes!  Montpellier is marginally better, with the FN getting 18% of the votes, just ahead of the Greens and Socialists – but that is in a city with a Socialist council.

Bréau’s results are as idiosyncratic as you might expect from this area and given that only 189 out of 363 people on the electroal roll voted (excluding the ‘blancs’) one hopes that not too much can be made of it.  Nevertheless, to know that 29 people votes for the FN is depressing.  The high returns for the Greens and the Front de Gauche (extreme left) are not surprising, but they have eaten right into the socialist share.  The high green result might also be affected by the fact that José Bové is local and the strong anti-fracking movement here.

Breau 189 votes cast:

  • 48  Verts (Greens – José Bové)
  • 34  Front de Gauche (extreme left – Mélenchon)
  • 30  Union de la Gauche (Socialists etc)
  • 29  Front National
  • 17  UMP

The only bright note – if like me you happen to be somewhere on the Left – is that the UMP is currently imploding, following its election expenses scandal.  But the Parti Socialiste – and François Hollande?  Oh la la.  What a nightmare.  This social democrat rather than socialist has allowed the party to drift rightwards, towards the centre of the political spectrum – a no-man’s land.  Despite his brave words two years ago, the tax system is in a mess, he is succumbing to spending cuts rather than reform of state expenditure and administration, he seems to talk more to employers than employees, he looks increasingly paralysed when faced with important strategic decisions to make.  The only point to be made in his defence is that – as with Miliband –  I find it totally unfair that the media constantly get at him for lack of charisma.  Do we really want the bling-bling personality of Sarkozy???

Having said all that, I did in fact vote for the PS, but mainly on strategic grounds.  I thought it important not to splinter the left vote into multiple parties if we were to have any hope at all of stopping Juncker becoming president of the EU. As it turns out, the combined number of  PS, FG and ecologist MEPs is still fewer than those for the FN!

If I were in England I would vote Labour, with some confidence that there was a viable alternative Government.  But here…. it is so difficult to know what can be done in France.  No wonder my friends are in despair – for the future of France, and for the future of Europe.

New washing machine, wine and teeth

A long story: my 12 year old Siemens stopped working while Jude and family were here – it looked as if the electronics had packed up, so not worth repairing.  I ordered a new one (600 euros!) on my way back from taking the family to the airport.  Several days later I notices that the button of the old machine was jammed in.  I unjammed it and hey presto the old machine worked again.

It was too late to cancel the new machine, I gave my machine to our old campsite (too old to sell) and have just got my new one.  A terrible, expensive experience.  But I like my new toy.  In particular I can do half loads, and I can stop the machine and add forgotten items for quite a while after the programme has started.

All this in a month when I have had to pay a fortune to have the septic tank empties, replaced the car windows I shattered driving too close to the cherry tree, spent profligately on wine on my trips with Peter, and yesterday had to cough up over 2000€ for a front bridge (unexpected tooth casualty a few weeks ago).  The dentist says that means that he has now worked on every one of my top teeth in the last 12 years.  And its not finished: he may have to crown a bottom tooth to make more room for the new top bridge 🙁

Pre-op preparations

Yesterday I had to get up at crack of dawn to be in Montpellier to see the anaesthetist for my ops.  It was an amazingly efficient visit and showed the French health system at its best (albeit I jib at all these private entrepreneurs).  I saw the aenesthetist spot on at 8.50, she carried out her examinations and then arranged for me to see the cariologist next door and then blood tests down the corridor.  Sooo much easier than the usual multiple trips to Ganges and Montpellier to get these done.  I was whisked from one person to the next with no waiting.

The cardiologist said these examinations are valid for three months, and as my September hip operation is in the same clinic, I won’t have to return for these.  Just as well, as the dossiers I have to cart around are getting bigger and bigger.  The only downside is that as usual I had to cough up for the anaesthetist’s and cardiologists fees, though I do eventually get reimbursed. I will also have to pay up front for the aneesthetist on the day of the ops. I will get reimbursed by mutuelle, but as I know from my shoulder op, this can take weeks of nagging.

Strange May weather

The weather has been unpredictable all month.  The only sure things are that we have had an excessive amount of windy days and temperatures are way below what one expects for May – cooler than it was when Kate and family visited in March!  There have been several days with menacing clouds and downpours – and then two days later, brilliant sunshine:

View towards Mouzoules on 22nd May
View towards Mouzoules on 22nd May
Christine Capieu & Liliane Benoit in the market two days later
Christine Capieu & Liliane Benoit in the market two days later

Date for hip op fixed

Back to Montpellier yesterday, this time to see the hip surgeon.  On word of mouth recommendations  I have chosen a woman surgeon – a first for me – called Mme Marion Bertrand.  First impressions very good, starting with the secretary, who was friendly and informal.  (She spotted my iPad and said she could not bear to be parted from hers for a moment when at home, and later in the evening emailed me asking me if by chance I was the Frances Allen, eminent American computer scientist!)

Mme Bertrand was efficient but also friendly, informal and sympathetic.  She looked at my scans with exclamations of ‘Oo la la’, remarking that the lower spine was distorted and in bad shape, but then agreed the hip had to be dealt with first.  What I liked is she showed me the scans and explained clearly the disaster areas and what needs doing. (I can’t reproduce this here as she has kept the scans for further investigation.)  Basically the cemented socket of the left hip has crumbled away, and the bone above it has a slight fissure.  Though the replacement in the femur itself is not in too bad shape, it will have to be removed as well, in order to get at the socket.  And as this is a type not used on the continent, it could be very difficult to get out and she will probably have to cut down the bone and start the prothèse further down the femur.  Sounds awful and she was not underestimating that this could be a big operation, with far longer recuperation than the original replacement.  But I have no choice: my mobility is diminishing and pain increasing daily.

For this reason she said the six week slot I had suggested between family visits in June and August was too tight to allow for problems.  So we have fixed on the 4 September for this operation.  I will now contact all summer visitors advising them that I’m pretty immobile this year and sadly tell my September visitors I won’t be at home.

The op will be in the Clinique St Roch – the same one as for my hand, so with any luck the anaesthetist’s and cardiologist’s reports will do for the two.  After just a few days I will transfer for réeducation, this time to le Vigan, where I could be for a good month.

Heyho, it looks as if the right knee and then right shoulder will have to wait till 2015 and 2016!

French health administration

I can’t believe how much paperwork I have to complete between now and the 6th June, when my left hand is operated on!

There are so many things that are good about the health system here: little waiting, choice of doctors, high quality of surgical and medical care (not so sure about the nursing), the patients’ right to information about diagnosis and treatment …. ……  The downside to much of this is the fragmentation of the services: doctors, blood laboratories, xray departments, aenesthetists are all independent operations and it seems to be the patient’s responsibility to book all appointments and coordinate information.  I have to make appointments to see my GP (to complete ore forms), the blood laboratoire and cardiologue, anaesthetiste.  I need to go to the pharmacy with the prescription for the special bath preceding the op, to contact my mutuelle to inform them about the op, find out if and who will pay for transport to and from the hospital and if I am entitled to a bed for the night (I am not allowed to be at home alone the night of the op).

The paperwork is diabolic: I have to complete about six forms, including one I have to sign with Margaret, as the nominated contact person, and I have to ensure the dossier also includes my carte vitale (the equivalent of an NHS card), my mutuelle card, passport, prescriptions for all medicines I take, xrays, scans and doctors’ reports.

And all this for surgery as minor as opening the carpian canal.