Apps that don’t work

Diary of a sad techie nerd.

Having downloaded the Easyjet app for my iPad I decided to use it to book the ticket for my forthcoming trip to the UK. Initially it seemed really well designed, but then – too late – I spotted that it had not offered me the chance to give information on my electric scooter and it had sent the confirmation to an email account I closed down over a year ago (how did it do that when on the website on my Mac the correct address is given?) . What’s more there was nowhere to correct the address – again.

When I moved over to my Mac I found my account had not registered the booking (sent to me at the old address of course) and I ended up trawling through the site to find the phone number for a human. Amazingly the human, called Martine, was very nice and helpful, and said she would modify my booking address and gave me another number to ring about my scooter.  I rang off, gratified at the ease with which things had been sorted.  So I thought….

Back to the app to check in.  All very simple – except that Easyjet refused to accept the format of both my date of birth and my passport expiry date. I found on googling that I was not the only person.

So, back to my Mac again.  Just to punish myself further I then decided to look at the completed check-in statement on the iPad.  Surprise surprise, it says I am not checked in yet.

At this point I have given up, but am prepared to do battle at the airport if necessary.  And I’m about to complete my satisfaction questionnaire.  You can guess: it will be nice about Martine and rude about the app.

Reading books

i have been a poor reader since adolescence. I grew up in a house with book-lined walls. I read avidly till about 15. Then, my rebellion against my family took the form of turning my back on reading for pleasure. in contrast my younger siblings, Deborah and Daniel, have been lifelong readers and own a ridiculous amount of books, which fill up all spare corners of Deb’s house.

As life progressed I said to myself that I would take up reading when I retired, but it didn’t really happen. Until now. I would say that the catalyst has been kindle, first the kindle app and now the little kindle device (e-reader) which I bought at Gatwick airport earlier this month. It sounds silly but one of its attractions is it is so light. And easy to read (and turn pages) in bed.

I know kindles, marketed by Amazon, are not good news for local book shops, but at least authors are still being paid, and lazy readers like me are lured back into the fold.

I’ve just finished reading to extremely lengthy tomes by Olivia Manning (whom I had never heard of before a friend, Dessa, recommended them).  The first, ‘the Balkan Trilogy’ initially annoyed me intensely.  I complained to Dessa that the book, which starts at the outset of the war in Bucharest portrayed Rumanians in a patronising, almost racist way, with few redeeming features. But Dessa pointed out that the British expats were portrayed in an equally unflattering light. The main chacters move on first to Greece and then in the sequel ‘The Levantine Trilogy’ to Egypt.

Eventually I became gripped by this story of a British community trying to carry on under occupied or threatened with occupation countries. And much as I was irritated by Harriet’s inability to stand up to her selfish husband, I also understood her predicaments .  When Chris and I married and went  to Nigeria, he was immediately caught up in a demanding job, while I felt lost, having left a fulfilling job in England but finding myself with no work permit, job, identity or purpose (all that changed – except the lack of permit!).

Anyhow yesterday I finished these two huge trilogies.  I was about to embark on another challenge, ‘Every day is for the thief’ by Teju Cole (a present just received from my brother in law, Peter), but decided i deserved something lighter first.  So, on Neville Pressleys recommendation i have just downloaded and started reading ‘Love, Nina’ by Nina Stibbe.  It is hilarious.  Nina was a young nanny in a North London literary household in the 1980s and the book consists of the lighthearted letters she writes to her sister about this unusual family.  Early days but she captures the conversation and ambience brilliantly.


Sylvia, probably my best French friend, is very ill. I’m still trying to get my head round it.   She  has been ill for about two months – first with a very nasty tummy bug (it is still  not clear what is behind this, she has been having more tests). Then with depression and acute fatigue. And yesterday evening her partner, Yves, rang to say she was in the Montpellier clinic Millenaire and had had  a small stroke (I was too shocked by the news to ask when). He said there seem no bad effects from the stroke. For the time being only he is visiting. I await more news, but meanwhile I think of her often.

I first met Sylvia about ten years ago, when we both joined the alto section of the choir, Rinascenza. We hit it off immediately. Sylvia is (normally) a vivacious and extremely attractive woman, with a colorful past and a huge repertoire of current activities. She continues to sing, mainly solo, French chansons of earlier decades; she writes (including a heavily autobiographical novel); she does the occasional programme on local radio; and she is an active member of a national association which exists to receive family papers that would otherwise be thrown away or rot in attics.

Yves, a retired teacher,  is another (even greater) polymath – author, painter, photographer, broadcaster……  Since they got together a few years ago it has sometimes been hard to see as much of them as I would like!

so let’s hope that the doctors get to the bottom of what is wrong with Sylvia and my lively friend resumes her multi-faceted life, albeit at a slightly saner pace!

evening update. It turns out to be a small tumour, not a stroke, so far no signs that it is cancerous. Tests are continuing, with a trip to another hospital tomorrow, then out of intensive care and into her own room. Yves says she is in a better frame of mind, has stopped fretting about all the things she should be doing, and has confidence in the doctors.

Home-made bread

I’ve just bought a breadmaker.  Yeah, I know, I’m a gadget freak.  But I think in this case I’m justified.

Breakfast is my favourite meal: the luxury of retirement is being able to dawdle over my coffee and toast.  I get very fed up with having to go down to le Vigan – at least ten km return trip – just to buy bread and have too small a freezer to store much. Hence the breadmaker purchase.

I’ve made two loaves so far. The first was a simple, small white loaf (or rather multi-céréales) and the second had raisins and walnuts added.  I’m quite pleased with the resuts.  They look good and taste OK if somewhat bland.  The next experiment will be to track down more interesting flour than the packet I bought from the local supermarket.

Only downside: my bread consumption is likely to rise – and I need to avoid looking at the recipes telling me how to make fruit cake, brioche and croissants 🙂


Am I still Charlie?

It’s a week since we all went out and paid hommage to the murdered journalists at Charlie Hebdo.  Would I still do it now?  Well, like everyone else I’m appalled by these atrocities – and by the murders in the kosher supermarket – and I would defend freedom of expression.
Liberty of expression has been enshrined in the French constitution and soul since the Revolution; the rights of freedom of expression by the press were further reinforced by the law of 1881. The liberty of the press carried, of course, limitations; namely it did not permit defamation on account of ethnicity, country, race or religion.
La diffamation commise par les mêmes moyens envers une personne ou un groupe de personnes à raison de leur origine ou de leur appartenance ou de leur non-appartenance à une ethnie, une nation, une race ou une religion déterminée sera punie d’un an d’emprisonnement et de 45 000 euros d’amende ou de l’une de ces deux peines seulement.
But even if there were not legal constraints, these rights carry responsibilities.How far can you go when writing (or drawing) something when it upsets a significant minority of the population?  There are those who say that restrictions on illustrations of the Prophet is something quite new and therefore irrelevant.  There are others who say that mainstream Muslims need to cope better with criticism if the Prophet.  But the fact is that taunts relating to Mohammed are for many moslems yet another example of being ridiculed and marginalised.  (I find it slightly uncomfortable that I’m in some agreement with the Pope!) Criticism of Islam is made against a backcloth of Muslims being disadvantaged social, educationally and economically.
There is also an element of double standards in the West’s championing of freedom of the Press: a Danish newspaper did not publish cartoons against the church because, it said, it was concerned about the outcry this might cause.
Things are complicated in France by the fervent support of laicite – separation between religions and the state.  The old target – the Catholic church has been replaced by Islam.  But the world is more complicated than when Voltaire wrote.  France has the largest proportion of Muslims in Western Europe – between 5-8.5% of the population (about 3,500,000). There is a particularly high concentration in some cities; in particular Marseille has about 30-40% Muslims.
The ethnic and religious composition of the French has changed.  Should the French not move slightly towards acceptance of a multi-cultural society and work towards including and accommodating significant minorities rather than shoving Voltaire back in their face?  
This would involve making concessions.  Communes who have decided to refuse to serve non-pork alternatives in school lunches should maybe reconsider.  More fundamental, I would support not getting so hung up about the veil or burqa.  My French friends support this ban and I have had endless fruitless discussions suggesting that headlong confrontation has helped increase the use of the burqa.  The French Government position has been upheld by the European Court, but I would agree with Shami Chakrabardi, director of Liberty who said the ban “has nothing to do with gender equality and everything to do with rising racism in western Europe”.
I agree, for instance, with Jonathan Friesland of the Guardian:
what will be required is an understanding: an accommodation in western societies between their non-Muslim majorities and their Muslim minorities, one that will pointedly exclude and isolate the cultists of violent jihadism. For non-Muslims that means listening to what we are being told repeatedly: that it is not just racist or hostile depictions of the prophet that insult ordinary, mosque-going Muslims but any depiction at all. That may seem hard to grasp, even unreasonable, to non-Muslims but that’s the fact of the matter. And it won’t do to start citing Wikipedia-level knowledge of 12th-century Persian art, with its apparent tolerance of such depictions, in order to tell Muslims about their own religion. We just have to accept that most Muslims – not just extremists – experience such representations as an insult.
I’m not talking about agreeing with all that was written in the Koran or is believed by mainstream Muslims.  But I am talking about the French finding a way to allow a French citizen to be a Muslim without being torn in two directions. And above all we need to distinguish between Islam as a religion and the extreme jihadism or cults which have enticed young French muslims to criminal, terrorist acts.
Many Muslims have said these thugs or fascists are not Muslims. Rachida Dati, for example, a Muslim and former Minister of Justice, has said: “This is not about religion. This is about a misuse of religion to try to justify what is unjustifiable.”  Non-Muslims also need to ensure that Islam is not conflated with Jihadism.
There are practical as well as ideological reasons for working with Muslims to integrate them better into French society: the more Islam is demonised the more one plays into the hand of the Front National – and al-Qaida.
It is difficult to understand how Coulibaly’s murder of Jews fits into this picture.  There has been an alarming rise in anti-semitism in France but I’m not sure how much this is linked with Muslim terrorists – apart from Coulibaly – and how much it is really being exploited by the extreme right.  Or maybe the three are often the same: Muslim terrorists/anti-semitists/fascist thugs.  Many French people share my distaste for Israeli politics while saying this has nothing to do with anti-semitism, but  Netanyahu has inevitably complicated things by attending the Je suis Charlie rally (despite the death of journalists in Israel) and welcoming French Jewish migrants with open arms.
As well as the French needing to better accommodate the Muslim minority within a laic state, the French Muslims need to find a way to work more cohesively.  There is no equivalent to a council of bishops to promote a mainstream Muslim policy in France.  And most of France’s 1800 imams were educated overseas.  Somehow the French Muslims need to sort these problems out. It is clear that some of these foreign imams have been central to the dangerous cults that have supported terrorists.
There is no doubt in my mind that the the fundamental problem is the existence of an underclass of French Muslims, mainly of North African origin but often second or third generation, who are concentrated in pubic housing on the periphery of cities, and who are unemployed, poorly educated and often engaged in a range of criminal activities and hostility to the police. A ripe ground for resentment at perceived or real prejudice and for exploitation by political and cult movements.  How does one solve these problems?  I really don’t know!
Incidentally it appears that the terrorists were partially motivated after viewing videos of US/UK engagement in Iraq… …
My ideas are further complicated by observing what is happening elsewhere in the world, in particular Israel, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.  The second two fuel the fire of those wishing to go to war with Islam in general.  I think the world should go to war with these regimes, but not a religious war; rather we have to recognise oppression in the context of their political and cultural circumstances.
So you see, I’m still trying to work out my position but I turn out to be not so clearly Charlie as most of my French friends 🙁

Je suis Charlie

What a surreal week.  You cannot live in France and not have got caught up in the drama and tragedy of the Charlie Hebdo – and then the kosher supermarket – killings.

People have been stunned and shaken since Wednesday. Charlie Hebdo does not have a huge circulation, but humour through cartoons is very dear to the French, as is political satire.  Charlie Hebdo has been tossing its clever, amusing and ruthless taunts for decades, much to the appreciation of the left. And religion has always been a fair game target. But the sights have swivelled from deflating the Catholic establishment to Islam.
Some of the Hebdo cartoons verge on offensive.  They are supposed to, of course.  But I’m uneasy about their somewhat obsessive, insensitive ridicule of all things islamic, including pictures of Mohamed.  This is particularly serious given the Moslem position on material depictions of Mohamed.
But I share the general sense of sadness, shock and outrage, and would defend the murdered journalists’ right to freedom of expression, even if it is a style I am not comfortable with.  So I knew I would join in today’s mass  mourning for those murdered and defence of the liberty of expression.
Like towns across France, le Vigan had its own rally.  I drove past the start of it, on the main road near SuperU, on my way to the Hotel de Ville, where it was to finish (I knew I was not able to walk the whole length). It was an impressive sight: traffic had been diverted, as the main road was entirely filled with the crowd collecting for the rally.  Maybe there will be some figures tomorrow, but I reckon there were at least a thousand people, maybe twice that number.  Not bad for le Vigan and its surroundings with a total population of six thousand.
Update on Monday: 2500 in Le Vigan, 100,000 in Montpellier. 
These photos are by Hans. He and Margaret walked the full length of the rally route:
I joined as the procession walked the last few hundred metres to the Hotel de Ville, so this is my photo:
Ends of rallies are always a bit of an anticlimax and this was no exception, not helped by my not seeing or hearing very well from my position (sitting on a park bench, making friends with a young woman with a stick, swapping names of surgeons…).
There was a dignified minute’s silence, followed by a slightly chaotic – but as always, moving – rendering of the Marseillaise, and a good short speech by a woman (couldn’t see who) stressing the importance not just of la liberté but also fraternité – the need to work together to resolve problems.  She gave a good, relevant quotation from Nelson Mandela.

Madelon Dimont Burk

This week one of the longest established English residents here died.  Madelon came to the Cévennes over 30 years ago after a life as a journalist, mainly in Italy and Germany.  We met her in the first weeks of staying in what was then our holiday home and through her got to know others, such as my dear friend, Tom Vernon.

How do I describe Madelon?  I thought about this during the brief funeral ceremony yesterday and realised how difficult it was.  She was highly intelligent and well read, with an encyclopedic knowledge of local fauna and flora.  But she was also a very private person, whom I found quite difficult to get to know.  I think she was more at ease with Chris, more her intellectual equal than me.

Her privacy and somewhat intense personality were undoubtedly partly the result of a difficult and challenging life. Her mother was the writer, Penelope Mortimer.  Not an easy woman.  And she was the eldest of six children (four different fathers), not to mention various step-siblings.  (Her step-father for much of her childhood was John Mortimer.)

I suspect that she would have been a really good writer in her own right (sic) had she not been overshadowed by this intimidating combination.  Years ago she gave me a book she wrote, “Darling Pericles”, which I found highly entertaining.  I’m going to re-read it now.

I really don’t know much about her adult life, other than both husbands were fellow journalists and that she was a recovered alcoholic (and heavy smoker).  I know that she continued to work as a volunteer for the French equivalent of alcoholics anonymous. She was held in high regard not just by the Brits, but the local French, not least because she ran successful French classes and conversation groups until quite recently.

She also had many friends in the doggy world, as an active support of canine events, and owner of various rescue dogs over the years.  I was particularly attached to Dora, a huge beautiful dog with a tendency to talk to humans.

Until a year or so ago Madelon lived in a beautiful, secluded house on the road to St Bresson and managed to stay there during dramatic bouts of lung cancer, brain tumour and knee ops and falls.  Finally she moved to something a bit easier to manage in le Vigan.

Her earlier ‘recovery’ from cancers was quite incredible but they finally caught up with her at the end of last year, when her lungs in particular began to fail.  I found her by chance in the local hospital at the end of November, when I was visiting my friends the physios and nurses.  It was they who told me there was an English woman on the premier étage.  Never one to gabble like me, I was particularly shocked by her infrequent responses and the apparent difficulty she seemed to be having in putting her words together.  Now, I realise, a precursor of the sad final downhill.

The funeral was a hastily prepared event (her only full sister, Carrie, and a half sister, Debbie, were leaving the next day).  As with Tom’s funeral, no prior service, just an assembled gathering in the cemetery.  Carrie spoke with love and respect of her older sister and the courage with which she had faced her challenges, Heleen Lapthorne, the friend and neighbour who has been essentially looking out for Madelon in recent years and will now look after Dora, spoke of the importance and welcome of Madelon to her and to other foreign incomers to the pays viganais, and Debbie just about got through her poetry offering.

I think the family are going to have a future event or even service later, to allow other siblings to say their goodbyes.  It was of course a sad day – the particular moment I will remember was when Dora sitting beside the coffin suddenly moaned, as if she knew who was there.  But also a relief that Madelon did not suffer any more.

Hip checkup

Yesterday was supposed to have been a major milestone, when I was told that all was well and I could put the hip and bonegraft chapter behind me.

I set off at the crack of dawn – literally – for my 8am CT scan, in a mood of casual optimism.  So I was taken aback to see the radiologist there to report the results had rather a long face and asked me if I was in much pain.  He said that the hip was fine, but the consolidation of the bone graft had not changed since my last scan in November, and he wondered if there was movement preventing the setting of the graft.


I then drove on to Montpellier  for my mid-day appointment with the surgeon, with heavy heart.  Mme Bertrand was much more laid back, saying that I had to accept this was a long process, given this was a big graft.  She showed me in the scan images that the area we are talking about is just a rim, where the bone graft should meet the bone of the pelvis.

This was much more reassuring – which goes to show that, whatever the radiologist said, I should have waited for the surgeon’s verdict before thinking black thoughts. Mme Bertrand said it was OK for me to now go for (modest) walks, as the pain and discomfort I still feel was definitely caused by all the tendons and muscles she cut through, rather than the hip replacement or bone graft.  But she has given me a prescription for Vitamin D and Silicium, in order to encourage bone strength, and says I should go for an osteoporos check.

I think Silicium is silicon in English, but interestingly there are endless references to it on French websites but none in English. I find it fascinating that even mainstream surgeons are recommending alternative remedies, on the basis that they will do no harm and might do some good.

I celebrated the OK to walk more by walking to a decent restaurant for lunch, and then on to the Orange France boutique to sort out the problem with my locked iPhone – and spent the evening in a state of collapse, exhausted by this first exercise for nearly four months.

Unless there are more problems beforehand, I see Mme Bertrand in April.  Fingers crossed the graft will have made progress by then.  She agreed with me that I should try to recover from 2014 before embarking on the next round of ops, whether knee or shoulder!