Taxi drivers

I have always enjoyed chatting with taxi drivers (affectionate sighs from the daughters who are used to their mother’s nosiness). Well, the start of my two-week stay in London featured one really good experience and one less so.

I was met at the airport by Morris, part of the Dulwich Cars team (now my favourite south London cabs).  Morris talks!  Quite difficult to get a word in edgeways but a really entertaining trip, even the horrible bit going through Croydon.  Morris’ parents came from East Europe (Hungary, I seem to remember) but he was born and brought up in Brazil, came to study in London, and has stayed here ever since, first in a normal office, corporate job, and now as a taxi driver.

His wife is Portuguese and his son British.  He described the hassles he has had with immigration officials over the years, including an attempt to deport him, which required him to borrow £6000 to pay for legal fees, only for the judge to throw the case out immediately and order that the Home Office reimbursed him. He has also had runins with the poice and lives in permanent fear that he will lose his driver’s licence.

Despite all this, Morris is of a sunny disposition, with clearly a large, faithful clientele (mainly women!) who ask for him regularly.  Despite his wife’s attempts to get him to return to more lucrative employment, he sticks firmly to driving a taxi, which he loves, and keeping a health life-work balance.

Two days later, I took a black cab from Tottenham Court Road to Baker Street.  It turned out the driver lived in Harlesden, not far from my brother and sister.  Before I had time to say this, he added that he hated Harlesden as it was full of Somalis who spat in the street.  I talked no more.

Bravo Apple

I stopped off at the Apple Store on my way to the airport and came out with a new iPad – despite the fact that once again my sick iPad had refused to display any of its symptoms in the shop.

In my early visits to the store I was put off by all those young things dashing around with iPads in their hands. Very much impersonal employees of a large enterprise. But after two visits sitting around observing them at work I have been impressed by their expertise – and the way they have clearly been trained to be polite and welcoming to customers.

Above all I have been impressed by the staff at the ‘Genius Bar’ (what an awful name), particularly after this last visit, when I went armed with EU documentation on my consumer rights. I didnt need it. The young man listened to me, obviously accepted my diagnosis of an intermittent fault, and proposed without more ado to replace it. It looks as if de facto Apple has quietly turned their one year guarantee into a two year one.

I then spent well over an hour setting up my new iPad (it has still not finished downloading things like photos and music from my iCloud backup!) I think the staff were relieved they had a customer who could do this, as they were inundated by people asking for help.

phew.  I had not been looking forward to two weeks in England without my right hand assistant.

More computer problems

No sooner than sorting out what turned out to be a defective plug for my computer monitor than my iPad went on the blink.  Devastating for someone who is joined at the waist to her technological gadgets.

For a few weeks the iPad has been mysteriously rebooting.  Then it refused to ‘wake up’ altogether, despite my doing routine technical checks.  Time to call in the experts, so I booked another appointment with the ‘Genius Bar’ at the Apple Store in Montpellier.

Guess what, the iPad suddenly decided to boot up!  I explained the symptoms, though, and the guy went through a number of checks, including establishing there was not a battery fault.  He did show me a couple of dodges for cleaning up memory but confessed that he was not sure what had been going on.  With fingers crossed I took the iPad home.

For a couple of days it behaved – and now it refuses to do anything.  It lies looking at me reproachfully, its screen black and silent.  No more Today programme lying in bed, no more reading the Guardian over breakfast, not more TV on the sofa.  Not to mention frequent consultations courtesy of google throughout the day.

I have booked yet another appointment at Apple Store, en route to the airport on Tuesday, and face two whole weeks in London without iPad.  Although only 15 months old, the one year Apple warranty no longer applies.  Should it need replacing or expensive repairs, I’m going to quote EU legislation at them: the 1999/44/CE directive tries to extend European guarantees to two years.  It is a grey area but worth a try.

Meanwhile the trip to Montpellier was not entirely fruitless: I bought a new Macbook for Sylvia (and have been trying to fit in sessions setting it up ever since) and then my friend, Dessa, and I went on to a Skoda garage, to research Yetis.  She badly needs to replace an ancient and dying Saab, but has very specific requirements such as automatic, lots of space for dogs and rubbish, and yet no wider than 1.8 metres because of the scarily narrow and winding approach to her house.

I know that approach because not only did I collect Dessa for this trip but had to return the next day to deliver the various things she left in my car!  She lies in a beautiful house with absolutely stunning views 18km from my house.  The last seven kilometres are up a steep, narrow (single track) winding road with problematic hairpin bends, particularly if you are driving in the dark (or worse still, at sunrise or sunset). The last kilometre passes through various places with rocks or buildings millimetres from the side mirrors. Makes the road to my house feel like a motorway.

Growing old is a pain – literally

There are so many ways in which the French health system is wonderful; I am constantly grateful for the good treatment I receive.  Yet it has some bizarre and worrying defects. I have written earlier about the signs of financial strain.  The curious mixture of public/private proision adds to a sense that this is often not a joined-up system. And, as I have said before, you have to be strong to manage your own treatment plan.

My friend Sylvia, who has been much iller than me for the past three months, with serious gastro problems which led to a general collapse in her health, including a recurrence of her depression, and now a brain tumour that they seem to take for ever to investigate.  She had some wonderful care at the specialist clinic in Montpellier, Millénaire (which is where Chris was when he died) and now she is being well looked after at the maison de repos near here, at Chataigniers, where she has a lovely, quiet, spacious room to herself, with a view onto typical Cévenol traversiers, or terraces.

On Thursday, however, she had an unpleasant trip to Millénaire, where she had been told to go for another MRI (to check the progress of the tumour).  Nobody seemed to be expecting her, she had to almost persuade the department to carry out the investigation and the doctor in charge did not bother to tell her the result (unusual here, where one expects to be be given a report, as well as often carrying an unsealed envelope back to the doctor commissioning the investigation).  She even had difficulty getting anyone to tell her where her neurologist’s secretary’s offie was.  Luckily Yves was with her, otherwise she would have just collapsed in tears. The patient normally has to make all appointments, carry all necessary documents, and ensure that the next person in the line gets the results.  Not easy when your are suffering from headaches, fainting fits and depression.

A lot of the problems stem from the fact that we are going to a variety of self-employed, private services working for the state sector: the clinics at Ganges and Millénaire are private, as are the Ganges and Montpellier radiology services.

I’m having a similar, so far less angst making run-around.  At a routine gynae checkup a few weeks ago, the gynaecologist spotted something he didnt like and arranged for me to come back for a mammography (which of course I had to set up) and an echography in his cabinet.  He didn’t like the look of the echography, so wants me to have a biopsy at the clinic.  He has written to the doctor, but I of course had to arrange the appointment. But guess what, the appointment is to see the next doctor in order to set up a further date for the actual biopsy.  That will be four visits (excluding the mammography) each incurring a charge of over 50 euros, albeit mainly reimbursed.

It goes on potentially: I was relating this saga to friends in a cafe yesterday and learnt that the wife of one is some stages on: she has had the biopsy, a D&C, a trip to Montpellier for an MRI and now awaits further meetings in Ganges, probably for a hysterectomy.  The husband is convinced that all this, which is clearly stressing out his wife, is in order to knock up more revenue for the doctors involved.  I’m not so sure, but I don’t think it is an efficient way for services to interact.

Curiously, although I should be worrying about possible results showing cancer, I’m not worked up.  I’m far more taken up with the pain in various bits of my body, mostly related to arthritis.  As the hip very slowly heals, I have pain that comes and goes in my knee (there most of the time) right foot, left ankle and right shoulder!  This last week has been particularly bad and energy draining – and then suddenly today it’s only the knee really hurting. (Oh, and of course, my six monthly eye visit showed glaucoma problems slowly increasing.)

I’m pissed off at getting older and having all these ailments (and supporting friends with health problems) and would like a year free of ops and crises, after a year with shoulder, hand and hip ops.  Instead I would like to think about and plan trips to India, Istanbul, Venice, Rome…….. rather than await the next gloomy medical verdict.

I rant here in order to let off steam, so that I can try to keep to my resolution not to talk about ailments to friends when I meet them.  When they greet me: “Ca va?” I don’t want to reply “Ca ne va pas du tout”.


C’est l’hiver!

For the past two week we have been reminded that after a period of glorious sunshine we are in fact in mid-winter.  There has been little rain, the skies are usually bright and blue, but we have had some fiendish icy north/north-west winds and little episodes of snow.


Health hazards

Well, last month it was anti-nit shampoo (in the event not needed) in my eyes.  And now: choking on medicine.  There I was at 11pm last Saturday evening, going through my preparing for bed routines, including taking a homeopathic medicine (Abies pectinata) intended to help the bone-healing process. I’m supposed to squirt a pipette filled with 80 drops into my mout, but instead of swallowing them I somehow managed to breathe in.

Instantly I felt my throat swell up and was overcome by a sense of panic, as I struggled to breathe.  Half an hour later I began to wonder whether I should call the emergency services, and in perparation got dressed again.  I tried lying down, but the panic was worse.  So I then spent several hours sitting on the sofa, with my finger hovering over the phone.  Was it an emergency or not?  It must be decades since I have called for help, but I do so remember this anxiety as to how one rates the crisis.  I really had no idea whether my difficulties in breathing were life-threatening or not.  A very lonely and distressing experience.  Not least because I know how long it takesthe pompiers (firemen who double up as para-medics) to get one to A&E in Ganges.

I didn’t even know what number to ring!  I consulted the internet and havered between 112 (the general European emergency number) or 18 (the pompiers).  Actually, as I found out the next day, I probably should have chosen 15, where apparently medical staff assess your situation before sending out the pompiers, a doctor or whatever.

In the event, I decided by 4.30am that I was going to live and went to bed!  But this second mishap in a month makes me suddenly question how many more medical mishaps I’m going to experience!  At least I now have an am telephone call with Margaret to establish I’m alive and kicking (her idea as she thinks that this is a wise precaution for people living on their own).

I know I’m getting more forgetful: there seem to be more occasions when I cannot remember somebody’s name.  And of course I regularly mislay my specs, keys and, last year, passport.  I do panic on occasions and wonder if this is an early onset of Alheimers.  But then I remind myself that I have always been scatty about keys and specs.  And forgetfulness dates back to school days, when I regularly forgot to take work home and had to spend hours with my friend, Elsepeth, getting her to dictate Latin passages over the phone.  (I could ask her, rather than my better organised friend, Christine, as Elspeth was as forgetful as me.  Didn’t stop her becoming a law lecturer and then MEP later in life!)

In the order of things careless inhalation of medication and forgetting people’s names is not as bad as the experiences of some of my friends.  At present I am deeply concerned by my friend, Sylvia, who is struggling with general ill health, including depression and non-malignant brain tumour. All one can do is be there for her; in my case by visiting her this weekend for a bit of retail therapy – choosing a new computer!

Country living means clocking up the miles

I see I haven’t written for a couple of weeks.  But I have been busy!  The downside to living near le Vigan, which is regarded by many as the end of the road, is that any unusual purchases or activities involve getting behind the wheel.

Nimes in a minimum 85 km, Montpellier a good 70 plus, and even Ganges is 25 km away.

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In the past fortnight I have been busy collecting tiles (from Nimes), a lavatory (from St Aunes, near Montpellier), taking my cello to be repaired in Montpellier and collecting it a week later, taking my computer to be fixed (and using the trip to call in on Sylvia, in hospital).  I reckon that I clocked up at least 800 km on these six round trips.

I dislike the road to Nimes intensely, not least because I have picked up too many speeding tickets on the long, boring road which has inadequate passing places. I actually enjoy the road to Montpellier, which is much more varied and on the journey home offers wonderful views of the Cévennes which still fill me with joy, and as an additional bonus, has acquired a good stopover on the St Martin bypass for coffee and enticing cakes.  (OK, I have been hit several times by the speed radar at St Gely, but nowadays I put the car on automatic 90km limit to avoid forgetting this.)

Trips into the centre of Montpellier are also a pleasure (providing you are not lugging a heavy cello).  I love the city and make expeditions an excuse for having lunch at my favourite place: the restaurant run by Alain, who used to run the Auberge in Bréau.

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