I’m halfway through the 25 sessions of external radiotherapy and really not in bad shape. By innards are not really my own, but manageable (thanks to awful diet) and I’m not too tired. The daily round trip to Montpellier is OK, particularly now I’m being spoiled by family and doing nothing.
Yesterday was an eventful start to part one: visit by Jude and family plus their friends Charlie, Sam, and children Henry and Daisy. The advance party was Ed, who arrived by car (carrying his bike and luggage) who had driven through the night and got here at midday.
Meanwhile Jude set off with the girls by train to Luton airport. Maddie was sick over them both on the train, requiring an urgent purchase of a new dress at the airport. On arrival at Montpellier, Maddie was sick again, over the customs control area – no official offered to help.
My friends, Charles and Pierre, went to the airport to collect them, and Sam and family followed in convoy – and got lost. Much texting between cars and base camp and several hours later, with the awaiting delicious roast lamb meal suffering, two tired carloads arrived.
Instantly everybody recovered and fell into party mood, the adults over belated drinks, the children off exploring and building camps. Bedtime was very late.
Ed was up at crack of dawn for a long cycle ride, but then a request to be rescued: part of his bike’s gear system had sheared off – when he had almost completed the uphill part and had been looking forward to the reward of the long, long descent from Mouzoules.
Now we are in full holiday mode: lengthy bathing in the bassin (while I did my daily Montpellier trip), lengthy lunch, and a falling out and making up between those two best friends, Henry and Ella. (There relationship has now the added dimension of written messages – loving or not.)
Whoops. Another drama. Maddie and Ella set off to shop with Ed and got to the first roundabout when Maddie was sick again. Back home, another complete change of clothes and a two-year-old out of sorts.
With the arrival of family and friends tomorrow I have finally got round to doing what I should have done weeks ago: roughly translate the gloomy diet that I am on for a few weeks yet (apparently it is a good idea to continue for a while after the daily radiotherapy stops in mid-August).
Its only redeeming feature is that everything is so tasteless that I’m eating very little and continue to lose weight. I’m getting a bit tired of people exclaiming – almost accusingly – how well I look.
The challenge will be how not to put the weight back on once I can eat lovely things like cheese, onions, nuts, spices ….. …..
Tim Coutts, Neville Pressley’s son-in-law, arrived with two mate for some serious tree cutting next door. Somewhat overcome by the heat they nevertheless started at 6.30 the first morning, cutting down the giant cedar behind my house.
By the next day they had refined their skills and team work and demolished the giant cedar next to the pool in under two hours – and went on to polish off a few more today (aided by the big drop in temperature, but surviving some scary moments with Tim high up in a tree when the wind swept down the valley).
Here is Tim in action. (Could take time to load.) The other two gather up the branches and feed them through a giant (noisy) munching machine.
Yesterday evening it rained. Real rain, accompanied by thunder and lightning, for at least an hour.
The storm came a day earlier than predicted – I was sitting beside the pool with friends, Josie and Tony (who of course had brought supper with them!) watching the advancing black cloud from the north.
It had been an exceptionally hot and stifling day. My taxi driver remarked at 10am that it was already 32 degrees and by the return trip from Montpellier three hours later, it was hovering around 40 degrees.
This is maybe not the hottest summer on record (I seem to remember some days like this in 2003) but surely it must break records as the longest: three months with little more than an hour’s rain in total and day after day of temperatures hitting mid or higher thirties. We haven’t reached August yet but the ground is a scorched brown and trees are taking on a tired look. My silver birches are virtually leafless, hazelnut and cherry trees predictably wilting, and the oleanders have shed all their flowers. And because it is now much hotter at night, the house is no longer recovering its freshness overnight. So – after my obligatory siesta after going to Montpellier, the best place to be is in or beside the water.
This morning there is a lovely freshness to the air (which has a faint smell of damp hay). But not a cloud in the sky, though Meteo France is still insisting we will have storms this afternoon, before returning to non-stop sun.
I was duly and understandably chastised by one of my oldest friends, Christine, who has had a prestigious career in medicine, for visiting a healer, or ‘ôteur’ du feu. How could I, she asked, when together aged about 10 we dared challenge the establishment in the fifties and question the existence of a god.
Oh I agree; it is illogical and against a lifetime of challenging irrational beliefs. And yet, and yet, here in this part of France I am discovering that belief in the abilities of some people to take on or prevent burns is even more widespread than I thought at first. I’ve just been talking to a friend, a retired teacher and now a novelist, who referred to the long history of ‘healers’. An atheist, he is somehow able to accept the idea that there are physical activities not yet explained by science. Even more incredible, I have learnt that the Clinique Clémentville, one of the cancer centres of Montpellier, where my friend, Sylvia, is treated for her brain tumour, has a list of healers to offer radiotherapy patients, saying that they don’t know why, but ôteurs du feu have a good reputation for helping with burns.
Anyhow, to please my doctor, physio, vet and many others – and also because he is such a very nice man – I was back visiting Francys on Friday. Rest assure, Christine, he does not touch me – he just lays his hands above my abdomen, concentrating on emptying his mind of all thoughts. This time, he said, he could feel the rayons or beams much more than a week ago (so can I). Afterwards he washed his hands in cold water, but showed that even so, he had little blisters on his arms which had not been there before the session.
I’m feeling better now, but that is probably because it is the weekend, with no radiotherapy till Monday.
The other thing about this trio of friends is that two of them are enthusiastic clothes shoppers. Kath and even more, Fran, loved browsing in the shops and stalls in le Vigan. Rose and I will go to extreme lengths to avoid this, in my case with justification, since I know that I can’t get anything in my size here.
Well, that was what I thought until Fran and Kath dragged me – for the first time – into a clothes shop next to my favourite cafe (much more my milieu). emerged later, slightly stunned, with a linen top and linen dress:
Even Rose succumbed: as she is disgustingly tall and slender, she was able to buy an extremely elegant grey linen jacket that I coveted. Fran and Kath contented themselves with stylish shoes.
Everybody knows that I’m very greedy (normally) but totally idle and incompetent in the kitchen. What a pleasure therefore to have friends who love talking about food, buying it and cooking it. I was thoroughly spoilt during Fran, Rose and Kath’s stay. The most I did was to light the barbecue for the trout.
It is always a pleasure to see friends and family relish the freshness and quality of fruit and vegetables grown here. And in the case of the trout there was a visit to the trout farm to collect a second delicious meal. Coping with my very limited diet was an added challenge, and to be quite honest I sometimes couldnt resist eating or drinking things I shouldn’t, justifying that this was only the first week of radiotherapy. (It has to be said that by Friday I was feeling the odd twinge…) Fran even found time to make me a large supply of delicious beetroot gaspacho which is sustaining me over the weekend.
On Thursday my friends replaced the taxi in my daily trip to Montpellier and afterwards, while I rested outside my favourite restaurant, Alain Villard’s l’Appart’thé, they braved searing heat to explore the city (which I am gratified to say they loved). Then we had an outstanding meal at Alain’s – gaspacho again, followed by a wonderful concoction of thin slices of cold beef, courgettes, aubergine and other delicacies, and finished with an outstanding tarte aux pommes, with a light burnt sugar covering and dressed with strawberries and currants. As you can imagine, my diet suffered again….
What I really miss in my life in France – apart from family – is my pals; the friendships which have lasted decades and are so important to me.
I have friends here of course, but there is something special about people you have grown up or old with. So Ray, who was here last week with his wife Fay, worked with me in the Sixties. Now I’m loving a visit from Fran, whom I first met in 1972, and Rose and Kath, whom I met soon after. Fran and I, along with Joanna Blythman, worked together in the Eighties – the best working relationship I ever had. Rose I got to know better when we collaborated on a database to manage the Dictionary of Scottish Women.
It is so hot that we have done little but swim, chat and eat. I’m being totally idle and letting them produce the meals. Tomorrow they are driving me to my radiotherapy session in Montpellier. Then I will relax in a cafe while they explore the old city.
It may have been hotter on some days in 2003 but I don’t think I have ever known such a prolonged heatwave. Four short bursts of rain since April, temperatures above 30 in the shade most days for the last ten weeks and now it is not cooling down at night.
The result is of course that the land has lost its lovely green cover (mid-June) and is now a scorched brown (mid-July). Goodness knows what the next six weeks will bring.
Thank goodness for the bassin.