Supermoon eclipse

There is something very special about eclipses, even for someone as perversely resistant to scientific knowledge as I am.

I still remember with pleasure when Chris and I shared a bottle of champagne with our friends Christine and Arnard, sitting on a terrace above our house to watch the total eclipse of the sun. This was perhaps more dramatic than moon eclipses, as in a matter of minutes the sky darkened, it became night and the birds were silent.

But this moon eclipse was also spectacular, particularly as it coincided with a supermoon (last month’s moon was also a spectacular size, particularly as it rose over the horizon at sunset).

I watched most of its stages, though I was – amazingly – asleep at the time of total eclipse.  Unfortunately I had not thought to set up my camera on a tripod, so the images are crude and lacking in detail.  All the same, a good memory.

I could watch the eclipse because I often sleep very poorly.  My sleep was particularly interrupted last night by an event nothing to do with suns and moons: a visit by the giant sanglier who has been uprooting my terraces all this summer. This time it was munching something on my driveway, about 20 metres below the house.  I decided that prudence was advisable and so sadly missed another photo opportunity.  Poppy, however, had no such qualms and rushed down to bark at this giant intruder, who eventually ambled off.

Joined the local old folks

Ive finally given in and joined the club for the over 65s. If it just offered lotto and tombolas I would have stayed away. But next month there is a days outing to Albi which should be good.

The club is being rebuilt after a big financial scandal last year (incompetence rather than big-time fraud) and the new committee members are all friends and deserve support.

Besides, now I no longer have my various music groups, I have to make more of an effort not to become a recluse. I have also joined an exercise group, ‘Gym après cancer’ partly for the same reason. The first session was good, but I fear my arthritic joints, particularly my shoulders, remind me that I have been ignoring them this year.

Shopping in the sticks

I may be queen of Internet shopping but the delivery nightmare of the past fortnight has somewhat taken the edge off profligate spending. My freezer finally arrived this morning after almost daily phone calls and form filling.

No problem with the seller, but the delivery service, Geodis was a nightmare. It started when their online form to specify a delivery date didn’t work.  Then, several days waiting in for the delivery and silence from Geodis.  Absolutely no phone number or email address on their site. Instead I had to complete – several times – a contact form, which appeared to disappear into the ether.

Eventually the seller (whose records showed it had been delivered!) rang them for me and I learned that Geodis had passed the freezer to a local delivery man, who appears to take on jobs from a number of  couriers. He of course did not reply to the messages I left On his mobile, until at last I got him at eight this morning, and the freezer arrived soon after.

The irony is that in theory it makes sense for a local man with a van to do the last stage, but only if he is competent. He had a long story about being let down by his driver and having to train someone else. If he had just phoned………. I murmured.

Sublime September days

Those ‘épisodes cévenols’ are forgotten: we are now having lovely warm, sunny days, which look like continuing to the end of the month.  This makes it a privilege to live here; every daily action is a pleasure, like taking Poppy for a walk (first photo, with my house in the background), driving up the road to buy trout for lunch (second photo) or watching the roses recover from the searing heat of the summer.


Online shopping spoilt by delivery systems

For the second time this month I have waited in all day for a courier delivery which did not happen.

The first time it was a parcel from Amazon to be delivered by DHL.  I checked its progress regularly all day – always the message that the parcel was to be delivered that day – until 7.30pm when the log stated that the parcel would be delivered on Monday, as arranged by client! No phone number to ring to rant… …

This time the online page for fixing a delivery date did not work.  I left a message on the courier (Geodis) website. Somebody phoned on Thursday and said it would be delivered the next day.  So yesterday I waited – and waited.  And left about four, increasingly irate, messages on the website. This morning I got an email saying they were still waiting for me to fix a delivery date!

Both deliveries have two facts in common: they were due on a Friday and came from Nimes (rather than Montpellier, which seems to handle most of my online purchases).  I know we are the furthest point west of Nimes in the departement of Gard.  Mais quand même!

If you live in the country, 50 miles or more from a big town, you do rather depend on online shopping (though in this case I rather regret I did not pay the 50 euros extra for the shop in Ganges to deliver my new freezer). Something has to be done about deliveries.  I’m usually OK because I can reckon that the van from Montpellier gets to me at the end of the morning and anyhow at least one (UPS – my preferred one) have delivery points in various bars in le Vigan, not that this would have helped with the freezer.  Anyhow, I find it distressing that big vans often turn up at my door with a tiny parcel, perhaps the only delivery for miles.

Surely it would be better to have a publicly owned service, with a local depot with whom one could negotiate delivery times.  Something like the post office perhaps???

Some memories of summer

I’ve just cleaned up my camera card and found these remaining photos.

The first shows the day that Gideon (son of my old friend Sally), his wife and four children paid a visit on their way back to England.  I think the bassin had ten people in it at one stage.

The little plant bassin continues to delight, even though the plants are not as numerous as hoped.  Jacky is going to do a massive replanting over the winter. I hope the water lilies will continue to play a central part.

And one day we were watching the moon rise and thought maybe it was the result of alcohol consumed that it seemed so huge and we could virtually see it moving up the sky.  Later we discovered that this was the day before the ‘supermoon’, one of the full moons when it is closest to earth.


Un épisode cévenol

How many people live in a region whose name has become an adjective to describe the weather?

The Cévennes are known for sudden periods of violent storms and torrential rain, often in September or October, caused by  humid winds coming up from the Mediterranean and meeting the mountains of the Cévennes.  In a matter of hours the rivers can overflow, causing chaos in their passage right down to the sea, and rocks and trees can tumble and block roads. There is even an entry for ‘épisode cévenol’ in Wiki.

Well, we had an épisode cévenol in the past week, with dramatic lightning, a day of non-stop torrential rain, followed by several days of unstable weather with threatening clouds and occasional rainfall.  Le Vigan got off relatively lightly, though nearby Valleraugue was badly affected.  There was far more damage to the south west, with the A75 motorway collapsing near Lodève, and further to the east,  round Anduze, Alès and St Jean du Gard.

‘Cloudscapes’ this month, and our local river:

What a contrast to the long dry summer.  The few days of rain we have had since the start of September have had an extraordinary effect on the landscape.  My land, which was brown in August, was suddenly covered by vegetation – mostly ‘mauvaises herbes’ – often a metre high. The oleanders, which wilted, flowerless, over the hot summer, are growing new buds, as are the rose bushes. The yellow daisy (don’t know its name) planted in front of my terrace is one of the few flowers which flourished all summer.

Thanks to my friend Dessa, I’ve just found someone new to cut back the jungle.  It has taken Philippe two days of ‘débroussaillage’ to restore the terraces to their former state.

Although the sky is menacing and cloudy it is astonishingly warm. This afternoon I was wearing just a tee shirt when  discussing with Jacky (planter of olive trees and builder of bassin) the work to be done this winter.

The 30 young olive trees, planted at the start of the year,  have flourished. They of course coped with the heat, although this first year needed some watering.  Some have already got olives on them!

First cello lesson

That is to say, the first cello lesson since stopping playing over two years ago – I have had four operations since then.

As soon as I heard on Friday that I had one of the limited places, I got out my cello, put oodles of rosin on my bow (which I had had rehaired post-hip op pre-cancer op), pulled out a playable piece of music (first movement of Boismortier sonata in E minor), took a deep breath and tried to play.

It was pretty awful at first, but I was determined not to be demoralised.  And I’m trying also not to think about the fact that my right shoulder – the one not yet replaced – is telling me it doesn’t like being worked.

I felt somewhat nervous as I entered the Ecole de Musique, a handsome building beside the river, a passed groups of children passing in or out of their classes.  Even more so when I heard the sound of a cello playing a bit of Bach effortlessly.  Luckily, it tured out this was my teacher playing.

Jennifer Macleary turns out to have been born in France, but with Irish parents.  During the lesson we jumped between French and English, or should I say Irish, as she speaks with a faintly French accented Irish brogue.  She is young, probably in her twenties, and lives with her partner and one-year-old baby in Montpellier.

I gathered all this chatting while getting my cello out and preparing to play.  Then a young colleague popped his head round the door – a piano teacher who had been a fellow student of Jennifer’s at the conservatoire in Toulouse.  When he heard I was playing Boismortier he immediately wanted to accompany me, despite my protestations about being rubbish.  Somehow I got through to the end of the piece, and he took his leave, back to his home in Montpellier, saying he looked forward to hearing the piece again next time.


The lesson itself was all I had hoped for.  Jennifer is positive and encouraging and I immediately felt at ease (rather than daunted, as I had done with the more established cellist, Sophie Hautier).  She picked up some key technical problems I was having and discussed how to overcome them.  I went away with three things to work at and a sense of optimism that I was going to be able at least to recover the ground I have lost through illness.  And who knows, play a little better than before.

If only, if only, I could have had a teacher like this from the start of my life in retirement rather than having to wait till the age of 72.

Sanglier visits

I have had a marked increase of visits by sanglier – wild boar – this summer, probably looking for water during these long, hot  months.

Early one morning in July, Poppy’s barking alerted me to a visitor.  I looked out of the window and saw a sanglier on the terrace below.  It was huge – the size of a small pony, and startlingly ugly. It came right up to the entrance of the terrace in front of the house, but while I rushed to find my camera, the sanglier took off, no doubt scared by the continued barking of my fierce little dog!

Recently there has been growing evidence of sanglier visits on the terraces further down, with the grass completely dug up in front of the gite and the terrace above it.   I think my land must now be on their route down to the river.

Now the hunting season is open I expect to hear the sound of hunters calling to each other, the baying of their dogs and intermittent gunshot on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday mornings. You can imagine what my position is on hunting, but in the Cévennes it is nigh on a religion, so I keep my head down.  It has to be said, I’m afraid, that sanglier stew or daube can be most delicious.

September visitor cancels

Yesterday my last remaining September visitor, my friend Christine, cancelled. She has shingles – and did not want to risk infecting me.  I’m so sorry for Christine – shingles is apparently horrid – and sad for me.  Christine and I go back over 60 years.

We went to the Vineyard Primary School together, then on to Tiffin Girls School, where we shared several social and political activities such as CND marches, and then on to Oxford. Since then we have remained in contact and I spent a splendid new year at Roy and Christine’s country home a few years back.

It’s not been a relationship of equals; I was a disorganised student lacking focus, while Christine was always the impressive, super-performing star of the year.  She was totally focussed on work and yet at school was respected by her contemporaries as a natural leader,  school captain (twice), invariably class monitor, star of the hockey field, winner of a handwriting competition, virtually always top of the form, many prizes, which got more and more impressive as she progressed to university and postgraduate medical studies. Now retired after a prestigious medical career, she is Emeritus Professor of Haemophilia at London University.

In fact probably the only area where it can be said the scales were balanced the other way was music: Christine reminds me that I accused her of singing out of tune.

I was really looking forward to her visit, even if it might be continuing the argument we have had by email over my discovery of local ‘coupeurs de feu’!

Other old friends, Clare (first friends and tutorial partners at Oxford) and Wenol (fellow VSO in Nigeria) and her husband Paul, have also had to postpone visits because of major medical issues.  Oh dear, I hope all these dear friends will actually come later, and that this is not the start of septuagenerian health problems.