You might think of January as the month when we eat wisely, to make up for the excesses of the festive season. In France ‘le régime’ has to wait: first we have to eat the Galette des Rois.
En principe the galette (traditionally a puff pastry cake with frangipan inside, is eaten on the twelfth night after Christmas. But the rows of galette so in the boulangeries of Le Vigan bear witness to the fact that people go on tucking in till the end of the month.
Yesterday it was the turn of the our local Mairie, together in partnership with the old folks club, Lou Rossignol.
First we old folks were entertained by the children of the Ecole Primaire of Breau. They sang cheerfully and pretty tunelessly. I can tell I qualify as an old folk – I found them charming, ‘mignon’. I remember that when I was at primary school we used to do maypole dancing at an old peoples home.
Probably the only snow we will get this winter, so I couldn’t resist putting up some photos. I only dared a 200 metre walk up the road this morning – what a contrast to all those years trudging happily through the snow and ice -so all but two of the photos are taken from my house.
View from my desk
View west, towards Mouzoules
View towards Serres
Risking short walk with Poppy
Bréau at last merges from mist as snow melts
Poppy loves the snow and rushes round as if possessed.
Winter has come – at last. But I doubt if it is going to last longer than a day or two.
This morning there was a light frost – enough to put a layer of ice on my bassin – and a smattering of snow. The cold meant that at last the birds are coming to eat the food I offer. And perhaps the cocoons of the chenilles processionaires (dangerous for children and animals), which have recently arrived in my pine, may be discouraged from developing. As I write, the snow is blanking out all sight of the villages of Bréau and Serres.
Ice on the bassin
Cocoon of chenille processionaire in pine by house
This morning a helicopter buzzed around for a long time, first over the village of Bréau, then it came down – low – along the valley of the river Souls, below me, up to the village of Serres, then it came back overhead, passing close over my house several times.
We are quite used to helicopters here. With the major hospitals of Nimes and Montpellier over 50 miles away, it is quite common for the helicopters to pick up patients with medical emergencies and victims of accidents. I remember one May morning, Sara and I watched a dramatic rescue of a cyclist who had fallen down the hillside opposite my house. And last year, our mayor was helicoptered to Nimes with a heart attach (he is OK now).
But this time I didn’t see the SAMU (Service d’aide médicale urgente) logo. So, what was it? A mapping vehicle used by Google or other location mapping services? I doubt it, as I imagine they use drones rather than expensive helicopters.
So, I’m tempted to adopt a more sinister interpretation: police or army. Annoyingly I can’t read what is written on the tail. But I have identified it is an Airbus Squirrel, used amongst others by the French gendarmerie.
Yesterday I had lunch with Yves Jaffrennou, who was Sylvia’s partner. It had been Yves who took me to the doctor, the chemist and the laboratoire for a blood test and then he wanted to make sure I was eating properly now that I’m better!
Yes, I ate well – indeed with too much gusto – and thoroughly enjoyed spending several hours chatting with Yves, who is really quite a remarkable man. Retired teacher, he writes books, takes photos, sculpts, broadcasts on local radio … … It was good being able to discuss politics- there are not many here who are interested in discussion (as opposed to adopting strong stances at dinner parties!).
Obviously we covered IS, immigration, and the integration of immigrants. We considered how the different colonial heritage of our two countries had shaped attitudes to immigrants. I suggested that the British colonial model had been essentially a hands-off, indirect rule, which perhaps led to more tolerance – relatively – of multicultural societies. The French colonials lived more closely with the native populations, but wanted to impose French culture – language and customs – on them. Similarly, in France they want immigrants to integrate, adopt all things French. Added to this is the fervent belief (in theory) in the secular state. Hence the dislike of not just the all covering burka but the more casual hijab.
I referred to some of my friends – also Yves’ – and remarked how passionate they were about being French and wanting all who lived here to appreciate all things French. I added that I did nothave similar sentiments about being British. I had a sense of my family and the various places in Britain and Ireland from whence they came, but I had more a sense of being European rather than British.
That pressed a button for Yves – identity. Off he went to get a book, a collection of weekly radio talks he gave a few years back, covering the alphabet with a ‘word of the day’. When he reached the letter I, he talked about Identity.
For those that can read French, here is what he wrote (click on each image to see the larger version).
Les mots du jour, par Yves Jaffrennou.
He starts by discussing what is it which makes each person unique, gives them their identity. He explores the concentric circles which make up his identity : his ancestral heritage, the region where he grew up, the places where he has lived, like the Cévennes, his belonging to the French community – its history, language and values – his sense (like me) of belonging to Europe, but also his sense of belonging to the human race – and beyond even that circle, the idea of us belonging to the eco system of this planet.
I wonder how many local radio stations in Britain would give weekly space to complex ideas like this.
This has to be my last extravagant splurge for some time: I have given in and upgraded my iPhone.
After two years there begins to be a deterioration in the battery, which is expensive to replace. Well, that is my excuse for regular upgrades, waiting always for the (measly) discount that Orange offers on the full extortionate price that Apple demands. This time I added the excuse that not only are my fingers getting too clumsy for the small on-screen keyboard of my iPhone 5s but also my eyes could do with larger text.
So is my latest toy, the Apple iPhone 6s Plus, bought from Orange by telephone, since the Montpellier shop said they had no idea when they would be able to get their hands on one. First impressions: very nice indeed, and I think I can handle the extra bulk. My kitchen scales say it weighs 188g compared with the 5s’ 110g.
It will be easier to use the phone for the odd bit of internet surfing when away from home, so I may well normally leave my iPad behind. It also has a higher spec for photos. I imagine I will use it for everyday pics when I have left my camera at home.
Fifty years ago, a green innocent 22-year-old, I took a plane to Nigeria. Four days later, on 15 January 1966, there was the first coup d’état and life in Nigeria was never the same again.
It changed my life too. The previous year had not been good: I messed up my Finals, got a poor degree and had to abandon the planned postgrad research. Then I had two operations and an unscheduled two months in hospital. (You see, the habit of long hospital stays started young… …).
I was adrift and, on impulse, applied to do Voluntary Service Overseas, saying I wanted to go somewhere remote and rural. In those days standards were less demanding, so I got a posting, to Kashmir. But then war flared up in Kashmir, so I was sent to nice, safe Nigeria. Ha ha.
I landed at Kano in the night and stepped off the plane to another world, warm, pungent smells and nearby, a band of horsemen, armed with rifles and swords. (They were apparently waiting for the plane of the Sardauna of Sokoto – prime minister of the North).
I stayed a couple of nights with a British Council officer, who gave me his take on Nigerian politics. Six years after independence the received wisdom was that Nigeria was a successful example of the ‘Westminster model’ of democracy. But the BC man thought otherwise: one of these days, he said, the shooting will start.
He then put me on the tiny pre-war Dakota which was to take me the 400 miles to Sokoto, where I would be teaching in a brand new Federal Government College. At the school I was greeted by the Principal, the only other non Nigerian and shown to what was to be my first home on campus.
The next morning another Englishman turned up in a Land Rover. He explained that he represented the British community in Sokoto and he was there to advise me there had been a ‘spot of bother’ in Nigeria. But nothing to worry about – Brits were not in danger.
The spot of bother was a military coup in which several key politicians, including the Nigerian Prime Minister, Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, and the head of the Northern state parliament, the Sardauna of Sokoto, had been killed. It was the Sardauna who had been going to officially open our school!
There then followed an amazing year – another coup, massacres and riots, the army billeted on our school, and at one stage a swap of pupils, with us receiving northerners fro the East, and our Ibo pupils being sent home for safety.
If you are 22/3 and pretty feckless, all this was quite exciting. But I cared also for our pupils, some of the sixth formers were my age, the younger ones were twelve and upwards. And I had already identified with the north of Nigeria, populated mainly by Hausa and Fulani, and predominantly Muslim.
After my travels, I wrote this article for the Guardian. (My Nigerian experience was a major factor in my decision I wanted to be a newspaper reporter.)
While Easterners still there.
I had a great time in Nigeria, with a challenging teaching job and busy social life. I was cosseted by my steward, seen here with me and his wife. Trying hard to remember his name…. a delightful, gentle Fulani.
I made a lifelong friend, Wenol (teaching in another a Sokoto school). After Nigeria we did a memorable overland trip, from Cape Town to Cairo. And she and her husband, Paul, have stayed here in France.
Wenol in 1967. On our Capetown to Cairo trek.
Wenol in 2012. With Paul, in Montpellier.
All of that is fifty years ago! Hard to believe. But my memories of this year have remained vivid all my life.
The last 24 hours has served as a health warning that all is still not right with my innards. I was up all of Wednesday/Thursday night with bad abdominal pains, and sat there wondering whether to call for an ambulance.
Margaret and I, the two Internet medical experts, are convinced that it is gallstones. The doctor (not my usual one) was not so convinced, and sent me home, saying if the pain returned to the severity of the night-time, to come back – or go straight to the clinic in Ganges. ( I had a blood test to check no infections, and a prescription for an ethnograph should I go to Ganges.) In the afternoon I was sick – three litres! – but what a relief, even though it reminded me vividly of those scenes in hospital in the weeks after my op.
Things have improved 24 hours later, but the fact is that I know that all has not been right since last year’s operation. My GP and the oncologist have both said I should wait for things to settle. I have a review visit with the surgeon scheduled for March, so I suppose I should hang on till then.
Two good things have come out of this episode. I have at last got round to putting the emergency numbers for ambulance and fire services by the phone and I have returned to my New Year resolution to eat less and more cautiously.
We are not alone in having strange weather this winter, but I don’t think I can remember such prolonged mainly mild wet weather, with only the odd day of fine winter sun.
The grey days, which I associate more with Britain than the south of France started before Christmas. Until a day ago there was little wind but lots of cloud, giving some spectacular sunrises. Now we are having the relentless north wind and this morning I could see this had brought snow to the mountains.
I can’t resist putting up these sky photos, all taken from my house, except the mountain snow, taken 100 metres up the road.