Many pairs of glasses

I have four pairs of specs – or glasses as the young now seem to call them: long distance, sun, reading and music/computer specs.

I should have five, but I lost my main, varifocal specs just before Christmas. I’m not a fan of varifocals: I get neckache pushing my head up to read the small print.  So apart from the huge cost, I’m not sad to have lost the varifocals and have to revert to my second, long-distance only ones.

I do get very fed up with mislaying my specs as well as having to stuff several pairs in my bag.  Next month I am having the cataract operations and had been looking forward to this simplifying my life, as friends seem to now only need specs for long distance.

This week I had the pre-op meetings in Ganges with the anaesthetist and the opthalmologist who will be doing the op.  He broke the news to me that as my two eyes are so very different, he will be making the left eye suitable for reading and the right for long distance.

In other words, unless I learn to read with the left eye and drive with the right, I am going to need to replace reading,  long distance, sun and computer/music specs. I track my missing iPhone and iPad down with the app ‘Find my iPhone’. If only I could find an app which would retrieve missing specs.

Unreliable spring weather

Of course the caterpillars are coming out because we are having lovely warm spring weather – in the 20s in the afternoon.  But this year I’m sure we have had a longer period of bad weather – not particularly cold, but grey and wet.

The first glimmer that things were changing was about ten days ago, when I took the first photo from my bedroom terrace.  Morning mist like that often lifts to produce a lovely sunny day.  Today (second photo) is wonderful: warm and sunny all day.

Kate and family arrive tomorrow.  They will only have three full days here and the weather is looking unreliable, verging on reliably poor.

Chenilles processionaires

Spring is when the chenilles processionaires – processionary caterpillars – come down from their pine trees and are found wriggling in procession across our land.

The caterpillar hairs are sufficiently toxic to seriously harm children or animals. So, thinking of Poppy and the imminent arrival of grandchidren,  I shelled out to have two guys come – dressed in white protective clothing and with masks – to climb up a ladder and, with the aid of a special long handled implement, bring down eight nests in my pine tree.

I was able to relax – until I spotted the arrival of two more nests.  I don’t understand how, as the nests are supposed to be built at the start of winter.  At least, only two, I thought.  Then the day I brought Poppy back after her scary haircut, I spotted a line of 20 or so caterpillars right beside the car.  I bundled Poppy indoors (further traumatising her) while I disposed of the caterpillars.  (Yes I’m afraid this means burning them, having first doused them with water so the hairs don’t fly round in the air.)

Two days ago, unbelievably, the same thing.  I got out of the car to see a circle of the damned things (unusual, as they are normally in a long line).  Once again, I had to lock Poppy up inside.

There remains nest up in my tree – I will have to do a daily check once the children arrive.

The first photo is the remaining nest in my tree, the second is a pine in the land opposite my entrance.  The first two photos of the caterpillars are from the first nest and the third from the second.


This was the week that both Poppy and I had to have haircusts.

Mine was a pleasant occasion, as I have found a hairdresser I like – and who was completely unphased by me turning up at the wrong time. (One of the few good things about getting older is that people are much kinder about such moments of forgetfulness.)  Besides, with typical Gallic charm, he says, as he finishes, what lovely hair I have.

Poppy is much less pleased with her visits.  In fact she hates them. I have to sympathise, as  the woman who runs the salon de toilettage de chiens et chats is somewhat lacking in warmth, either to dogs or their owners.  Poppy emerged trembling and spent the rest of the day punishing me – following me around as if I might abandon her to torture again, and yet refusing to come close enough to be caressed.  Finally, after her supper she demonstrated her state of trauma by throwing up – as usual selecting a Persian rug for the act.

Still, it was definitely time as the following before and after photos show (both taken in Hans and Margaret’s kitchen, hence in poor light).


Ecole de Musique

I’m rather enjoying my new life as the oldest pupil in the Ecole de Musique.  There are other adult pupils, of course, but I think I am the only one in my seventies. As well as my lessons with Jennifer – almost young enough to be a grandaughter – I am now taking part in the school’s group activities

Last Saturday I joined the newly established orchestre – if you can call it that.  As well as string players, it includes guitarists, flautists, clarinettists, a boy playing the trumpet (quite well), and a girl playing left hand only on the piano. Natalie, the recorder and flute teacher and now directrice of the école is an excellent conductor and teacher.  She is skilfully introducing musical theory and the practice of playing in ensembles.  The children are incredibly well behaved, and backed up by one or two other adults, like me, who are a bit further advanced. Actually not all of them – as well as the teacher of our local primary, the clarinet section includes her mother – the now retired estate agent who sold us this house and land and has only recently started learning the clarinet.

The music is very basic but still great fun. We are divided into four groups or voices, and the bass voice was played by me, another cellist, a girl playing the guitar and the left-handed pianist. The other cellist – a pretty Martiniquan –  is the mother of one of the girls playing the violin, very much a beginner but clearly enjoying herself.

Then on Wednesday I played in a trio with two earnest little girls, perhaps about ten, who have been learning the violin for about four yearsl.  Together with the violin teacher, Gita, we have started playing a trio by Gluck, which we will perform at an ‘audition’ in April. And next week I am apparently playing with another group, a trickier syncopated piece of gypsy music by Lyonel Schmitt. Gita is absoutely charming and nicely appreciative of the presence of a bass line.  She has asked if I am happy to play with other groups and I have said I would be delighted.

The two girls were intrigued by my cello – the first time they had really seen one – and one was happy to have a go.  Typically of children here they are very much at ease talking to adults and Eve, the first violin, rushed to assemble chairs to support my very heavy case while I unpacked the cello.

As we finished, Gita’s next class trooped in – a group of little girls of about six (adorable and also serious), whom Gita calls her ‘chicks’.

Today I reflected again on the courtesy of children here.  I was walking up a narrow lane in town when a boy of about twelve came by.  He automatically said ‘bonjour’ as he passed me.  Would that happen in Britain?  Maybe in the country?

Six-month checkup a non-event

As I expected, my meeting with Dr Curtieu, the surgeon who performed last year’s operation, was a non-event; essentially a rubber stamp that the scans showed no evidence of a recurrence of the cancer.  He is hopeful that it was caught in time and that the radical removal of lymph glands was a necessary precaution in case some cancerous cells had escaped from the uterus.  I will continue to have six monthly checkups for the next two years, the next one in the autumn, will be with the oncologist.

As to all the various side effects I have had, he confirmed what the doctor in Ganges said, that essentially I will have to live with any problems, taking medication if necessary.  He implied that the radiotherapy was the main cause rather than the surgery.  But then he would, as the surgeon, wouldn’t he?

As I was ready to leave, Dr Courtieu asked, smiling, if I would be voting in the referendum in June.  I explained that I was waiting to hear if I still had a vote in the UK (I am reaching the end of the 15-year period after which I have no voting rights) but if possible I would certainly be voting to stay in.  ‘Le Brexit – c’est une honte’ I said.  He offered his bafflement at the British position, but then added that of course all countries had their cross to bear – in the case of France, it was le Front National.  It was like being back in hospital: though pressed for time, Dr Courtieu clearly wanted to engage in discussion.

I have since received a nice email from Brighton and Hove Council confirming that I’m entitled to vote in the Referendum.  I think I have made it by about a week, as my official date of residence in France was 1 July 2001.

Cancer scan – cautious thumbs up

This morning I had a scan at the clinique at Ganges, in preparation for Thursday’s checkup visit with the surgeon.

Now if I were in Britain I would not expect to know the results: they would probably be sent direct to the surgeon who commissioned the scan.  But here, I am invited into the radiographer’s room while he examines the scans and dictates the report to the surgeon – and then I am the courier who takes scans, including a CD, and the report to the surgeon.

Curiously I had not thought I was too worried beforehand; my position has always been to think positive and to assume the surgeon had got rid of everything.  There was a sudden moment of anxiety, however, as I watched the radiographer examining the screen.

The report looks cautiously positive.  His conclusion was “pas de signe de récurrence profonde”.  In other words he could see nothing out of the ordinary, though he did remark on the considerable arthritis in the spine.  But I know about that already, unfortunately.

As the oncologist said last year, you must never expect to be given the total all clear, but you just hope the remission lasts for years and years. I expect Thursday’s meeting with the surgeon to be a formality, as I don’t think he will be interested to hear me recount all the side effects caused by the surgery and radiotherapy. That is for another day and other doctors.


First visitor of the year

Last week I had an all too short visit from my old friend Clare.  It is now over half a century since we were tutorial partners at Oxford! Since then Clare has had a prestigious academic career and has for some time been Professor Clare Ungerson.  (Sorry, Clare, only photo I took of you – will do better next time.)2016-03-10_DSC00699

Of course February holidays in Europe are a bit crazy, as I discovered in Italy.  And March trips can be equally chancy.  I took Clare to see the Cirque de Navacelles in cold grey weather, which soon became rainy and by the time we got home, was snowing! Clare, bless her, was totally relaxed.

In the evening we had the first of some intense Scrabble sessions.  I have always a pretty relaxed view on permissible vocabularly, especially as I am a fan of producing words like ‘zo’ and ‘qi’, much to the irritation of another Scrabble visitor, Sara. But Clare plays the official Scrabble rules and is an enthusiastic online Scrabble player and I found some of the allowed words outrageou, for example ‘et’ (dialect past tense of eat!).

And then, miracle, the next day was gloriously sunny and warm and we went to Uzès and lunched outside at one of my favourite restaurants in the Place aux Herbes. 

After saying goodbye to Clare I lunched at my favourite Montpellier restaurant and got talking to the couple at the table next to me – and the couple the other side joined in.  And we talked of politics – of Brexit, Europe, London, the refugee crisis.  We had the sort of relaxed, wide ranging conversation I miss here.

The next day I had an unexpected visit from Claudine, an anthropologist and old friend of Sylvia’s.  I recounted my experience and she suggested I joined a monthly discussion group run by Yves.  The first meeting was due yesterday – on Solitude – but in the end I was still not well enough after a brief relapse (ate unwisely at the weekend).  Still, I look forward to this next month.


Contretemps with the Italian motorways

My adventures were not quite over.  In the morning Charles accompanied me to where I had left the car, beside the splendid (largest in Europe) 19th century Catiglione Cemetery.  Because he was waving me off I unwisely did not spend the time setting my GPS system.

Charles’ last words to me were to avoid taking the motorway to Milan.  So when I  emerged from a tunnel to be faced with an instant choice of Milan to the Left and Livorno to the right, I went right – only to spot too late that the sign said Milano and Ventimiglia.  I then had to drive the whole way round Genoa before another exit came up.

There I carefully avoided the Telepass lanes, thinking I had chosen one for bank cards – only to discover it was for another ticket system.  My cash and bank card rejected, I pressed the button for help, and got a flood of Itlian.  I pressed again, saying sorry, I didnt speak Italian, and a ticket was spewed out of the machine and the barrier raised.  It was only later, over a coffee that I worked out that this was a fine for non-payment – for 77 euros!

I’ve written a complain (in English) and await a reply.


I got a reply: no apology but an instruction to pay 70 centimes, if necessary by bank draft!  Anyhow this was an improvement on 77 euros.