French health system not healthy

Yes I know this is all relative when compared with the state of things in Britain, but there are more and more signs that the French health system is entering a difficult period of retreat, of cutting back of services which have so far been so wonderful.

I have written before of the difficulties of finding doctors and nurses to work in rural backwaters like this.  And this winter showed that the role of the excellent centres de rééducation (rehabilitation) is going to be seriously reduced.

On Monday I had an appointment with Dr Roch-Bras, a rhumatalogue at St-Roch in Montpellier (to discuss what to do with my ever lengthening list of arthritic aches and pains). I had gone expecting that stage one would be more injections in my knees (to carry on putting off replacements as long as possible).

We agreed that this should be a particular one-off injection rather than three (involving weekly returns to Montpellier) even though this will cost me more as they are not completely reimbursed by the health system. Normally you have the injection and then get a prescription to obtain the medication and return it to the doctor (laborious system, I know).  But then Dr Roch-Bras broke the news that the main pharmaceutical supplier had stopped producing the product (not enough money in it for them) and the other suppliers were overstretched and she had no stocks left.  So this will have to wait till my next visit in mid-April, which means my walking will be somewhat restricted while the family is here.

Dr Roch-Bras then launched into an unexpected burst of despairing pessimism.  She sees a bleak future for specialisms like hers, with no signs of realistic funding, and added that she was positively discouraging her two children from considering careers in medicine. Ah well, not quite such a happy meeting as the previous one when we both enthused about Italian architecture and mutually shuddered at Brexit.


Deborah’s drama

Yesterday my sister Deborah was looking after my grandchildren, Ella and Maddie, in a local adventure playground, when she tripped and fell headlong onto her forehead, creating a deep gash.  I can remember from Jude having a similar fall as a small child just how much forehead injuries can bleed! So it was scary for Ella and Maddie.

Deb says the playground staff were professional and caring, looking after her and two rather traumatised small children until the ambulance arrived.  Then, many hours at King’s College Hospital, mainly waiting for each stage of the treatment, which included  scans and finally a professional bit of sewing by a specialist in stitching faces.

I suspect Deb plus the entire Bennion Pedley family (both parents having rushed back from busy days at the office) are having a pretty bleary day – I know Jude is struggling with a court case in Bedford, followed by delayed train back to London. Deb says she is fine and was really impressed by King’s College Hospital, which was clearly still recovering from receiving casualties from the Westminster attack.

Just goes to show how easy it is for us 70 pluses to have nasty falls.

End of current family visits

This morning I said goodbye – in the pouring rain – to my brother in law Peter and to Allan and Gayle, the parents of my New Zealand son-in-law, Steve.

Allan and Gayle were here on a flying visit, which I could not have managed without Peter, who drove them from and back to airports as well as taking us all on one of our favourite scenic drives: over the Causses, down through Madières, up through St Maurice de Navacelles (with stunning sideways views of the Cirque de Navacelle) and the down off the high plateau to the wine vineyards of Montpeyroux, St Saturning and so on.  We thought it would be interesting for Allan and Gayle to see French vineyards, which look quite different from the kiwi ones.

Luckily the weather was OK for this trip and as our favourite restaurant in Montpeyroux was closed for the day, we went on to St Saturnin, where Chris and I had a memorable meal years ago.  We even managed to have the first two courses outside before the increasingly chilly weather forced us indoors.  It was a fair demonstration of good French food for Allan and Gayle, but I was a little disappointed: there has been a change of owners in recent years and I thought they were a bit offhand (unlike la Terrasse du Mimosa at Montpeyroux, Peter’s and my favourite).  Last night we ate out at the Brasserie d’Assas in le Vigan, courtesy of Allan and Gayle.  Not haute cuisine, but not bad.  And the three dessert eaters simply loved a concoction of biscuit and mousse au citron – one of the best puds I have eaten for a long time.

Yesterday we had truly spectacular weather: thunder, lightning, hail – lots of it, and wave after wave of torrential rain.  

This did not deter Allan, who twitches in his desire to do diy.  After he had fixed the faulty drawer in a cupboard and solved some problems, such as how to answer my mobile with a simple press of a button on the steering wheel (hard, as the garage forgot to include the manual and the downloaded version proved it is direly written), he switched his attention to the challenge of the battle against chenilles processionaires (processional caterpillars.

The pine tree in front of the house is infested with their nests.  We have already had to deal with two long processions of these dangerous caterpillars on the drive, and I wanted to prevent others descending, endangering dog and grandchildren.  I had bought an eco-trap, a system involving creating an impenetrable slippery band round the tree trunk, thus forcing the caterpillars down the only exit, into a plastic bag, where they can be collected and destroyed. The trouble is that when the package arrived the instructions proved even worse than those for my Smart car and there was also a question mark over whether it was possible to put up the barrier round the tree, given that access on the crucial, south, side  (where the caterpillars descend) is very difficult.

Allan was undeterred: I attempted to translate the instructions, which included a higher than normal amlount of French words I had never heard of, Gayle provided sterling service as holder of the ladder on the south side, Peter joined in with getting the band round the trunk and helping to mix and apply of the mastic (eco mastic, using newspaper…) which has to fill every crevice of the craggy tree trunk, so the caterpillars cannot escape.  And Allan built the contraption more from intuition than from my translated instructions, rushed up and down the ladder with nails, hooks, bands of foam, bags of mastic.  All this was done in relative lulls in the rain and a longer pause when the wind got up and threatened to blow the whole thing away (hence the nails, not included in the instructions).

Now I have to wait for the sun to return – next week – to see if the trap will work mixed reviews on the internet).  If it fails I may need to get the same team of eradicators of bestioles that I had last year to come, dressed in their protective clothing and goggles,  with their special ladders and extended branch clippers.  What I don’t want to have to do is to cut down the tree.

Now the three have set off for the airport.  And it’s raining. And raining.


New car

Today I drove to an from le Vigan several times in my new car.

This may not seem like a big deal, but it is four and a half months since I have been  behind the wheel, and being able to drive is essential if you live in a country area like this.

The ten-day silence is because I have been pampered by the unexpected arrival of my brother-in-law who is spoiling me rotten doing all the shopping and cooking.  But I have been busy too: I did a return trip to the garage in Montpellier, to negotiate the purchase of the new car – a Smart automatic convertible (I like the name of the particular model – ‘Passion’) and the sale of the Citroen Berlingo, which has served me so well for the last seven years. Inevitably I did not get as much as I wanted on my old car, but still, it is hard to see another way I could shell out ‘just’ 12000 Euros on an automatic. Rivals were coming at quite a lot more and without the reasonable reviews of this car.

Yesterday Peter and I went to Montpellier to hand over my old car and collect the new one.  Quite an eventful day: on the trip into the centre of town for lunch our tram screeched to an emergency stop as it hit a car crossing the lines.  Luckily the driver, a young girl, was not hurt.  Her car, on the other hand was a write-off, wrapped round a set of traffic lights, the same ones she had failed to see were red.

Then, a last minute administrative drama when we tried to ring my assurance company with details of the new car  all their numbers were ‘unobtainable’.  Much to the hilarity of the efficient and charming garage secretary ( the garage sells mainly huge and expensive Mercedes and is very swish) I rang my pharmacy, next door to the insurance office, and asked if someone could pop next door and get them to ring us! It turned out later that France Telecom had inadvertently cut the wrong lines and they had been enjoying a strangely peaceful day until my attempts to contact them

at last I was in my squeaky clean tiny car and we were given a quick tour of the controls. Only point against the very nice salesman: he had failed to check the instruction manual was included – we will have to wait for this

I did a brief detour to visit my friends in le Centre Maguelone.  A strange experience as the long termes were still there, with Marie Laure and Cathie the maths teacher both having endured yet another operation since I last saw them  I will try to return in a month

And then the open road.  A strange experience, not only because I am driving mainly with my left hand, but also because it is decades since I last drove an automatic  it behaves quite differently, but is very responsive  not the cars fault that my left foot occasionally twitched, seeking a clutch pedal

Peter took over half way home, but I am reassured that I will be up to the three times a week trip to Ganges for pool physiotherapy

Today I went into le Vigan three times, first for a blood test, then to give a bottle of wine to the pharmacy staff and later to the physiotherapist . Wonderful. Not only was I self sufficient at last but it was a joy driving in the sunshine with the hood down




Living with a problematic shoulder

With the shingles virtually gone, I return to thinking about my painful, non-functioning shoulder.

Nobody appears to agree about the reasons or prognosis. But in order to put myself into a better frame of mind, I am trying to address a couple of the daily practical problems I face.

This may not be high on most people’s list of priorities, but I was finding it difficult to use my computer, because my desk was too high: raising my arm to use the mouse was particularly painful.  So, courtesy of Ikea, I have bought a new table, which can be adjusted down to 68cm (27 ins).

My other problem is much more important.  And difficult to resolve.  Three weeks after leaving the clinic, but four months since the operation, and I still cannot move my arm up very high or without pain.  I have tried and failed to operate the gears in my car.  This means I am beholden to friends to do my shopping, run my errands, or take me into town. Despite everybody’s assurances that this is not a problem, it leaves me frustrated, with a sense of impotence.

The only answer is to drive an automatic car.  I have tried Dessa’s Skoda Yeti and I am fine: there are no gear stick movements while the car is in motion and I drive mainly with my left hand, with my right hand at the bottom, only really in action when Im turning the wheel to go round sharp corners.

The only place where I can hire a car locally does not have automatic cars.  I have come to the conclusion that the solution has to be to sell my Citroen Berlingo – which I love – and settle for a modest automatic, whose main purpose is to get me to le Vigan or on occasions to Montpellier.

Car prices in France are ridiculous, new ones are dearer than in the UK and secondhand ones don’t drop their price very much (for the buyer!).  The other complication is Brexit: not knowing how long I can stay in France.  So I don’t want to spend on a car which I might have to sell in two years time.

Four seater automatics are expensive. So I started looking at the Smart ForTwo, a zippy little two seater which would be as at home in London as in France.  The big disadvantage is not being able to accommodate friends and family.

But can I justify buying a more expensive car for about two months of the year (and anyhow the family frequently hire or bring their cars)?  I looked at alternatives like the Golf, but they were much more expensive.  And boring to drive – I’m afraid that I have to confess to enjoying driving cars! If I have two or more visitors who don’t drive I will simply hire an automatic in Montpellier.  It is still cheaper than the thousands extra for a larger car. Oh, and that will apply if I have one visitor who cant stand having Poppy on his or her lap!

More difficult to justify is why I am going for a convertible version.  Well, the answer is it cant be justified, just explained.  If I’m shelling out on a smaller car, might as well make it a fun purchase so I can be happy.  Buying the cabrio (convertible) version adds a couple of grand to the bill.

Believe it or not there seem to be more Smart ForTwo cabrios for sale in London than in the south of France (except Monaco and Nice, where they specialise in the upmarket top of the range models).

My friend Dessa kindly took me down to Montpellier today to see what was on offer and to try out a Smart, to make sure it was what I wanted.  The Mercedes-Smart agents had sold their last one with the spec I asked for yesterday, but I was still able to go for a spin in it.

Second time I have been able to be behind a wheel for four months.  Already I was having visions of liberty again!  It was very comfortable. The automatic gears meant my right shoulder had very little work to do, particularly as the steering wheel can be lowered.  And the steering was lighter than in my Berlingo or Dessa’s Skoda. Acceleration was nippy, though I expect the ride to be a little bumpier on bad roads than in my larger car.  It is tiny, but feels solid and comfortable provided you only have one passage and not too much luggage.

The only other cabrio on show at the garage – the only Smart dealer for miles – was a very stylish black and grey number with a higher specification than I had asked for – and a higher price. But the young salesman offered to reduce it by 1340€ to my price limit. The only extra option I would want to go for is a basic parking aide – noises if I get too close to the bollard behind me!

All depends now on what price they will give me for my Berlingo, which I love dearly but have to accept that it is not in the prime of youth and it has come up against several bollards (the nasty low concrete ones out of sight) as well as some bushes and trees.  I’m going back to Montpellier on Wednesday with Richard, a friend who was once a garage owner.

If all goes well, the week after I just might be mobile again.




I have let my gîte for a few months to someone I have vaguely known for years, and the more I get to know her the more I like Odile.

She is a retired French teacher from the lycée, so, like my other retired French teacher friend, Yves, she seems to know half le Vigan as former pupils or their parents.

Odile is dynamic, colourful, left wing/eco (same doctor and pysio as me), and very generous.  She checks daily whether there is anything I need or that she can do for me.

In fact, her time is much taken up working with the handful of Afghan refugees in le Vigan. It turns out that Odile, who speaks Farsi, is the only person in le Vigan who can communicate with these refugees!

How does she come to speak Farsi?  Well, as a teenager, inspired by a book she read on Afghanistan, she and a friend bought an old 2cv and drove it to Afghanistan, where she travelled, made friends and had adventures (at the same time that I was doing the same in Africa). On returing to Paris, she took a two-year course in Farsi, before moving on to more traditional university studies and a career as a teacher.

She is currently irritated with the behaviour of one of the refugees, who is not pulling his weight and helping to decorate his apartment.  And I think she finds the tensions amongst the group of volunteers working with the refugees (there are also Syrians and Africans, mainly Sudanese) irritating.

Spring has retreated

The glorious weather has been replaced by damp grey clouds – and now, torrential rain and wind.  Weather for hibernating.  My English neighbours, the Pressleys, arrive this evening  for five days.  Not looking good for them.

Chris always used to be annoyed by my lack of logic with regard to weather forecasts, but I can’t help feeling that since – after a lovely February – we are so far having a wet March, it will surely be fine when the family arrives for their holidays at the start of April.