Disappointing cello concert

I was looking forward to last night’s cello concert in the nearby village of Molières.  The cellist, Philippe Henry, is from Montpellier where he has a good reputation, and the programme was predominantly Bach.  But I was disappointed – and frozen.

Henry was presenting a mainly baroque programme, playing on a standard cello and a modern copy of a baroque styled cello.  He played one of the movements from Bach’s first suite, which I attempted to play many times and so know well, first on the baroque cello and then on the standard modern one.  It confirmed my already growing prejudice, that I don’t really like baroque cellos.  I know it is not probably correct to say so, but I prefer the rich tone and versatility of a modern cello – and I think Bach would have appreciated its possibilities too.

I also didn’t like the way Henry interpreted the suite.  Even when playing on the modern cello he played as if constrained by the technical limitations of an old cello and to my ears the music was jerky and lacking in richness of interpretation.  Bring back the non-politically correct, maybe, performances I love by Rostroprovich and Janos Starker in particular.

The music was accompanied by a graphic artist ‘performing’ on some sort of acetate sheets projected onto the wall.  She was extraordinarily gifted, but I found it irritating to watch her designs – it took my attention away from the music.

There was a wedding going on in the wonderful old silk building – the ‘filature’ – which is where concerts usually take place.  Instead we were in the protestant ‘temple’, a few yards up the road from the catholic church.  The interior had been done up since I last saw it, but my goodness, it was austere: a simple, white building, with just the pastor’s pulpit in front.  Worst of all, there was no heating and, on the coldest evening for quite some time, it was freezing!

Thank goodness for FaceTime

Maddie, my youngest granddaughter, was four last week.  Thanks to FaceTime, I sang her ‘Happy Birthday’ and sat in during some excitable present opening.

All further presents were ignored when she opened a package containing a family of little toy mice.  She belted down the passage between sitting room and dining room (otherwise known as the kitchen) to her doll’s house, where the mice were introduced to their fellow inmates (it is a house solely occupied by animals). I followed the change in venue thanks to the iPhone being held by Jude and by FaceTime (the Apple only equivalent of Skype).

We get used to – but continue to curse – the vagaries of inadequate broadband and routers.  It is annoying when so often the picture freezes or one loses the connection.  But still, what a joy it is to be able to be, in a sense, present at occasions like this.  The children get used to suddenly spotting me and saying ‘Hi Granny’ as if I were really in the room – and then ignoring me while they continue with their games, which this morning consisted of a sort of cricket using yesterday’s party balloons as bats and balls.

It is also nicer to chat with adults when looking at their faces.  Kate often phones while walking to work, and we have a chat, interrupted on occasions by traffic lights or passing ambulances.

I suppose the most disconcerting thing about FaceTime and Skype (apart from the challenge of not dropping the iPhone or iPad) is this business of seeing yourself on the screen too. Somehow the position of the cameras on these devices seem to focus on blemishes like double chins.

Lovely unexpected gifts

While Jacky was working on the driveway, his partner, Marthe, and Anne (of Anne and Philippe – les Belges) called by for a coffee.  Both painters, with their works already displayed in my sitting room and in Jude and Ed’s house, they came bearing gifts.  Each had, independently, thought of giving me a painting.  I was very touched, but don’t know why I deserved them.  They are good friends and really nice women.

Anne, who is in her fifties, has taken early retirement so that she and Philippe can spend most of the year at their house here rather than in Brussels.  Their daughter, Charlotte, who lives in the village of Arphy, is expecting her first child in May. Anne is looking forward to being a hands-on granny.  Philippe, who is still the artistic director of his circus feria musica , the Belgian equivalent of Cirque du Soleil, plans to retire very soon.

My new driveway

Meanwhile Jacky has been here for two weeks, building a new driveway. The finished drive now has earth down the middle and on the sides, showered with grass seed.   But it’s raining today – the first time for a month – so I will add the finished photo tomorrow.

Anyone who has stayed will appreciate that driving down the slope to the level below, to park and turn the car, was an interesting experience: with every big rainstorm the contours were becoming ever more tricky to negotiate, as the skid marks from failed attempts to drive back up demonstrated.  Some friends steadfastly parked on the road outside rather than negotiate my drive.

It is now so a doddle going up the slope, though I find it difficult to know whether my tyres are on the concrete.  It’s also much easier to walk up the slope (my compost is at the bottom). I should have had this done years ago.

One of the pleasures of having Jacky work here is our ritual of a morning coffee together, sitting outside, putting the world to rights and admiring my view (much of which, as creator of the pool, he is responsible for creating).  April is such a wonderful month, with the host of different greens filling out each day and new flowers springing to life.  I’m a useless gardener, but still, I can enjoy the irises and roses which I planted or – increasingly – had planted for me.

Database struggles

Much of the last week I have been sweating over a database I first wrote well over a decade ago.  Somehow or other I had been persuaded by my friend Rose Pipes to produce the database primarily as a management tool for a project to produce a biographical dictionary, or encyclopedia, of the lives of over 800 Scottish women from all walks of life,  from early days to today.

This was very much a collective project and Rose, the lead editor, needed the means not just to keep track of progress of a project involving a vast number of contributors, but also to be able to produce reports for fellow editors and for the publishers, Edinburgh University Press.  The database also needed to be able to contain the entries as they arrived, generate a complex thematic index as well as cross referencing.

I must have been mad to agree, as I am very much a self-taught amateur of the database software I used, Filemaker Pro (a powerful database package for Mac and Windows supposedly within the grasp of the non-programmer…). All the more so because I was very much on my own, knowing nobody in France who knew Filemaker, and at that time I did not even have broadband to seek help from friends in Edinburgh or on the internet.

One of my most vivid memories of that time was not directly about technology, but about how to generate a consistent form of the names of the women, ranging from ‘The Blak Lady’ to various ennobled ladies with multiple names and titles.  I sought the advice of my father-in-law, a prestigious academic librarian, then in his nineties.  He arrived in France not just with complex instructions for indexing but with detailed entries of the women I had given as examples – he had not been able to resist the temptation to research these women (outside his remit!).

Amazingly, despite hiccups and sweat (Rose’s and mine), the database made its contribution and the dictionary was duly published in 2007. I heaved a huge sigh of relief: the funding had been so precarious that there was no chance of a second edition.

But there was!  A couple of years ago EUP said they would produce a second edition.  Rose contacted me and of couse initially I said “no way!”.  I was a decade older, recovering from cancer, and no further on in database skills – I had not touched filemaker for several years.  But of course, I gave in.  Rose is an old friend, the project is as always, running on a shoe string, and it was not clear who else they could ask to do the work.  Besides, I would have had to clean up the database, which is a bit like a very messy house with all the chaos hidden in the cupboards, before passing it on.

It’s not been easy: the database was not designed for multiple editions, I had to design scripts to integrate the two generations of subjects, cross referencing, changing themes, new authors…. ….   The revised database was ready (hopefully) for use just before I went into hospital last autumn.  But it had not been sufficiently tested, either by me or by Rose, and recently we have hit a major glitch (bug? error?) in the area to do with cross-referencing.

I have been sweating, as this time I am really responsible for the major problems.  I compounded them by renaming two of the 11 files which make up the database – without, as it turned out, sufficient knowledge to ensure that all references to these files were also modified.  Hence some painful time going through a huge number of scripts.

I finished all this yesterday, sent the revised database back to Rose and I’m now waiting in suspense.  All this explains my current obsession and inordinately long entry in my blog! Just to give you a flavour, here are the 10 of the 11 files with their multiple relational links. And if there is anybody out there willing to help, I would be over the moon.





Causse de Blandas

Looking south from my house is the magnificent limestone plateau of the Causse de Blandas.  Margaret and I went up there today, hoping to see carpets of the wonderful white asphodèles.

I think we went up too soon.  It was a glorious warm sunny day, but maybe the recent winds and cold nights have delayed their flowering. Instead we admired the rich range of plants, many very small, which cling with almost no soil on the limestone rocks and arid soil.

Most of these were by the roadside as we walked along part of the road which plinges down the side of the Cirque de Navacelles.


Surreal times

Difficult for me to fully grasp what is happening in Britain at present, but it is indeed a sad day when we look at the possible annihilation of the Labour Party.  I left the Labour Party in 1997, when Gordon Brown said he would not be raising higher rates of income tax. But I grew up in the Labour Party and was relatively active much of my adult life.  I have no idea where I would have stood in internal Labour affairs over the past few years – ideologically closer to Corbyn apart from his dismal position on Europe, but despairing of his incompetence. But if the Labour movement has effectively come to an end I will grieve.

Meanwhile the situation in France is different but even messier.  A right wing populist, Le Pen, a far left populist, Mélenchon, a conservative with very conservative views and dubious finances , Fillon, and a former banker and centrist with little experience of politics, Macron.

Of course I am unlikely to have any friends who vote Front National (apart from M. Ferrières who delivers my firewood) but it is striking how uncertain and unexpected people’s voting intentions are. And what concerns me is that there is going to be a high rate of abstention, particularly in the second round, mainly by people on the left, thus giving Le Pen a fighting chance of winning.

This is based on the unscientific observation that my physio is going to vote Mélonchon in the first round and for nobody in the second, Jacky (creator of my pool and planter of the olive trees) is not going to vote in either round, disgusted by all four leading contenders.  And this afternoon David, my fellow Mac enthusiast in the pharmacy, told me in some agitation that he still can’t decide how to vote on Sunday.

It still looks as if the second round will be between Macron and Le Pen – though who knows, as each day brings new revelations and twists.  If I were French I would probably vote for Macron, but just to keep Le Pen out, knowing that he is not offering much that is different from poor old Hollande’s administration and that France faces troubled times ahead.


Madame l’Arthrose struggles on

The first knee injection has caused major problems: my right knee is more painful than before.  I saw my nice rhumatologue again on yesterday and she assured me it might take longer to work – and meanwhile gave me the injection in the left knee and one in my ankle.  So far these are behaving but the right knee is annoying.  I’m hobbling round like a cripple.

Today I saw the neurologist at another Montpellier clinique – Millenaire.  My friend Dessa drove me, to avoid two tiring trips on consecutive days.  The neurologist was a very young woman – she scarcely looked old enough to be out of school – but again, incredibly nice and super efficient.  I’m really pleased that I have women treating me as GP, surgeon, rheumatologist and neurologist.  They are all pleasant people and easy to talk to.  It makes such a difference and you are less likely to forget all the things you were going to say if the atmosphere is relaxed.

This was particularly the case today as my problem is difficult to describe: discomfort on the left side with spasms which prevent me sleeping.  Since there is no pain I feel like a fraud seeing these specialists, but lack of sleep is really getting me down.

Dr Lionnet was efficient and businesslike in her questions and examination and then gave me a very clear explanation of what she thought. There was an outside chance it might be Restless Leg Syndrome, but she was sceptical both because it was on one side and because getting up and walking in the night does not help.  But she is giving me a trial period of the drug used for restless leg syndrome (and in much greater doses for Parkinson’s disease), at the same time being careful to advise me of side effects. She will also be exploring possible nerve compression or sciatica which has so far not shown up. I have to arrange an MRI in the next few weeks and she will do an  EMG (Electromyography) when she next sees me in a month.   I liked the fact that she took my peculiar complaint seriously and that she handed me a copy of the report she had typed during the session and said that she would be sending copies to my GP and rhumatologist (so often the specialist leave the patient to pass on this information).

It is good to feel that someone is taking on one of my complaints, but hard to handle the fact that there are now so many! I suppose I could cope with the next chapter in arthritis – knees, ankle and possibly back – better if this d—d shoulder was doing better.  I’m really making very little progress indeed.  I could cope with the immobility issues now that I have solved the transport problem, but the pain does get me down.  This evening for example it is bad; I can scarcely use my computer mouse.  (Curiously being a passenger on the trip to Montpellier has started off the pain more than once.)  I am sad too that I have so far not reached the point that I can play my cello again.

Meanwhile the health saga continues

I saw my GP Maelle at the start of April.  This will brief, I said, just want to bring you up to date on my various aches and pains and meetings with specialists.  Nearly one hour later we said goodbye.  Now, is that not an amazing doctor to have?

Maelle was delighted to hear that the cancer surgeon was pleased with my progress and that from now on she will look at the annual scans and only contact the surgeon if there is something unusual. She was more concerned about my general state of health (fatigue, sleeplessness, aches and pains…) and wrote out a whole lot of prescriptions for various, mainly homeopathic medication, to try to make things easier, as well as giving me the prescription for the foot and ankle xrays I need.

The xrays confirmed what we knew already, that my left ankle is particularly bad with arthritis (so is the foot, but that is not giving me problems for the present).  I took these xrays to my rhumatalogue in Montpellier on Wednesday and she gave me the first of the knee injections – I get the other knee and ankle done next week, when I will also see a neurologist at another Montpellier hospital to discuss the spasms or discomfort in my back which prevent me from sleeping.

On a brighter note I also saw the opthalmologist in Ganges, mainly for my six-monthly check on the glaucoma.  He was pleased with the reduced pressure which he said was often a good side effect to the cataract operations I had last year.  As a result I am reducing the amount of medication, eliminating the eye drops which make my eyes sting so much.  Hurray!

As for the recalcitrant shoulder, I think it is making slow progress, though the painful tendons are still a problem, inhibiting proper rehabilitation.  However I do think that driving my little car is helping: I started by using just my left hand, but now drive with both hands on the wheel and try to get the right hand to take a more active role. Joceline, my physio, has also given me more exercises to do each day: raising my arm up while lying on my bed (far easier than trying – and failing – to raise my arm while standing up).

But now, enough of health stories.  Spring is here.  The weather is glorious (up to 30 degrees in the sun yesterday), the irises are now out, the cuckoos have been here since 1 April, the swallows (or swifts?) have arrived and last night I heard the nightingales for the first time this year.

Grandchildren a joy

Ten days’ silence can be explained by family visits – both families. I try to respect my daughters’ wish for relative privacy on the internet – above all not broadcasting photos – but I cannot resist saying that I have four adorable grandchildren: loving, funny, increasingly interesting as they grow older, and (most of the time… …) very well behaved.

The three eldest spent a lot of time producing varied and creative art.  Ella (7 and the most bookish), when not reading Mallory Towers, recounting her favourite “Horrible Histories” or discussing the Tudors,  wrote stories. Otto (7) is more into long, complicated battles with his vast collection of little people and weapons, but also had an interesting line in cartoon style stories with speech bubbles.  Willow (5) is a compulsive and skilful craft creator, but also likes playing games with numbers. The youngest, Maddie (nearly 4) is more into abstract purple art.  Her real artistic strength lies in her ability to entertain as a clown.

Sadly the jacuzzi refused to work, but there were trips to the river, a pony ride, some long walks (varying enthusiasm for these…), lots of messing around, hunting for and eating too many easter eggs,  and of course playing with Poppy.  All four loved rides in ‘Ganny’s ittle car’ (Maddie).  Otto’s particular strength was coming on the morning trip to the baker and trying out his expanding French vocabulary.

The weather was lovely – fine (though the nights were chilly) and only one day with rain