UK visit

I’m  sitting in the departure lounge at Gatwick Airport after a hectic ten days in London.

Family

I divided my time between Jude’s family at Bromar Road and Kate’s at Red Post Hill, starting at jude’s.

How lovely to see the girls, who grow taller and maturer every time I see them. My first day I went down to see years four and five at Belham  Primary perform a nativity production (written by teachers and children) . It was brilliant. I have never seen so many children perform with such energy and enthusiasm. They have an excellent music teacher (the benefit of being a newly created academy – much as I am against them). Ella, tall, serious and distinguished looking, was one of the three kings. She sang her solo beautifully  I’m sorry I missed Maddie’s show – I think she was the back end of a camel .

After three nights I moved on to Red Post Hill. In the following days I went to three shows with the grandchildren . First Grimms Fairy Tales with Kate’s family. When Otto, who was sitting next to me, said in a loud voice that he was bored and wanted to leave, I rather agreed with him.  I’m not keen on adults bounding around pretending to be children  but after the interval the tales got blacker – and better. Still, I was a bit disappointed, given the reputation of the company , Philip Pullman.

We then had lunch in Cote Brasserie, on the Thames Path, beside the river. I remember this area in the fifties when everything was derelict.  I used to step through bombsites to sing in a madrigal choir near Southwark Cathedral. Now this part of the south bank is dominated by luxury flats and restaurants. The place is buzzing with life.  I can see why this stretch of the south bank of the Thames has become a play and strolling area for Londoners and visitors. 

Then, while the Gillies and friends went home, I moved on to my next appointment: Rumpelstiltskin with the Bennion Pedley and friends. (This was my first visit to the Queen Elizabeth Hall complex. The architecture may be brute concrete 60s style but what a comfortable theatre to visit – modern bars, loos and open spaces and seats with leg room.)

The reviews of Rumpelstilskin have been a bit sniffy, but I loved it. It was completely bonkers, better appreciated by the grownups than the children maybe, full of fast moving wit and bizarre pantomime, wonderful modern lighting effects and excellent music.  The children seem to have enjoyed it, even  Maddie, sitting next to me seemed rapt.

On Christmas Eve I went with the Gillies to the East Dulwich cinema for an afternoon of popcorn and musical – Mary Poppins Returns. It was slickly produced, with some enjoyable cameo roles for Meryl Streep and Colin Firth, but to be honest I preferred the loony Rumpelstiltskin to Disney.

At last, at last, Christmas Day arrived.  I don’t think Otto in particular could have borne the suspense of much more anticipation. The BPs arrived and there was a morning of feverish present opening, excitement, frustration when things didn’t work (or parents had forgotten the batteries!) and pleasure at giving.  However, as I watched the feverish ripping open of a mountain of packages, I found it so difficult not to descend into censorious bah-humbug mode, remembering the smaller, more abstemious haul of our childhood. That did not stop me wearing my new clothes with great pleasure for the rest of the day!

Christmas lunch, cooked by Ed, was of course delicious.  A traditional affair, turkey breast and trimmings and a rich assortment of vegetables. And later, a superb Christmas cake. As usual, I ate too much….

For the two families the evening was somewhat blighted by the need to prepare for their departure, at the crack of dawn, for a sun and swimming mini-holiday in Tenerife. Sad for me, as I would have liked to see the children for longer. 

A day of technology

Kate, Jude and I had given Deb a much needed replacement iPad, a refurbished, two-year-old model (the same as mine). 

Bringing it into service and transferring all data from her old one proved a lengthy exercise. Deb had forgotten her Apple password, so trekked across London to hunt it down in her house.  First I had to bring her old iPad up to date, which required several mobile phone conversations with Deb, always a major challenge, complicated by her popping in and out of underground stations! In the end I decided to create a new password for her, and by the time she returned, her new iPad was up and running. Given that Deb has neither a truly operational phone nor a computer, the iPad is essential to her – and to us, as it is the only way to get in touch with her!

Old friends

The next day I went to Richmond to see my two oldest friends: Christine for lunch and Sally for tea. Both visits merit a blog post of their own, but suffice to say that these are two very special people for me. And happily I’m also fond of their spouses!

Christine has not been well, with a bad attack of shingles, and Roy beat me in the medical drama stakes, describing with gusto, his self diagnosis of a heart attack and the dramatic trip by taxi to the Royal Free, where he still an Important Person, in preference to an ambulance trip to Kingston hospital.

I even fitted in a trip to Finchley to have lunch with Deb and her friends Kay (who was at Oxford with her) and Alan and their daughters.  Nice food (Turkish restaurant) and good conversation.  But what I will remember was an extraordinary little exchange.

The woman at the next table came across and said, very apologetically, that she was sure she knew Kay from some time in their past. They eventually established that they had been to the same primary school in Hampstead. I fail to recognise people from last year, let alone from over 60 years ago!

Yesterday I continued my meeting up with old pals.  I had lunch in the Tate Modern with Mimi, who ran the information department of Citizens Advice for England when I was doing the same thing in Scotland.

She may be in her eighties now, but Mimi is still an astute, energetic and amusing friend.  The food in the Members’ Room was indifferent (Mimi is going to pursue this!) but we sat for hours nattering, and then wandered round some of this huge gallery and took the lift to the top to gaze (with mixed feelings) at the rapidly changing landscape of London.  We were somewhat baffled that people could have bought at huge prices the apartments beside the Tate. I wonder if they knew that the Blavatnik Building would give people a prime view of their sitting rooms. I’m not a fan of the architecture of the Tate Modern and many of its rooms leave me cold, but we whizzed through these and concentrated on a few with old favourites or new discoveries.

We talked of our love of travel.  I confessed to Mimi that, despite my daughters’ misgivings – health permitting – I wanted to visit Iran and visit beautiful towns like Shiraz and Yazd.  It seems a logical next step having loved the Islamic architecture of Rajasthan and Istanbul. “Ah yes,” said Mimi. “A good idea – I went there a couple of years ago”!  She has given me the contact details for her excellent guide, so maybe I will manage to set this up for the autumn of 2019.

Brexit and Uber

Like my last trip to London I indulged in several Uber trips, in an effort to conserve my energy.  I hit particularly lucky with the three drivers, from Bulgaria, Rumania and Poland, who were all interesting to talk to. All three said how much they enjoyed being Uber drivers, because of the flexibility in working hours and the people they met.

Inevitably conversation turned in all three cases to Brexit.  All three were Remainers, although interestingly the Bulgarian was the most diffident.  He had studied economics before coming to the UK he said, and if he found it difficult to understand the complexities of the Brexit possibilities, how could other people make informed decisions? So he was for leaving such decisions to elected representatives rather than referendums.

The Pole divided his time between being an Uber driver and builder. He would personally be OK, he said, as there became a shortage of Polish builders (he has the right to stay already), but he reckoned it was a complete and utter catastrophe for Britain.

Given the problems with the Gatwick Express, I took an airport minicab back to Gatwick.  This was not an Uber driver and unlike the others, he was not particularly friendly and drove too fast.

Whatever the wrongs to the Uber system, I have to confess that I do find using it greatly aids my  rushed visits and I enjoy my chats.

My habit of talking to strangers

I’m finishing this entry in the evening, after a very long day – the plane was held up for over an hour with a mechanical problem. Having opted for Special Assistance, I was in a warm bus beside the plane.  I felt sorry for other passengers possibly standing in an overcrowded departure lounge.

I was sitting beside a French couple who had been on my plane to Gatwick.  As usual I got into conversation with them… … Two of their children live here, so they have just had a complicated Christmas with some relatives who spoke spoke only English, others who spoke only – not quite sure which – Indian language, and her husband who speaks only French. We have exchanged contact details so I look forward to meeting up with them again.

 

A difficult week

Wow, over a week has passed since I last wrote.  This time has been dominated by my car.  Tuesday was a busy day – first the Bréau Christmas lunch for pensioners and then an afternoon of music rehearsals.

After a morning battling with the airport’s non-functioning system of booking a parking place for next week’s trip to the UK, I was late. I climbed into my car, turned the ignition and – nothing, The lights were on, so not a flat battery, but nothing turned over and during several attempts various warning messages flashed by. Oh dear, an electronic problem.

I got to the lunch, thanks to my friends Charles and Pierre.  (Didn’t enjoy it as I had a splitting headache and 96 pensioners packed into too small a space did not help.).

Then on to my first cello event, my lesson with Anne, driving an old car belonging to Charles and Pierre’s. In between this and my next appointment, I rushed round, talking to my insurers and others, establishing that getting my car to the garage in Montpellier could cost me over €200!

This did not help my next performance, with Jean Sebastian, the pianist – my last rehearsal before next month’s concert. Nor did my headache. Then before my final musical event – rehearsing with beginners for another ‘audition’ next week, I rang my garage.

Now why did I not do that earlier?  I discovered that I was still under a service contract, despite being into my second year of ownership, and that my car would be picked up and taken to Montpellier for free.  Phew!

So Wednesday morning a guy turned up with his lorry, got the car working, thus establishing there was a problem with the battery, but insisted that the electronics needed checking over as this failure was not normal. So I said goodbye to my little car, all set to see it again the following day.

Then I started to feel ill.  I realise now the headache had been the start.  By the evening it began to feel horribly like another occlusion.  I was not in a good place.  At midnight, in a calm moment, I packed my bag in anticipation of another trip to the clinic at Ganges.

Then I was sick, very sick, twice. And miraculously by 2am I felt things calming down. I managed to doze through the rest of the night and, amazing, in the morning I felt weak but better. Emergency averted, I hoped.  Just as well, as my next challenge was getting to medical appointments in Montpellier by the afternoon.

With my borrowed car (not fit for long journeys), I drove to le Vigan, took the bus to Montpellier (what a bargain – €1.60 for 70 km) and continued by tram and then on foot (in the pouring rain) to the Clinique St Jean. I was there to see an anaesthetist, in preparation for the thermocoagulation injection into my spine next month. Then on, still in freezing rain, to an appointment with a specialist physio, who measured my mobility before the event and will see me again after.

I had hoped to return in my car, but of course it was not ready, so back home by tram and bus. Actually it was a jolly occasion.  I sat at the front and one of my neighbours said as I entered “Ah, voici la violoncelliste”. She was a former councillor in le Vigan who used to attend our concerts regularly.  The woman next to me was also very cheery (I kept quiet when she enthused about the gilets jaunes). The driver joined in the conversations too.  I discovered his family have the magnificent old house at the far end of the Vieux Pont, the splendid romanesque bridge in le Vigan.

Thursday, after thankfully an uneventful night, I was back in the bus to Montpellier to collect my car.  This was a three hour journey – bus followed by two trams, so I was relieved to find that my car was indeed ready.  And even more relieved that I did not have to pay a penny.  (I don’t like the fact that the receptionist at this huge Mercedes and Smart garage greets me by name – I have had uncomfortably too many visits here in the last year.) Nobody could explain the electronic fault, but they replaced the battery, rebooted the electronics system and ran various tests.  I still love my car, despite its heavy reliance on electronics and potentially expensive bills in the future.

Oh and I forgot to mention that I had been ringing Lionel, my builder, regularly, chastising him for not coming to look at my roof leak. This week he came, apologetic for the long delay.  The crack in the cement at the top of the roof was found (caused he thought by the summer heat) and repaired, so hopefully all is now well.

Lionel had brought his team from a bigger job the other side of Ganges.  He said that there was now so little money available for building in the le Vigan area that he had had to move his business to places between Ganges and Montpellier.  Another worrying indicator that the economic life of our area is in jeopardy.

Now this weekend I must practise the cello to make up for the three days of not touching my instrument.

Right to stay – the next step

Today I finally got to hand in my application for a carte de séjour permanent.  This is the dossier I painstakingly prepared in July and mistakenly took to the Préfecture of the Gard, in Nimes, on 6th October rather than 6th December. Off I set again – before dawn, but this time on the right day.

The Gilets Jaunes were out at various roundabouts on the way to Nimes and outside the huge and unappealing Préfecture building.  So I had to present my passport, explain my business, before being let in though a narrow opening of a side gate, with gendarmes and prefecture staff controlling all movements.

Inside, the Accueil des Etrangers was cordoned off from the rest of the Prefecture.  It was packed with foreigners, several clearly asylum seekers. But unlike my earlier visits in those first years that we were living here, the atmosphere was  business-like but perfectly friendly – non of that xenophobic surliness that I remembered.  And instead of one dark room with a bullet-proof grille through which one talked, there was a large waiting room, reminiscent of British benefit offices, with six reception desks.

I was summoned to desk C and  handed my dossier to the  official.  I felt like a smug schoolgirl when he commented on how well organised it was, unlike some of the documents they receive.  I had divided the documentation required into sections:

  • The actual application form, including a a statement on my reasons for wanting to stay in France
  • Proof of identity – passport birth certificate etc
  • Proof of domicile – official statements from the mairie and my notaire.  I had collected these, though not specifically asked for, and they turned out to be useful.
  • Proof I have been living here continuously for at least five years – my laboriously collated electricity and phone bills
  • Proof of income – my equally laboriously produced spreadsheet (in sterling and euros) of all income, which of course fluctuates with the exchange rate, pension documents, five years of bank statements and a statement explaining the complication of the fiscal year being different in the two countries.
  • Proof I have been paying my income tax – five years worth of statements from the tax office

I list all of this not to show off but to demonstrate that applying for the right to stay here permanently is a serious business.  In the waiting room there were dire warnings that any incomplete dossiers would be rejected.

Enough to scare anybody away. But my official was very pleasant.  As he painstakingly checked the voluminous file, took my finger prints and asked for further information, the atmosphere was relaxed, and on finding I had lived in Edinburgh, he waxed enthusiastic about Scotland. His degree had been in English and he once spent a happy nine months, based in Glasgow. He had been unable to find a job using his degree and so had ended up in administration. I trust they will make good use of someone fluent in another language, I said encouragingly.  Not a chance, he replied, they don’t care two hoots. Ils s’en foutent.

I watched the official stick one of my passport photos onto what looked promisingly like a carte de séjour.  But then he stuck it into the dossier.  When might I hear the outcome of my application, I asked. In a couple of months, he replied, as the dossier has to be OK’d by a pyramid of officials. It was clear he was not impressed by this.

So, here’s hoping that by the end of February at the latest I should get my carte de séjour.

Closing one health chapter

This morning I had my three month checkup after the hernia operation at the start of September.  Cross fingers all is fine and I should be able to put this dire year – perforated stomach ulcer, intestinal blockage (occlusion) and hernia operation – behind me.

My lovely surgeon, Dr Glaise, is no longer at Ganges.  She is away on maternity leave and then moves to the Clinique St Roch in Montpellier.  Her replacement, Dr Essome, seems amiable, though it is too early to know about his professional competence.

I asked him about the muscular discomfort I get elsewhere in the abdomen, particularly just below the ribs.  He explained that this discomfort is natural as the body adjusts to the alien object that has been inserted. The patch (which is lower – at what is left of tummy button) is attached to muscles which travel vertically, hence you feel elsewhere than the location of the operation, and as my patch was so large, more muscles have been affected.

He reassured me that this was not a sign that the hernia operation had not worked and I could now resume normal life (with prudence): discard the dreaded corset and, more crucial, end the limit on lifting anything heavier than two kilos.  And he confirmed that my physio could go ahead and have sessions to strengthen my abdomen muscles.

The conversation then took an unexpected turn.  Where did I come from?  London, I said, and you? The Cameroons, he replied – and switched into English.  He was born in francophone Cameroon, in Douala (which I visited way back in 1966), but grew up speaking both English and French as well as local languages.  Then he trained as a doctor in Italy, so added Italian to his repertoire!

He now lives in Montpellier and commutes daily to work in Ganges, where he takes up his permanent post in January.  I wished him good luck and said I hoped that, sadly, I would not be seeing him again@!

 

Scraping away

I can’t think of an appropriate equivalent to ‘fiddling’ (in a pejorative sense) to describe my unsatisfactory efforts on the cello. So maybe I will settle on ‘scraping’ and yesterday was a day spent scraping away.

In the morning I practised my Mendelssohn at home and felt quite pleased with myself at managing to play the two pages without stopping,  and ready for the afternoon at the Ecole de Musique.  Given I still cannot lift more than two kilos, my friend Christine comes at midday on Tuesdays to put my cello in the car.  Once at the école, people rush to help me, thank goodness.

My lesson with Anne went much better than last time.  She commented that it was clear that my right shoulder was getting more flexible, as I was coping better with the long slurred passages.  (These are particularly difficult for me on the A string – the one I play on the most – as it requires me to raise the arm more in the air than the lower strings.) I felt like commenting that the improvement was also the result of my putting in a bit more practice!

We then played some exercises involving shifting between some positions that I am not accustomed to.  For the benefit of non-players shifting positions is the way one moves the fingers of the left hand from one position to another on the same string. You do this, for example, in order to avoid playing an open string, which makes a different sound, to continue a passage on one string, or to be able to play higher and higher, on the A string in particular.

The most commonly used positions on the cello are 1st and 4th, so now I was practising, for example, jumping from the 2nd or 3rd to 5th. There is a whole technique to sliding up the hand (and not leaving the thumb behind) and not landing on the right note just by luck!  Basically it requires a good ear, good technique and lots of practise to train the brain where to shift up to.

Later in the afternoon I played the Mendelssohn with Jean Sebastian, the pianist.  That was a bit of a disaster.  I managed to get through the piece, but badly.  JS was very nice when he reported back to Anne, but I have to somehow make the Song sing with fluidity, rather than hear the evident attempts I’m making to hold onto the rhythm in syncopated passages! Two more weeks to get it right … …

My confidence was restored in the the final session, when I played with another adult pupil who is struggling to play in tune.  There I have a new challenge: Anne wants me to improvise on my line in a tune based on a Jewish prayer.  She plays a lot in bands playing jazz and modern music and is quite keen on improvisation.

I can see lots of the benefits of improvising  -to better communicate with other musicians, to truly listen to music rather than just playing the notes in front of you, to think ahead, to be creative – but it’s that bit I find scary.  I don’t think I’m creative.  We are playing this piece in the end of term session with beginners (the Mendelssohn is in the more advanced session) and Anne wants me to improvise in front of people.  No way!

More health stuff

Sometimes my life seems to consist of a flurry of health-related appointments. Apart from my two physio appointments, this week I will have had blood tests in le Vigan, foot and ankle xrays in Ganges, and two visits to specialists in Montpellier.

The xrays were a bit of a waste of time; they simply confirmed that my left foot and ankle are very arthritic, so that there is little more that the podologue, who has been checking on my insoles, can do to ease the discomfort.

On Monday I saw an endocrinologist in Montpellier to discuss the blood test results (deficit of selenium and zinc) and my continuing loss of hair.  She was very reassuring and said my hair will grow back again, now that I am recovering from all my innards dramas and am no longer on a limited diet,  and has prescribed treatments for the next six months to increase my mineral and vitamin levels. I still cannot get over the sensation of touching my head and feeling how little hair I have.  I now know how bad this must feel for chemeo patients, you lose a bit of your identity, and I look forward to growing more hair in 2019.

On Tuesday I was back in Montpellier, this time to see a surgeon to discuss the possibility of an injection to ease the pain in my back (which is not acute, but wakes me up every two hours at night). This is the latest in my string of attempts to sort out my back problems, having abandoned the medication prescribed by a neurologist, Dr Lionnet, earlier this year because of the side effects.

I was extremely impressed by Dr Dhenin, who specialises in spine surgery. It is so rare to meet a surgeon who is personable, with very strong communication skills and at the same time an air of evident authority and competence.

He turned the screen round so he could better explain to me what he was seeing when he looked at the MRI and scan from last year.  He showed the path of the spinal cord on the MRI and said that, though the spinal canal in the lumbar area was narrow, it was not yet ‘catastrophique’.  He turned to the scans, and showed how the arthritis was particularly bad in the 4th and 5th lumbar vertebrae. He was pretty sure (as is Charlotte, my physio) that this is the cause of the pain.

He has proposed – and I have agreed to – a procedure called thermocoagulation.  From what I can understand this involves injecting electrodes (under local anaesthetic) into the lumbar area in order to effectively burn off nerve ends in the two offending vertebrae and the disc.

Of course I realised afterwards, when being interrogated by my daughter, Kate (far more efficient at analysing information and asking pertinent questions), that I have only the vaguest understanding of what is going to be done. Unfortunately it is a procedure which was sniffed at by NICE back in 2002 and therefore I can find little on the internet to clarify my confusion.

I have confidence in Dr Dhenin, however. I am not the only one: at a village lunch today I talked to someone who had this done last year and regards Dr Dhenin as his saviour. He is also the surgeon who performed much more dramatic spinal surgery on my friend, Margaret, who is another of his fans.

The procedure will be done, as an outpatient, on 2nd January.  Meanwhile I have to see to the usual round of preparatory visits such as trips to see the anaesthetist.

 

 

 

 

Gilets Jaunes

The road blocks by the gilets jaunes continue.  We have had them at the big roundabout near my local supermarket, Intermarché and, more importantly, at the other end of le Vigan, blocking the road to Ganges and thence Nimes and Montpellier.  Apart from the inconvenience in finding detours to avoid the blocks, there have been some queues at the petrol pumps, in case supplies don’t get through.

I have mixed feelings about the Gilets Jaunes movement, mainly negative. Insofar as this is a protest against petrol prices, triggered by the announcement of a forthcoming 11% increase in fuel taxes, I have some sympathy: I would rather see governments raise revenues through indirect taxation – income tax. And high petrol prices hit low income groups especially hard in rural areas, given our dependence on cars.

It is, of course, increasingly becoming a more expression of frustration  by people who are finding it hard to make ends meet and are turning their anger against Macron and his economic program. He is seen as a champion of the rich and urban. He feeds into people’s resentment with his complete absence of the common touch, with an arrogance that is turning away even those who actually hoped he would improve things (as opposed to those who voted En Marche in order to block the Front National).

But — the price of fuel is not very different in France from most other European countries. For example, a litre of 95 octane petrol, which I use, is currently €1.46 in France, €1.55 in Germany and €1.64 in Italy. Diesel is €1.46 in France, €1.45 in Germany and €1.56 in Italy. The change in fuel taxes is intended to wean the French off more polluting vehicles, by eliminating the advantage diesel cars have always had (am I relieved I sold mine last year!). I think part of the extra revenue is supposed to go on  financial subsidies to people exchanging old polluting vehicles for modern ones.

More worrying is the way this huge, unstructured movement is morphing into a campaign to remove Macron.  And in my view the main beneficiaries are the far right, the Rassemblement national – still known by its old name,  the Front National. It is not clear how far they are behind the movement, but they are clearly enjoying it. And certainly there are disturbing populist and racist elements, for example, in the handing over of six migrants to the gendarmes.

Mélenchon and the more extreme left are also joining in.  The socialists and trade unions are sitting, unhappily, on the sidelines. Whatever the position of the different parties, there is no doubting the general support of the public for the gilets jaunes.  I have become aware of a growing number of cars displaying their gilets (compulsory kit, like emergency triangles, but usually kept in the boot) on the front dashboard.

Today I witnessed the gilets jaunes at firsthand.  I was due to meet friends at the big annual at St Jean du Gard – Les Journées de l’Arbre, de la Plante et du Fruit. I made the mistake of taking the direct route to cover the 70km in about 90 minutes.  Except it took longer, much longer, as I went through five gilets jaunes blockades.

The first, on the roundabout on leaving le Vigan, was the biggest and most organised. There must have been over a hundred people gathered there, all assembled in a jolly, party mood.  As I approached the barricades, someone came to get my signature for their petition.  When I said I was not in favour, I soon realised that this meant I would have to wait,  while those who signed, often sounding their horns in support, were let through.  Poppy and I just sat there and eventually, after about 15 minutes, I was let through.

I do like it when demonstrators show humour: I had to smile at the ridiculous roundabout after Ganges, where the metal figures of a flock of goats had had yellow gilets painted on them.  On the return journey I noticed that somebody had climbed up the post to put a yellow gilet over the speed camera (which everybody knows about) on the road from Ganges to le Vigan.

The result of my lengthy journey (plus stomach muscles hurting from yesterday’s physio) meant I was not really fit enough to enjoy the foire.  I did only a cursory tour of the foire, pausing to take a photo reflecting the colour of the day – the largest lemon I have ever seen:

After lunch (worthy rather than tasty) with my friend Dessa and her friends and neighbours, I returned home, initially taking some picturesque back roads to avoid  at least some of the blockades.

 

 

Bread – and Brexit

Yesterday I made another loaf of bread.  It takes little more than five minutes preparation with my bread-making machine, and the result in the morning is a delicious nutty brown loaf.

The French of course favour the baguette and the local village boulangerie makes a delicious variant called La viganaise. But buying this means a car trip, albeit short. And baguettes really don’t last for more than a day.  Not a problem in a family, but not very practical if you are on your own.

Besides, my favourite meal of the day is breakfast: coffee and toast.  My loaf makes better toast than baguettes. I use a multi-ceréales flour (a variety of wheat grains – I’m not a fan of the more virtuous wholemeal flour) and add walnuts and raisins. Yummy result.

Why am I going on about bread? Well for starters it is pouring with rain outside (quelle surprise).  And it keeps my mind off the subject which has dominated my thoughts for the past two years and which now makes me feel even more angry and anguished than ever – Brexit.

I’m concerned firstly as someone who chose to live in France and for whom the consequences of what is decided – when it is decided – could change my life, and has already resulted in living with uncertainty.

I’m concerned for the British economy, for which any outcome other than remaining in Europe, will mean we are worse off, maybe much worse off. Businesses will suffer, so too will hospitals, schools, universities, young people seeking employment wider afield… the list is longer.

I’m concerned for this total loss of a sense of belonging to a community (however blemished) which is larger than a nation.

Now what? We are in a complete Alice in Wonderland situation.  It is impossible to predict what will be the outcome. I fear the Conservatives will revert to tribal stereotype(even Ken Baker is talking of supporting May!) and fall behind the very bad current deal. (Don’t get me started in the equally messy scene in the Labour Party.)

A couple of days ago Martin Kettle in the Guardian described the dilemma succinctly:

There is no majority for Theresa May’s deal; no majority for a no-deal exit; no majority for a Norway-type option; no majority for a second referendum and no majority for a general election. Politically, there seems no way out.

I keep hoping, even  at this dangerously late stage, that we will go for a second referendum. It cannot be assumed that this time round the Remainers would win, but a second referendum offers a chance to limit the damage done by the ill-advised and very badly drafted first one (whose campaign was so full of misinformation and downright lies and whose outcome incidentally, people quickly forgot, is not legally binding). Whatever happens now, damage is done.  We have polarised positions and angry people. I feel pessimistic about repair to these wounds in my lifetime.

Oh, and if there is a second referendum, I – along with all other Brits who have lived in Europe for more than 15 years – will not have a vote.

 

Made in China

Last week I bought a cello bow.  I took back the carbon bow I had been playing on loan and asked M. Becker, the luthier, what else he had at the lower end of the cello bow range.

The carbon bow was definitely an improvement on my old bow, but it physically did not feel comfortable. M. Becker agreed: choice of bow is a complex mixture of what sort of music you are going to play, the character of individual cellos and what you find comfortable.

I was looking for something with a bit more weight and perhaps a wider range of sound qualities.  Ideally I should have brought along my cello, but this was too big a challenge physically, so I tried out two or three bows on M. Becker’s cellos.

Eventually I picked a wood rather than carbon bow, but with a huge feeling of guilt. The bow is made with Pernambuco wood, from South America, an endangered species, but still regarded as the best wood in the world for bows, with the right balance of flexibility yet strength. Apparently there is some sort of association of bow makers which is campaigning for a replanting program. I would gladly contribute to it, to assuage my guilt.

My bow cost 300€ and this is considered quite a reasonable sum. My hard up cello teacher has just bought hers for €800 and many professional players pay thousands.

I was taken aback to discover it was made in China, but it proved hard to find anything made in Europe in my price range.  M. Becker said that there were some excellent Chinese bow makers these days.  And besides, China has apparently stockpiled a significant part of the world’s supply of Pernambuco!

Anne, my teacher, was politely approving of the bow, though she clearly prefers (so do I) the slightly heavier weight of hers. As she said, I can always decide later to sell it and upgrade to a better one.

To recover from this purchase, I once again went to Alain’s for lunch, sitting at the table next to his kitchen, chatting to him as he prepared some excellent magnet de canard.

And now there are no more excuses for not getting my cello to sing out during my Mendelssohn piece. Oh yes there is one excuse – or rather explanation – le trac – my old enemy, performance nerves.I played really badly at my lesson with Anne, on Tuesday, and then with Jean Sebastian, the accompanist. I have a month in which to find a way not to lurch from one  dangerous passage to another.

 

J’en ai marre

Those are not my words; it is what pretty well every French person I meet is saying – I’m fed up with it. They are referring, of course, to the weather.

Nobody can remember so much rain falling as this autumn.  It is not so much the statistics, as often we get torrential rainstorms which push the rain count up.  It is rather the relentless, day after day of rain. People here are just not used to this.  I’m getting a bit bored of people saying it must remind me of London.  No, I say, London is having better weather!

Today was another washout.   I forced myself to take Poppy for a walk.  As soon as she had done her business, she looked at me and turned back towards the house. The Saturday market scarcely existed.

I braved the elements to attend an interesting session by our local professional violinist, Francois Gilles, on Bach’s Partitas. We were in one of the wonderfully elegant salons in the beautiful Chateau d’Assas, very appropriate as Francois Gilles took us through the history of- and played extracts from – the dance movements which form the basis of so much of Bach’s work.

Afterwards I took refuge in my favourite eating place, Chez Fatou, and enjoyed a delicious fish dish and the shared conversation of all.  Somebody mentioned today’s road blockages by ‘les jaunes’ – the people protesting against the rise in fuel prices. Fatou rose to her full height, elegant today in a Chinese embroidered top, and declared: ” They are mad.  We are destroying our planet and they want to encourage us to do so.”

Then back out into rain.  Actually, I have to admit, it is not non-stop.  Yesterday there was a brief respite, and as I walked up to Serres, I was able to admire the autumn colours, which have not yet fully reached the hills behind.

When I got to Serres and looked down at these trees, I reflected that the rain has stolen our usual long enjoyment of such colours.  And the cold forecast for next week (temperatures dropping from mid-teens to near zero) will end any hope of my planned expeditions to take autumn photos.

Update next day

Wonders… I woke to see the sky had cleared and it has not rained all day. And it is colder.