Passer le relai à Dessa

Passer le relai or passer le baton don’t have a neat English equivalent, but I take them to mean to pass on to (like the next in line). Well, I have handed over to my friend Dessa.

Dessa had a hip which had been gasping to be replaced for years. Finally it has happened. Ten days ago she was operated on by Marion Bertrand (my surgeon) and after four (not easy) days at the Clinique St Roch she transferred, like me, to the Maison des Châtaigniers for several weeks of recovery and réeducation.

To get to this stage has involved months, no years, of complex administration for Dessa (Dutch/American, her husband was Dutch) to get herself into the EU system and then get a French carte vitale.

Being Dessa, things continued to be complicated. First she arrived at the Chataigniers but her crucial documents did not. Frantic search all weekend by Dessa, me and Dessa’s brother and his wife (visiting from the States). No sighting of passport, carte vitale, bank cards – all the contents of a wallet. Until Monday, when the sister in law found they were still in her suitcase rather than Dessa’s!

Then there was a problem with her single room (paid for by her mutuelle – insurance). So meanwhile she has been sharing with an absolutely delightful  88 year old, a former shepherdess, whom I know from my stay. The  problem is she is deaf and has lots of visitors and telephone calls!

The old lady has now gone home and Dessa has been allocated a single room on the first floor ( where I was) .  But now the only lift has broken down and incredibly may take up to a week to fix. The lift is used to carry all wheelchair patients down to the dining room and delivers meals to bed bound patient in large heated trolleys  the mind boggles how meals will be served. And now Dessa is all packed up to move from the second floor to the first. I have suggested calling in ambulance or firemen to carry her, or to do what another friend with a broken leg did – go down on her bum…

Nature stirs

I have noticed that the hazelnuts are suddenly covered in catkins.  I’m sure our mild winter has brought these on early. The blue sky and 15 degrees today is deceptive: we have just had several nights of extremely violent winds. But even then, it has not been particularly cold.

Some early signs of spring are far less welcome: there are already over a dozen nests of the chenilles processionaires (processional caterpillars) in the Mediterannean pine in front of the house.  They started to build their nests about a week ago and the numbers are increasing at an alarming rate.

I can’t decide whether to go along the expensive route – hire the pest control guys to come along and cut down all the nests (as I did two years ago) – or whether to go for last year’s ecological solution – a band round the trunk to trap them.  Cheaper, but not 100% effective.  A couple of lines of caterpillars reached the ground.  I reckon they fell in high winds, rather than crawling down the trunk as they were meant to.

The sangliers continue to wreak chaos everywhere.  M. Ferrieres, who delivers me wood, said today that it is just as bad up on the Causses where he lives.  I know he is a hunter, so I asked innocently what can be done.  He shrugged his shoulders, agreed the problem was too much for the hunters and said the only solution was poison – but one could never say that in the earshot of other hunters… …

Ageing tech lovers

I am very embarassed to confess that the Apple Watch is proving to be a passport for pensioners to join the club of young, gadget fans.

Dessa had already experienced this when the lad on the checkout desk at SuperU spotted her new watch, stopped sliding her veg across the scanner in order to launch into a lyrical praise of his watch and to show her the watch strap he had just bought for it!

Similarly yesterday, the younger kiné, Quentin, spotted my watch, showed me his, and we exchanged information about what apps we had on our respective watches. Again, this obsession (which I definitely do not share) with watch straps!

Quentin was able to one-up me, as his girlfriend (who turns out to be my Friday kiné, Leah) has just given him an Apple iPhone X. It is indeed beautiful and I lust after it, not least because of its camera.

For those who share my love of cameras it has two 12 megapixel camers. The main one has an optical zoom with image stabilization (copes with elderly photographer wobbles), variable focal aperture (meaning you can take photos with the background deliberately blurred).  Its front camera is of a similar spec, but since I am not interested in selfies, this is irrelevant for me.

The only thing wrong with it is its price, which is obscenely high. So I am trying hard, very hard, to resist temptation and wait until I can negotiate a better deal with my phone supplier, Orange.

Manners in France

On Thursday I attended the pensioners’ do in Bréau, when we were offered the traditional Galette des Rois (not a patch on that offered by Odile the previous week). We shared this with the 52 children in the village school, who sang us two songs (of indifferent quality, compared with the musical education that I, and to some extent  my children, enjoyed at primary school).

Still, it was lovely seeing all those young, exuberant (noisy!) kids and I was particularly pleased to see sitting near me a delightful nine-year-old boy – Darwin – who lives in nearby Mars. I was even more gratified when he got up to give me a bise (kiss) and then explained to his neighbour that I was a neighbour.  And just before the children trooped out, back to school, he came back to give me another bise and to say goodbye.

I know this is the difference between the country and town, and that Darwin comes from a somewhat unusual family, but I do like it that when I meet children walking along the lanes here, they always say “Bonjour Madame”.  So do most adults, whether passing you in the road, or entering the local boulangerie.  Yesterday Dessa and I lunched as so often in the local creperie.  We got talking to the couple next to us, and when they left, Monsieur said he had been ‘enchanté’ to have made our acquaintance and looked forward to our paths crossing again.

The punctiliousness about greetings can be quite stressful for someone brought up in the relaxed British culture, where “Hi” or a nod increasingly suffice.  Even now I sometimes wonder anxiously, several minutes into a conversation, whether I remembered to shake hands or give a kiss.

Then of course there is the whole business of whether I should be shaking hands or offering a kiss.  And don’t get me started on the etiquette of when one passes from ‘vous’ to ‘tu’.  On several occasions I have thought we had reached a state of sufficient intimacy to tutoyer, only to realise that I was mistaken, and to quietly revert to vousvoyer someone.

Obviously the younger generations are more relaxed about all this, but I notice that they too often go round a group of their friends giving a bise on arrival.

I think one of the reasons I like all this is because these exchanges mean that arrivals and departures are not hasty: this is still a society where the conventions require you to recognise that you have been with other members of society.

I know I have had arguments with my daughters in the past about the importance of observing these codes of behaviour, and I seem to remember similar arguments with my mother. I can also recall arguing with Chris that it was so important here to make eye contact when shaking hands or raising one’s glass at a meal. Indeed I feel very old – or old-fashioned – when I write something in defence of manners



Abortive Montpellier trip

No trip to Montpellier is really abortive, because it is such a pleasure to be there. Nevertheless, my main reason for going – to have the car boot fixed – was abortive.

The Mercedes garage in Castelnau, a grimly unappealing modern growth on the northern edge of Montpellier, is my nearest Smart agent.  A week ago I went there to report that for some months the boot has been progressively difficult – or too easy – to close (and sometimes actually springs open).  The technician fixed the problem but ordered new hinges to be doubly sure the problem would not repeat.

Yesterday I had an appointment to have these hinges installed – except it turned out that two parts were still stuck in Germany, in Hanover. Clearly the business of alerting me had fallen between the Mercedes ordering department and the Smart atelier.  I expressed much righteous (and justifiable) indignation at not having been phoned and the reception guy came as near as anybody in France does to apologising, promising that he would take personal responsibility for ensuring that this would not happen again.

So, I went on my way to the centre of Montpellier.  I have taken to parking at one of the two huge underground carparks under the central Place de la Comédie or next to the hideous opera house, le Corum.  I came out of the latter, opposite the Musée de Fabre, and immediately my spirits lifted.  There is something very special about the brilliance of the winter light in the south of France combined with the lovely, light Montpellier stone and magnificent architecture.  It is such a pleasure just wandering down the narrow streets.

On to my second frustration of the day: I had planned to upgrade my iphone, which I have had for over two years.  But at the Orange store, I discovered I had misread the small print: the special offer I had spotted on the Orange website applied only to new customers.

The fact that we have been customers of France Telecom/Orange for over 25 years and that I have had mobile contracts for well over ten years counts for nothing.  The reduction on the new Apple iPhone was derisory and I had to walk away. Instead I went on to the Apple Store and ordered a new battery for my old phone (at a reduced price following the recent scandal about Apple slowing down old phones).

Lunch, on the other hand, was not frustrating.  As usual I lunched at l’Apparthé, Alain’s excellent restaurant, sharing a table with two other couples (one from near Paris, the other originally from Lyon). This was all very jolly, we shared appreciation of Alain’s food, and of the architecture of Montpellier, agreeing that Georges Frêche, the charismatic though controversial mayor of Montpellier for nearly 30 years , had played a pivotal role in transforming it from a sleepy, rundown backwater to this elegant and dynamic city.

The third frustration, or minor setback, was finding my car again!  I had remembered the parking number (178), but at the moment I had been about to take the lift, there had been an earsplitting siren (which I initially thought I had set off) followed by loud, urgent messages to vacate the building, which I did, up endless flights of stairs.  On my return, no sign of my car on level -1.  More going up and down, hunting for key notices, before finally discovering my car was on level -2.  I thought it was a universal convention that the first digit indicated the level in carparks and hotels.

Galette des rois

Last night I ate the tastiest galette des rois I have ever had, made by my friend, Odile,  who currently lives in my gite.

January in France is dominated by the ongoing exchange of “meilleurs voeux” and by various gatherings when we eat one of these galettes. The galette is a round puff pastry cake filled with frangipane, which in theory I love as it is marzipan, or frangipane, paste. In the middle is a fève, a charm.

All too often, however, the galette disappoints – indifferent pastry and heavy filling. Not so Odile’s.  Both the pastry and the frangipane were wonderfully light.  I enjoyed it with fellow guests, Monique Colomb (formerly of the campsite, so I have known her for nearly 40 years) and Dominique, a maths teacher at the lycée, whose main obsession is his forthcoming planned visit to China (hence my demonstrating translation programs on my watch).

Next galette des rois tasting on Thursday, at the pensioners’ club in Bréau.

Olive trees and sangliers

Every winter I have a modest crop of olives, mainly on the three more mature trees.  This winter, they yielded much less, but surprisingly some of the 20 plus trees planted three years ago have started to produce a tiny crop.

In the past I have invited Jacky to pick my olives and add them to his.  This year, Odile and a friend picked them.  The olives all go to the press in Aulas, restored a few years ago by Jacky and some friends.

Last week Jacky called by with a present of a bottle of the new olive oil.  I was very touched, particularly as he did not get my olives this time.  I will open the bottle shortly and compare its taste with the commercial ones.




Jacky and I then reviewed the extensive upheaval caused by the nightly rampages of the sangliers (wild boars).

Plants round pool gone
Ground round olive trees churned over





Every terrace is affected, every olive tree has earth dug up round it, and many of the plants surrounding the pool will need replacing,

Jacky and Marthe leave today for their annual Asian walking holiday, this time in Thailand.  When he returns there is no choice but to instal an electric fence (posts with two or three cables) surrounding the terraces with the olive trees and the pool – with ‘gates’ to allow us access between the two houses, the pool and the children’s cabin below it.

Jacky says I am not the first to react with dismay at this idea – not just because of the cost, but visually and mentally fencing in is not what we would like to have.  But with the growing numbers of sangliers invading these valleys, there is no alternative.

My guilty secret

On Wednesday, my friend Dessa and I went to Montpellier, she for  a hospital appointment, me to my garage.  That all done with, the fun began.

Dessa and I are both gadget freaks and, to an extent, computing nerds.  We apologise about this and try to keep our enthusiasms to ourselves, as others find them pointless if not irritating. On Wednesday we both excelled ourselves: we each bought an Apple watch.

I had thought I was immune from temptation to this particular Apple product, but then last November in a journey from Montpellier in a taxi-ambulance, the driver, Sonya, showed me hers.  I was smitten, but very sensibly, put the tempting idea onto a back boiler. That was then.

Now, after over two months in hospital or convalescence, I have succumbed.  After all, I said to myself, I have saved the price of an Apple Watch on food and petrol bills during this prolonged hospital stay, and, I said,  I deserve it. Dessa went through a similar self-persuasion process.  Then the deed was done. Here is mine:

Yes, a watch, and at last I have one which I can see the time at night when not sleeping. My sister, Deborah, has this for a fraction of the price – not so stylish of course…

But it is so much more than a watch.  For Dessa (and to some extent me) the winning point was the ability to call for help, should we fall on our own land or elsewhere.  A prolonged press on one of the two buttons produces this menu:

I haven’t dare explore further, but apparently the SOS option means that the emergency services plus three people I nominate are notified that  I need help, giving my exact location thanks to GPS.

There are a host of other functions which I might claim to be ‘useful’,  while  there are others which are purely frivolous.

I get notified by a discreet buzz when there are incoming emails, messages, or phone calles and can read or reply on the watch – or wait till later to do so on other devices. I have just discovered that the dictation function is amazingly accurate when sending a message.  Obviously I would rarely do this, but it might be useful when out on a walk without my phone. More important, I don’t have to rush around (risking falling) hunting for my phone or scrabbling around in the depths of my bag to get it out in time. It is also handy having the next ‘event’ in my diary displayed (also with a reminder buzz).

I am very partial to the superb translation app called Converse (the FRE button,  top left on my watch).  I can either talk or write a phrase in English and – after a little delay – it is written and spoken back to me in French. (Yesterday I translated something for a friend into Mandarin Chinese!)

Apple is keen on health apps and I am already recording every time I drink a glass of water, watching my daily target of two litres getting closer (not doing so well today!) . My sleep patterns and heart rate are also constantly monitored, with detailed records sent to my iphone.

More frivolous, I am enjoying playing with functions such as the record button, the remote control to my iphone camera, and the identify the tune app, Shazam.  This latter actually frustrates me, as it is weaker at identifying classical music than its competitor Soundhound and is particularly bad at displaying the result on the watch.  So I am looking forward to the imminent release of Soundhound for the watch.

Sad, isn’t it, that these activities should give me such pleasure?  But there you are, and I would not attempt to defend this purchase on grounds of practical necessity. Other people buy jewelry or pretty clothes; I have my watch.


Rain and storms

As I write this I look out on the usual January mixture of sun and cloud. Hard to remember that we have just had  three days of torrential non-stop heavy rain and on Sunday night the most incredible storms.

The rain started in earnest on Saturday and built up to a crescendo in the next 24 hours.  I can honestly say I have never experienced a night such as Sunday. The clouds grew ever blacker and heavier and at midnight the thunder and lightning started – and continued for at least eight hours.

Not just the odd clap of thunder and streak of fork lightning, but rather a non-stop battery of blasts that shook the house, and lightning flashes that lit up the whole sky.  There were apparently over 2000 such flashes that night. As usual I had to disconnect all important electronic devices, and as usual, we lost our telephone and internet connections for about 12 hours.

At one stage the rain turned into hail – and then back to heavy rain beating down on the roof with such violence and power, it might just as well have been hail. I reckon that in three days we have recovered all that rain that we have been waiting for after months and months of drought or semi drought!

At the end of the summer Jacky dropped the level of the water in the bassin to about 20 cm below the skimmer.  Yesterday morning I saw that the skimmer was competely covered in water; the bassin was ready to overflow. Since then the level has dropped back a bit, but Jacky is going to pass by this afternoon to unblock the skimmer, and probably let out some more water.



A quiet start to 2018

Deb left and I found myself alone again at home.  A strange feeling after two months living an institutional life with people always around me.

Poppy was back home, so we spent a couple of days re-acquainting.  She is still following me round the house, making sure I’m not going to take off again.

On New Year’s Day we went for a really pleasant day at Dessa’s.  Well, pleasant for me, but Poppy is not so keen on Dessa’s giant dogs. There was a good mixture of French, Dutch and English.  I particularly enjoyed meeting a couple – nurse and educationist – who have lived in Thailand and Madagaskar and are now part of a group planning a communal living project in Montpellier.  Oh, and Dessa’s neighbour, who is a psychootricienne.  I had never heard the word before and I am not sure if there is an equivalent  occupation in Britain.  She tried to explain that her work fell between that of physiotherapist and psychologist. She works on the psychological aspects of a person’s health problems, typically, for example, working with people who have had strokes, helping them come to terms with their catastrophe, to cease to blame and to be ready to work at recovery.

And now I am back on the weekly routine of trips to Ganges for physiotherapy.  This will go on until 5th February when I at last have a place to go three times a week to a physiotherapist in le Vigan.

I have also bought some kit to carry on exercises at home, including a pulley system – or une poulie as it is called here –  which Deb installed for me in the garage and which I try to use for at least half an hour a day, listening to the radio.

I’m enjoying being back in my own bed, even if I am having sleep problems, and watching the weather unfold before me.  We have had cold, wind and rain this week.  Here is a foreboding red sky, seen through my bedroom window, before sunrise.

The sleep problems, and associated aches and pains – shoulder, gammy knees, rib cage…. – are not helped, I suspect, by my decision to wean myself off the clinic diet of painkillers (I was having three codeine-paracetamol pills a day).  Suddenly everything aches.  I may have to review this decision and take at least something for a while.