Chenilles processionaires – again

Suddenly, in the space of one week, the number of nests in the pine tree in front of the house has risen from two to over ten.

I thought we had been spared the annual invasion, given the cold and wet weather we have had this March. But it is as many as we had in the photo I took in March 2016.

I need to shell out to get rid of them as quickly as possible, as they are so dangerous for the four grandchildren, arriving next week, and Poppy.

I have just rung the pest man, Serge (rapidly becoming a friend because of all my bestial invasions) and he is going to see how much and when.


Edith, my newly acquired and very nice femme de ménage is up and about at five each morning (her main job is cleaning in the last remaining factory in le Vigan) and told me today how much she loves the sound of birdsong at this hour, confirming that spring is here.

I disturbed a couple of ducks sitting on my bassin this morning, but they flew off before I could photo the scene (I hope they are here for the mating season). Instead I contented myself with a photo of the tits descending voraciously on the grease balls I have put out.  I suppose that I should soon stop this, as I have read that feeding the birds from now on – or at least not feeding them the right stuff – is not a good idea.  Pity, the birds provide a non-stop theatre outside my kitchen.


Beautiful Montpellier

On Thursday I was in Montpellier.  I never cease to marvel at the very special quality of light.  Usually I focus on the lovely sandstone buildings in the centre.  But even the water of the fountains and the omnipresent plane trees have this quality of luminosity.

I was back on Saturday and this time it was the people on the Place de la Comédie that made me smile with pleasure.


Improvising on the cello does not come naturally to me.  But the French are very keen on it – part of their passion for jazz, which is also not my thing.  Ce n’est pas mon truc.

However, the  école’s cello teacher, Anne, is keen on improvising and from time to time tries to make our little group of cellists have a go.  She was thrilled when Vincent Courtois, a jazz cellist of some standing, was to come to le Vigan to give a concert, but also a master class in improvising. Reluctantly and with some trepidation, we agreed to attend.

The start was scary: he made us each improvise for two minutes.  Doesn’t sound long, does it?  If you are playing it can seem for ever.  Interestingly some of the beginners did much better than me.  They stuck to their open strings, with the odd first or even second finger in place.  But they had a sense of rhythm.

I, on the other hand, had an ambitious plan in my head: I began with a dramatic note (the tonic for those who like me did grade 5 or O level music), then a loud tune in the major key, repeated with variations, and then a brief, softer venture into the minor before returning and ending with the same dramatic tonic. Sounds great on paper, but I don’t think it was what was wanted, and I didn’t have the same good sense of rhythm as others less experienced.  A boy of about ten shone.  I wonder if he has been improvising since he first started the violin.

It was worth surviving this initial baptism.  Vincent Courtois turned out to be an excellent and entertaining teacher. Why did we play music, he asked. “Pour le plaisir,” the ten year old boy replied instantly.

Vincent explored this notion of pleasure and in particular of truly listening to what we were playing. Don’t just go through the motions of playing a few notes, he said, have a clear idea of what effect you want to make – is a note long, short, abrupt, sad, violent….  And so he made us each play a note and he would guess what effect we wanted. Then three notes – and so on.

I am so glad I went, it inspired me to carry on and to think more about how I was playing.  My cold was getting worse, however, and I did not go to the concert, which was apparently excellent.




Meanwhile, when I am not moaning about lavatory seats or misuse of language, I have observed that it is March and that, in its usual chaotic way, spring is definitely here.

The birds tell me this during the day and the frogs down by my bassin by night.  Yes we may have started the month with snow, but a week later I was sitting on my terrace enjoying the mild 18 degree afternoon temperature – before another quick reversal, with rain clouds rushing in from the north and a thunderstorm which swirled over us before rushing off to the west.  We have had a lot of rain, but today we have a brilliant blue sky, but an icy cold wind.

Here you have the daffodils in the afternoon, and several hours later the end of the thunderstorm disappearing to the west at sunset.

Petty moans

Because I have been feeling below par, and spending a lot of my day doing not much, I have had time to get irritated by little things.

One is the modern custom of printing ALL instructions, be it for setting up electronic equipment or taking medicine, in something approaching 6 point. OK I know my eyes are not in the best of shape, but I defy anybody over the age of 50 to read these instructions easily.  I suppose I should get some specs designed specifically to read very small print.  In the meantime I now have magnifying glasses in the kitchen, bedroom and bathroom.

I find it particularly inexcusable when the instructions are for taking medicine.  So here I was at the breakfast table, with my kitchen magnifying glass in hand.

My second moan is perhaps less excusable: why do almost all men leave the lavatory seat up?  I will exempt Chris – but then maybe I have forgotten nagging him in our early years together! I currently have guys sorting out the subsiding terrace outside my bedroom and get irritated each time I go into the bathroom.  I’m not even sure if my irritation is defensible.  Why should one half of the population demand that the other half leaves the seat in a position which suits them?  But if nothing else, I find the sight of a lavatory bowl without its seat down distinctly undressed.

My third moan displays something of the crankiness of someone brought up in a different generation.  This morning I heard a BBC journalist saying – yet again – “the majority of” when I would have said “most”.

An early proponent of using familiar words where possible was Sir Ernest Gower in what was, in 1948, a classic guide on the use of English.  He acknowledge that there were often good reasons for importing foreign words into our vocabulary, particularly when we did not have a good equivalent. He gave a list of words (including “the majority of”) which tended to be overused in official documents rather than the every day equivalent.

When I was a young reporter in the sixties our paper had a style manual (which sadly I cannot find) which said much the same thing. In particular we were told to avoid words of a Latin origin (“the majority of”, “prior to”, “erect”) if there was a good anglo-saxon equivalent.

Ahem, I can still hear the news editor, a man of more basic language than the editor, pronouncing in a loud voice in the news room: “There is only one thing that is erect – and it is not a building…”.

Well, in those days it was a question of resisting the tide of ‘official’ English and replacing it by every day language.  The problem now is that these words are no longer the sole province of council officials.  Every time I hear “the majority of” used in a context which is not about comparing figures I grimace – particularly when the speaker does not know whether to follow this by a singular or plural verb.

Pedantic, eh?  Mais non.  It is about the regret that English is increasingly sloppy, without a sensitivity to the nuances of choosing one word rather than another.

Busy ten days

I seemed to spend much of last week on the road to Ganges.

While my physio was on holiday I had two weeks back with the practice in Ganges.  Well, not quite two weeks, as part of the first week we were all blocked in by snow.  Then last week, Patrice was doing his usual effective but painful movements of my right arm and shoulder when I felt that familiar blurry sensation that I was about to faint.  End of the session. I got my blood pressure read at the nearby pharmacy:  the reading of 9 over 5 did not improve much over the following hour, so I am going to need to discuss this with my GP.

The other two days I passed through Ganges on my way to Montpellier, to get my first annual service at the Smart garage and to get an injection in the worst of my two knees.

The first trip was more agreeable than the second!  Smart is part of the Mercedes empire and going to a large Mercedes garage is quite a different experience from my lifetime of modest local garages or men in backstreet workshops.  The reception staff who are polite and welcoming.  OK the sofas are surrounded by improbably luxurious Mercedes models (which I would not want),  but there is free wifi, coffee and croissants.  At the end of the speedy two hour service, my car was returned beautifully valetted (won’t last long…).

I enjoy visiting my rhumatologue at the Clinique St Roch because I like her and the injection was relatively painless.  However this time I have had bad after effects: the knee is more painful than before the injection and I find it really difficult sitting down or getting up.  Charlotte, my physio, says I must wait a little before worrying about this.  Still, very debilitating, particularly since most of my music events seem to be up the winding old stairs of the Ecole de Musique (luckily all the staff, and sometimes the students, treat me as their resident geriatric and rush to carry my cello for me).

On a positive note, there has been a dramatic improvement in the movement of my shoulder, which Charlotte exclaimed at yesterday.  We both agree that working at the cello is a definite help.  There is a concert coming up on 3rd April and I seem to be playing in a lot of pieces, usually of a very simple nature, thank goodness, as I can still not play long notes.  I hope I will have the stamina for it.  One piece is the Pachelbel canon, which I have played before and love, but the cello part is a remorseless repetition of a couple of bars throughout.

On top of all this travel and music, I have had a crippling cold for the last week – the first for several years.  Like all my colds, I hover on the edge of bronchitis, hacking my lungs out, especially at night.



The thaw

Well, the last two days have been a variant on the ‘épisode cévenole’ – the name given for the dramatic downpours we get here.  About 30 cm of snow fell on Wednesday; other areas near here had 50 cm.

Yesterday Poppy and I remained marooned in the house.  I had to cancel my trip to the neurologist who is trying to work out the causes of and treat my sciatica.  Unfortunately I may not be able to see her till the end of April now.

Poppy is still not keen on the snow which engulfs her.  And I do not dare go out.  Apart from not having boots for snow, with four prothèses I simply do not want to risk falling.

I have been unimpressed by the commune’s complete inertia.  It has neither organised any chasse-neiges (snow ploughs), nor checked on the growing number of elderly residents (I know at least two who are over 80 and who are isolated), nor written any information or advice on its web site.

Yesterday evening I discovered too late that in fact a neighbour up the road, Morgan (builder and volunteer pompier) had spent the day clearing our road, Pied Méjean, and shovelling snow from the driveways of his neighbours.  He said that if only he had known I needed help he would have come here.  Instead I have arranged for Philippe, who does things like cut my grass, to come today.

This morning – after a night of violent wind and electricity cuts – the wind has abated and the sun is shining.  The thaw is under way, but meanwhile, everything is looking lovely.