I’m cold!

I never learn. I keep coming to the UK with inadequate layers of clothes. And  then I seize up with cold.

When packing on Monday morning I knew that it would be a good ten degrees colder in London. Shall I wear my trusty lace ups which have seen me through the winter?  Nah, I thought. Apart from the fact they would either fill up half my case or make me die of heat wearing them on the journey, I reckoned I could handle the temperature change. After all, morning temperatures can be a good 15 degrees below the afternoon, and I appeared to have no difficulty dressing minimally when popping into Bréau for bread.

Well, in one sense I was right. The journey to the airport was distinctly warm – I had the car roof open all the way.  So was the wait – the looong wait – at the airport.  As usual I waited as long as possible before going through customs to the claustrophobic hall beyond,  and when we were called for embarkation, I remained firmly seated, rather than joining the overheated queue towards the plane. How very right I was, and how grateful was the young family with two small boys who copied my strategy.

It turned out we had the aviation equivalent of leaves on the line: a bird in the engine. It had apparently collided with the plane on landing, and now a dozen men in bright orange appeared to be peering endlessly into the left engine, presumably checking that no remains of roasted bird had made it into the jets. Ninety minutes later we finally made it aboard – only to have a further delay waiting for EasyJet at Gatwick to email technical clearance.

Landing at Gatwick was a cold shock, from which I still have to recover. Apart from fatigue (not sleeping well)  I think the problem is adjusting to the high level of humidity. It is clearly my internal thermostat that is not working: the Gillies family, with whom I am spending the first part of the week, seem impervious to this chilly spell, even though they too had a bout of glorious sun a week ago, and wander around house and garden lightly clad.




Vet – and Poppy

Friday morning

I’m sitting in the sunshine waiting for the vet to arrive – a change to be considering the health of my dog rather than me.

The vet, Heide Coissieux, is a remarkable woman. About my age, she still works full time, is as supple and energetic as a woman 20 years younger, and is gentle, compassionate and skilful with animals. 

She cared for our earlier dogs, Boucheka and Sean, at the end of their lives, so my time as a client goes back 17 years. 

Heide lives with her family up in the hills, on a remote farm near Campestre. She has lived here for so long that she might as well be French. But she is actually German, and as she once told me, the daughter of a senior Nazi officer. Now she is very much a Cévenol, passionate about the environment and all issues Green.

I just wish she would turn up on time. She takes so long with each animal that I wanted to be first in the queue, arrive 15 minutes early and have been sitting here for 45 minutes. 

Friday afternoon

Well, when Heide did arrive, she spent a leisurely and caring hour with Poppy, who for some reason decided to get herself into a more than usual frenzy about being at the vets.

As usual we had to put a muzzle on while Heide examined her and did the usual rather unpleasant things (emptying anal glands!), though seemed impervious to the usual vaccination and other injections for her dog passport.

I discussed with Heide that Poppy seems a bit more anxious in the months since I came out of hospital and she has prescribed a medication called zylkene for situations when Poppy might be stressed (like now!).

We then talked about the fact that Poppy is putting on weight, despite my cutting down on her diet, and trying to throw her ball to compensate for reduced walks, and the fact that she has been sick three times in the past month. Heide was quite firm that I should take her off the Pedigree Chum (disgusting tins of dog food that Poppy loves) and give her dry food, some of it in a rolling cylinder with holes to encourage her to play/work for her food, and that she should be given four or five small meals through the day, to make the food easier to digest.

That afternoon Poppy was in such a state, panting and trembling, that I went back to Heide, who gave her an injection to calm her.  That has happened before, but only when given Frontline to which she was allergic (and now gets a monthly pill, Bravecto, against fleas and tics.

Sunday evening

I have just delivered Poppy to Hans and Margaret, so she does not see me pack to go to England.  It has not been an easy two days. Yesterday she more or less refused to eat all day, but then wolfed down a large portion while I was away listening to a (very good) concert.  Today she did not eat until four and has since refused to touch the dry food.  Heide has said it is a question of holding out till she is truly hungry.  Hope Hans and Margaret hold out well!

Of course the real torture will be if Margaret cooks anything with cheese, Poppy’s great passion in life.

Tax returns

A major item on my To Do list is ticked off: I have done my tax return –  my Déclaration des Revenus 2017. But not without some problems.

For several years I have done my return online.  This year they changed the form slightly and slipped in the requirement to give additional information needed to assess the taxe d’habitation (one of the two local taxes). But most irritating, on the last page I got an error message and may need to make an appointment to clear it up.

Most French citizens only have to complete form 2042 (don’t ask me why they give obscure numbers to the forms).  As a foreigner, I also have to complete form 2047  and, as the owner of a foreign bank account, form 3916.

The error message says that I indicated on form 2041 that I had worked all year and that this is incompatible with form 2047. I’m baffled: I have not seen form 2041 and I filled in 2047 exactly like last year. Further, because the system knows me as someone who does my return online, I don’t get a paper copy to complete – and yet if I click on the query box by any item, I am often referred to the page number of the paper copy…

I will have to sort this out on my return from the UK next week.

Meanwhile, the next item on my To Do list, which I have to stop avoiding, is seeking French nationality.  The forms are alarming, the documentation required enormous, and the rules somewhat ambivalent, dependent on local interpretation.  In May I will have to consult in Montpellier, but it looks as if I might have to take some sort of language test, which in the old days I would have been able to avoid, getting instead some sort of local official statement of competence.


I love April. The weather may be feckless and let you down.  But it is Spring, the rebirth of everything.

This year we have had it all: snow, wind, cold, relentless rain (one person told me we had more in two days than all last year) and – since the family left – glorious sunshine and temperatures nudging up to 30.  Now it is May which is looking a little unreliable.

Yesterday in market, Jacky told me that everything is two weeks late because of the weather (but then that was maybe to reassure me it was not too late for him to finish pruning the olive trees in May…).  It is true that my oleanders are looking very sad indeed. Jacky said they did not like all the prolonged cold. And maybe the chestnut trees on the surrounding hillsides are taking a long time to turn green.

Otherwise everything seems wonderfully normal. The sound of the cuckoos is giving way to the nightingales. I have one which sings behind the house and another which replies from the trees towards my gite. I have seen herons and buzzards (I can never tell when these might be eagles).  Yesterday I watched a woodpecker in a tree beside the house, the closest I have ever been to one. I did not realise what a magnificent splash of red they have under their tail.

Almost daily I watch the trees unfurl their leaves. The hazelnut copse round the children’s ‘shack’ is now green. And the leaves on the  lime tree and ash below the pool have become green almost overnight.

The annual challenge of keeping the grass under control on the terraces has started.  This is tough work, requiring à débroussailler (strimmer). Philippe who usually does this has a bad back.  Dan, a very nice Englishman, has come to the rescue and is also weeding and next month will be planting more flowers. Jacky will also be replanting round the pool , as well as pruning back some overenthuastic olive trees

I am lucky to be able – for now – to pay these guys. Otherwise I would be out there, frantically weeding, cutting and digging, like so many people round here, catching up on the late start to Spring.

As it is, I think I will go down now and do some genteel removing of ivy from the walls.

Routine cancer checkup

Day one of another week filled with health related appointments: the once a year meeting with Dr Courtieu, the Montpellier surgeon who removed the cancer three years ago.

He agreed with me that the results continued to be good, and from now on the Ganges doctor who originally spotted a potential cancer will take his place – to save me coming down to Montpellier.

He also discussed the small umbilical hernia which showed up on the scan. After ringing a colleague in the gastro-enterologie department for a second opinion he advised that the hernia was tiny and was anyhow completely covered in fat (graisse), so highly unlikely to cause a problem, at least for the present.  Their view was that it was best not to operate at this stage, but that if I ever showed any serious symptoms, I should seek immediate medical help, with a view to an operation. Suits me, as that is one less factor to prevent the badly needed first knee replacement.

Business over, he asked me as always how I was feeling about Brexit.  His view is that the French will carry on allowing current British residents access to health care, particularly given the enormous number of French in London.  And interestingly he thought I should go for an Irish second passport rather than French, agreeing with me that the French administration is quite a hurdle.

On my way out I picked up a hitchhiker.  I know this horrifies some members of family and friends, but I am quite good at recognising safe prospects, if necessary going round a roundabout again, to have a second look. Besides I needed someone to talk to keep me awake.

Julien (or possibly Justin – I forget) was a young pharmacist from Alsace taking a year out to travel round Europe and to write. He was travelling light, he said with pride, not simply carrying one medium sized backpack but unfettered by too much of the complications of modern life. Having spent a few months in Barcelona, he was on his way to a week’s course on breathing at a retreat near St Martin de Londres. (I’ve now looked at the website and see this is costing over a grand! A ripoff, I fear.)

After dropping off Julien, I took the scenic route home, zigzagging across the Hérault, looking particularly magnificent after the recent rain.

Tomorrow: back to Montpellier at the crack of dawn, for another medical visit – to discuu my dvisyivs/


Enfin, le soleil

I eat my words.  The sun came out today and we basked in a warm 25 degrees.

I was supposed to be finishing clearing up the house after the visits, but after returning children’s toys to a friend in Aulas, I continued up the hill, dawdling my way up through Arphy. I should have directed the family up there; the river is beautiful, particularly when in full speight.

I couldn’t resist the temptation to follow the path the other side of the river and to dawdle on the footbridge over the river Coudoulous. Arphy is further up the valley above Aulas, you are really in the land of granite here and the mountains tower above.



The weather – again!

Ca suffit!  We have had enough rain and cold – not to mention snow and hail – this so-called spring.

I know my family think I am weather-obsessed, but frankly so is everybody else who lives here.  You do not expect such persistent lousy weather.  How long is it now since we have had more than a mere two days of sunshine?

The end of the family holiday was exceptionally wet: my son-in-law came back from a ‘bracing’ walk looking like a drowned rat.  And after a brief respite, it resumed again yesterday.  I took a look at a dustbin I emptied on 1 April.  It showed we have had 30.5 cm (over a foot) in two weeks!

Those who garden are in despair.  When can one do anything other than mow a wet lawn dug up by the sangliers (as is the case of a friend in Aulas)?

It is not actually raining just now, but the sky is its habitual menacing grey and a wet night is forecast.  Then, miracle, several days of relatively fine weather with higher temperatures – before the rain resumes next Saturday.

We can write off April (and before that, March and February).  The question is, are we going to have a better May?



Yesterday my old friend Graeme Mitchison died.  Our family connections go back three generations and Graeme and I have known each other since we were small children.

His family moved to Richmond shortly after we did and I played often with Graeme and his older sister, Susan.  As teenagers we shared a love of music.(Our parents arranged that we swapped piano teachers, as Graeme – far more gifted – needed my more challenging teacher, while I needed someone who could tolerate a lack of practise).

We both went to Oxford together and supported each other through sometimes difficult times, and enjoyed walks, games of squash and of course meals, excellently cooked by Graeme. When I met Chris, I was so pleased that the two became instant friends, mutually admiring their different intellectual strengths.

Then Chris and I moved, first to Nigeria, then to Scotland and finally to France.  Graeme spent most of his life in Cambridge and we met mainly at Mitchison family functions.  The last time he came here was in 2016, with his sister, Clare and her husband John, for a brief but very happy visit (Graeme once again filling my freezer with goodies). Last September I saw him at a gathering to launch a book on the history of the Mitchison family and here he is – was – as always discreetly in the background.

And then, the horrible blow of his brain tumour.  I said it all in February.  We may have lived in separate countries for much of our lives, but we grew up together, shared so many common family memories, that for me it feels like losing a brother. A particularly nice, generous, modest but incredibly talented person.

Easter holidays

Yesterday I waved goodbye to Jude and her family after what must have been the record wettest family holiday. 

Kate’s family arrived first, when conditions were marginally better and the children enjoyed a treasure hunt, organised by Kate, as well as having a garden bonfire (Otto strumming the guitar beside it).

When Jude and family arrived the sun actually came out for a couple of days and we had a near normal Easter break. 

What gave me great pleasure was that for the first time all four children rushed round the garden, and made the swing area their own base. 

When discussing what they like about visiting Granny, Poppy of course heads the list (and Granny. of course, they say hurriedly). But now they have added ‘Granny’s huge garden’. 

We even managed to pack in a picnic at le Rieumard, the clearing beside the local river, before the weather deteriorated.

In the evenings they laid on a couple of shows (choosing the terrace outside my bedroom, currently a messy building site, as their theatre).

Jude’s family are great walkers. Willow joined them a couple of times. And Otto, whose problems can make prolonged activity particularly testing, managed one good walk too.

In respect for my family’s desire for privacy, I have just put up a few fairly anonymous photos

Early Easters are marked by two family birthdays, first Jude’s:

and then three days later, mine – in this case a milestone one reaches with very mixed feelings- 3/4 of a century. I reproduce the messages here not to massage my ego but because I am touched by the loving affection of all four children.

Here are Otto’s dramatic statement, Willow’s immaculate writing and Maddie/Mabbie’s newly acquired signature skills:

followed by Ella’s story of The Family:

Summer time. Ho ho.

I’m fed up with winter.  March is always a problematic month, but never so much as this year.  And one week into Summer Time the unrelenting bad weather show no signs of ending.

In March we have had sun (a little), rain (a lot), snow, cold (seemingly never-ending) and now, a return to the violent winds which we can get in the southern Cevennes.

A few days ago I was rejoicing at the annual signs of the willows coming to life again – and then, this morning, I came across the sad end to a tree I have loved.  Over 20 years ago Chris and I had three silver birches planted in front of our new French home.  One did not survive too long (planted too close to the rock) but the other two have done well.  Until the violent gales which swirled around relentless all night.

That is sad.  But just at present what is preoccupying me is what is to come now we are in April, given that my children and grandchildren are arriving.  The answer seems to be yet more of the same: rain, cold, wind, cloud – and perhaps the odd glimpse of the sun.

How cruel, when I compare this with last year’s visit, at the same time, when according to my diary it rained just once, and there are happy pictures of the children playing in the garden, setting off for walks in summer gear, and  paddling in the local river.