Repas du quartier

One of the advantages of living in a road where so many young couples have built their own homes is that the average age is much lower than in the villages. I was again struck by this at the annual repas du quartier, organised by neighbours who are little more than half my age.

The repas, took place in a grass clearing a little above my house. Apart from me and two other couples, everybody seemed to be parents of small children, aged three to about sixteen, and all evening there were the happy sounds of these children running around – lovely to observe.

The food was outstanding, and copious.  My plumber neighbour barbecued a mountain of mussels in a delicious peppery sauce.  There were hot dogs, quiches, buns, biscuits and nibbles galore. Very yummy indeed.

I stayed for over four hours and the only frustration I experienced was the way the guys (“les garcons) as the baker’s wife called them, talked amongst themselves much of the time, knocking back the pastis as the evening rolled on.

The women were mainly in groups round the heavilyl food tables, and drinking wine.

I tried unsuccessfully to work my way into the ‘garcons’ circle – but gave up and joined the women. Maybe next year I will be braver


And now for a new ailment

Thinking about the various blemishes on my face has seemed a low priority, but I finally got myself organised and went to a dermatologist, as urged by my doctor, Maëlle.

The sun shone and my car roof was open as I drove the 75 km to Castries to see the dermatologist, Dr Merlet.

Uh oh.  It turned out to be a visit well merited. As I suspected, the moles and other brown blemishes on my face were unsightly but not cancerous.  However, she took one look at the rough area on the side of my nose and said this had to be dealt with immediately (not in the autumn, as I had suggested). And while she was about it, she would tackle the larger ‘moles’.

I had not come mentally prepared for immediate action, but as it turns out, the process of freezing these was uncomfy, but not inordinately so. Such was my surprise at being treated instantly that I did not ask any questions about the procedure or indeed the significance of the dodgy nose blemish.)

I now have to put cream on twice a day, until the scabbing has gone, plus Factor 50 sun cream, and of course avoid direct sunlight on my face.  Just at present my face looks worse than before!

I expressed some surprise at Dr Merlet treating blemishes which were unsightly but not dangerous.  It turns out that all this is covered by the health system in France.  Indeed, Dr Merlet said I should have come much earlier, as now the mole below my right eye could take several visits.

Meanwhile I have had to borrow sun hats from my friend Dessa, and am mentally eating humble pie after years of my casual dismissal of my family’s scrupulous covering the grandchildren in sun cream.



Life without medication

Meanwhile, my never ending health saga continues.  I saw Maëlle, my GP last week.

She yet again adjusted my blood pressure medication – she is now concerned that my BP might be too low – and we discussed at length what strategy to follow over my sciatic nerve problem.

She agreed with me that the sciatic nerve trouble may have started with the prolonged time on my back in the salle de réanimation in November 2016, and that the shingles I had on coming out of hospital may be linked also.

She also totally supported my view that the medication for the back trouble had been making me ill, and indeed she thought this amounted to a form of drug-induced depression.  So now I am off the medication, and trying out anti-inflammatories.Charlotte, the physio, is switching attention from the shoulder to the back.

So, for the time being my nights are short and difficult, but my days are much better.  I feel more clear headed and energetic, despite the lack of sleep.


Changing banks

This is not something one does lightheartedly, I am discovering.  It is not just the business of opening a new bank account, but there are all those routine payments in and out of the account to transfer across.

So why did I do it?  Well for some time I have the feeling that my current bank is not flourishing: staff change all the time, charges are higher than elsewhere, and their internet site is dire (important if, like me, you do mainly online banking).

Two recent events finally tipped the balance, the first a bit more frivolous.

On my recent UK trip I paid for trains, buses, cafes, taxis and supermarket trips almost exclusively using Apple Pay.  And because I have the ultimate in luxuries, an Apple watch, I was able to do this without even opening my handbag. A double click of a button on the watch and then flash it in front of the payment device – et voila, the payment is accepted.  Not only am I less likely to lose my phone or wallet, when opening my handbag, but Apple Pay is more secure than using a card: the actual credit card number is never given to the merchant. (Don’t ask me to explain how this works.)

For a year now I have been asking my bank if and when it was going to offer Apple Pay facilities, and the answer is always ‘we are talking with Apple’.

The other recent irritation was when I wanted to do a virement – transfer money electronically – to pay the association for which my cleaner works (rather than write a cheque and then drive a km to post it in the nearest postbox – or carry it around in my coat pocket and forget it). I could not for the life of my work out how to do this on the bank’s site.  I asked the girl at the desk in the bank how to do it, and she was equally nonplussed, as was the young man who swanned in to help us both.  Eventually they took my problem to their boss!

These two problems are not problems with my new bank: it has offered Apple Pay for some time and it is easy to see how to make a virement – or to set up a prélèvement automatique – a direct debit or standing order. In fact its website is a model of user friendliness compared with the old one.

The actual process of opening my new account has taken more time, plus two visits, than I expected, but this is because of an incredible amount of paperwork needed to verify my identity and financial circumstances. All made more pleasant by knowing the young woman who is doing all this.  She is the daughter of people in the village of Serres, so we are on “tu” terms.

Well I now have my debit card, I’m about to sign up for Apple Pay, have sent a form to get my university pensions paid into my new bank.  And the bank will look after the transfer of all the prélèvements. So hopefully next month I should be set up and will flash my watch at the till in Intermarché, my local supermarket.

Attention aux pluies orageuses

How often since I last wrote a fortnight ago I have seen newspaper headings like this!

At least the saints de glace put an end to the cold, but we seem stuck in an endless cycle of warm, heavy weather with regular thunderstorms and rain.  Today it has surpassed itself with violent deluges.

I promise, it is not just me who is obsessed by this weather.  Everybody in the south of France is equally incredulous.  Why, today we have more rain and cooler weather than London!

I have to acknowledge that last week we did have moments of sunshine.  The English visitors next door exclaimed at the luscious green landscape.  Yes, I said, it is not usually this green.

Everything is growing so fast that I swear I can see the grass – and weeds – advancing upwards. And yet, it is too wet for Philippe, who keeps things under control, to come this week.

Things are supposed to improve mid-June, but still with an extraordinary amount of instability. Edith, my cleaning lady who is here at the moment, repeated what I have heard too often: “The year 2018 looks as if it will continue to be strange right to the end.”

Les saints de glace

We have just come to the end (hopefully) of a dreadful few days of wind, rain and cold.  As a result I have learnt some new French: “Les saints de glace sont passés”.

First on Monday my lovely cleaning lady, Edith, explained the awful weather was due to these saints, though then I thought she was pronouncing just one new noun that I did not know, something like singdeglas.  Then this afternoon, when walking Poppy, I met a woman who repeated the phrase and I asked her to explain.

Apparently there are a bunch of saints days just about now and this can often mark the last patch of cold weather before the summer – though she added there is another saint’s day near the end of May which can also give a brief cold spell.

Anyhow, now that the saints de glace period is over, one can apparently start planting. What’s more, the woman added, today is the last day of la lune rousse – the lunar month after Easter.  Tonight we have the new moon, and that is important for growing also. She also said something about the importance of it being a year with thirteen lunar months, but by then I was beginning to lose the astrological plot.

I ventured to suggest that climatic change meant the old sayings about what weather to expect on certain dates were less reliable.  For example, when we first came to France we were told that the 15th August invariably brought a weather change with thunderstorms.

Ah yes, she agreed, we no longer have thunderstorms as violent as those of her youth. But for her the importance of the saints de glace seemed unaffected by climate change.

I know she is not the only person to adhere to a strict May growing timetable.  I expect to see the tomato plants being staked up everywhere over the coming weeks.


Sally’s visit

After that difficult week feeling unwell, suddenly I found myself cosseted and spoilt by my house guest – rather than the other way round.

Sally arrived on Monday, when I was halfway through preparing dinner.  The deal had been that my English neighbours, Janet and Neville, who were arriving on the same plane, would drive Sally up here, and that I would lay on dinner for all. Instead I had spent the morning first struggling over the problem of my disappearing/reappearing carte vitale and then queuing for a long time to see a doctor. Then I discovered I had left the trout (bought the previous day)  out of the fridge-so back again up the hill to the trout farm to buy four more.

By then I was seriously behind schedule and running out of steam. Sally took over in the kitchen, the sun came out – chasing away the morning’s thunderstorm – and we all sat outside for our aperitifs, enjoying the wonderful post-storm evening light. The menu was warm pélardons (local goat’s cheeses) and salad, then the trout and potatoes, followed by strawberries and cream (the only thing I had managed to complete). Sally somehow managed to get all this ready while at the same time being outside with us. But she is someone who has cooked and entertained with extreme competence and flair all her life. Things did not stop there; during the week, she filled my freezer with mountains of soup and chicken dishes. Wonderful.  I sat back and concentrated on getting my energy back after the bad week.

And we talked.  And talked. I would argue that Sally can talk more than me; some would suggest the reverse…  Sally and Christine (whom I had seen ten days ago when in London) are my oldest friends.  It is 67 years since Sally’s and my parents became friends and she, her sister Jane and I became friends too – though more slowly.  We all went on to grammar school together, and Jane and I went to Oxford the same time. I may only see Sally once or twice a year, but the friendship is a continuum.

The weather was supposed to be dreadful all week, but the rain held off until Sally left and we packed quite a lot of wandering around into the three full days she was here.  The highlight was a beautiful day driving up onto the Causse, the limestone plateau to the south of le Vigan, a leisurely lunch at one of my favourite restaurants at Blandas, then meandering down into the spectacular Cirque de Navacelles – and then winding up the other side, through the dramatic barren landscape, softened by  the asphodèles which were in flower, and again crossing the spectacular river Vis at Madières.

Even the car drama at Navacelles did not damage this lovely day.  We were walking back to the car when we saw a large Audi doing a slow, incompetent three-point turn – in too little space between my Smart and the cars parked on the other side of the road.  Then, in slow motion, we watched, disbelieving, as the car moved on forwards, into mine. The driver turned out to be a man of about 60 – with only one hand!  His right arm ended in a stump, with which he had been manipulating the forward-backward controls. He indicated his arm, but we made it clear this was no excuse.  The damage is not dramatic, but will have to be fixed.  The man, M. Borroso, suggested he could get it fixed in le Vigan, as he was in the trade, but I refused, and said it must be repaired by the Smart agents, my garage in Montpellier.  We exchanged names and telephone numbers and we took photos of his car and we all went on our way.  (I was to learn later that, this being France, there is paperwork we should have completed and signed jointly before leaving.)

All too soon it was Friday, and I drove Sally back to the airport. I am hoping this will be an annual (and longer) fixture.




I can’t believe I am writing about health issues again – but, in the days after returning from the UK I had been feeling very low indeed.  This continued after I left the clinic on Friday: I felt incredibly fatigued, I had a non-stop headache, singing in the ears, nausea… …. and various other less dramatic symptoms.

On Saturday morning I struggled to go to orchestra – I did not want to let them down after about a month’s absence (and the end of May concerts approaching) – and then returned to my bed.  Margaret suggested I took my blood pressure: it was 200/130 -nearly double its usual level!

Encouraged by Hans and Margaret I rang the emergency health number (15) for advice.  I was eventually put through to a doctor in Nimes, who advised me to rest, take the more powerful pills (Coaprovel 150) which my doctor and I dropped a few months earlier after I had too low blood pressure and a couple of near faints, and to see my doctor on Monday.

So, resting as ordered on Sunday (trying not to think of the non-preparations for my friend Sally’s imminent arrival), I ruminated on my condition and came to the conclusion, as that fateful being, a patient with access to the internet, that I have two problems: the medications prescribed for my blood pressure and that for the pinched nerve in my lower spine.

When I went to London, I forgot to pack Neurontin (Gabentine) and Pramipexole (Sifrol), the medicines for my back! But my  back pain was no better or worse than before.  And while in London I about research at East Anglia University showing a higher probability of Alzheimer’s if you take such medicines

When I got back I decided to stop taking the Neurontin until I could talk to the neurologist about this research. But I did keep to her instructions to double the dose of Sifrol.

On Monday I told all this to the remplacante (the locum   taking urgent cases as my GP was fully booked up). She clearly did not want to enter the debate about possible side effects of the nerve pain medicines, and concentrated on the blood pressure problem (now down to something like 170/110 – still much too high).  She prescribed a much higher dose of Coaprovel and told me to get a blood test and then see the cardiologue in Ganges (what you do here is get prescriptions from your doctor and then arrange the appointments yourself). She also told me to take my blood pressure at least twice a day and keep a diary. When I last took my bp yesterday it was down to 135/86, which is approaching my normal of about 120/70.

All symptoms are much reduced, though of course I don’t know how much this is caused by dealing with the high blood pressure or how much my unsanctioned dramatic reduction in the neuropathic medication!

So the next developments will no doubt be my appointment with Maëlle on 24 th May



Carte vitale

I hunted everywhere for my missing carte vitale over the weekend following my hospital stay and decided reluctantly that on Monday I must report its loss.

While waiting at the local health insurance office, I ordered a new card, which automatically cancels the old one.  Minutes later I saw the very nice official to ask her for a document confirming I had a card on order.  She asked me for my passport (given we don’t have a carte d’identité like the French) – and out fell my old carte vitale!  The clinic on Friday must have put it inside my passport for some reason.

The official sent an urgent email requesting the main office in Nimes to annul the cancellation of my old card.  She thought she had succeeded, but at 11pm that night I got an email from Nimes confirming the cancellation.  The next day the local official said she had never known a cancellation to happen so rapidly.  I know from my friend Dessa’s experience that I could wait weeks, even months, for my new card.  Meanwhile, instead of doctors, pharmacists etc being able to put my card into a machine to receive payment, I will have to pay them and then take a paper to the local office in order to be reimbursed.  What a pain.


Ganges clinic. The good and not so good.

In my book, as local country hospitals go, the Clinique in Ganges scores highly. It really has some very good doctors and anaesthetists.

I still remember with affection and respect M. Trouillas, the orthopaedic surgeon who did my right hip replacement back in 2001 (no problems since). Even though I now go to a surgeon in Montpellier, I know that Trouillas’ two successors have an equally high reputation.  Other experiences since the hip – some trips to Urgences and of course the preliminary biopsy op leading to the detailed confirmation and analysis of cancer – have also left me impressed. And relieved that there is an acceptable range of expertise out here in our rural backwater.

My latest experience was on Thursday. I had been given a prescription for a sleep apnea test by the neurologist treating my sciatic nerve problem. I was irritated, as I was convinced I did not have apnea and was sure my insomnia was caused by my back. Still, I had to jump through the hoop to please the neurologist and in March went to see the pneumonologue in Ganges. So here I was, two months later, installed in my room (phew, no neighbours), having a bunch of electrodes and machines attached to me by a technician, who explained they would operate from 9pm till the morning. (Shall I post the most unflattering self portrait ever?  On reflection, perhaps not….)

After a wretched night and a scan in the morning, the pneumologue confirmed what I knew already: no apnea.  But he replied to my questions with courtesy and authority and I would have been happy to stick with Ganges had I indeed had apnea.

So why not ten out of ten?

I may have had a single room – a luxury unheard of in my NHS experiences – but of questionable quality. Its bed and trimmings like the bed raisers had seen better days and the broken bin in the bathroom – not emptied after the previous patient –  was particularly unappetising. I asked for another cover as I was cold, and was told they had run out. I was at the end of the corridor and by the time the breakfast trolley arrived they had run out of coffee and had no more knives for spreading butter on my roll.

After breakfast I went to the radiology department – which I know only too well – for my scan. Again, I find it amazing that a country hospital can have what appears to be an impressive range of kit. Apart from MRIs you seem to be able to get pretty well any X-ray or scan doctors ask for. I am used to the offhand desk staff, but after waiting nearly 90 minutes I asked someone why my scan was taking so long to come through. Answer, it was sitting in its envelope in a stack behind the secretaries’ desks with an apparently random method of selecting which patient to call next.

Finally, since this overnight stay I cannot find my carte vitale (the passport to all medical services and medicines – indeed, the vital carte vitale). To be fair to the clinic I may still find it tucked into the passenger seat of the car, but I have a horrible suspicion it is still in Ganges . I handed it to reception on arrival, returned to reception before leaving. This is usually when one settles up (I had nothing to pay as the ‘hotel’ element was covered by my insurance) and the carte vitale is handed over along with scans and reports. I don’t remember getting my carte vitale back and my three phone calls to reception have not been answered . I will phone again on Monday and meanwhile try not to panic!

Well, for these reasons – none, I agree, of major concern given my confidence in the clinic’s medical services and appreciation of all the French health system does for me.  But still…