Brexit – another screw turns

Yesterday I kept turning on the television and watching with growing anger and horror. The unthinkable is happening: we are not just heading for Brexit, but a no-deal brexit. The ultimate in precipices.

As I watched the noisy and often stupid contributions I could not help but see this through the eyes of a European – I mean a European living this side of the Channel. The arrogance and ignorance of what I often heard is unbelievable.

How can so many Tories assert that they (the EU) are being difficult and intransigent? It is the UK which wants to leave and is making a total ballsup of it. What really got my goat yesterday was the repeated statement, with the knowing look of businessmen who know how to do deals (not), that we had to keep no-deal on the table as a bargaining counter because, you know, these EU types wait till the last moment before blinking and caving in.

As for Corbyn. Don’t get me started. I can understand his historic lack of warmth about the EU back to the Seventies (I shared it), but the world has changed since then. I won’t go into a defence of being in the EU here. Labour’s position in 2015 on whether to have a referendum was already highly problematic. But since the results of the referendum, Corby has done nothing but prevaricate, blur and confuse.

Corbyn and May bang on that “the people has spoken”. Of course we all needed to take into account why so many people voted for Brexit, starting with examining how far incompetence, dishonesty and intrigue during the campaign affected the result. The people have spoken, yes (at least, just over a half of those that voted at that time). But there is nothing in our weirdly constructed constitution or the badly drafted referendum bill which said that Parliament (which should be making the decisions) is legally bound to implement the vote. And now that the full horror of what the Government has achieved, or rather, not achieved, is apparent, and the Government and Parliament are fragmented and paralysed, surely the only way out (if it is a way out) of this mess is to ask people to reflect again – and after that, decide to think very hard indeed before ever having a referendum again.

Both May and Corbyn are putting party interests first. May has been desperate to hang on to her loony right plus the DUP, Corbyn has been obsessed by the opportunity, he thought, for a general election. Brexit is not a party issue – which is why it is such a mess. And now, unbelievably, May has reversed her humiliating defeat (I always thought the Tories would end up toeing the tribal line – along with Labour MPs who fear for their jobs in Brexit voting constituencies. Even more unbelievable is to go back to the EU again, thinking that somehow yesterday’s vote will make European countries change their mind. Dream on.

The No-Deal nightmare has particular significance for Europeans in Britain and Britons in Europe, in particular for British pensioners like me. Why? Because on 29th March our right to health services in Europe will end, unless some miracle happens in the next two months. If this happens, I will not be able to continue living in France. I don’t want to leave, I have no other home, and I cannot expect to receive the level of health care in England that I get here.

To be continued … … …

Snow

The snowflakes started to fall while I was playing music in le Vigan. I rushed home, keen to negotiate the steep hairpin approaching my house before it came impassable.

It snowed through the evening, but then during the night we had another strong wind, and this morning, although the landscape was white, the snow had been blown off the trees. I reckon that was it: it has been cold today, but little signs of further snow.

Nevertheless I decided not to set foot outside this morning. When I remember how what we were young I thought nothing of trudging through the snow to school or work, I am sad to think that now prudence now dominates.

Jacquot, my charming electrician, made it to the house to fix some lights in the bedroom. But together we watched while a van negotiated the road outside my house, with a dozen attempts before he made it up a few metres.

Collectors

Yesterday I visited a house with the largest collection of books I have ever seen (apart from the larger stately homes).

My friend, Dessa, and I have become part of a small but cosmopolitan group – German, Dutch, American, British and French – who tend to congregate for a drink in our favourite bar on Saturdays. And the German couple, Hans Leo and Doris, had invited us for lunch.

The setting was magnificent – the house is perched on the saddle of a hill near Sumène, with panoramic views of the Cévennes. The first view of the house itself (after a nearly disastrous wrong turn ending up in a neighbour’s onion field) was very Cévenol but deceptively low-key.

The full extent of this rambling three storey old house only became apparent as we were take on a tour and at first sight seems quite modest – a traditional kitchen, dining room and sitting room, and then, along further little passages, some very handsome bedrooms.

Upstairs, however, was a larger sitting room which led onto a massive barn-like library, every wall covered from top to bottom with books. And another surprise: this library led onto a second, equally vast library! Down in the basement, more rooms and more books.

Doris and Hans Leo are voracious readers with catholic tastes. Even so, their rich and varied collections revealed that they are also formidable collectors! I hazarded a guess – at least 10,000 books? Doris nodded.

They have one daughter who lives near Montpellier. She apparently also loves books. But given my family’s experience of disposing of book collections every time someone in the family dies (as the non-reader in the family, I am the exception) I don’t envy her task some time in the future!

Equally impressive are their walls covered with a prolific collection of, mainly modern, paintings. Although I am pretty ignorant about modern art there were quite a lot that I coveted.

Hans Leo and Doris bought their house as a spectacular ruin in the early seventies. Doris continued to work as a psychiatrist in Germany until she found a post in Montpellier and Hans Leo initially worked on the house while also running an art gallery in Montpellier.

In a very thorough, German, way, he learnt the skills of house restoration by watching a local builder, all the time taking extensive notes. The skills he acquired and the years of hard graft he put into this house have produced something which is a wonderful mixture of old, simple Cévenol style and detailed, clever adaptation to make it into a comfortable modern home with (relatively – heating is always a problem in stone houses). Well, I should say rather, they have created a magnificent library and art gallery, with living accommodation attached.

We had a delicious meal (another good cook that I will hesitate to invite chez moi!) and lots of good conversation. I will return – with my drone as well as camera – one day when the weather is not so dreich, a wonderful word I learnt living in Scotland, to describe days when it is grey, damp and generally not inviting.

Internet struggles

I have to all intents and purposes had no internet for a week.  Already horribly slow, it has got slower and slower and finally ground to a halt on Friday with a download speed of 0.1 Mps.  The Speedtest Global Index  reported the country with the slowest speed in December was Tajikistan – with 5 Mps.

When I could not even receive emails, let alone images or movies, I decided to ring Orange – as  last resort, with little hope of achieving anything. But miracle, after 90 minutes of talking to a guy in Morocco, with much rebooting of my router, my connection is miraculously working again!

The support person had just rebooted something at his end and then, on hearing I was using a Mac, said hastily he was passing my problem to a colleague – and I was disconnected. After waiting in vain a further half an hour fora call from the Mac support person, I decided to retry the internet, and miracle – the speed was up to 8 Mps (a snail’s pace in global terms but a hare’s in this neck of the woods). Just now it is 5.1 Mps, which is  bearable.

There are better times ahead, however. On Tuesday I went to see the mare of Bréau to ask if the roadworks in Serres included network cables and if so, would Pied Méjean, where I live, be included.

Alain, the maire, and his adjoint, Yves, said that the Serres work was general upgrading of electricity cables and lights and did not include Pied Méjean.  However, the local internet hub – and ugly white box at the foot of my property – was due to be upgraded to fibre optic in December.  It is running late, but we can but hope that 2019 will see an improvement in internet services, and I am the best placed to benefit!

It still remains a mystery to me why so many friends in and around le Vigan are suddenly experiencing a dramatic drop in internet speed.  Yesterday I was due to help my friend Dessa with some computing problems.  Eventually we had to abandon trying to get an internet connection and decamp to my house – a good 30 minutes drive away.

It rained today

Yes, that is news here.  It has not rained since before Christmas.  Somebody said today that it had not rained since the start of December.

What is certain is we now lurch from periods of extreme rain as in November to complete drought as in January.  The local farmer, Jacques, has been watering his onion seeds, and gardeners more knowledgeable and diligent than me have been watering their flowers.

Now that I have finally got somebody who is re-doing the terrace outside my bedroom, it looks of course as if we are to have some rain and even perhaps snow.

I have to excuse my usual obsession with the weather, but it takes my mind off the nightmarish theatre in Westminster, which could potentially ruin my life in France. Even if my carte de séjour finally arrives,  no-deal Brexit would mean no certitude that my health costs in France would continue to be covered, let alone whether I could continue to live here if the exchange rate goes down again.

Give me one reason why we should be optimistic about the future in this world.  One reason to take my mind off Brexit, Trump, South America, the Middle East, the destruction of the planet … …

postscript on Monday

After another night of violent winds, the surrounding hills were covered in snow this morning..

Lunar eclipse

I only learnt yesterday evening that there was going to be a lunar eclipse this morning. I did a trial photo in the evening, just after the moon had risen.

Then I was up again at 4am, feverishly reading up at the last moment how you take photos at night, before dressing up for the cold night.

It was a magnificent full ‘red’ moon, hanging out of the lightly clouded sky, above the dip in the hills called le Col de Mouzoules. It appeared to have its own brilliant white halo. The eclipse was to happen around six, but already by 4.30 the moon was taking on a strange aspect

I rushed to get my camera and tripod and went out into the sub-zero night.  What a pity it was so cold; the clouds had disappeared and the whole sky was a carpet of twinkling stars, though the moon had lost its halo.

Slowly, over the next hour, you could see the shadow caused by Earth gradually moving over the moon. Difficult to describe but the effect was magical. Even more difficult to photograph without experience and lacking an appropriate telephoto lens. I popped outside several times to have a try. I got some shots before the eclipse became total – but then I could no longer see where the moon was through my camera lens. (My efforts were not helped by having an extremely dirty lens, as I discovered later!)

Meanwhile my friend Dessa was doing the same thing, a few kilometres away – with an iPhone!  Here is her take on the full eclipse.

Oh well, I have another three years in which to master the art of lunar photography before the next total eclipse.

It’s only a cold

You are not well? they ask.  It’s only a cold, you reply. Nothing to write home about.

But how all-encompassing a cold can be, shutting down one’s ability to function. First that ominous shivery feeling, a general malaithe sore throat, the blocked nose, the headache.  All coming out of nowhere, in a matter of hours.

And the nights.  One night after another, when all the symptoms rush in, competing to stop you sleeping. Worst of all, when the cold moves to the chest, hours of coughing and coughing., unable to quell that deep tickle. Sitting up does not help. Nor does wandering round the house. Raiding the fridge has lost its appeal. Reading is too much like hard work. Even music is irritating.

Then the days are long, tired out after the sleepless nights. Quite well in the morning, thank you. But come evening the coughing takes a hold, and you approach night with no pleasure.

Well, my little cold only lasted a week.  But what a long week. Then at last yesterday I turned the corner. My head cleared.  Lots of coughing and nose-blowing to clear the system out, and now I am back to normal.

This seems to a particular strain which is doing the rounds locally. My friend, Margaret, had a shorter version last week,  and today I witnessed Dessa (who came to lunch today) becoming overwhelmed.

But it was only a cold. And now mine is on its way out. So tomorrow: back to normal life.

Our new commune

Let’s switch our attention for a moment from the surreal shutdown of government in the States and this evening’s nail biting key chapter in the bizarre and lunatic Brexit, and consider the tiny rural backwater in France where I live.

This month Bréau-Salagosse was the first commune in the Département du Gard to merge with its neighbour, Mars.   We are now officially the commune of Bréau-Mars.

It makes absolute sense when you consider that the population of Bréau is little more than 400, while that of Mars is under 200!  There are of course even smaller communes amongst the 35000 plus French communes: over 3000 communes have less than a hundred inhabitants (while at the other end of the scale there are over 40 communes with populations of more than 100,000).  But at last there has been some effort to rationalise some of the smaller ones: some 622 have merged to create 237 new ones.

I wondered whether France would ever dare reform its communes.  They have existed for centuries but were given their modern status and functions after the French Revolution. In recent years their importance has diminished, with the recently created ‘communités de communes’ taking on many of their jobs. But still, suggest to a Frenchman that the day of the communes is over and you can expect a strong reaction.  People hold dear the idea that they can go and seek the help of, or complain to, their maire (mayor). And of course all births and deaths are recorded in the mairie, and marriages – like our daughter, Jude’s, and friends Charles and Pierre’s – are also celebrated there.

Our new commune Bréau-Mars makes obvious sense, but I don’t think its creation will lead to much financial saving, at least in the immediate future.  Both mairies (council offices) will remain in use, as will the two village halls.  And at last week’s first meeting, it was clear that this new but still small commune will have five deputy mayors!

I attended this meeting and witnessed what was clearly a prearranged exercise.  The former maire of Bréau, Alain Durand, remains maire of the the new commune, and his Mars counterpart, Jean-Jacques Derick, becomes his deputy. Then the outgoing maire-adjoints from the two communes were solemnly nominated and elected maire-adjoints, scrupulously in order – first maire adjoint from Breau, second from Mars etc. (It all took for ever as for every election each councillor went out of the room to complete the ballot paper!)

I was not well placed to take photos, but these at least show I was present for this – minor – historic occasion.  (My photo of Alain being draped ceremonially in the French tricolore sash is blurred because Laetitia, the secretary, got up in front of me at the crucial moment.

One good outcome of this merger – once the GPS systems catch up with the administration – is that I need no longer have arguments with couriers who insist I live in Mars. Our road, Pied Méjean, used to be the boundary between the two communes.  Now both sides of the road are in the same commune.

And now, I must get ready to watch Channel 4 News, in the run-up to The Vote.

 

 

 

Cold – and my cold

Just a footnote to the earlier post about the amazing January weather.  It has still not rained since before Christmas, the sun is still shining, but we had a relentless icy cold northerly wind for a week – so violent that once again my eucalyptus, where Chris’s ashes lie, lost three branches again.

Today we were back to sun with no wind. A glorious day – except   I have got my first cold for several years!   Sat up most of last night and feeling a bit sorry for myself.

Sunny and cold

I came back from England to find that I had been missing a prolonged period of glorious weather: sunny days with that very special bright sharp winter light, cold nights.

Luckily this lovely weather looks like staying with us for some time. Because it is a dry cold, it is really exhilarating to go for a walk, and in the sunshine midday temperatures rise to the mid-teens. But the cold nights mean that my bassin remains frozen over.