“Boris”

He’s only been in power for one day and already I have a chilling presentiment that with Boris Johnson at the helm, the United Kingdom is heading for a new and nastier era – if that is possible. Why, incidentally, do we give him the honour of calling him by his first name?

What makes this so scary is that unlike Trump he is not stupid. He has ruthlessly collected a team of like-minded right-wing hard men – and women (Priti Patel’s position on the death penalty, overseas aid, which she sees as overseas trade, her championing of the tobacco and drink industries, and her dubious activities for the Conservative Friends of Israel, does not make for Priti reading. Sic.). As Nick Bowles said this morning, the Conservative Party has been hijacked by the Brexit Party.

Johnson has Dominic Cummings (what a sinister character) and Michael Gove at hand to mastermind the details of the Big Plan, while he seduces the masses with his beguiling (aka disgusting) brand of optimism and Churchillian (ha!) leadership. All he has to do is to get Sajid Javid to cut taxes and then borrow a fortune to spend on a sudden flurry of public works et voila, he is all set to brazen out the nightmarish no-deal brexit – and call a general election to ensure this crowd can do their worst for another five years.

And facing him: Jeremy Corbyn (I won’t get started), a shadow cabinet fraught with divisions and a party frustrated and impotent. There is little hope that Labour’s problems can be resolved in time to present what should have been a dangerous challenge to the Tories.

My French friends observe Johnson with a mixture of distaste and incredulity. We have to hope that enough Brits see through the charm offensive to give him a nasty surprise if, as seems likely, a general election is his big gamble to get him through a no-deal brexit.

As to my position in France, Johnson was ominously silent about support for the 1.2 million Brits living in mainland Europe. So the uncertainty which has existed for the past three years about my pension and healthcare rights will continue. One thing is for sure: if I manage to continue to living here it will be on a lower budget; I can’t see the exchange rate returning to previous levels.

Wilting

It is not as hot as earlier in the month – afternoon temperatures (in the shade) are in the mid 30s rather than 40 plus. But for some reason I am not coping as well. I’ve not been feeling great for the past 24 hours.

Of course my damned compression stockings have a lot to answer for. Initially I was good and kept them on all day. Now I manage to keep them on for the morning, but then concede defeat and take them off, which means I have to lie horizontal – or sit in the pool. This is no great hardship!

Initially the pool was hard work – not helped by my inadvertently throwing away the robot filters when cleaning out my basement and having to go to Montpellier to get new ones. The robot is now working fine and the pool looks beautiful, although somewhat slippery (no doubt caused by the unrelenting scorching temperatures).

I am however finding it difficult getting the robot out of the water each day, as the pulley system used in previous years is not working. I’m really not supposed to be lifting any weights after last year’s scares, and I’m slightly worried that my current problems may have been exacerbated by breaking the rules. I can’t wait for the family to come in ten days and take over pool maintenance.

The poor old garden is not looking great either:brown and scorched with very few flowers surviving. And the insect population has suddenly soared. When we used to camp I was always the main target for mosquitoes and other nasties, but years of living here have I think made my blood less interesting to them – until now.

Apprentice advocate

My youngest granddaughter, Maddie, shows promising signs of valuing her rights. A politician, lawyer or demonstrator in the making?

At six she is now in her second year at primary school, thoroughly loving all aspects of school life, even her lessons (she was initially resistant to anything that was not “play”). In her end of year report her teachers wrote of her enthusiasm and passion for learning.

And, said her teacher, “In her role as Science Ambassador, Maddie has shown commitment and dedication by attending meetings during her own time. She has displayed confidence and communication skills throughout her time in this important role.”

From what I can gather being a class ambassador is akin to being class representative. But this little ambassador is currently seething with indignation, determined that at the next meeting she will seek redress. So, what is the problem, I asked Maddie over FaceTime (like Skype) at the weekend.

“When the Art ambassadors meet they get given biscuits – and we don’t! That’s not fair (one of Maddie’s favourite phrases), especially as Science is even more important than Art. Why, I asked. “Because science is about solving stuff.” Hmmm. An interesting debate to be held in the coming months, but meanwhile I am delighted she plans to stand up for her rights, even if they are only for biscuits.


Harcèlement sexuel

On Saturday I heard the harrowing story of sexual harassment told by a good friend of mine here, a woman in her sixties. I knew she had been suffering from stress this year. Now I know why.

For years she has lived amicably alongside her neighbours, a couple the same age as her. Then a few months ago she became aware that whenever she went into town she was bumping into the husband. Wherever she turned, he seemed to be there.

At some point he made it clear that he was in love with her, tried to embrace her, but was rejected. He continued to stake her, sent her endless, often explicit, text messages and cut down a tree so he could see into her house more clearly. The neighbours had exchanged keys so they could feed cats and water plants when the other was absent, and my friend then became aware that her neighbour had been looking at emails on her computer.

As time progressed he became more aggressive: he attempted to rubbish my friend, and told people that she had slept with him. Why did she not go to the gendarmes, I asked. She replied that at that point she did not have confidence that they would intervene.

Then things got nastier. My friend is proud of having a large, organic garden, untouched by pesticides for over 50 years. She became aware that everything in her garden was dying – trees, bushes, flowers and vegetables. He had poisoned her land. Worse to follow: she found that the long pipe bringing water from her source in the hills above her house had been broken in several places, and the joints and taps seized up with cement or glue.

This is what broke her spirit: she is a woman of the land. At last her daughter persuaded her to go to the gendarmes and went with her, first printing out the long list of text messages. The gendarmes also asked her why she had not come earlier and were faintly hurt when she expressed her scepticism that they would do anything about this.

There was no proof that the poisoning of the land and destruction of her water system was done by the neighbour. But the text messages – which at first he denied sending – were proof of his nasty harassment. My friend didn’t really go into what happened to the neighbour other than that he had to go before an investigating judge – juge d’instruction. I think he was admonished, warned to stop his behaviour and to keep away from my friend. I was taken aback that he was not punished further. I think that in the UK now he could have faced a fine at the very least.

For her the most important outcome was that he has put his house on the market and he and his wife are renting somewhere in town. It will take her some time to recover from this trauma.

Too hot for comfort

Last night, for the first time for weeks, there was a slight breeze and temperatures dropped. And magic, this morning at 10am it is still a lovely fresh 25° in the shade. Fingers crossed we will now never to normal summer heat rather than the extreme canicule.

I feel the heat particularly badly, partly because my heat thermostats seem to work less well over the past few years of health problems and also because I have to wear my horrible full length compression stockings all the time.

But everyone is complaining, especially those of my age. At night we throw open every door and window to try to cool the house down, and as soon as the sun rises, we close all doors, windows and shutters. This makes the house airless, but you have to resist the temptation to open a window, even facing north, to stop the hot air rushing in.

The only acceptable place to be has been the dining room of my friends Charles and Pierre, where I play music every Friday. The vaulted former cellars date from about the fifteenth century and the stone floors and massively thick stone walls are a wonderful barrier against this cruel heat.

It must have been even worse for David and Dacia, my mother’s former neighbours, who have been spending the last few weeks in their caravan at La Corconne, the campsite where we spent so many happy summers. Dacia fell two weeks ago, hurt her coccyx and has been bed bound since. I have been involved in supporting them, though thankfully the son in law has now flown over to manage things and Dacia is in hospital in Ganges having tests. Thank goodness my car has air conditioning which, guiltily, I have been using when visiting her daily.

We have had a couple of spectacular thunderstorms which have not managed to bring the temperature down much. The last two days have been horribly heavy and then yesterday evening another short but violent downpour which miraculously seems to have shifted things.

Too late for my garden, which is looking a sad, brown wreck. But much more serious for farmers. Jacky, who is working to get my pool operational, says that even the fields high up on the Massif Central to the north of us are suffering: there is a general shortage of fodder for animals. We turned to talking about the need to change eating habits in France – a country in which la cuisine is normally centred around meat dishes. Jacky and Jacquot (the electrician friend currently fixing various things in my house) are adamant that habits are changing and that restaurants are beginning to offer interesting meat-free dishes.

They are both against solar panels, on the grounds that they are expensive to make and that battery technology is still very unsatisfactory. France is of course worryingly dependent on nuclear energy. For Jacky and Jacquot the solution is simply to consume less – electricity, fuel – everything.

Septic tanks

All this internet stuff came after a busy morning overseeing the emptying of three septic tanks: my main one, the smaller one beside our original house (now the gite) and the huge one belonging to my English neighbours, the Pressleys.

The first challenge was to get the huge lorry close enough to the two main tanks. The driver did some of the most skilful manoeuvring I have ever witness to reverse – straight on at a 90° angle – into the Pressleys’ drive, achieved in a road which was narrower than the length of the lorry.

Emptying my septic tank involved pulling the long unwieldy suction pipe behind the Pressley’s’ pool, over a wall and through a bamboo thicket. All of this in temperatures now hovering round 30°.

Where would the French be without Moroccans willing to take on unpleasant jobs like this? They were so polite, smiling and uncomplaining at what had turned out to be a difficult job. Before emptying the small tank next to my gite they had to return to the sewage works to empty the contents of the first two – another unforeseen twist. And the final gesture of camaraderie was when the guy in charge recorded the sizes of my two tanks but marked it as one job, to reduce my bill.

It is now well over a decade since we were told that our bit of the valley would be put onto the mains system within a couple of years. I now suspect it will not happen in my lifetime, so it is fortunate to have an accommodating ‘vidange’ service. And of course my water rates include a lower sewage element than those who are on mains drains. The downside is that one has to live with periodic unpleasant septic tank problems (and odours).

I’m amazed that the gite septic system, which breaks all the rules, has been so trouble free for the past few years – ever since I had a swanky new sanibroyeur (macerator system) installed for the shower and toilet, pumping stuff up the slightly uphill slope to the septic tank! The kitchen sink continues to take a different route: to a deep hole beside the road, dug by Chris 15 years ago. When we bought the building, the water used to simply flow onto the road!

Yess!!

Amazingly the new Livebox was ready to be picked up from le Vigan today and after a couple of hours, success.

The new box is up and running, with renamed id and password (rather than the usual ridiculous string wretched visitors have to type in), the Netgear wifi extender has been reconfigured to the new box and all devices connected.

Most satisfying of all, I’m getting an internet speed of about 7-8 Mbps rather than the <1. Not exactly an intercity express, but certainly a solid reliable goods train. To check it worked I watched the second half of the Nadal-Kyrgios match without a single hiccup. No more horrible buffering symbols.

This all goes to show that once again an Orange customer was right and the technical service wrong: the problem lay with the Livebox.

Yes, I know I am a sad case of a techy nerd, but it is such a relief to have the internet working reasonably after months of problems. It has made me realise how much I depended on it.

Orange battle continues

Things have got even worse since I last wrote about my internet service . Not only can I not talk to my family using FaceTime (like Skype) or watch British TV news, but now I cannot even use the internet to listen to the radio – or even log onto the Orange site to look at the details of my contract and use ‘chat’ to complain.

I did manage an unsatisfactory chat two weeks ago, when once again the Orange employee brought out the standard line that the network here is poor but all will change shortly. And I keep repeating there is ‘poor’ and ‘very poor’. My service is significantly worse than my neighbours.

I have changed the channel, as recommended by Orange. And I have bought a wifi extender to try and stop the internet dropping when further than a couple of yards from the Livebox (the orange router and wifi server). All to no avail.

Today I tried a new technique. If I ring the standard number I end up tapping options into the phone and never talking to a human. There is also an English-speaking service and here – wonders – after a ten-minute wait, I was speaking to a human. Well, sort of. It soon became obvious that the Orange training had been effective: she had the responses pat – presumably reading them out from her screen.

Me: I know there is a problem with the network in this area and that we will have a better service in six months, but my problems are growing daily and cannot wait that long. I explain that the download speed is often less than 1 MBps and the wifi connection has increasingly started to drop.

Orange: there is a problem with the network and it will improve in a few months.

Me: Yes, I know. I just said that. But meanwhile my internet is getting worse daily, unlike my neighbours, and I wonder if could be either my line or my Livebox (I have version 2 and the current box is version 4(.

Orange: I will check your line and box. (Several minutes later). There is nothing wrong with the connection or your box. And the download speed registers as 8MBps.

Me: But that is not possible. I have not had a speed like that for two months.

Orange: This is because you are using wifi not ethernet.

Me: I expect a small degradation in speed, but not a reduction of 1/8. What’s more, my neighbours dont have this problem.

Orange: Ah, but your neighbours’ lines may go elsewhere.

Me: No. They all go to the box at the corner of my land. One of my friends (Hans) regularly has a speed of above 8Mbps.

Orange: (checks Hans’ line and confirms that his download speed is currently 9MBps). You will need to talk to our commercial service; he is on a better contract than you.

Me: I am astonished. I did not know that the internet speed was determined by your contract, which I thought covered things like just how much you can download in a month. Further, I happen to know that Hans pays less a month than my nearly 100 euros! But OK, I say, I will talk to the commercial division.

Orange: (a few minutes later) The commercial service closes in five minutes, at 5pm. Please ring them tomorrow at 9am. (We have been on the phone for an hour and my landline phone is out of battery anyway.)

So next step: the commercial division at 9am tomorrow. I will be interested to know what contract I am on (since I cannot check it online!) and how much longer I have to do battle to get a new Livebox. Hans got so fed up he picked his old one up and drove to our nearest store in Montpellier, some 80km away to insist on it being replaced. I may well be doing this tomorrow.

You do feel so impotent. Orange is the privatised version of the old France Télécom we joined up with back in the 90s. It is one of the four big providers and essentially has a near monopolistic stranglehold on telecommunications in France. None of the so-called advantages of competition in a capitalist market place and none of the consumer rights you expect to find in a publicly owned service.

Next morning. Update.

Wow! Success – sort of. I talked to a very nice woman in Paris (commercial service – so customer relations are important…). I have upgraded my Orange contract (more money, so I am taking the risk of cancelling my iPhone insurance) and not only will I be entitled to a new Livebox but calls to mobiles in Europe are free – including the UK. (She assures me that for five years after Brexit this will continue.)

The downside is I have to wait several days, perhaps till next week, for the Livebox to arrive in le Vigan. Don’t ask me why it should take so long!

So the moral of the story is that it pays to use the English language service, in order to talk to humans not robots.