Coup d’état by Johnson

I am so angry and depressed by what is happening in Britain that I cannot raise the energy to write anything that is not a prolonged rant. Suffice to say that centuries of British democracy and the tradition of an unwritten constitution are under threat.

On a personal level my future in France continues to be an exhausting uncertainty. I have my carte de séjour as an EU citizen. I will have to apply for a new non-EU carte after Brexit but hope this will be a simple exchange (we will see).

The big questions are whether the drop in the value of sterling affects my pension too much to live here (and indeed there is the possibility that my state pension will no longer have inflationary increases) and, even more important, whether I will continue to have healthcare.

Nobody seems able to say with assurance what will happen in the event of a no-deal brexit. Earlier this year the May government said it would guarantee paying for treatment for existing conditions for a year. Big deal. I think the French are going to allow cover for two years, but this is not certain. My fear is that to continue to have treatment, I may have to make an additional payment of 8% of income, over and above my current income tax. This would prove too much – already I have difficulty meeting all costs without dipping into my declining savings.

Heat and drought

For us worriers about global warming, this summer continues to sound alarm bells. We no longer have the fierce 40+ temperatures of July, but afternoons are still in the 30s. And, more worrying, after the landscape has been grilled it is now dried out.

I cannot remember a real day of rain for nearly three months. We had one or two drops maybe when the family was here. Then a week ago we had a day of grey cloud and some uncharacteristically light, persistent rain. But each time thunderstorms are forecast, they mysteriously decide not to reach this far, though the weather is uncomfortably humid and heavy.

Yesterday there were a few rolls of thunder and a brief rainstorm. Then again, annoying, nothing. By midnight the sky was clear and full of stars. This morning there is once again a blue sky, just the view from my bedroom of clouds rising in the river valley behind Bréau reminding us that we did actually have some rain yesterday:

We do need real rain badly. There is a watering ban and my garden is looking sad – the bamboo which hides the neighbour’s house is looking worryingly tired. Everywhere you see trees that are in distress and the rivers are extremely low and slow moving. In fact the commune has banned bathing in our local river at the riverside, le Rieumage, where my family loves to picnic. Apparently water samples show it is so low and slow moving it is now polluted.

Meanwhile, my bassin is sadly not operational. The main sand filter – which should have been refilled in the spring but wasn’t because of Jacky’s ill health – had become completely blocked and the pump which circulates the water was sounding strained. So last week, we decided to turn the pump off, which means that there are no longer the lovely waterfalls and the water in the swimming pool is rapidly filling with algae.

Noisy nature

My father, who was essentially an urban soul, used to say the countryside was too noisy for him. When we stayed at my grandmother’s place in Sussex, he used to complain that the hens and ducks woke him up too early.

Here, after the last car has returned home, the countryside is blissfully silent, a silence which is almost as deafening as noise. Most of the time. Last night I slept badly and became increasingly disturbed by the sound of the owls shrieking all round the valley, and the sangliers (wild boars) grunting and coughing on my land, a couple of terraces below my bedroom.

Because of the threat to my olive trees, Jacky installed an electric fence which protects the upper half of my land; the sangliers continue to pass through the terraces below, presumably on their way to the river. Yesterday morning at eight I spotted one bounding around on the terrace above my gite – I have warned my new lodger, Sebastien, to expect these night visitors.


I am very sad. The health of my dear friend, Jacky, has taken a turn for the worse.

It was Jacky who built my bassin five years ago and has looked after it ever since, as well as planting 30 olive trees. Here he is in 2014, sitting beside the newly inaugurated pool.

Jacky and his wife, Marthe, the painter (three of her paintings are highpoint in my house) have become such good friends. Jacky is a clever, funny, gregarious soul who until recently enjoyed entertaining his friends with endless jokes and stories.

Last winter he learnt that he had lung cancer and that it had metastased. Rather than undergoing chemotherapy, he has been having a treatment I have never heard of before: immunotherapy. Miraculously, over the past few months, the secondary cancers retreated and seemed to disappear . We all kept our fingers crossed in what seemed to be a story which defied the laws of probability.

Despite being often tired, Jacky seemed determined to carry on with life as normal, albeit for shorter hours. He has been coming regularly to help with maintenance of the pool and brushed off suggestions that he should bring someone with him to do any hard physical work.

Then yesterday he texted to say he was coming to see me, ostensibly to do something with the pool, but I sensed better. I asked him how the pet scan on Monday had gone. Not well, he said. The oncologist had been visibly upset when she told him that the secondary cancers had returned, with a vengeance. The immunotherapy was no longer doing its work. He will be starting chemotherapy on Monday.

What could I say but give him a hug? He knows how upset I am and I am touched that he had in fact come to break the news himself rather than my hearing it on the grapevine. Together we turned off the basin’s pump prematurely. The sand in the main filter has clogged up. Jacky said he knows he should have changed it before filling up the bassin at the start of the season, but we both know he was not up to it.

He will now be returning with his son, Julien, to show him what has to be done to replace the sand in winter. And, without saying it, I knew what he was at last doing – something till now he has been in denial about – was preparing for when he can no longer look after my bassin. It breaks my heart.

He did not even accept his usual coffee and our session together putting the world to rights. Next time, he promised, when he comes with Julien, coffee will be on the agenda.

Empty house

They have all gone home now: first the Gillies, then Sara, and on Friday the BPs. So I am left with a tranquil but sadly empty house. The washing machine ran all Saturday, I’m halfway through putting the houses back in order and as usual am building up a small pile of things left behind.

It was a good visit. All four children clearly enjoyed coming back to Granny’s house, the highlights being, of course, the pool and Poppy. Apart from the odd conference call and internet work session, the parents were also able to relax, often over a glass – or two – of wine and feverish games of Monopoly Deal, to which we are all addicted (including Ella and even Maddie).

Otto did his best to organise a table tennis championship but struggled as Sara, Jude, Ella and Maddie were firmly non-players and Ed was often cooking at crucial moments. However Otto, Steve, Kate and I had some good rounds. Otto is playing well and even managed (ahem) to beat me. But then, so did everybody else…

Water is a central feature of holidays here. Given the weather was so hot there were no river canoeing trips this year, but good visits to the beautiful river at our old campsite, La Corconne, and the BPs had their usual swim and picnic at the local river spot, le Rieumage. The huge pool next door was used also, for some group jumping exercises. But what is nice is how much my bassin is appreciated. The children enjoyed sharing it with the three goldfish who are now residents, as well as lolling around on floatable toys.

The big surprise was that Maddie, who in Portugal in May was still refusing to get her face wet, was not only prepared to jump into the water, but like the other three, seemed to spend more time under water than on the surface. This image could have been any one of the four:

A sign of the times, all four spent what seemed to be a huge amount of time on various devices – iPads and Kindles – often playing with each other across the internet. But then, I can remember that at their age I spent hours on holiday (particularly on wet days) playing cards and board games.

What is encouraging is that they also spent time on entertaining us (Ella of course acting as Producer, and Otto starring as the most enthusiastic singer), and all four were often engrossed in producing booklets or pictures. Here, for example, is a booklet produced by Willow (aged 7) which I found today when clearing up.

I took only a few family photos (partly out of respect for Kate and Jude not being happy with clients tracking down family pages. So here are my mainly non-family memories of summer.

Full house

This is the season when I have no time to write: both families – BPs and Gillies – are here. Which means there are no bedrooms left.

I have handed over my bedroom to Jude and Ed and my new temporary bedroom is a space under the house. At leat my wine is close to hand……

When Ella arrived she was appalled that Granny was thinking of sleeping in these conditions and thought her parents should take my place. They also tried to persuade me to swap, but actually it is rather nice to have a quiet sanctuary away from the noise and chaos above. And for someone who spend years camping with the family, this is more akin to glamping.

Once the holidays are over, work will continue with making this a more acceptable spare bedroom. Already some doors are on order and maybe I will get some plumbing in place for a bathroom beside it. At present I have a composting loo and a garden tap.

This is just a pause before I go down to join the Gillies beside the pool. They had their walk this morning, while the BPs are doing their more ambitious one now, under the remorseless afternoon sun.

There were supposed to have been thunderstorms today. We were all looking forward to a bit of rain and a drop in temperatures. The ‘storm’ has so far proved to be ten minutes of heavy rain. And the dip in temperature was also temporary. I think everybody is a bit taken aback by the heat. Just a few degrees higher makes a huge difference.

Thanks goodness for the lovely pool. And Otto is revelling in the table tennis championships (the only child to take part). I enjoy it too, though frustrated that all my physical handicaps curb my ruthless competitive spirit. Perhaps this evening we will indulge in a more gentle game of boules. Meanwhile the grownups have become disgracefully obsessed by our evening sessions of Monopoly Deal (a card game whose only link with the board game is the names of the properties) and we are going to bed much too late.