Jacky

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.

“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.