A quiet start to 2018

Deb left and I found myself alone again at home.  A strange feeling after two months living an institutional life with people always around me.

Poppy was back home, so we spent a couple of days re-acquainting.  She is still following me round the house, making sure I’m not going to take off again.

On New Year’s Day we went for a really pleasant day at Dessa’s.  Well, pleasant for me, but Poppy is not so keen on Dessa’s giant dogs. There was a good mixture of French, Dutch and English.  I particularly enjoyed meeting a couple – nurse and educationist – who have lived in Thailand and Madagaskar and are now part of a group planning a communal living project in Montpellier.  Oh, and Dessa’s neighbour, who is a psychootricienne.  I had never heard the word before and I am not sure if there is an equivalent  occupation in Britain.  She tried to explain that her work fell between that of physiotherapist and psychologist. She works on the psychological aspects of a person’s health problems, typically, for example, working with people who have had strokes, helping them come to terms with their catastrophe, to cease to blame and to be ready to work at recovery.

And now I am back on the weekly routine of trips to Ganges for physiotherapy.  This will go on until 5th February when I at last have a place to go three times a week to a physiotherapist in le Vigan.

I have also bought some kit to carry on exercises at home, including a pulley system – or une poulie as it is called here –  which Deb installed for me in the garage and which I try to use for at least half an hour a day, listening to the radio.

I’m enjoying being back in my own bed, even if I am having sleep problems, and watching the weather unfold before me.  We have had cold, wind and rain this week.  Here is a foreboding red sky, seen through my bedroom window, before sunrise.

The sleep problems, and associated aches and pains – shoulder, gammy knees, rib cage…. – are not helped, I suspect, by my decision to wean myself off the clinic diet of painkillers (I was having three codeine-paracetamol pills a day).  Suddenly everything aches.  I may have to review this decision and take at least something for a while.

 

Icy weekend

I had my usual weekend exit permit, but spent most of it indoors, as outside an icy wind blew from the north, bringing with it the usual flurry of snowflakes from the mountains above.

Although temperatures hover round zero, there is still a water ban against washing cars etc.  Apart from the very occasional downpour, we have now had a drought for about six months.

I took these photos on Saturday.  A day later the bassin was completely frozen over. Maybe the drought explains the continuing high activity by the sangliers, who have virtually dug over the top three terraces.

Home for the weekend

With no physiotherapy at the weekend, and thanks to friends who ferried me back and forth, I again had a wonderful peaceful weekend at home.

The best part was sleeping in my own splendidly comfortable bed. What a contrast to the substandard and too small hospital bed. And no chiming lift, ringing of bell, trundling past of medical trolleys and voices of night staff handing over at 5.30 in the morning. (As usual I have drawn the short straw with a bedroom under the patient bell system, opposite the lift and stairwell.)

But when not luxuriating in my bed, I wandered round outside, taking pleasure in the beautiful weather and the hillsides still in their autumn coats. I was less pleased to see the sangliers (wild boar) had continued to be very active, mainly round my young olive trees. The grass, killed off by the prolongued heat and drought, has not come back yet. Instead I saw wild spring onion sprouting everywhere.

The jacuzzi is being dismantled because it hasn’t worked for a year and finding an engineer and parts to fix it proved an uphill expensive job  ( I bought the jacuzzi some years ago from a UK company and now the French representative of Canadian Spas claimed it was not a model they knew about and refused to send an engineer). It is sad not to have the jacuzzi, particularly when the family comes in the spring, but at least now there is the pool in the summer.  The terrace, already suffering from subsidence will have to be rebuilt.

The one thing missing was Poppy. As usual she is in her holiday home with Hans and Margaret. We agreed it was less confusing for her not to be trundled back and forth between her two homes .  The house is silent without her funny little ways .

Now I’m back in the centre. While writing this, the night nurse who speaks English – and is clearly eager to practise it, came by .  He ended up sitting down on the spare chair and holding forth about the failings of the world (in not always comprehensible English) .

He is a Protestant – his grandfather was pasteur  in the village of Molières, above this centre – and he was saddened by how few people attended the temples  (the protestant  churches), but even more by how lacking in charity protestants were. He seemed to understand my reiteration of one of my favourite views, that Fraternité was very much the poor relative of the three values of French democracy .

It turns out he is a political activist campaigning for nurses and midwives . He works nights but often travels by day for meetings.

We somehow got onto the subject of caring for the elderly and dying. He says he has been a midwife for much of his life, bringing beings into the world  now he thinks more towards the other end: helping people at the end of their journey.  It must be hard working on the second floor (where the illest are), I said. Yes it was tough, he agreed. What  distressed him was when the system failed to prescribe enough painkillers to help dying patients. As a Protestant, he said, he was not in favour of euthanasia,  but he saw no problem about issuing terminally ill patients enough medication to ease pain. Just as when a midwife he occasionally was at odds with colleagues when he did not strive to keep alive when the baby had multiple problems.

Now he has gone. Time  for bed.

 

Big carport for little car

Today Jacky, who built the pool, has finished the carport for my little car.

Given it has a soft top, I decided it needed protection not just against winter weather but the summer sun. At present the raw wood stands out a bit, but it is Douglas fir, and will weather to the same colour as the decking round the neighbouring pool.

The parking area in front of it is once again a raked over mixture of sand and pebbly earth.  The grass sewn on the driveway in the spring also completely disappeared in the heatwave. Once it rains again (!) Jacky is going to resew the grass seed.

All change in the kitchen

The problem with the hob – apart from being fiendish to clean – is that the gas supply comes from a buried tank in the garden and apparently this is the reason why it is so difficult to get a low, simmering flame (plus there is only one place for small pans).

The problem with the (Smeg) oven, which I bought five years ago in a hurry when its predecessor died two weeks before a family Christmas, is simply that it is awful. The list of faults is long, and many of the failings were because it was excessively digital and ‘clever’. It has – or had – the most ridiculous incomprehensible controls (all touch screen) meaning that to set the oven to be, say, a convection oven at a temperature of 180 degrees involved over six taps on different knobs. And even then you were not quite sure that the oven really was 180 degrees. I suppose I should see if it is reparable, but, egged on by Kate, I’m taking the plunge and replacing it.

The deed is done. Today I have ordered (online) a Samsung oven.  I took the precaution of looking at youtube movies to ensure it was relatively simple to use!  The reviews in both Which and its French equivalent Que Choisir are good. So, fingers crossed.

I have chosen the induction hob I want – a Siemens hob with two rings on the right and a continuous zone (for oddly shaped or large pans) on the left. I’m getting that tomorrow from the store in Ganges and the friend who installed my kitchen is going to run a new cable from the kitchen to the fusebox.

Choosing where to buy has been a nightmare prices can vary up to 300 euros between different suppliers! In the end I am paying 588€ for the oven and 549€ for the hob.  If I had paid the list prices quoted in various shops this would have been 899€ and 769€ ! Plus, apart from internet suppliers, the only shop which will deliver here is the one in Ganges, where the price markup is often very high.

Now if I lived in London I could have simply gone to John Lewis, tried out and bought their oven (top in the Which report).  The penalties of living in rural France.

Family summer holidays

The long silence – as always at this time of year – is because I have been completely taken up by the family summer visits, first the BPs (Jude and family) for two weeks and then the Gillies (Kate and family) for an all too short week.

I suppose for my grandchildren I come packaged with three special assets: my bassin, or natural pool, Poppy the dog and now, a snazzy little car.

Until the last (cold, windy, inclement) day of the Gillies’ holiday, not a day passed without at least one session in the bassin.

All four grandchildren can now swim! Ella and Otto, both seven, are totally at home in or under the water or jumping into it.  Despite looking as if she is about to sink, Willow (five) gets around with a confident doggy paddle sometimes turning into breastroke.  Maddie (four) started the fortnight moving cautiously with multiple floats and armbands.  Ed patiently gave her daily lessons and amazingly on the last day of their holiday she swam unaided across the pool.  I had wrongly thought Ed was over optimistic.

Poppy meanwhile got through my entire stock of SuperU red rubber balls.  Her favourite trick was to drop a ball into the pool and wait for someone to throw it. Some throwing was more enthusiastic than skilful, and I wander round the terraces hopeful of tracking down some of the missing balls.

At one stage Poppy was alarmingly ill.  The vet was not sure whether it was intestines or a damaged tendon or something in her hip (perfectly possible with her vigorous leaping off terraces). Dosed with painkillers she magically got better after a week.

Various parents had mainly abortive attempts to have quiet reads beside the pool (hurrah for the kindle).  And until the last few days one of the main concerns was how grownups could enjoy the sun yet protect the children from it, with temperatures invariably reaching the upper 30s while the BPs were there.  Sadly for the Gillies, with their all too short holiday, there were three days when temperatures dropped and the wind got up (though still no more than five minutes rain).

The BP parents did their morning walk before breakfast while I looked after the children and the family undertook several ambitious walks later in the day, amazing given the heat.  The Gillies children are less enthusiastic walkers but they too did the walk round the valley – and to and from the local river.  Otto was a great hit with my friend, Margaret, and a neighbour, impressing them with his good manners while they chatted away in French. So he returned to visit her with enthusiasm, despite his problems with walking.

Both families made several visits to the campsite where we spent our summer holidays when Kate and Jude were children – two of many families to go back with the next generation to enjoy its relaxed ambience and lovely river. Sadly for Kate and Steve, the summer snack run by  a French couple, now good friends, had just closed before their visits.

The future of the campsite, La Corconne, is very much up in the air, as Nol, the Dutch husband, died suddenly last winter and Peggy, the English wife now running it singlehanded wants to retire.  A sale has just fallen through.  Apparently a bunch of Dutch campers (many like us frequent returners) are talking of getting up syndicate to buy the site.

Both families each had a happy day visiting the extremely well run accrobranche park with its impressive circuits high up in the trees at Montardier.  It is fair to say that perhaps Otto and Maddie were less enthusiastic (but still managed stages 1 and 2 of the green circuit).  Ella and Willow went on to the more challenging third stage, Willow with a frightening confidence and nonchalance (I think her gymnastic skills come from Steve rather than our side of the family…). Jude very bravely accompanied Maddie and was the least enthusiastic of all!

Willow, speedily crossing a wall in the air

The BPs made a long trek to a giant water theme park by the sea.  The Gillies found a canoe company accepting six year olds (weeell, Willow is nearly six) and so Steve, Otto and Willow paddled seven kilometres down the Hérault (or rather, Steve did – with the occasional contribution from the passengers).

The start of 7km

The animal world of course plays an important part in the children’s holiday. Poppy plays the star turn.

Also of fascination were the sangliers – the wild boar, who, as the drought approaches the end of its third month, are becoming disconcertingly unfraid.  Ed and Jude saw several boar families on their early walks, while Kate and Steve reported a family living in the woods at the bottom of my land. I went on a couple of ‘boar hunts’ with the children, showing them the giant footprints and the earth unturned round my young olive trees. Poor Otto was traumatised by seeing a dead boar in the back of a hunter’s van.

Willow made a list of other animals to be found on holiday. These included: 

One of the pleasures of these summer holidays is that my offspring have no illusions about me slaving over the kitchen sink: I really appreciate the meals turned out by Ed and then by Kate and Steve (alternating).  All cooks said, in the nicest possible way, that my gas hob is awful.  I agree and I made the decision to replace it by an induction hob. No sooner had I done this that the oven (universally loathed by all, including me) died.  It chose a bad moment, when Ed was cooking an elaborate meal for nine on the evening the two families overlapped.  It seemed to come back to life, with the odd blip, and then turned itself off definitevely when Kate was cooking the last meal of the holidays.  So it looks like some updating in the kitchen department is required.

But first, some sheets and towels to put through the washing machine …

 

 

Nasty shock

Houses have an annoying habit of requiring maintenance.  Expensive maintenance.

I finally decided that I needed expert help to deal with the holes in the posts of my verandah .

So I summoned M. Altadill, who has already dealt with a nasty insect experience two years ago (but at least that time it was my builder who paid). He has a good reputation and is recommended by my builder.

I thought I had masonry bees and just needed some advice about what to do.  So it came as a horrible surprise to be told this was capricornes again.  Although one post is the main place, he found holes elsewhere.

So I am going to have to get Philippe, who is currently painting the railings on the back terrace, but turns his hand to anything I need, to sand down the wood and then Serge Atadill’s company, Rastop, will inject and blast the whole verandah.

Bye bye at least a thousand euros.

 

 

 

Expensive building catastrophy

I know that subsidence is a problem here and in July had to have a terrace pillar propped up by Jean Pierre, the builder who built the original little house and terrace.  At the same time I had Lionel Martinez, the builder, look at the damp patches in my bedroom (now worse).

Damp in bedroom
Damp in bedroom

He came again today with his équipe.  They climbed on the roof and found some damage in the lead surrounding the solar panels, which they fixed temporarily.  I’ve phoned the plumber and he will sort this out soon I hope (under the ten year guarantee).

Lionel and his men were convinced that the main source of damp came from below.  At first they wondered about a leak in the underfloor heating (horror – that would have meant taking up the tiles, and I have no spare).  Then they looked at the subsidence in the jacuzzi terrace (buit after the house, by Jean-Pierre) and went underneath and looked at the foundations and saw evidence of damp coming down the wall.

They are convinced that the damp is caused by water collecting against the house and seeping into the external wall and going up as well as down from there.  I have been trying to just live with this subsidence as the thought of rebuilding the terrace is too horrific.

Subsiding terrace
Subsiding terrace

But now I have to contact Jean Pierre and get something done pretty urgently to stop rainwater seeping into the foundations.  At the very least I think he is going to have to build a trench, improve the water protection against the house and channel the water off the terrace.

The problem is that Jean Pierre blames me for the subsidence, saying I insisted on him paving the terrace before it had settled.  That is not true and I fear there is a pattern of him trying to evade responsibility when things go wrong (like the pillar on the terrace I pointed to earlier in this post).  Also, he works on his own and struggles to make a living.  So I fear I am going to be shelling out money I can ill afford – particularly as I watch my income plummet following the Brexit vote!

What I should really do is have the whole terrace repaved, probably getting rid of the jacuzzi at the same time.  But I can’t afford to contemplate such a big project, or to think about it just before going into hospital.

BP visit

I can’t believe that it is three weeks since I last wrote – perhaps one of the longest silences recently.  Why?  Because there has been a  lot of energy-sapping hot weather plus have had two lovely weeks with the BP (Bennion Pedley) family.2016-08-01_DSC01939

Despite the heat their visit was incredibly action packed.  Jude and Ed have taken up a regime of rigorous exercise (plus healthier eating) which they continued throughout most of the holiday.  Ella and Maddie slept in the house with me, while Jude and Ed were down in the old house and set off on a brisk walk (several miles each morning) at about 7am. There were also quite a few family walks later in the day, some of them of impressive length and undertaken in the mid-day sun.  The family has developed a new repertoire of local walks on paths on the hillsides above the valley, joining the various local hamlets and villages.  Inevitably Maddie gets some carries (probably her last in the backpack) but Ella clocks up the kilometres.2016-08-08_DSC02048

Every day involved sessions by the pool or bassin, of course.  Ella has been a water babe for several years and jumps and swims under water with enthusiastic abandon.  Maddie started the holiday clinging to her parents’ necks, insisting she was going to ‘dwown’. Magically their patience paid off and by the end of the fortnight she love doggy paddling (usually backwards) and floating independently (with armbands of course) and did not want to get out of the water.

The pool sessions were interspersed with trips to Le Rieumage (the local river, where we also picnic) and the campsite at La Corconne (where lunch in the cafe is a highlight).  Maddie enjoyed the shallower water of the ‘beach’ there and the two of them reminded me so much of Kate and Jude in the same river when they were young.

A more ambitious trip was to the very well set up tree climbing park ‘Les Accros d’Anjeau’ where Ella (accompanied by Ed) developed her skills traversing  the wires high up among the trees. I had not realised until this year that these adventure parks are all the rage these days.  We first went to one in Italy and the local one in Montardier is even better (with excellent, friendly staff). A very good experience for Ella, though Maddie was less impressed and did not appreciate sharing the toddlers’ trampoline with some rather energetic older children!

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The whole family (minus me) also did a long trip to Aqualand at Cap d’Agde on the coast.  This is apparently a giant water park with a huge variety of water slides and chutes.  Definitely a hit with Ella, despite capsizing once on the fearsome black hole ride.

What was lovely for me to watch was how much both children – and the parents – enjoyed just pottering round the house and garden. When it was very hot they were inside, Maddie (and me!) often taking a siesta while Ella was gripped by the Horrible History videos (which I also found entertaining!).  She is also reading Harry Potter, so the trip to the magnificent toy shop in Montpellier on our way to the airport inevitably involved acquiring a splendid wand plus witch’s hat.  (Unlike Otto, who ‘is’ Harry, Ella sees herself as Hermione, the brains of the gang).

The chidren also enjoyed playing on the new double-seat swing, in the ‘shack’ now furnished for meetings,and the sandpit.  They were too busy to find time for the jacuzzi this visit!2016-08-15_DSC02094

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Subsidence

I finally decided to do something about the sag in the middle of my front terrace.  Jean-Pierre came with his assistance and has spent two days racking up the horizontal beam before inserting a new bit in the space. Seven centimetres of space.

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Jean-Pierre claims that it is the movement of the children’s swing, hanging from the beam next to the post which is responsible, which has caused the subsidence.  I don’t believe him (there is also subsidence in the nearby terrace with the jacuzzi).  But to avoid having to shell out more a second time, I have ordered a stand-alone double-seat swing.  Let’s hope it arrives in time for the grandchildren arriving on the 28th.