In our last year of primary school, my friend Christine and I had an exceptional and unusual teacher.

Mr Stokes had been in a tanker regiment in Egypt during the war and we now realised had been profoundly affected, perhaps damaged, by this experience. Certainly some parents would have been horrified by stories he told us – His memories still fresh, less than a decade after the war ended.

I remember him as inspiring: drawing out of us impassioned renderings of Tennyson, teaching us to love a good story, as we sat where we liked (Christine and I sat under his desk…), while he read us every Friday afternoon.

All the class were devoted to him, whether or not academically able, and he drew unknown talents out of children. I remember when we laid on ‘Toad of Toad Hall’, all the usual suspects (including me) hoped to be Toad. Instead he chose a barely literate boy, called Alan. Somehow he drew out of  Alan, an overweight but aimable character, a quite remarkable performance. This must have been such a high point in Alan’s school life, and I think taught us humility. All of that in a class of 52.

I found myself thinking of Mr Stokes after a teatime conversation today. My companion, a little younger than me, had grown up in poor banlieu of Paris. He started to tell me about a special, very idiosyncratic teacher he had had, insisting on a vivid portrait of the blue (what sounded like boiler) suit he wore

This teacher kept a fridge in his classroom, and at 10.30 made a little ‘pause goûters’ – a snack because he knew many had not eaten before coming .

He interrogated my table companion as to why he kept falling asleep. The answer was the two sister had the second bedroom, while the two boys had to wait till their dad finished watching tv before turning the sofa into their bed. The next day the teacher went to see the father – who ended up buying a second telly for his bedroom.

In class he often played classical music while they worked and took the kids on a trip to some huge museum in Paris about which my companion waxed enthusiastic. He placed his desk at the back of the classroom, to better survey his pupils, and when he set them maths, he introduced the practice that when a boy had finished, he could go out to play even though it was not playtime – thus increasing determination to finish

Needless to say, the school director saw to it that this teacher did not survive after the end of the year .



Baby food

Today I knew my appetite had really come back when I looked enviously at the others being served generous portions of tagliatelle and beef daube (good apparently) topped with grated Parmesan, followed by a good cheese not the usual plastic covered affair) and a tasty looking chocolate pudding.

I meanwhile had a rather dry beef burger – no sauce – and the, mainly carrot, vegetable dish. I did at least persuade the server to give me a few strands of pasta (which had had butter added and was hence verboten). And then of course, the inevitable little tub of apple purée. 

The first four or five days after arriving in hospital I ate nothing and wanted nothing. Then I was put on a diet of mainly thin beef stew with little vermicelles, apple purée and yoghurt. I was still not hungry and struggled to get a few mouthfuls down.

Next thing I knew the hospital diététicien arrived to say I was not eating enough. Moi?!

She then went on to say what my diet should be for at least the next three months. The aim is to give the stomach the minimum of work while it recovers.

No  fat, dairy or sugar – or very little indeed

So, for example, no lamb, no charcuterie, just chicken (without skin) or fish, preferably steamed… the barbecue is a no-no as it adds more indigestible elements

All vegetables must be cooked (with skin of tomatoes etc peeled) and nothing raw – so no salads (and no dressings)

No creamy sauces.

Pasta is fine, but cooked in water without adding butter   Read, flour and rice should all be white.

Fruit should be mainly cooked – hence my regular apple purée – though it is ok if absolutely raw, not acidic, and not crunchy like apples.

No grains and no nuts (so no muesli, for example).

I have still to get a clear message on spices, which I adore. Obviously the paprika/chilli end of the spectrum is off the menu, ginger is apparently ok if cooked. I still need to ask someone about black pepper and mustard. 

Bread, flour and rice are ok, provided they are white.

Luckily I have my friend Sara visiting shortly. I will set her the challenge of how I organise a summer regime, avoiding my standard staple, barbecue plus salad! 

Memento mori

Today I was pushing the wheelchair of an old lady down to lunch (lack of aides) when a nurse suddenly closed the doors from our corridor, saying urgently, it was only temporary. 

I managed to nip out, knowing that the wheelchair would now be handled by staff. Only a few had reached the dining room – and I saw that now even the dining doors were closed behind me.

One of the kitchen staff explained there had been a death and the body needed to be transferred to the funeral parlour, the hearse was waiting outside. There is only one lift and this is the busiest hour of the day. It was over quite quickly and efficiently. We only lost 20 minutes waiting, but they were sobering minutes.

We hoped it was someone who had been suffering and was ready to go, not someone the victim of a heart attack. I’m on the first floor, where people are more autonomous; the second floor houses the very old and/or sick.

Maybe this was a reason the lunch was a calmer affair than the day before!

‘Social life’ of Les Chataigniers

Mealtimes in the dining room at les Châtaigniers are disorganised, faintly anarchic affairs, especially at lunch, when the kitchen staff help the aides soignants bring down the most handicapped inmates. 

That means they are not around to sort out who sits where – apparently their job. Things are complicated by the determination of certain patients to retain their evening places, thus disrupting all plans. 

Today was particularly bizarre. It took twenty minutes before the two kitchen staff – with a complete absence of smiles or courtesy – had bullied people to where they should be. 

Then, in a slightly charged atmosphere, they served, plonking down the dishes. At our table the monsieur beside me objected to this, saying he hadn’t been presented with what is on offer. One serveuse lost the plot and snatched his plate away. The other then said the dish was pork, broccoli and potatoes. Yes please, he said – and was given a second, identical plate. 

Meanwhile the woman opposite me – my new friend – said nothing. But I know she has asked for a meeting with the directrice and this will be added to the list of issues she wants to raise.

It was quite a relief to leave this febrile atmosphere of clashing plates and cutlery. 

I met my new friend – I must find out her name – at dinner last night. (Dinners are calmer. The older and more disabled eat in their rooms.). She lives down in the village at the bottom of the wonderful  Cirque de Navacelles. When she and her husband arrived several decades ago, the village had five elderly inhabitants and was mostly in ruins. They rebuilt – and opened – the auberge and bought and restored several houses. Now there are 35 households living permanently in the village, plus some old Navacelles families who come back to the family house for holidays. 

My friend, who comes from the north of France, has to face the same resistance from locally born as I do. “Vous n’êtes pas d’ici “ said one from Montpellier, up for the weekend, to which Madame replied she had lived longer in Navacelles than the lady born there. 

Our fellow table companion – he who had complained about the lack of information about our main course – is a genial soul, originally from Lyons (again, he is not from here). He lives in Blandas, the village at the top of the Cirque. 

Ah, I said, I so enjoy eating at the restaurant there (most recently with Sally). He replied yes, the couple who run it were good friends of his, and the only humans in the village. ….

I mentioned the description by the anthropologist, Adrienne Durand-Tullou, of her first arrival as a young school mistress in Rogues, a village near Blandas. The single village street seemed closed, but she sensed eyes behind the shutters, watching her. 

Both table companions had read this book “Le pays des Asphodèles” and they shared with her a passion for the antiquities and flowers of the Causses. As do I. So now we are amis.

Les Châtaigniers

This is now my third stay at Les Châtaigniers, a 50-bed convalescent home, and a mere seven minutes drive from my house.

It carries the wordy title “Centre de soins de suite et de réadaptation polyvalent pour adulte en hospitalisation complète”. In other words it is primarily for people coming out of hospital, needing convalescence, including, as with my shoulder last year, ‘rééducation’ but also, just rest and time to recover.  Lots of the patients are elderly and fragile, and it gives time to sort out arrangements for a safer return to their homes.

i was greeted with smiles and greetings by the staff – after all, it is less than six months since I was last here! In fact the friendliness more than makes up for sometimes shambolic services. In particular there are clearly not enough aide soignantes, so bells are unanswered fuor too long. It takes time before normal medications reach the nurses’ trolley. And there is a lack of coordination and communication of information that existed at Ganges.

The bedrooms are mainly one-bed, with some doubles.  My mutuelle – the complementary health insurance I pay into (now the best part of 200€ a month – but I get my money’s worth!) pays the extra daily 20€ for a single room.

This time I have a perfect room. All the rooms here are spacious and airy. Mine is at the end of the corridor, far from the noise of lifts and trolleys, and, for the first time, I am facing the hillside rather than road.

Here is my fabulous view (in chunks rather than  one panoramic)




Ganges chapter ends

My last couple of days at Ganges were a mixture of discomfort as I confronted my misbehaving abdomen, but pleasure at meeting up with Stanley, an American I knew slightly.

We wont go into the problem with the gazes. Suffice to say that 20 trips up and down the corridor plus several medical and other treatments had no effect. Just like after my cancer op, my innards are slow to resume normal life.

Stanley, who grows on further acquaintance, and I are not the only foreigners to come to this little hospital, according to a chatty aide, as she put on my compression stockings. They regularly have English, Dutch, Germans, Italians and Spaniards. Quite a few staff in other parts of the hospital help out if really needed, but mainly they get by with sign language.

The trickiest case was that of a Chinese man who appeared to speak nothing but Chinese. Eventually a solution was found – quite against the protocols, said the aide. They found one of the workers in the kitchens who spoke Chinese, and helped get this poor guy repatriated to China.

Yesterday was an irritating day, all packed and ready to go, but no sign of Doctor Glaise. Stanley and his young roommate, a pompier, were in the same position and we spent the day pacing up and down the corridor (sure sign we were patients of Dr  Glaise). Bruno, the ambulancier whom I know of old, arrived at one and we finally left two hours later.

Good to move on to the next stage.


The last of five drips over a week was taken out this afternoon. It had finally stopped working.

Clearly i had advanced to the stage when a drip in the neck was overkill, so now I am continuing the medication with a cocktail of pills.

I celebrated my new freedom; I abandoned my habitual corridor pacing and ventured into the outside world. The hospital is on the banks of the River Hérault (and turns its back to it) and next to a lovely old bridge. The first photo shows the view from a window near my room. The second is of the old mills across the river.

I strolled across the bridge and back, felt quite wobbly, so returned to my room. Just shows I have some way to go to recover.

Gazes and Veines

I didn’t write at the weekend partly because I was not feeling great and partly because writing has become increasingly difficult.

I have learnt a new French word: to burp is roter. Contrary to what one might think, if you are recovering from a stomach ulcer, or hole (the two words seem to be used interchangeably by the doctor), burping is bad news – what every nurse and doctor asks about is air at the other end, des gazes.

My frequent burping  means the acid is not going down, the digestive system below the stomach is not functioning yet. One nurse explained to me that this is like a protective mechanism after a trauma. Trouble is: how to get it working again.   An important role is performed by walking. The main nurse looking after me congratulated me on today’s tramp (hampered of course  by the errand drop stand). Twenty times the length of the surgical corridor and back, occasionally meeting fellow travellers waiting for “le transit” to happen. I just want to do what I can to avoid a repeat of last night, when les rots and general discomfort meant I did not sleep at all.

meanwhile the vein saga continues.  The drip put in by the anaesthetist on Friday finally collapsed.  Nobody wants to put a more dramatic drip into my neck: the antibiotic course ends tomorrow and, who knows, I might even move from rots to gazes.

Karin, the nurse, has managed to find one final pathetic little vein, unfortunately in the fold of my left elbow. This has GOT to last till tomorrow, she said. So I am walking around keeping my arm out straight, making certain routine movements difficult…

this is not helped by the fact that my right hand is having problems after nearly three days with the previous drip in my wrist. It hurts to move and I can hardly hold this iPad. Hopefully when the swelling goes down the hand will function again.

At least regaining the use of the right index finger has enabled me to carry on blogging.


I am dictating this into my iPhone because my right hand is completely immobilized by the latest drip.

How often  have I heard nurses and technicians exclaim that my veins are very thin and move in an elusive way. 

Yesterday the third drip in three days failed as the vein collapsed. After three abortive attempts to insert a new drip, the nurse conceded defeat and called for an anaesthetist – who turned out to be the same Sophie, present at my hip op in 2001. 

Even she took two attempts, that makes five punctures in one day. And the only place she could find a vein was on the back of my hand yet the rest.

That was 24 hours ago and now my hand has swelled up and the nurse has phoned for an anesthetist again. I fear this time it will be something more drastic. This reminds me too physically of my stay in the Clinique Beau Soleil in 2015, when again I ended up in the anesthetics department.

Slow progress

I’ve just had my first sip of water for three days. Lovely – particularly as it is so hot and humid. But the nurse warned me to go cautiously

Shame the nurses don’t wear name badges. I get on particularly well with this one. Indeed there is a really good ambience on this floor (the surgical floor). Typically I waylaid  the woman nearest to what was clearly a small kitchen and asked for a jug of water and mug. She rushed to get them, making sure the water was cold, and insisted on carrying them back to my room. All done with a warm smile.

Obvious, you might think, but my experience is that reception and hospital administration  staff – and not just here – are particularly distant and unhelpful. The radiology department is also not a bundle of fun.

On Wednesday I was visited by a smiling, good looking (another!) woman with the usual questionnaire to establish my home circumstances.  We got talking about lots of things (including the agenda app on my iPhone… she was looking for something to coordinate her husband’s and her agendas). I was puzzled, this was not the usual clerical interview. Amandine, as she is called, explained she was head of nursing for the surgical and medical floors. Rather a good way of keeping in touch with patients.

I had mentioned my lower back pain as one of the reasons I was sleeping badly and that I had decided to stop the cocktail prescribed by the neurologist.  Amandine said one of the anaesthetist, Sophie Brunet, was a specialist in the latest treatments of chronic pain.  Take your dossier, go and see her, she urged. It was indeed Sophie who was the anaesthetist for my right hip operation, way back in 2001. I’ve seen her briefly a couple of times since, and retain this image of another energetic, sympathetic and intelligent woman . I think I will indeed go and see her.

Now I must not postpone any longer my instructions to walk as much as possible up and down the corridor . It is not very pleasant, as I am out of breathe and hurt a bit. “As if someone has walked over your abdomen?” suggested today’s physio, Patrice, when I tried to explain what I was feeling. Yes, indeed.

Also I’m not helped by my drip stand which is like one of those supermarket trolleys which refuses to go in a straight line. At least this one has the very heavy box,  providing the medication to help heal the stomach, attached to the stand so I no longer have to carry it with the other hand. I also – thank goodness – no longer have the stomach pump which makes it difficult to swallow or talk and is singularly unattractive coming out of the nose.

Right. I must stand up!