Capricornes – again

I have unfortunately become a bit of an expert at recognising the arrival of capricornes: I had to deal with capricornes in my bedroom in 2015 and then last year in the wooden posts and beams of my terrace. So this month I had no difficulty in recognising the light crunching noise above my head at night.

So once again I rang Rastop, the firm that has dealt with my previous capricorne invasions as well as with the nests of chenilles processionaires in the tree in front of my house. Within days I had a visit from Serge (we are now on first name terms…).

After consulting Daniel, who did the actual treatment, they came to the conclusion that the culprit must be the chestnut beam above my head, which is mainly concealed in the wall between the bedroom and study.  Only the part which was visible was treated last time.

So, on Tuesday Daniel returned to drill holes through the plaster in the study to treat the wood on that side, and also gave a good surface blast to the beam on both sides. To avoid side effects from the treatment, I shut off the bedroom and study for three days and Poppy and I slept in the spare room. Luckily all this is covered by a ten year guarantee, the original treatment having been paid for by the builder, not me.

Last night we returned to my bedroom and I can report no nightly crunching noises.  Fingers crossed.

New physiotherapist

I still have three physiotherapy sessions a week, but at last I have a physiotherapist in le Vigan and will no longer have to do the 25 km trip to Ganges.

Charlotte looks incredibly young – too young to have a ten-year-old daughter.  But she is highly competent and very pleasant.  She is an amateur musician – singer, accordionist and, in the past, saxophonist.  Though she has temporarily stopped, as the youngest child is only three. But she understands my desire to return to my previous level of cello playing and adapts the programme of exercises accordingly.

It is nice feeling we have this shared target, although she warns me it is going to take a long time and hard work for the muscles to come to life again. Three times a week she  gives me half an hour of massage and manipulations, followed by half an hour of exercises.

She approves of my efforts to return to some playing activity at the Ecole de Musique, as trying to bow long notes is an important form of physiotherapy.  I told her that I have just been given a bit of Bach to play and for once was pleased to see that the notes are all black (rapid, for those of you who do not read music) rather than white (sustained, which I do with difficulty, particularly on the all important A string). She laughed and said that was fine, as long as the tempo was not slowed down so much that black actually meant white. Nice to have that sort of conversation with a physiotherapist, who has also enjoyed playing Bach.

Deborah has left

What a bundle of energy: in ten days Deb has sorted out so many things in the house.

Our last joint task was tackling the mess in the ‘garage’ (junk room with boiler, tools, toys and other family boxes, suitcases, my shoulder exercise kit… …. We are both keen labellers of stuff, Deb in particular.  So it should be easier to track down tools in the future (I’ve just laid my hands immediately on my Stanley knife, for example).

Sub-zero temperatures at night meant that Deb could not do much in the garden, unfortunately, but she has vigorously cut back the neighbours’ pyracantha, which was making access to my dustbins a prickly experience.

It has been so nice basically allowing myself to be spoilt by Deb (did she lose that last game of Scrabble to be kind to me?), so now it is time to adjust to fending for myself. I’ve just made a large amount of vegetable soup to ensure that my veg intake maintains the high level achieved under the Deb regime.


My dear friend Graeme has a particularly nasty brain tumour. I heard the news earlier this week and, although we are both over 70 and this kind of news is going to arrive more frequently, I am filled with shock as well as much sadness.

Our two families have been friends for three generations and I have known Graeme since we were small children.  We grew up in the same town, went to university together, stayed close friends when I got together with Chris.  Thereafter our contact has been spasmodic – letters, family get togethers, me attending a couple of his concerts . Because Graeme has spent his post-doctorate life in Cambridge, while I parted for Africa, Scotland and now France.

Graeme is one of the cleverest and most talented men I know – at Cambridge he has wandered between mathematics, biology and quantum physics, and at the same time plays the piano and performs at a professional level.  He is also kind, humorous, eloquent (on paper), modest and self-effacing.

What this news brings also is a sense of regret.  Why have I not made more of an effort to accept his invitations to go to his concerts, to nip up to Cambridge when visiting the children in London? It reinforces my appreciation that one has to work at obstacles like long distance or busy lives in order to see more of one’s lifelong friends. They deserve it, and their friendship enriches our lives.

I may not write much here about Graeme in the coming months.  But I find my thoughts return to him frequently as he currently undergoes radiotherapy and then faces the uncertain future thereafter.


Deborah here

A week has passed since I last wrote, but I have been busy. Or rather, my sister, Deb, has been busy, while I have been the gofer as well as  creator of tasks.

Deb arrived for a ten day visit on Friday. Since then she has sorted the garage shelves – again – and labelled its boxes, fixed the fridge door, fixed the bathroom cupboard doors, created more shelves in the bathroom and helped reorganise my disgusting amount of ”stuff” onto them.

Together, we did a major sort of bed linen – it’s amazing how single and double sheets and covers can get jumbled up – separating out  things only used when the kids are here – and we have vacuum packed about a dozen duvets of different tog measures.

After my initial offering of magret de canard, Deb has somehow slipped into the role of chief cook.  No surprise to others who visit me….  and because my sciatica is having a bad moment, she has done most Poppy walking.

Meanwhile, when not managing my complicated diary of medical paperwork and forthcoming appointments, I have swanned off to spend Saturday morning playing with the music school orchestra and yesterday playing with the other cello students.

What does Deborah do to relax? Well, when she is not reading one of the huge books she has brought with her, she beats me hollow at Scrabble or Boggle. I had one brief, sweet victory last night, thanks to two seven letter words and getting away with more two letter words than usual.  But maybe she was just being kind.

Does this paragon of a younger sister have any vices?  (We will gloss over the main one: that while nobly sorting out my house, her own remains in complete chaos.). Once again she has arrived with a blocked ‘good’ ear and is very deaf. Not strictly a vice, but it brings out the worst in me, as I fail to speak loudly and I forget to wait till I am looking straight at her before talking.

I said I could not have had the patience to be married to someone who was deaf, and we both remembered our grandmother, Tish, and her impatience with her husband often guessing wrongly what she had just said. Deb has been applying oil three times a day without any effect. After googling blocked ears we agreed all other home remedies are risky and she has promised to see a doctor when she gets home.

My shoulder – and my cello

I am a long way from being able to play the cello properly, that is, back at the modest level I had reached before the two operations and the months leading up to them.

I can play at the heel of the bow, especially on the lower strings, but cannot play to the tip of the bow, especially on the higher strings. If you are not familiar with cello movements, imagine stretching your arm out in front and then raising it to the right, to a two o’clock position.  Just not there yet: the muscles refuse to cooperate.

Marion Bertrand, the surgeon, said the best reeducation I could undertake was to practise the cello and get this movement back.

So, I have rejoined the small group of cellists who play once a week and will be restarting the orchestra on Saturday.  Both of these activities are at a level far easier than I normally play. I have said I am not yet ready for individual lessons, it would be too depressing failing to play music I could tackle 18 months ago.

On Monday I at last started sessions with my new, Le Vigan based physiotherapist, Charlotte. She understands that my objective is to play music again and that this is more important than reaching the top shelf in the kitchen.  So hopefully my rééducation sessions will help achieve this goal.


Telephone support: the bad and the good

If you have a problem with Orange, the main telephone supplier in France, and want to phone for help, you have to be strong, patient and have no other urgent appointments in your diary.

Or you have to travel 50 miles to Montpellier, take a ticket and sit patiently in the queue at one of their boutiques.

The Orange problems are compounded by an awful website, which is frequently down, takes you round in circles and is a little thin on actual phone numbers.

That’s the bad side of phone support.  The good – most of the time, is that provided by Apple.

For some time I have had two Apple iCoud entities  (my fault – an early error). Yesterday I decided to sort this out, transferring my cloud information (essential for synchronising my embarassingly large collection of Apple devices) from the cloud space starting francesallen to my second, starting computing.

This is not straightforward, so I went online and booked to be phoned by someone at 12.15.  On the dot I received a call from a helpful Irishman, who got me through stage one: to transfer data from francesallen to my Mac.  This was taking so long that he told me to have lunch and then tackle stage two, to transfer the data from my Mac to the cloud computing in the afternoon.

This was supposed to be straightforward -except it wasn’t, and I did not have a phone number for the Irishman.

So I rang Apple France. This is where I hit problems starting with waiting ages for someone to pick up my call (bad luck, or are help systems in France intrinsically problematic?).

The first man did not understand my problem at all and I don’t think this was just a question of language.  He eventually passed me to an English speaker, who turned out to be a Dutchman.

Things got worse here, as he quite clearly understood less than me about the problem, kept consulting documents – and coming up with obviously faulty information.

I was losing my patience and then at last, thank goodness, he  passed me up a level, to an English supervisor called Andrew.  Phew, all was going quite well – until I lost the telephone connection. All this abortive talk had used up my (fixed line) phone battery.

I phoned again (on my mobile). Once again a long wait, more inane music, and then another Frenchman who insisted on trying to understand the problem. I kept asking for Andrew, but presumably he was elsewhere.  Finally I was put through to another supervisor, Dawn.

My saviour! Dawn, originally from Dunfermline in Fife, but now in Greece, turned out to be intelligent, knowledgable, easy to talk to, have a good sense of humour and was determined to solve my problems however long this might take.

We finally cracked it minutes before I had to leave for a cello practice. And Dawn emailed me her contact details should I hit more problems today.

Wow, now that is a telephone support system worth having.


Winter weather

Temperatures this week continue to hover just above 0 degrees, we have had a few light snow falls, one day of non-stop rain, and an icy northerly wind.

I can see that the hills above us are now properly covered in snow.  I can’t go up to look as I don’t have snow tyres.

A COSTLY trip to Montpellier!

One of my trips to Montpellier was so that the Mercedes (and Smart) garage could replace my faulty boot hinges. It turned out to be a more momentous day than this.

The faulty boot has been a growing problem for months: the boot would suddenly pop open or I would not be able to lock the car because the computer said there was a door not properly shut. At last the garage had the spare parts (they had been stuck in the north of Germany) and the boot is now fully functional, thank goodness.  I was impressed by the way the garage rang two days later to check that I was happy with the repair (done under guarantee, thankfully).

Then I went on to the Apple Centre, where I had an appointment to replace the battery in my ageing Apple iPhone 6 at a reduced cost – part of Apple’s effort to counter the bad publicity about slowing down old phones.

Two hours later a technician came out of the back offices to confess to me that in the process of removing the old battery my phone had been broken. They would, they said, offer me a free replacement – of the same generation.

I was first taken aback, then thought, no, I don’t want to continue with an old model if I could use this as a negotiating tool to cut the price of the latest model.  I did this, with some success: I have got an iPhone X for less than it would have cost me if I had accepted the Orange offer two weeks ago.

It still cost me so much that I am totally embarassed and will not confess how much. And I have broken the pledge I made to my daughters two weeks ago that I would resist this temptation. But boy, is it a beauty.

For those who think a phone is just – well, a phone, this was a ridiculous, foolhardy act.  But for those who love high performance computers (which is what, after all, smartphones are) and, above all, high quality cameras that fit in your pocket, this is more understandable.

The first two photos I took – of Poppy licking her lips after finding some juicy crumbs, and of the flowers on Margaret’s table – impressed me instantly the high quality of the lenses and the new ability to blur the background (something that until now one has needed a zoom or telephoto lens to do).

Navigating round the phone is much zippier than in previous models.  But the feature I particularly like is face recognition.  The phone is, as always, locked when inactive.  But instead of having to punch in a code or try (often without success) to open the phone with one’s finger or thumb print, all I have to do is simply look at the phone and flick my finger up the screen.  It can recognise my face – even at night!


Busy health week

I’m recovering from three action-packed trips to Montpellier, during which I saw my (shoulder) surgeon, (knees) rhumatologist and (back) neurologist.

Marion Bertrand, my surgeon, was very pleased with the progress I have made with my shoulder and made positive noises about the treatment I received in my two months at the Chataigniers.  It is still a slow haul and she has given me a prescription for the physiotherapy to continue.  On Monday I start sessions – at last – with a physio in le Vigan, which should be much less tiring than traipsing back and forth to Ganges.

Then on to the rhumatologist, Françoise Roch-Bras (with whom I always have aimable discussions about politics).  My knees have taken a turn for the worse, with all that standing while doing physiotherapy for my shoulder.  She gave me an anti-inflammatory injection in my right knee (limited success so far) and at the end of the month I will return for a further injection of a gel called Durolane, designed to help cushion and therefore alleviate pain in arthritic joints.

I’ve had  Durolane before.  It contains Hyaluronic acid and is effective for several months. The only difference is that the French government has stopped reimbursing Hyaluronic acid, so I have had to pay over 200 euros for this injection – which last time was free.  French rhumatologists are (rightly) up in arms about this, as the alternatives are to treat patients with NSAIDs which have damaging side effects, or to have a knee replacement, which of course ends up costing the state much more.  It is only a question of time before I have to have knee replacements, but I’m trying to give my body a break in the relentless timetable of operations.

The week ended with a routine visit to Dr Lionnet,  the neurologist who has been treating me for restless legs syndrome (successfully) and sciatic nerve pain.  For a month I have been having particularly bad sciatica.   Dr Lionnet has prescribed daytime medication plus physiotherapy and is going to see me again on 1 March to consider what to do next.

I have to say that I have found the sciatica more debilitating and demoralising than all my other various aches and pains (except perhaps the shingles! It leaves me wanting to just curl up and do nothing – except for, unfortunately, sitting and lying are as uncomfortable as walking and standing. Every so often I manage to apparently release a blocked nerve: this happened at 4am this morning.  So now I am enjoying the lovely, albeit cold, winter day.

Ending on a positive note, next week will be completely free of health appointments and should mark the gentle return to cello playing.  I can’t raise my arm high enough to return to the more advanced pieces I was working on with the teacher.  But I am up to playing at the lower level, with the debutant cellists group and look forward to this cheery group on Tuesdays, as well as the ‘orchestra’ on Saturday morning.