Adieu Johnny

Well this is a strange week to live in France. Johnny Hallyday has died.
You might be forgiven for never having heard this name. And if you have, you might have dismissed him as a rock singer famous only in France, who made his fortune singing French versions of other people’s music, who got through four wives, plenty of alcohol and cocaine, crashed motorbikes and cars, and was friends with Chirac and Sarkozy.
It is also true that he had a good strong voice and a powerful – animal like – stage presence. But it is hard for us Anglo Saxons to understand just why Johnny has been accorded such fervent adoration and affection for nearly six decades, particularly when he started to look like a caricature of his youthful self, still strutting around with blond coiffured hair and tight black leathers. May bravo, he was my age.
When the physio came in yesterday morning and said Johnny was dead, I made a slightly dismissive remark about Sarkozy’s friend. Quelle erreur. I soon appreciated from the conversation around me that all had grown up or grown old with Johnny as a constant presence, including all his excesses. This was their singer, in the same way as Edith Piaf and Georges Brassens had been for previous generations.
“Johnny Hallyday,” declared Eric, the kiné, “c’est la France”.

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.

My grandson Otto

Otto is now seven. He is a warm, loving little boy, amazingly friendly to all. I was so delighted to get your lovely letter, Otto. Well done. And you are my special grandson.

At school Otto sometimes struggles, but very bravely. He is a different person when performing – his current passion. He dreams of being a rock star, as you can see from a recent programme of songs he planned for his group.

Good luck with your guitar lessons, Otto. Music is hard work, but worth it. I still love my cello and want to be well enough to play it when I get out of hospital. Maybe we can write a song for guitar, cello and voice – yours, not mine!

Climbing the mountain – slowly

Yesterday I had a bad day. I have been making progress, thanks to my daily four hours of hard work and prolonged physio sessions. But then Eric, the kiné, did some movements to try and increase my arm’s mobility sideways and rotating the arm and it was not only painful when I opened my eyes and glanced sideways I saw how far I still have to go to stretch my arm out in all directions. And I still cannot do basic moves like put my hand on my head.

The rest of the day continued to be painful and demoralising. Finally Eric said stop for the day, handed me ice packs for my shoulder and said that yes, indeed I did need extra time in the Chataigniers. I reckon I could be here  until Christmas. This is what I want. This is the last chance to get this shoulder working, and I have so much more confidence in Eric than any other kiné I have seen.

I asked if I could not be a daily patient – ambulatoire – living at home but coming in for sessions here. I had touched a raw nerve which made Eric laugh in irony. Did I want to take him to an early grave? Because of course then he could have yet another patient en rééducation as well as me.

Surely I asked, there was a fixed number of beds for rééducation and the rest were medical cases (people needing rest after leaving hospital etc). But no, it appears there are no fixed ratios and one could in theory at least have 50 patients needing Eric’s attention. Once again, there so clearly needs to be a second if not indeed a third kiné post here.

Meanwhile I am grateful to him for having devoted extra time on me yesterday.

Computers again

Last week was a period of technological frustration. Yes, I know I am a geek glued to my computer. But thank god for computers and tablets and the internet to replace former activities if one  has reduced mobility.

Last week I was hit by two problems, the first entirely of my own making. Some of you may recall that quite a few years back I wrote a database to help my friend, Rose, in the management of the production of a dictionary of Scottish women, with  multiple authors to coordinate. This is now approaching the final stages of the second edition, when its task will be  to export a variety of things, including several indexes to the women and their areas of activity

Rose and I both use Macs and the database is written using a natty programme called Filemaker, which we have not bothered to pay to upgrade for several years now.  Last week I blithely updated my Mac to the latest version of its system software, and then discovered to my horror that Filemaker 12 was  too old to run on it. So I have had to buy two copies of Filemaker 16 (luckily on a limited buy one and get one free offer).

In between sessions of physio, I did my best to check that our database was happy when run with the new version of Filemaker – and then I had to convince Rose it was safe to switch .  Fingers  crossed we have got over this blip, albeit at a cost. Now Rose’s aim is to deliver the dictionary and its indexes to Edinburgh University Press by Christmas!

Downloading the new software and communicating with Rose in Edinburgh was hindered by the WiFi service for patients inexplicably breaking down for two days.  I tried not to be too demanding and managed to restrict myself to just two visits to the clinic administration.

The experience underlined how pathetically dependent I am on the internet,  not just for this dictionary work, but for all forms of information and entertainment – and even to download the next book on my kindle.

Anyhow, normal service has been resumed. I am once again happily wired up. Wirelessly.


No internet


I have had no internet since yesterday morning and it is driving me mad.
No newspapers, radio or television. No consulting wiki whenever Madame Bavarde comes up with irrefutable facts.
I’m putting this up via my iphone which of course has 3G as well as WiFi, but a limited amount – as I know to my cost after the Istanbul trip (where we were all using our phones’ GPS to find our way around).
I reported the WiFi wasn’t working and learnt it is managed by a business in Montpellier, but I was told not to hold my breath for immediate action. At supper I learnt that my newly arrived neighbour also could not connect to the internet, and I’ve urged her to report this. I suspect we are the only two patients to use the internet!

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.


Hospital views

This is the view from my bedroom in Les Chataigniers. The blue sky and hills make up for the undistinguished villas of Cavaillac.

One day I should make a collection of hospital bedroom views. The list is growing.

Two wheels

You have got to hand it to Madame Bavarde: she keeps us entertained. Yesterday at supper she reminisced (in her usual cheerful booming tones) about the wonderful times she and her husband spent on a motor bike.

They explored the whole of France, sometimes on their own, sometimes with five other biker friends. When it was fine they slept in their tent, when it rained they tried to find a barn or sometimes a hotel. When she described their camping it brought back my memories of the Fifties and Sixties. Her tent, like ours, had no built in ground sheet, and wet nights were a struggle to stop those trickles advancing towards your sleeping bag.

When she first married, in 1946, they went on camping trips on their pedal bikes. Her husband carried the tent, while she carried their cat – a risky business she said, as he tended to swerve out to glare at passing cars.

After six years they moved on to become bikers – ‘motards’. How long were they motards, I asked. She did not say when but described why they stopped,  with relish. She somehow fell off the back of the bike, landed on her bottom, where the skin was completely removed. She described in detail – as we ate our chicken – how the doctor spent hours picking gravel and tar out of her fesses (buttocks), and how she shocked all present with the range of swear words in her repertoire. A Parisian originally, and from another age, there is a cheerful vulgarity in her language. The doctor, obviously of the same ilk, and sizing up his patient, finished by saying be careful that nobody groped her in the metro, as she would no doubt turn round and beat him Up.

C’est la France

Today was a wonderful warm, sunny day. As there is no physio on Wednesday afternoons, I went for a walk. I decided to track down the site proposed for the hapless hardware store, Monsieur Bricolage, burnt down by vandals a year ago.

Last month I recounted the tortuous and unjust story of their abortive attempts to rebuild on the existing site. Today I thought I would go and look at the alternative site suggested by the mayor of Molières Cavaillac, not far from my centre.

Walking along a  narrow lane, I asked a man passing by with his dog which was the field for the new M Bricolage. He pointed it out and then implied that the question was very much if rather than when the store would be built.  I said knew  that they have to raise 200,000 € to buy the land.

Ah, added the man, but then to build they will have to have the agreement of  the commune, the communautë de communes, the département, le sous préfet … He shrugged his shoulders and said, with an air of resignation: “C’est la France”.

And what a shame that the convoluted laws and devious local practises might mean that either the cash can’t be raised and a dozen people will lose their jobs, or that another pastoral enclave will disappear, rather than rebuild on the old site next to the supermarket.