Tuesday, 28 December 2021

I get back at nine am ...

 ... and head for the loo, followed by both dogs, who stand waiting mournfully for me outside the door.

They have been fed, but they are reporting back they are not too happy with the quantities provided by the sous-chef and that additional rations are in order.

I'm feeling like them, having departed early for the local laboratory "à jeun" (on an empty stomach).

It takes twenty minutes to sort out the paperwork for the three prescriptions provided by the cardiologist - two sets of blood tests and a PCR test for COVID. 

The time required is not helped by the fact that my chosen "identity paper" is my passport, which is in my maiden name.  Whereas the three prescriptions are in my married name.  So we opt for my "carte de sejour" - my residency permit - which usefully has both my maiden and my married names.  This, duly, is photocopied and attached to the paperwork.

All seems well, until I get to see the assiduous young doctor (nurse?) who somewhat sternly informs me that I need a comma between my first and second Christian names, otherwise I have a double-barrelled first name.  Well that's a first in the fourteen years I've been here.  Things deteriorate further when he asks me my birthday (as a security check) and notices that the date on my residency permit says the fourth and not the fourteen, as I said.  So, I find my passport again, which confirms the fourteenth.  This requires him to disappear back to reception in order for the passport to be photocopied as well.

By now, I am beginning to feel faint with hunger.

And there are fourteen sticky barcode labels up the sleeve of his white coat as he proceeds to take seven phials of blood from my left arm, reminding me of Tony Hancock in the Blood Donor:  "A pint! That's very nearly an armful!". 

The receptionist returns with yet more papers - apparently the permit / passport double photocopying requires a different set of code numbers.  Paper is now spread all over the consulting room.  And in the confusion, the young man tells me I can go.  Reluctantly, I remind him I need a PCR test - my first.  Without it they will not let me into the hospital on Thursday for my pacemaker op.

He enthusiastically shoves the long Q-tip up my left nostril and twists it around saying "just five seconds".  Hopefully I won't need to have that happen too often! 

And hopefully all the paperwork will mean I can check the results online this evening.  The French are nothing if not efficient and thorough when it comes to medical stuff.

In the meantime, the dogs and I have breakfast - their second, my first.


Friday, 24 December 2021

A Happy, Healthy Christmas to One and All

 Thank you to those of you who read this blog.  

May this year end in happiness and good health for all and may 2022 be all that you hope.

Friday, 17 December 2021

The GP Asks Me if I Hunt

Well, that's a question that comes out of left field and certainly not one that our GP back in leafy Surrey fourteen or more years ago would have thought to ask.

We're talking pacemakers. Inserted just below the collar bone, right where the stock of a shotgun nestles. Apparently, depending on which side the hunter holds his firearm, the surgeon will choose the other side to operate.

That's a piece of information I would have hoped never to need to know!

Specifically, we are talking MY soon-to-be pacemaker.  To be fitted, assuming I test negative for COVID, on December 30th.  A late Christmas present, just in time for New Year celebrations.

Who would have thought that mild heart palpitations which started in October and might have been dismissed as nothing more than slight pandemic anxiety, should lead to this.

When the French health service swings into action, it doesn't hang about.

Saturday, 4 December 2021

Not a Mask among Them!

We were in Bordeaux on Thursday, for an appointment at the eye clinic.

Blue eyes and strong South West France sun don't go well together and so cataracts have slowly been forming over the years.  Still some way to go before an op, but these days the very young ophthalmologist has decided he wants me to have a regular check-up.

The clinic is new, cutting edge and full of young things in white coats doing lots of tests that involve drops in the eyes and flashing lights.  All of this takes time and when we finally emerged it was gone twelve - lunchtime.  

We don't get out much these days and being in Bordeaux, it seemed a good excuse to find a local eatery. Not only is the clinic new, but the whole area is being redeveloped, including what looks like a tram bridge being built across the Garonne, so we relied on Google and Tripadvisor to find us somewhere.  The place was well-reviewed.

With the new Omicron variant on the loose France has tightened up its regulations - masks to be worn in all public places.  So suitably masked, with our health certificates on the screens of our phones ready to be zapped, we pushed open the restaurant door.  The place was heaving with masculinity.  Jam-packed full of large, sweaty workers from the surrounding building sites. All cheek by jowl and not a mask among them.  Even Le Patron was maskless.  Mind you, I defy anyone to tell that lot that Macron requires masks to be worn when out.

Normally, in the interests of social distancing, we would have fled.  But we were hungry and slightly light-headed from a morning of being managed by the French health service in all its glory.  So we entered into the spirit of the moment, trusted our booster jabs to protect us and relished our ample "menu de jour": buffet starter, choice of two main courses, cheese, dessert, coffee and a bottle of red wine left open on the table to help yourself.  Fourteen euros each.

It almost felt like the good old days. How our world has grown small, when a simple lunch in a worker's café in Bordeaux can make us, for a while, feel like we are on holiday!

Saturday, 13 November 2021

The Rescued Dipladenia

 Our Indian summer has slipped away.  Toussaint has come and gone. All the plastic flowers, large pots of chrysanthemums and the detritus of Halloween have disappeared from the shops and Christmas (annoyingly early, but less early than we were used to in the UK) has arrived.  Shelf after shelf is piled high with seasonal chocolate boxes at the entrance to Leclerc's.

The misty mornings and bright afternoons of the last few weeks have enabled us to make a serious assault on the overgrown and much neglected used-to-be-cowshed down at the cottage.  It offers the potential to be a "proper" storage area and at the moment it's just a jumbled mess with encroaching brambles and saplings and a tumble-down back wall that fell over in one winter storm.  So we clear and carry and make journeys to our favourite council tip - the one where there is space to drive up and drive straight out without the challenge of reversing a recalcitrant trailer that insists on jack-knifing. 

During one of those trips to the tip in October, a council lorry pulled in behind us, piled high with flowers, all to be discarded.  On closer inspection the flowers proved to be plastic.  Toussaint is that time of year when France visits its deceased relatives, cleans graveyards and throws out last year's plastic bouquets.  Large pots of fresh chrysanthemums and new, elaborate plastic arrangements (for when the fresh flowers are gone over) are purchased to place round polished and swept tombstones.

As we were about to leave the tip, I headed past the lorry with the flowers one last time with a flattened cardboard carton destined for the skip back near the entrance.  When there it was!  A living, breathing large bright pink dipladenia among all the plastic. A word with the driver of the lorry and the dipladenia, rescued from certain death, came home with us.  

Repotted, it has pride of place on the terrace, just outside the kitchen door.  Full of blooms and buds, it is a splash of summer colour to lift the spirits on a drizzly November afternoon. 

Saturday, 25 September 2021

The Little Things that Matter

 It's a small thing, but it matters.

We live on an "island", an outcrop of sandstone that is surrounded by clay farmland, which slopes down to a stream. There is a walk along the edge of the stream because French farmers have to leave a "bande enherbée" of uncultivated land between their worked fields and water.  This is supposed to reduce polluting runoff. 

During our first years here, we were fortunate that Phillipe, who farmed the land that comes to the corner of our terrain also left a "bande enherbée" along the side of his field as well as the bottom, along the stream.  He didn't have to, but he did and Tod kept it mowed using our old tractor. It meant that we could walk across our field, down the side of Phillipe's field to the stream at the bottom and then turn right along Monsieur F's field to the little bridge, cross over, walk back the other side of the stream to a grass covered culvert where we could cross again and do a nice round circuit taking about half an hour with no need to retrace our steps - something we and the dogs much prefer.

Sadly, Phillipe died and the new owner of the land lives some way away.  We do not know him, apart from a brief conversation I had with him when I first saw him ploughing three (or is it four?) years back.

Phillipe's "bande enherbée" disappeared. The new owner farms right to the edge. There are moments in the year when it is possible to get down to the stream - immediately after harvesting if you don't mind fighting with the stubble and immediately after ploughing if you don't mind struggling across muddy furrows.  Once the latest crop comes up - maize or sunflowers usually - things get trickier trying to walk on earth between the rows of young plants.  Once they are past a certain size it becomes impossible.  None of this is easy for the dogs - Bertie's pink delicate tummy gets scraped by stubble, Vita's rickety old back legs find no secure foothold in muddy furrows.  So Tod regrets the loss of one of the small reasons why it's a pleasure to live here.

Phillippe's field (we still think of it as his) abuts our other farmer neighbour's land - Monsieur F.  Gently, gently over the years we have become friends of a kind.  Not perhaps the English neighbourly way of dinner parties and shared barbeques. No, our relationship is much more reserved.  But he (with his large tractor) is there when we need help,  like getting our car out of a ditch.  

Monsieur F too farms wherever possible right to his boundaries. Yesterday, he was down in the field by the stream ploughing.  I wandered down to the edge of the cottage lawn and waited for him to come trundling back up, making yet another line of furrows. He stopped, jumped down from the cab and we stood and chatted - too close for my English social distancing but far enough apart for him.  We rarely see him or his wife so it was a chance to catch up - what sort of a year have they had?  How is their gite doing? What will he plant next year? And I asked about his boundary - yes he would be ploughing right to the edge. 

I relay this to Tod who then goes ... who knows where?

Later, the man in my life reappears.  He has done something very brave - he's been to speak with Monsieur F.  That is not easy for him. He speaks good French, but struggles to understand the reply, especially when said in the local accent.  It's not easy, but this small thing matters to him. A lot.  He's asked Monsieur F if he will leave a narrow strip at the edge of his field so that Tod and the dogs can resume their walks along the stream in comfort.

Yesterday afternoon Monsieur F does a final tour round the field with his tractor and plough.  As he leaves, there, on the far side, is a two meter wide tract of green sward - a "bande enherbée", just for us.

Tod and the dogs walk it contentedly this morning. We will be giving Monsieur F some very good wine as a thank you.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Happiness is a Tidy Ditch

It rains - a lot - round here at certain times of the year.  Not every year, but enough for the maintenance of ditches, drains and reservoirs to be taken seriously.  So, at least twice sometimes three times a year triangular warning signs go up along our country lanes: FAUCHAGE. And there, ahead, will be a tractor with an extended arm moving slowly along the verge, carefully cutting back and clearing the undergrowth to leave nice smooth banks.

We live half way down a small hill.  The land rises behind us and drops away in front, down to a stream in the bottom of the valley.  The land behind us is farmed and to reach our house we come down a farm track between two fields. Between Monsieur F's field and the track is a steep bank and a ditch.  Every year since we've been here "our" ditch has been fauchaged.  Until last year. 

Not much happened last year - well it was when COVID started and everything shut down for a time.  But then, this spring, we watched the tractor with the long arm trundle along the road up on the ridge behind us, making no attempt to come down our track.  After a year of not being done, the bank and the ditch were an unholy mess of brambles, vines and young saplings. So I ventured into the mayor's office and had a friendly conversation with the commune secretary, who promised to let the fauchage man know he'd missed us.  A few days later, we watched the tractor with the long arm work its way down the (already tidy) lane the far side of Monsieur F's field - something lost in translation we suspected, sighed, and let it be.

We have a new mayor.  Well, he's not that new now, having been in place since spring last year but COVID has meant there have been no mayoral gatherings and, apart from the fauchage, we have little reason to need him and so have not met him.  However, we sense he is a new (and energetic) broom.  The previous mayor was happy to meet and greet his communards, always in the office, chatty, available, by the end we were on cheek to cheek, kiss/kiss terms and I missed him when he retired.  The new mayor feels more remote. He has changed opening hours and requires an appointment to meet, has had a new commune website designed, has diverted funds to the schools and the insulation of the village sports hall roof.  All very laudable, but frustrating if it's at the expense of a good, very necessary fauchage.

Our ditch is important. It's one of the few that carries surface water down the hill away from the road along the ridge.  A couple of years or so ago, in torrential rain, we watched the ditch fill in minutes, overflow and form a whole new stream that poured across our field and down to the bottom of the valley. Also, at the moment it looks a mess as the brambles and vines reach out across the farm track and it's the first thing the guests to our cottage see as they turn off the road towards us.  Tod does the best he can with a mower and the heavy duty Stihl strimmer to keep the edges tidy, but clearing the steep bank is nigh on impossible.

There is a further complication. On the cadastral plans our track is described as a "chemin d'exploitation" as opposed to a "chemin rural". This non-fauchage thing prompts me to investigate further to find out if there is a difference which might explain it.  There is.  Google tells me a  "chemin rural" is maintained by the commune. Despite our experience of previous years,  apparently a "chemin d'exploitation" should be maintained by those properties who have access to it. So maybe from now onwards, with the new regime, we will have to pay for our own fauchage.

Armed with this unwelcome knowledge, in August, somewhat apprehensively, because these days the mayoral office feels somewhat less friendly, I decide it's time to have another word.  Expecting to find the secretary in situ, I walk in to see The Great Man himself - I recognise him from his photos in the (now printed in colour) village newsletter.  I start my prepared speech and am amazed to encounter the charm that certain Frenchmen of a certain age radiate.  We may not have met before, but he knows who I am and where we live (the benefits of a small commune).  He also tells me my timing is fortuitous - he is waiting for the councillor who is responsible for organising the fauchage, who proves on arrival to be equally charming.

We all laugh at the idea of a small, elderly English lady in her seventies wielding a large Stihl strimmer up those steep banks and they reassure me that "something will be done".  Not immediately of course because it is harvest time but trust them, it will be sorted.  I float back home bathed in French "je ne sais quoi".

And the weeks slip by and the brambles and vines continue to grow.  And only yesterday morning I was thinking, well not this year, in France these things can't be rushed, but I will go into the mayor's office early next spring and hope to make sure we are on the list for being done next year.

Oh ye of little faith!  Lunchtime is when I like to shop - Leclerc is quieter and social distancing is easier.  I get in the car, reverse it and turn to face our steep farm track when I see - a pristine, tidy, bramble-free ditch!  Amazing what things can bring joy to the heart.  

Thank you Monsieur le maire.

Friday, 3 September 2021

The Table on the Terrace is too Small

 Bravely, we are having friends round for a barbeque - our first meal together in more than eighteen months.

The cottage is immaculate - our latest guests have left it pristine - and seems to be the obvious place to entertain since our house is a dust and cobweb-laden mess. And it means we can enjoy the cottage surroundings for ourselves, for a change.

But the table, under the "tonnelle" (what does one call it in English?  Awning? Arbour? Pergola? Marquee?  None of these words seem quite right for the large metal frame covered in grey curtaining that affords our guests shade) feels too small.

Social distancing for me is at least two metres - not the measly one here in France and even that, barely observed.  There cannot be two metres between us on that table.  I contemplate bringing the table down from the house that is piled with Annie Sloan paints, paint brushes, old rags and knickknacks waiting to be painted and my heart sinks at the thought.  Then Tod suggests two bridge tables - result!

The terrace table becomes the buffet - divided down the middle - to the right, their salads, to the left ours.  The two bridge tables, protected with tasteful textured plastic tablecloths, sit on opposite sides of the tonnelle, well socially distanced but still within chatting range.  

Our gossip is old and familiar, the months of COVID groundhog days offer no new news, but it doesn't matter, we are together and the warm evening brings a mellow contentment.

Monday, 16 August 2021

I thought ...

 ... I was going to have to post yet another blog about the weather - since that seems to be the only topic of conversation at the moment - too cold / too hot / too windy / too dry.  Enough to say, it became too hot and is now cooler again, to the relief of our latest set of guests.

But no - this is not a post about the weather, but a post about our wildlife - one in particular - a red squirrel.

We know red squirrels are in this part of the world having seen them occasionally take their lives into their hands and scamper across the main road into town.  They are smaller, sleeker than the grey squirrels we knew in the UK.  One house we lived in had them in the loft and we kept cages up there to capture them and release them in the woodland the other side of the M25 in the hope that they wouldn't find their way back.  Clara, our then Airedale, used to be the epitome of "barking up the wrong tree" - sat there, head thrown back, nose pointed up the trunk, yelling her head off, when the grey squirrel above her would be long gone.

Until today, we have never seen squirrels in our garden - of any hue.  He (or she) has just whisked past an open French window, almost on the threshold, red tail waving in the breeze, feathery ears erect. 

The word has obviously gone round about the quality and quantity of the hazel nuts we are growing this year. The other day I googled "when are they ready to eat?"  I'm guessing the new addition to our wildlife will shortly be letting us know!

Sunday, 1 August 2021

Only half in jest ...

 ... I wonder out loud about putting my thermals on.

Fifteen degrees first thing, and the temperature struggles to get any higher as the day goes on.  Our Dutch guests leave early.  At least their journey north, even if there are many hold-ups, will not be in unbearable heat.  Travelling on the Saturday 31st July with France on the move is not the easiest of things to be doing.

By the afternoon, and a little stir crazy, we decide to head out to investigate a restaurant friends have recommended.  COVID has had an impact.  Several of our favourite places that we have proposed to our guests over the years have either closed or have changed hands with less than positive results.  New owners are struggling to match previous high standards of menu and service and I'm busy revamping our information pack and website to reflect our new reality, saddened by the need to do so.

But maybe we have been in a rut. When we came here fourteen years ago, everything was new to us and over those first few months we were on a voyage of discovery.  We are so again.

The recommended restaurant proves to be a success, in a lovely setting by a lock, ample seating out under the trees and plenty of covered space if the weather is inclement.  The menu is simple, but good value and the provenance of a chef and a kitchen that we already know and trust.

We look for new places that have attractive spaces to sit outside. In these times of COVID people prefer that option and normally, with late evening temperatures in the high twenties who wouldn't?  Mind you, if this cool weather continues much longer I need to warn our next guests to bring their thermals if they want to dine al fresco (very "fresco").  

Sunday, 18 July 2021

Perfect Weather!

 Our Dutch guests have brought perfect summer weather with them.  Temperatures in the low thirties during the day and a lovely cool high teens at night. Bliss.

In my usual panicky final stages getting the cottage ready (why? I've had six months to do this!) I hummed and hawed about rigging up the free-standing air conditioners in the two bedrooms.  I always put them out reluctantly.  The hot air extraction pipe needs access to the outside, so I've created a Heath Robinson affair that means I tack a clear plastic "window" with a hole in it into the open frame and the vent pipe pokes through the hole.  It works, but it is not beautiful.  And the machine itself is clunky and clumsy and clutters the room.  

When temperatures at night are in the twenties our guests are just grateful for the relief and are not fussed how the air conditioners look, but the bedrooms are much more attractive without them. Having already too much to do, the prospect of taking time (twice over) wedging the plastic in the frame, finding some tacks and then fighting with the vent pipe to get it to stay in the hole helped in the end sway my decision to tuck the machines back into their corners out the way.  I'm glad now I did.

Our guests think the cottage looks lovely - helped, no doubt, by the glorious sunshine but also by the absence of clunky machines in the bedrooms.

Saturday, 3 July 2021


Vita stands beside me at the kitchen counter as I make tea.  A small puddle from her beard forms on the tiles at our feet.  She has been drinking and (as usual) half her water bowl finishes on the floor and not in her mouth. I'm still in my dressing gown, but I'm not going out anywhere soon, so no rush to get dressed.

Rain falling from the wisteria makes a metallic tinkling noise as it drips on the long ladder lying propped against the wall - too big and heavy to lift back into the rafters of the porch behind the house where it should reside.

The water butts are full to overflowing.  The swimming pool cover is awash.  Yet another soggy night and day. 

We're into July and summer continues to elude us.  We scan the weather forecasts to check days when we might get some sun, so we can snatch the opportunity to mow the lawns and Karcher the cottage terrace.

We have guests from Holland arriving in two weeks.  We just hope the sun comes out for them. Though maybe for the Dutch this is good weather?

Friday, 18 June 2021

Yesterday's steady rain topped off by an evening thunderstorm ...

... has given the garden a good soaking, though has been hard on the roses.

Following a week of temperatures in the thirties, the roses were beginning to struggle.  Blooms already on the edge of falling have been scattered by the wind.  The swimming pool skimmer basket is full of pale pink.

In the days before the heat, knowing the likely outcome, I wandered the garden with my camera and tried to capture the roses in their glory.  I rarely can do them justice, but here is a hint of their splendour.

Friday, 9 April 2021

Cotinus Coggygria Atropurpurea

 My father loved words and had a rich and extensive vocabulary. He was the son of a milkman, born at the beginning of the twentieth century into a family that believed profoundly in education as a means to improvement.

He excelled at school, not just academically but also in sports and, had he been born in another era, he would certainly have gone to university. But, at an impressionable age and from a poor family, he had seen the hunger marches in the early twenties and knew what poverty was, so believed he needed to get a job as soon as he left school.  But that did not stop him continuing to learn.  Books were his route to knowledge.

And that love of language continued right into his final months, even when of frail health and uncertain mental capacity.  We shared those final months when he and my mother came to live with us. 

The "back garden" in our shared house was no more than a couple of stepped terraces, but at some point it must have been planted by a skilled gardener - each bush and tree chosen as the best of its kind.  And there, in the middle of a small border was a plant we had not met before - a purple smoke bush.  Or, to give it its proper name - cotinus coggygria atropurpurea.  My father delighted in remembering and rolling those Latin words round his tongue!

There has been a smoke bush in every garden we've had since.

I tried to plant one down at the cottage, in the border that you first see as you come down the drive.  I knew that, once large, its beautiful ruby purple leaves would catch the morning sunlight.  But the ground there is unforgiving - sandy and, even when dug over, full of builder's rubble - and I lost my first attempt.  

I decided to try again, and nursed the new, small plant through last year and this wet winter. Imagine my delight as I saw new buds forming in these last few weeks.  Imagine my distress when two days ago I found two-thirds of the plant broken down!  Wretched deer!!!  They are lovely in the fields, less welcome in the garden.

The now much reduced smoke bush has a large fence of heavy-duty green plastic mesh encircling it.  Not very beautiful, but very necessary, I suspect for a year or two.  And the broken off piece?  Small stubby twiglets dipped in cinnamon powder (apparently useful as a rooting compound) are now on the terrace in a pot - maybe (fingers crossed) one or two may take.

Dad, I need your help please, from up there in your scholarly paradise, in looking after the twiglets and the small bush.  In a few years' time, when our guests ask me "what is that lovely purple bush with its delicate smoke-like flowers?" I want to be able to say, casually, "oh, that's our cotinus coggygria atropurpurea." And I will think of you.

Sunday, 4 April 2021

It's Taken Time

 When we moved here thirteen years ago, there was little or nothing in the garden except for an occasional plant stuck in the middle of lawn.  

It made sense for the previous owners to have a garden like that (and many do round here).  The house was a holiday home, sometimes not visited at all for many months on end.  So gardening needed to be low maintenance - a quick whip round with the mower and not much else.  And with mild wet winters and warm early springs followed by baking hard clay in hot dry summers weeding large flower borders can easily become a full-time job. Not what one wants to be doing on a fortnight's holiday - and many of the locals feel the same, preferring to put effort and energy into their spotless, weed-free potagers.

So there, in the middle of the lawn in front of the house, was this dry, sad twig, which tended to be mowed over by mistake more years than not.  Further across was a muddled heap of honeysuckle.  So the twig and the honeysuckle became the opposite ends of a new, oval flower bed.

The twig, safe from the mower and given a chance to thrive proved to be a tree peony.  It's taken time, but this year there are nine flouncy pink flower heads, with promise of more for next year from fresh green shoots coming up from the base. Like the roses, peonies seem to like our heavy clay.

Sunday, 21 March 2021

Well, We've Been Done!

Imagining queues round the block, we arrive at the doctors' surgery early for our six pm vaccination appointment. 

But (of course) the place is deserted.  We wander in and the receptionist comes to greet us - we are the last appointment of the day and she and the doctor are hanging around chatting, waiting for us - good job we are early.

Some weeks ago Tod badly hurt his thumb and the doctor is more interested in seeing how well it is healing than talking to us about allergies and vaccines.  So we offer some suggestions - penicillin?  Not a problem. Lime? No, of course not! He begins to look a trifle bored with it all but perks up considerably when he tells us there is "a surprise" for us.  He opens up the flap of the large tent erected in the carpark and there are the two nurses who took care of Tod's thumb.  Like the doctor, they are more interested in seeing how it is healing than worrying about vaccinations.

Three firemen decide to join in the conversation since there is this large empty space and just us and Tod's thumb for entertainment.

Tod is led off into one bay, I'm taken to another.  I hear gossipy laughter from behind the curtains - this is all very civilised and relaxing.

Left or right arm?  We decide left.  I'd read wear something loose so it's easy to get at the top of the arm, but it is freezing cold and the tent sides do not protect, so I'm wrapped up in several layers, but we manage.  "A slight prick" the nurse says.  And it is.  Paperwork is signed, tablets are tapped as the information is stored.

And then we are taken to the next stage - a gym in the far corner of the carpark. How convenient. I'd imagined sitting in a cold tent - hence the multiple layers.  But no, we're in a vast basketball court - half a dozen firemen and women are clustered round the door awaiting our arrival and any pending sign of an allergic reaction. We are firmly told to let them know immediately if we feel at all unwell - they are the frontline and will be responsible for saving us.

I'm wonderfully relaxed about the lack of social distancing. Paperwork is checked and signed and we head for the far side of the hall and a random muddle of stacking chairs.  An elderly couple sit looking forlorn and bored.  We choose two seats well away from them and happily get out our Kindles. Fifteen minutes later and no anaphylactic shock, a young firewoman cheerfully tells us we can go. "Bonne soirée" all round and the fire crew are out the door, right behind us.

My nurse and one of the firemen proudly tell me they have done 200 Moderna vaccinations and they will be doing another 200 on Sunday. Well that's better than the ten a week Astra-Zeneca they were talking about.

We meet our smiley receptionist in the carpark who says "See you in a month".  It will be six pm again. There's a lot to be said for being the last of the day. We must remember to be early.

And touch wood, Sunday morning we are both feeling fine.

Friday, 19 March 2021

Nuisance Call - Not!

 We rarely answer the phone these days.  

A quick look at the phone's screen tells us if it's a nuisance call and we let it ring out.  Ones that start 097 are the worst.  Usually they are trying (still after two years) to sell loft insulation for one euro. On the rare occasions I do answer I say "Hello" loudly in an English voice in the hope that they just hang up.  I've given up trying to practise my French on people who hesitate as they try to say our surname.

Yesterday, Tod was out all afternoon at the Skoda garage and, not certain whether they might need to keep the car overnight, he took his mobile phone in case he needed to call me for a lift.

I, meanwhile, was having fun in the garden with our latest new toy - a battery driven Stihl mower. So when I came in at five pm I thought I'd better check for any messages.  

And there it was, from the morning, an 097 call.  Only it came, not from a call centre, but from our doctor's surgery.  They had (as we feared) cancelled our Astra Zeneca vaccination appointment. But, instead, were offering the option of Moderna jabs - for THIS SATURDAY - and would we get back to them immediately (by phone) because if we didn't want them they would give them to someone else.   

I phoned - to hear a message that the secretariat was shut. Knowing they were probably there for another hour (curfew starts at six pm) I leapt in the car, threw Bertie back in the kitchen and locked the door - he thought he would come with me - and hurtled round the back roads into town praying that they hadn't given away "our" slots.

Visits to the doctor and the pharmacy in France require the patience of a saint, which I don't have at the best of times and certainly not when I want to jump up and down saying "we'll take it, we'll take it". An elderly gentleman two in front in the queue for the desk, with a mask (of course) half way to his chin, collars one of the receptionists and a long conversation about his ailments ensues.  The other receptionist is called away by one of the doctors and those of us waiting, wait, and wait and wait.  

I begin to hop from one foot to the other - better than yelling at everyone - but that just irritates the people behind me.  "She's English" one of them says to the general assembly in explanation (that was after I'd muttered FFS, I thought under my breath, but obviously not).  "And speaks French" I snap, in case she decides to expand on my qualities.

Finally, finally, the receptionist turns to me, takes my carte vitale, finds the doctor and, joy of joys, offers us two appointments for six pm Saturday. We are to come to the surgery first to be checked in, then go across the car park to the tent where the vaccines are being done, then come back to the surgery for our paperwork to be completed and to wait 15 minutes in case we are anaphylactic. 

I skip out of the surgery cheerfully wishing everyone a "bon week-end" (I briefly think it is already Friday) thus confirming in the minds of those still in the queue that I am a mad Englishwoman. 

A friend told me she burst into tears with relief when she had hers.  I know how she feels.

Monday, 15 March 2021

I Head for the Doctor's Surgery in Town

Tired of waiting to be offered it, Tod went in to see our GP about two weeks ago to say we wanted to be vaccinated - unlike most of the French, seemingly.

He returned with a small, scrappy bit of paper with two dates on it - Friday 26th March and Friday 30th April and reported a partly understood conversation (our GP has a strong accent).

In recent weeks French doctors have been given permission to vaccinate using the Astra Zeneca vaccine.  They are being supplied with ten vaccines a week. TEN!  So on that first Friday the intention is that we will have our first jabs, provided ....  Provided that is, someone "more worthy" doesn't want to have it, in which case we will be bumped.

The "worthiness" for being vaccinated ahead of us depends on whether they have comorbidities - a word we never expected to have to learn and, said in French with a strong accent, caused Tod some confusion.

At the moment we fall between two stools. We are not actually entitled to be vaccinated because of our age and our lack of other illnesses.  We are not over 75 nor under 60 (or maybe it's 65, who knows these days?).  Over 75, you get Pfizer.  Under 60 (or 65) you get Astra Zeneca.  So our GP's doing us a favour.

There is an excellent system these days called Doctolib, where you can book online for an appointment - no need to ring the surgery.  Out of the blue, Tod receives an email for an appointment on June 4th. No explanation.  Hence my trip into town this morning.  An online system only works if there is an explanation.  As we had already deduced, the second date for April on the scrappy bit of paper is wrong - it's too soon.  They are now leaving ten weeks between jabs.  And yes, although there is no confirmation, the dates are for the two of us.

In the meantime, we continue to be mired in uncertainty.

More and more countries are suspending using the Astra Zeneca vaccine because of concerns about blood clots, which the WHO keeps denying.  But their authority has been much eroded throughout the pandemic and countries are increasingly going their own way, for medical and political reasons.

So will France follow suit and suspend vaccinations using the AZ product?  If so, will GPs be offered the Pfizer vaccine?  The doubt is doctors having the capability to store the Pfizer. Though a friend from Poland tells us they are managing there - the vaccine is delivered in the morning and used that day.

If France continues to use the AZ vaccine, will we be bumped from the list?  Or will the already reluctant French refuse to accept it, especially in the light of the blood clot debate? So we will find we are the only ones there?

Only time will tell.  And time is the one thing we have plenty of at the moment.

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Vita barks to be let out ...

 ... of the door and immediately doubles back into the kitchen as the wind across the terrace hits her in the face. I know how she feels.

I tried some gardening for a while but then retreated inside, having watched a barrow load of carefully pruned and swept up dead twigs and dried grass disappear across the lawn. Too much like hard work!

But it is (at last) excellent grass drying weather, so I may venture forth after lunch with the strimmer and small mower and start attacking the banks and lawns around the cottage.  Who knows, we may have some guests this year after all.

It's also a good day for continuing to dry out the Skoda, which is sitting on the drive with all its doors open. We knew we had a leak but it was only after the January rains - when we found that the water in the driver's footwell (apt name under the circumstances) was coming over the pedals - that we realised just how bad it was and perhaps we ought to do something about it.  Once the electrics began to misbehave we knew it was very serious.  So the windscreen has been replaced and (hopefully) sealed properly. In the meantime, the water that's already in the car needs getting out.

Five full bucket-loads of our industrial vax hoover and there is still a squidgy feeling to the carpets, though no longer a pond. The solid foam underlay seems to have an infinite capacity to retain moisture, hence leaving all the car's doors open in the blustery wind.  I've also resorted to a hair dryer in an attempt to speed up the process.

Although coming from the south, the wind may be too strong for the cranes who are embarking on their annual journey up from Spain back to northern climes.  We were witness to some five to six thousand right overhead one late afternoon during the week.  Wave, after wave directly over our rooftop. A welcome promise of spring, as are the little daffodils that I am uncovering from under the dead twigs and grasses.  Their small size means that their golden heads remain defiantly upright, whatever the weather throws at them. 

Wednesday, 3 February 2021

For the fourth time in the thirteen years we have lived here ...

 ... we witness what is supposed to be a "once in a lifetime" event - the flooding of the Garonne River.

Yesterday, the sirens in town sounded as the water rose to over nine meters (nearly thirty feet).  We have had so much rain in recent weeks and the ground is so saturated there is nowhere for the water to go except out over the flood plain.

I stand on the esplanade next to the bandstand and, with the town at my back, look out across an inland sea.

And Marmande, this morning.  We have never seen it this bad.

Sunday, 31 January 2021

Tod asks me ...

... "Is it Sunday?"

I have to think about it.  The days, weeks, months are beginning to merge.  We have friends who used to rely on church on Sunday to put a marker in the week.  Now, not even that.

We had visitors last week, actually in the house, for the first time since heaven knows when. Was it Wednesday they were here?  Or Thursday?

Two Orange technicians came to install our new livebox, connecting us to their new, super-dooper optical fibre network.  They were both young, one overweight and coughing, which did not reassure as it seemed most of the time he wandered round with his mask tucked under his chin.  

They decided they needed to bring the new cable into a different corner of the house, which required climbing onto the roof of a small shelter at the back where we store our lawn mowers.  The young fat one managed to break ten tiles - easy to do as they are old and frail.  At least he confessed and then (I think, because my French gave out at this point) went into a long sob story about how he would have to pay if we made a complaint.  I tentatively climbed the ladder (ours, which he borrowed) and decided life was too short to complain.  His thinner, lighter colleague finished the job.

Having lived through most of December and the first part of January with hardly any internet at all (some local builder seems to have put his digger through a main cable somewhere and then water got into the repair) we would have been grateful for any restoration of our three megabyte (on a good day) service.  It is somewhat startling to discover that we now have well over three hundred megabytes.  We're not quite sure what to do with the all extra, though there is now the joy of occasional one-upmanship when we mention what we have to friends and acquaintances who mournfully say their installation is years away. 

We need to be careful and remember Boris and vaccines - smugness is not an attractive quality.

Mind you, talking of vaccines, we're unlikely to see any our way for the next couple of years (if then).  There are going to be many more days, weeks and months that gently merge into a seamless whole. At least, (hopefully) we will have high speed internet to keep us in touch with some sense of what day it is.