Monthly Archive for November, 2012


I was scanned yesterday, having already been ultrasounded. Various things were dripped into my arm before the mega tricorder hummed and buzzed. Then the nurse removed the needle, stuck a swab on my arm and told me to apply pressure. I’ve done this sort of thing before and simply bent my arm and ended up with a handful of the nurse’s breast. She squeaked and I apologised. Then I discovered that the appointment with the surgeon was not a little later that afternoon but in two days. So I came back home.
My neighbour, who went in for his own operation first thing this morning, came rushing round to see why I was back. He was wearing some very smart new trousers to impress his nurses. He now looks pretty cool since he shed 22 kilos over the summer.
A sweet woman that I know in her late 40s was a wet mess yesterday. She’s lived with an older bloke for some nine years and he suddenly turned nasty on her and told her and her son to get out of his house for good. She has no idea what went wrong and has no rights, even though she seems to have kept both him and his family financially as well as acting as cook and skivvy. He’s told her to whistle for the property in his house that she’s bought and was still paying for.
He’s a peasant, another word for a prejudiced, mean-minded, uncultivated primitive. In the UK, I believe, such men are now quite rare and confined to the underclass where they tend, anyway, to be dominated by their womenfolk. This part of France can still be a bastard’s paradise.


I go one way to visit a surgeon tomorrow for an aneurism that, to the doctor’s irritation, I diagnosed for myself on the Internet. My neighbour goes the other way to get his hernias sorted out. ‘What is the name of your man?’ he asked. I found the card with his name on it. ‘Ah! He is a butcher.’ I told him that his own surgeon had, notoriously, the highest kill rate in southern France.
But we both hope to survive the experience and spend the following few weeks sitting on our arses recovering and drinking lots of wine together. My neighbour is full of gloom at the prospect since he is incapable of sitting still for five minutes. I, on the other hand, can switch my brain off, cross my eyes and remain recumbent and semi-comatose for days at a time. And I can tell my Presbyterian conscience to sod off because, for once, I have an excuse to do so.


The dog walk this morning had an enforced halt in the middle of a vineyard for some 20 minutes. The owner of one of the regular quadrupeds, a Border terrier, is in the UK and another walker is boarding the animal. Half dozen deer erupted from amongst the vines and three of the pack went off in pursuit. The largest came back first, then Cato looking rather smug, but the terrier didn’t. So we stopped, shouted for a bit and wondered quite what to do next. The dog’s owner is not someone with whom one would wish to tangle, so its temporary keeper became a bit windy and disappeared over a horizon in the direction in which he thought his charge had gone. Others went to different points of the compass. The dog turned up, but of its keeper there was no sign. We decided it would be easier to tell his wife that he was dead in a ditch than tell the dog’s owner of its disappearance so we were comparatively untroubled. But he did show, and we proceeded on the expedition with the truant was on a lead.
I picked a pound of mushrooms but dumped them later, having become leery at a yellow stain on some of them when they were broken. I have the digestion of a crocodile and munch my way happily through such things, but the yellow stain was said to be a bad thing in a field mushroom, so discretion prevailed.

Warm hands

I visited the doctor today, the second time since I arrived in France. The receptionist greeted me by name and I only had to wait 45 minutes after the appointed time for a consultation. For many years I have always taken a thick book with me when visiting medics, so the wait was not hard. The doc himself has a mixed press round here, both among natives and expats, but both he and his student, who had a lovely smile and warm hands, did what was necessary. Then I paid him, 23€ of which I’ll receive 70% back from the state. It’s a good system and reinforces the fact that the patient puts bread on the doctor’s table.
But I’m contemplating the grim world of top-up insurance. The state pays up to 70% of what it thinks a medic should charge. The smart-arse specialists bill what they think they are worth, which can be two or three times the standard rate. You insure for the difference, or for being lumbered with some complaint that needs regular, expensive medicaments. Get something really dire and the state picks up the tab till you’re in your coffin.
I’ve gambled, to date, on healthy immortality. However this may be unwise and potentially bankrupting. I tend go along with Ned Flanders in thinking that insurance is gambling and thus immoral – and always enriches the provider. However…. I shall point my brain at the information that some broker has promised will flood my inbox tomorrow.


I was humping gravel in a wheelbarrow yesterday and was charmed to see a label on it reading ‘Made in Croatia’. I am unaware of ever using anything made there before so I do hope the barrow construction industry is in good heart and its exports flourish.
The chasse is everywhere at this time of year. A cluster of white vans in a field entrance is a hint that one should keep dogs under good control and one’s head down. And preferably wear a day-glo yellow cap. I saw three sportsmen standing by a hedgerow in their camouflaged kit with both guns and bottles in their hands. None could have been under 80 and one was leaning on a zimmer. Bloody terrifying.


We’re having blue days with a comfortable temperature, each one of which feels like a day snatched back from winter. My neighbour and his missus are currently sitting on their front door step in the sunshine, but billing and cooing, which is a great change from the summer when things were pretty grim there.
The builder is returning here for a day or two very soon to lay a laminate floor upstairs. It’s been a while coming and the current floor is a disgrace, splattered with white paint that I never bothered to clear since I knew it would be replaced. I will likely get a bollocking from him since there are sorts of bits of this house that are perfectly adequate for my decorative purposes but make him shudder as he is a perfectionist.
I have a penchant for digestive biscuits, which kind visitors bring me when they visit. But by the time the biscuits arrive, they’re not the same as those in the UK. Here they have always suffered some erosion at their perimeter and are covered in fine crumbs that go all over the place.

Black Hole

The very useful black hole in the heart of this building in which sits the ship-sized heating furnace, can smell pretty grim. I dry washing there, keep tools and often bash my head on its low entrance. At this time of year it is also the interface between me and the rodents that are inclined to hold raves in the false ceiling over the kitchen.
It is impossible to keep them out since there’s a narrow gap between this house and my neighbour’s over which is a roof in common and I could throw stones from my loft into his dogs’ beds through a hole in his wall.
So the mice come in; they find the cosy boiler room; they eat the poison I offer – half the time also eating the plastic box in which it comes – and then they die, each one leaving a week-long malodorous legacy.
The car went over the 200,000-mile mark on my return from a trip to the airport and I felt I should stop to toast it with champagne or otherwise mark such a happy occasion. I take the motorway these days. There’s a toll charge and it’s longer, but the direct route is a deeply tedious stretch of road, through towns and villages, and contains dozens of S-bends winding up and down the hills.


I suspect that being an expat these days is very different to what it was a couple of decades ago. I exchange emails with the people with whom I used to exchange emails before I came out here. I do much the same as I didfor work. I read the UK papers online every morning, listen to R4 and have the usual UK TV channels. If I need closer communication with anyone, I can use Skype. So it still can come as a surprise when I go outside to the terrace and see France stretched before me. Today my guest and I spent a couple of hours sitting out there which is not something one can do comfortably in Scotland in November. I don’t really feel that I own a house, rather that for a few years I have rented a period of time in a lovely place and am entirely content that my presence here will cause not a ripple in the long term.
The clan chief left his flat bed truck outside my gate and I removed the year’s accumulation of green from the mulberry and piled it on board. I seized the opportunity to cut to the ground a shrub that interferes with my lawn mowing below the terrace. I haven’t decided whether to remove the whole thing but I dislike its habit of trying to poke out an eye whenever I go within range. It even stabbed my forehead this morning in a vain attempt to protect itself from the treatment I was meting out.

Fungal die back

We were treated to lunch in the smartie restaurant up the road. Most restaurants round here, at least the ones I know, provide hearty food. This one’s cooking is a bit smarter, even a bit cuisine minceur. It can be very good, as it was today but its aficionados must be careful. They slipped cockscombs into some soup recently. This was a step too far for the diners who told me about it.
I have begun hacking back the mulberry. Some of the shoots are a couple of inches in diameter and that’s only a single season’s growth. Once I taken them off and found a way to get rid of the vast mound of debris, I’ll take back the main branches to see if that discourages it a bit next year. I’m quite excited by a bit of browning on the topmost leaves Perhaps it’s the beginning of mulberry fungal die back. I’ll try to promote it.


I stick this blog at the top of a Word document with all previous entries beneath it. 153,637 words, it says, have been written and the spam filter has blocked over 35,000 comments. I don’t know which is the more alarming statistic.
I haven’t blogged the past few days because it’s so easy not to and since the main reason for it is to make me think, at least a little, once a day, this is a bad thing. But life has been sailing tranquilly on. I have a regular visitor, marvelling today at the weather that became a bright blue 12 degrees once the mist that filled the valley below the village burnt off this morning. The regular dog walk was by the Garonne; conversation was about the US election. I know a few right-wingers in America, but otherwise I can’t think of anyone I’ve met who would not be pleased with the result. Cato had a lovely shouting match with a brute the size of a donkey, but safely behind a very stout fence. He becomes a little thug when he has half a dozen canine companions at his back. He’s the only one in the pack small enough to slip beneath gates to chase cats – until they stop running.
I am beginning to obsess about the mulberry tree in the garden. This year it seems to be carrying twice the crown that it did last. Actually lopping the shoots is quite fun, but my spirit quails at the amount of debris that must be removed. I have put out soundings for someone to take it all away.