Last Monday Him indoors started his external radiation treatment in Albi. He was given special dietary instructions beforehand: avoid raw and cooked fruits and veg, fried food, sauces, mayo, bread, cereals, normal milk. So, nothing much he could eat! We set off, with me driving - never a good idea. At the clinic, as I waited for the 20-min treatment to finish, I chatted in the waiting room. It's surprising what you learn. One woman told me I needed 'un bon de transport'. Apparently the amazing French health service provides free, medically-approved (conventione), taxis for people with long-duration conditions, needing to travel regular, long-distances for treatment. Next to the woman was such a medically-trained taxi-driver. Yes, he could collect and bring him home to our door every day for the required 7 weeks. And, the whole system's worked well so far, until I saw the name painted on the side of the taxi: funnytaxi81.com! What sort of an idiot would call a medical vehicle 'funny'? Perhaps they don't understand English.
What a contrast! Was in Birmingham last week and never have I seen such a difference in lifestyle between the English and French. Masses and masses of Xmas shoppers, especially in the Bull Ring. No matter where you wanted to go, the heaving throng simply lifted you off your feet and carried you along. At major escalators, barriers had been erected chicane style (like at DisneyWorld attractions) simply to negotiate a downwards escalator! A German market occupied the whole of New Street and food smells followed you everywhere. Reminded me of the old Goose Fair of my youth. My main thought: why aren't all these young people working? It was a weekday after all. Probably all on benefits, spending it on frivolous fripperies rather than the staples of life. But what do I know? What I do know is that it concentrated my mind. What is it that would make me happiest: to go back to this (maddening) English culture I know so well, to friends who welcome and hug me, or to stay in calm, quiet France - that now, strangely, seems totally lacking in personality or soul? On verra.
Next week is December already. Lots of expats will be booking their cheap flights back home for the Xmas season, but what will they find? The cheapo airlines are certainly a boon for those of us non-celebs for whom a strict budget is a necessity, but at what cost to our sanity? For tall people in economy it's a claustrophobic nightmare, added to by allowing reclining seats and drop-down flaps - not a pretty or comfortable experience, especially for tall ladies like me of certain larger chest sizes! Here's a message to all eco-airlines: Give us back more leg room and allow those of us who hate flying, or have a lifelong travel sickness/middle ear balance problem, space to relax and sleep without stress. Is that too much to ask? If this means inevitable higher costs, then do away with old-fashioned 'luxury' ideas like free ice-creams or hot towels, take away all hot meals and microwaves on board, take away duty-free trolleys etc. Those horrible trolleys that are constantly blocking the aisles and knocking the shoulders of those in aisle seats are surely a health and safety risk. They also hamper passengers' movement possibilities adding to blood-clot and other health risks on board. Has no-one done a risk assessment? Makes my blood boil.
A frustrating week. It all started when my Dell laptop conked out. Suddenly the screen went black and the white light on the front went red. What to do? I know, I'll email son Jon. He always knows what to do. But my Samsung mobile kept saying 'Message failed'. Neither emails nor texts worked. So, I'm in communication limbo - a real crisis when you live on Mars, i.e. rural France. Then, for a long time I've been miss-hearing what people say: Have you seen my keys? Yes, in the fridge. What? Why would I put my keys in the fridge? Cheese, cheese! And, recently the family kept shouting 'Turn the TV down!'. No good. Can't put it off any longer. I'll have to get a hearing aid. But first, find a phone no. for Dell in France. They don't sell in shops, so you have to call them. Really frustrating: automated phone messages are bad enough in English, but in French? Eventually, at last, I got a person. He kept saying send him an email. No, no, you don't understand. Was it my hearing, my difficulties in French listening, or the fact that I am a technophobe in any language? Yes, all 3. So, Thursday I picked up my new hearing aid, and yesterday, a new Dell laptop battery arrived in the post. TG, laptop's working again. Voila!
In a few weeks Him indoors will start a daily course of treatment for 7 weeks at the Claude-Bernard Clinic in Albi. In the wake of the latest NHS scandal at Colchester Hospital, where patients were found strapped to beds and given sedatives without permission, it'll give us chance, once again, to compare the French health system with the English. And it is only the system. In my experience doctors in both countries are equally as good, but the English ones are hampered by an NHS system that has broken down due to sheer weight of numbers. A recent survey showed that French patients are seen in A & E within 2 hours, half the 'target time' of the NHS. Most are seen in less than one hour, those with traumatic conditions like poisoning being seen immediately. Yes, in France the patient is king: everything is patient-orientated. At a Limoges Hospital, staff listened and introduced different colour coding for staff uniforms. And what does Him indoors think? He says he'd better not swallow a 5-euro note at the clinic because then they'd have to keep him in for observation to see if there was any change...
Today is 9.11. - the English 9.11 not the US version. But both signify remembrance for the fallen, for the UK it being the nearest Sunday to the 11th min of the 11th hour of the 11th month. UK media commemorations and red poppies abound, but here in France? The 'bleuet' bluebell actually precedes the poppy tradition, remembering the blue cloth produced by wounded soldiers from WW1 in Les Invalides in Paris. Poppies remember the dead; les bleuets remember the wounded. But where are les bleuets around here? Forgotten, it seems. The EU should serve to remind everyone that for 70 years there's been no war in Europe, and that's the reason it should stay and increase. No tinpot country killing people from another tinpot country for stupid land-grab reasons. If I had my way I'd stop all films showing the 'vicarious thrills' of one man killing another. To take another's life force away, or glory in it, is not a thrill but an abomination. So, at 11 a.m. on Tuesday, that's what I will be thinking: commemorate life!
Gaillac is normally a quiet, peaceful place. Not last week in the Place de la Liberation. Remi Fraisse from the Save the Testet Wetland project was killed during clashes between police and protesters over a controversial dam project at Sivens. A hundred 'anarchists' wearing hoods threw incendiary devices at the security forces at around 2 a.m. The police, in retaliation, used tear gas, stun grenades and flash balls. But when I asked some locals why they didn't like the dam project, they told me it would mean all their taxes would rise. Sounds more likely to me. But everyone is convinced young Remi was killed by the police. We saw walls everywhere daubed with graffiti proclaiming 'Police - Assassins', which needs no translating. Albi was the same, and when on Tuesday we took the family for a veggie lunch at the LeClerc cafe in Gaillac, police were everywhere. Hundreds of them. After us? No. They'd simply come for lunch, occupying every table. Most intimidating. Let's hope no crime was committed that lunchtime, as every single police officer in town was in that cafe, eating!