The bionic man is up and running………..well, almost

Post my beloved’s stay in hospital, we’ve quickly settled into a routine. The first 10 days we had early morning calls from the local nurse to administer anti-coagulant injections, and two at home blood tests conducted by a local lab. Every week day, late morning, a private ambulance collects him, and his packed sandwich lunch, and transports him to a nearby rehabilitation centre where he undergoes three hours of intensive physio. Then he’s brought back home just in time for a reviving cuppa and a slice of home-made cake.

The results were quickly plain to see, and in stark contrast to when he broke his leg over 18 months ago. After only four weeks, he can move around swiftly on crutches, even walking and going up and down stairs unaided. He initially found the physio tiring but it’s clear that by the end of these sessions, he’ll be as fit as a butcher’s dog!

After the first two weeks, he began training in the water. No need for the stitches to come out, they’d just dissolved and the bruising had completely disappeared. This is where he began to make exponential leaps and bounds, so much so his surgeon was delighted with the rate of his progress and has advised he can train on the home-trainer – whoopee!

Fortunately, this hasn’t stopped him working which he does either side of the physio though I have had to pick up some of the slack. The best bit is the few hours peace and quiet I get when he’s out at physio working up an appetite for dinner. To keep pace I have been spending more time in the kitchen though that’s something I tend to do more of in the winter. I’ve also been hard at work coming up with different sandwich fillings and cakes for his packed lunch. He likes having something different to eat most days, which after three weeks is proving quite a challenge.

To ensure the daily grind isn’t too demoralising, I’ve organised trips each week-end so that he’s got something to look forward to. Mostly, these revolve around lunch out, a brisk walk alongside the sea or watching some live sport. All of this is building up to a few days away in Paris at the end of his physio when he’ll be crutch-free. Lastly, if all goes to plan, we’ll be out on the bikes over Christmas and New Year.

40 Years of Memorable Moments: frightening ordeal by fire

Recent events in California, with the incineration of a town called Paradise, reminded me of our own close call with flames. Yes, this incident was memorable for all the wrong reasons. The Christmas we moved into our partly renovated apartment, I invited the neighbours round for aperitifs on Boxing Day evening. A number of them bought us small seasonal arrangements, in pots with candles.

Friends came round for dinner in the New Year and, to make the place look a bit more festive, I lit the candles in these arrangements which I sat on some of the remaining packing cases. We’d yet to have the flat decorated, though much of our furniture was in situ, along with the new kitchen and bathrooms.

It was before Epiphany, so the tree was still up and decorated. Against my better judgement, Richard had persuaded me to have a “real fir tree.” We had an enjoyable dinner and evening with our friends who in typical French fashion stayed chatting until the early hours. I’m not a night owl, so could barely keep my eyes open before I headed off to bed. Having tidied the kitchen and loaded the dishwasher, I asked my beloved to extinguish all of the various candles dotted around the apartment.

I’m usually asleep before he joins me in the bedroom but I must’ve been overtired and hadn’t fallen asleep. We chatted for a few minutes and both fell asleep only to be awakened by a loud crash. The bedroom is next to our lounge/diner and we could see that light was pouring onto the terrace. Our initial thought was that someone had broken in and switched on the lights.

My beloved leapt out of bed, naked, ready to do battle with the intruder. He rushed back shouting “Fire!” He flapped ineffectually at the fire with some wet towels but it had seized hold of the contents of the packing cases, all wrapped in plastic bubble wrap. It was sobering to see how quickly the fire spread and the amount of thick black smoke that was filling the flat.

We abandoned the fight and closed the doors on the fire. We scrambled into shoes and dressing gowns before he rushed downstairs to fetch our guardian (a former fireman) while I alerted our upstairs neighbour and rang the fire brigade.

Our quick thinking guardian doused the fire before the firemen arrived and created total havoc with their hoses. We were checked over for smoke inhalation before being advised to sleep somewhere else. Feeling as if we’d just lost a couple of our nine lives, we beat a hasty retreat to our newly decorated, former holiday flat for a good night’s sleep before returning next morning to survey the damage.

The window in the dining room was shattered, I think that was the crash we heard the night before. The contents of the three packing cases – luckily I had a list of everything that was in them – were carbon. A thick black greasy sludge covered all the walls of the lounge/diner – thank goodness we’d yet to decorate. The ceiling and floor were badly singed along with a couple of pieces of furniture and the Xmas tree.

My beloved’s new white, fully tiled, bathroom was also covered in black soot as he’d left the door open. Fortunately, everywhere else they were closed, mitigating the potential damage. Our decorator was scheduled to start work the following week but was delayed while he awaited for the “expertes” to opine. Fortunately, our household insurance covered all of the damage and we hadn’t lost anything that couldn’t be readily replaced. It could’ve been so much worse!

We never did find out exactly how the fire started but thereafter my beloved banned me from having lit candles in the flat.

Amateur cheats

Ahead of the recent New York marathon, an article in The Guardian newspaper made me laugh. It was about amateurs cheating in marathons. It reminded me of when I ran took part in the London marathon and an enterprising young fellow offered to lend me his anorak for a tenner – or was it a fiver? – to nip through a short-cut and avoid running around Docklands.

When I declined his kind offer, he inferred that there were plenty happy to avail themselves of it. I had pointed out that it would’ve been cheating, plus everyone who knows me would have treated my time with disbelief. Instead I had an entertaining day out and even more amusing tales to tell.

Cheating is not limited to marathons. On my first cycling sportif, slowly riding the shorter of two distances, unbeknown to me, I had fallen behind the broom wagon. When I arrived at the feed station, along with a number of riders doing the longer course, it was assumed I too was riding it. I corrected their false assumption and one rider asked why I’d done that as my club would’ve got more points if I’d “completed” the longer ride. I advised him it was cheating and no one at the club would’ve believed I’d completed the longer one.

On another sportif around Monaco and Menton, the organisers used volunteers to block off a number of side roads. When I’d stopped to enquire why I was told that the roads were short-cuts and if they weren’t blocked inevitably some people would cheat!

Needless to stay I find it somewhat staggering that participants would cheat in an event where the whole point is taking part: there are no individual winners. It was only as I started to help with the organisation of our club’s sportif, I rumbled yet another wheeze perpetuated by a number of clubs.

Sportif: Club Volunteers

Most sportifs offer two different courses. Clubs earn one point for everyone doing the shorter event and two for those completing the longer. As these aren’t timed events, the points for each club are typically calculated on the number of participants. As both events are similarly priced, clubs would enter more riders into the longer event though many would only ride the shorter one. I soon nipped this in the bud and awarded points based solely on the length of the course completed.

With this level of skull duggery at local amateur events, where club and personal honour rather than grand sums of money are at stake, is it any wonder that further up the food chain there’s much more sophisticated cheating?


My bionic man

My beloved has been home for a few days after a successful operation to replace the hip he broke over 18 months’ ago which ultimately didn’t heal satisfactorily. I’m back to playing Florence Nightingale, a role to which I am patently unsuited. Fortunately, this time he’s out most week days undergoing intensive physiotherapy sessions for which he’s picked up at lunchtime and dropped off in the afternoon, providing me with a number of hours of blessed respite from fetching and carrying.

Again, I have only great things to say about the French health service. Friends in the UK who’ve had similar operations have generally “gone private” but even so haven’t received the same level of pre and post-op care. My beloved had 10 sessions of pre-op physio along with all the necessary checks such as blood, urine, ECGD and dental before the op, which included a meeting with the aneasthetist where he opted for an epidural – so much less stressful on the body than a general.

The operation went well and he was back to his cheerful self that evening. If anything his time in hospital rather dragged and he’d have liked to come home earlier but because his physio didn’t start until the Monday, he stayed in over the weekend. He amused himself by visiting the other patients and having a chat with those that didn’t have any visitors.

Post operation, aside from the physio, he has daily visits in the morning from a nurse to give him an injection to ensure his blood doesn’t coagulate and in-house blood checks on a weekly basis undertaken from a local lab.

According to my beloved, who’s done his research, his prosthetic is the best and most reliable on the market. He was up walking on the afternoon after the op. and, on subsequent days, built up his perambulations until he was whizzing round the ward with his Maserati zimmer frame.  A ward where he was in a single occupancy room, with en-suite wet room, and there was a very high ratio of staff to patients.

The day he came out of hospital, I went down to the pharmacy to pick up his phenominally large amount of medicaments and crutches. Luckily, no one asked me what happened to the previous pair! Fortunately there was no one ahead of me in the queue but even so I was probably in there for at least 20 minutes. Of course, it didn’t cost me a penny!

He’s trying to minimise the amount of drugs he takes but as the pain tends to be greater overnight, he takes some Tramadol which puts him into a catatonic state and definitely ought to be banned by WADA.

The good news is that my beloved is far more mobile than he was after the previous operation and I’m hoping he’ll be back driving after 4 weeks, able to walk freely around Paris in mid-December and back riding his bike by Xmas.


Marathon madness

Each year, when the Nice-Cannes marathon takes place, I mull over whether or not I should train for the following year’s race. This lasts for all of ten minutes before common sense asserts itself. More so since I’ve learnt that 5 hours is the cut-off time!

This year however I really felt part of the action as my  beloved’s niece stayed with us and took part in the race. This is the relative for whom I recently made a wedding cake. She came with five friends, one of whom stayed with us while the other four were in a hotel in Nice. These ladies are seriously good runners with marathon times ranging from 2:45 – 3:45 hours.

The girls arrived Saturday lunchtime and, having checked their dietary preferences beforehand, prepared their meals and snacks accordingly. They all carbo-load before the race but eat normally the day before. I knew that all these long-legged gazelles would have hollow legs and, if I wasn’t careful, eat me out of house and home.

When mealtimes are uncertain, I ensure I have dishes that can happily sit and wait at room temperature or be cooked at the last moment. I also made sure that I had plenty of snacks to hand for them to eat, particularly directly after the race.

To be fair the catering wasn’t too onerous: lunch and dinner on the Saturday (the day before the race),  early breakfast and lunch on the day, plus post-race snacks and finally breakfast on the Monday. The rest of the time, the six were out enjoying themselves in Nice. And, aside from the snacks for six, I was only catering for an additional two.

The week before the race we’d had torrential rains and high winds which had whipped the sea into a maelstrom, depositing tons of stones and sand on the coast road where the race largely takes place. Fortunately, the weather was fine on the week-end of the race  – aside from the persistent cross or head-wind – and probably warmer than expected.

They arrived at lunchtime on Saturday, ate lunch, dropped off the luggage and headed into Nice to collect their numbers etc I’d made a cheese and onion quiche for lunch which I served with  variety of salads. My beloved adores my quiches but I rarely make them unless we have company, otherwise he has to eat all of it and you really can have too much of a good thing. Dinner was a vegan shepherd’s pie with lentils and mushrooms, not lamb, topped with sweet potato. Dessert was vegan rice pudding with raspberry compote.

I rose early on Sunday to prepare their respective breakfasts and post-race snacks – egg sandwich for one and porridge for the other. I think it’s important to have a routine and eat the same thing before a race so that there’s less likelihood of tummy troubles. I watched the MotoGP races from Malaysia – now you know why I didn’t mind an early call!

Later I watched the runners stream past on the coast road from the relative shelter of the terrace. At that distance, even with my binoculars, I couldn’t pick out the girls as, only just over 10km from the start, the leading ladies are still quite tightly bunched although it does take a while for everyone to thunder past. Had I been watching from the roadside, I would have given plenty of encouragement to the tail-end Charlies, I know what that feels like.

In no time at all they were back demanding to be fed lunch. I’d whipped up an Italian style take on my Sunday roast serving the roast beef with polenta, wild mushroom sauce and spinach, followed by bread & butter pudding. Much to my beloved’s dismay, there were no leftovers. Those girls had worked up a serious appetite! This probably stood them in good stead for a night out in Nice.

Monday they ate a copious breakfast before leaving for a post-race hike in the nearby hills before flying back that evening to Blighty. It’s always enjoyable having house guests, particularly those that entertain themselves. As long as I know when, what and where they need feeding, I’m fine.


I’ve finally shaken off my cold

The past few weeks month I’ve been suffering from a chesty cough and cold. It started towards the end of last month when I had a fever. I took to my bed for a couple of days, felt very lethargic – so unlike me – and had no appetite. I felt so bad my beloved even had to forage in the fridge  for a few meals. I seemingly shook that off but a week or so later developed a cold which flew straight to my chest.

As a child I suffered terribly from catarrh and I remember my mother asking the doctor how to get rid of it. His response: “Move!” We lived in the Midlands in the UK which is famously damp in winter. It’s not been damp here, au contraire, we’ve been enjoying a truly magnificent Indian summer punctuated by a couple of squalls. Though the weather is forecast to turn autumnal this weekend. So I can’t blame it on the change in weather. Someone must’ve gifted me the germs.

Of course, there’s no cure for the common cold though my beloved did bring me some Benylin and Vicks Vapour Rub back from the UK. I’m not at all sure they hastened my cold’s departure but there’s something so reassuring about the familiar. Of course, I could’ve just popped into my local pharmacy, waited for 30 minutes – there’s always a queue – and purchased some cough mixture and lozenges.

The downside to my cold is the chesty cough which keeps me awake at night. I have to sit up in bed to sleep. Less than ideal but then I can pretty much fall asleep anywhere. During the night, I inevitably end up prone, the phlegm collects on my chest, I start coughing and wake us both up. At this point I beat a hasty retreat to the sofa so my beloved can enjoy a few more hours of interrupted bliss.

Typically, I’ll wake at around 04:00am, having gone to bed at 10:00pm or possibly even earlier depending on how tired I feel. I really need eight hours a night otherwise i’m inclined to be snappy and irritable. Just ask my beloved.

I’m only allowed four swigs of Benylin per day so at this point I’ll have a hot toddy (no alcohol allowed) of lemon juice, honey and hot water. I find it very soothing. Sometimes I’ll manage to drop back to sleep on the sofa but if I don’t, I bake. The freezer is now groaning with all sorts of goodies.

I’ve naturally kept a low profile for the past few weeks, no one wants to spend time with someone who’s coughing and spluttering. Plus, I sound so much worse than I feel. There are however some benefits. It’s allowed me to get on with some much postponed chores and keep my beloved company. He’s also been grounded as he can’t walk very far and he has a mountain of work to complete before he takes time off for his hip-replacement op and recovery.

All this has played havoc with my cycling. The weather has been perfect for riding in a short-sleeved jersey and shorts. Most Octobers I’m in my 3/4 bib shorts and a long-sleeved jersey by the middle of the month, if not earlier. In the meantime, I’m getting back into the swing on the home trainer. I’ll go out on the road once my beloved goes in for his operation. No point in rubbing his nose in it as he’s really missing not being able to ride.

Things about France that surprised me: the French don’t do cards

In my 13 years living in France, I have not once received a greetings card of any kind from my wide circle of friends and acquaintances. Should I be concerned? No, because the French don’t do greetings cards, not like the Brits.

UK consumers lead the rest of the world in sending greetings cards. In a recent survey, over a third (37%) of UK adults said they had sent a greetings card, invitation or postcard in the post in the last month – the highest in the world and beating Australia into second spot (34%).

I cannot say I was surprised to learn that consumers in France were the least likely to send greetings cards, with only 17% saying they had done so – half the amount in the UK. If anything, I was astonished it was so high. Must be all those British immigrants skewing the statistics.

It’s not just physical greetings cards, I’ve never even received an e-card from any of my French friends, generally just an email thanking us for our Xmas card and wishing us all the best for the following year. Likewise, in response to our Xmas cards, some of our neighbours have sent us handwritten thank you notes.

So why is this?

The sending of cards isn’t as common in France as in some other countries. It isn’t, for example, usual to send someone a card following a bereavement or after passing an exam. Instead of Christmas cards, the French send New Year cards, but only to people they don’t normally see during the year, which is what we now do.

Card to please

Sending Christmas cards is popular in many Anglo countries but it’s not a common custom in France. While it’s nice to get a hand-written card in the mail, I think many people just send them out because it’s considered a social faux-pas if you don’t. In the days of texting, Facebook, carrier pigeons, there’s clearly no need to send Christmas cards.

Because the French don’t send Holiday or Season’s greeting cards, sending Happy New Year cards is pretty stress free. You have the whole month of January to write a non-personal very brief card that will warm the heart the person who receives it. Typically, the card is written on a mignonette, on a greeting card or even sometimes on an old fashion ‘carte de visite’ – calling card.

Also, I think I read somewhere that since 1962, France has had a law that stipulates any letter to Santa must be responded to in the form of a postcard. This is a much better way for postmen to spend their time rather than delivering soulless Christmas cards!

Things my beloved does: abuses MY car

Right before we moved to France, my husband rushed off to his local Mercedes dealer in Germany waving his bonus cheque and made a substantial down-payment on a 4×4. Having advised my husband to wait while I investigated the tax implications of such an acquisition, I was not a happy bunny. Even though Mercedes is a global company, there was no way legally we could continue to insure and pay for a German registered car while living in France.

As a consequence, I had to put in train the rather long and very tedious process of re-registering the car in France which starts with parceling up the number plates and sending them to the German consulate in Marseille. I won’t bore you with the rest of the process. The car was effectively off the road for 6-weeks and I, yes I, had loads of paperwork to complete and visits to offices in difficult to find locations.

Having, finally, successfully re-registered the car, we then had to exchange it for a new  model as we could not transfer the German operating lease. So much for the EU! Needless to say my beloved was over the moon. Me, much less so. The car was used mainly for business purposes, indeed our personal use of the car was less than 10%. I had to keep a record for the French tax authorities. In addition, despite it effectively being a “company” car, not all of the costs were tax deductible as it cost much more to run than was fiscally permissible. A point which rankled with me.

Finally, the operating lease came to an end and this time my husband was forcibly prevented from acquiring the car with a balloon payment. That’s right, he’s not a signatory on any of our bank accounts. A very wise move on my part. Initially, one of his clients allowed him to use one of their pool cars but that arrangement ended with the contract.

Initially, the thought of not having his own car, was difficult for him to digest and he mulled over a couple of options which, to humour him, I appeared to entertain. But, finally, he conceded that we could manage perfectly well with only one car. However, I have had to point out that use of my car does carry with it a number of conditions. Yes, note the use of the possessive, it is my car, not our car. My beloved now just borrows my Smart and we hire a larger (and more comfortable) car for longer road trips.

There’s just one teeny, tiny problem…….I don’t really like lending anything that’s mine. There are rules to be followed:-

1. When the light flashes indicating that it needs more petrol, please fill it up. I do not want to get into the car, see the flashing light and wonder whether I have enough in the tank to make it to the nearest petrol station. My beloved has run out of petrol on a number of occasions, I have not.

2. The car should be left in the same condition in which you found it. For example, if birds pooh on my car while you’re using it, you immediately clean it up. I keep cleaning fluid and roll of paper in the box in the boot of my car for this very purpose.

3. I do not like to be seen in a dirty or untidy car. It gets a weekly trip to the car wash where it is carefully washed, hand dried and vacuumed. If you get it dirty, you know what needs to be done. I don’t have to spell it out.

My beloved knows what will happen if he doesn’t follow these three simple rules. We have been married long enough for him to appreciate that I make promises, not threats, and I have an elephantine memory.

Yesterday, which started bright and early, saw me glued to my office chair until the late afternoon. My husband went off for his late morning swim and returned, so it seemed, in the blink of an eye, demanding to be fed. I pointed him in the direction of the fridge and a home-made lasagna.

When I finally managed to escape for a quick ride, before heading to the shops for supplies for dinner, I had a bit of an unpleasant surprise.  As I went to open the car door I noticed that it was now splattered with bird pooh, where before it had been pristine. Obviously, this had happened while it had been entrusted to you know who.

There used to be a series of car adverts for Toyota Aris where unfortunate things happened to friends who abused the beloved small car of their wife, friend or husband. These adverts struck a chord with me. I think you can see where I am going with this one. I am currently plotting my revenge!

Tax office terrors

In France taxes are dealt with locally. However, I have found that you can never get anyone on the telephone nor do they respond to email, your only real recourse is to attend in person. The office’s opening hours are 08:30 to 12:30, weekdays only. I had previously written to them about this matter but had not received any response. My accountant had then written to them and it had similarly fallen on deaf ears. There was nothing else for it, I would have to attend in person.

Unfortunately the tax office, along with that of the main post office, is close to the beach and surrounded by that holy grail, free car parking! So, of course, it’s absolutely impossible to park within a kilometre of either when the weather’s fine. By the time I’d found a parking spot and walked back, it was 08:16 and I was already 19th in the queue!

Everyone is dealt with in turn by the receptionist but it’s a frankly long-winded affair. Most of the issues arise from the elderly, and you understand I’m not including myself in this group, being unable to make their declarations and payments on line or advise of their change of address.

Having finally reached the head of the queue I explain the purpose of my visit to the receptionist, I’m filtered upstairs for yet another wait. This time there are just three people in front of me. However, these are weightier discussions, and I’ve a) no way of knowing how long they’ll take and b) how many people are actually available to deal with these matters. After a while, it becomes apparent there’s only one person available. I’m just hoping I get in and out before my parking ticket runs out!

Finally, it’s my turn. I’m ushered into an office with yet another gate-keeper. I once again explain the purpose of my visit and hand over the relevant forms, in duplicate. One in English, on which I require a signature and tampon, and the other in French for their records. The gatekeeper explains he can’t sign the form, I need that of the Controller who is seated behind the door, out of view but within earshot. He appears to be taking a rather long-winded telephone call. So they do respond to calls, just not mine!

Resigning myself to a lengthier wait or even having to return another day to collect the signed form, I’m taken aback when the gatekeeper quickly gets the Controller’s signature on the form and applies the tampon – nothing is official in France without a tampon! Absolutely nothing on the form has been checked and I’m in and out within 5 minutes! Okay, I had an hour’s wait to get into the Holy Grail, but once inside…….

I’m thinking I’m going to follow the same procedure, ie visit in person, for my French driving licence, our French residency and French passport applications down at the Prefecture, once I’ve concluded the great paper chase.

Return of the leg!

After making fairly good progress with the rehabilitation of his broken leg, in recent months my beloved has gone backwards. His hip is now giving him serious gip, he can’t walk as far as he did six months ago and he’s finding it difficult to ride his bike for any length of time. He’s recently seen the surgeon who operated on him, who organised a lift for his shoe as the broken limb is now at least 1 cm shorter, which has helped. He also advised that in the fullness of time my beloved would need a prosthetic hip.

When you get to our age, “use it or lose it” is very apt. In an effort to try and improve the situation my beloved has been to see a number of different physios and osteopaths. None have come up with any concrete solutions although their treatments have provided some relief. Finally, my beloved has turned to one of the physios who deals with many of the pro athletes living around here. He’s identified a number of potential issues which we can probably address. It appears that not all physiotherapy is equal, some is just too general, particularly given my beloved’s former and continued lack of flexibility in his hips and back, issues which the injury has exacerbated.

Over the next couple of weeks, he’ll be undergoing a battery of tests and scans to determine his best next steps. Plus, he’s been referred to another local surgeon who’s a leg specialist rather than his own surgeon who’s apparently a shoulder man.

I can understand my beloved’s concerns. He loves sport and, apart from swimming daily, he’s been unable to ride or walk any distance recently. This tends to have a knock on effect on me. My injured knee has now recovered but I’m missing our daily walks and, while I don’t mind using the home trainer, I would prefer to go out on the bike. To be honest neither of us enjoys being cooped up at home, we much prefer the outdoor life. I’m hoping (and praying) he’ll soon be back to as good as new.