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Posts from the ‘Living in France’ Category

How it feels to be this alive

My spouse, who I generally refer to as ‘The Husband with Two Brains’ or HB² lived in Grenoble throughout the 1980s and regularly used to say to himself when he looked out of the window of his house that he must never take the view for granted because one day he wouldn’t be there any more.  I feel exactly the same way.  I love this place, experience it as the most natural of alignments as though I was born to be here and having the mountains so close by to explore freely and at will has been the greatest of gifts.  One day this time will simply be a memory, as indeed will be every moment of this little life I lead, but surely the silver lining is that I had this time, that I was granted the rare delight of living here, and the opportunity to get out whenever I want to and explore the other-worldly delights that such a naturally stunning place affords free of any charge.

The picture was taken in les Alpes Belledonne last summer.  It was an eerily beautiful day …. by turn brightest bluest sky with flouncing little fluffs of low cloud and a sudden mantilla of mist lending an ethereal atmosphere to the sturdy peaks and an irridescent sheen to the water.  It was unforgettable, I hope … for who knows if I will always have the gift of easily bringing memories forwards.  Who knows how motheaten my mind may become and how many moments will simply be lost like so many fragile bubbles too delicate to do anything but pop and fragment into the ether of my psyche, that curious morass of matter weightily wedged in my skull.

I share the moment with you in response to the weekly challenge tagged ‘Out Of This World’the many laudable entries to the gallery found here

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PS:  The title is from The Cure’s song ‘Out Of This World’ which instantly popped into my still vaguely functioning brain when I saw the challenge.  I can only hope that I will always remember how it feels to be this alive because I know that I am prosperous indeed.  I chose the clip simply because it was shot in Nyon which is not far from here just over the border in Switzerland on Lac Genève.

My first husband went to see The Cure in Amsterdam in the same era as HB² was living in Grenoble first time round.  He secured himself a fine viewpoint in front of everyone but regrettably failed to realise that he was standing precisely on the spot where the safety barriers would rise out of the floor as the show began.  As Robert Smith, wax faced and angsty with his extra-long pullover sleeves all ready to flop foppishly at his thighs as he performed, took to the mic, the aforementioned husband that would be for a while, was raised almost messianic in front of him …. I believe the stunned expression on the artist’s face was worthy of one witnessing something quite out of this world …..

When we look back at it all as I know we will
You and me, wide eyed
I wonder…
Will we really remember how it feels to be this alive?

And I know we have to go
I realize we only get to stay so long
Always have to go back to real lives
Where we belong
Where we belong
Where we belong

When we think back to all this and I’m sure we will
Me and you, here and now
Will we forget the way it really is
Why it feels like this and how?

And we always have to go I realize
We always have to say goodbye
Always have to go back to real lives

But real lives are the reason why
We want to live another life
We want to feel another time
Another time…

Yeah another time

To feel another time…

When we look back at it all as I know we will
You and me, wide eyed
I wonder…
Will we really remember how it feels to be this alive?

And I know we have to go
I realize we always have to turn away
Always have to go back to real lives

But real lives are why we stay
For another dream
Another day
For another world
Another way
For another way…

One last time before it’s over
One last time before the end
One last time before it’s time to go again…

Smile, boys, that’s the style

What is it that elevates a place from somewhere you lay your weary bones and nourish yourself to being allowed to be  home?  I have yet to work out the why and the what and, in truth, though it is a notion that captivates me, I probably never will find a finite answer. For four years until this September, my home was a village in the North West of le Cantal.  This was hugely significant for me since, for reasons honestly too dull to share, I had moved house eleven times in the previous fifteen years. Suffice to ingest that only one of these moves was by choice.  2016 saw me seldom in this really real home as I was allowed by the Government of the mighty United States of America to reside in  Massachusetts with my two-brained husband and, believe me, I mean truly believe me, I was and remain grateful.   This year we spent the first half in Grenoble together languishing in a vast apartment complete with corinthian columns courtesy of the institute for whom he was doing a tranche of work.  DSCF0375

During all this time, I stoically avoided the entirely socially graceless elephant in the room.  This elephant was the  elephant of good sense which clumsily, due to it’s enormous size and laudibly serious regard for it’s purpose, reminded me constantly that I needed to give up the place in Cantal that I clung to as home with it’s lino floors and terrible light-fittings BUT beautiful high ceilings, exquisite front door, lovely park and outlook beyond and the, to me, deliciously enchanting sound of tiny children taking their first steps on the long road of compulsary education in the classrooms and playground below – the house, you see was built in the 1870s as the village school and still functions on the lower floor as the école maternelle (nursery school).  Eventually I crumpled and admitted defeat just before we closed up our grandiose Grenoble apartment and my husband flitted back to his day job in Cambridge MA and said in a Winnie the Pooh’s stoic friend Piglet-like decidedly small voice ‘we need to let go of the flat and I will stay on in Grenoble’.  And thus and instantly it was decided.  I moved into the flat in which I now live in the heart of ‘The Capital of the Alps’ …. of that more soon, which I did promise you two months ago – I honestly do keep my promises though deadlines can be a fluid concept chez moi.

So you see, the thing is this, as modest as my original French place was, it was home – the flat and the local people  wrapped themselves round me like a gentle hug, let me be the odd English bird even though most of them had no real idea nor particularly care where England even is and never demurred nor murmured to my knowledge behind my back (humour me here, if you will) and to move from it was very very very hard.  It left me feeling deeply sad and it is only now that I feel the bleak and hollow-making mist lifting and life beckoning it’s enticing finger again.  The day we left, our friend Mathilde, the village pâtissière, she of the most swoon worthy madeleines ever to grace le goûter and whom we thought two years ago we were going to lose to cancer, tried every way she could to persuade us that we really CAN stay, that we will find our home in the commune.  It broke my heart. Because we can’t.  For now we can’t.  It is a foolish notion and doesn’t make economic sense and even a half-baked mind like mine, occasionally has to bow to the elephant that trumpets good sense.

The men who moved us were truly, beautifully,  wonderful.  They had moved all our things to Grenoble and then back again (my present home is rented furnished) and made raucous jokes at my expense about women not being able to make up their minds and men being forced to lock step even though they have logic on their side – politically entirely beyond the pail of correctness and exactly and precisely what I needed that rather wan day.  They appeared, outrageously early on parade, that moving morning and it was frankly fortunate that I was not still languishing sanguine in bed and drinking in one last moment of that room that had been my chamber and my comfort when my husband was far away, my delight when I could steer him upstairs when he crossed the Atlantic for a stolen moment or two with me and the sniggering snorting first thing in the morning snuggling place when a daughter stayed with me for a while.  They were tasked with taking our things to Marcolès where eventually, when we have finished the house, they will be unpacked.  Their good humour took me through the day, their understanding that moving is not always easy however much you might love the place you are going, a lesson to all.  We rather felt we had got to know them over the course of the three moves they executed for us. The household name honestly eponymous international firm who originally moved me from England to France should take note.  The attitude, the efficiency, the spirit of understanding that they showed (and that included a young lad of less than 16 years old) should certainly shame the British firm who ended up paying me quite a lot of compensation for losing precious things and duping me with a shared lorry that was supposed to be a single dedicated van for my things. The fact that the pantechnicon that arrived precisely at the time we had told them not to on account of the school managed to decapitate multiple branches on the avenue of plain trees that lined the drive and that the oafish driver came from the school of shout loudly aand slowly and then more loudly and more slowly to make yourself understood to Johnny Foreigner did not attract compensation but it took me months to recover from what felt like a particularly brutal form of removals abuse. You can read the name and address of the French firm on the pictures of their lorry and I would not hesitate to recommend them – they work France-wide and internationally.  We are not done with our moves, we will use them again.

Marcolès was eerily foggy when we arrived and the lady opposite, widowed last Christmas spent a happy 40 minutes watching them unload my life, gleefully and rather beadily eyeing the contents of the see-through boxes full of soft furnishings and the lovely Georgian table named ‘Gerry’s Aunt’ for it’s provenance, my sleigh bed and the washing machine which is not white but black and consequently befuddled her, before the bone-intrusive damp cold got too much for her and she hastened into her parlour from whence she twitched her lace curtains for a further many several minutes.  She was convinced they could not, should not, would not get their lorry between the hairdresser and the post office … looking at the picture, it is unsurprising but they managed it by the skin of the skinniest of teeth and when the postman arrived to empty the letter box, he too entered into the spirit of the occasion leaving his van running and hooting humerous insults at the men from the next department over.  Not many move into our village, too many are moving out – it was a day for celebration and I know I am fortunate.

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Now all my life lies in boxes on the ground floor.  It is time for me to take up the story which I dropped when I moved to the US last year and I will now promise you a Marcolès Monday every week for the next several to bring you up to speed with the work that we have done in the last two years and particularly the work we did in the 6 months that my husband was living on the same continent as me for once, earlier this year.  We have much still to do and we have now put the house in semi-mothballs …. I will go once every couple of months and carry on, but on a dust and air budget progress is very slow.  But the real thing is that we are doing it – no ritzy contractors, no contractors at all just sweat, occasional blood and epic tears.  One day they will be tears of joy when we finally manage to say ‘our work here is done’ … that will be a day for champagne and dancing.  And I, the optimist, look forward to it.

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And there you have it. The why I have been a little absent. My heart felt the leaden wieght of sorrow because my safe-place, my home, my warm hug, my protective cloak, call it what you will has gone.  But the future is ahead – it always is, we have no choice in that and it is for me to take up the drum and beat out the rhythm of life again, live it to the full appreciating all that I have and not (as I caution others but on this occasion have fallen foul of myself) getting stuck in the pesky rear view mirror.  The mantra I brought my children up with is planted to seed and bloom in my own heart once more … everything changes, nothing stays the same.

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PS:  The title comes from World War One Marching song ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’ written  the brothers George and Felix Powell. If you have a mind you might read about the ultimately tragic story of the song here.  Whilst I would in no way compare my recent mood to the ill-fated Felix, the melancholy of his story somehow seemed to fit the mood of this piece.

Your bonus:  ‘Oh What A Lovely War!’ which never ceases to remind me that I have absolutely no right to any blues whatsoever:

Pack up your troubles
in your old kit bag
and smile, smile, smile
while you’ve a lucifer
to light your fag
smile, boys, that’s the style

What’s the use of worrying
it never was worthwhile
so, pack up your troubles
in your old kit bag
and smile, smile, smile

Pack up Your Troubles

Felix Powell

Hand in glove

Until I was fifteen, I had two Grannies.  My paternal granny was always known as Granny Kim on account of her eponymous, over-stuffed cat which resembled a large tabby cushion and used to lie on the half-landing of her staircase in a sunspot meditating fatly.  Granny had only one arm.  The other was lost in The First World War.  Amputated on account of gangrene, not mislaid.  She was a nurse as so many of the women of her generation were.  She never expected to marry after losing her limb.  With the over-abundance of women to the dreadfully depleted stock of men when peace followed the tragically dubbed ‘war to end all wars’, she rather felt that her fate was dancing with other spinster women and dreaming of a never-to-be love.  However in time, quite some time, she met my Grandfather who had had his vocal chords severed by the village doctor during an emergency traceotomy as a child and from then on could only speak in a whisper – as a point of interest he spoke nine languages fluently in his whisper.  From time to time I remember to contemplate the thanks I owe the physician who, respecting his hippocratic oath, in that moment saved a young boy’s life and by doing so gave me the chance of birth.   Granny Kim used to say that they were two cripples together.  I imagine these days she might be shushed and cautioned against deflowering delicate sensibilities with her candid comment.

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Granny Kim (who I have written about before) was irresistibly irreverent.  She had seemingly no filter between what  was in her head and what came out of her mouth.  For example the busty girl tottering down the seafront in tightest of tight, scoopiest of scooped angora sweater must clearly  have heard the shrilly uttered ‘VERY uplifted’ from the neat tweed clad old woman tottering toward her.  And the French neighbour of my own new to motherhood mummy proudly showing off her own newborn to Granny was asked what she had called the child.  ‘James’, replied Madame.  ‘And James was a very small snail’ said Granny.  It’s A A Milne, from ‘The Four Friends’ but the French lady, so my mother reports, was visibly and vividly offended and operated the etiquette of ‘on ne peut plus se voir’ which  as Mel of France Says explains ever eloquently her means ‘one cannot see you any more’ and literally makes the recipient invisible ever after.   My mother wondered if she imagined Granny was calling her sprog a frog.  She wasn’t.  She was saying the first thing that popped into her head.  I have the same tendency.  I try to control it.  I frequently fail.

So what is that preamble about.  Well, with only one arm Granny had a drawer FULL of single gloves kindly donated by countless people over the years who had mislaid it’s pair.  She found it ceaselessly amusing that people never stopped in their surge of waste-not-want-not good heartedness, to think that their gift was only useful if it happened to be the correct glove for Granny’s remaining hand.  Therefore she had a quite magnificent collection of single gloves languishing in tissue paper which she had graciously accepted rather than burst anyone’s bubble of well meant intent.

Which brings me to Grenoble.  Grenoble was, for many years the capital of glove-making in France.  The giants of glove-making made fortunes and the most revered of all was a man named Xavier Jouvin.  He has an entire quartier dedicated to his name – looking over the river it is lovely and there is a large statue of him in the middle of it’s main square.  I have become very fascinated with Xav and found out that he is most revered for having created a form of mass-production of gloves.  He fashioned a machine that could cut up to SIX pairs, six mind you, of identical gloves at one go.  Breathtaking in 1838.  When I leave Grenoble, it will be with a pair of hand-made Grenoblois gloves to remember my time by.

You might recall that I was previously living in a positively palatial apartment  provided by the institute that my husband was doing a tranche of work for in the first 6 months of this year. Amongst other delights it had corinthian columns and  as the time approached to leave it  I seriously considered chaining myself to these pillars and refusing to leave.   I had however, a last-minute change of heart and decided that I would leave quietly and with gratitude for the time we had spent there.  Sugaring pills tends to provide incentive, I find.  My candied pellet is this:  the place we found, the small apartment that is less than a third of the size of the other, is contained in what the French call Un Hôtel Particulier which is in effect a grand residence built as the town house for someone of importance.  Guess who?  Well so far, I know it was one of the great glovemen but I am not able to finitely say which one.  Of course I hope its M. Jouvin Xavier.  I am currently researching more thoroughly but this oasis in the centre of Grenoble has given me the rare chance to live in a very special building that retains much of it’s original fabric.  From the hand painted walls in the entrance hall to the beautiful tiling and ceilings it is wonderful.  I have the luxury of a terrace and a garden and best of all I have a double curved staircase up to the front door which makes me feel that I should be wearing kid gloves and matching slippers with some sort of an empire line Lizzy Bennet dress and bonnet with thick silky ribbons neath my chinny chin chin, at all times.  My quarters are exquisite, dare I say better than the last place  and also retain a cornucopia of original features.  If you would like, I will share the innards of this place I am occupying … I’m happy to  but I never want to overtax with tedium..

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PS:  Granny Kim was fond of reciting this poem and peeling with laughter at it’s quite gasping ghastliness.  I had never paid it much heed except to recite it idly and wince when having flashbacks to Granny Kim in her hammock.   Until today, when incubating this post it popped into my head spontaneously and inevitably. I thought I should find out who IS responsible for this vacuous verse.

It was written by a woman called Frances Darwin Cornford.  She was the grand-daughter of the immeasurably brilliant Charles Darwin.  Ironically it seems that the father of evolutionary theory had a somewhat poorly evolved grandchild.  As it turns out

G K Chesterton agreed with me.  Read his wonderfully ascerbic response to this quite appalling effort, please do …

To A Lady Seen From A Train

Frances Darwin Cornford

O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much?
O fat white woman whom nobody loves,
Why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
When the grass is soft as the breast of doves
And shivering sweet to the touch?
O why do you walk through the fields in gloves,
Missing so much and so much

The Fat White Woman Speaks

G K Chesterton

Why do you rush through the field in trains,
Guessing so much and so much?
Why do you flash through the flowery meads,
Fat-head poet that nobody reads;
And why do you know such a frightful lot
About people in gloves and such?
And how the devil can you be sure,
Guessing so much and so much,
How do you know but what someone who loves
Always to see me in nice white gloves
At the end of the field you are rushing by,
Is waiting for his Old Dutch?

And as a bonus because I swiped it for my title, The Smiths belt out ‘Hand in Glove’ in Glasgow on this date (September 25th) 1985 – it fits perfectly, as all good gloves should

I want to be alone

Of all the surprises blithely thrown in my path in le Cantal, one of the most profound is le Monastère Orthodoxe Znaménié.  The mountains and plateau Cézallier are France at her deepest and most hidden.  These days entirely agricultural, lightly peppered with tiny villages and  the odd slumbering ghost town clinging vainly to a long forgotten once-upon-a-past prosperity, the hills sweep rather than peak up to around 1400 metres (around 4,600 feet).  Not the highest and not the  alpiest, pretty, school-child picturey of mountains, they are nevertheless uncompromising and can quickly turn from humble to harsh.  Open to the elements, the snows stick around many a year into May.  Fog and mist swirl and swathe often and disorientate rapidly.  And it boasts some of the stormiest and most petulant weather  in Western Europe with a positively rude statistic for lightning.  It takes a particular sort of personality to thrive in the elements that are randomly chucked about here.

Into this landscape in 1988 wandered a murmur of Nuns desperately seeking solitude and a place that nurtured their meditational, peaceful lifestyle.  They set about converting a barn into a Monastery.  Yes, I too would say convent but they insist it is a Monastery and I have never knowingly tangled with a Nun and shan’t change that habit now.  Monastery then.  They spent 6 years converting the barn into their vision.  With their own hands and with the help of benificent neighbours.  Most of the work, I am assured by the locals was done by the nuns and to be frank it takes my breath away.  They based their vision on the Monasteries on Mount Athos in Greece.  I have seen those gleaming immense edifices from a bobbing boat on an azure sea.  I am a woman and am not allowed to set foot on the Athos Peninsular.  Neither, despite their pious status, would these nuns.  Men who are not of the specific cloth worn by the Russian or Greek Orthodox Churches have to request a formal invitation and it typically takes many years presumably in the vague hope that the aforementioned non-sacred men will get bored and go about their secular business and not further bother the mysterious monkdoms.  I have been fascinated and a little obsessed with the notion of what actually goes on there for years.  Ever since I visited the trident shaped headlands on my big fat Greek holidays several years ago.  As a result my delight at finding a tiny replica on my doorstep was practically fizz-banging like my own private lightning storm.  What I learned about these women (whom I literally stumbled upon one fine Spring day about two years ago) was that they do everything that they can, themselves.  That they ask for the most minimal of help.  That they grow most of what they eat themselves which is by no means easy at 1200 metres altitude, that they keep bees and that they sell small amounts of bee products, jams and other produce to raise the necessary cash to pay for the things they absolutely can’t do themselves.  A fellow from whom we considered buying a house, widowed and wanting to move away from the place he had shared with his true love, told me that the dentist in the local town treats the nuns free of charge and that the state of their teeth is quite deplorable.  They don’t run to colgate and dental floss on their tiny budget.  Solitary they are.  Solitary and selfish to the extent that they have dropped out of society in order to spend their days in contemplation, meditation and prayer.  But harmless.  Not effecting anyone bady.  If you would like to visit, you can on certain days.  Free of charge.

Here in Grenoble there is a problem with homelessness (les sans abris).  It is a problem replicated across France and beyond, certainly to my own country of birth.  It is a cause close to my heart.  I have been within the most uncomfortably close sight of my own prospective homelessness with three small children and a baby in my life.  I believe it is a fundemental human right to know where you are going to lay your head at night and that the place should not be under a cardboard quilt and the cold blanket of starlight. In this city we have an excellent charitable network that tries to ensure the right help is delivered to the people who need it.  I have put my name on the list to volunteer to help but so far I have not been needed.  There are many willing supporters who go out with food, blankets, clothing and a compassionate ear.  The aim is to get all those suffering on the streets into accommodation.  We have an extremely liberal mayor.  It is high on his agenda.

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Enter the dragon.  The dragon in this case has foul breath and speaks with forked tongue.  Les faux abris, I have taken to calling them.  The network of drop-outs (often not French but rather from other countries in Europe) who congregate, doss around and beg.  You can recognise them from the signature can of beer and dogs and glossy mobile phone.    Because dogs make people more willing to give money.   The dogs are passed around one motley hive to another, the beers are clutched proprietorially and not shared with anyone. This causes my highly charged social conscience and, I would argue, innate sence of decency to short-circuit.  I want to help everyone.  I want everyone to have a home.  But these people do.  They are, of course squatters.  Twenty year old me would have said ‘so what?’ but fifty-something year old me is peturbed.  You see, unlike the nuns high up in the unforgiving landscape of Cantal, unlike the genuine fallen on hard times not of their own making homeless, these people have chosen to drop out and scavenge.  And it urks me greatly.  I see people abused when they walk past and refuse to put money in the cups thrust unrelentingly and indeed agressively in their faces.  I see people dropping money to avoid being threatened.  I see the dogs that are the bait for their hook left to lie  alone on traffic islands in the hope that someone will take pity and give money to feed them.  Puppies included.

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Recently, I staggered onto the tram laden with heavy shopping from the supermarket.  Behind me teetered a lady of extremely advanced years.  I would suggest certainly north of her mid 80s and possibly more.  Wearing a shabby tailored coat that  she had visibly worn these past many decades, carrying a once decent now decaying vinyl handbag and with her shoes reminiscent of those my mother wore when I was a child long ago and far away, her hair neatly pinned and a slick of vivid geranium lipstick setting off her freshly powdered cheeks, she was clearly chary of  walking past the vast Mastive held on a chain by a youngish woman wearing the uniform of her tribe.  A tribe that perports to be anachistic and yet is recognisable by it’s hermogenous clothing.  The outcasts are infact their own incasts.  With her, a man brandishing his upmarket handheld device.  It was the arrogance and smugness that made me want to smack them both in the teeth.  The old lady, complete with stick I should add, was ignored.  They did not offer to give up the seat that the young woman was fatly occupying, they did not move out of the way, they did not offer to help her to an empty seat which meant traversing the impressively muscular dog who I am sure was beautifully mannered but was overwhelming in his bulk and would surely present an alarming prospect to a tiny trim person slowly desiccating with age.  She was stoic.  Uncomplaining.  As are, I have noticed all the elderly who are passively bullied by those that prefer not to offer a seat to one whose need is greater.  I found her a seat and she thanked me in a whisper.  I did not need thanks.  It was a simple act of decency.

Later that same day, I met the same disparate group on a different tram.  I pondered why a young woman should need such a large dog.  Indeed when one is living the simple life in a city why one would want to be encumbered by a canine at all.  The answer did not need to blow in the wind, the answer was screaming in my ears.  She peddles stuff, nasty chemical mind bending stuff …. I’m beedy eyed and not, as my children will vouch from bitter experience, naïve to the goings on that they as youngsters thought their generation had copyright on.  Of course, we ourselves invented it all a generation before, it having been invented by our parents generation, and so on ad tedium backwards.

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And this is my conundrum.  I am all for people living as they choose to.  I am no preacher but I do exhort freedom as a fundemental of human rights and choice must surely be at the root of that tree.   I’m a bit of a hermit, I may well be on the strange end of odd in many ways, but I am innocuous.  I like to help where I can but if I want to opt out completely then I will do so and not get in anyone’s way.  The Nuns high up in the Cézallier are all but self-sufficient and what little money they need they earn by their own toil.  The real homeless, in this city, not in all as I am painfully mindful, are helped.  Their stories will penetrate all but the most frigid of hearts.  Many are addicts.  Addiction is not and never should be considered a crime.  Helping people into that dark place IS and always should be.

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PS:  The quote is of course Greta Garbo.  She said it in ‘Grand Hotel’ and the line came to define her.  In fact, much later, she would protest that she had never said it outside of the movie and that what she had actually said was ‘I want to be let alone’ … splitting hairs one might observe but I can sympathise with the irritation at being eternally defined by one tiny soundbite.  And I can empathise with the need to be alone, the desire for me-time and the idea of being a recluse.  Nonetheless, I will not be taking Holy Orders in pursuit of that particular happiness.

Here is Greta as your bonus.  The young and extraordinarily talented woman providing the soundtrack to the montage fell prey to addiction ….

Long Time Passing

Some time ago, when we were fledgling lovers, existing in the protective bubble reserved for the newly amorous,  Two Brains brought me to a place called Vassieux-en-Vercors.  The drive up from Grenoble is littered with sombre reminders of a time, only decades ago when the spectacular landscape played backdrop for the most merciless realities of a world at war – we stopped at various places, never idly.  Here it is impossible to forget how cruel and cold humanity can be.   Here no bubble is sufficient to protect you from nauseating emotions wrought from the darkest, starkest of realites.

Vassieux sits on the Drôme side of le Vercors.  The Vercors is nicknamed ‘the flat iron’ for a reason … it is a high plateau with higher peaks frilling it, thrilling visitors  and chilling those that know the secrets that it keeps.  Mountains tend to do that.  They look, are, so magnificent but they are unyielding, unforgiving places by default without being privy and council to the Résistance called le maquis in a brutal global war.  Huge harsh lumps they are – they don’t actually ask for delicate humans to impinge on them but sometimes flimsy mortals have no choice.

The war, that war of 1939-45 invited such necessity.  Men whose country was overtaken by a callous regime they did not invite nor condone, who wanted it freed and reverted to the values it held dear, who did not want the uneasy treaty of Vichy but rather actual and total freedom, those men, those women for can we just agree that men and women are equally people, those people formed the Résistance.  And the ones who under that same treaty were told they had to go and do work in Germany.  STO it was called (Service de Travail Obligatoire … I don’t honestly think you need my translation) – those young men, they said non and they joined the Résistance.

What happened in 1944 was disgraceful.  Not simply by dint of the deeds of the enemy (German in this case) but actually and tragically because of the behavior of the high fallutin’ tootin’ allied commanders.  Another time.  Really another time I will feel fully equipped to tell the story.  In the meantime all you need take to heart is that this village, and all the others barborously besieged, is a defenseless duck sitting pretty on a flat plane.  That it can’t have been difficult to overpower it, however hard les maquis tried to fend  off the merciless assault is painfully, graphically clear.  And there are references to the places they fought  and fell all around and not just here, throughout this great monolith known as le Vercors.  Villages burned,  Villagers slain. Men rounded up and annihilated standing proud against cold walls in the place they called home because it was.  Their home.    It is not pretty.  Not at all.  It is tough beyond the bounds of that pathetically soft word.  And then you visit the Nécropole and you  walk, sapped of strength, sorrow wrenching bile from your throat among the bare little crosses, pure white standing proud in pristine gravel and you pathetically collapse as though a razor has slashed your heart because you are facing a family – a grandmother, her two daughters and all the children of one of them including a baby lying side by side, their lives extinguished mercilessly.   Every single one of them.   See it, feel it and tell me, tell me not to weep.

My husband  had the immense privilige of spending time some years ago, with Robert Favier (known as Mattres) who was created Chevalier de Légion d’Honneur having been a high ranking leader in the Maquis.  Monsieur Favier,  died in 2010 aged 96.  HB2 also met Joseph la Picirella who founded the original museum in Vassieux.  He made it because he could and because no-one should forget what happened.  Really no-one should.  He also died in 2010 aged 85, he was little more than a boy, therefore, when he joined the Maquis.  His museum is still there where he built it, just behind the church.  The French Government built another museum, the official museum, which sits perched 400 metres above the village and is of deliberately austere design.

To walk the walk I walked, in the footsteps of those braver than brave maquis was humbling.  A privilege beyond privilege.  And here are some photos.  Because my words are meagre and poor.  I will leave you to imagine it for yourself or simply to enjoy the beauty of the place.  The choice is yours.  Mine is not to tell people what to do, simply to bring you to a place that savages my senses and of which, when I am confident that my thoughts and facts are accurate and well-founded, I will write in greater depth.

PS:  When you have digested the place, when you have taken it all in your sturdy stride, you might answer me a simple question.  What did we learn?  Because from where I am standing, sitting, lying down on a bed of flowers, nothing has changed.   When will we learn to leave well alone?  When will greed release it’s toxic grip on humanity?  When?  Can I have it now please?   Because little girls picking flowers should NOT be perpetuating a scenario that ends in their husbands pushing up daisies for the sake of yet another bloody war.  When will we ever learn?

Visions of happiness

In the interests of keeping things lighthearted, particularly when the going has been a little less polished and serene than I might have liked, I have often wise-cracked that there has clearly been a dreadful mistake and that I am in fact supposed to be living a different life.  Usually the whimsy life referred to contains a palatial home and whatever accoutrements the unfortunate recipient of my frolicking wit cares to embellish it with.  In fact it is not at all uncommon for me to help myself to a counterfeit life just for the helluvit and to make fictional daydreaming sugar whatever the reality of the bitter medicinal pill of the moment is.  It is fair to comment that in my own make-believe there is much detail in the sketch.  Details like tall columns and ornate plaster-work and rooms big enough to dance in.   It’s a trifling and inoffensive affectation.  Harmless, I am.  Occasionally deluded but entirely inoccuous.

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Now imagine this, if you will.   When I knew for certain sure that we would be spending the first six months of this year in Grenoble, a city we visit often and of which I am fond as one is fond of a rather nice passing acquaintance – that person who always seems so cordial and kind and whom you don’t really know at all but with whom you are certain you could be the bosomest of buddies given the chance.  That was Grenoble for me …. a hint of something possible and tantalising.  So once I knew we would be here, my reverie started in earnest.

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The rapidly gilded fantasy had some concrete and real decisions attached.  We wanted to live right in the middle of town to get under the skin of the city at it’s heart, not at it’s suburban fingertips and we wanted to live in an old building.  Around this time, as my frenzy of searching for flats heltered and skeltered hither and thither bouncing round the internet like a manic squashball I came across a place which prompted me to forward the detail to the long-suffering Husband with Two Brains with the covering note ‘Please can we have this one?  If you let us have this one I will live with no furniture and will exist on a diet of dust and air for the whole six months.  I actually will.  So please please please say  we can’.  The Brains responded with the email equivalent of a non-commital smile and nod.

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When we arrived in Grenoble just before Christmas to arrange viewings through the Institute that HB2 is working with, The Director (a fellow I have always liked) made a cool and frankly rather too razor-sharp exit saying that renting places in Grenoble is like extracting well-rooted teeth with no anaesthetic and sweetly wishing us well as he fled for the hills.  The unfortunate and delightfully stoic young assistant assigned to us, started to work through our list of properties.  She arranged two viewings that afternoon and two the next morning  The first place, the top floor of an historic monument facing l’ancien Palais du Parliament, was love at first sight, albeit unfinished.  The second would certainly do with a lovely double aspect salon and excellent location.  I should explain two things at this point.  The first is that we are experienced at renting in France.  Here, you will normally sign a lease for three years after which you can extend for a further three or six years.  The rights remain with the tenant – the landlord can’t kick you out but you can terminate with notice at any time.  That is hugely over-simplified but you get the gist.  So apartment number two was shown to us by a  young estate agent who seemed incapable of standing up straight but favoured leaning provocatively on any available solid object of sufficient height, facial expression impassively composed somewhere between nonchalant and fashionably bored.   The deep inpenetrably dark eyes of this glacially chic individual flickered with contempt when we explained that we only wanted the place for six months (something that in the UK a landlord would be generally delighted to bite your hand off for, particularly when the agreement will be with an institute of standing in the city meaning no risk at all on the landlord) …. six months?  No.  That absolute, resolute  ‘non’  beloved of the French when there is positively no wiggle room, no negotiation and it’s been a pleasure, bonne journée.  Never mind.  We still have number one and that was our favourite.  Or do we?  The assistant called the agent who escalated her to the manager and the manager called the landlord to confirm that it would be ready mid-January and with the lovely early Christmas present that they had secured good tenants through a venerable institute for six months thereby neatly bypassing the winter months when rentals are lean in the city and dropping them into prime renter-reaping territory in mid-summer.   And there was that word again ‘non’ … not because they didn’t want us for 6 months but because they were unsure that they could get the tiny amount of work required to complete the flat done before …. March.

The following morning we had number three, a sprawling loft inhabited by a seemingly endless cascade of student girls and filled, predictably with all the necessary and un-necessary detritus of girlie-ness which took me ricocheting back to the years and seemingly endless years of four daughters and one bathroom and no-one ever in a matching pair of socks.  I put my bravest mummy face on, Two Brains walked round with a visible and clearly disgusting smell under his fine Gaelic nose.  I was stoically convinced that it could work, that once the girls had erradicated the landfill and revealed the space that I could get a certain urban edgy vibe going in this place and release my thinly veiled inner bohemian on the unsuspecting Grenoblois population.  And I might have continued in this vein were it not for  the casual statement by head girl that the broken door to the building had been like it for months but the landlord was tired of fixing it so he’d decided not to repair it ever again.  Now don’t get me wrong, I can fantasise about a bit of gritty living, indeed I was at that very moment inventing  a bit of latterday Beatnicking but the idea of absolutely random anyone being able to walk into the place uninvited at absolutely random any time was not appetising in the slightest.  Really, not at all.  Oddly enough.   Number four was in a good location, a good building (Haussmannian) with high ceilings and lovely floors.  But compact.  Very very compact.  Particularly the shower with resplendent puce toilet squished next to it – the colour enhancing the fact that it was clearly extremely uncomfortable with it’s situation.   The cubicle was so small I am confident that I would have got wedged whilst washing and warbling and had to be prized out with grease-guns and crowbars by a team of jolly pompiers (firemen) thus making the wrong sort of headlines in le Dauphiné.  Or worse, le Monde and picked up and flashed round the world by Reuters.  I felt quite faint at this inevitable prospect and the place did not make the list.  Which left us with precisely no list and no choice but to drive to England for Christmas knowing that instead of planning removals we would be living out of a suitcase in a hotel at the start of January.

And so it was that at the dawn of 2017 we arrived back in Grenoble filled with the resolution that New Year’s inevitably ingender and fixing our determined chins, set about finding our perfect nest.  The valiant assistant made more phone calls working her way through the new list we had drawn up.  She netted three visits from six possible roosts and off we set to visit the first one.  I was filled with zealous hope for this one.  In the Quartier des Antiquaires the dossier showed a beautifully presented place with high ceilings and lovely floors and oozing appeal and charm.  We arrived on the nose of the appointed time and a waxy rather sallow skinned fellow opened the door.  He reeked, positively seeped from his every pore, of smoke and clearly not just cigarette smoke.  If you catch the fetid drift.  I am fairly certain that he never ventures outside and if he does it is certainly not in daylight.  His eyes were hollow and red rimmed and I am quietly confident that he had not seen this hour of the day in many a decade.  This was not an advertisement for spritzy healthy living.  The flat, as it turned out was quite hard to see being entirely rammed solid with his enormous volume of possessions.  In fact the place had the air that if you moved too quickly and caused the tiniest zephyr it would simply burst.  He told me happily that he and his wife were performance artists.  I wondered idly if this place were actually a set for one of their plays because it was like wandering through a hellish series of tableaux – you know those performances in several parts where you walk from set to set and are treated to seemingly disconnected installments that somehow in the minds of the creator make sense.  And you adopt that air of serene interest whilst all the while looking for an escape route.  That.  There are no doors you see, just a series of depositories for some of the most seriously cluttered clutter I have ever seen.  None of which has ever been cleaned.  I enquired politely if the kitchen furniture would be staying.  Which it wouldn’t.  This (and it is not at all uncommon in France) meant that the kitchen would consist of a space with a tap in it.  I didn’t know whether to be relieved or dismayed as my addled mind tried to find a way of making this Danté-on-dope-interior work for us.  I failed.  Had I succeeded and decided this was the one, I would now be going through the rigours of divorce – HB2’s expression was granite-set and distinctly unpretty.  As we left, the fellow invited us to his wife’s next performance.  I smiled and nodded and remembered that I have not the teensiest smidge of space in my schedule  for the next many aeons.

Which left us with two places to visit.  One of my favourite parts of Grenoble are les quais and the second place was on Quai de France which is historic and convenient albeit the other side of the river.  The call of water, a view of water has me every time so my hope-ometer was registering off the scale for this baby when we arrived early the following morning.  Do you see a pattern forming?   You are correct.  The pictures of this apartment must have been at least a decade old when, un-lived in, the owner had restored it and dressed it for the Estate Agents to lure people like us in.  Or not people like us actually …. this had been a co-location (flatshare) for years.  The young people were delightful but let’s be brutally frank with self …. I have children who are older than these bambini.  I am no longer content with student digs in fact I might venture that at my lofty age it could be construed as a teeny bit infra-dig.  That and the off-hand remark by the young man showing us around that despite having two bathrooms they only ever use one because the other one is dangerous.  The pompiers flashed through my mind again.  Will I ever find a place where I can make my ablutions without fear of torrid headlines or death or both in this city?

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The final place on Cours Jean Jaurès which is the main artery of Grenoble was lovely.  Honestly.  No catch.  It was delightful.  Good Belle-Epoque building (not Haussmannian but with views over those that make up the bold and bustling corners of the streets facing the river); high ceilings; shower that would not risk entombment every time I entered it, nor, the slightly bewildered agent assured me in that ‘humour her, she can’t help it, she’s foreign’ way  when asked, any other lurking dangers in the bathroom; fitted kitchen to include white goods (we have them but preferred not to have to move them if possible) and all in all a jolly good fit.  But of course we still had to traverse the, apparantly insurmountable, six months issue so we wanted another as back-up.

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Except there were no more choices.  Don’t get me wrong, the little hotel-appart was very comfortable but living in a space where swinging a cat even if we had one and thought that was the reasonable pastime of a sane person, was not in the plan for six months.  What to do?  The poor assistant was developing an unbecoming facial tic and I really didn’t want the guilt associated with this developing further into a full-blown twitch.   At this point, I suggested in the faintest of whispers that I actually knew that the place I had suggested we live in with no food nor furniture for six months was still available.  I let my sentence trail ephemerally into sweet silence and waited for the inevitable pounce of desperation. One.  Two.  Three …  Two Brains and The Assistant politely, and to my possible shame, predictably, obliged and later that afternoon, I walked through vast coaching doors into my own dream.  The ceilings are at least 13′ high with panelling and moulding and ceiling roses that would grace any fine born abode, pillars and a 65 foot hallway with lovely tiling, parquet floors and a kitchen sporting a piano.  No honestly a piano.  Un piano de cuisine is a range cooker.   This one is vintage if you take vintage to include sometime in, at a guess the early seventies.  I’m a sucker for a good cooker and this one has me smitten.  You can opt to take the gorgeous old elevator complete with pull-down highly polished wood seat on brass fittings, or glide up the lovely gently winding stone staircase.  The double front doors to the apartment are high, heavy, adorned with beautiful brasswork and so finely balanced that they seemingly float open and shut with the merest whisper of pressure.  The windows are floor to ceiling and open onto plant balconies, the internal doors mostly double have glazed panels to let the light flood the place.  But did I mention pillars?  Pillars!  It has beauteous ornate columns supporting it’s dizzingly high ceilings. The views from the front are of la Banque de France, itself a gorgeous, unmistakeably French, almost Chateauesque building.  The ground floor of the building also houses a bank so if I get bored with living my go-to daydream I can press reset and imagine myself Bonnie plotting with Clyde to pull off the heist of the century.  I could happily sport that beret ….

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I wafted around the place with a look of the contented Tigger when he had tried the haycorns and the thistles and the hunny and discovered that Roo’s strengthening medicine was actually what Tiggers are meant to eat.  In the same vein, Osyths are meant to live in this place for this six months.  Of this I am thoroughly certain.  In fact, I may chain myself to the fine vintage radiators on move-out day and go on hunger strike.  It is love.   In 1822 Stendhal noted in ‘On Love’ that ‘there are as many styles of beauty as there are visions of happiness.’   Welcome to my vision of happiness ….

PS:  There is learning in most everything if one is open to learning.  Some years ago and not of choice I lost most of what I owned.  All the things that I had moved and moved and moved with and which had enabled me to make each place that my daughters and I arrived in, a home in a jiffy.  What I now have is very little.  And it is not of any significant value.  Were it to be auctioned I imagine it might buy a bag of soggy chips but that is the sum of it.  There are some pretty things, there are my father’s plants, and of course there are books but what were always referred to as our ‘things’ are gone.  Most of what I have is second hand Ikea.  And here is the lesson.  I worried and worried that my skimpy collection would be ridiculous in this space.  I had japed about living with no furniture but I had serious misgivings that we would simply  look ludicrous.  As it transpires, when you have bones as beautiful as this place has you can artfully arrange a very few things (and I  speak as a magpie who may finally be embracing her suffocated inner minimalist going forward) and hey presto bongo … house beautiful.  Rather like the notion that Audrey Hepburn or Sophia Loren could wear a bin-bag and be elegantly alluring.  It turns out that it’s not a notion at all but rather it is a solid, unassailable truth.

And if you are wondering … the place that stole our hearts at the very start?  Is still under construction.  And the place that wouldn’t have us for six months?  Still to let.

Game, set and match

One of my favourite stories is ‘The Little Match Girl’.  Hans Christian Anderson’s achingly sad fable was corruptly used by me often when my daughter’s were growing up … I would tell them they were NOT poor little match girls when they were crying for something they perceived they needed more than anything in the whole wide world.  

Cold, lonely and scared, undernourished, ill-clad this little girl is dying and as her life degenerates to a flicker and whispers into death she strikes her matches for warmth and in their light she sees things that she wishes she had and amongst them her Granny, the only person who ever showed her love in her meagre little life, reaching out from her celestial place.    When her pathetic little frozen corpse is found in the morning she is smiling and the strangers that stumble upon her look at the matches round her and surmise that they know why she smiles – but of course …. she was cold and her matches made her warm so she died content.  None have the need nor the will to look beyond the obvious.  Speculate and instantly conclude is part of human nature.  We suspect that we know the answer but often the answer is not as we so skillfully deduced at all.

I give you a picture of the city I am living in taken a couple of days ago on a hike and looking down on the river which actually and genuinely IS that colour …. it is caused, I am told by the limestone which the mountains surrounding us are formed of.  When I first visited this area some years ago, I assumed there was a problem with chemicals.   Be careful who you damn without knowing all the damned facts!

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PS:  The title is a reference to the Weekly Photo Challenge this week labelled ‘A Good Match’ … my Game, Set and Match invokes three things in the picture – look closely now …. there’s the stadium where the Six Nations Rugby Game between France and Scotland was played just a couple of weeks ago and there again are three skyscrapers built for the 1968 Winter Olympics – they were designed to rotate slowly to give their super-human athletic tenants a constant and gracefully revolving 360° view of the city and the mountains that encircle it (in the end they remained still but the intent and bravado of the engineering, given that the city is gearing up to celebrate the 50 year anniversary of those Games next year is quite breathtaking) and finally a set of two bare trees, almost twins standing like naked watchkeepers over the city below.  And the city is …… over to you!

Here are all the other pictorial delights the piquant prompt has produced

And here, just because I can and because my tenuous title is a tennis call, is the masterly Jacques Tati in Monsieur Hulot’s Holiday showing us how to serve with flare:

I asked the faithful light

Diu absentia … long in absence I have been.  I make no apologies.  It’s just a bit of life in my life.  Nothing dramatic.  No imprisonment, no hospitalisation nothing really to write home about.  Nothing to write about.  Except write I will.  It’s what I do.  Potted and neatly in a nutshell I have been moving rather a lot these past two months – US to England, England to France, France to England, England to France – friends and relics (stet) and Christmas with my most loved.  In Grenoble a temporary tiny flatlet with a view of snow topped mountains and on February 1 moving all I own from the flat in Cantal that I persist in calling home because it’s where I feel home, to our permanent Grenoble place-until-summer.  And beautiful it is.  But more of that another time.

No shadows lurking in my cupboard, nothing to make me startle and stare wide-eyed in horror, just life and settling and I will give you more of it, I promise … much more.

Shadows and startling seem to be the order of things in this world just now.  I rather feel that people are having to wear their most politically correct attire for dread of offending someone.  Anyone!  But I have always been the gal to stick her head above the trench and get it picked off by a beady eyed sniper far away out of sight on the other side of no-man’s land.  So I have a commentary on the world at large.  It is unhappy, it is uncomfortable and it is unpalatable for many.  For many others it is hopeful because it has been increasingly uncomfortable and unpalatable these umpteen years and they desire that there will be green shoots which might give they and their loved ones a future in what has been their shiny world rusted and corroded to dust.  Whether I agree or disagree with either side is neither here nor there but I  give a gentle reminder that alongside it’s bolder, brasher brother ‘Greed’, that ‘Fear’ is the greatest eroder of hope, of decency, of love that we, as humans  have in our armoury of weapons of mass self-destruction.  Try not to be led by fear.  Try instead, to be led by love.  It is, after all la fête de St Valentin who was beaten, stoned and decapitated under the rule of Claudius because, put simply, he believed that young lovers should be allowed to choose to marry as Christians.  Choice.  That’s the thing old Valentine was about and he suffered a particularly appalling death for his conviction.  In 269 AD.  Please let me trust that we have evolved and progressed in almost 2,000 years.  Just please.

My picture, which shows a rather perfect half (insert favourite cheese) moon, sentinel above a stone tower whose keepers can’t make their minds up whether to restore it’s authentic stone or leave it suffocated by the corset of concrete rendered upon it some aeons ago by zealous betterers, taken in the last 10 days in Gieres, a pretty commune just outside Grenoble it is offered for this week’s photo challenge captioned ‘Shadow’ (you can find the glories of the entire gallery here) – the moon’s shadow may not be apparent but it is there and, I would postulate, is not alarming at all.

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PS:  The title is taken from Cat Stevens’ (one of the enduring loves of my life) beautiful song ‘Moonshadow’.  Here are the lyrics and, as a bonus, a lovely clip of the man who stole a little of my heart in nineteen seventy-something singing it …. give them a read if you will – if I ever lose my mouth –  I won’t have to talk ….

Moonshadow

Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow—
Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow—

And if I ever lose my hands, lose my plough, lose my land,
Oh if I ever lose my hands, Oh if I won’t have to work no more.

And if I ever lose my eyes, if my colours all run dry,
Yes if I ever lose my eyes, Oh if I won’t have to cry no more.

Oh, I’m bein’ followed by a moonshadow, moon shadow, moonshadow—
Leapin and hoppin’ on a moonshadow, moonshadow, moonshadow—

And if I ever lose my legs, I won’t moan, and I won’t beg,
Yes if I ever lose my legs, Oh if I won’t have to walk no more.

And if I ever lose my mouth, all my teeth, north and south,
Yes if I ever lose my mouth, Oh if I won’t have to talk…

Did it take long to find me? I asked the faithful light.
Did it take long to find me? And are you gonna stay the night?

Cat Stevens

I’ll be your dog!

On a beautiful day nearly two years ago, The Brains, The Bean and I set off for a walk that starts in the wonderfully named St Poncy (if you are English this will make you smile – my American is not good enough to know if Ponce means the same in your vernacular). Along the way three became four and this is the piece I wrote at the time – I hope you will enjoy it.

Half Baked In Paradise

We walk.  The Bean and me and HB2, when he is here makes three.  There are 340 marked PR (petit randonnees) across le Cantal and I have set myself the ideal of walking all of them.  In keeping with the rest of France these are marked walks, mostly circular and varying in length and difficulty.  The simple colour coding system tells you if it is easy (blue), longer and more difficult (yellow) or very long and varying in difficulty (green).  One weekend recently we decided to drive to the far north east of the departement (a drive of about 1.5 hours) and do a nice long green walk.  The duration was estimated as 4.75 hours for the 14.5 km.  We packed a picnic of cheese and bread and tomatos and set off.  The day was glorious – sunny, hot and with a fair scattering of the fluffiest white clouds dancing…

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Two Lymes and a Lemon

In the words of Cyril Raymond to Celia Johnson at the end of ‘Brief Encounter’  ‘you’ve been a long, long way away’ – I won’t flatter myself with his next line ‘thank you for coming back to me’ but I have been a long way away and I’m very much afraid that I HAVE come back to you ….

It’s been a bit of a saga so here is a précis before I dive back into stories of house hunts and refurbishments and hikes (though one does figure here) and generally half-baked meanderings.

Here goes:

  1. June 17th The Two Brained one is diagnosed with Lyme Disease after breaking out in purple patches all over his normally unblemished body.
  2. June 19th He whisks me by circuitous route, lest I guess the ultimate destination, to France.  Grenoble to be precise.  You may remember I have a particular affection for Grenoble
  3. June 21st To the courthouse …. I’m not in the dock and neither is he but I do have another installment for my book ‘The Lying Cheating Lives of Others’ and there will be more of that in later blog posts – a road yet to be trodden but one that I think y’all might enjoy
  4. June 22nd – home to our little nest in Northern Cantal for our Wedding Anniversary.  There is nothing nicer than to be in the village we were married in three years ago drinking a toast ‘à la notre’ in jolly nice French champagne
  5. June 23rd – up early and on the road to Marcolès to find out what progress on the house.   There is progress but it would be wrong of me to spoil the surprise so I will leave you in suspenders til the next installment
  6. June 25th – back to Lyon to drop off car and take a flight.  HB² is confident that a) I love surprises so will not look at my ticket b) I can’t actually see it without my glasses and c) I’m so excited that I will miss the only announcement for our flight.  Therefore I board a plane not knowing where I am bound
  7. June 26th – I wake up in Edinburgh, a city I know quite well, where my grandmother was married in 1918 and where I hounded my elder brother when he was doing his PhD because I could and mainly because he had a ready supply of male friends for the 18 year old me to make cow-eyes at.
  8. June 27th – I pick up a call from my vet who is boarding The Bean.  The words ‘there is nothing to worry about, but ….’ instantly make me worried.  A lot worried.  Because it turns out that The Small But Feisty one has also got Lyme.  Be still my pounding heart.  At least she is in the right place and they say she is responding well to treatment.
  9. June 29th – We decide to walk up Arthur’s Seat.  This is an extinct volcano within the city.  My aforementioned and extremely long-suffering brother lived in a very pretty district at it’s foot and we walked up often.  Actually he used to run it.  At his wedding his best man’s speech began ‘I first suspected that my flatmate might be mad when he asked the way to Arthur’s Seat for a run on a bitterly cold, wet and windy day…. I showed him and some time later I realised it wasn’t a case of might be mad,  he clearly was mad as he set off down the lane in a storm with a rucksack full of boulders on his back’.  He is still that same animal.  In those days there were a few walkers some with dogs and that was about it.  Today it teems with tourists making their way up, taking selfies and mostly wearing entirely unsuitable footwear (flip flops, fashion sandals, even the odd pair of heels) for what is a moderate hike up hill-paths rather than pavements.  We took the road less travelled and benefited from stunning views unencumbered by the masses.  The German girls hogging the peak did move over when I utilised my famed loud and I don’t care who knows it, voice and we duly stood for a moment or two before setting off down again.  All was well and I was lost in thought (mostly quite bitchy thoughts about the unsuitable nature of other people’s footwear) until almost at the bottom, not on a remotely steep bit, I slipped on shail and heard an audible crack.  The crack was nothing to my blood-curdling bellows and the air took on a blue hue as I cursed my way thorugh the early moments of what is actually a severe high ankle sprain coupled with 90% tear to the anterior calf muscle.  I must thank the lovely man from Canada who stopped to help The Brains wrestle me to my feet, the equally lovely café who served delectable lime and coconut cake (I was in shock – I needed sugar) and the wonderful nurse in Minor Injuries at the Western General Hospital.  Later as I limped into a taxi my husband asked how I felt about the last bit of his surprise – did I think I could manage it.  Could I?  I would walk through the fires of a spewing live volcano to do what he had in mind.
  10. June 30th – Two trains to Liverpool for lunch with youngest daughter and two more to Oxford to stay two nights with my mother who had one last surprise – my younger brother flown in from Bahrain to spend an evening with his big sister.   In  life, the real luxuries are the little things.  The thoughtfulness of my husband, the opportunity to see some of my family.  Secrets and lies can be quite beautiful – four of the most precious people in my world kept them and there is no sin in that.
  11. July 2nd – we collect the delighted but subdued tiny dog from her Boarding Vet.  She has anti-biotics and is making some progress.  Lyme Disease is a nasty nasty thing – sometimes, it isn’t easy being Bean.

So there you have it Two Lymes and a Lemon.  Here are some nice pictures from the Scottish leg of my odyssey and afterwards I will treat you to a PS:

The promised and entirely necessary PS:  Yesterday, I visited my lovely Cambridge doctor for a formal verdict on my leg.  He sympathised with Two Brains having to live with with a caged and beligerent tigress with cabin fever and asked how he is doing (he is a specialist in infectious diseases so had been asked for his opinion when The Brains presented with what appeared to be Lyme).  He commented that it was remarkable that HB² had been running the morning of his diagnosis  with Lyme.  I explained that our daughters and others are convinced he is, in fact, one of The  Men in Black.  The doctor seemed spookily content to agree ….

And for those unfamiliar with the achingly heartrending last scene of ‘Brief Encounter’ – here it is: