Monday, 27 November 2006

Fête de St Catherine in Bretenoux

Christiane was told about the fête by our hairdresser. She said that it can be quite lively and last year a farmer got drunk and forgot to take his cows home! There used to be a tradition that all unmarried women over the age of 25 had to wear a special hat for the day. I assume that this was to advertise their availability to the assembled farmers at the fête. Today when Segolene Royal, (the socialist candidate for the French Presidency and probably the next President), has four children but is not married, the hats are out of fashion.

We met Lisa and Geoff in Bretenoux for the foire. Geoff used to be Features Editor for the Amateur Photographer and has worked for other weekly photo magazines and Lisa still works for a wine magazine. We first met them at the opening night of an art gallery in Bretenoux, so there was free wine and a few things to eat. The group was about half French and half “Anglo Saxon” I use the French term because it means “English and American” and this was an accurate description of the group. I am amazed that Americans find this part of France, but there are a surprising number of them here. By about 1930hrs the Anglo Saxons were left finishing the wine whilst the French had gone home to dinner. This says something about cultural priorities (or which group is prepared to eat late, which I suppose is really the same thing).

The day of the fête it was raining and, during one foray into the market stalls, Lisa and Geoff met another couple they knew, so we all had lunch together. Paul and Lauren live in a village a few kilometers north in the Correze and are on the committee des fêtes and in the choir. We are going to their concert next week. Geoff had a demonstration of an oyster knife and learnt from the stall holder that you should always bite into them before you swallow. If you don’t, they stay alive in your stomach! Since Geoff had already swallowed one, we all hoped that it wouldn’t start rebuilding its shell!

Thursday, 23 November 2006

The Weaving Week

It has taken the last three weeks to regain first my voice and then most of my strength, so I was reasonably well prepared when two of Christiane’s sisters, one of their husbands, and one of their friends came to stay to go to a weaving course near Figeac last week. Well the week was a great success. All the ladies finished their tapestries and agreed that the atmosphere in the studio was “sympa”. The teacher (trained at Aubusson) said that they were the best group she’d had, since they listened and put into practice what they were told (well she probably says that to all the girls).

Christiane was coughing a lot, having caught a similar virus to me (after I thought I was better), but survived the week and only collapsed after everyone had left. Collapsed is too strong, she had a day of doing very little except knitting, unusual for her in more ways than one!

By the end of the week I thought that I was going to be nominated for husband of the year by the group. Frenchwomen are truly amazed when a man can cook, so when I cooked tasty food for a whole week (Jamie Oliver/James Martin rule OK) and was also seen with a broom in my hand from time to time, the impact was tremendous and they were very complimentary. To be absolutely accurate Liliane said to Christiane that she had “un mari en or”.

However, she also said on another day that I was “La fée de la maison”. I think this was when I was cooking whilst wearing an apron and the ladies must have thought that I was a bit of a fairy!

They should have seen what I have been doing this week; cutting logs with an electric chainsaw and cutting, bending and drilling pieces of angle iron to make some brackets to reinforce the mounting for the satellite dish, which is suffering from metal fatigue. That’s real man’s work!

I went to the Serrurie to get the brackets welded and was directed to one of the workers. I told him what I wanted in my best French and he said” yes I can do that for you” in a south-east accent. He is English and came to France two years ago. We had a short chat while he worked; he lives in Prudhomat and knows an English carpenter in Belmont Bretenoux. I owe him a bottle because he didn’t charge me anything.

On the domestic front we are still learning how to drive the wood burning stove. One night it wasn’t burning very well and I opened up the air inlets and went to the kitchen to cook, which required using the cooker hood. When I returned to the lounge, about ten minutes later, Christiane hadn’t noticed that she was sitting in a room full of smoke. The reduction in pressure inside the house caused by the cooker hood had overcome the draw in the chimney and pulled smoke out of the fire via the air inlets and into the living room! It reminded me of the atmosphere inside a house where we stayed once in Nepal. There they don’t bother with chimneys, they leave the door open and the smoke from a fire in the middle of the floor escapes through two triangular vents in the gable ends! Clearly when the fire is alight and we want to run the cooker hood we will have to open the door in the kitchen!

Thursday, 2 November 2006

In a Twilight World

Hans and Liz have been staying with us. Liz worked with me in the garden, whilst Hans went off searching for mushrooms and collecting nuts. Since they left on 17 October, I have been only half here. During their stay Liz and I did huge amounts of physical work in the garden and my opinion is that this, combined with the cumulative effect of far too much alcohol, lowered my resistance to infection. The day they left I caught a flu-like bug and was wiped out for two or three days with fevers and shivering, which was followed by a cough. I was in bed unable to do a thing. Hans had had a cough since he arrived and I thought that I had belatedly succumbed. This confused me when I then caught bronchitis.

Although this has happened before, I didn’t recognise it and after some days of denying that this was what was wrong, Christiane took me to a médecin who prescribed the usual carrier bag full of medicines (including the hire of a nebuliser with three medicaments) AND daily injections of a cephalosporin antibiotic by a visiting nurse. I started to improve, but after 4/5 days I was going backwards again. This sort of infection is extremely debilitating. I was completely exhausted and hacking away, so that for the last 6/7 days I have lost my voice completely. I was spending the days either collapsed in a chair or in bed. Breakfast meant an hour to recover, and food in general since the beginning has been very difficult. I have lost more than 5kgs in weight. Unfortunately, half of it seems to be the muscles that I grew earlier whilst gardening!

It has been like living in a twilight world. The closest comparison is when I was having chemotherapy 20 years ago and often spent days recovering from the treatments unable to do anything.

We called another doctor to the house and she prescribed good, old fashioned, Ampicillin! (It always worked for me in the UK). That was two days ago and at last I am getting on top of the infection, although I am still as weak as a kitten. I am beginning to feel almost human again, but I think it will be some time before I regain any strength.

The current policy in the Anglo-Saxon medical world is not to prescribe antibiotics because 90% of bronchitis cases are usually viral in origin as it says in this article .
Thankfully French doctors don't subscribe to this way of thinking. If you get as ill as I was, tell your doctor that you think you have a secondary bacterial infection and if he or she is still reluctant to give antibiotics then ask for a test.