14 March 2024



My mum always used to say that things come in threes.  What she meant was that you never get just one problem at a time to deal with.  Three come along at once.  It depends of course on what you count as a problem worth counting as such.  Many more minor trials and tribulations just get dealt with and go uncounted but yesterday we had our third countable one.  

The first two this year are (probably) getting the chimney swept which took four attempts and getting our long awaited fibre installed which took two attempts plus intervention by a builder to drill a hole.  Both of these were challenging for us to deal with because of the level of our command of the language and especially when trying to make arrangements by telephone.

In some ways I feel we managed better when our French was worse.  People would cotton on instantly to the fact that we are English and speak slowly, using basic vocabulary and hand gestures to help us to understand.  Now that we have a better command of French they speak at their normal rate and sometimes seem more irritated if we don't understand, so we still struggle, especially on the phone.

When we first registered with our GP in France last May she listened carefully to our medical history and referred Nick for a follow up to a colonoscopy he had many years ago.  (There had been no follow up at all in the UK.). The earliest appointment he could get was nine months later, so this February.  Off we went to a clinic in Châtellerault last month and after a bit of umming and ahhing the doctor decided he should have another one.  Oh joy!

He came away from the clinic with a huge dossier of forms to fill in and instructions and a date for the procedure at a hospital in Tours one month later.  Yesterday in fact.

Before this he had to make an appointment to see the anaesthetist as in France it is done under general anaesthetic.  This involved a couple of phone calls and on arrival at the hospital two weeks ago for the appointment the first thing we had to do was to take a queue ticket to meet with someone to arrange his room for the day of the procedure. We paid for the room then headed off to check in at the anaesthetist's office.  As we paid the anaesthetist he checked we had reserved a room.  All of this was quite challenging but we managed well without any of the staff resorting to speaking in English.

Anyone who has had, or lives with someone who has had, a colonoscopy will know that the process of preparing for it is not pleasant.  If you don’t, Google it!

We arrived at the hospital in good time yesterday and went to the first floor to check in as instructed.  We were sent to a waiting room to wait to be taken to Nick's own room.  A nurse popped in and out and gradually worked her way through the people to take them to their allocated rooms.  Nick's room was allocated but we were asked to wait a few minutes.  Then we were called to some seats outside the surgeon’s office along with another couple.  The surgeon came out to speak to us, wearing his outdoor coat.

I could hear my mum's voice in my head saying "summat's up here".  She was right.

Twenty minutes earlier, some idiot with a bulldozer had driven through a water main in the middle of Tours and the hospital's water supply had been cut off.  

The surgeon spoke in rapid French but we got the gist.  The operation was cancelled.  Then we got confused thinking he said to come back at 6pm.  The other couple stood up and left but as we exchanged glances he decided to clarify by speaking in very good English.  6pm was the earliest time they expected to have the water back on.  We were to go home and phone his secretary's office for another date for the procedure.  He apologised, saying he knew how hard the preparation for this is.

We drove home in a daze and sat with Hugo and Yvonne in the first really warm sunshine of the year.  Nick managed a slice of toast and I had a glass of wine.  I agreed to phone the office today to find out when he can have another date for the procedure, if we need another dossier and another appointment with the anaesthetist and will we have to pay again for it?  He will need another prescription for the medication so would they post it along with the dossier or will we have to go back to Châtellerault to get it?  Maybe our GP could give him a new prescription for it.  Will we have to pay again for another room for the day surgery, having not got as far as using it the first time?  

The secretary was obviously up to date with the events of yesterday and was ready for our call.  Nick could have had it done next week but I'll be back in the UK then and he can't really go through all of that by himself so it's going to be in April.

The secretary was keen to reassure me that he didn't need another dossier, or to see the anaesthetist again.  She would send his prescription for the medication through the post and was sure we wouldn't have to book another room.  "N'inquiétez pas" she said.  Which means "don't worry".

I am already worrying that we will go through all the palaver again and get to the hospital to find that in fact there is no room.  A friend just said "there's a chance it might all work correctly".  Or, as my mum would have said, "there's a first time for everything"!

Hey ho.

12 March 2024

MOVING TO FRANCE the French health system


Unlike the UK NHS, health care in France is not free.  

Certain items are not free in the UK either, such as eye care, dental care and medications, except in circumstances due to one's age or financial situation.  Generally, GP appointments, hospital appointments, operations and all free in the UK.  They are not free in France, although there are exceptions for people with certain chronic conditions and those with a low income where the cost is effectively free.

(There are those that would argue that the NHS isn't actually free as people have no choice in paying National Insurance all their working lives in order to pay for it.  A similar system of Social Charges also exists in France.)

The French health system is essentially one where the government contributes part of the cost and it's up to the individual to pay the difference.

Once we had been in France for ninety days we were entitled to apply for a Carte Vitale.  This we did by presenting ourselves at the local office of CPAM, the Social Security service, in Tours.  We first went to ask for an appointment to do this.  At the appointment we had to present the usual set of documents including proof of identity, residence and income.  The Cartes Vitales arrived a few weeks later.  In the meantime we paid for all our health needs and could claim the money back from the UK.

The Carte Vitale is an actual credit card sized card which we now present at every appointment or at the pharmacy.  With this card the French government pay 70% of the cost of everything (but pass that cost back to the UK for its citizens) and it's up to the individual to pay the remaining 30% or take out an insurance to cover it.  This kind of insurance is called Mutuelle Assurance.

(Visitors to France and people on holiday will not have a Carte Vitale and pay the full amount.  In return they receive a claim form to send to the DWP for a refund or claim on their own travel  insurance.)

A consultation with a GP (Médecin Générale) costs around 25€.  With the Carte Vitale 70% of this will be refunded to the individual's bank account by the Government and the rest by the Mutelle Assurance.  People are not obliged to have a Carte Vitale and can pay the full cost of everything if they wish but costs can mount up.  Medications are surprisingly inexpensive and in fact often cost much less than the basic UK NHS prescription charge.  

There are dozens of insurance companies offering Mutuelle Assurance and choosing one can be complicated.  The interesting thing is that, unlike the provision of private health insurance in the UK,  existing medical conditions are not taken into account.  The annual or monthly premium seems to be determined by a person's age and location and no questions about medical history are asked.

One thing we really like about the French system is that having registered with a local GP we can get appointments within a very short time and see the same person each time.  This is much better than the situation in our part of the UK where the best we can hope for is a telephone consultation with someone we may never have seen or heard of before and may never again.  Getting an appointment face to face with an actual doctor in the UK, never mind one you may already know, can be very difficult.

One quirk of the Mutelle Assurance is that people can opt for the level of cover they wish.  It's not cheap and typically will cost a couple our age over £1,500 per year in order to have most things covered.  Whether or not this is value for money is a gamble as with all insurance.  If you never need to be hospitalised it probably isn't but if you do you can end up with a large bill if you don't have Mutelle. 

Another quirk is that health care providers can charge what they wish.  Many will have a set of fees that are in line with recommendations so that a person who has a Carte Vitale and Mutuelle will have little or nothing to pay.  However, some charge more so that Mutelle Assurance providers will offer a level of cover that is much more than the 30% deficit.  

One of the curious things is that the process of referral to a consultant is very different from the UK NHS system.  In the UK a GP will say he or she is referring you to the hospital and, although you might have a choice of hospital, an appointment is made for you and arrives via the post.  In France it's up to you to find a consultant or hospital and make the appointment for yourself.  Most of these appointments can be made using a website called Doctolib where most providers and their fees are listed.

One of the disappointments we have found is that once referred it can take a long time to get an appointment with a consultant or hospital.  It seems that the French system is oversubscribed just like the UK one.  Many people find it impossible to get registered with a dentist in France, just like in the UK.  However, everyone I know who uses the system is full of praise for it and from our experience it does feel very much like a private health system but without the extortionate cost of similar private health care in the UK.

9 March 2024


This photo has nothing whatsoever to do with what happened.

It's been a funny old week chez nous.  We have dealt with numerous things that range from annoying to downright silly but something happened today that was quite unsettling.  Upsetting in fact (for me anyway).

We are on the lookout for some new lights for the kitchen and I went along to the huge barn that sells antiques/vintage stuff in Mairé.  My friend Alison came with me.

On the way there we encountered a bit of a kerfuffle on the road on the straight part of the route between Le Grand-Pressigny and Barrou.  A car had stopped and a young couple were trying to catch a dog that was running about loose in the road.

I have to say that we see loose dogs here in France much more often than we ever do in the UK.  All kinds of dogs from tiny fluffy lap dogs to huge guard dogs.  They seem to escape from their homes with amazing regularity.  It's unusual for a week to go by without encountering an escaped dog somewhere.

This dog was clearly a hunting dog with the usual brown, black and white colouring.  It was circling around in the road and whilst being friendly enough and happy to approach people was not going to be easy to catch.

Numerous cars stopped.  It's a long, flat and straight stretch of road between two forested areas and two villages and the one place where drivers can pick up speed and even overtake.  Not the best place for a loose dog.

I  found this picture of the dog posted on the Grand-Pressigny facebook page.

I had a spare lead in the car of the type that just slips over the dog's head but this dog, although friendly enough, was careering around and not willing to be put on a lead.  I doubt that hunting dogs ever get to be on a lead, or walked, or socialised.  In many ways it was surprising that it was so keen to be near so many humans.  At one point five cars had stopped to see if they could help and mainly to slow down the other drivers passing by.  Several of the drivers had dog treats that they tried to use to capture the dog but it sniffed then rejected all of them.

Eventually a lady said she would call her husband and he would come and get the dog and take it to the Mairie or the vet, which is apparently the usual thing to do.  However, it was now Saturday afternoon so I had no idea if that was actually a possibility.  With so many other people around and us being the only non-French speaking people we decided to leave them to it and the dog hopefully in safe hands.

An hour later, on our way back home and with no other vehicles around, the dog was still there.  We guessed that the attempts to capture it had failed and people had given up and gone on their way.

What to do, what to do?  Being short on ideas we thought why not contact the police.  Apart from the fact that the dog itself was in huge danger, there was the potential for a serious accident, especially come nightfall.  Even if we managed to catch it we didn't know what we would do with it.

We stopped outside the Gendarmerie at Le Grand-Pressigny.  To my amazement it is manned every day and by pressing the button and speaking via an intercom we were allowed into the police station to speak to an actual person.  I emphasised, in my best French, that it was a dangerous situation and hopefully it made a difference.  The young woman heard our story and said she would tell her colleague to go and investigate.  

That made me feel a lot better.  Dogs are not always treated very well in France (not always in the UK either) and especially hunting dogs.  This poor dog was so cute, so friendly, clearly lost and stressed and deserved to be looked after properly.  I sincerely hope that a friendly Gendarme managed to catch it, to take it to safety and that it has food, water and somewhere warm for the night, until its owner can be found.

4 March 2024


On Saturday it rained and rained until early evening.
A beautiful sunset was reflected in the puddles.
Keeping the house warm was hard going with two log fires.

On Sunday it was dry but at only 6°C still very cold.
The brocante at Sepmes was busy, the first big one of the year, but we didn’t linger long.
We spent about an hour seeking out the sunshine when the clouds allowed.

We're ready now, for some real warmth and Spring.

1 March 2024

MOVING TO FRANCE removals and belongings.

For several years our house in France has had everything we need.  When we downsized in the UK in 2014 we moved to a much smaller house and most of the furniture we had was too big so everything came to France.  We then brought all the furniture from the little holiday home we had in the village as well!


One of the difficulties caused by Brexit is that the days of being able to bring more or less anything and everything from the UK to France are now gone.  Year after year we would bring bits of furniture, tools, paint, plants and gardening equipment every time we came for a holiday.  Since Brexit that is no longer allowed.  Generally we are only allowed to bring the kind of personal items appropriate for a holiday and a limited value of other stuff.  Anything over and above that is subject to import charges.  

This is why many UK companies, especially smaller ones, no longer ship to France.  The paperwork required and duty on goods is often prohibitive.  Equally, anyone ordering goods from the UK is often obliged to pay a disproportionate amount of duty on goods that previously did not apply.


Because we are actually making France our permanent residence we have a year from the start date of our visa during which we could bring any of our belongings, just like anyone would who was actually moving house (rather than coming to live in one they have had for years, like us!).

Consequently we had a good look at what we had in the UK that we might benefit from having in France and managed to fill the trailer with a variety of things.  A few tools, some hobby and craft stuff, a few pots and pans, bedding, bits of furniture and so on.  The tedious part was that we had to make an inventory for every item and give its value.  Most of it was stuff we had owned for some time and no longer had receipts for, but the information on the French government website states that a reasonable estimate of the value of used items is acceptable. We spent a lot of time writing a list of everything and its approximate value.

We took the opportunity to being extra pillows and duvets.  The issue with bedding is that French beds, pillows and duvets are a slightly different size to those we get in the UK.  The equivalent items in France vary by just enough that our existing sheets and duvet sets (that we brought from the UK years ago) do not fit them.  

So, in my very last trip with the car I brought a supply of replacement duvets and pillows so that when the old ones are past their best and need changing we won’t have to buy a whole lot of new bed linen as well.  

Next time……..grappling with the French health service.