Par contre

french doctor23 July: Forget the aqueducts, the chapels, the abbey and the unknown territory: today, I’m back in civilisation. I shower and put on make-up and a dress! What’s all this? I’m off to meet the famous author, Beverley Elphick O’Connor at the bar/tabac in St Remy for a wander round the market. Bev has an entourage now: a veritable flash mob of O’Connors and their various partners. One of the newer entrants to this crowd tries to distribute a list of shopping duties to all and sundry. I demand to know her star sign – Cancer. That would explain it, I inform her. My son’s Cancer and he’s keen on lists.


Bev and I have no duties save to catch up on news and purchase a few essentials: waterproof dressings, prunes and prawns and sit in a shady bar. After, we go back to the house where they’re all staying and where there’s a suggestion that the large lizard in the overhanging vines must surely be plastic. Until, bored with being studied at such close quarters, it scuttles away.

In the late afternoon, further civilisation. Back in the homeland, I’ve been told the stitches must be removed on Friday. After this, I may not swim for a further ten days. Today, I went to the medical centre in the village with a view to making an appointment for removal of offending stitches. You can knock me for knocking the NHS but this is how it happens in France:

I enter the surgery. There is no receptionist because doctors’ receptionists do not exist in France. I sit in the waiting room where there is one other patient. I ask the one other patient how to make an appointment. The one other patient looks surprised and says ‘there are no appointments, just sit down.’ The doctor appears at the door and the one other patient is more than happy for me to make my enquiries before he goes in. (Can you imagine that?) The doctor looks at my wound and says ‘sit down’. He sees the one other patient, then comes back for me.

In his office, he asks me about my holiday, asks me why I have five stitches in my shoulder and pulls the bed from the wall. He asks me to choose the position that will be the most comfortable – on my front – and removes the stitches. He asks whether I would like an antiseptic dressing. He applies an antiseptic dressing. He asks if I’m well. I ask when might it be possible to swim again. I’ve always had a problem with the verb that means ‘bathing’ as in having a wash and ‘bathing’ as in having a swim. I choose the wrong verb and the doctor is, for the first time, confused. Face down on the bed, I begin to do the breast stroke. The doctor asks whether I’m here to participate in the Avignon festival in which there are a lot of unusual acts and in which indoor swimming would not be deemed strange. The doctor is no longer confused. ‘Tomorrow’, he says. I fall in love with the doctor and tell him I’m a writer. ‘Peter Mayle’, he enquires? ‘Better’, I reply. The doctor says, ‘that will be 23 euro please’. I go to the supermarket and purchase a bottle of Crozes Hermitage and a packet of chocolate biscuits to celebrate.

Read Bev’s novel here :




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