More Woe than Go

I’ve been thinking of changing the name of the blog.  How does “Never-ending Tails of Woe” sound?  Because, despite my best efforts to remain cheerful, it’s beginning to feel that way.

I wrote about the homeopathic vet/osteopath a couple of weeks ago.  In fact, it’s four weeks to the day since she she saw my horses the first time.  To be honest, I’m a bit sceptical about homeopathy, but it’s absolutely accepted as a complementary form of therapy here in France.  Everyone seems to know someone who’s had great results with it, either personally or in the treatment of animals.  So I engaged fully with the process and toddled off to the pharmacy, where I parted company with €65 and came home armed with tubes of tiny white pills and an assortment of nondescript brown bottles, all filled to the brim with magic potion.

Aero was to have five of each of two different types of pill at least twice a day (we consistently managed to do this three times a day), plus a mix of three different liquids squirted into his mouth once a day.  Flurry’s treatment was easier – just five of two types of pill one a day.  I became adept at pressing the tiny round pills into the flesh of apples, and the horses were thrilled to be getting TREEEEATS.  Although Aero was less than thrilled about the magic potion I was force-feeding him, but he’s a very tolerant boy.

Initially, his cough got worse.  This seemed to ring a bell somewhere in the dim recesses of my brain, that homeopathy makes the symptoms worse before it starts to improve things.  Sure enough, after about a week, the cough seemed to be improving.  I rode out with my friends, just a short forty-five minute amble through the woods and he only coughed three times.  Things were looking up.

I was talking to Georges, who feeds the horses in the mornings, a couple of days later, and I said that Aero seemed to be better.  Mmmm, he said, shaking his head doubtfully.  He’d heard a couple of coughs that morning.  That day, I went and sat on a rock in the horses’ field and watched them for about twenty minutes.  Aero coughed on and off.  Flurry shook his head constantly and I videoed him (see below).  I was not a happy bunny, and I arranged for the vet/osteo to see them again a couple of days later.

Two days before she came, there was a heavy thunderstorm.  I rode Aero the following day, just to see how he was.  He was bouncy, happy, energetic and not coughing.  I was ecstatic.  But, I reminded myself, it rained yesterday.  Maybe there’s just less pollen around today.

The next day, when the vet visited, his breathing was still good and he wasn’t coughing.  We discussed his case.  She was confident that the medication was working as it should.  I could stop with everything bar one of the liquids, but if the cough started again I should restart the meds straight away.


I rode him the next day, Saturday.  Cough cough cough.  I actually hadn’t stopped the meds yet, so we continued as before.  The cough continued, too, as bad as ever.  I tried to contact the vet/osteo on Monday.  She was on holiday and was not replying to messages.  I’ll be honest here and say I felt helpless and pathetic while I was waiting for her to get back to me (it took five days).  I was not strong enough in my convictions to say stuff this and call the ‘normal’ horse vet immediately, and I persisted with this treatment that was doing nothing for another couple of days, because at least I felt I was doing SOMETHING!

Eventually, on Thursday, I called the normal vet and left a message.  We had a brief game of telephone tag and finally spoke on Easter Sunday morning.  He’s coming to see us on Friday.  Meanwhile, I’ve made a homemade nebuliser, consisting of a plastic bag with holes, hot water, a sponge and Vicks VapoRub.  Aero doesn’t like the smell but he’s very accepting of the plastic bag on his nose (what a good boy he is!) and it does seem to help him.

So that’s Tail of Woe number one.  And then there’s Flurry.

Headshaking, remember?  He’d had the horse dentist and he’d also had a crashing fall in the field, witnessed by Alexandrine, so it was sensible to conclude that the incessant irritated shake of his head was caused by one or both of these.  He was reluctant to have me touch his head anywhere, or behind his ears or down the left hand side of his neck.  Everything the vet/osteo found made sense in relation to these.  She treated him, prescribed his tiny white pills and left me absolutely certain he’d be grand in a couple of days.

Except he wasn’t grand.  He was exactly the same two weeks later, when I made this video.

(Apologies to those sensitive souls who might be aghast at how ‘relaxed’ he is.  I was concentrating on his front end, so I didn’t notice!)

So on the vet/osteo’s second visit, after we’d talked about Aero, she treated Flurry once again, and found a blockage on the same area, behind his ears, but on the right hand side rather than the left.  That all made sense.  And the treatment looked like it was beneficial.  I’ve seen enough equine osteopathy to know the signs a horse will give when something releases, and Flurry did a lot of blinking, chewing and yawning.  Once again, I was certain he’d be grand in a couple of days.

Except he isn’t.  He’s still head-shaking, although not as much.  When I finally spoke to the ‘normal’ vet, I expressed my concern that this was actually the manifestation of an allergy.  I suggested that I try a course of bute while waiting for his visit.  He agreed.  If the symptoms clear up with the help of bute, then it’s not an allergy.  If they don’t clear up, then I’ve got two allergic horses.

Feck’s sake, that’s all I need.

He started the bute yesterday.

The Jury is out.

That time the vet treated my back….

I do hate to be a Moana McMoanyface about my back, so I promise I won’t go on too much!

I’m starting a new physiotherapy treatment on Friday which is supposed to be the berries altogether, according to any French person I’ve mentioned it to.  However, I’ve still been having pain and I just felt wrong so I asked the doctor if it would be a good idea to see an osteopath beforehand, for a final straightening out.  Bien sûr, he said.  In fact, he added that I should see the osteopath on completion of the treatment (12 weeks!!) to see how I am.

A small aside… I effing love our local medics!!  They’re all so completely accepting of complementary therapies!  There’s none of the prevarication I’ve heard from their Irish equivalents : “Well, if you find it beneficial” or “I suppose it won’t do you any harm.”  Just “Of course! “

But I didn’t want to see my regular osteopath, Moïra.  I feel like she knows me too well at this stage, if that makes sense.  And the last time I visited her I got a sense of frustration on her part that I keep going out of kilter after treatment.

One of my friends recommended an osteopath in Manosque.  But it’s a bit funny, she said.  This osteopath is actually a vet as well, and you’ll find yourself sitting in the waiting room with a bunch of dogs and cats!

Vet/osteopath?  There can’t be too many of them around here!  Yes, it turned out that this lady is the same vet/osteopath who treated Flurry and Aero three weeks ago.

So now I’ve been treated by the same vet as my horses.

How do I feel after it?

Like I’ve been hit by a train, to be honest.  Her method of treatment is not like any I’ve had before.  There was no clicking or crunching; no gentle finger-pressure manipulation.  There was a lot of head manipulation with me lying flat on my back, followed by a lot of sometimes-painful heavy pressure treatment on my back with me lying face down.

But I felt sort of validated, or even vindicated, afterwards.  I’ve been beginning to wonder if my pain is psychological, because there’s nothing major to see on my x-rays, just normal wear-and-tear arthritis.   And I’ve been feeling I should be damn well getting over it by now.  But this lady, like Moïra, found that my pelvis was completely thrown out to the right and the rest of me is twisted to compensate.  But unlike any other osteopath or chiropractor I have ever visited, she honed in on two specific areas, one  in the middle of my rib cage and the other in the upper-butt region, both of which are constantly sore.  And, when the treatment was finished and she was discussing what she’d found, she said I was so crooked that it was no wonder I’ve been in pain.  And all I could think when she said it was “Hooray! I haven’t been imagining it!”

It’s one day post-treatment and I ache all over, but my left hip is particularly sore, right on the spot where I was kicked by a grumpy horse twenty years ago.  I blame this kick for everything, and I’m hoping that the fact that it’s sore now is a good sign.

Fingers crossed.

Now I promise to turn off Moana Mc Moanyface for a while.  Hopefully she’ll be back to normal soon.


Vive la Difference!

The lake in front of Granny’s house

I spent a couple of days in Ireland last week, visiting my mother.  Each time I go back, I feel more and more like a stranger in a strange land (any other sci-fi nerds out there?).  This time, I even started to notice the differences while I was waiting for my flight in London.   Read on, and see if you can relate to what I’m talking about…


I remember on my first trip to the US, back in ’82, thinking how strange cars look with the steering wheel on the left hand side.  Well, cars now look weird to my eyes when the steering wheel is on the right hand side.  My brain screams out “Waaagh, where’s the driver?  Oh, on the other side.”  It happens all the time.

And on the subject of cars… while I (mostly) manage to drive on the correct side of the road for whichever country I’m in, remembering which door to use to get into my mother’s car blows my mind every single time.  And that carries over when I get back to France… I have to stop and think “Which side?” for the first week or so.  And even then, I frequently get it wrong.

Meeting and Greeting

There are strict protocols to be followed when greeting people down here in deepest, darkest Provence.

When you meet a friend or family member, you kiss in greeting.  The number of kisses varies from region to region.  Around here, it’s one on each cheek.  15 kilometres away in St Martin, it’s three.  How the hell are you supposed to know these things??  Apparently, you’re supposed to be able to follow the lead of the other person and keep on exchanging kisses until they stop, but I’ve never been any good at following a lead when dancing, so why should this be any different for me?  I’ve disengaged early far too many times, but thankfully I am forgiven because I’m a foreigner (and apparently, my accent is ‘mignon’).  In general, people seem to start on the left, then go right, then go left again as necessary.  I stick to this left-right-left system as a rule of thumb, but despite my best efforts, there have been one or two awkward On-The-Lips moments when I meet a practitioner of the right-left-right system.

When you meet an acquaintance or a business associate, you MUST shake hands.  The LSH was helping a friend install some equipment in their shop and was fascinated by how much time was taken up with hand-shaking first thing in the morning.  Everyone went around the room shaking hands on arrival.  The last person in had fifteen hands to shake.  I’m not kidding, thirty minutes of the work day went on hand-shaking.

Each time I go back to Ireland, I find it harder and harder to drop these rules.

For example…

Greeting Family

When I arrive at my mum’s house, I have to remind myself to greet her with our normal Irish family greeting – a big bearhug and a kiss. I must not slip up and bisous her officiously on each cheek.  That would not go down well.

Greeting Friends

If I were to greet my Irish friends with a kiss on each cheek, they would recoil in horror and gossip about “Yer wan and her fancy French ways” afterwards.  If I fail to greet my French friends this way (but only the FIRST time I see them each day.  This is part of the protocol, too.  I wish there was a guide book, it took me ages to figure that one out) they think I’m in a huff.  It comes naturally to me, now.  So much so, that in Ireland, I have to stop myself from running around kissing everyone.

Greeting Acquaintances

When my mother’s home help arrives in the morning, I find it strange that she sticks her head in the door and says Hello to me.  What’s wrong with that?  Well, we should be shaking hands of course!  I have to force myself to remain seated, resisting the urge to go over to formally shake her hand.  It’s the same with Seán, who’s been doing odd jobs in the garden and around the house for more than twenty years.  There’s no doubt that if I was greeting him over here, there would be a handshake at the very least, but most probably we’d kiss each other warmly on each cheek.  Over there, it’s a “Howiya! How’s it going?” sort of greeting.

Greeting strangers

I live in a tiny village here in Provence.  And it’s just damn rude if you do not greet everyone you pass in the street with a polite “Bonjour.”  My mum lives in a slightly larger village in Co Clare.  And, over there, it’s just damn weird if you say “Hello” to everyone you pass.  And it’s even weirder if you say “Bonjour.”  Yes, it happened.  No, I don’t want to talk about it.

Chit Chat

Ah, the weather.  Where would the art of conversation be without it?  While I was away in Ireland, it rained very heavily here in Provence.  For a morning.  The whole village was talking about it for the next week.

The day before I left Ireland, the sun shone ALL DAY LONG!  And it even shone the next day!  All of a sudden, people were smiling at strangers and saying things like “Great day, thank God.”  If the sun shone all the time in Ireland, we’d be the happiest people on earth.  Just imagine, maybe the Fields of Athenry would never have been written – what would we sing at rugby matches instead?

Also, note how the Irish always throw in a divine thanks when something good happens.  Even the non-believers.  To be sure, to be sure.  I’m sure there are some French people who say “Grace à Dieu” from time to time, but I haven’t met any of those ones.  Yet.

Food is a topic of conversation that comes up regularly in both cultures.  It’s the same.  But different.

Because only the Irish could have an in-depth conversation about all the ways they love to eat potatoes.  Yes, I was there.  Yes, I was even an active participant in the conversation.  And no, I wasn’t faking it.  I do love to eat potatoes.  In many different way.  But they must be proper, floury spuds, not those greasy, soapy things they serve over here.

Conversely, only in France will you overhear a group of young men having an in-depth discussion about the best wines to serve with foie gras.  Yes, I was there, too.  No, it was not a group of well-to-do young toffs, it was a bunch of normal lads, some of whom work in agriculture, some in construction.  They sure as hell know their wines from a young age over here…


I knew I was with Irish people when I was waiting for my Ryanair flight to Shannon and I spotted three bright orange young ladies, sporting Amy Winehouse-type updoes, three-inch long eyelashes and shocking-pink velour track suits.  I’m sure they thought they looked fabulous, and the young men with them seemed to find them attractive, but.  Ehhhhh.  No.  ‘Nuff said.

On the other side of the coin, a long long time ago, I was queuing for a flight to Nantes when I realised that I was the only person in the queue who was not wearing a black coat.  Boy oh boy, but the French sure are conservative about outerwear.  ‘Nuff said.  Again.


Light switches.  How can anything as commonplace as a light switch cause trouble?  Very easily…

In France, when the switch is down, the light is off.  In Ireland, it’s the opposite.  WHY?  Isn’t that something that the EU could have standardised, instead of bananas and carrots?  This generally doesn’t cause a problem until you’re faced with a multi-switch panel and you turn every single light on and off until you finally find the one you want.  I’m sure my neighbours sometimes think I’m trying to send out an SOS some evenings…

And then there’s switch for the bathroom light.  In Ireland, it’s NEVER EVER inside the bathroom, it’s outside, on the wall beside the door.  For safety reasons, I believe, because electricity and water don’t mix.  For the same reason, you will never find an ordinary electrical socket in a bathroom.  In France?  The light switch is inside the bathroom.  Usually (but not always) beside the door.  And our bathroom has two ordinary electrical sockets positioned just above the twin sinks.  And, strangely, I have yet to be electrocuted in my bathroom.  But watch this space.  It could happen.

Speaking of bathrooms brings up something which holds a special place at the heart of every Irish household.

The Immersion

This is great big copper tank, used to heat water, which can be found in the hot press, swathed in lagging jackets and blankets.  The hot press has been an Irish institution for generation.  It’s where you keep your spare bedclothes, clothes and towels, so that they can benefit from any micro-therms of heat which slip out through the immersion’s insulation.  The Immersion has a setting which allows it to heat just a ‘sink’ full of water or you can go mad altogether and flick it to ‘bath’ (but just once a week, right?).  Normally, it also has a timer connected to it, so that the household has hot water at the appropriate times of day.  Despite this, every single Irish Mammy that ever existed has been known to cry out in pain “Oh no! I forgot to turn the immersion off!”

Compare and contrast to the French equivalent of an Immersion.  Great big tank, yes.  Presumably copper, but you can’t be sure because it has a sort of built-in insulation wrapped around it.  No big puffy lagging jackets; no extra blankets draped over it.  And (gasp of horror) it doesn’t live in a hot press, it lives wherever is handy.  Like in a corner of the garage.  Or in a little annex at the back of the house, cold and uninsulated, as in our rented house in Cereste.

To be fair, the built in insulation seems to work quite well, because that little annex was bloody freezing in the winter, so it was no good at all for airing clothes.

But much more seriously… there was no sink or bath option.  The only option was to have a gigantic tank of hot water.  And, in fact, that’s all we ever had.  A gigantic tank of hot water.  All.The.Time.  Because not only was there no sink/bath switch, there wasn’t even an on/off switch.

It’s enough to give any self-respecting Irish Mammy heart failure.

Ehmmm excuse me, I think you left the immersion on