Having collected a dose of tick-bite fever (Rickettsia) on a recent trip to South Africa, I went to a doctor in Cape Town and was given anti- biotics.

Unfortunately, this did not do the trick and on returning to France via the USA, the chronic arthritis-like symptoms, headaches, irritating cough and fever had increased, not abated.

No other choice – a first foray into the world of French healthcare.

What a revelation! A wonderful example for regulation, versus the more accepted philosophy of de-regulation. (Can’t believe I’ve just written that).

Living in rural France, you are ‘expected’ to patronise the doctor closest to your home. However, it is not compulsory. I turned to the little village of Bonnieux where friends had said that Dr Paul le Bars spoke ‘good English, but you have to make the appointment in French first!’.

No problem, a telephone call and a charming lady informed me that appointments were in 20-minute intervals and gave me my slot.

We arrived. Knock on the door. No answer. Press the buzzer. No answer. OK, walk in and you’re confronted by six closed doors leading off a passage. Ah! “Salle de attendee” on one door – waiting room.

Enter – not a soul in sight. The waiting room was not different to anyone in the world: ages old magazines (but being France, they were Vogue); coffee and tea on tap and posters informing you that if you have an injection or you do not feel well after seeing the doctor, you may take a taxi home and the French government will pay for it – and for you to return to collect your car, when you’re better!

Door opens. Doctor arrives. Very pleasant, charming and eloquent in English.

We go into his consulting room via the closed door passage and it is no different from any other. However, off the room is a mini-surgery where rural doctors do procedures. All fully fitted out and supplied by the Government.

After I have listed my health woes, he taps on his computer and says “what’s my base line?” (Haven’t heard that one before).

The base line turned out to be:

1. Blood tests

2. Treat the pain and swelling

3. Get rid of the virus

Transaction completed. Your receive your account (pay cash), insurance forms, script all from the doctor’s friendly little laptop (complete with French govt flag) – no receptionist or nurse in sight and you leave by another door, away from the waiting room. Consultation: E22.00 (AU$35.55; ZAR251.00)

So, off I went to the pharmacy. Your prescription form is in duplicate – in France the patient/customer must have a copy of everything about you given to another party. You are given your medication.

The pharmacist writes the dispensing instructions in flowing cursive on the box with a texter – what? No expensive computer labelling system, I ask. “Non! – why, the patient can read the box (the package insert is left in as well)!” You pay cash and the register also spits out the insurance form. All very neat – the forms are not recognised unless the barcode pricing label from the box has been placed on the form for verification purposes. A bespoke labelling system with peel off makes it pretty easy.

Prices are controlled and at cost. For example, Doxy 100 Ge (doxycycline) for 30 days (2x day) is E7.50 (AU$12.11; ZAR85.58)

Another quirk of the French healthcare system is that analgesics are only available in pharmacies (privately owned) or parapharmacies (often owned by the big supermarkets) but not in supermarkets or convenience stores. Price controlled, too. And, as the doctor remarked, we only use one – Dafalgan 500mg (paracetamol) – because what is the use of a paracetemol if it doesn’t cure a Frenchman’s head the morning after with a coffee and a nice croissant? Nice contract for Bristol-Myers Squibb.


Blood tests. Off to Coustellet.

After minimum formalities, you are ushered into the blood-sucking chamber. In France, the person who analyses your blood must be the one to take the blood. Therefore, I have the consulting pathologist himself.

A nifty little gadget was an electric rocker to keep the blood moving as other phials were filled. The Doctor keeps up a little patter – ‘my patients must be calm’, he tells me. He claims that France is the only country to use the rocker so as you can care for the patient and not worry about ‘the health of the blood’. Nice touch.

My blood was taken at 09h00. By 12h00, the results were accessible via my own personal code on their website to both my doctor and myself (the law again: I must be able to see what the doctor can see).

Efficient payment, insurance forms printed out. Cost of procedure: E26.00 (AU$42.00; ZAR296.00)

Regulation or de-regulation? The question in vexing. This was a great example of a highly regulated environment working to perfection. However, was it the people making it work? I think so.

Nothing could be more stark in describing Greg Norman – the choker and Tiger Woods – the winner.

Have a look at their pleasure palaces aka yachts!





Guess which one is Tigers!

[thanks John]


Filed Under Play | Leave a Comment


The Barossa’s approach to a crushing problem. Some small relief announced this morning for the beleaguered Australian wine industry — the crush during this year’s vintage was 5% less than in 2008. The Australian Bureau of Statistics figures out this morning show there were 1.73 million tonnes of grapes crushed in 2008-09, a decrease of 99,000 tonnes. So much for the good news.

The bad news from the same release was that inventories of Australian wine held by winemakers (who crush more than 400 tonnes) increased this year to 1.92 billion litres at June 30, 2009. This was a 2.4% increase on last years end of financial year figure. Table wine inventories rose 2.3% to 1.7 billion litres as at 30 June 2009.

With the export collapsing because of the strengthening Australian dollar, the grim times for producers and good times for consumers are likely to continue for at least the next 12 months. Which might explain why the heartland of the Australian industry has turned in a new marketing direction, which is featuring Evony rather than Grange.



[thanks, Crikey]



Debate is starting to develop over the crumbling transport infrastructure in many so-called developed and First World countries such as England, USA, Canada and Australia.

Successive governments have held back on numerous mass transport proposals and consequently are seeing road and rail networks crumbling as the skies being more and more chock-a-block with planes.

For example. the roads around and in Montreal, Canada would embaress the Mpumalanga government in eastern South Africa (pot holes are often over 30cm deep, there!). The rail networks in Oz and the US are, to be frank, grim.

Refreshingly, there much to be learnt from the French and Spanish. They have been showing the rest of the world how to do it for three decades. Fantasy? Is there anyone who has not noticed? It is no fantasy. The bigger cities such as Lyon and Lisbon have shiny new Metros but one is astounded that even smaller cities such as Bilbao, Toulouse and Lille have proper Metro systems and others such as Bordeaux, Nice and Seville have brand new tramway systems that work.

Yes, even countries such as Spain, considerably less wealthy than Australia. Last year, a TGV linked Madrid and Barcelona, cities comparable to Sydney/Melbourne in size and only about 30% more in distance. Iberia, the national airline, has stopped flying Madrid to Barcelona since the opening of the TGV (in Spanish, Alta Velocidad Espanola, AVE) which does the 630-kilometre journey in two hours 45 minutes.

Due to be finished this year the tunnel under the Pyrenees will ultimately join the Spanish and French TGV networks. Barcelona to Montpellier at about 300 kilometres will take between 80-100 minutes depending on other stops (probably Figueres, Narbonne, Perpignan). This will link the sunbelt smart-growth centres of Barcelona, Montpellier and Toulouse (the latter two not accidentally being the two fastest-growing cities of Europe and centres of high-tech and academia) and the whole region of Catalonia and Languedoc-Roussillon will continue to thrive.

If Australia continues to squander countless billions on roads that just create more congestion (at a cost to the economy of at least $10 billion per annum. not to mention our $26 billion oil import bill), the connectivity of our major centres and the way they serve any international visitors can only get worse. Canberra to Sydney at 280 kilometres is less than half the distance Madrid-Barcelona. Either Canberra airport should be developed into Sydney’s second international airport or a new airport halfway (with 45 minutes TGV to central Sydney, less time than most airport queues) is the perfect large infrastructure project.

One wonders if those supermandarins will look over their lattes and see what the Europeans are doing?


A sad day for the cricket world. David Shepherd has died after a long battle with cancer.

Shepherd was a renowned international umpire and officiated in 172 ODIs, including three consecutive World Cup finals, and 92 Tests between 1983 and 2005. His good-humoured approach to officiating and quirky superstitions – most notably his ‘jig’ when scores reached 111 or a multiple thereof – made him a favourite with players and spectators the world over. When one considers his considerable bulk, that ‘jig’ was an effort.

Sheps was also famous for his tussles to get to the front of the lunch time buffet queue with that other well-known feaster – Bob Woolmer.

Shepherd was appointed a first-class umpire in 1981, and made his international debut at the 1983 World Cup. He would go onto become one of the game’s most decorated and beloved officials. Only Steve Bucknor and Rudi Koertzen have stood in more Tests.

His last Test match was between West Indies and Pakistan in Kingston in June 2005 – after which Brian Lara presented him with a bat inscribed with a message thanking him for “the service, the memories and the professionalism” – and his final county appearance came at his former home ground of Bristol. Shepherd had represented Gloucestershire as a batsman over a 14-year career, which included 282 first-class matches and 12 centuries.

Upon his retirement from umpiring, Shepherd returned to Devon and remained involved with his local club. He married Jenny, his long-time partner, in 2008.

In confirming his passing on Wednesday, a statement on the Gloucestershire website spoke of Shepherd’s “cheerful west country approach.” “He was respected by all with whom he came in contact, especially the international players whom he encountered in so many Test Matches,” the statement continued. “He always brought a smile to all our faces. For him cricket was a lovely game, a simple game and a game to be enjoyed. He himself brought so much enjoyment to so many of us.”

One of the first personal tributes to come in was from his long-time colleague, Dickie Bird. “I feel very saddened this has happened,” Bird told Sky Sports. “He was a fine umpire, we spent many happy hours together. He was a great man and a tremendous man to umpire with. He was a good bloke, he’ll be sadly missed.”

RIP – Cricket needs characters and no one was greater than David Shepherd.

[thanks to Cricinfo for the stats]

Editor’s note: This incident happened in August 2009 but I decided not to write about it until I had left the passport-issuing country on the basis of a complete lack of trust in the British Consulate’s Pretoria FCO and what they might do to me.

The story can have another headline:

How to have an illegal passport for 43 years

The United Kingdom (an oxymoron) of Great (another oxymoron) Britain and Northern Ireland purports to look after its citizen’s interests through the FCO – the Foreign and Commonwealth Office aka the F-king C-p Organisation.


[The Foreign Office in the 30s – back when there WAS an Empire]

Let me assure you that this is not true. Here’s how it works:

Arriving in Cape Town I discovered that I did not have enough pages for an online visa for the USA (work that one out – as an aside!). I had to renew my passport with the British Consulate in Cape Town who send it to Pretoria.

Sitting in a coffee shop in tranquil Knysna, I receive a phone call from a Mrs Dot Hobbs of the FCO.

“My dear. Your passport is illegal. I am confiscating it. Your father was born in Ireland not Northern Ireland. You were issued the passport in Canberra erroneously (she thought that the codes CAN, AUS were Canada not Canberra!). You are in the country illegally.” “Oh, we have no records of your mother or father in this country”, was the parting shot.

Not a nice way to digest a capaccino and toasted cheese sandwich.

Furious research then followed – where was my father actually born (all my life I had been under the impression was that it had been in Donegal , but that is in Ireland, making me technically ineligible! The law to allow one to claim via your mother comes into effect on 31st December 2009…we’re talking three months here)

The old man did not make misrepresentations or mistakes – especially trying to outwit the Queen. And mother Sylvia bowed to Her Maj every morning.

Numerous telephone calls, all harassing from our Mrs Hobbs – who informed us that “I have the MBE for services to the Queen for 21 years” (I didn’t want to tell her I know an English rugby player who only wears his when he streaks naked as a stunt at parties : she might not have liked that). She made sure that I knew I was in the wrong and had committed a felony.

All that would solve the problem would be my father’s birth certificate. No problem except that it was in France and in a cabinet only we had the key to and we were in South Africa and we had renters in the house.

I supplied proof that I had been issued a passport in 1966; 1976; 1986; 1996; 2003 and that my current passport was valid to 2013. No such luck, says Mrs Hobbs. “We have no records”.

I obtained a copy of my SA birth certificate – it stated Father’s place of birth: North Ireland. Ah! Here we go…Mrs Hobbs … “No, my dear. North Ireland is not Northern Ireland”.

Dear Marianna as a sworn translator for the High Court told me that as the person who filled in the birth certificate was writing in their second language, a court would rule in my favour. No such luck, says Mrs Hobbs. “I am the sole arbitrator”.

Niece Belinda then discovers that my father was born in Londonderry, NORTHERN Ireland – success! No such luck, says Mrs Hobbs. “Prove it”

Frantic calls to Belfast to obtain a copy of the certificate. Web site down. Payment gateway down. Switchboard jammed. Don’t work on Fridays after lunch.

OK, Jannie in London. Book Ryanair and off you go next week. If that fails, Lovonne gets into her starting blocks to go to Menerbes, open the house, find the certificate and email back to South Africa.

In the interim, Jannie talks to Vodafone UK legal department – of course, you’re elegible. The law has changed – you qualify via your mother. We have her certificate. No such luck, says Mrs Hobbs. “They have no idea of the British law!”

Suddenly, out of the woodwork pops a close relative living in Bath. Yes, I have Dad’s certificate. Scan, email, plop into the inbox : 23h20 on a Thursday evening.

Both Lovonne and I email separately at 23h21 to Mrs Hobbs.

08h30, Friday morning – no call from Mrs Hobbs. We phone. The email has not arrived, IT problems in the Consulate (Broken Britain again!). Please send again and we told her we had a back up in a fax to Johannesburg and a driver to take it to Pretoria for person-to-person delivery. Her reply? “We close early on a Friday”.

Well, 10h30 the email arrived. Suddenly – and begrudgingly – a new passport (and the cancelled, clipped valid passport) were with TNT couriers on their way to Cape Town.

Space prevents me writing more as there were other twists and turns in the story.

The lesson? Travel with all your birth certificates; don’t trust the Consulate to be able to do the job; avoid the British authorities at all costs (they don’t want anyone on that little island anymore); if you have to deal with Mrs Hobbs in the British Consulate in South Africa, rather leave the country and keep hanging in there when you know you’re right!

My overriding reflection is I wonder what Winston Churchill or Maggie Thatcher would have thought of this.

                                                It’s a long way from Chatham to Menerbes via Heathrow, Gatwick, Marseilles and having to deal with the customer-friendly UK service personnel.

Well, we made it. Even the arrival of an Air Algeria flight into Marseilles at the same time as us and the subsequent feverish French customs activity (quite a sight as they’re not used to it).

Bastide Les Amis stood proud amongst the autumn leaves as we arrived. The houses look great and had been cleaned to the inch of their lives by the marvellous Veronique.

The Fox-Duncans had done battle with the alarm system and survived to fill the fridge with a delightful dinner.

The Luberon Valley is quiet. The tourists are gone and the locals are taking it back, step by delicious step. The shopkeepers have broad smiles, there is time to chat, the artisans wave instead of looking grimly at the tarmac in case you are wanting to ask them where they are when they will be finished.

Our Bon Promenade vista has changed from the lush green of spring and summer to russet browns and ochres.

IMG 6241


IMG 6230


Vonnie’s creative shot of the acorns getting ready for winter – please note the dew drop on the acorn

IMG 6226


The 12th Century village Church – Eglise Saint Luc has now been fully restored on the outside. A magnificent example of restoration:

IMG 6235

View from the side as you approach the Church.

IMG 6237

Renovated front entrance – each piece carved by hand.

IMG 6239


The Vestry stairs now unrecognisable from the rubble heap in June.

It’s wonderful to be back. One lesson from rentals – expect to spend a day re-setting TVs, DVDs, clocks etc etc !

Au bientot

Lovonne and Simon

Isn’t it amazing how there are rules and then there are rules. And it all depends on who it is who is interpreting those rules – stupidly, reasonably, or downright foolishly.

Well, British Airways could not be more lax in their training of staff to interpret their sometimes bewildering rules. Their ‘new’ and ‘old’ baggage policies are confusing, strange and a total rip-off.

Go the website and print them off. Take the printed rules to the check-in counter and see what happens. BA will surprise you, no exceptions.



Don’t be fooled.

Take Edith at the Boston First Class check-in – calm, unflappable, courteous, helpful, and a mindset that said she would try and unravel them and ensure that our mountain of luggage would pass through under the rules and in terms of the agreed fees.

Take Stephen at the Gatwick First Class check-in – sweating, pink-faced, hot-flushed, rude, obnoxious, threatening, and a mindset that said “I will earn a bigger bonus if I persuade these people standing in front of me that they not only have to pay again, but MORE, for the short Gatwick-Marseilles leg, irrespective of what the rules state on the web site”.

Stephen phones Michael who agrees with him. Stephen phones Lindsay who tells him not to be such a prat and allow the people to load their luggage – they have paid, and, by the way, are customers of the airline!

One wonders how many people accept what these pr-cks tell you. Stand your ground, you have rights. The Airlines are looking for every cent they can get and will stop at nothing. Added value? No!

Another warning: make sure you check in online with any airline these days – they’re overbooking as many flights as possible to maximise loads. Check in late – you’ll be bumped. And, they don’t care. The customer is NOT king in air travel.

BA made a massive loss last year – don’t hold your breath for a customer service award in 2009.

        We motored down the Canadian Route 10 which became the US 1-91 South, through the border and back into New Hampshire and then across to Maine. We wanted to rekindle some old memories in Kennebunkport and found a delightful motel – the Sea Breeze.

Kennebunkport is a holiday haven for monied (mainly Republican) Americans and we arrived during the clean-up after the Columbus day long weekend.

Don’t let anyone tell you that the locals aren’t passionate about their sport. A gentle inquiry to the barman at the Hurricane restaurant about the progress of the Boston Red Sox in the play-offs resulted in a hour long rant by the entire pub about how bad they are. However, the story had a happy ending because losing to the Phoenix Angels was better than being beaten by the New York Yankees we found – shades of Collingwood preferring to lose to Geelong rather than Carlton!

The next morning was a rainy trip south through Boston and on to the Cape. It had been over four years since we had last been in Chatham and it was good to be back.

Familiar sights, sounds, smells and.. the Squire!

Erica’s apartment is as delightful as ever and we had a ball. Much like trophies, we were taken to meet and be met by a multitude of local friends and to renew old acquaintances.

IMG 6207


[Autumn flowers in Chatham Main Street]

Friday night was Squire night with ‘Total Stranger’s’ playing – a grouping of ex-Chatham High students (long, long ago). Much socialising, laughter and seeing Erica in her natural habitat. And Jamie in full flight.

Then it was time for the soiree – a now traditional gathering when all of E’s mates come around to the apartment and much merriment takes place. What had been mooted as a ‘bring a plate’ affair turned into a gourmet explosion.

Pictures tell the tale –

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[Old mates together again – Erica (centre) with Timmy and his delightful wife, Alysha]

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[Larger than life itself – the one and only Jamile]



IMG 6224



[E; Barb (she’s the bank manager!) and Mary]



IMG 6218



[Terry, Marge, Nat and Walter carouse in the kitchen]

A good time was had by all.

A quiet day on Sunday and then Monday saw another trip to Fedex and the US Postal Service and off to Logan Airport we went to challenge BA with luggage and a trip to Heathrow.

Thanks Chatham – it was great being back.

Lovonne and Simon xx

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