Friday, 14 May 2010

Luke 4:23

So there I was three weekends ago,in a mad dash across Europe,driving from Caen in northern France down through Spain, to finally reach Lisbon in Portugal,on my way to pick up my ex-girlfriend's children and parents,who were 'stranded' due to the volcanic ash cloud that had closed European air space.

(Of course,she wasn't my ex-girlfriend at the time!)

(Although I have since discovered that she wasn't apparently my girlfriend at the time either...which rather surprised me...although in fairness it also surprised Visa,Amex,assorted jewellers,shoe shops,purveyors of fine lingerie and battery-operated products,Joules clothing and...naturally...many many chocolate shops!)

Man she was beautiful.

Anyway...the children had been on holiday with their grandparents,-(whilst we were in Johannesburg on holiday )-,and were stuck in Portugal...and so after much discussion it just seemed easier if I drove down and fetched them using the ferry.

I choose the Portsmouth-Caen route on Brittany Ferries as there were still bookings available and it was relatively quick and reasonably priced.
It was the first time I have done this crossing and it was very efficient and quite a lot of fun to be honest...I had my own little cabin that I had to share only with my travelling teddy bear.

And so at 06H30 local,I drove her car onto French soil...on the wrong side of the freaking road...and set out for Lisbon.

Of course it wasn't that easy...the SatNav immediately decided that I was parked outside her house and tried to take me to London.
Its odd really...I am in truth a bit of a geek...I got my first computer in 1986...and have always wholeheartedly embraced any new technology.
So there I was...sitting in a car park in Caen,first arguing with the disembodied female voice on the SatNav ,finally shouting at it,demanding it sort itself out.
It didn't...
So I did what I always do when confronted by idiot machinery ....switched it off and rebooted it.
I also switched off the 'female' voice for a 'male' one...cos...thats all I needed I thought...another woman telling me where to go and what to do!

So I settled down for the drive of some 1757 kilometers (about 1090 miles),all of it on toll roads or motorway and actually quite an easy drive apart from the boredom...and remembering to drive on the right.
Actually I only once went the wrong way around a traffic circle...

There are in fact a huge number of toll roads.Indeed I think that it is the new French defense plan for the next time the Germans will take the tanks so long to put the correct amount of toll into the little buckets that they will just give up and go home.

And I'm also pleased to be able to report to the Academy that motorway coffee and food in France and Spain and Portugal is as bad as anywhere else and that the staff at the petrol stations are as rude and unhelpful as they are in the UK.

And about 15H30 on a beautiful spring afternoon and about 50 kms outside Bayonne, I stopped to fill up with petrol and coffee in preparation for a long push into Spain to try and get through the Pyrenees at San Sebastian and onto Vitoria-Gasteiz,in daylight.

Preoccupied,I stepped out of the garage and tripped over a wheelchair access ironic!
I inverted my left ankle,both felt and heard a loud crack,experienced nauseating pain and fell to the ground,cutting my right knee and right hand.

Dear Reader,I thought I had broken my ankle...

So I phoned the ex-girl-(who-apparently-wasn't-my-girlfriend)-friend,asked her to google the nearest hospital and to send me the postal code to plug into the SatNav.She did and about 30minutes later,at about 16H00, I found myself outside a stunning new hospital building in Bayonne ,with a dinky little yellow helo parked on the roof.

I swapped my T-shirt for a Springbok rugby jersey which I keep in my travel-bag in case of emergency,in a vain attempt to get better service from the French given their reported antipathy to the English.

I think God ensures we have some basic survival DNA in the deepest recesses of your brain that make it easy to find the Emergency Medicine Department no matter where you are or what language the signs boards as written in.

A short , squat...and,frankly,frog-looking woman looked up from her computer , and looked me up and down in a vaguely dismissive way .

Oui M'sieu ?

"Bonjour mam'selle...Pardon...non parle Francais...Ummmh...Parle Anglais?"

With a little self-satisfied smirk,she replied, Non!

I placed my passport,European health card and a copy of my travel insurance on the counter.

" ankle?" which I pointed downwards in the general area of my ankle...although I did notice her taking a surreptitious glance at my a vaguely pantomime way,understanding as I do from all the Pink Panther movies that the French wave their hands around a lot when talking...or eating cheese...or licking garlic...

Sighing loudly she stood up,adjusted her corsets,lent over the counter and took a look at my rapidly swelling and purple ankle which by now was the size of a watermelon.
Okay...not actually a watermelon although it felt that way.


She completed the admissions paperwork and a manner reminiscent of Barbara Woodhouse,pointed at a chair...pointed at me and said..Sit!

And so I sat for about 15 minutes until a gorgeous little blond Triage Nurse came to the counter and called out my name.
Oh be still my beating heart!Five different fantasies all coming together...

I limped up to the desk again and lent against it.

Non parle Francais m'sieu?

Shrugging,and with a slight smile,thinking that I look just like George Clooney,I replied..."Ummh...Voulez-vous coucher avec moi?"

She raised one imperious eyebrow,looked me up and down...sniffed...Non M'sieu.Non.

That's probably why they kept me waiting an hour to see the Doctor and probably also why they didn't offer me any pain killers.
Fortunately I had already taken enough codeine to stun a whale so sat peacefully waiting to be seen.

(Now I'm happy to admit that I only speak four languages but in the NHS generally and certainly in the trust in which I work,we have a Telephone Interpreter service...the patient points at a phrase in their language which says....'Point to this line so that the staff can phone someone who speaks your language'.)

Eventually I was taken into the treatment area and put onto a bed without a sheet or pillowcase.

The doctor who saw me also apparently spoke no English,but through my (by now) fluent pantomime skills and with a little smidgen of the Inspector Clouseau accent, I was able to indicate the problem was in my ankle.

He then left the room and closed the door...

I'm not sure what I did to offend him ,but I waited a further hour to have the x-ray taken;and a further 30 minutes to have it reported on...although by this stage I had pulled rank and read it myself....and then self discharged myself.

The doctor caught up with me at the desk and gave me a prescription for paracetamol,ibuprofen,crutches and an aircast ankle splint.
I was quite keen to get the aircast given the long drive still ahead of me and tried to ask him where I could get the prescription filled.

He shrugged in the way that French men do when explaining why they've surrendered to the Germans... sunday?...Yes?...Pharmacy closed...Yes?...Try tomorrow.

"Uh huh? "

On my way out of the department at about 20H00 I was stopped by the admissions clerk who was waving an invoice at me.

M'sieu...m'sieu...votre facture!!

"I'm sorry...what?"

Exasperated she waved the invoice...No French M'sieu?!?

I had by now been in the hospital for over 4 hours...had been given no pain one wanted to sleep with me despite wearing a Springbok shirt...and finally...despite having a European health card,the hospital wanted to charge for their services!

"Oui madame.I actually speak fluent French...Try this...'I am an Allied army Officer...this is the third time we have liberated you from the Germans...give me your chocolate!"



  1. ugh shame you poor man

  2. Excellent choice of Bible verse. I thoroughly enjoy your blog.

  3. so is your leg actually broken or what

  4. No...I have a grade 2 sprain which has exacerbated a previous (running)injury which in itself had necesscitated nerve its the old physio/ice/rest/crutches/large amounts of alcohol protocol...unless and until I can get my ex-girlfriend to stop sticking pins into the voodoo doll!