Another cancer related post.

Sorry there’s been so many book reviews on the blog at the moment. I have found myself reading a lot – always a good thing! – and because most of these books have been free-of-charge from Net Galley in return for a review, I have had to keep up-to-date with the reviews.

So (for a change!) I’ll keep you up to speed with the treatment:

Because of continuing fatigue, I do spend quite a lot of time either in bed (if I don’t have a shower immediately after I get up for the toilet in the morning, I can stay in bed until 10.30, being too unwilling to make the effort to get up!), or sitting on the sofa reading. I manage my little walk, usually round about 8.00 in the evening, when it’s cooler (and the football is on TV!) and I am drawing. But that’s about it.

On Tuesday I went to the hospital to be “marked up” for the radiotherapy, so they know where to aim the lasers (or whatever they use). It appears that most hospitals in France will do this with some delicately placed tattooed dots, like these:

Not Roanne hospital. Instead they painted me up like a Picasso painting, using two colours of ink. I have lines, targets and splodges all over my torso, under both arms, and have been told not to shower my top half,  nor use deodorant or perfume, and to be extremely careful when washing the top half, in case I wash anything off. Of course, this has to be during a hot spell of weather! Mr FD has been instructed to tell me as soon as I start smelling a bit “funky”!!

I actually start treatment next Wednesday. Another big unknown. While looking for the above image I also came across horrific pictures of burning that some women suffered during radiotherapy. I hope that won’t happen to me – I know I’ve been remarkably lucky so far, with very few terrible side effects from the chemo. I will make an appointment with the Magnetiseur ASAP. I’m not convinced it does any good, but I certainly had no nausea or tummy troubles after he’d stroked my stomach before chemo, when many people suffer terribly, so I can’t rule it out completely…

Otherwise, tout va bien, as they say. Everything’s fine.

Especially with a LOL Cat!

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Book Review: England’s Lane (****)

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is:

My attention was caught by the description  – a little less ordinary than many of the “blurbs”, which made this book sound as though it might be more interesting than a run-of-the-mill love story.

Lily: Caught up in a complicated love affair, unable to leave but unable to stay. Is this really her happy ever after? 

Pippa: Sinking into despair as she discovers her marriage is based on lies. She can’t bear the humiliation, but what’s the alternative?

Harry: Torn between two women and fighting depression to make it through each day. Will love be enough to save him from going under? 

England’s Lane is a tale of betrayal and forgiveness, family and friendship, loss and redemption. A painful but powerful modern love story, it explores the cost of marital infidelity and the challenges of single motherhood, the legacy of suicide and the healing power of love.

I was right. I found this a really interesting, well-written book. From the onset I was engaged with the characters – although annoyed by one or two, I found each one believable and their actions were consistent with what we knew about them. The one possible exception is Pippa; I wasn’t totally convinced by her voice, especially as it purports to be in a blog. I’m not sure that one would reveal such intimate details in a public blog.

I think the final sentence of the description sums up the themes of the book very adequately “A painful but powerful modern love story, it explores the cost of marital infidelity and the challenges of single motherhood, the legacy of suicide and the healing power of love.” Perhaps the challenges of single motherhood were glossed over a little – the character (I name no names – spoilers!) seemed to have things fall quite neatly into her lap at times, and the baby was remarkably well behaved and considerate, but hey, this is fiction, after all! The effects of one person’s suicide on those around was sensitively described, as was the importance of family, in all its different guises.

It examines some difficult issues – infidelity, depression, family break-up – but is, finally, a book that left me feeling more hopeful for the characters than one might imagine at the beginning of the book.

There were a few issues for me at the beginning, when timelines, voices and stories were not adequately seperated or indicated, so I was a little confused. However this settled down reasonably quickly, and I was able to follow the timeline more easily.

The other issue – possibly just an e-reader issue- was the way paragraphs were laid out. Sometimes there were paragraph breaks in the middle of sentences, or incorrectly placed. Some punctuation was missing too. I hope these will be sorted out before publication as they did rather spoil the reading experience for me.

In all, however, this was an enjoyable, engaging read, which deserves its four stars.

And this is a photo of England’s Lane, in London. Very nice…

Book Review: The Last Daughter ***

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is…

THE LAST DAUGHTER

by ANN TURNER

This was another book with an intriguing description, which, sadly, didn’t quite live up to its promise:

Just another zentangle

My mother in law asked me to design a piece of zentangle inspired art for her. She didn’t quite know what of – “something nature-y” “maybe flowers or trees” “no animals” – OK, that’s clear then.

Finally I came up with this:

(click on the picture to biggify)

Since taking the photo, I’ve put a tad more colour onto it, using pastels crayons. Here are some close-ups

I hope she likes it!

I’m now going to work on a stag for our friend Richard, who seems to be collecting stag heads of various sorts (none real, I hasten to add!) for his house.

Book Review: The Hatmaker’s Secret ***

I am proud to be a Ten Reviews or More reviewer on Net Galley

I was sent this e-book, free-of-charge (yay!) by NetGalley, in return for an honest review. So, here it is…

THE HATMAKER’S SECRET

by JILL TRESEDER

The description on Net Galley was quite intriguing: Two babies are born a century apart and three generations of women are blighted by a family secret.

Thea’s sense of self depends upon keeping her secret. Her daughter, Vanessa, is confused about her own identity. And there’s Kate, Vanessa’s own daughter, whose marriage is threatened because of her grandmother’s deception. Issues of racial prejudice, betrayal, forgiveness and trust echo through the years as Vanessa – caught between generations – tries to make sense of the past. The more truths she uncovers, the more enigmatic her mother appears.

Who was Thea? How did the beautiful young hatmaker turn into the controlling parent Vanessa remembers? Can Vanessa reconcile the two and find peace? And what will the future bring for her own daughter and grandchildren?

In my opinion, I’m not sure that it really lived up to its 4 star rating on the site, even though I found the story interesting. I didn’t really warm to any of the characters, finding that they were rather two-dimensional. The young Thea, who narrated part of the strory was the most appealing, but I couldn’t really accept the premise that while she was clearly seen as a mixed race young woman, she was able to hide this as she grew older. How could you not know your mother was mixed race? It seemed just a little far fetched…The prejudices and attitudes towards Thea, and towards other members of the family were explored, and gave an interesting insight into how these attitudes have (or haven’t !) changed over the years.

However, the central theme of how secrets kept from generation to generation can cause a ripple effect down the years was sensitively handled.

And, as I have discovered this is becoming more and more important to me as I readbooks from Net Galley, this book was well edited, with no bizarre sentence structure, incorrect grammar or poor use of vocabulary. For that alone it deserves the three star ranking. Not great, but certainly interesting enough.

 

Another voyage with the Cyclos

So on Friday we set off to go to Annecy for a short séjour with the Cycle Club. We left at 8.30, and drove via Lyon airport to drop off Friend Alison, who was going over to Liverpool to visit her mum. Her plane wasn’t until the afternoon, but this way it meant nobody else had to schlepp over to Lyon to take her to the airport. She had about 5 hours to wait, by the time we dropped her off, but she was well prepared with books and other amusements.

We met everyone at a service station for a picnic lunch, then drove the final hour to reach the holiday village. The cyclists got changed, and set off for their ride, the walkers set off for their walk, and I borrowed Louis & Odette’s room (our rooms weren’t yet ready, and L&O had stayed there the night before) for a snooze and a sit down, as I felt very tired. Later on in the afternoon, I had a stroll around the grounds, and discovered, to my disappointment, that the masseur wasn’t available that weekend, and the Spa wasn’t free.  There went my plans!

Never mind! Mr FD got back from his ride, a bit disappointed too, as his ongoing sinus problem meant that he hadn’t ridden too well. He also suffered from the heat; being a big lad, he finds it hard cycling in anything much hotter than 24°. It made us both think a little harder about how we need to change our eating habits. Then we went for a beer!!! Wry smile.

There was a deadly serious boules competition going on between some members of the party:

What an amazing backdrop

Serious discussion about which boule is nearest the cochon

After the match was finished, we trouped in for dinner – which was okay, but nothing special. Salad & cold meat buffet to start, folowed by tepid brochettes (very chewy meat), merguez, ratatouille, and new potatoes (again tepid). Cheese and then “industrial” puddings – certainly nothing home made. It was edible, but that’s about all you could say about it!

After dinner there was a meeting about tomorrow’s activities, and then we took some time to enjoy the evening sunshine, and take in the glorious view (and I don’t mean me!!)

Saturday was the day that I had planned to meet up with Chomeuse and her family, but due to familial reasons she had had to cancel at the beginning of the week. That was a disappointment, but it meant I could join in with the other activities, which otherwise I would have missed. Mr FD was still feeling a bit rough, and as the temperatures were due to be higher than yesterday, and the ride longer, he felt unsure about riding. He finally decided to be a non-rider for today, so he and I struck out on our own a little.

In the morning, we drove up to the Col du Forclaz, 1157 metres up above Lake Annecy, from where there were some amazing views.

 

It’s a favourite launch spot for paragliders too; here’s the take off point:

There were some rather lovely wood carvings there too. Here I am, sharing space with an eagle:

and here is a carving of a marmotte:

After this we drove on to La Clusaz, where we met some of our party for a drink in the sunshine. La Clusaz is more of a winter ski resort, as you could tell from the number of ski rental shops, bars, and après-ski snack bars. But in summer it is a very pretty village.

The plan was to meet everyone at the Col des Aravis (1487 m) for a picnic, so off we set, passing some of our cyclists en route.

This was the view from our picnic spot, looking towards the Massif of Mont Blanc:

This was lunch

a fairly uninspiring offering from the holiday village – a bit of salad, a ham sandwich, some crisps, a manky apple and some plain biscuits. Mr FD had been so unimpressed, he decided to buy himself a “proper” sandwich, and we supplemented our meal with a mini quiche and a raspberry tart each. That made it more enjoyable! And the view helped!

At the Col there was a little chapel which I popped into – dedicated to Saint Anne, the patron saint of travellers, or so the notice said.

 

Around the shops and restaurants, the Col was heaving – cyclists photographing themselves, thrilled to have cycled up so far, motorcyclists buzzing past, visitors and tourists all wandering round…but inside the little chapel it was peaceful and calm. I took a few breaths and relaxed…I was getting a bit tired by now, but the little pause refreshed me.

Mr FD and I decided to go back to La Clusaz and take the télécabine up to the mountain top of Beauregarde.

When we got to the top, Mr FD went for a walk while I sat, admired the view and did a very bad little painting (which I’m not showing you).

 

It was lovely, and the views really were spectacular. My poor photography skills do not capture their beauty. I sat in the warmth of the sunshine, listening to the clanging of the bells around the necks of a flock of goats, smelling the sweetness of the meadow flowers. It was a beautiful moment.

We left to go back to the holiday village, as Mr FD wanted to do a short, flat ride along the Piste Cyclable that ran alongside the lake. He got changed, and psyched up, but was thoroughly pissed off to find that whoever had the key to the garage where the bikes were stored had not left it at reception, but walked off with it. So he couldn’t get to his bike. Not a Happy Chappy at all. We avoided each other for an hour or so, while he calmed down…

Dinner was better than last night:  salad starter, followed by tartiflette, or quenelles de brochet (I had tartiflette), cheese and industrial desserts – but this evening there was also fruit, so I had a peach & some grapes. I was feeling really tired by now – it had been a long day – so an early night was in order. Just before I went to bed, I wandered to the edge of the property to deposit the remains of our lunch in the long grass “for the creatures of the forest”, only to be caught out by a man walking his elderly dog, who gave me some very suspicious looks as I tossed hunks of bread into the undergrowth. Oh well, Les Anglais do some strange things!

On Sunday morning, most of the cyclists were going to do a tour of the lake, but Mr FD had always planned not to do this, because of the changing facilities. As we have to vacate rooms by 10 am, and they would return after this, it had been negotiated that 3 or 4 rooms would be available for showers. But that would mean lots of people showering/ changing in the same room at the same time, which is not Mr FD’s idea of fun, so he almost always opts out of the Sunday morning rides on voyages. Instead he went with the walkers to visit a spectacular waterfall.

I stayed around the holiday village, reading, painting (an even worse picture!), chatting with an interesting American woman who runs writing courses, and going out for a short (1 km) walk. I felt relaxed and enjoyed my morning.

Lunch was the usual salad buffet, with a daube de boeuf, and boiled potatoes in a chive/yoghurt sauce. Cheese and more industrial desserts followed. I tried a piece of lemon meringue pie, but it was overly sweet, so I didn’t finish it. Mr FD wanted to leave immediately after lunch, but we had driven here with two other people who wanted to visit the beach, so I persuaded him to wait until 3 o’clock before leaving. I wanted to walk to the beach too, so I set off before the others, being a slower walker, and Mr FD followed me. Unfortunately, I thought I knew the way, but didn’t so we ended up going the wrong way – however, we found a very peaceful little spot at the water’s edge, which, finally, I think was nicer than a crowded beach would have been!

 

From our vantage spot we could see cormorants perched on the breakwater, and coots bobbing their way through the reed beds; there were birds calling and the sound of the water lapping against the bank. Much more peaceful than a municipal beach!

By the time I staggered back to the holiday village my pedometer told me I’d walked another two kilometres, making it a record three kilometres in a day! No wonder I was knackered! Vincent and Marylyn had found their way to the beach, but were at the car dead on 3 o’clock, as demanded by Mr FD, so we left on time, keeping our driver happy! We were home by 6.30, and were greeted, rather desultorily, by the cats. “Oh, you’re back, are you?”

 

 

Would you like to join me?

As regular readers will know, I have a little 1 km circuit around the village, that I have endeavoured to do every day – fatigue after chemo permitting. Although I had my last chemo on 7th June it took me until Saturday 16th before I could even face trying the walk. I shuffled round, stopping every 100 metres or so to catch my breath. Every day it has become a little easier, although I have still ended up breathless. Yesterday I paused at the bank to pay in a cheque, and the assistant was obviously very concerned that I was going to collapse all over his nice clean floor. I reassured him that I just needed a moment or two, but he still eyed me with suspicion.

Today I didn’t have a stop for a sit-down – which is a first – and, although I was breathing heavily, it wasn’t quite the “give me oxygen, I’m going to die!” way of breathing that had so concerned the bank employee. But maybe the reason I didn’t need to stop was because I was pausing to take photographs to share with you. So, would you like to join me on my walk?

Say “goodbye” to Millie, who is sitting on yesterday’s junk mail and eying us up balefully…

… leave the house, turn right and right again, and follow the snicket down the back of the church…

… cross the road, and go past the old Hotel Moderne. Sadly, not looking so “moderne” now! I imagine it would be wonderful if it could be renovated! In its heyday, St Just had over 20 hotels, as people would come from Roanne, and further afield, for the fresh mountain air. There was a sanitorium as well for those needing recovery from lung illnesses. Roanne is the nearest big town, and, of course, was heavily industrialised.

We continue down the road, and come to this cottage, which I have always liked the look of

There’s often a friendly retriever pup in the front garden, who barks enthusiastically when people go past, but not today. I assume he’s only put outside when his owners are out.

Not all the houses are old fashioned, however. Although St Just was at its busiest during the 20s and 30s, building work has continued to occur around the village. Opposite the cottage there used to be an orchard, with sheep grazing, chickens scurrying around and a large aviary of various fancy birds. However, about two years ago work started on a new Parish centre and, I think, a priest’s house. I don’t quite know the state of play priest-wise, in St Just, but I imagine that if there is a permanent priest based here, he will be in charge of several parishes. At least he has a nice modern house to live in, instead of a draughty old Presbytry!

We continue along this road, saying “bonjour” to a grandfather playing in goal to his grandson (I’m not sure why grandson wasn’t in school. They haven’t broken up for summer yet)  I would have taken a photo of their amazingly neat vegetable patch, but maybe that would have been a bit intrusive as they were playing football right next to it.

The road descends, and one of my favourite views opens up

I’m not sure if you can see it (click on the photo to biggify) but nestling in the trees in the mid ground is the Chateau de Contenson, one of four chateaux in the immediate surrounds. Here is a view of Contenson

The owners are the Rochetaillé family, after whom the square in front of our house is named. This chateau was built in the 1880s, but there has been a chateau of some form on this spot since the 1300s. During WW1 it was a hospital, and in WW2 sheltered resistance fighters. The current owners breed horses, and are very into their horse racing – there are two race courses not too far from here, at Vichy and Feurs.

You can’t see it, but another of the chateaux in the area is in my photo. In the hills facing us are the ruins of the Chateau d’Urfé, which is a lovely place to take visitors, as you can see for miles from the top of the tower. But, anyway, on with our walk…

Another pleasant view of mountains, trees, green!! Well, we have had quite a lot of rain recently.

Turn right again at the junction, and start heading into the centre of the village again. From this road you can look over the “industrial” part of St Just

Here you can see a scierie or wood yard, plus the cheese factory and the velour (velvet) factory.

If you like pepper and garlic, it’s worth seeing if you can find Gaperon cheese; this is one of our local cheeses, as is La Comtesse de Vichy, a triple-crème cheese o rival Brillat-Saverin.

The velour factory is, I believe,  the only remaining factory in France producing this material. It was constructed at the end of the 19th century, and still uses traditional techniques to create the fabric. In fact the velvet used in the Coronation robes of Elizabeth II was made here!

Turning around from this view, we can see the house of our good friends, Louis and Odette

Quite often, their dog Tim-Tim (a hunting spaniel, of some description) will bark at me as I walk past, but not today. They will often look after YoYo, their daughter’s golden retrieber, as well, so there’s quite a cachophony. But all was quiet today.

Continuing back along this road, there’s another view of the church

and we go past the bench where I often have to sit to catch my breath to where there’s one of the many crosses scattered around the area. I know France is/ was a Catholic country, but I’m often amazed at how many little crosses like this there are. I wonder why there are so many – are they relics of a time before the village expanded, and were placed at crossroads as wayside shrines, or waymarkers? This one seems too modern for that…

You can see my bench in the background of this picture, and as I sit there, I often get a whiff of a beautiful scent. I have no idea what it is, but today I tracked it down to this bush, which was humming with the noise of bees, busily collecting nectar.

 

Is it orange blossom? I am no botanist, but it smelt divine.

We turn right again, and the road rises a little. It is this part of the walk that often tires me out so much that I need another sit down at the top, but not today! At the top of the rise, heading into the centre of the village we come across the Mairie:

To help you get your bearings, the church is situated diagonally opposite the Mairie. The bench I usually collapse onto is just outside the door, beneath the flags.

On the wall of the Mairie is proudly displayed this stone plaque:

Between 1940 and 1944 numerous Jewish families found refuge in St Just en Chevalet and its environs.

Tracked and searched for by the occupying forces and the Vichy government they were saved, thanks to the goodness and courage of certain inhabitants.

The descendants of these families honour these citizens who, in full knowledge of the risk they were undertaking, welcomed and hid them, therefopre saving them from certain death.

One of the old neighbours of our friends was a member of one of these families, and told stories of how, when there were rumours of a rafle – a round-up – due to be carried out by the Nazis, the Jewish children who were being hoidden, would be spirited away into the surrounding woods and countryside.

Finally we reach the boulangerie, where I pause to buy a Petrisane, which is a type of baguette. The bakers makes two types, nature and graine (white, or granary) Both are very nice and at 1€ each, they won’t break the bank. I’m not eating them at the moment, as my mouth is still a little sensitive, but I’ll be back chewing on them soon!

In the picture you can see also pizza, sold by the slice, and petits quiches (two types: ham-and-cheese, or tuna-and-tomato) The lurid pink bun-like thing at the top of the counter is a brioche pralinée, another speciality of the area. Brioche is a sweet dough, and the praline is tooth-numbingly sweet as well. To the left of the till, there are mini-brioches pralinées, plus croissants, pains-au-chocolat and other sweet treats. I didn’t photograph the cakes on offer, but there is always a good selection, using seasonal produce – so there are a lot of fraisiers, strawberry tarts, and fruit based gateaux during the summer months. I will sometimes buy one between us for a Sunday treat.

Then it’s back home, to have a refreshing apple-and-elderflower juice drink. And have a sit-down!

I hope you enoyed joining me on my walk.