My oncologist has a new weapon in his arsenal

‘We’re at war!’ said the taxi man as I installed myself for the long drive to Marseille. I put a fist to my mouth and tooted my imaginary bugle. But world war three – as he saw it – was no joking matter. My tootling bugle irritated him and his voice rose by a querulous octave. Didn’t I realise? Everything has changed since this morning! European politics had changed! French politics had changed! Who was now going to vote for a political novice like Zemmour, for example? Horizontal in its dashboard holder, his smartphone was showing a three-cornered TV debate on a rolling news channel. He turned up the volume.

Would my scan results be a death sentence?

At the desk I gave my name and showed my Covid vaccination pass and the woman told me to take a seat with the others. I greeted the two elderly couples and the healthy-looking man wearing a three-piece suit and tie and plonked myself down on one of the orange sofas. The tatty oncology department at Marseille now feels like home. The hard-as-nails but sympathetic receptionists. The seatless lavatory bowl. The notice on the wall listing the recognised mainstream religions, designating them with equal disdain as ‘cultes’. Which is a far cry from Torbay hospital, where I was treated for cancer before this. At Torbay hospital the oncology department has

The downfall of the French middle class

The chesty Corsican taxi driver was giving me his earnest appraisal of the way things were headed in France politically. On the right we were passing the battlefield of Aquae Sextiae where the Roman general Gaius Marius, commanding 37,000 legionaries, massacred a 100,000-strong Teutonic horde thought to be headed for Italy after laying waste to northern Spain. Then, on the left, the church of Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume with its fragment of Mary Magdalene’s cranium displayed in a spookily lit showcase. Later, turning south, we would pass through the countryside of Pagnol’s childhood, now split by the motorway. And a bit further on — glimpsed through roadside trees at Aubagne — the Foreign

Is Macron losing control of France?

There may be a touch of the Monday blues for Emmanuel Macron this morning as he scans the headlines in France. A new poll reveals that vaccine scepticism in his country has reached record levels, thanks to his recent belittling of the AstraZeneca vaccine. Sixty-one per cent of those canvassed expressed their doubts about the vaccine, up 18 per cent from last month. Only 23 per cent said they had confidence in the AstraZeneca jab. In contrast, 75 per cent of British people have faith in the vaccine. But if the French are increasingly reluctant to be vaccinated, they are determined to enjoy the arrival of spring – Covid restrictions

Apple TV+’s new series damn near cost me my marriage: Calls reviewed

Calls is the very antithesis of televisual soma. In fact it’s so jarring and discomfiting and horrible that I think this week’s column damn near cost me my marriage. ‘Why are we having to watch this hideous drivel?’ grumbled the Fawn, who felt cheated of a soothing night glued to our new addiction, the French series Call My Agent! (Netflix). ‘Because it’s my job and this is a new thing and Call My Agent! isn’t,’ I said. So I had to watch on my own. I do understand the Fawn’s objections. Really, it’s more like radio than TV and might work better enlivening a long car journey. There are no

Why I need to become a French citizen

After weeks of living in the 18th century, going everywhere on foot and encountering few other souls, I drove to Marseille for a hospital appointment and got stuck in a crazy traffic jam. As a reintroduction to the human race, it was a brutal shock. Hooting, shouting, sirens, blue lights, motorcyclists doing wheelies, cars mounting pavements and grass verges, cars forcing a path through the stationary traffic using their bumpers as buffers: utter chaos. In an hour and a half the three-lane queue moved forward 80 yards. The chaos reminded me of a taxi ride I once took from Palermo airport. On the half-hour drive into the city we had

The magic of Anthony Powell

Every few years I’ve picked up one or other of Anthony Powell’s A Dance to the Music of Time series and laid it aside after a few pages. Too wordy. Earlier this year I glanced again at A Question of Upbringing, the first of the 12 novels. A light came on and I was captured — providing yet another example of a novel repelling or attracting according to age, circumstances or mood. After that I tittered my way through the series, wondering at my previous humourlessness. I had one volume to go when I went into hospital last week for a minor operation, Hearing Secret Harmonies (1975), which I packed

The generosity of French doctors

My last NHS scan showed a shadow on a rib. The scan report couldn’t decide between a new cancer metastasis or scarring from an old injury. The first would mean the cancer had moved into my skeleton and was on a winning streak. I have fractured ribs in sharp collisions with steering wheels more than once and cling strenuously to the old-scar hypothesis. The image showed a second suspicious blur. Something, possibly a tumour, was putting pressure on my left kidney. Since then I’ve been going around with a length of plastic tube inserted in my urethra to drain it. Until that point my cancer was just a word. Now