I told you I was ill

Part 1.
For a happy marriage
The husband should be deaf
And the wife blind
Old Occitan proverb

It's Summer 06. Our ancient ventilator fan has been moved into the bedroom, ready and willing to crank into life when perspiration in the middle of the night reaches that point of no return.
He who never went to the doctor back home, when everything was free, has now decided he should get his left leg checked out. It must have been whilst wearing his new French shorts that I bought from the open air marché in nearby Caussade that brought him to this momentous decision. He has been limping for more years than I care to remember, resulting in one leg having become wasted and thinner than the other one. There’s nothing like exposing all that flesh to reveal life’s imperfections. My brother once said that everyone should be like him and not wear glasses, as he didn’t want to see everyone’s spots and pimples in all their red and gory detail. But there we were. The shorts definitely revealed H’s leg problem to one and all, so a solution needed to be found.
When we were originally contemplating moving to France – or rather when I had decided and H had reluctantly agreed – I had managed to persuade the medical people at the Centre for Non-Residents in Newcastle upon Tyne that I should be issued with their E106 form. This was no mean feat, as I was pushed from pillar to post trying to get through to the correct office.
Eventually I managed to persuade them that I had been paying full national insurance contributions for nearly thirty years and surely I was entitled to something? But, of course, because I was yet to reach the magical age when I would qualify for a full pension, all they could promise me was an E106 form.
‘But, what am I supposed to do with it?’ I asked, expecting a rude reply.
‘We will send you two copies of the E106. You need to take both forms to your local sickness insurance office. Do not fill in any part of the form yourself (on pain of death!). The foreign authority will then complete part B of both forms. They will send one copy to us to confirm registration and will keep a copy themselves. Once you have registered with the foreign authority, they will deal with any claim you make for help with medical costs. They can also tell you what you are entitled to.’
‘But, you told me that my E106 will run out in January 07 – that’s eleven months before I reach sixty. What will we do then?’
‘When your E106 certificate runs out, you must make enquiries with your local sickness insurance office about the possibility of joining their sickness scheme. Then, when you actually reach sixty, you can apply to us for our form E121.’
Another form, aargh!
I put the phone down, my head reeling. So that was all there was to it, then! We didn’t even know where our ‘local sickness insurance office’ was, let alone how to ask about all this in our halting French.
I decided that the most appropriate place to ask was our local friendly pharmacie, where the helpful owner spoke some English. He told us that the office we needed was in Montauban, the capital town of our region. We thanked him and studied the map. As with all the places we needed, it was situated more than fifty miles away. This was proving the case for everything.
Once I received the all-important forms from Newcastle, we filled up the car and prepared for a long haul. As usual on our journeys we took several wrong turns, screeched via hand-brake turns off many a private piece of farmland before we took the inevitable scenic route to Montauban. The traffic in the city reminded us of back home. Narrow roads, parked cars, no time to stop and look before receiving gesticulations and impatient horns. Before coming here I had led a very sheltered life, but have now learned phrases, arm movements and swear words that I would rather not repeat.
By now our watches showed the inevitable: eleven fifty-five. Too late. No wonder French restaurants do such a roaring trade every lunch-time. Everything shuts (except restaurants) for at least two hours every weekday, just when you manage to find the place you’re looking for. There was only one thing to do. We walked into a restaurant and ordered lunch.
Continued next Sunday..........

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