We had to take La Fille to her eye specialist and tell her what they told us at Moorfields, which was not exactly what she had been telling us. Or in her case, not telling us. The Frenchman and I rehearsed what we were going to say and how we were going to say it the night before. We ran through it again in the morning after a restless night, and again on the way to the appointment. It was all very stressful. I was convinced La Fille's radar had picked up the stress and she would not cooperate with the vision tests. The last time we were all sent to the waiting room so La Fille could "reflect" on her behaviour (at two years old). We returned and she was as good as gold. The specialist put this down to successful "reflection". I knew it was the promise of a biscuit.
In the end it was fine. I said: "They said her eyes don't and won't work together." She said: "Of course they don't she squints. If they did she'd be seeing double," as if this was so blindingly obvious we were plank stupid not to have realised. Then for the first time in 18 months we had a proper discussion and questions answered. At the end she said: "Were the people you saw in London child experts?" I said: "Oh indeed they were." She smiled: "Oh well, we'd better fix her eyes before you return to England again." A joke; we could hardly believe it.
Before we left we wrote her a cheque. This is something I will never get used to and which every time makes me appreciate the free-at-the-point-of-service-to-everyone ethos of the NHS. I know Britons often believe France's health service is infinitely better than the NHS, but I am a huge fan of the NHS and those who work for it. It is like a very best friend: always there to pick up the pieces; to apply the salve, to comfort, to reassure, even save you. What is more the NHS will do this even if you spend all your time using and abusing it. I once spent a week doing a fly-on-the-wall report on the Accident and Emergency department of a major London hospital. Even now I remember how staff battled to revive a middle-aged man who had keeled over after a heart-attack in the street. I went home and cried over this stranger's death and their disappointment. I watched nurses pick tiny fragments of glass from the jagged wounds on a youth's face. He had fallen through a window. Accident...pushed...jumped? Nobody, except me, asked. Nobody cared. They were too busy putting his face back together. There were children with various objects stuck in various orifices, diy-ers who had done for themselves and patients with broken bones caused by games involving a ball. There was also the young man who had been injured in a knife fight and the youth in a drunken coma whose friends arrived brought him to hospital in the boot of their car after he polished off a bottle of whisky as a bet. A man was rushed in by ambulance claiming he had taken an overdose of epilepsy pills. He refused to let doctors pump his stomach but asked them to call his ex-wife to tell her he was dying. It was pretty obvious this was a performance, but staff spent more than an hour trying to persuade him to be treated. I was all for throwing him out for wasting valuable time. The junior doctor pleading with him, who had been working almost non-stop for more than 36 hours, said: "We cannot do that. He may have taken the pills."
I do get fed up with hearing British people moaning about the NHS. I cannot say my experience of hospitals in Britain or France has been particularly pleasant and the NHS is far from perfect, but overall it is not worse than what is on offer in France and it is considerably cheaper. In many ways you do get what you pay for. People can say: "Ah but what do you know? Things have changed. You don't live here", but recent experiences in the UK and France have not altered my view. Anyway this writer knows what he is talking about better than I do.
The move to France was only supposed to be for a couple of years, not forever. Then I met The Frenchman. Then I had La Fille. Now there's no way back. But La Fille, to whom a horse is a cheval and a frog is just pond life is still half English. So before the Gallic nation claims her for its own, sprinkles her with garlic, sautés her and swallows her up whole we make regular escapes on the Eurostar. And we have discovered the grass is various shades of green either side of the Channel.