I was doing some late-night admin in my office when I heard Olivia run downstairs. “Daddy,” I heard her say to Rupert, who was watching the news.
“There’s a big, big problem.”
So far I was still only half listening. It was the next sentence that had me jumping from my chair, screaming as I ran upstairs.
“The torch fell out of bed and Bea has got blood on her head.”
I found Bea in the bathroom with Monica, the au pair, who was trying to stem the relentless flow of blood. The torch had fallen from the top bunk onto her forehead.
My husband and the au pair were a lot calmer than me. In fact Bea was a lot calmer than me. I rang my doctor who said she might need stitches. So off we went to the local hospital, with Bea wrapped in a blanket. Visions of similar situations at hospitals in London came to me.
“We’ll be there for at least four hours,” I said to Rupert. “Why didn’t I bring a book?”
We parked right outside the door of the Polyclinique Pasteur in Pézenas and rang the emergency bell. A nurse came and opened the door and led us to an operating theatre. There seemed to be no one else in the hospital. After about five minutes a young doctor arrived looking very cool in his surgeon’s kit and black scarf. He greeted us all and looked at the wound. It was like a scene from ER.
“She’ll have a small scar,” he said. “But with stitches it will be minimal.”
Bea looked horrified.
“Don’t worry,” said her father as they placed a gas mask on her face. “You’ll still be a supermodel.”
The nurse asked Bea to blow into the balloon. After a few seconds she started giggling, and then she fell asleep. About half an hour later we were home. The whole thing, including getting there and back, took less than an hour. Admittedly we live near a small town, so maybe we were shielded from the crowds of drunks and drug addicts one would find in any major metropolis, but the point is, in England, there wouldn’t have been a hospital there.
The French pride themselves on their health system. And it is true that after giving birth here (twice) and living with three small children, I have been very impressed with it. It seems to mix the private and public in a way that the English hasn’t been able to. But getting onto the system is a total nightmare, and the subject of several letters from readers.
If you live here and want to be covered you need to contribute to the Sécurité Sociale. This entitles you and your dependants to medical treatment. The contribution you make will depend on what you earn but is usually around 18% of taxable income. Your employer will pay this automatically. If you are self-employed you need to register at your local Caisse Primaire d’Assurance Maladie. The Sécurité Sociale will cover between 75% and 90% of costs and the patient is liable for the remainder. We have a private insurance company (called a mutuelle or complemtaire) which covers this portion and costs us around £60 per month for the whole family. If you’re retired then you need to get an E121 form from the NHS. This will entitle you to the same healthcare as a French pensioner.
If you’re moving to France contact the Centre for Non-Residents in Newcastle on 0191 225 4811. Get as many forms as possible. I found having lots of bits of paper helped during my year-long struggle to get us registered. And there was a brilliant form that covered me for childbirth (fairly essential as I was eight months pregnant when we left England). For those of you with holiday homes, the most practical thing is still the E111, which is a simple form you fill in at the post office. This way you have to pay for health care up front, but you get refunded from the NHS once you get home.
We kept Bea at home the day after the torch incident. At one stage I went to check on her. She was playing with Monica and her Barbie dolls. She was holding a particularly stunning example of a Barbie doll with fluorescent pink hair and a princess dress. Monica was holding Ken.
“If you don’t love me any more,” Bea’s Barbie was telling Ken, “then I’m going to tell my mummy.”
I think she is going to be all right.
Children travelling alone
Sarah Knollys from London writes to me to ask how she can best send her children Hugo and Julia, aged nine and 11 to see their father in the south of France. “They used to go with BA,” she writes. “But they recently introduced a fee of about £30 each way for each child if they fly unaccompanied.” Air France rather cleverly hides the fee in the fare, so effectively you don’t get a child discount, consequently the fares are no cheaper than BA. On Ryan Air children are charged full fare after 23 months but cannot fly alone until they are 14. There is no service for unaccompanied minors. Children under the age of 12 cannot travel alone on Eurostar, but between the ages of 12 and 16 they can, as long as they have a letter of consent from a guardian. On Eurostar children go free up until the age of four and child fares from London to Paris start at £25.
Capital Gains Tax addition
Although my piece last month on capital gains tax was correct as far as France is concerned, I want to make it clear that UK residents will still have to declare the sale of any property in the UK for UK capital gains tax purposes. An allowance or credit given will be given for the tax already paid in France.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is also working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in spring 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019