I was making my way along one of the corridors in the Clinic with my Rollator (a whizzier variation of a deambulateur) when a voice called out in French “Good to see you on your feet at last!”
I glanced through the open door of one of the rooms and saw a fellow patient with whom I exchange Bonjours and Bon Appetits, but whose name I don’t know, waving and giving me a thumbs-up.
The clinic is a supportive place. We notice, and comment on, each other’s progress as we move around on wheelchairs, graduate to deambulators, to rolators, to crutches and then leave for home.
Little groups form.
The smokers (all orthopaedic patients – no cardio patient dare be seen smoking) puff away outside.
The people who sit together in the dining-room (we keep the places we are assigned on arrival) often have coffee together after lunch, or sit together in the garden.
The avid card players soon track each other down.
Addresses and telephone numbers are exchanged at dinner table and the card table and at smokers’ corner (which is where Mlle Jolie met M. Bonhomme).
Monsieur Leportugais left for home last week. He said he was going to drop in on Monsieur Lechasseur, who’d gone home two weeks previously. He would also give back the cards, cloth and counters for La Belote which Monsieur Lechasseur had kindly left behind for the rest of us to enjoy. (More card players had arrived in the clinic, and two of them had brought packs for La Belote.)
It’s a 32 card trick-taking game, hugely popular in France. You can often see – especially in winter – posters advertising “Concours de Belote” rather like the whist drives that were popular fund-raisers in Irish country towns when I was growing up. Like whist, it’s played two against two.
I played La Belote with a group of French teaching assistants when I was a student in Belfast many years ago. Indeed, I was addicted to it for a while.
I started playing again – after a gap of more than 40 years – with Monsieur Lechasseur, Monsieur Leportugais and Madame Coquette. I had completely forgotten the rules, but the others were patient while I re-learned the game. There are now at least eight players in the clinic. I make up a four most afternoons. And I think I’m addicted again.