EMERGING FROM LOCKDOWN IN FRANCE

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And so confinement gradually becomes deconfinement here in rural France. Each Tuesday the local market swells by a stall or two and traffic is beginning to rumble past our house in the morning, lunchtime and evening. Roadworks have recommenced and all shops are pretty much open, if not for the full day. Still no bars and restaurants open although it looks like the beginning of June will mean that they can open their doors again and start serving cold presions and menus du jour, if only outside on the terrace. But hey its soon June and why would we be indoors anyway.

It’s been the better part of 3 months in formal and then less formal lockdown. We are about to embark on our first lengthy trip to see friends just under 100kms away so we are just about within the legal limit. Borders are still closed to all but essential workers and travellers so we await the first signs of opening in mid June to see when or if we may be able to receive visitors – if only to show off our now manicured garden and courtyard, not to mention the new view thanks to a vey small and not so scary chainsaw that managed to eliminate 10+ years of unwieldy hedgerow growth. Not the best time of year for doing this due to nesting birds but we did find a mother blackbird and her nest before it was too late and then left them as much alone as we could. We hope the chicks survived but they fled the nest a tad early we think. Meanwhile another mum is feeding her chicks in the rafters (above pic) of our yet to be renovated west wing of the house so thats been another good excuse to stop all work and let them be. That said it’s a wonderful deafening noise when mum swoops in through the open window with yet more worms. These are hungry chicks!

As the weather has improved the amount of Netflix/BBC has diminished. We started with Ozark in March and finished with Normal People in May. Now it’s the occasional French film or The Eddy (Netflix) the wrong side of 9pm and a bottle of Bergerac Merlot. The pellet burner is no longer required to keep us warm and instead the double doors and windows are open to deliver a welcome breeze as temperatures nudge 30 degrees and the rains stay away. The builders have been back but not for long, as has the plumber and carpenter so the planned additional rooms look like they may arrive in time for summer but 2021 not 2020 – the year that sort of never was.

No rugby finals in Marseille; no Jamie Cullum in Perpignan; no kids visiting from England and absolutely no point looking at a map of Argentina plotting that motorbike trip until we all know how we will emerge from this. Definitely poorer but also definitely richer in some respects. Will travel as we know it return in the same way? How short are our memories? And what are the things you most want to do once you are able to do them. Pasta in Italy? Tapas in Spain? Pint of beer in Sussex? All things we took for granted when 2020 dawned. For sure we will all have plenty of catching up to do – with friends, families, remembering those who have passed away with no farewell, those who celebrated big birthdays with no mates. Will social distancing and designer masks stay with us forever? What about that daily quiz via WhatsApp and the regular Zoom cocktails with distant friends. Whilst we may not have seen as much of neighbours as before we have definitely seen more of distant friends and relatives. The technology was always there but we didn’t feel so comfortable with it before Covid. A hasty phone call and a regular supply of short snapchat style messages sufficed. We were all busy heading out or into a meeting or off our heads or on something we shouldn’t have been. So with no travels and no meetings and no work there has been no excuse to avoid that chat, which funnily enough is way more comfortable for all concerned when there is no time pressure and you can see one another. Facial expressions which are hidden by masks out on the street or in the shop are not an obstacle on Zoom. Whoever heard of a 2 hour Zoom call before the beginning of March?

So all of Europe is looking over its shoulder to see what the neighbours are doing. Apart from a Britain that is obsessed with what Dominic Cummings is doing. Send out Priti Patel to deliver the bad news on a live daily briefing whilst BoJo saves the better news for his recorded casts as he can’t be trusted to go live and off piste. The UK has turned out to be the worst affected European country and is shutting the door after the horse has bolted by effectively stopping international travel from early June. But of course Boris will rescind this before then as an apology for supporting Dominic and hanging Priti out to dry. President Macron will address the people of France directly as ever and with no room for doubt whilst Boris struggles to Get it Done. The French people are however confused. For 18 months the gilet jaunes and the unions caused almighty industrial and commercial strife in their efforts to spend more time at home. Then they were told they MUST spend time at home and if they went out without reason they would be fined. So now the unions and gilet jaunes actually need the economy fully open. Just so that they can shut it down again. The beaches in Spain and Greece are gradually re-opening as without a summer of tourism these countries might actually miss the drunken Ryanair hordes arriving on cheap flights. BoJo wants them to drink in Wetherspoons not Benidorm but Wetherspoons may not be open this summer in which case a long hot dry spell will mean trouble on the streets and beaches of Britain. Meanwhile in Hong Kong the virus has been tackled head on and brutally but Beijing eyes an opportunity and senses that the majority of Hong Kongers don’t want rioting on the streets so instead Beijing is forcing through a bill allowing their security forces to step in when necessary. Tiananmen Square 1989 suddenly seems like a a very recent nightmare.

Here in Beaumont our summer Monday night markets just don’t work virtually and we cling to some hope that we may squeeze in a few around about the time the Tour de France kicks off. Perhaps everything will be back to normal by then and not behind closed doors because as Jean Paul Sartre knows only too well, we are as people see us and we have all had far too much of looking at ourselves.

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