27. Beach closed

The few hardy surfers might find it exhilarating but loss of life and the damage paint a different picture in this ‘Premier State’. Since our arrival five weeks ago it has, apart from a week on the beach, rained, but not just ordinary rain. Forget ‘cats and dogs’ and stair rods’ this is tropical, vertical and unrelenting. Even in equatorial rainforests, where there is no dry season, you can expect average monthly precipitation of at least 60mm. Yesterday 100mm was recorded here in just 24 hours. Today 60,000 people have been ordered to evacuate the most affected areas of Sydney and drivers told to stay at home.

Today’s Daily Mail

Only in very severe weather will the ferry sailings in and out of Circular Quay be cancelled. They were the other night and may be tonight, as the wind is strengthening and the waves are building up, which make crossing the headland tricky. The older ferries leaving Manly Wharf have to turn around and the strong headwind doesn’t make this manoeuvre easier.

Brighton (1883-1916), the largest and last paddle steamer ferry on Sydney Harbour

It’s not just capricious weather that keeps the ferries in harbour. Two years ago the city sustained the worst smoke conditions on record; Transport for NSW said they had no idea when normal service would be resumed. Beaches were covered in ash and the water turned black. Smoke detectors were activated by the bushfire haze, causing mayhem (no connection with Mayhem of the Norwegian black metal scene). The water in the bay here is distinctly murky. Swimming is not recommended. The iconic Shelly Beach is closed due to dangerous surf and storm water pollution.

It’s easy to forget events on the other side of the world, where a former stand-up comedian leads his country against a brutal enemy in a senseless and vicious war. Is the tide turning in Ukraine? One can only hope; if President Zelensky is captured he may never be seen again. If it drags on who is capable of brokering a ceasefire? Xi Jinping?

26. Who’s for tennis?

Madame and I no longer play tennis, but would it have helped us to move Down Under? Obviously not is the answer. At the time of writing Novak has been released from his less than ***** hotel, but is being threatened with deportation, reconfinement – and worse by angry Aussie citizens. What has this to do with us? Well, only that it has taken us nearly two years to obtain a visa for the ‘Lucky Country’.

The titles of this blog ‘Free from lockdown’ and ‘Will our way of life ever recover?’ are looking somewhat jaded after nearly two years. Production ceased last summer in anticipation of life returning to normal, but then the savage Delta turned up, followed by the milder ‘Oh my God’ variant, now officially known as Omicron. It might be classed as ‘milder’ but the speed at which it spreads is disconcerting; daily cases exceeding 100,00 in the UK and France. British skiers have been banned from France to the fury of hotel keepers who rely on the income from across the Channel.

No danger of crowded slopes for this lone skier. Part of a rock carving in Norway dated 2500BC

We managed to break out and visit the UK in September on family business. Not a journey we would wish to repeat. The hurdle of the PCR test was enough to tax one’s resolve (then the anxious wait for the result) followed by completion of the tortuous Passenger Locator Form. Taking the ferry from Bilbao was chosen as being less stressful than driving the length of France to a northern port. That was the idea.

Jumped through all the hurdles – passport check, negative PCR test, PLF form and customs and finally relaxed under the shadow of the cruise ship (a day and night counts as a cruise). Not counting one’s chickens, means that we should be careful not to rely on something that we may not get or that may not happen, which is what we should have done. About to line up for boarding we were pulled aside by the Guardia Civil.

Tourists driving through Spain in the 60s to this once tiny fishing village of Benidorm learnt to be wary of the Guardia. General Franco may have allowed tourism to develop because he needed foreign currency, having backed the wrong horse in WW2, but you could still find yourself behind bars for a minor traffic infringement. To protect yourself you would be issued with a Spanish Travel Bond in case your vehicle (or even you) were impounded.

A pre-Monopoly version of this really

Anyway, this is digressing. For reasons that we shall never understand the Guardia wanted to check that the number stamped on the engine block matched that in the carte grise, the vehicle registration book. Why they picked out an elderly Peugeot, the only French registered car driven by Brits in the entire Spanish boat, remains a mystery. Just imagine the scene; us standing there, surrounded by five Guardia, while cars drove up the ramp with everyone having a good look. Embarrassing frankly. Last on board did mean quick disembarkation in Portsmouth though – after we had had our temperatures taken. Not sure what would have happened if we were above normal.

It was time to relax and enjoy dinner, which, it has to be said, was worthy of any medium range restaurant. An announcement interrupted it to say sailing would be delayed by an hour. Nothing out of the ordinary there. Back in the cabin a second one dropped a bombshell with the news that two of the crew had tested positive for Covid.

This French flag refuses to shrink; if it seems different it is because the President unilaterally changed the blue from Cambridge to Oxford, although some would dispute that Cambridge is truly blue. Why the flags? To complicate matters further it was announced that Britain, Spain and France would all have to agree that the ferry could sail. Do any two out of three agree about everything? No. So, were we condemned to sail up and down the Channel for the duration of the confinement? We went to bed. Five hours later we could feel movement and we heaved a sigh of relief.

Why resurrect this blog, when even the daily visit from the People’s Republic of China dwindled to nothing? Never a day passed without their visit. Maybe it was because there was an unexpected flurry of interest, 35 hits the other day from Germany, the USA and Lithuania. We (i.e. the World) are not entirely free, nor has our way of life recovered and it may not do so. Working from home is the new norm; the world is divided into vaxxers and defiant anti-vaxxers.

April 2020

Kissing is frowned on; tough on the French. We have to tolerate masks and don’t like people standing too near us. It has all but stifled social mixing, but don’t mention

A Happier New Year.

25. Castraters wanted

      Offre d’emploi

     Cherche castreurs    âge minimum 16 ans

période à partir du 25 juillet

Advertisements like this pop up in the local papers at this time of year. Aimed mainly at students they target those with transport, particularly scooters which kids can ride at 14 (after training of course). The maize fields can be well out town but it’s a useful earner in the long summer holiday. And the point of it all? Basically, it involves removing the male flowers of plants to control pollination in the production of hybrids. Lecture over.

Madame and I have always lived near maize fields down here in the SW. It is truly an amaizeing plant (sorry); you can almost see it growing. In a matter of a few weeks it is taller than you are. Thought to have been cultivated in Mexico thousands of years ago it’s the staple food in many parts of the world; it’s unlikely a day will go by without you coming into contact with one of its products.

What are they? Too many to touch on here, but we’ll look at some later. An American survey said that in a typical grocery store 4,000 items will list corn ingredients on the label. That is a conservative estimate. 10,000 might be nearer the mark. Anyway, Corn it will be from now on; it’s shorter and easier to type than maize.

The celebrations here after harvest have a South American theme

It’s a symmetrical time of year here. Walking down the hill this week you could see a line of orange dots below moving between two rows. These were the castraters, with their fluorescent orange caps, as worn by the hunters. It may not be the hunting season but an unidentified object moving in the corn might be mistaken for a sanglier or wild boar. North of here last year a tourist travelling along the A63 autoroute was shot in the shoulder. A boar hunt was taking place in the area.

By the time I’d reached the bottom of the hill the castraters had taken off, well, most of them

These students were doing the castrating by hand. Farmers who can afford it hire a machine, which just leaves the kids to finish off what it misses.

Occasionally a whole row will be stripped completely, leaving a narrow corridor. With temperatures exceeding 30 degrees for days on end the plants, like us, need water. There is no shortage of it; a nearby lake provides that.

These sprinklers don’t look up to the job
A few kilometres from the house is this stunningly beautiful lake which Madame runs round and is the source of the water for the crop

Remember him – the ‘Jolly Green Giant’? Created in Minnesota he was painted green because the company originally canned peas before corn. He’s now just plain ‘Green Giant’. Why he is no longer jolly I can’t say. Have you been one of the 10,000 annual visitors to his statue? Every year Father Christmas still visits the Giant to put a long red scarf around his neck to keep him warm for the winter. (Today’s useless fact).

For many of us sweet corn means cobs spread with butter, salted and cooked on the BBQ. But that is a minute fraction of the maize crop. Here it’s grown for cattle feed, with or without cobs, or the whole field shredded and kept for winter feed.

Nearby is a field with these notices around it. This crop is reserved for seed

Let’s consider that spurious claim that your local supermarket could stock 4,000+ items that contain corn ingredients and see if there is a grain (sorry) of truth in it. When you clean your teeth do you know that the toothpaste might contain a compound derived from corn to make it taste sweeter? Why would you?

Do you peel and seal? Covid has boosted sales of self-adhesive envelopes so you don’t have to lick them.

An old favourite
What has this to do with corn?

Take the last one. When we fill up the car we avoid fuel which may contain ethanol  (E10 for instance). Why? There is a noticeable decrease in performance and the seals in an older car are not as robust as a newer model and ethanol could cause leaks.

Surprised? Blush and eye shadow often contain zea mays, which is another name for corn.

Corn has come a long way since the 1900s, when Dr. John Harvey Kellogg attracted crowds to his sanatorium in Michigan. Best not to research what went on in them. Not that they ate cornflakes there. Let’s take a look at one of the world’s favourite foods.

The only time Madame and I have eaten in a roadside diner in the States corn-fed beef (i.e. maize) was on the menu. What are the chips/fries cooked in? Corn oil probably. The sauces and colourings? Corn-based as well.

On a local level we query the wisdom of growing the same crop in the same field year after year. To do so requires fertilizer, containing chemicals. While the soil might look rich it is gradually being destroyed. In America the corn crop can be divided three ways – into cattle/poultry feed, to make ethanol and the remainder for human consumption. The tide is turning though and maybe the titanic food corporations will soon have to watch their backs.

24. Loosening the chains?

It has to be said that the daily number of visitors to these posts can be counted on the fingers of one hand. Four yesterday was a good day. It’s not the quantity that intrigues me so much as the quality. What would a visitor in Alaska have in common with one in Bulgaria? The visitor from China who used to log in regularly every day has vanished. Where or why? Anyway, to ask the question above might be appreciated in the UK but disrespectful in India, where the health service has buckled under the strain.

Here in France we tend to be sceptical about the official figures. Last Thursday was Ascension Day (Auffahrt in the German speaking part of Switzerland over the border) a religious festival, therefore a public holiday. This means that many French can ‘faire le pont‘, an ‘extended weekend’ in other words. There isn’t an exact translation into English. Google says ‘bridge the gap’ , which is good enough, although it resembles the tinny voice in the London tube stations telling you to mind it. The Germans call it Brückentag, which has a crispness about it. The UK could adopt that alongside angst, rucksack and schadenfreude.

The point being that the published covid figures are the result of testing. This requires people to carry out the checks. You can see where this is leading; a four day weekend will skew the statistics. We tend to ignore Monday’s figures for the same reason.

Do you feel that your chains are being loosened? That depends where you live of course. The UK promises to be close to normality this week, but the number of aircraft from covid hotspots landing at Heathrow may yet muddy the waters. Here we shall be permitted to stay out until 9pm! How will we fill the extra two hours? When invited to stay the weekend at Buckingham Palace Margaret Thatcher, who existed on just a few hours sleep, was told that the staff would go off duty at 11.30pm. Allegedly her reply was ‘what is one going to do?’

Cafes and restaurants are permitted to serve you on their terraces. At the time of writing it is 13 degrees and raining, so wear your winter woollies. Madame’s sister was looking forward to a trip to the local café for a hot dog, the genuine French article of course not a poor cousin that tastes like reconstituted cardboard. Why can’t she? The café is in the precincts of the supermarket, therefore not technically outside.

Bon appétit

Next post 25. Castraters Wanted

23. Selling your house?

The stress of buying a house is so endemic that a survey found that a third of Americans are reduced to tears when purchasing their first property. Were they tears of joy at owning their first love nest, or distress at what they were going to have to pay the mortgage company for the foreseeable future? The survey wasn’t specific. If buying has that effect then what about selling, reputedly more stressful than other major events in one’s life such as starting a new job or going through a divorce?

Two years ago Madame and I decided that the time had come to downsize. Surely an 1800s maison de maître would be the ‘des res’ of everyone’s dreams, or, as the French dictionary would have it in its ponderous manner, une belle propriété. Situated near the foothills of the Pyrenees, not far from the coast and the Spanish border, the agent said we would have no trouble selling it and valued it at an unrealistic figure, presumably to inveigle us into signing up, which of course we did with a mandat exclusif  at the start of 2020. Not an auspicious year to market a property as it turned out.

If you live in a semi-detached or terraced house in the UK, in a street of similar houses like this charming Dorset village, it’s not rocket science to arrive at an impartial valuation. An older property in rural France is worth what someone will pay for it. Who were we aiming at? Not an elderly couple for sure; it was not your typical Dunroamin or Mon Repos.

Two would rattle around in it

And the first viewers? An elderly German couple who grumbled about the number of stairs. What do you expect in a three storey house (four if you include the basement)?

Call it naivety if you like but Brits in France tend to forget that property is not treated in the same way as in the UK. A house is a home, not an investment. Nor is there the turnover; France is famed, ridiculed even, for its large number of civil servants or fonctionnaires, whose job for life doesn’t encourage mobility. If their post is axed, they are moved to another role on the same salary. It has been known for them to be paid to stay at home and do nothing. False? Oh, no. Take the senior fonctionnaire who continues to be paid €3,700 a month because he has not found another job after having a ‘disagreement’ with his new boss, the mayor. This largesse will end in two year’s time. Will that be the end of it? No, because he will then draw a generous pension. Then there’s a former manager of the state rail operator SNCF……………………..

For more of Perry’s masterpieces go to  perrytaylor.fr

Come down here to the far south west and you can find empty properties, ‘in need of renovation’ as a UK agent would say. When André, an unmarried acquaintance in the village, died eight years ago his desirable farmhouse was left to his niece. She lives and works in Bordeaux so the property has remained empty. If her children have no desire to live in it then it will remain unoccupied, but stay in the family. An impressive property near us has been standing empty for the twelve years we have been here. Built in 1774, and with an illegible latin inscription over the door, it’s situated down a straight 100m lane and surrounded by rich farmland. Such a waste, but one day some family member will occupy it.

Even on a dull, misty day it is a desirable property

Our house needed a young family; active parents who could keep up with the never-ending maintenance, painting, grass cutting, weeding the vegetables in the potager, cleaning out the hen-house, and keeping half an eye on the children. It was six months before they appeared; a professional French couple with four young children. There was a break then in the confinement that had started in March and which effectively ruled out British viewers. That was only the start, of course. After the signing of the compromis de vente two months later there was an irksome wait of six months while a mortgage was applied for and approved. Meanwhile the notaires and estate agent worked at a leisurely pace. We never met the notaires.

What has this to do with a change in our way of life? Covid allowing us to sign by proxy is the answer. No sitting in their office while the notaires laboriously read through several dozen pages which you then had to initial lu et approuvé. On the day of signing the final acte de vente their office forgot to validate the document . This meant that we had handed over the keys unofficially. After they had realised their error was that the end of the affair? Of course not; two weeks later we had still not received the money. Neither the agent (who had promptly received the 5% commission) nor the notaires, could come up with an answer for the delay.

Next post 24. Loosening the chains?

22. Round and around we go

Yesterday was a red letter day. Madame and I were summoned to the sous-prefecture with instructions to bring passports and new photos and with a tacit understanding that our hands should be clean for the inevitable fingerprinting. This was the second stage of our application to renew the vital carte de séjour, without which France could reject you after Brexit. This required an attestation to allow us to exceed the 10km travel limit. During the 100km round trip we saw not one gendarme or check point.

In the event the glamorous young fonctionnaire was more concerned about preserving the pink lacquer on her manicured nails than putting us through the fingerprint routine. Why mention it in the letter when there was no intention to do so? There could have been a practical reason for this. In all shops and offices there are bottles of antiseptic gel to prevent you catching, or spreading, the virus. If you’re dehydrated your skin will be thinner and drier so drinking water before being fingerprinted is recommended. Hand sanitizer, though, has a lot of alcohol in it, which dries out your skin and makes it harder to capture print details. Today’s lesson over.

This method is more hygienic than
this one.

This blog got underway twelve months ago to relieve the boredom of the lockdown that was imposed on us in March. Then, the French were encouraged, pressured in fact, to abandon cherished customs, primarily ‘la bise‘. A mayor in eastern France had already dispensed with this custom. She considered kissing dozens of people was unhygienic and arrived at meetings late or pleaded a cold. Foresight? While these posts were never earth-shaking they have attracted hits from around the world from Alaska to Indonesia. China was a daily visitor. Was someone delegated to check on western blogs?

Have you ever had a déjà vu moment, the feeling that you have lived through the present situation before? A French phrase that translates literally as “already seen”, we seem to have arrived back where we started a year ago. Yes, we can now travel ten times further, 10km instead of just 1km, but that doesn’t relieve the frustration. President Macron has kept a low profile, too low many would say, and left the unpalatable details to his hapless prime minister Casterix, sorry Castex, who looks perpetually bewildered at his own TV news conferences. We had confidence in the previous PM, Édouard Philippe, who was an imposing presence; so much so that he had become a threat to Macron and was sent packing to Le Havre of which he is the mayor. Meanwhile new cases remain obstinately high, 43,284 two days ago but 8,536 yesterday, according to the coronavirus update on Worldometer. These fluctuating figures need to be taken with a generous pinch of salt. They depend on the number being tested, which in turn rely on the availability of testers. Le weekend in France is flexible and can stretch from Friday night to Tuesday morning. Enough said.

‘Will the French way of life ever recover?’ has been modified. ‘Will our way of life ever recover?’ seems a more appropriate title as the global pandemic has spared no country. The way of life for millions has changed, in all probability not for the better. Madame and I have sold our house and are renting while we take stock. We feel there has been an imperceptible shift in France’s attitude to the British since Brexit, but we may be over-sensitive. The lethargic response of the EU, and particularly France, to ordering enough vaccine while the UK romped ahead has strained relations on both sides of the Channel.

Watch this space!

Next post 23. Selling your house?

21. Antisocial distancing

Are you becoming just a bit nervous about someone standing too close to you in a queue? Do you have nightmares about being the MELON in the middle of the collage above? It would be surprising if you didn’t. Most of us were resigned to following the rules the first time around. Now there is opposition and the trend is stubbornly refusing to go down. As if we don’t have enough to contend with, the UK’s departure from the EU is becalmed in a windless ocean and Boris is threatening to send in the navy to stop French fishermen from scooping up Britain’s fish.

There was a queue outside la poste but it was necessary to brave the drizzle to post a packet to Australia. We haven’t yet worked out why the post office queues move at a snail’s pace. Probably because it’s all things to all men. (No, I’m not being sexist. It’s a phrase from the First Epistle to the Corinthians, ch9 v22 to be precise, or so I am told). Unless you are clever enough to use the machine inside and weigh and pay yourself then it’s up to the counter. If there is a suspicion that the packet is more than 2 cm thick then out come the calipers. If it is to be recorded then that entails more paperwork, and so on.

Our factrice, a gem of a postie, has exceeded the call of duty during the lockdown. She will take our mail to be posted then return the change with a neatly written calculation. She doesn’t blanch if it’s a parcel for the other side of the world. It is people like her that keep the wheels turning when you think the planet is slowing down and in danger of stopping all together. When we lived, briefly, in the Charente we had a neighbour who was a prolific letter writer. She had welded an old car aerial on to the top of her metal letterbox and attached her letters to it with clothes pegs like miniature washing hanging out to dry.

Anyway, the point of this is to say that the woman in front of me in the queue had what looked like a creature on her hair. Our paths nearly met on the way out and closer inspection showed it to be a sticker. Now this could turn into what you might call a personal crusade.

Madame and I went shopping for fruit and veg yesterday. Every single item of fruit had a sticker on it; thankfully not the veg. Imagine a label on each sprout or leaf of spinach. Precautions mean we should wash all fruit, which we did. Soon the sink outlet was clogged with these pesky adhesive stickers. You have to take care eating an apple in case you swallow one and it glues itself to your throat. If you are a gardener and throw your waste into a composteur you will find when you come to turn it that, guess what, the only item that has not decomposed is that. Do fruit packers employ someone who has made a career out of firing a special sticker gun. They could save money and not torment us. Rant over!

It was announced on the news tonight that we cannot expect the vaccine any time soon. As mentioned in the previous post the decision as to which one to use would have to be taken by committee, i.e. the 27 members of the EU. Imagine if Macron’s grandiose scheme for a European army had borne fruit.

Scene on the battlefield:

‘Can I pull the trigger now sarge?’

‘Steady on there lad, let’s not be hasty; I’ve 27 calls to make first’.

Next post 22. Round and around we go

20. An end in sight?

Don’t we all feel like this?

We thought, and hoped, that TV news had stopped showing interminable pictures of people having swabs poked up their noses and substituted ones of needles being thrust into bare arms. But no. It was a bad mistake eating supper in front of the TV at 8pm tonight. No less than eight shots were shown of swabs being shoved up slimy nostrils. We are treated to incomprehensible images of microscope slides show wriggling cells that only microbiologists can comprehend. The UK has ‘won’ the race to produce a vaccine, much to the chagrin of other countries, some of whom have expressed doubts about the speed at which it has been introduced. Meanwhile, the rest of us wait patiently for our turn. France is in no hurry; its problem is that the decision about which vaccine to use has to be decided by committee i.e. the 27 paid-up members of the EU, not renowned for speedy decisions.

Church restarted last weekend. The word cultes has sinister connotations; the translation, ‘worship’, is much more acceptable. Note the limit.

But how do you limit the number of worshippers to 30? Today the clouds were throwing down buckets of rain and the temperature couldn’t climb into double figures. Some parishioners have already exceeded their threescore years and ten and can’t be expected to queue. Maybe shops have the answer but when does the countdown begin? Half an hour before the doors open? Will worshippers camp overnight to be first in the queue?

This neat little number is an
escargot distributeur ticket ( a snail to you)

These days you can book most appointments on the internet; that’s if you have a computer. In this corner of France many don’t and even paying a bill by cheque is commonplace. We watched an old lady in the market try to pay for a bunch of grapes by cheque. The stallholder told her not bother and gave them to her. Perhaps she tried that trick regularly and ended up with a week’s free groceries.

Président Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who died recently, was keen to nudge France into the modern age and the Minitel was born. The little beige box, given away free, was the pride and joy of France for 30 years. If you had a telephone line you simply plugged it in and you were away. You could book tickets, check your bank account and visit chat rooms, if so inclined. Only problem at the start was that France had the worst telephone service in the industrialised world. Eventually the internet took over and Minitel was retired.

A 90-year-old UK grandmother has become the first person in the world to receive the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine. Her picture will be publicised around the globe, probably with that of the Health Secretary, Matt (what’s wrong with Matthew? Not blokey enough?) Hancock, who shed a tear or two when he announced the news.

The end of the tunnel?

Is the end really in sight? With 14,595 new cases in France yesterday the answer is’ not yet’ and we must wait for the results of the vaccine. France will eventually announce a programme for vaccinating. When the restaurants reopen we’ll know that the war is being won. The uninspiring prime minister has just announced that the curfew will commence at 8pm and will continue over Christmas and the New Year. Not much festive spirit there then.

Next post 21. Antisocial distancing

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19. Flying high

We were sitting on the terrace with a glass of wine (what else?) our first October here when there was a honking and squawking high above us. That, our neighbour told us, was the start of the autumn migration of the cranes (les grues) on their way from Scandinavia to Spain or north Africa. Even so high up you can tell that they are big birds, among the largest in Europe apparently with a wingspan of 2 metres.

It’s now December and still they come as they have for six weeks, trumpeting their way towards the Pyrenees; not in hundreds or thousands but tens of thousands. Their route over our house is not the only one but some 150,000 must cross during the migration.

They fly over the house in perfect formation
Who will win?

Even bad weather doesn’t slow them down

Those who know about aerodynamics tell us that they fly in a V formation for a good reason, but not directly behind each other. It’s to do with the ‘lift’ and less turbulence that they get from the bird in front. That’s tough on the leader who gets no assistance and tires before the others, so they change every so often. It took the invention of the aeroplane for man to discover what the birds have known for as long as migration has taken place.

Our house seems to act as a beacon on this particular flight path. We could not understand why the formation broke up over us and they started flying around in circles. Naively we thought that they were lost. These birds have flown from Scandinavia without GPS and know precisely where they are going. A friend patiently told us that they were searching for thermals to help lift them up over the mountains.

Life can be hazardous for the grues. Over the border in Spain deforestation has deprived them of acorns. The use of chemicals in farming can poison the birds or cause infertility and drainage of their nesting areas tells its own story. One year a few spent the night in the field below us which slopes down to the river. Ideal damp conditions.

We found this one when out for a walk; presumably it just fell out of the sky as it hadn’t been shot (it would have been illegal if it had). Maybe it had been poisoned. For whatever reason this magnificent bird had had its journey cut short.

Next post 20. An end in sight?

18. Black Friday 13th.

While Friday 13th is considered unlucky in the UK it’s the reverse here in France. Many people will put off buying their lottery tickets until that day, hoping luck will be on their side. It didn’t work out that way for us. We were about to climb out of bed when Madame received a text message from our neighbour to say her husband had been diagnosed with the coronavirus. We’re not superstitious about Friday 13th, but this news woke us up with a jolt because we had been in contact with him earlier in the week.

We’d been sitting on the terrace having coffee when he came in through the garden gate, without a mask, to discuss an estimate. If we had been prudent we would have fetched masks without delay. But there are times when logic eludes you and this was one of them. We did what we would have done in normal circumstances, offered him coffee and biscuits, which he was happy to accept, and we then discussed the devis. He sat at the other side of the table but leant forward occasionally to emphasise a point or two.

After he had gone we replayed the meeting and ticked off, too late, what we should have done. Mugs were thoroughly washed, the document was wiped with a disinfected cloth and we hoped for the best. It was a calm day and the sky was cloudless so we trusted that the virus hadn’t leapt in our direction.

We waited a week before being tested.; that presumably being the dangerous period. Our médecin traitant emailed us prescriptions to avoid going to the surgery. You couldn’t just pitch up and expect to be checked. It was efficient; the swimming pool changing rooms had been converted into testing rooms, you didn’t pass anyone else and we were seen on time, surprisingly, as midday is French lunchtime and the world stops. The negative results were received with relief by internet that evening.

Today completed the two weeks after meeting our neighbour so we ventured to the supermarket to pick up the shopping ordered on-line. The fruit shop was closed and the cheese shop; even the boulangerie was on half time. The town was uncannily quiet and parking was no problem. It’s compulsory to wear a mask, not that we saw one gendarme. The police have been drafted to hot spots in the larger towns.

Are you superstitious? Glad that the cat you nearly ran down was jet black? Hang that horseshoe on the stable door like a U so that the good luck doesn’t drop out? Over the border in Spain walking into a room with your left foot first will bring you bad luck. Don’t walk on manhole covers; going home one night in the pitch dark someone had stolen the manhole cover from the road in front of the house. It could have been a wet drop and, possibly, a broken leg!

Maybe you cross your fingers or touch wood, as many of us subconsciously do; superstitions are so deep-rooted. Take not walking under a ladder. Apart from the practical reason of not wanting to be hit on the head by a tin of paint, to the ancient Egyptians a ladder against a wall formed a triangle which was sacred. (Look at the Pyramids) If, as an adult, you still avoid walking on the cracks between paving stones, as you did when a child, people might well look askance you.

There’s even a word for those who have an irrational fear of Friday the 13th. No prizes for pronouncing it correctly. Paraskevidekatriaphobe, from the Greek words for Friday and thirteen, with phobia tacked on the end for good measure. A variation of this is Friggatriskaidekaphobia  based on the name of the ancient Scandinavian goddess Frigg (Anglicised Frigga) who was associated with Friday (the witches’ sabbath). It makes her sound a cold person, an ice queen, but Norse mythology depicts her as a woman who was generous with her favours. End of lecture.

Frigga Spinning the Clouds” by John Charles Dollman (1909)

Advertised in Vogue
For Basque Americans?

Inevitably masks have become a fashion accessory. Are they this year’s ‘must give’ present?

This is one that you won’t be able to afford. It’s made of 250 grams of 18c gold and is set with more than 3,000 diamonds, which makes it the most expensive mask in the world. That’s unofficial, but no one else has come forward with a similar claim. The mask is made with an opening to insert a disposable protective mask. A lavish fashion accessory.

Next post 19. Flying high

Stunning photo by Steve Garvie