One from the vaults: Spa Break

After spending 24/7 with each other for most of this year, I am yearning for a bit of me time. Just like in this post from 2015.

The title might conjure up images of a swanky country-house hotel where I’m being pampered. Nothing could be further from the truth. I’m at home, enjoying the peace, quiet and, more importantly solitude.  My day isn’t dictated or driven by my beloved’s timetable and demands for three square meals a day.

I’ve been working away on Greig Leach’s and my next book: The Art of Cycling: UCI Road World Championships, Richmond2015, and various other tasks I need to get out of the way before year-end. I’ve been out riding most days, slowly re-building my kilometrage and strength. On my return, with no one clamouring to be fed, I’ve been able to relax in my spa bath.

View from my balcony
View from my balcony

After the deluge in early October, we’ve enjoyed an Indian summer with mild temperatures and hardly any rain. Typically, in mid-October, I make the move into 3/4 bib shorts, a long-sleeved jersey and my winter training bike. But here I am, in mid-November, in short-sleeved cycling shirt and shorts. I’m also still on my racing bike, largely because I don’t yet feel strong enough for the 53 x 39 chain ring on my winter bike.

I always enjoy a bit of me time, with no need to talk or interact with anyone else. It’s a detox of sorts. I have however acquired an uninvited house guest. Arthur, the lizard who normally resides on my fifth floor balcony, has taken refuge in the kitchen. On sunny days, he often pokes his head over the kitchen threshold but has never before, as far as I know, ventured inside. I found him the other evening, clinging to the kitchen wall, forced to become a clotted-cream colour to match the kitchen decor. It’s a colour which ill becomes him and makes his bulbous eyes look red.

Normally hued Arthur
Normally hued Arthur

I’m assuming Arthur’s taken refuge from the garrulous workmen currently, and noisily, repairing the building’s façade and re-painting it. They’ve spent most of this week on the scaffolding outside my flat from where they have serenaded me with songs in Arabic. Not one of the languages I understand so I’ve no way of knowing whether I should be pleased or offended. Though, it’s more probably the former, as I’ve assured the quality of their workmanship with a steady supply of my baked goods.

The extra freedom has allowed me to experiment with recipes that meet my regimen’s (largely vegan) dictates and I now have a fridge full of vegetable-based dishes for the next week. I’ve also been able to finish planning and booking most of next year’s trips. I’ve ticked off numerous items on my vast “to do” list which has included ordering Christmas cards compiled from our vast array of photographs from this year’s trips.

I’ve been “threatening” to do this for years but never quite seem to have gotten round to it, largely because it’s so hard to pick six photographs which sum up our year. I have also ordered all of our Christmas presents, not that I buy very many, but it’s another chore off the list. I’ve also started on some tasks that have been on the list for so long that they’re looking to draw a pension.

Indeed, I have a number of pension-related tasks on my list, specifically forms to complete as I have decided to start drawing one of my many pensions in January. The provider gave me the option of an upfront lump sum and a smaller pension. The all-important question was whether I thought I would live beyond 78 years of age. My answer was an emphatic “YES”. I also qualify for a small French pension and the authorities have demanded a French translation of my birth certificate. No problem! I easily translated it and sent it off. But no, it needs to be translated by an “approved” translator. So I paid someone Euros 60,00 to do it. Word for word, it exactly matched mine, which gave me no end of satisfaction. Well worth the money.

My beloved returns briefly tomorrow afternoon before heading off to China as part of a British Trade Mission for ten deliciously long days, so I’ll be able to prolong my spa break!

 

One from the vaults: False start

Today, on our trip back down memory lane, we’re heading to November 2012 and those heady days when riding outside was possible! This was when I still had my cycling coach and we’d finally arranged our oft-postponed training ride in Italy.

Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much planning and preparation you undertake, things just don’t pan out the way you anticipated. Take this morning. It dawned gloriously sunny, perfect for a ride with my coach. We had reorganised our oft-cancelled ride in Italy for today and had agreed to rendezvous just after the motorway exit at 09:00. My kit and bike were prepared and ready the night before. Nothing worse than discovering you’ve got a flat five minutes before you’re due to leave the house.

I got up early, ate a hearty breakfast, dressed, put the bike on the car and set off with plenty of time to spare. At that time in the morning there’s always plenty of traffic and I hate to be late, for anything. I reached our meeting point early, parked, switched off the ignition and caught up with my emails on my Blackberry.  My coach was unusually early and after exchanging the obligatory kiss on both cheeks, I prepared to follow his van. I turned on the ignition, the car emitted a quiet cough and died.

I quickly leapt from the car to stop my coach leaving and he then took over. I’m a woman so of course I might be doing something wrong. I’ve long reached an age where this no longer bothers me. I handed him the keys and the instruction manual and stood back. Ten minutes later he confirmed I needed to ring Smart Assist. I gave them all the pertinent details, including a map reference for my location and they advised me to sit tight and await a call from the Smart mechanic.

I thanked my coach for his assistance and said I now regarded our trip to Italy as being jinxed. We’ve been trying to arrange it since early June and it’s been cancelled numerous times for one reason or another. He’s a chivalrous chap and I sensed his reluctance to leave me on my own. But I was fine. I had beverages, refreshments, indeed everything that one could possibly need and my knight in a white van would soon be with me.

I read a magazine, drank my bidon and waited. After forty minutes the mechanic rang. He asked if I’d contacted the emergency services. I replied in the negative. I’d been told to sit tight and wait for him to contact me. Well it turns out that even though I had exited the motorway, I was parked on their terrain and so I needed to ring “112”.

I did and after explaining my plight was put in contact with the motorway’s rescue service. They promised someone would be with me in 40 minutes, but actually he only took 20 and was himself a keen cyclist. There then followed a series of telephone conversations on my mobile with the motorway rescue services, the mechanic and Smart Assist whereby the last one promised the first one payment for his services. Tom III was then loaded onto the back of the lorry, I climbed on board and we headed for Smart in Monaco.

Although I’m guaranteed a replacement hire car in the event of Tom’s incapacity there’s always a problem: it’s always a  manual car. While I passed my driving test on one I haven’t driven one since. Luckily I had my bike and advised that, if necessary, I would ride home.

With space being at a premium in the concrete jungle that is Monaco, the Smart garage is situated just off a narrow lane where you’d be hard pressed to drive anything apart from a Smart. Undeterred, my rescuer backed his lorry the wrong way up a one way street, dropped off my car and left me in the capable hands of the Smart mechanics.

They kindly gave it their immediate attention. The problem was a dead battery. Now I’d driven the car to Aix-en-Provence and back yesterday and then to and from the airport in the evening without any trouble. It had also started this morning without any hint of what was to come. I should add that this is my third Smart and I’d never had any problem with them. Indeed, even if I could buy any car at all, my heart’s desire would be the one I’ve got. It’s totally fit for purpose.

You might be wondering if I’d inadvertently left something alight in the car? No, I had not. A wire had worked loose from the battery. It’s a wonder I’d not had any trouble with it before now. Within 20 minutes of my arrival, I was heading out of Monaco for home.  The sun was still shining so I dropped off the car, hopped on the bike and went for a quick ride. All was now right again with my world.

Lockdown latest from France

When France went into lockdown for the second time on 30th October, the President promised a review of the situation after two weeks. So, after a little more than two weeks of Lockdown II, where are we now?

Last week the Prime Minister said the county’s lockdown will continue unchanged for at least the next 15 days – and cafés, bars and gyms are likely to remain closed for longer. The second lockdown currently runs until 1st December, but the government said from the outset that it could be extended if the health situation so demanded.

‘Possible easing’ at beginning of December

Restrictions might be eased for non-essential shops but those first steps won’t include establishments receiving the public such as bars and gyms. Strict limits on trips outside of the home, and the need for permission forms (attestations), will be likely to continue. Thankfully what will also continue is the economic support to all the businesses that have been forced to close.

More police checks

Not all of us are playing by the rules. The PM has confirmed the enforcement of lockdown rules will be stepped up.

Numbers?

Latest data shows that 42,535 Covid-19 patients have died in France since the start of the pandemic – 10,516 of those deaths occurred after 1st October. Currently one person is hospitalised with Covid-19 every 30 seconds, and one person with the virus admitted into intensive care every 3 minutes. One of four deaths in France at present is from Covid-19. Hospital patient numbers have exceeded those at the peak in April.

The government has recently increased the number of intensive care beds from 5,800 currently to 7,700. All this  means postponing and cancelling other, less urgent, medical treatments.

                                               Photo: French government, screen shot France Info

Impact of Lockdown II

The PM confirmed the lockdown, a milder version of that imposed on the country in the spring, was having noticeable effects with a lowering of movement of people.

Including

  • 22% fewer commuter journeys
  • 55% fewer passengers on the Paris Metro
  • 45% of private-sector employees working from home for 3.7 days a week or more
  • 23% of private-sector employees worked at home full-time
  • 40% of public-sector employees (excluding teaching staff and policeforces) worked some days from home

What about Christmas?

Looking ahead to Christmas, the PM said that the government’s objective was to allow for “French family celebrations,” but Christmas would “not be as usual” this year, in particular:

It is not reasonable to hope for big parties gatherings of several dozen people, especially on New Year’s Eve.

He also confirmed that it was too early to say whether long-distance travel would be allowed over Christmas. However, in a poll for French newspaper Le Parisien, 71 percent of people said they would accept lockdown continuing over Christmas if necessary.

Schools

High schools (lycées) were given permission to move up to half of their classes online. Pupils must spend at least half of their time in the classroom, however, and a full timetable of face-to-face teaching “is preferred”. The exact details of how much teaching goes online is up to each individual establishment, so will vary from place to place. Younger children in collège, élémentaire or maternelle will continue to attend school full time.

Let’s now look at some key dates:-

Mid-December: Throughout both lockdowns, the government has been reviewing the measures on a fortnightly basis, so it’s likely that we will get some sort of review and possible relaxation of the rules in the middle of December.

The government will also have to make a decision about the rules over Christmas by this date, in particular whether to allow trains to run a fuller service over the holiday period – at present SNCF is running only 30% of its normal long-distance services.

25th December: The government says it’s likely that at least some lockdown rules will still be in place by Christmas, meaning a muted celebration this year.

16th February, 2021: The current State of Health Emergency runs out. The official state of emergency does not in itself have any effect on regulations, but the designation allows the government to impose sweeping restrictions on daily life – such as lockdown – and also reduces the need for parliamentary debate. If the French parliament agrees, the emergency designation can be extended from this date.

March 2021: Despite promising news of a vaccine from a joint enterprise between US giant Pfizer and German company BioNTech, the jab is not expected to hit the streets of France immediately. Asked about the vaccine, French health minister Olivier Véran sounded a note of caution, saying:

We have not yet had access to all the data. We are preparing to start a vaccination campaign as soon as possible, provided that we have a guarantee that the vaccine is effective and safe.

The head of the EU’s health agency said that if all the trials are completed satisfactorily, the vaccine could start to be rolled out in the first quarter of 2021, echoing World Health Organisation sources who were also quoted saying that March was a likely start date.

Any roll-out of the vaccine would begin with the groups particularly vulnerable to Covid-19 – the elderly (not us) and the those with chronic health conditions.

So it’s not all bad news. Longtime readers of my blog will know I am not at all keen on “family” Christmases and, let’s be honest, I’m not the only one. I am hoping that I’ll be back on my bike, on the open roads within the next two weeks.

Lockdown lingo

As France spends its second week in Lockdown II, let’s look at some of the technical terms that we’ve all had to become familiar with.

Attestation – This word (certificate) – already crucial to France’s true religion of bureaucracy – became central to life during Lockdown I. Une attestation de déplacement dérogatoire was required for every trip out. The word is commonly used in many other situations for example: une attestation du travail proves that you are in work while une attestation de domicile is proof of where you live.

Demeurant – The attestation form introduced us to some rather formal French vocabulary including demeurant. It simply means where you live ie your address.

Déclaration sur l’honneur – The attestation form does not require any supporting proof, so it is relying on you to tell the truth about where you are going. However the fact that you declare it is true and sign it makes it a déclaration sur l’honneur (declaration on your honour, more usually translated as an affadavit) which gives it a legal standing.

Déconfinement – Is scheduled for early December but no one really believes it’ll be the official end of lockdown (le confinement). You  can use it as a verb too – déconfiner.

Non-respect du confinement – Some have been breaking lockdown rules resulting in Lockdown II. Violation du confinement means the same thing.

Amende – If you get any of France’s lockdown rules wrong you are liable to une amende de €135 – a €135 fine. This ramps up steeply for repeat offenders leading to prison confinement.

Cluster – Borrowed from the English, this term has been used from the beginning of the epidemic to talk about the infection outbreaks. You may also hear about foyers de contamination.

Geste barrière – This refers to all those habits and social distancing measures that we’ve had to get used to to protect ourselves and others: wearing a mask, sneezing into your elbow, washing hands regularly, etc.

Télétravail – Everyone in France who can is currently on télétravail, and will probably continue to remain so for quite some time. I can tell you that it’s absolutely not the same as pretending to work while lolling around watching daytime television.

Dépistage – There has been a certain amount of controversy in the press over France’s coronavirus testing strategy, currently available at many of the medical laboratories. Pretty much every town has at least one.

TousAntiCovid –  This is the new contact-tracing app, previously named StopCovid, that the government relaunched in October. Aside from using Bluetooth to alert those who have come in contact with a confirmed case of coronavirus, it also provides basic information on symptoms, case numbers and where you can get tested. And, yes I have downloaded the app.

Deuxième vague – France is firmly in the grip of a second wave of the coronavirus that is very different to the one experienced in March.

Réa – Short for lits de réanimation (intensive care beds), you may seen headlines talking about les paitents de Covid-19 rempliront les réas – Covid-19 patients are filling up intensive care beds. We’re up to about 85% at the moment.

Protocole sanitaire – All establishments, such as schools and shops, have had to follow a protocole sanitaire (health protocol) to stop the transmission of the virus. These are constantly changing. For example in schools, safety measures have been tightened and children above the age of six are now required to wear a mask, while only essential shops are now open.

Reconfinement – The ‘re’ prefix is incredibly useful in the French language: it can be added to create a completely new word to indicate repetition. However, reconfinement is not one the French were looking forward to adding to their vocabulary, seeing as what’s repeated here is the strict, nationwide lockdown that the country already experienced this spring.

But it’s not just the practical details that have had an impact, some (not us) have also needed to navigate some more subtle social codes during a highly stressful situation while trying not to tuer les voisins (kill the neighbours).

Bruit – Particularly applicable to those spending the lockdown in apartment blocks where a noisy neighbour can make your life a misery. If you have been a culprit, try a désolé pour le bruit (sorry about the noise) while if you need to make a polite request to shut up, use pourriez-vous réduire le bruit, s’il vous plâit (could you lower the noise please) on the first time of asking.

Egoïste – If you wish to mutter darkly about neighbours you believe to be breaking the rules, you could describe them as un connard égoïste – a selfish dickhead or une connasse égoïste – a selfish bitch.

Grosse balance – If you want to go further than muttering, you could report rule-breakers to the police. But you run the risk of being denounced as a grass. Balancer is the verb used for denouncing or exposing someone – as in balance ton porc (expose your pig) which is the equivalent of the Me Too hashtag in France. So if you suspect someone of sneaking, you could say tu es une grosse balance – you’re a big snitch.

I’m happy to report that our neighbours are delightful and have been following the recommended guidelines to the letter. Consequently, I’ve restarted my delivery of goody parcels, because many of my neighbours are:-

Personnes vulnérables – ‘Vulnerable persons’ are those who are elderly and those with pre-existing conditions that make them at risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus. They are also known as les personnes fragiles. Fortunately we’re neither.

But it’s not all been hatred and spying, for many lockdown has re-established what is truly important in life.

Les proches – If somebody has died you will frequently hear mes sincères condoléances aux familles et aux proches – my sincere condolences to the families and loved ones. Proche literally means close so in this content it means ‘those close to’ but better translates as loved ones. During the lockdown we have seen a lot of advice on most people’s main concern comment garder contact avec vos proches – how to keep in touch with your loved ones.

Apéro – Another great French love which we’ve truly embraced is the apéritif or pre-dinner drinks ritual. This has now moved indoors and online as an apéro Skype or apéro Zoom. In Lockdown II we’ve also moved onto dîner Zoom.

Rester en forme – While the Germans cheerfully coined a word to describe the weight gained during the first lockdown (coronaspeck – corona lard) the French media saw a proliferation of articles on how to restez chez vous, rester en forme – stay home but stay in shape. We’re still following their excellent advice.

Les sextos – I’m reliably informed that dating has become slightly tricky during lockdown so many are resorting to technology based-courting rituals instead. You will hear either le sexting or les sextos for the practice of sending saucy snaps by text message or other messaging platforms.

But much as I may like to pretend it’s all been reading Proust, sipping wine and sexting the hot neighbours, many have taken up a less glamourous – but highly French – hobby during lockdown. Complaining.

Râler – France understandably has a lot of words for complaining including the formal se plaindre which is the most frequently used, but you also have rouspéter, ronchonner, grommeler, grogner and maugréer which are variously equivalent of to moan, to grouse, to grumble or to bitch.

Ras-le-bol – When you have watched eveything on Netflix, read every book in the house and rearranged your sock drawer twice then you can exclaim J’en ai ras-le-bol de le confinement ! – I’m fed up of lockdown!

 

How coronavirus spreads

After my latest post on the Covid situation in France, I had quite a lively discussion with a number of you. This prompted me to look out an article which best explains how the virus is transmitted through the air, particularly indoors. Sadly, there’s too much information out there, much of it misinformation.

This excellent article (link also below) from the Spanish newspaper El Pais (albeit in English) beautifully illustrates the issue using the example of a living room, a bar and a classroom. While the coronovirus is not as infectious as measles, scientists now openly acknowledge the role played by the transmission of aerosols – tiny contagious particles exhaled by an infected person that remain suspended in the air of an indoor environment for up to nine hours – yes, that long!

How does the transmission work? And, more importantly, how can we stop it?

Article:-

https://english.elpais.com/society/2020-10-28/a-room-a-bar-and-a-class-how-the-coronavirus-is-spread-through-the-air.html

To end on a more lighthearted note, here’s a cartoon from one of my (many) cycling friends, which makes the same point.

Lockdown latest from France

At the end of last week, the French Prime Minister extended the night-time curfew to another 38 new départements to cover roughly half of France (46 million inhabitants), red on the map below, including where I live in the Alpes-Maritimes. In total 54 of the country’s 96 mainland départements are now on a night-time curfew. The areas covered grey on the map (below) currently have no curfew in place.

The curfew runs from 9pm to 6am and during that time we’re only allowed out of our homes for essential reasons and we must carry a self-certified permission form stating our reason for being out.  Of course, this is in response to a worsening health situation in France with spiralling numbers of cases and an increasing number of hospitals reporting that intensive care units are filling up with Covid-19 patients.

However even non-curfew zones still have restrictions in place. The ‘rule of six’ on gatherings in private spaces extends to the whole country, although this is a government recommendation rather than an actual rule so we won’t have gendarmes knocking on our door to count our dinner lunch guests.

Masks are still compulsory in all public enclosed spaces such as shops and public transport, while most towns and larger cities (including most of Alpes-Maritimes) have also made them compulsory on the street. Distressingly for my beloved, gyms and swimming pools have once again closed.

Over the weekend France set a new daily record for coronavirus infections with 52,010 recorded in 24 hours, topping 50,000 for the first time. France has also passed the symbolic marker of one million confirmed Covid cases since the pandemic began. Meanwhile, 17% of those tested for the virus now have positive results, up from 4.5% in early September.

Where do we go from here?

On Friday, President Emmanuel Macron said it was too early to say whether a new lockdown was looming, after such a move was imposed nationwide for two months in the spring. Local mayors have also cautionned that further restrictions may have to be put in place.

Since the easing of the first lockdown in May, the French government has repeatedly stressed that the economic and psychological impact of the two months of near-total confinement was too heavy for such drastic measures to be re-introduced.

But as the country’s virus rates continue to spiral, several hospitals in hard-hit areas of the country have sounded the alarm that their establishments are in danger of being overloaded with new patients and asked that the government take tougher measures.

Intensive care rates best indicate the gravity of the Covid-19 situation in the country, because they are the last figure to rise before deaths and highlight the impact of the epidemic on hospitals and the overall health system. France has reported over 200 new admissions into intensive care units per day the past week. On Saturday the country counted 2,491 Covid-19 patients in its intensive wards, much less than during the peak of the first wave of infections in early April (7,019 patients), but more than enough for hospitals to worry about the weeks to come as numbers rise exponentially.

Previously the prime minister had said that the only lockdowns the government would consider were localised ones that targeted the areas suffering the most from the virus. But that was back when the general understanding was that the hardest battles against virus would be fought in the country’s densely populated cities, not in France at large.

The government, health authorities and indeed all of us in France are waiting to see the impact of the curfew on infection rates, but for now the numbers are only rising. Fortunately though, in terms of the number of Covid-19 patients dying, the situation is not as extreme as back in April. France’s daily death toll has been on a level of around 150 per day, compared to over 500 per day in early April. The other statistics are also beginning to accelerate but remain far, far below the levels seen in the spring.

It may be that in order to curb the spread, France introduces either a much stricter and longer nationwide curfew or a second lockdown. Many experts have warned against reopening secondary schools, high schools and universities after the autumn break. What is almost certain is that there will be further measures, whether nationwide or in certain hard-hit areas.

What does this all mean?

I’ll be honest, it makes very little difference to us though I am concerned about the local economy despite the support the government has put in place. Our Domaine is still (thankfully) Covid-free quite possibly because we’ve all been very law-abiding. But clearly others have not. Yes, more widespread testing identifies more cases but that doesn’t account for the rapidly filling hospital beds.

France’s neighbours are all adopting similar strategies. There’s little we can do other than continue to abide by the rules and support local businesses.

Tell us what’s happening where you live?

One from the vaults: Open Letter to Spammers

I wrote this back in October 2011 but, guess what, it’s still very relevant!

Dear Spammers

Frankly, I’ve had it up to here with Spam on my email accounts and my blog, so I’d like to take this opportunity to set the record straight. OK, I know my name is a bit unusual but surely my photograph gives it away, I’m female. So I have no need of any aids to lengthen, strengthen or enlarge an appendage I don’t possess. Nor is my beloved in need of any assistance in this department. If he ever is, we’ll contact you, not the other way around.

I am not in the habit of knowingly buying copies of designer goods. In fact, I’m not overly fond of brands which expect me to provide them with free advertising. Want me to wear your label? Please contact my agent. It therefore stands to reason that I wouldn’t buy fake handbags, watches, jewelry etc etc. I do hope you get the picture. I’m a law abiding soul, apart from running the odd red light on my bike.

I am allergic to doctors and medicines, my only indulgence is a spot of Vicks Vapour Rub and frankly half the fun is having my beloved rub it into my chest. So, thanks, but I won’t be taking you up on any offers of cheap or generic drugs. I know I mentioned that clenbuterol seemed like the answer to my prayers “helps you breathe more easily and lose weight” but I was only joking. You can take a joke can’t you?

I’m not trying to lose weight but there’s no need to keep sending me emails offering on-line help and assistance.   Sadly, there is no miracle cure. If there were, no one would be overweight.

I don’t want or need to borrow any money. That’s why most of the world’s economies are in trouble – too much instant gratification. If you can’t afford it, try saving up for it. You’ll enjoy it all the more. Since I have no need to borrow, I have no need to check out my credit status. Nor have I been sold any financial products where I haven’t completely understood all of the small print. So I don’t need to sue anyone for misselling. Nor do I need to leave a cash sum for my nearest and dearest, I don’t believe in subscribing to temptation.

I have no desire to gamble on line. I’m an accountant we don’t gamble either with our money or with anyone else’s, we have better things to do with our time. We know that the house always wins and don’t like the odds.

Emails purporting to be from banks, building societies, utility providers, government officials, the tooth fairy, Nigerians offering large sums of money in return for assistance, all requesting details of my bank account and my passwords do I look stupid? No, I thought not.

I have no need of any bells or whistles to drive readership to my blog. Its sole intent is to keep my family and friends apprised of my daily life in France. I am seeking neither endorsements nor advertisements. If others find their way to my blog and derive some enjoyment and amusement from my musings then that’s fine. If you send me messages which bear absolutely no relation to the blog entry in question and are clearly some blatant attempt to sell me something, then guess what? I just delete them.

I do hope I have made myself crystal clear but I’m sure there’s still some of you out there in Spamland who’ll blithely ignore my sound advice. But, hey that’s life.

Things about France that surprised me: it’s bureaucratic, but it works

Those of us who have chosen to live in France often find it more bureaucratic than our home countries. It’s not really, it just works differently to what we’re used to, but it does work.

My experience is that if you are proactive, have all your documents in order, come prepared and be patient, I think it all works out pretty well. A visit in person is often much more fruitful than either endless letters or telephone calls, although more and more administrative stuff has gone online which certainly speeds up the process. An inability to understand French is often not an issue as much of that online is also in English.

I’m going to explain, using a very personal and recent example. You may recall that during this year’s two month delayed Tour de France, I worked as a volunteer. On the final day of my stint, my purse was stolen from my backpack while on the train home. I had used my credit card to pay for the ticket at Nice main station at 13:14 and had arrived home at 14:00 sans purse. Actually, it was worse than that because I was also without all my cards, checkbook, passport and driving licence.

I quickly cancelled everything, reported the loss to SNCF (French railways) and rang the local police who suggested I call in to report the loss early the following Monday morning. Knowing that the police would have to type up a report detailing everything I’d lost, I pre-prepared a list of what was in the purse and printed out photocopies of my passport and driving licence.

Nice has a bit of a reputation for gangs of pick-pockets, typically from Eastern Europe. The policeman I spoke with seemed to think I’d been targeted because with all my Tour gear I’d have looked like a tourist. I was less certain, believing it was more opportunistic. In any event he dutifully typed everything up, printed it out five times which we both signed and I got to keep one copy for my records. Important since I no longer had any official identity documents.

Two weeks later I received an email from a station in Lyon saying they had found my purse! The only things missing were the money (Euros 70) and my luncheon vouchers from volunteering (Euros 40) which kind of proved my point. Although I had already cancelled everything (credit cards, driving licence, passport, carte vitale [medical card]), I was delighted to get my things back, particularly all my store loyalty cards, including the supermarket one which had Euros 160 on it. I use the “savings” generated throughtout the year to purchase food for the Xmas charity collections.

Of course, with Covid, I have no idea when I’ll actually get my replacement UK driving licence and passport but the former is due to be swapped for the French version and I’m unlikely (sadly) to need the latter much before 2022.

How best to handle French bureaucracy

For those who are yet to experience French bureaucracy for themselves, the key to getting through it is to stay calm and be patient. If you don’t speak French, or don’t speak French well, find out as much as you can via online forums and seek out companies that can assist you.

My advice (unsurprisingly) is preparation, such as having translations of important documents ahead of the game. Obtain certified translations of your birth and marriage certificates done by a court approved translator. If all else fails, find an English-speaking accountancy firm geared to British citizens living and working in France.

Someone else best summed it all up:

That’s life here. Just keep chipping away at it and finish the day with a delicious (and affordable) high quality glass of French wine to remind you that there are positives to balance out the negatives.

Wise words!

One from the vaults: Much Amused

This is one from a couple of years ago but it’s as true today as it was when I wrote it, though my neighbour is a few years older!

When you buy an apartment in France you’ll receive a copy of the building’s rule book. Typically it’s a thick red softback book which contains a long list of dos and don’ts governing the running of the apartment block. Most of which are just plain common sense and ensure we can all live together in the one building in relative harmony. And most of the time, it works. From time to time, M Le President – not Macron, but the guy that’s head of our building committee – puts up notes reminding us about various rules. For example, no hanging washing out on the balconies or hanging beach towels over the railings to dry. These indiscretions are often committed by holidaymakers unfamiliar with the myriad of rules.

When we bought our current apartment it needed a complete overhaul. Aware that it was going to be both noisy and dusty for my neighbours, I went on a charm offensive knocking on doors to introduce myself and giving them my mobile number so they could contact me if there were any problems. We were living off-site during most of the major works which were properly pre-approved. And, even though I had my own plumber doing the bathrooms, also involved the building’s plumber. This is an important point as each building has its own eccentricities and none more so than the plumbing and heating which are shared utilities. I also posted a note in the lift apologising for noise, inconvenience etc.

I did get a couple of calls of complaint but, on further investigation, none were to do with my works but rather those in another apartment which hadn’t adhered to the protocols. For example, work can only be carried out between 08:00 – 12:00 and 14:00 – 18:00 on weekdays, excluding Bank holidays, July and August, by workmen with the requisite qualifications, Siret (registration) number and liability insurance. The latter is extremely important as leaks can be a common occurrence and you don’t want to find yourself saddled with the costs of your builder’s incompetence.

By and large everyone adheres to these rules apart from one neighbour in our block who doesn’t think they apply to him. He’s renovated a kitchen and a bathroom working only week-ends with a mate. His excuse is that’s the only time he has available. Seems reasonable, but he works for himself from home. What he means is his mate is only available at the weekend and, in order to complete the job, they need to work all weekend – no warnings and certainly no apologies.

However, it appears he was celebrating his 45th birthday this week-end with a party – my invite must’ve gotten lost in the post – and he’s put up a note in the lift apologising in advance for the noise.  Either it’s going to be really noisy, or he’s mellowing in his old age. A quick chat with the neighbours, who all find it equally amusing, revealed none of us have been invited so I needn’t feel slighted.

PS Didn’t hear any noise from the party. Must’ve been a tame affair!

Tag: Lockdown

I was most kindly tagged back in August by Mercy Oluokun, a writer and biologist from Nigeria who is driven by God’s love to share the light of His word to everyone she comes in contact with. Herry Chic Counsels is the name of her blog, please go and check it out.

While most of us are no longer in lockdown, it seemed appropriate to respond to the tag now as the loosening of rules in the summer are being tightened once again to prevent a second wave of the pandemic overwhelming hospitals and their services.

Nominees

I’m throwing this open to everyone. Let us know what’s happening in your part of the world and how it’s affecting you.

Tag Rules

  • Thank the person who nominated you.
  • Answer the blogger’s questions.
  • Nominate other bloggers.

Mercy’s Questions

1.Overall, how are you handling the quarantine?

Pretty well! We’ve always worked from home and have taken the opportunity to revisit the area where we live (south of France) and fall in love with it all over again. We’ve only socialised with a restricted circle of friends and have tried as much as possible to support our favourite local shops and restaurants.

2. Have you violated any of the restrictions? If yes, what rule(s) did you break?

No, I haven’t broken any. Why would you?

3. What viral recipes have you tried during the lockdown?

None though I have tried plenty of new recipes many of which are on the blog.

4. What activities have you missed the most during quarantine?

I’ve missed going to watch sport live.

5. Do you wear a mask when you leave the house?

Always, that’s the rules.

6. Are you an essential worker? If yes, what is your job title?

No, but if you asked my beloved husband his answer might be very different!

7. How do you exercise during the lockdown?

During lockdown earlier in the year we walked around the Domaine and rode our home trainers on the terrace. Since lockdown’s been lifted, we’ve ridden our bikes around the area and both worked out at home plus my beloved has been swimming in the Domaine’s 50 metre outdoor pool.

8. Have you subscribed to any new subscription services since the lockdown started?

No, we’ve not even been tempted, though we’ve made more use of our existing ones such as Apple Music.

9. What did/does your daily schedule look like before the pandemic started?

To be honest not a lot has really changed. Get up, do some yoga, go for a ride, shower, eat breakfast, start work, cook lunch, return to my office and continue working, cook dinner…………

10. Do you think that the pandemic is getting better or worse?

It’s hard to tell because of the (mis)information overload.  It appears to be better in certain parts of the world and worse in others but I’m not sure if we’re comparing like with like.