Blog 2 March 29th 2020 The Olivia Rose Diaries
Welcome to the second blog in The Olivia Rose Diaries for the week ending March 29th 2020.
Making sense of the numbers.
Statistics have only ever told a partial truth but I have decided to keep a set of the Coronavirus figures for the UK, France and worldwide. I am doing this so I can see when the number of reported cases starts to drop and I only look at them once a week. This is part of a general resolution not to look at the newspapers more than once a day and to give myself one day a week where I don’t look at them at all. I am not burying my head in the sand, just being aware of my state of mind and we all know that too much of any one thing has never been good for you. The figures below refer to the known cases in each country.
In which we have a run-in with the law.
We have a new travelling companion. It’s a form, an ‘attestation de déplacement dérogatoire’, which broadly means a certificate of travel exemption.
It states the reasons why people are allowed to leave their homes; essential work, purchasing food or medicines, doctor or hospital visits that can’t be done remotely, supporting vulnerable family members/child care, physical activity/dog walking, working for volunteer organisations. You need to tick the box that applies to your activity, sign and date the form and are legally required to carry it wherever you go. There is a fine of 135€ for non-compliance.
We live in a quiet, rural area. It seemed silly to take the form just for a ten minute trip to the boulangerie but, being typically British law-abiding citizens, we shoved one each in our pockets before we left. We signed it but didn’t bother putting the date on. If we left it blank we could keep using it and save wasting paper.
The gendarmerie caught up with us five minutes after we left the boat. They cruised past, slowed down, stopped, wound down the window and looked at us in the way of policemen the world over. I explained in my best French that we were just going to buy bread. He asked for our forms and pointed at the empty space where the date was supposed to be.
‘You must put in the date.’ He tapped his finger on it to make the point. ‘Also, you cannot go out together. Only one person from the house.’
This was news to us.
‘Not even for a walk? Along the river?’
‘No.’ He gave me a stern look. ‘The only time you can be together is if one of you is ill and you have to take them to the hospital.’ He handed back the form. ‘Today you can stay together, but no more after that.’
We bought our bread, not that there was much on the shelves, and walked back home with glum faces, at a loss to understand how we could no longer do something so ordinary as to take a walk together. I saw the gendarmerie again the next day as I walked alone by the river. They were driving down the cycle track but they didn’t stop me this time.
We weren’t the only people struggling to come to terms with the new rules. As of March 23rd and only one week after the forms were introduced, almost 92,000 violations were reported. The government responded by introducing a fine of 1,500€ for a repeat offence, with further fine of 3500€ and up to six months in prison if it happened a third time. They also introduced another requirement for you to include the time that you left home on the form and made it clear that whilst cycling to work or to the shops, if absolutely necessary, was allowed, cycling as part of the one hour a day permitted time for personal exercise was not allowed. The French are addicted to cycling and I could imagine the howls of anger around the country when this rule came in. Apparently the thinking behind it is to minimize accidents as doctors and hospitals are fully occupied with the virus.
A few days later the authorities have said that if you live in the same household you are allowed to go out for a walk together. Like everything else in this odd life we now live, the rules are changing all the time.
A trip to the supermarket.
Having seen pictures on the news of empty shelves in the supermarkets in the UK, and with stories of wealthy Parisiens fleeing the city to their second homes where they were seen with two or three trolleys per person and food bills of over 600€, I felt slightly anxious as to what I would find as I pulled into our local Intermarchė. Not surprisingly, I found a queue of about 30 people, waiting in an orderly line in the crisp March sunshine. They were letting people enter the supermarket in batches, limiting the number of people inside at any one time. I donned my plastic disposable gloves and joined the line, aware that we were all single people. Shopping had become a solitary affair. Once inside, I got everything on my list. There were some empty spaces on shelves, but all the important items were available and nobody seemed to be buying in unreasonable quantities. I did notice a larger than usual number of men wandering the aisles, a list in one hand and the phone glued to their ear with the other, a pained expression on their faces as they waited for instructions from their better half as to what to do if the preferred brand of penne pasta was all gone.
The sounds of silence.
We are used to silence and isolation. We’ve lived out in the sticks for many years and have a horror of traffic and crowds. But the silence that fell at mid-day on March 16th this year was not a natural silence. This marina is in a rural situation but not far from a large town. Before the lockdown, we could hear a muted hum from the main road, children screaming with glee in the nearby playground, the whine of forklifts and heavy machinery from a nearby scrap merchant. These sounds weren’t particularly intrusive, but we were aware of them, the normal sounds of humanity going about its business.
On the first morning of the lockdown all these noises stopped. It wasn’t a gradual lessening of noise but an abrupt, overwhelming emptiness. It felt as if the world had ended. At the same time the cyclists and walkers all disappeared. Now we knew the world had ended. Nothing has ever felt so strange.
It didn’t last. Once the initial shock was over people ventured back out again but the gendarmerie were enthusiastic and they soon disappeared or were only seen as lonely figures on the river bank. The traffic came back but in much reduced numbers. So did the scrap yard noise, which puzzles us as we are not sure how that counts as an essential business but then many things puzzle us in France. The silence is partially filled again but it’s not the same.
We can’t cycle out on the roads, but we are allowed to cycle round the marina, which is a private property. As we are the only people living here we feel it belongs to us, our exclusive garden and exercise area.
We get the bikes out and we go round and round until we get dizzy and fall off! I’m even contemplating taking up running, which truly goes to show how bad things are. Other activities are endless phone calls, Zooming sessions and Whatsapping. I am looking forward to the warmer weather so I can do my Pilates and yoga outside and we are both learning more French.
Michael has numerous tasks to do on the boat but progress is being hampered as he can’t get some essential bits and pieces from a DIY store. As the picture below shows he is collecting wood from the river bank for the woodburner – and wishing he still had his chainsaw.
And that is it for now. Take care of yourselves and see you next week!