Hello and welcome to the latest blog on April 23rd 2020
Much to my surprise, I had my Covid vaccination this week. They opened it up to the over-sixties last Friday and I got an appointment to have the Pfizer vaccine for the following Monday. We’ve read in the press about people struggling to get jabs here, and it’s true there were no appointments available at the doctors or the hospital, but there is a larger vaccination centre in Pau, our nearest city a forty-minute drive away, and there was no problem getting an appointment there. Having been through the system, I would say they are operating at well below capacity.
I wonder how the French experience of vaccination compares to the British one. They don’t contact you to offer a jab, it is up to you to book an appointment. I chose to do it online and was impressed at how well the system worked. Upon arriving at the site, which looked like a concert hall or small stadium, I could see a steady trickle of people, some going in, some going out, but there was no queue, a rare thing in France as one queues at the bakers, the butchers, the market and the post office on a regular basis. Once inside I could see I had joined a human conveyor belt. First stop was at the entrance where I had my temperature taken by a remote sensor aimed at my forehead and was asked to disinfect my hands. Next stop was a table where they took my name and checked me off the appointment list. From here I moved on to another table, manned by two friendly ladies who wanted to see my social security number and my passport. Perhaps I shouldn’t say ‘manned’, but ‘womanned’ sounds ridiculous.They had a giggle over pronouncing my first name in English and one of them, having seen on my passport that I’d been to Cambodia some years ago, took the time to show me pictures of her Cambodian grandchildren on her phone. I was there in the lunchtime slot, it was quiet and so there was time to chat. I suspect there is always time to chat here, even if there had been people waiting in line behind me. It was a relaxed atmosphere.
I was then directed to the main part of the hall where a line of booths had been laid out with seats in front of each one. Within five minutes I was in the booth, which had a nurse in uniform at the first desk and, somewhat to my surprise, a pompier (a fireman)at another desk, on which were laid out a number of syringes. The nurse asked me a few questions, tapped away on the computer, and then passed me over to the pompier, a solid, burly man with a bald head and biceps bulging out from his t-shirt. I explained to him that I didn’t like injections so I was going to look the other way while he did it. He smiled and assured me it wouldn’t hurt. ‘Je suis pompier.’ he said, with a fair degree of swagger, and indeed his confidence was well-placed as I hardly felt a thing.
I should explain that firemen in France are not the same as firemen in the UK. There role is much broader, covering not just fire protection but also rescue and emergency medical services.
On the other side of the booths was another seating area, where I sat for a quarter of an hour to check I had no immediate side-effects, and then another pompier came over to check my blood pressure. Final stop was yet another desk where my second appointment, which I had to make at the same time as my first one on-line, was confirmed and from here it was out the back entrance of the stadium and into the open air. The whole thing took less than half an hour.
I had a sore arm for a couple of days but no other side-effects, which was a relief as I know quite a few people have had bad headaches and felt washed out. Michael is going to have to wait quite a bit longer for his jab unfortunately as he is seven years younger than me. His age group is officially not eligible until mid-June but we are hoping that they will open it up before then if they can keep up the impetus and maintain supplies, by no means a given.
Driving back out of the city, where the roads still had plenty of traffic on them despite our supposed lockdown, I noticed a series of advertisements on the roadside hoardings. Normally they advertise showers or cars, but these adverts were a simple white background with text on them. We must have driven past at least ten of them.
To give you the gist, the message is as follows; ‘Hunters, save lives, stay at home. 141 accidents of which 11 were fatal (humans), 30 million animals slaughtered over 2019/2020 season.’
Many of these posters had graffiti on them, a response from la chasse, who are always ready to fight their corner. I was considerably cheered to see these posters, a high-profile protest against the wholesale destruction of so many birds and animals, as well as a real danger to the human population who live in rural areas. I’m not a fan of la chasse.
The posters were funded by the Fondation Brigitte Bardot (FBB), created by the French actress in 1986. Since 1992 the foundation has been recognized as a ‘public utility’ and focuses on animal rights and welfare.
And that ends our outing for the week! We’ve had no rain here for weeks now, to the point where we are in a drought situation. The farmers are out ploughing up the valley floor ready for planting, clouds of dust billowing up behind them. It is finally due to break and I think we shall have a wet week ahead of us, which we need – as long it doesn’t last for too long!
I’ll leave you with a picture of a chateau that Michael stumbled across on a recent walk. This is one of the things that I love about France, the way that so often you just ‘come across’ something beautiful, or strange – or both. These gardens fall firmly into the ‘beautiful’ category and make me impatient for the day when we can get further afield and find more of them. Patience, MJ, patience.
Take care all of you.