The confinement

If ever you weren’t aware, there’s this virus going around, that was named after a light beer, and then the producers of said beer went mad and told the scientific community to get their shit together and give it a name that sounded less like drinking beer out of a bottle through a wedge of lemon. COVID 19 was born.

It seems to be one of those Chinese exports that nobody wants, but it gets through anyway. If you listen to the conspiracy theorists it was created by the French and Chinese as a joint venture, without the joints, and tested on bats first. Maybe there were some joints after all…

I’m not a scientist, nor do I have scientific logic. I’m just a guy who writes stuff and takes a few photos along the way.

Things started off gradually at work. In my corner of France, when the shift starts, everyone says hello. Now the French are a bit weird about this, as they are on quite a few things, and I’m not talking about a drug crazed idea in Wuhan, where Jean Jaques smoked a spliff and got intimate with a bat. The rule is that you must go to each colleague and not only say hello, but shake that person’s hand, otherwise it doesn’t count. The same thing is true of the “bise” and is discussed at great length by a fellow compatriot, a guy called Paul Taylor in a video. I don’t know the bloke, but if you see him, tell him I said hi.

Anyway…

So this hand shaking thing was the first thing to go. And was to be replaced by hand washing and hand sanitiser. Then came the inevitable hand santiser and soap, or just one of the above, discussion. One of my colleagues got quite tetchy about the whole thing. Sharing a coffee together and having a chat at the coffee machine was over. You went to get your precious, and then had to go back to your post where you treat like a ring that makes you invisible and go mad….

Then one Saturday night, the French Pirme Minister, said that all social gatherings were to cease, and places like cafes, restaurants, clubs, and cinemas were to shut. And in one foul swoop, he only went and shut the bloody pub!!! Shit had just got serious.

You have to realise that the pub is not there to give me a place where I can be a socially acceptable alcoholic, but also a place where you can find my social support nechanisms. The people that work there and frequent this marvellous institution, are not just people in a bar, they are my friends. I’ll see you guys on the other side of this madness.

That next week, things seemed less funny at work. Social distancing came into fashion, as did saying hi to everyone, by just saying hi to everyone (see above about the handshakebusiness). There had discussions between Unions and Management about how they would treat a possible shutdown of the company of we had to go into confinement, people working from home, and how we would be paid if we couldn’t work from home. But it was still up in the air. People started predicting when it would eventually happen.

It happened on St Patrick’s day at 12pm. We all said goodbye to each other and left work as if we were going on leave, but it was more sinister than that. We didn’t know when we would be coming back, and we weren’t all going on holiday either. We would all be staying at home.

It’s now the 6th of April. We have been on lockdown for exactly 21 days.

Dont Panic!!!

It’s been a quiet time lateley. Days go by and we continue to exist with the very present threat of the the deadly Corona Virus, Covid-19, for those close to it. Quiet, despite the pandemonium in the media. Quiet, despite the lack of toilet paper, which just goes to show how scared people really are!

However, last Sunday, I wanted a quiet afternoon with my daughter away from the panic mongering. I wanted to chill. I wanted to enjoy the sun and get some vitamin D. I wanted to just forget the world around me and have a break. With my daughter. It would also give my wife some home alone time, but not in a Macauley Culkin, burgularies, and a smart ass kid using physical assault to defend his home while his emotionally abusive family buggered off, kind of way… No, I had committed the gravest of faults that anyone can make in a mariage, I had had enough and was totally honest. I said what was on my mind. I repeated myself when she asked what the f*ck I was on about. If you’re going to be up the creek, you might as well go for it. What I had forgotten was that my wife is going through the menopause. I remembered something about my mother being somewhat cranky, so thought, go for it. Ooops! Well I’ve had the bed to myself for this last week, and have actually slept quite well. Silver linings and all that.

Anyway. It was Sunday, and I thought it might be a good idea to get my daughter out of the house and let the psychotic beast that had replaced my wife, alone.

Kate knew that I was in the dog house and was quite sweet. I assured her that Mummy and Daddy weren’t going to divorce and that it would be over soon. We drove off to Nantes.

Now my daughter can be described as many things, but high maintenance? Nah… But always to avoid going when the shops are open. She seems to have the philosophy of, well, asking can’t hurt, you never know. And then she accuses me of always saying no. Is this new wave feminism, or am I just being sexist and accusing the two ladies in my life wanting to bleed me for every penny that I’m not worth? I mean every “centime d’euro,” as we’re in France after all.

Anyway. I made sure she was well fed before we left. She had stuffed herself with Weetabix. A few hours later she would be deadly at a thousand paces. I was playing with my life. But I laugh in the face of danger, and then go, Ouch… She used to hate Pizza, but as become a new convert, and now Thursday is Pizza night. I knew of a place where you get a huge slice of pizza for just €2.50, and thought I cannot fail. She loved it. YESSSSSSS!

She wanted to go to the Passage Pommeraye. Oh no, all the shops were closed. All we could do was to look in the windows, and yes Darling, that’s where I got your birthday presents. The only shop that was open was one that sold chocolate, cakes and macarons. This day is going far too well!

We came down the rue Crébillon towards the Place Royale, where her favourite fountain is. However, the day before was the Journée de la Femme, and the day after the sqaure was full of ladies that weren’t happy at all, and were getting all shouty about it. My PTSD kicked in and we ran towards the Place de Commerce.

She had decided that we were going to the cinema to see a film of her choice, and since she had just been fed, we just floated by the sweets and popcorn without the slightest, Papa, on peut avoir… I was on my game. The film was actually quite good, and I didn’t even snore. A feat in itself.

I, of course, had to feed her before mass, because it meant that I would be able to get to the pub earlier and have a couple of pints and get home to bed earlier. Again everything went swimmingly. Maybe I’m getting to understand this child after ten years. Lets hope she stays as sweet. Oh bugger, puberty is just around the corner. I’ll just enjoy it before it starts.

Friends and Social

Social Media is a thing. It exists. Some hate it, others love it, some are simply addicted. It is in its essence very much much like the internet. It is a tool. It is the perfect reflection of humanity. Of all that is bad about humanity with trolling, bullying, abuse, etc, but it also a reflection of all that is good, offering information, a source for learning, a tool used to raise awareness, or money for various good causes. Social media allows us to connect in a way that was impossible when I was a child, and even as a young man.

With Facebook, I can keep in touch with family back home, exchanging news and photos. I can keep in touch with people that I knew 30 years ago at school. I have made friends online and have even met some in real life.

The other Saturday was one such occasion. Those who don’t know me might not realise that I am half English, half Irish, living in France since 1994. When I arrived I was immersed in my wife’s French family life and didn’t really get into the Expat thing. As time has gone on, I have changed and really appreciate the support that fellow immigrants from the mother country, or Empire, can give you. This has been centred around the John McByrne Irish Pub in Nantes. However Instagram has introduced me to people in Nantes, and allows me to talk to people about photography and won’t fall asleep in the first five seconds…

Whilst on Instagram I started following a guy from South Africa and his family who life a little further south in the Vendée. We would chat and I would follow how the renovations in their French house were going. I am in admiration of somebody who can do that, as experience and a smidgen of wisdom, has shown me to be totally incompetent in this domain. I have sufficient insight to realise when I should leave something to the experts.

Anyway, we chatted and everything, and then one day they say that they are going up to Nantes to visit one of the museums and I suggested immediately that we meet up, and that I would probably be in town anyway.

As is turned out I was. We exchanged numbers and whilst I was waiting for them I was next to the Sainte Croix church, and thought what a good idea it might be to take a couple of photos. Strangely enough (irony) I had my camera with me. Canon 6D Mark ii, with the 16-35mm lens. I know that with this setup I can usually get a few keepers that allow me to capture Nantes in a way that you don’t see everyday.

They arrived and I offered to show them the pub. You never know when it might come in handy. We ordered our drinks and talked some more. About our different experiences in work, with the children, with schools etc. Then the match began. Wales vs France in the Six Nations.

They talked about wanting to see the Castle in Nantes, and oh what a surprise, it wasn’t too far away from the pub. We walked there, walked up onto the battlements, and walked right the way round. By then the children were hungry, so I offered to introduce them to PitaPit and they loved it.

We parted ways and wished eachother good luck getting home. It was a good day!

Riding the waves

I have missed you Dear Reader since I wrote my last article 20 days ago. There goes my idea of writing every week out of the window. I have been going through a rough time lately as far as my mental health is concerned. Let me reassure you that I am still alive, but it’s been like riding a roller coaster of emotions.

Stephen Fry once said that depression is like the weather. It exists. We don’t know how it starts, it’s just there. It’s part of our everyday life. We’re not in the depths of melancholy every day. We even have good days. We even have great days where it seems that nothing can go wrong.

However, when it does go wrong, it can go very wrong, and go very wrong very quickly. You of course try and fight it. Which is perfectly normal and a rational thing to do. But this of course takes an awful lot of effort and leaves you shattered. When you are shattered you feel your energy levels gradually diminish, and when it happens to me I seem to have a few basic tasks that I can carry out. One of the hardest of these tasks is to get out of bed every morning and affront the world. But you do it. Because you have to. You drag yourself to work. You manage to do the basic stuff so as not to be noticed. But you withdraw. You are no longer chatty. You avoid people and only talk when necessary.

You start to get feel the presence of “darker” thoughts which become increasingly darker. You start to think the worst, but the you remember that you are so bloody useless that you can’t even tie a proper knot. Yes. My incompetence has saved me once again!

Another of my basic tasks is to go to mass. It was a couple of weeks ago. I was still going to the cathedral on the Sunday night for the music. That night, my body may have been there but by mind was in turmoil. Little did I know that I was already getting better. A voice in my head said, well now, if you’re here, then it means you haven’t given up yet. It was a voice that comes to me now and again. It’s a voice that is the opposite of the voices trying to put me down. Imagine watching a cartoon where you’re thinking, and on one side you have a daemon trying to drag you down, but on the other you have an angel trying to pull you back up. One is violent in its very essence, whilst the other is pure love and gentleness. It’s at moments like this that I know God exists. God is love and where there is love, there is God. This is such a great comfort to me during these dark episodes. Maybe depression is a truly religious experience?

People generally notice that I’m not so well only after I’ve hit this rock bottom and am back on the way up. I have friends that are Catholic also, and have helped me more than they realise. Others offer simple kindness, which is another form of love. Others will just listen and not treat me as if I’m a headcase even though I might feel like one. This again is pure kindness. this kindness is like a breath of fresh air and so precious to me. I would really like to thank those of you but I can’t thank you enough.

My mental health is like being a sea. I am the ship, and get battered about by the waves. There is always a real risk that I may sink and cease to be, but when I’m at the very bottom of the wave I know that I will start to rise again. Sometime it takes a little longer than I may first have hoped. But I will rise.

I have accepted this as being part of who I am. I am fully conscious of when I am starting to stumble. I know the signs. I know what I am looking out for. Can it be cured? I don’t honestly know. There is certainly no quick fix. There is no pill that you can pop that will make everything right again. At best it offered me an automatic pilot for a given period of time.

Some have said that I suffer from Hypersensitivity. I was given a book as a present from a friend and have actually started reading it. I don’t know what to think about it yet. I’m not a great believer in self-help books and don’t believe there is one solution for everyone, let alone for myself. All I know at the moment is that I am feeling better, and am feeling ready to ride the waves one more time.

Passage du Gois, and the Port du Bec

I seem to have this habit of going into Nantes with my camera and using it as an excuse to have some me time, eat cake, and drink tea. Now I’ve been told about how self-care is important but it’s beginning to show around my waist. I think it might be making me lazy as far as photography is concerned too.

So, what to do? Go somewhere else that doesn’t have tea and cake! I also wanted to keep away from towns and cities. Too much familiarity, and I wanted to see if my Canon 6D Mark II still worked. It does. Yipee. And I wanted to set my self the constraint of using just my 50mm F1.8, the famous nifty fifty!

I love my Fujifilm cameras and haven’t switched back or anything but change is good.

It was a beautifully sunny day and just before midday. I got a sandwich at a bakery and headed off towards the coast. The car knows the first part of the way there as it’s the way to work. I passed the factory and gave her a swift hello. It looks so empty without her workers going about their daily duties. Maybe she needs a weekend as much as we do. Anyway…

I arrived at Beauvoir Sur Mer and passed the holiday home of a friend from the band. I didn’t see the car so continued without stopping. I arrived at the Port du Bec, and made my way down towards the boats wondering how those ramshackle wooden jetties can support the weight of a fisherman… Needless to say, I didn’t try to find out. Erring on the side of caution. I may not have the wisdom of an old man, but I’m not daft either. Maybe the beginnings of wisdom are that we know that we know nothing, but that we are too big to go and play silly buggers!

The blue sky was reflected in the sea. It felt great to be alive. The sun really makes a difference after so much rain. And I wasn’t the only one out. Over the bay I could see Noirmoutier in the distance protecting us from ravages of the Atlantic. All was calm. I like calm. I like calm about as much as I do tea and cake. I walked down to the sea and gently walked back towards the car and off to my next destination, the Passage du Gois.

The Passage du Gois is a passage. The clue is in the name… It is the passage between the mainland and the island of Noirmoutier on the Vendée coast. The particularity is that, like Lindesfarne in Northumberland, it is covered by the sea at high tide. However on the Passage du Gois, that tide can roll in faster than a galloping horse at a rather quick gallop.

One of the local spectator sports is watching motorists trying to beat the tide and there is a real danger that they might not make it. That’s what those beacons are for. They actually have a foot race where the runner finish with wet feet!

When the tide is out it’s a different matter all together. I once took a couchsurfer from the US there. We parked on the sand and watched people fishing for shellfish. She’d never seen anything like it in her life!

It felt great and the sea air always does me good. I might just have to go back…

The Port du Bec

The Passage du Gois

Happy New Year

So I was almost late for Merry Christmas, but in France you get until the end of January to wish people Happy New Year, so not late at all! Yayyyy, go me! Thank heavens that I’m not called Nads…. (old joke, and I’m nearly ashamed of using it to introduce an article)

Here we go then. Happy New Year. Or as the French might say on a good day, Bonne Année à toi! Which as work will be answered by, Bonne et heureuse… Et la santé avant tout! Have a good and happy one, and good health above all. That’s not really my thing. It sounds like a formula that you bring out to shut people up. I wish you enough riches not to be afraid of going to get the post everyday. I wish you friends or a friend to help you and be there for you. I wish you not what you want, but definitely what you might need. Anything else is a bonus.

I also wish you the joy that a cup of tea and a slice of cake give me!

Since I last wrote I’ve been taking a few photos, been back to work and have completed my first week of the year. I have lead two choir rehearsals, been to one windband rehearsal, had a whole day of windband rehearsal, and have have had the odd cup of tea. Some of them very odd.

On the 31st I thought it might be wiser to let my wife be, and let her look after things rather than be in her way. I know my place after all. Killian was supposed to be heading off into Nantes to bring the new year with his friends. For those of us staying at home, my wife had decided to prepare a raclette, which is based on melted cheese covering pieces of cold meats and potatoes. As I’m not into meat, this was a waste of time for me, but she was lovely and made sure I had a vegetarian option.

So to let her be, I thought I would go out with my camera and try and get some nice photos of the Anneaux de Buren and maybe the grue. Whilst out I met a friend who I had run into when we were out with our children. I spotted his camera, and he spotted mine and we got talking about photography. We still have to go on that photowalk Patrick! Time was getting on and I thought it wise to wish him a Happy New Year, and head back home.

I don’t know about you Dear Reader, but the idea of having to enjoy myself just because somebody said so, gets me a little cranky. Yayy it’s the Reveillon so you have to have fun! No I don’t. So just before midnight I headed up to bed. My facebook status read, Happy New Year, can I go to bed now?

The photos were taken on the Fujifilm XT2 with a 24mm (equivalent) lens, and the Helios 58mm lens. Can you tell which photos were taken with which lens?