The end of lockdown in France

As of midnight the confinement is officially over in my area of France. We are green and not red. Were we to be red, then we would still be up the Covid Creek without a paddle, but as we’re green, we’re good to go.

What I have just said might seem strange. And of course you would be right. It sounds like a British Army exercise, but it’s not. Nooooo! This is France after all. The country has been divided into green areas on a map, where the virus is less prevalent, and red, where people are still up to their necks in it, whatever “it” may be.

The Reds, and the Greens

Today, I need to fill in a form to say why I am outdoors and I have a document from my firm saying that I have to be at work. Otherwise I have to stay in, except forgoing to work with the right authorisation, shopping, going to see my doctor, going to see my family for vital reasons, or for childcare, exercise, but only for one hour, and within 1km of my house, if I have to appear before a court, or the police, or the participation in an action of national importance.

Tomorrow, I will be allowed out without an authorisation, but only in a radius of 100km from my house. If I use public transport I will have to wear a mask. If I go to the barbers, I have to have an appointment, usually taken online, pay by card, and wear a mask. I will experience this next Saturday when I might just be able to stop looking so unkempt.

Certain restaurants will be open, but for click and collect and using online payments. The Pub is still shut. Almost seems a waste of time going into town… But I still will go. I need to take a camera in to be repaired.

It’s going to be the end of lockdown, but not back to normal.

I remember the joy of being able to go back to work. I’m hoping to really appreciate having some more limited freedom back too. My daughter will be going back to school physically for two days a week and working from home for the rest of the week with lessons being sent in by her teacher.

My wife will be going back to work in a week’s time, driving her school bus, but it won’t be in the same conditions as before. Masks all round.

Lockdown is over, and we’re entering a new phase, but it’s far from over. It’ll be nice to get out though.

Confinement – The Endgame

Yes, I said Endgame. Well, kind of. My confinement started on the 17th of March, and I go back to work tomorrow morning, the 20th of April. You know when you were at school, and your teacher gave you the “and what did you do during the holidays?” essay. This is the more modern equivalent. Also I’m now 48 and no longer 8.

Did I go to the zoo? No, they’re shut. Did I visit my grandparents? No, they’re dead. Did I buy any sweeties? Just a couple. Where did I go? Not very far believe it or not. I stayed at home. It’s the destination that seems to be in favour at the moment, at least for the large majority of the population. Except for those Keyworkers!

The keyworkers, of course, have our admiration, not just because they have new celebrity status, let’s hope that one day they receive not only the recognition they deserve, but also maybe some financial reward. I think that we secretly admire them because they are allowed out. Maybe societal values changed in some way. Maybe our priorities have changed. Maybe our goals have changed. Maybe.

So. I was going to be stuck at home for a while. With my family. With my family, two cats, and my son’s girlfriend! With my family, two cats, and my son’s girlfriend, and not being allowed to go off to Nantes to escape and have some “me time.” Yes my own personal time to do the things that I can only do on my own. I’m not talking about masturbation, although it has become very fashionable, the sale of sex toys having exploded, much like the genitals of the owners of said toys. No. I’m talking about photography. Wandering around aimlessly (or Flâner in French) just taking in the scene, and recording it in a hopefully artistic manner.

All of a sudden I have the luxury of time. The question is, how am I going to spend that time. After the initial novelty had worn of, and having enjoyed laying in bed, I had to get up and do something, even out of pure boredom. I’m not one of those people who did sport, or made videos playing my musical instrument, I’m me. I do what I can.

I decided to sort out my camera gear. First my digital systems. Sorted out by cameras in two bags, with lenses, batteries, and other accessories. I have a Canon bag, and a Fuji bag. Then stuff for video, including tripods. I saw what I had done, and it was good. I entered smug mode. But there was the question of my film photography gear.

I have been in a film funk for what seems like ages (2017). I just couldn’t get my film development right. It was annoying me more than a mosquito on a hot summer’s night. But I had time, and decided to tackle the problem head on. I still had chemicals, and my development kit, and some films that hadn’t been developed. Good heavens, it worked!!!! I didn’t mess it up!!!! I believe in miracles, Baby. Where you from, you sexy thing? You sexy thing yeah.

Soooo, I sorted out all my film gear, and got that special smug feeling again. I still had some film and dared to dream. I put in some film into one of my most idiot proof cameras and took it out for spin. It is allowed after all. I am allowed out for “exercise” and those of you who know me, know how sporty I am. IE not sporty at all, but I needed to get out for my mental health, and they say that walking is the best kind of sport for fat people like me. I just took my camera with me.

Once back, I got my act together and set up my darkroom. It worked! And a friend on Instagram helped me out and I took his advice and the results were great. I was over the moon, and my film funk was over! Since that first day I have taken more photographs on film and think it will now play an increasing part of my photography. We’ll just have to see Dear Rader.

I started feeling guilty for not raising money for the NHS like Captain Tom, feeling guilty for not giving nightly concerts on the French Horn, feeling guilty for not baking fresh bread every day, and yet I did what I could. I have actually baked a cake, which was very nice, and my daughter seems to have the baking bug. She spent time making cakes, and various biscuits. My wife has taken time not only to tidy, but organise the house. I have taken time, not just for photos, but also for cooking for my family. We have all taken time to get to know our son’s girlfriend. The girlfriend, and son have taken time to be in their bubble and get to know each other in a way that only confinement can offer.

That word, time, seems to becoming ever present. Time. Just take a little time to let that sink in. We haven’t been on holiday, but we have been blessed with time off, to spend time on the more important things. Our lives have had a parenthesis. Time out to decide on how we really want to spend our time. The question isn’t , “will we change?” but how have we changed. We are living in strange times. A before, and an after.

I’ve enjoyed spending some time with you Dear Reader, but it’s time for me to get back into the kitchen and make something lovely for lunch.

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.

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.

Christmas 2019

Merry Christmas dear Reader. Ok. I know I’m a little late but that’s fine. Most of these blog posts have that impression of being slightly out of sync like a news reporter talking live from outside Parliament, or a badly dubbed film… trust me, I will wish you a Happy New Year by the end of June, I just don’t know in what year yet.

Christmas has been great this year. For those who know me I’ll just let that sink in. For those of you who know me as a tea drinker and cake eater, I mean cake amateur, this is the first Christmas where I have not been depressed for so long. The others can come back now.

I always make a difference between Christmas, and the secular Christmas , which is all about joining the orgy of consumerism, eating,and drinking. The kind of Christmas we have in France, buy all this nice food, buy all this nice wine, buy the expensive presents for those you love, and you will have happiness and people will love you. They’re so good at fooling us that we fall for the same bullshit year in, year out.

The Christmas I had this year was post Lourdes and my return to the Church. I still bought presents for my family, and loved the presents my family gave me. One was a machine that made tea. And I’m always so wary of people that claim that it is possible to make tea without using boiling water, scalding the teapot first etc. This machine is actually rather good. Will wonders never cease?

Right. Back to where I was. I travelled though Advent and what the readings in Mass during Advent teach us. I went to confession to prepare my soul. I asked God to bring my family together and celebrate the giving of Christmas the way that God gave us Jesus, Emmanuel, or God amongst us. Maybe before I was the problem, because this year I was in such a different place mentally.

We have a tradition of always having somebody over for Christmas who is alone or not with their family for Christmas. This year, it was a friend of Killian’s whose family had just suffered a death. He needed to be elsewhere as a self preservation mechanism. The table was laid out with finger foods, but the good stuff that makes this meal special the way Christmas is special. There was wine and beer. There were Christmas crackers that had been spotted my daughter in the shop where I get various cakes and sweets. The French don’t do Christmas crackers, and my son’s friend was slightly put off by the English tradition of putting a stupid flimsy paper crown on. but he did it and we all had a good time. I had just one beer so I would be clear to go to midnight mass.

Midnight mass started with a service at 23h30. As I drove up to Nantes there was hardly anybody on the roads. I parked and had never seen so many spaces in that car park. As I walked though the Quartier Bouffay, I could see nobody on the streets. I could see windows with lights on, and people around tables. As I walked pas the Sainte Croix church, I could hear the singing of hymns already celebrating Christmas. I saw the Soldiers guarding the Church just in case. I wished them Merry Christmas and felt thankful that it wasn’t cold. I walked on past Decré, past the Place de Pilori, and on towards the Cathedral. As I advanced, more people seemed to join me. Otherwise Nantes was sitting down to eat.

The Bishop said mass and the music was special in a way that only Christmas music can be. Despite being part of the body of the Church and celebrating mass like so many other Catholics in the world I felt alone. I was missing having my family by my side. I would have to wait for the next day, Christmas Day, to be able to have my wife and two children with me. That made my Christmas. That and really good tea, and some lovely Christmas cake with cheese on it…

PS. It’s actually the Epiphany today today, so technically I’m not late yet.

Letter to my daughter

I have a daughter.  Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will have seen pictures of her.  She is a thousand things to me, and more.  A muse, an inspiration, a little mother, my child, a force of nature, an enigma, a reminder of her mother, a little person turning into a young lady.

I think, like most ten year olds, she puts up with me but allows me to take her photo, but I didn’t expect these two photos.  They sum her up quite well.  She has that look that can kill at a thousand paces.  She has that look that says, that’s enough!  Stop please.  But she’s not just a killer.

When you were born, I was going through depression. I was still doing shift work. My constant companion was Insomnia, and was leaving me in a dreadful state. I wasn’t much of a father during that first year. I had moments of lucidity and of course loved you deeply. You changed my view on women. I’m not saying I was a Trump who wants to grab small cats or anything, but I think the moment you become the father of a daughter you change your perspective so quickly. I mean I’ve always tried to give my son a good example to follow, and to teach him that just because a person can’t write their name in the snow without their hands, it makes them no less of a person and must be respected as such. Any woman must be treated as a lady, even if she is not one. We have a duty to protect women. It might a little old school of me and possibly even patriarchal, but that’s the way I roll.

You reminded me what the word tenderness meant. At the time Killian was 11 and I felt that I had to harden him up to affront this world, where not everything is rosy, and I had forgotten. Any small child has the ability to melt your heart, especially when they belong to you. I remembrer laying next to you when you were on your play mat, and looking at you in wonderment. I remember you being a toddler and always trying to give me your bottle and make me drink. Obviously afraid that I wasn’t eating enough. I remember making biscuits with you and seeing your little face light up when you would eat the still warm biscuits with milk. I remember you coming in to see me when I was hiding in my room, hiding from the world when I couldn’t affront it. Depression is a bitch. You would give me the best cuddles ever and reminded me how much you needed your Papa d’amour chéri.

You always were a strong willed child, and this has not changed. You love spending time with me and having days out in Nantes, or elsewhere. We get in the car and you tell me exactly where I am to drive. Everything is planned in your mind ahead of time. Now and again I am allowed to bring my camera, but as soon as I get the look I know it’s time.

The look!

At the end of the day you allow me to go to the pub. I’m allowed to have a pint of Guinness, and you have a coke and a packet of crisps.

Despite being a force of nature my protective nature has surfaced. I want to defend you against all agression, especially as you become a teenager. Luckily you are the little sister of a big brother and knows how to fight. But every time you get hurt, my whole being hurts. Thank heavens there are no “boys” yet. You dare to be different and already are learning to pay the price at school. I worry about the Collège years. That awkward age… I know you will come out of it on the other side, and that any suffering will form you, and help you to become the woman you are destined to be.

I hear tales of women being cat called in the street, and being harassed. I have known victims of rape. I have known women who have been given grief for wearing the “wrong clothes” and “asking for it!” What kind of world do we live in? To all men out there, remember to act as gentlemen. Try and be more than an animal. A woman in the street is somebody’s daughter, sister, mother, and has as much a right to dignity as you do!

Kate, you have been my daughter for ten and a half years, and I have grown as a person. You have taught me to be gentle again. You have taught me to love. You have given me a reason to keep going despite the hard days.

I love you.

Ton petit Papa d’amour chéri.