I said something today that I never thought I ever would. Something that you may have read in books, or heard characters say in films and TV shows. It’s such a tricky sentence to say, because the context has to be just right, or you might just find yourself in trouble.
Well I managed to say it.
I even managed to say it in French too.
I work at a local school and – due to Covid 19 – we’ve had a lot of people that work in local government departments and businesses working with us, due to their workplaces being closed down for health reasons.
I recognised one of these ‘redeployees’ today while I was in the playground. She was stood off to one side watching the kids play, all wrapped up against the cold in her thick coat and scarf (and obligatory mask). Her name’s Stephanie, a lovely lady in her fifties who works locally and who myself and my kids have got to know quite well as we see her frequently – under normal circumstances anyway.
I headed over to her, weaving through masses of running kids as I did so, nodded my head at her and said: ‘Hello Stephanie, I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on’.
Stephanie – a lifeguard at our local swimming pool – saw the funny side and, thankfully, laughed at this.
I say thankfully because Stephanie also teaches self-defence and judo.
I’m back at school now, teaching the kids – not MY kids, although they are there, I mean the kids in general. This return has been a long time coming, thanks to that ever-present virus, and to be honest with you I wasn’t sure if I’d be going back at all.
Just to recap/fill you in – I’m an assistant at my local school and I teach the kids English – quelle surprise – teaching is maybe a bit grand as it’s more of a mixture between entertaining and teaching, but I do my best and we all usually have a laugh. I take the kids on before and after their dinner hour, the bigger kids first then the the little ones. So I get load of distracted, hungry big kids and then a load of full, lethargic little kids.
Most of the time.
I’m up against it though in terms of popularity, as my fellow ‘animateurs’ – as we are called here – are all French and so offer a variety of exciting activities liked painting Pokemon, creating little purses, crafting cuddly donkeys and one activity that simply involves going in the ‘room of fun’. So put that up against ‘English class’ and it’s not really a surprise that I’m usually the last girl at the dance. The other animateurs have queues for their activities, me? I have to get the security ladies to make them come along.
That only applies to the bigger kids though – the little kids are more than happy to come along and find my accent fascinating. Strange how kids can change in a year from all happy, eager smiles to grumpy and ‘cool’. Too cool for English anyway.
So yes I’m back but it’s a very different landscape to the one I was forced to leave due to being furloughed following the Corona outbreak (part one?). Now all the kids are regimented, separated into classes, kept apart and generally monitored to ensure they don’t interact with other groups too much.
Like a kind of health-conscious segregation.
It’s masks on all the time for me as well, which makes it so much easier for the kids to understand me.
There also seems to be a lot less kids in general, I don’t know if they are hiding away or if some parents have simply opted, in the current ‘climate of fear’ to go the home-schooling route. I used to be that you would have to fight your way across the school playground, fighting through the crowds with all the speed of a salmon swimming upstream, dodging running kids, footballs, hats, you name it. Now you can just stroll right through them, like their fun-factor has been drained away.
Children that did not keep up with their studies during this current crisis have suffered the worst though. There was the confinement period, which was followed by a brief return to school, which was then followed by the eight week holidays. Some parents have not helped their children maintain their education levels, and never returned – albeit briefly – when they could. As a result of this some children are having to repeat the year, or have even been relegated into lower-level classes. It’s not great to see – potential like that, squandered.
Still, my kids are there too and it’s really great to be able to see them in this environment. I often arrive early and so get the privilege of being able to watch my children play with their friends, unaware that I am watching them – the office has mirrored doors and windows. I look at it as a kind of aquarium, just one for kids.
They can be my bridge for the other children too, when a concept is too difficult for me to explain, or I simply don’t know the words, bilingual kids come in very handy, especially when they are your own. Just don’t rely on them in crucial situations like at the bank or when asking directions as they have a tendency to shut down in times of real need.
So yes, I’m back, for how long I don’t know, and I’m not saying that as a reflection of my abilities, more of the ever present threat Covid 19 poses. The landscape at school has changed, but whether these measures will be sufficient? Time will tell….
There was a lot of noise coming from a distant corner of the neighbourhood last night. A group of people getting together and partying till the wee small hours. Lots of shouting and chanting and general rowdiness – just a normal, youthful party.
It didn’t bother me too much, but where the noise was coming from is quite a built up area, so I thought the gendarmes might have been called, or at least they would have quietened it down a bit out of respect for their neighbours.
I heard from another neighbour that they were at it till gone 4 a.m. ‘Oh well we were all that young once’ I said to him, before adding ‘They were probably just enjoying deconfinement’ he agreed with me, but rolled his eyes.
I happened to have a stroll past there just now. The music is starting to crank back up.
They were all there, in the garden, a dozen or so of them sat around a table full of bottles, getting warmed up for round two tonight.
Youthful? No. Young at heart? definitely
Not one of them looked under seventy.
I also now know why the neighbours didn’t complain – because they’re all there.
I saw something quite lovely last night. I’d gone for a run, and as I reached my hour’s limit I headed for home. As I entered the lower end of my street and rounded the corner I was greeted by the sight of four of my neighbours, all stood on their individual doorsteps, well over 2 meters apart, each with a large glass of wine in one of their hands.
They were all in high spirits as they enjoyed their apéro, chatting and laughing away, one of them even gave me an ‘ooh la la’ as I jogged past, and they all bid me a good evening and a how do you do.
Now I know most of the people on my street, and this group is not one I’ve ever encountered out and about, and if you saw them individually you may not put them together. They had a distinctive ‘Breakfast Club’ feel to them, as though they had sought each other out during difficult circumstances, and were forging new relationships.
I’d like to think that when this is all sorted out – whenever that may be – and we can all emerge, and start to resume some semblance of a normal life again, that there may well be new, lasting friendships, created by this virus. It would be ironic if this thing that is isolating us all, and keeping some of us apart from our nearest and dearest, actually made us reach out to people that were even closer to home, perhaps people that we’ve never talked to, or socialised with before – maybe even people who live right next door. One can but hope, eh?
I don tonight’s specifically chosen attire and exit my home. I enter the outbuilding, pausing only to turn on the interior lights before taking the receptacles firmly by their handles. I then exit the outbuilding, again pausing only to turn off the interior lights. I approach the gate and unlock it. I move the receptacles into position next to the front of the house and look both ways up the street. I note the absolute lack of people, on foot or otherwise and note also the eerie silence. Normally at this point – in all previous forays of this manner – the street would have impossibly, almost miraculously, filled with people and vehicles. Tonight – nothing.
I leave the street and reenter my property, firmly closing the gate behind me and head back inside my home. It is at this point that my research assistant (although, having found and read several of my journals she has repeatedly stated that she prefers to be referred to as ‘my wife’) sees me and starts to laugh. ‘What’ she enquires ‘Do you think you are wearing?’. My explanation – that I am wearing a dressing gown and slippers in order to verify that this strange new world we live in is indeed a changed environment, and that normally – ‘As if by magic’ I add – the street would fill with people if I put the bins out in my dressing gown and slippers – falls on deaf ears as she continues to laugh and adds ‘Stop it, I’ll wee meself’.
I shall continue my research into this strange new world tomorrow when I attempt to perform a three point turn in the middle of the day, an exercise that under normal circumstances would immediately result in a previously dead-silent street filling with eight cars, one truck, two cyclists and four pedestrians.
Image for illustration purposes only, actual garden much less attractive
I currently have plenty of time on my hands and have therefore given my garden a bit of a makeover, weeded it, rearranged the solar lights, moved some plants around etc. etc. The response so far from the local community has been, on the whole, positive. Here are a selection of ones I have received…
Following reviews Sourced from Catadvisor Website:
MouseKILLAH42 wrote a review on Wednesday 25th March
**** (out of five)
‘Having been a frequent visitor to this garden in the past I am pleased to see that the recent overhaul has resulted in a marked decrease in weeds to the point where they now number almost zero. I must say that this makes defecating a real pleasure, as it means I no longer run the risk of scratching my rectum on a thistle and then having to spend all of the next day licking it. Although of course I will still spend all of the next day licking it.’
CatZilla1,089 wrote a review on Wednesday 25th March
*** (out of five)
‘Having lived next door to this human for some time now, I believe myself to be something of an authority on this garden, and therefore I am both pleased and dismayed by the changes he has wrought. The lack of weeds pleases me – as others have noted, ‘red rectum’ is now less of an issue. However the increase in lighting means that I can all too clearly see my fellow cats’ faces as they strain to unleash their logs. I find their bizarre grins most off-putting when I myself am trying to lay a cable’
Birdeater128 wrote a review on Tuesday 24th March
***** (out of five)
‘Fantastic! Amazing! Wonderful! I am running out of words to describe my reactions to the improvements my next-door-but-one human has made to his garden. The lights are wonderful! I do so enjoy watching my fellow cats drop their loads all over his pristine garden, I get a certain buzz from it! And his shrubbery and bushes are so neat now that it would be a crime to urinate and spray my scent on them. This thought often runs through my head as I urinate and spray my scent on them’
TheycallmeMRFLUFFY! wrote a review on Tuesday 24th March
* (out of five)
‘I really do not know what has happened here but myself and my 12 children shall not be going back. Lights everywhere! No weeds! He is clearly going for a modern style but it’s not to our tastes. We were forced to defecate behind the small Wendy House at the rear of the garden last night as the main garden area was full to the brim with defecating cats. He may have made it more popular with the local crowd, but I shall be taking my – and by extension that of my family’s – business elsewhere in future.’
Following reviews Sourced from WhatChicken? Website
Lucyhen1,278 wrote a review on Wednesday 25th March
** (out of five)
‘I hop/flap awkwardly in 2 dis garden from time to time and I hav 2 say dat wot he haz dun haz rooined it for me and for lotz of udda henz yeah coz dere iz no weedz now and I liked dem weeds and dey woz tazty yeah and now dere iz just loads of solar lights and cat shit. And aint nobody wantz dat yeah?’
Lucyhen1,115 wrote a review on Wednesday 25th March
** (out of five)
‘I also hop/flap awkwardly in to dis garden and I have to agree wid da uva reviewah that he haz rooined this. Dem catz iz larfing at us cos we aint got no weeds no more and they haz du mona…monopil….monopily…dey ownz dat garden now yeah? I mean I will stil flap awkwardly inn and crap in it too but It wont be da same’
Lucyhen999 wrote a review on Tuesday 24th March
***** (out of five)
‘Awww man I luvz dis garden yeah? I don’t care abaht the weeds and da light I just likz making da ownah chase me in hiz dressing gown. He nevah catchas me I just runz around behind his bushes and that. He looks propah stupid wiv his crocs onn an all. What year he finnk it is? Crocs? Itz 2020 mayte, 2008 called dey wantz dere shoes back’
Following review sourced from The Wuff Guide To Where To Pooh
Wheresmyballsgone4578 wrote a review on Tuesday 24th March
* (out of five)
‘Why man close gate? Now can’t go do poo in garden. Liked doing poo in garden. Now garden bright at night and full of cats. Also full of chickens during day. Why man close gate? Where my balls gone?’
It’s important to try to reach out and remain social in these dark times. With that in mind let me introduce my new friends from next-door: Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy, Lucy and Dave.
This is actually Dave 2. Dave 1 was much smaller, black and full of beans. Despite his diminutive stature he would eyeball me and puff out his chest every time our paths crossed. However since Dave 2 arrived Dave 1 has vanished.
As we have the time I also took the opportunity to repaint our little ‘balcony’ and protective guardrail, in a nice shade of white.
This is a yearly ritual, and my agreement with the family of sparrows that lives in the nest above it is that they leave it alone for a minimum of 15 seconds before they defecate on it. Perhaps sensing that there was something going on at the moment, they very graciously left it clean for a whopping 25 seconds.
I don’t mind, they are very neat…pooers? and they were here first. Plus I love the noise they make.
It all seemed like a joke not so long ago. Like last Friday maybe. This Corona Virus malarkey wasn’t serious really, was it? I mean sure, people were dying, but they were few and far, far away. But then it was in the UK, and Italy.
And then it was here, in France.
Then President Macron took to the air and announced that we were at war with a virus. And suddenly it was all to real, and not funny anymore. Not in the slightest.
New measures were announced to combat this threat, avoid contact with other people, wash frequently, don’t panic buy (good luck with that one!) but the main one was that we must stay in our homes unless absolutely necessary. Meaning, effectively, that we are all locked down in our own homes with our loved ones and, if we do leave the house, we need to fill out and sign a form in case a police man sees and stops us (if you don’t have your note then you face a hefty fine).
So far since the new regime has been implemented I have been out once (I mean, you can still go out in your garden, but I’m talking about a bit further afield). I went for a run yesterday for about forty minutes, running all around my town. I did of course ensure that I had my ‘permission slip’ with me: ‘Dear Mr Policeman, I am running outdoors as I need to exercise and get away from my kids otherwise I will go mad‘ was bizarrely NOT one of the possible justifications for leaving your domicile.
It was strange. So quiet.
In some respects this is no different from normal days/evenings when I run. The French are a very ‘insular’ people, and I have likened them to trap-door spiders in the past (in a loving way of course). They pop out, do their thing – be that working, shopping etc. – and then they head back indoors and effectively don’t leave until the next day. That’s why when I run I generally don’t see many people. This is a marked contrast for someone who comes from the UK, where you could go for a run through a much smaller town and see dozens and dozens of people milling around.
There are no off-licenses or late-opening corner shops, very, very few take-aways and pubs are less frequent, so I think this does have an impact on that kind of social mobility. I prefer it, if I’m being honest. The amount of drunken people rolling around English towns as a result of these alcohol-selling shops, and the other obesity-issue related to convenience food is not something I miss.
But I digress.
So I went for a run and I did see some people, but every single one of them moved out of my way as I approached. And I’m not saying I ran near them. Many times I was about four meters away (the recommended safe distance is one meter), yet still they moved.
So it’s quiet, which is not unusual. But it’s the atmosphere in the air that’s so different. There’s almost a fear. A sense of dread that you can taste.
There’s also a very real sense of horse manure and cow dung in the air too, but that’s because I run past a farmer’s field on my circuit.
I’ll report back on what it’s like indoors in another blog, as we are all still settling into this new lifestyle.
But one thing’s for sure – we are living in interesting times…