I wind my way down the wooded Chateau drive, stopping at the junction. A printed A4 sheet of paper sits on the passenger seat. I have ticked two of its seven boxes: one stating I have left home to work, the other stating I have left home to buy essential food. I triple-check the written parts – name, date of birth, place of birth, residence, today’s date (31 March 20) and time of leaving residence (08:25). Confident, I turn right and tootle along the empty country lanes, passing precisely no other vehicles in 10km.
I am recording new personal bests driving to gardens I am still able to work in: empty, isolated second homes. One garden has permanent human residents who stay indoors and wave at me from behind their glass-shields. They pay me via the internet, avoiding human contact. The wisteria is blooming its beautiful best, the green whip snake that rustles around the Chateau’s herbaceous borders looks like it’s grown another foot over-winter, and the ground elder is trying to colonise the Lily of the Valley. At work all is as before.
I turn right onto a deserted road, driving through a small cluster of stone houses that look like they may have recently featured in a WWII documentary. There’s a Stop sign up ahead and as I approach, I see two motor-cycle gendarmes leaning against their bike-seats. I’m nervous, even though I have my paper on the passenger seat: who knows what reason they could give to fine me 135 euros? I stop at the junction.
One gendarme remains propped against his bike, watching me. The other stands in front of my bonnet, holds his hand up and mimes holding a key. He twists his wrist. I turn the engine off.
‘Keep your window closed and place your paper on the dashboard,’ he says, without even a Bonjour.
He studies the two boxes that I have put a cross in.
‘Where is your second paper from your employer?’
‘I am self-employed, so this is my only paper.’
‘You have no boss?’
‘No, it’s just me.’
‘What is your business?’
‘Which social regime are you with?’
‘Chamber of Agriculture.’
‘Where is a signature of your business?’
‘From your boss.’
‘I don’t have a boss, I am self-employed. It’s just me.’
‘Do you have a tampon?’ (Rubber stamp to all non-French)
‘You don’t have a tampon?’
‘No. I’ve never needed one.’
‘Where is your business address?’
I place my invoice book on the dashboard next to the A4 sheet and explain that at the end of every month I write my address on the invoice that I give my clients. He looks perplexed.
‘You should have a tampon-stamp on this form.’
‘I’m sorry, I didn’t know that.’ I close my invoice book and put it on the passenger seat.
‘You stamp it on the paper and I see you are a paysagiste.’
‘Okay. I’ll enquire into getting a tampon.’
‘It would be very good for marketing. If I needed a gardener, I would see your details.’
I smile. ‘Yes, good idea, thank-you. I will buy one.’
‘That’s all,’ he says, ‘au revoir.’
I put my A4 sheet back on the passenger seat next to my invoice book and he waves me out onto the main road, devoid of traffic for as far as I can see in both directions.