The New Normal

Here in rural SW France, the new normal looks very similar to the old normal: BC (Before Covid) Apart from, that is: bars and restaurants still shut: gyms shut: group exercise disallowed: no travel allowed further than 100km and no social gatherings among friends of more than 10 people. Plus, people now wear masks in the supermarkets: there is hand gel on tables outside all clothes shops and obligatory masks must be worn before entering chemists – all reminders that something has happened, and we must behave differently in public.

But despite those visible signs, in many ways it already feels as if Covid19 is a dim and distant dream that happened somewhere, to someone at some-time. It feels like that to me because my life is relatively sheltered here in the Covid green-zone of Nouvelle Aquitaine. My days are split between tending gardens at closed-up second homes where I see no-one and working on the isolated barn-renovation project, where I see no-one other than my partner. I don’t know anyone who has had Covid and I realise how fortunate I am.

I wonder, have I sunk too far into my peaceful, vapour-trail free comfort zone?

It is May 25th – Ascension – and a holiday here in France. We head out into the garden armed with our books and hats to do some serious sunbathing. Ah, the peace. Shattered in seconds: evidently the light craft airfield just over the hill has chosen Ascension to open its doors for the first time in two months. And so, we read our books to the hideous high-pitched sound of lawn-mower engines masquerading as microlights, vibrating through the clear blue sky that had been so blissfully peaceful for so long, jolting us out of paradise and back to life BC. Nostalgia for confinement spreads over me.

It is May 26th, and I have a vet’s appointment for my cat’s annual vaccination, so I put her into her carry-case and drive into town. I park up and carry Little One to the entrance doors: ‘Masque Obligatoire’ is written in massive letters across the door. Shit! I did not know this. I don’t have a mask with me – I haven’t finished sewing them yet. I open the door and explain to the receptionist and am told to wait outside. Twenty minutes later, the vet – who is also Pres of the local tennis club I play at – opens the door, greets me and asks why I don’t have a mask. Didn’t know I needed one, I reply. What do I have I could use? Nothing! I say. Then I think, oh, hang on a minute – there’s Little One’s bed-fleece in the car – I’d draped it over her carry case. That’ll do, Cathy says. So, in 28 degree heat, I wrap Little One’s filthy, hairy, thick bed-fleece around my head and carry her into the vets for her vaccination. I feel like Yasser Arafat on a bad day and by the time Little One’s been weighed and had her ears, teeth and coat checked I am sweating profusely. The inside of the fleece is wet with breath-condensation: sticking it, bits of fluff, and hundreds of cat hairs to my face. I convince myself that I am going to get cat bum-fluff flu and that it will be far worse than Covid.

May 28th. I have finished sewing masks and have put them in my car ready for all eventualities. I am sitting on the terrace, enjoying a non-gardening day. The skies are still vapour-trail free. France goes into its second phase of deconfinement on Tuesday 2nd of June, with the Government actively encouraging the French to take a holiday – so I shall enjoy this final peaceful weekend, before, in this new normal, everyone flocks to this beautiful Covid green-zone. I am showing no symptoms of cat bum-fluff flu. I still realise how fortunate I am

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