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Saturday, 4 April 2020

Le Lockdown

Lockdown. Surreal? Yes, but fast becoming a reality for us all.

I was down to our last four carrots, and they were wrinkly. I couldn’t put it off any longer. It was time to buy food. Leclerc in Calestra, our largest supermarket in the area, was my venue of choice. I should be able to buy all the supplies I needed.

In France, as with many other countries now, if we want to travel we need to take an authorisation form. The relevant ‘out reason’ box is ticked, the document dated, signed, and the time of departure logged.
Jack, my worrity husband, wrinkled his brow as I was leaving. He was convinced I had forgotten something.
“Completed form?”
“Jack, I don’t need Dutch courage. I’m just going to the supermarket.”
“For your hands!”
“Oh, right! Check, I have that sanitising gel stuff I use after cleaning up the animals.”
“Argh! I knew I’d forgotten something!”

My drive to town might have struck strangers as being eerily quiet. Actually, it’s quite normal. We are rural here so road users, for the first few kilometres, are rare. Usually driving tractors or battered vans, those we do pass are often friends or neighbours.

I reached Leclerc in double-quick time. With very few reasons to smile at the moment, I perked up at the sight of the near-empty car park. I cruised into a spot right next to the front door. Donning my mask and gloves, I headed for the trollies.

Our store has thoughtfully upgraded its fleet of food carriers. Light to push, fabulous to manoeuvre, they are enormously capacious. This last feature is potentially handy, but not for shorties like me. In my attempts to fish out purchases from the bottomless depths, I have regularly come perilously close to joining them.

Unhooking a lofty charger, I wheeled up to the automatic front doors and waited patiently for something to happen. Nothing. Tutting, I gave one a gentle prod. Nada. Sighing, I eventually focused on the vast sign in front of my nose.

La porte est fermée. Utilisez l’autre entrée s’il vous plait.

Entry closed. Foiled! That would explain the cluster of cars at the other end of the car park. I scuttled down to join those who can be bothered read.

A shopper-calming system was in place, which was a good idea. One lane in and another out. It was a quiet day, and the security guard on duty looked bored, I’m sure there are times when his shepherding skills are needed.

Once inside, I felt an air of tranquillity. Things had changed. We now had strips of tape on the floor next to counters, check-outs and fresh food cabinets. All designed to encourage social distancing, all very helpful. My first port of call was the cheese section.

Forget toilet rolls; if there were a shortage of one product guaranteed to cause mass hysteria here, it would be cheese. Fortunately, that wasn’t the case. I chatted to our lovely fromage lady who was stacking creamy beauties. Even a mask couldn’t shroud that everlasting smile of hers.

Next was fruit and veg – I needed lots. Evidently, others did too. Unlike the usual bunfight that takes place when a fresh batch of whatevers arrives, today was different. Shoppers stood back to allow the person in front to browse. No barging, no stretching, just an unspoken understanding that this was the way it had to be.

The problem is, we are a fairly kissy lot here in France. It’s a place where, at the very least, greetings involve a smacker on each cheek. It’s a hard habit to dispense with in the heat of buying. A particularly tactile pal spotted me from afar.
Bonjour, Beth!”  
Salut, Geneviève, ça va ?
Blocked by a bank of bananas, my friend waved an exasperated hand and continued in the opposite direction.

It’s true to say that some shelves were bare. Pasta was enduringly popular for hoarders as were many tinned goods. Happily, though, the French have not yet discovered the delights of Heinz baked beans. I squirrelled four tins into my trolley for Jack and headed over to the butcher.

I stood a metre from the counter and yelled my order through my mask which was a challenge for monsieur, but he listened carefully and replied.
“And your mushrooms, madame?”
“No, minced beef, please.”
“But what about your mushrooms?”
“Honestly, I don’t want any, thank you. Just the minced beef.”
“The mushrooms at your domaine, madame. Are they growing yet?”
“Oh! I’m so sorry. No, nothing at the moment, I’m afraid.”
“Ah, that’s life! Now about your mince. How much did you want, madame?”

Mushrooms are right up there with cheese in popularity, and our domaine has the dubious reputation for being the source of many such earthy wonders. How he recognised me under my mask, I couldn’t say. It probably has something to do with my awful French accent. It also shows how small the community is.

I lined up at the checkout. It was very different from the last time. When COVID19 was first announced it was mayhem.

Now, folks stood patiently, observing the taped distance instructions on the floors. There were positive changes for the cashiers too. They have each been given a mask and gloves, and their work areas are surrounded by Perspex screens. I wondered how they coped with the masks.
“Is it hard to wear all day?”
“A bit hot, madame, but we must all take care.”
I could see she was still smiling; her advice was absolutely right.

Back at the car, after loading my shopping, I cleaned my gloves with the sanitising gel, and then my key and the door handles. Do I sound obsessive? Possibly, but needs must.

As I reached home, I spotted something leaning against the gatepost. It was a crate of apples gifted by one of our kind neighbours. Which one? I’m not sure. It just goes to show that even during le lockdown, some things never change in our wonderful corner of France.

Please stay safe, stay well, and I sincerely hope you find lots of reasons to smile in spite of this horribly difficult situation.