It’s beginning to feel a little like Christmas

Place Leclerc

The spirit of Christmas Present is cautiously creeping into Poitiers. The festive lights came on last weekend, and merry ditties are being played through the speaker system lining the streets of centre-ville (‘courtesy of DJ Johnny Bionic’, according to the local paper). I quite like this on the whole, though I could probably do without George Michael’s ‘Last Christmas’ as I go out to get the paper in the morning.

The Big Wheel has returned to Place Leclerc – it was absent last year because of building work at the old theatre – and there is also a (fairly small) Christmas tree. The Christmas market, another absentee last year, has also returned. Chalets gourmands offer such delights as pommes d’amour (toffee apples) and barbe à papa (literally daddy’s beard – candy floss). One chalet has some very attractive novelty sweets: convincing replicas of artisan tools. I was tempted to buy one till I saw the price. €25 for a chocolate spanner is a bit steep, even at Christmas.

DIY with Chocolate

The streets are crowded, and shops, bars, and restaurants seem to be doing well. But it’s difficult to avoid the shadow of Covid that hangs over everything. Masks are now compulsory in most of the town-centre streets, and you need to show your health pass to get into the Christmas market or onto the Big Wheel. From Friday night, the city’s clubs and discos, like those throughout the country, were closed for four weeks, and the government has warned that this four-week closure period is renewable. Many bar owners fear that that the spread of the Omicron variant will mean that they too may soon be forced to close, and some worry they will not survive. Hugues Fournier, co-manager of the Biblio Café in Rue de la Cathédrale has said that the next government decision will be decisive. ‘There is concern, if there is another administrative closure and the aid system is the same as during the first lockdown, we risk going out of business … we received €1,500 in aid per month, but the rent is €1,000 on its own.’

At the moment, the future is unclear. The Omicron variant is spreading rapidly through the UK, but as yet it is still to hit France significantly – only 59 cases have so far been identified, although there are almost certainly more. Nobody knows for certain the impact that it will have. Booster jab figures are going well. They are currently averaging 550,000 a day, and the government target of 20 million by Christmas should be reached. The UK has already passed the 20 million mark.

The UK government’s handling of the crisis is being attacked for being both too prescriptive and not prescriptive enough, and there seems to be a significant difference of opinion among members of the Cabinet as to what to do next. The current shambolic farce being played out in Downing Street doesn’t inspire confidence in the prime minister’s ability to steer a wise course through the crisis.

For now, at least, the French government’s policy is being broadly endorsed, inasmuch as there are no significant demands for a change of direction. There are still gilet jaune and anti-vax demonstrators, but their numbers have dwindled significantly. Once the Omicron variant starts spreading, this may change. President Macron has yet to say whether he is running in next year’s presidential election, but it’s hard to believe he won’t. It will be interesting to see how the Covid crisis and its management have a bearing on the various candidates’ campaigns.

Some functional Christmas lighting in Place Lepetit

***

Our trip to Scotland in November involved two days of travel in each direction, so this week’s announcement that Ryanair will be restarting its Poitiers to Edinburgh service next year is certainly food for thought. From March to October, they will be offering flights to and from Edinburgh, on Monday and Friday each week. They are also starting a Poitiers to Lisbon service on Tuesdays and Saturdays, again from March to October. I have mixed feelings about this. I loathe flying anyway, and Ryanair aren’t exactly noted for their customer service. Madame and I had more or less agreed that, as the journey to Edinburgh took two days anyway, we might as well get the Eurostar to London and get the train from there. We can also get to Lisbon by train, though it would take a while. We shall see. Fear of flying would be my main incentive, but there would also be the opportunity to drone on endlessly about my carbon footprint saving – CO2 emissions per kilometre by domestic flight are 133 g, by domestic train 41 g, and by Eurostar 6 g. I’ve always fancied being an eco-warrior.

***

Things I’ve learnt this week:

Until 1916, Harrods sold heroin and cocaine.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s full name is Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro. He was named after Ronald Reagan.

In AD 320, the Catholic Church made it a sin to eat sausages.

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