A busy week

Monday. My Pilates class finally restarted after a long Covid-influenced break. Several new members have joined, and we were all introduced to each other by Sandra, our tutor. When it came to my turn, she said, ‘C’est Mick … comme Mick Jagger!’ I assumed she was referring to my name rather than my gymnastic ability – the looks on the faces of everyone else told me they had quickly come to the same conclusion. We do lots of basic stretching, with a few yoga exercises added. My Downward Dog (la posture du chien tête en bas) is coming on a treat.

Tuesday. I went along to the Banque Alimentaire (food bank) in South Poitiers to be shown around and to see if I could be of any use to them. With six paid employees and around a hundred volunteers, it’s a much larger operation than the one I used to work at in Ely. There is a 1,200 m2 warehouse with four cold rooms. Five mornings a week, three refrigerated trucks collect food from local supermarkets and hypermarkets. This is sorted and then distributed each afternoon to around sixty charitable associations. There are also contributions from the EU, the French state, and local manufacturers and farmers. During the recent lockdown, the municipal council had a scheme for buying unsold goods from local markets to give to the food bank – helping both suppliers and consumers. In total, around 105 tonnes of food passed through the warehouse last year.

I was assured that my limited French would be no problem, and we agreed that I would do a Friday morning each week, helping out on one of the truck runs. I regard this as a promotion from my shelf-stacking duties at Ely, and I felt a surge of pride as I was handed my gilet orange (hi-vis tabard), happy in the knowledge that I can now add International Food Bank Specialist to my CV.

Wednesday. I’ve joined a local photography club, and we meet once a week in a community centre in Buxerolles. It’s good fun, and they are a jolly bunch. In my first couple of meetings I’ve been getting a crash course in French photographic vocabulary – a camera is un appareil photographique (they do use the word camera, but only for a video camera), a lens is un objectif, and a shutter is un obturateur. Confusingly, a photographer is un photographe. French vocabulary is usually more limited than English, but they do have a word for the button you press to actually take a picture – un déclencheur. As far as I am aware, there is no English equivalent.

Canon and Nikon owners predominate in the group (I have an Olympus), and there is a comic rivalry between the two, vying to demonstrate the superiority of their own particular models, often using fairly arcane debating points such as whether or not one’s camera is ‘PictBridge compatible’ and the number of ‘dual cross-type AF points’ it has. It’s all way above my head at the moment and reminds me of the Not The Nine O’Clock News Hi-Fi Shop sketch.

Thursday. To Paris to see the Vivian Maier exhibition at the Musée du Luxembourg.

Maier’s story is a fascinating one. Born in 1926 in New York, she lived there till she moved to Chicago in 1956. While working as a children’s governess, she enjoyed walking around the city, particularly the working-class areas, taking photos of urban life. Her mother was French, and she also travelled and photographed extensively in France.

Vivian Maier, Self-portrait

The general public only became aware of Maier’s work in 2007, two years before her death. By now her health was failing and she had little money. However, three of the children she had nannied earlier in her life came to the rescue. They pooled resources to pay for an apartment for her and settle her medical bills. Unbeknownst to them, one of Vivian’s storage lockers had been auctioned off to repay some outstanding debts, and it was here that the massive hoard of over 100,000 negatives that she had accumulated throughout her life was discovered. Fame quickly followed. The exhibition is wonderful: beautiful photographs full of humour, pathos, and compassion. I defy anyone to go and see it and not come out feeling better about life generally.

I spent the rest of a fine sunny day happily clicking my way around the city.

At the exhibition
A quiet moment in Jardin du Luxembourg
A quiet moment on the Metro

A café near Blvd. Saint-Michel introduced these bears to assist with social distancing, but they seem to have become a permanent feature.

A protest against rail privatisation at Gare de l’Est

Polish buskers at Châtelet

Friday. I arrive at 08.00 for my Banque Alimentaire shift. René, slightly older than me, is the driver. He has been with the food bank for a year. I am the accompagnateur. My main objective for the day is to not make a complete arse of myself. We visit several large supermarkets and hypermarkets on the periphery of Poitiers, loading plastic crates of fruit, vegetables, and refrigerated food. For the latter we have to record the temperature using a hand-held device that looks like a water pistol. Each stop takes about twenty minutes. I am clearly doing ok, because after the second supermarket I am given full responsibility for the water pistol. On the way back to base, we pass Poitiers airport, and René tells me that he was general manager there, back in the 1970s. Other volunteers I’ve already met include a charted accountant, an IT consultant, and two teachers. We unload at the depot and go out for a second, shorter trip to collect from a fruit and vegetable warehouse to the north of Poitiers. Back to unload again, and we are finished by 11.30. I’ve had worse jobs.

***

Things I’ve learnt this week:

The South Korean equivalent of ‘looking for a needle in a haystack’ is ‘looking for Mr Kim in Seoul’.

The average person produces enough saliva in their lifetime to fill two swimming pools.

In 1577 in Aylesbury, England, seven men and a woman were sentenced to be hanged after being found guilty of ‘keeping company with Egyptians’.

Alarms and excursions

Les parapluies de Poitiers. Pink umbrellas are festooning the streets of Poitiers throughout the month to support the October Rose breast cancer awareness project.

***`

We had a pleasant few sunny days in Toulouse and Bordeaux last week. I’ve always liked both cities. Bordeaux is the grander of the two, but I marginally prefer Toulouse, with its wonderful rose-red buildings and its slightly scruffier, more laid-back air. It was a gentle relaxing trip, with the odd jerk to keep us awake – literally, in one case.

On the journey to Toulouse on Friday, our train stopped at Montauban, where we were told we would be delayed for an hour. A case had been left on the train, and the bomb squad had been called. In our carriage there was a collective groan, and then we all went back to looking at our phones and tablets.

Then at 3.20 a.m. on Saturday we were roused by a fire alarm in the hotel. Oh, how we laughed. Mind you, it was almost worth it to see the other guests assembling in the hotel reception area. Madame and I had sleepily put on our jeans and tops, but I was surprised to see how many people bring nightwear with them when travelling – everything from old-fashioned stripey jim-jams to funky modern ‘loungewear’. An elderly Japanese couple in thick woolly dressing gowns, the woman in curlers, were taking no chances and had brought all of their luggage with them. The stars of the show were two middle-aged French gentlemen, who had arrived first and were standing at the reception desk. One, in what looked like a black posing pouch, had a towel draped over his shoulders, and the other was wearing nothing but a pair of dark green Y-fronts. The former was talking to the receptionist, while the latter stood looking sternly at the rest of us as we sheepishly shuffled in. Whether this was because we were late to arrive or had failed to match his sartorial expectations was difficult to say.

The emergency was over in about five minutes. The alarm had been set off by some twat lighting a cigarette in their room. I suggested to the receptionist that they be identified at breakfast so that we could all thank them personally, but the idea was politely declined. We were back in bed fairly quickly, but the images of the friskily clad Frenchmen was etched on my brain and it made getting off to sleep difficult.

***

What’s in a name?

I occasionally treat myself to a pastry with my coffee, but one has to be careful when travelling in France. There is a line one crosses, I’m not exactly sure where, but Bordeaux is definitely on the other side of it from Poitiers. Once over this line, ordering un pain au chocolat is asking for trouble. Here, it is most definitely une chocolatine, and the difference is much more important than the English question of whether scone rhymes with John or Joan.

A recent survey found that about 60 per cent of the population would ask for a pain au chocolat, with Paris being the strongest in favour, whilst 40 per cent would demand a chocolatine. Apparently, Bordeaux and Toulouse feel particularly strongly about this. So much so, in fact, that getting the name wrong here might cost you – as this sign from a Bordeaux boulangerie indicates:

Be careful what you ask for

This is not the only form of punitive price adjustments one comes across in France. We are constantly reminded of the importance of saying ‘Bonjour’ when entering a shop or café, and journalist John Lichfield recently came across this sign in a café-brasserie in Clécy, just south of Caen.

Un café! 2€50. Bonjour, un café! 2€. Bonjour un café, s’il vous plaît 1€10.

***

Two years ago I discovered a wonderful website, Pepysdiary.com, which, once you are registered, sends you a daily email with an extract from Samuel Pepys’s diary. This quickly became addictive, and it is usually the first thing I read each morning. There is now also a Twitter feed containing daily extracts.

It turns out that comedian Bill Bailey is also a Pepys fan, and the Pepysdiary website recently provided this transcript of part of his live show, Larks in Transit, a recording of which can be seen on BBC iPlayer.

I look for the little sort of glimmers of hope, and sometimes you find them, right? Someone has taken the trouble to set up a Twitter account in the name of Samuel Pepys, the seventeenth-century London diarist. The Twitter feed is just genuine extracts from Pepys’s diary, which is a beautiful thing.

But, of course, this being Twitter, there’s a lot of people who have never heard of Samuel Pepys, so they just think it’s some old bloke talking in a weird way. So you get these fantastic exchanges, like this one. This is an entry from 1665:

‘I was mightily troubled with a looseness, and feeling for the chamber-pot, there was none, I having called the maid up out of her bed, she had forgot I suppose to put one there; so I was forced in this strange house to rise and shit in the chimney twice.’

And somebody’s replied, ‘Been there, bruv. Been there.’ So, if you know of anybody called Adam Hodgkiss, don’t let them stay in your spare room, that’s my advice.

***

September’s Tweet of the month from @jackbern23:

“I’ve spent 25 years designing wedding dresses in west London, one stop on from Warwick Avenue.”

“Maida Vale?”

“I’ve done thousands, mate.”

La Rentrée 2021

A quiet few weeks since my last postcard. A trip to Orléans. A flying visit to the UK to see family and friends. The most interesting thing to occur here in Poitiers was probably my encounter with a delightful lady called Emmanuelle, whom I bumped into when she was walking her pet pig, Banda, down Rue de la Chaîne.

Actually, looking back, I’m not sure who was walking whom. Whichever it was, Banda certainly looked at peace with the world.

***

September means la rentrée here in France, a time when the whole country seems to wake up and get back to work. Smaller independent businesses, including boulangeries, florists, pharmacies, and clothes shops, which have been closed for some or all of August, reopen. Students return to schools and universities. Parliament resumes its sessions, in what is going to be a busy period leading up to next year’s Presidential election. La rentrée littéraire sees hundreds of new books published. There is a general sense of renewal in the air, and it is heightened this year, as we now appear to be over the latest surge of Covid cases, the ongoing vaccination programme giving cause for cautious optimism.

Here in Poitiers, an aspect of this process is the annual Journée des Associations, which was held at the weekend in Parc Blossac. Charitable organisations, sports, and social clubs set out their stalls to try to attract new members. The word association is a bit of a mouthful in French, having six syllables: ‘ah so see ah see yon’. For convenience, it’s usually abbreviated to asso. When I suggested visiting the Journée to Madame, she would only go on condition that I promised not to make any jokes using this abbreviation. It turned out to be good fun, and I have put my name down as a volunteer for the local banc alimentaire (food bank). I must admit I was slightly disappointed that my previous experience at the Ely Food Bank (assistant in charge of baked beans and other tinned tomato-sauce-based products) didn’t seem to count for much.

***

Some organisations have had a more successful rentrée than others, Supermarket chain Monoprix got themselves into a spot of bother by selling rentrée orange juice, which sounds pretty innocuous until you look more closely at the bottles.

They are covered with drawings and phrases more normally seen on public convenience walls: things like … well, I’ll let you read them yourselves. As with all images, if you click on it, it will appear in another window (only do this if you are over 18, obviously). A complaint from the police union Alliance Police Nationale,objecting to the acronym ACAB, has led to the bottles being withdrawn.

***

Much in the news last weekend about 18-year-old Emma Raducanu winning the US Open tennis championship, but it was another sporting story that caught my eye. Tyrone clinched the All-Ireland Football Championship title by beating Mayo 2-14 to 0-15 in the final at Dublin’s Croke Park stadium, the first time Tyrone have beaten Mayo in the past thirteen years.

What makes it fascinating is that this is another example of the ‘Mayo Curse’ that has prevented the county from winning the title since 1951. The curse was placed as the Mayo team were returning home having beaten Meath in that year’s final in Dublin. They were being driven through the village of Foxford when they passed a church where a funeral was under way. The players did not get out to pay their respects, and the enraged priest uttered the fateful words: ‘For as long as you all live, Mayo won’t win another All-Ireland.’

And so it has come to pass. Despite its small population of 130,000, Mayo has reached the final ten times since 1951, but to no avail. The curse endures, as there is one member of the 1951 winning team still alive – Paddy Prendergast, aged 94. Paddy should probably tread carefully if Mayo do well next year.

I sympathise with Mayo supporters but, judging by Fulham’s measly trophy collection, I suspect their team bus has been racing past funerals throughout their history.

***

Overheard on my trip to the UK:

In the Alexandra pub, Wimbledon. Two men in their forties, dressed identically like Tweedledum and Tweedledee, baseball caps, white polo shirts, shorts, and trainers. One eating fish and chips, with condiments in small ramekins:

Non-eater: ‘Don’t do that.’

Eater: ‘What?’

Non-eater: ‘You’re double-dipping, ketchup and tartare.’

Eater: ‘So?’

Non-eater: ‘You can’t do that. It’s turning my stomach.’

In M&S Wimbledon. Elderly couple:

She: ‘I think we’ve still got that tin of custard open in the fridge.’

He: ‘Yeah, and the haddock.’

Young girl to a friend in Pret a Manger, King’s Cross station:

‘I like cheese and onion, but it always makes me …’ [she puts her hands around her mouth and silently says ‘fart’].

On the Paris–Poitiers train home. One of a group of four Englishmen eating their own weight in hot junk food:

‘There was this sushi place in Edinburgh. All you can eat for 12 quid. Fuck me, did me and Eric tear into it.’

A conspicuous absence

Where is everyone ? La Gazette , Rue Gambetta

We have a new neighbour. A young woman, whom we’ve yet to meet, has moved into no. 22. She replaces the two young women who moved in about a year ago. Neither we nor any of our other neighbours really got to know them, and they have now gone to live in Canada. We got this from Jacqueline, the actress and theatre director who lives directly opposite us at no. 20. At no. 24, on the other side of the new neighbour, is Brigitte, who is retired, though I’m not sure what she actually did for a living. Opposite Brigitte and two doors up from us is Colette, the 80-year- old grande dame who is livelier than many women half her age. She is an active member of Les Soroptimistes, a sort of French Women’s Institute, and is forever gadding about on little jaunts around France. Between Colette and us live Jean-Claude and Bernadette, whom I’ve mentioned before in these pages. On our other side, at no. 17, lives Inès, a shy, polite Spanish lady who keeps herself very much to herself. We all get along well, and I think we’ve been generally very lucky in our neighbours.

Alert readers will have noticed something a little unusual in the above account. Apart from myself, Jean-Claude is the only male living in our immediate vicinity. There are a couple of others, further up and down the street, but I’ve never spoken to any of them. At the occasional neighbourly get-together we attend, it is always just Jean-Claude and myself. In fact, at the last two such gatherings, a drinks party in Jacqueline’s garden and a small soirée at Colette’s to celebrate her birthday, Jean-Claude was away for some reason, and I was the only male present. This doesn’t bother me particularly, but it is a symptom of a more general trend here in Poitiers and something that has puzzled me for some time – a seemingly general shortage of single men.

Now, this needs qualifying. A widely quoted Poitiers statistic is that one in four of the population is a student, and in term-time it is easy to believe. The bars and cafés are full of young people, and amongst them it is normal to see groups of young men sitting and drinking together. It is older men I am referring to, in particular those over the age of 40. When out and about, these seem nearly always to be in the company of their female partners. What is noticeably missing are the clusters of men that I’d got used to seeing in bars wherever I’ve lived in the past. I said ‘single men’ earlier, but these groups usually consist of both bachelors and men who are or were once married. They meet a few times a week, sometimes more, for a couple of drinks, sometimes more. They are a feature of most English pubs, sitting or standing at the bar, chatting, arguing, reminiscing, telling and retelling anecdotes (‘talking bollocks’ in Madame’s succinct phrase). I had no trouble finding bars containing similar groups when I lived in Paris and Prague. On trips to other French cities, I’ve identified bars which, even if empty at the time, had something about them that indicated they were the sort of place where such groups regularly congregate.

Here in Poitiers, these individuals are conspicuous only by their absence. The nearest thing I have found are the two sports bars, the cavernous and slightly soulless Wallaby’s in Rue du Plat d’Étain, and the much more convivial Drop ’n Shoot in Rue du Chaudron d’Or. The latter is run by a very amiable Bill Murray lookalike, and I sometimes go there to watch a French Ligue 1 game. I sit with a few others (the French are generally more interested in the English Premier League than their own) watching the big screen, drinking beer, and eating the complimentary crisps.

The age range is from about 20 to my age. Conversation is usually limited to the occasional shout of derision, delight, or disgust at what is happening on screen. It rarely goes beyond asking which team one wants to win. I attempt the odd conversational gambit, one of many such tried and tested standbys for when conversations flag: ‘How important do you have to be to be assassinated and not just murdered?’, ‘What was Rembrandt’s first name?’, but with limited success. I’ve been working on some more suitable French equivalents: ‘Vous préférez le camembert ou le roquefort?’ Not great, but it’s a start. I know that in the overall scheme of things this is not very important, but I do sometimes get nostalgic for those occasions where a companionable silence is suddenly broken by ‘Leslie Phillips, dead or alive?’

A recent series of articles in the local paper may have offered a clue to the reason for this odd state of affairs. They have been focusing on Poitiers residents and their hobbies. Noticeably, all of the ones I’ve seen so far have been male and over 40. Here are a few examples.

This is Jean-Claude Paumier, a former maths teacher at the Lycée Victor-Hugo who collects sabliers (hourglasses).

© Photo NR

Jean-Claude and the sands of time

Jean-Claude now has over 3,000 of these. I imagine it must be fun to set the largest one going and then see if he can turn all the others over before it runs out.

Next is Philippe Breton, who has turned his basement into a museum of Bruce Springsteen artefacts.

© (Photo Mathieu Herduin)

Phililppe. Born To Run. Maybe.

There’s a nice little film here in which he tells of his years of following Bruce in France and the USA. His ultimate ambition is to invite ‘The Boss’ home to see the museum and share a whisky and cigar with him. All well and good, but it did rather remind me of the Alan Partridge episode where he meets his biggest fan.

Finally, there is Pascal Audin, a local artist and what I would call a collector’s collector. Pascal proudly declares himself a chionosphérophile, sibilumophile, tupiphiliste, arctophile, pyrophiliste, and signopaginophile, which, in old money, means that he collects snow globes, whistles, spinning tops, teddy bears, cigarette lighters, and bookmarks.

© Photo NR

Pascal with some of the 89,000 snow globes in his collection

Now, these fine chaps and their ilk are to be commended for their zeal and devotion to their pursuits. Somehow, though, I have a hunch you won’t be seeing them sitting in a bar together, trying to remember the names of all the actors in the Magnificent Seven. It would appear, then, that Poitiers is a city of hobbyists. Maybe I should give in gracefully and start collecting garden gnomes.

***

This will be the last Postcard from Poitiers for a few weeks. I need to do some work on the website, and I am trying to start a French version – mostly consisting of photographs initially. I plan to restart this site in mid-September.

***

Things I’ve learnt this week:

The official retirement age for Russian men is two years above their average life expectancy.

In 1930, a radium-infused jockstrap called the Scrotal Radiendocrinator went on the market, claiming to boost sexual virility.

The ploughman’s lunch was invented in 1956 by the English Country Cheese Council.

There’s a riot goin’ on

Place Leclerc 24th July

I don’t know. You turn your back for five minutes and all hell breaks loose.

Last Saturday (July 24th), while we were still in Paris, about 700 people staged an anti-health pass demonstration in Place Leclerc, the main square in Poitiers. A few dozen demonstrators, taking advantage of a wedding that was being held there, broke into la mairie. A flag was stolen, and a portrait of President Macron was taken from the wall and thrown down into the street. Somebody helpfully filmed the whole thing (https://twitter.com/​dystoman/​status/​​1419674069436338180?s=20).

The Poitiers protestors were not alone. On that day, an estimated 160,000 protesters took part in more than 200 demonstrations across France, a 30% increase on the week before. Another series of demonstrations took place nationwide yesterday (July 31st), and the overall number of protestors has risen to more than 200,000. About 1,000 marched through Poitiers, but this time the protest passed off peacefully. (The figures here are provided by John Lichfield, who writes for The Local magazine in France and provides a weekly analysis of the virus and vaccination situation in France and the UK.)

According to an IFOP poll for the Journal du Dimanche, support for the anti-passers is heavily concentrated on the hard left (57% support) and the hard right (49%), and overlaps to a large degree with the Gilets Jaunes movement. It can thus be seen as part of a more general anti-Macron movement supported by the most extreme Macron-hating sections of the population.

At the same time, support for the movement among the young is quite strong – 51% among 18-to-35s. As John Lichfield points out, ‘The people who marched on the last two Saturdays were not all anti-vaxxers or conspiracy theorists (although many were).’ While some banners said ‘Masks make children autistic’ or ‘Vaccines create variants,’ there were others saying ‘Pro-vaccine but also pro-liberty.’ While some were wearing yellow stars similar to those imposed on Jews by the Nazi occupiers of France and complaining of a vaccine-regulated ‘apartheid’, others were arguing against Macron’s decision to make vaccination more or less compulsory. Macron himself had at first been reluctant to do this.

For all the protests, the government’s recent initiatives to promote vaccination have been highly successful. Since the president first gave notice of the introduction of the health pass two weeks ago, the average number of first shots given daily has doubled. In this period, almost 5 million people have had their first vaccination, and in each of the past four days more than 400,000 first jabs have been administered. At the same time, the vaccination programme in the UK has slowed down dramatically. As things stand, France (now averaging 330,000 first shots a day) could overtake Britain (averaging 40,000 a day) in the total number of first vaccinations, in about three weeks’ time.

At the moment, it is difficult to assess what impact the anti-pass protests will have, or indeed what it is that the protestors are hoping to achieve. From August 9th, the health passport will be required for access to bars, restaurants, and cafés, larger shopping centres and malls, hospitals, medical centres, and retirement homes. It will also be needed for long-distance travel within France – domestic flights, interregional bus travel, and TGV or Intercité trains.

A recent poll shows that two-thirds of the French population support the president’s policy. At the same time, in John Lichfield’s view, the demonstrations will continue and may even get larger: ‘The nutters and the diehards and the weekend hobby-protesters will go on indefinitely. The more moderate, sensible protesters will melt away as the peak August holiday season begins.’ We shall see.

***

The British government has now opened its borders to fully vaccinated travellers from its ‘amber list’ countries. These include the USA and nearly all of mainland Europe. The glaring exception is France, which for some bizarre reason has been singled out and put on an ‘amber-plus’ list. On the Today programme on Friday, the Foreign Secretary, Dominic Raab, set out the thinking behind this decision. According to him, it was the high number of cases of the Beta variant on the island of Réunion, a French Overseas department.

There are two tiny flaws in this argument. Firstly, Réunion is actually 6,000 miles from mainland France (where the number of Beta variant cases is low and declining rapidly). Secondly, Réunion itself is on the amber list, which means that people arriving in Britain from the island containing the Beta variant the government is worried about don’t have to isolate.

The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs of the United Kingdom

It is worth remembering at this point that France probably wouldn’t be Raab’s specialist subject on Mastermind. In 2018, during the Brexit negotiations, he admitted that he ‘hadn’t quite understood’ how reliant UK trade in goods is on the Dover–Calais crossing.

The word is that France might be admitted back into the fold next Thursday. I’m not holding my breath.

***

Things I’ve learnt this week:

The Irish for ‘escalator’ is staighre beo, ‘living stairs’.

In 2013, a stolen prosthetic arm was found in a second-hand shop in Bournemouth.

In 2004, a boat in Texas capsized because everyone ran to one side to look at a nudist beach.

We’ll always have Paris…

Graffiti, Parc de Belleville

One of the great joys of Paris is its compactness. The twenty arrondissements are effectively fenced in by the Boulevard Périphérique, and one can walk from Porte de Clignancourt in the north to Porte d’Italie in the south, just over 6 miles, in a couple of hours. Going from the edge of the Bois de Boulogne in the west to Porte de Bagnolet in the east is just under 7 miles, so it would take another 20 minutes or so. The city is made for walking.

Comparisons with London are difficult because of the more sprawling nature of the latter. A reasonable comparison might be going north/south from Parliament Hill in Hampstead to Wimbledon Common, which is a shade over 11 miles, and going west/east from White City to Canary Wharf, which is 10.5 miles. Every Londoner will have their own notional city boundaries (I always got a bit nervous once I was north of King’s Cross or east of Liverpool Street).

The past three days have been spent carousing in Paris – Madame’s treat for my birthday on Friday. It was warm and sunny, and we spent nearly all of it outdoors. Masks still scrupulously worn by everyone on public transport and in enclosed spaces. Far less so on the streets. According to my Google Fitness app, we averaged a shade under 8 miles (20,000 steps) a day, which is not bad going. It did, of course, require plenty of pit stops for refuelling on the way.

A few garbled jottings from our time there.

On Thursday morning, we headed north-east on the metro to Pyrénées to show Madame the wonderful city view from Parc de Belleville. We then walked back to the city centre via Rue de Belleville and Rue du Faubourg-du-Temple. I like this area. It’s lively and noisy, with a noticeable influx of Chinese people since I lived here twenty years ago.

Street Art, Rue de Belleville

Restaurants and bars have been allowed to extend their terraces wherever possible. This generally gives the city an even more festive air than usual, though perhaps it doesn’t always work …

Rue du Dragon

On Friday, we went to the Musée Carnavalet, the museum of the history of Paris, in the heart of the Marais. It’s one of my favourite museums and has just reopened after four years of renovation work. It looks superb. It’s free to enter, and one can spend a very enjoyable hour wandering the bright, airy galleries. We had come to see the Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibition, which was every bit as good as I had hoped. There is a slide show here showing some of the exhibits.

Be warned, tickets are sold by entry time. Allow a little time before your session starts, because you will be stopped by a bewildering number of individuals checking that you have a ticket, that it’s for the right day and time, that you’re in the right queue for your session, that you have your health pass … ‘and if we could just have one last look at your ticket, monsieur? Merci! Enjoy your visit.’

Palais du Louvre

At lunchtime we walked through the grounds of the Palais du Louvre to Galerie Vivienne for a glass of champagne in Legrand, the wine bar and wine merchants. This has become a birthday tradition. That is to say, we also did it last year, and I don’t see any reason to stop now.

Joyeux anniversaire à moi!

A light lunch in Bar du Moulin nearby, then back to the hôtel to fall asleep watching Maigret.

A walk along the river in the evening, then dinner at Chez Fernand Christine, not far from our hotel in Rue de l’Odéon. It’s a sister restaurant to Chez Fernand in Rue Guisarde, and their speciality is the same ‘légendaire bœuf bourguignon de Rémi Lebon,’ which we both had. It was as good as always, but the portions are definitely getting smaller.

The evening’s entertainment was provided by three Americans at the next table, one of whom had the strongest Brooklyn accent I’ve ever heard. They ordered four starters, which they shared. We’d started before they arrived and left before their mains arrived, but they had already almost demolished the magnum of Sancerre that Brooklyn had ordered. He was drinking vodka chasers alongside this.

Brooklyn: Ya got any French vodka?

Waiter: Yes, sir, we do.

B: Is it smooth?

W: Oh yes, sir, it’s very smooth.

B: I hate smooth. Ya got any Stoly?

W: Yes, sir.

I was sorry to leave. If nothing else, I would have loved to see their bill.

After dinner, another, slightly more atavistic, birthday tradition, a couple of pints of Guinness in Corcoran’s in Rue Saint-André-des-Arts.

Corcoran’s, Rue Saint-André des Arts

A nightcap in Les Éditeurs in Carrefour de l’Odéon, and then gently floating homeward, feeling no pain.

Carrefour de l’Odéon, Midnight Saturday 24th July

On Saturday morning, we set out to visit the catacombs. I’d first tried to do this many years ago with friends Frank and John, but a sudden digestive crisis had forced me to leave them to it while I found what Brooklyn would have called a restroom. For some reason, this proved unexpectedly difficult, and by the time I succeeded it was too late to join them.

I was no luckier this time. The Covid virus has led to stricter controls on the number of visitors, and booking in advance is necessary, something we had failed to do.

Instead we went to Le Bon Marché, the upmarket department store whose food hall would give that of Harrods a run for its money. We toyed with paying €3,000 for a bottle of Chateau Latour or stocking up with Bird’s Custard Powder from their British section, but decided to leave both for another day.

Decisions, decisions

Lunch sitting in the sun outside ever-reliable Le Petit Saint-Benoit, then to Gare Montparnasse to share the train home with about half a million people heading for the coast.

A very enjoyable few days.

***

Things I’ve learnt this week … For some reason, I have forgotten everything I have learnt this week, but Madame has just told me a funny story.

Apparently the animal charity PDSA runs its promotional material on a syndicated basis. Thus you will see similar posters and signs in different cities throughout the UK: ‘PDSA. Helping Edinburgh animals,’ ‘PDSA. Helping Blackpool animals,’ ‘PDSA. Helping Norwich animals,’ etc.

All well and good, but they have just opened a branch in Bury.

Getting the needle

Anti health pass demo in Poitiers, Saturday 17th July

As I write this, just three hours after saying that they would not do so, the UK Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer have announced that they are self-isolating, having been in contact with the Minister of Health, who has tested positive for the Covid virus.

More than half a million isolation alerts were sent to people using the NHS Covid-19 app in England and Wales during the first week of July, a 46 per cent rise on the previous week.

Tomorrow is Boris Johnson’s Freedom Day.

The French and English strategies for dealing with the virus have diverged significantly this week, and one result of this is that the rules for travel between the two countries are becoming increasingly complicated. On Monday, Boris Johnson and Emmanuel Macron both publicly announced the next stages in their respective countries’ battles against Covid 19.

Here in France, there were two significant changes. First, it will be mandatory for all staff working in hospitals, clinics, and retirement homes, and all workers who work in contact with elderly or vulnerable people, to be vaccinated by September 15th. Health Minister Olivier Véran has said that those who are not vaccinated will not be able to work, and will not be paid. Warning that it may be necessary to consider ‘compulsory vaccination for everybody in France’, the President said that for now the government is choosing to put ‘confidence’ in people to get vaccinated voluntarily ‘as soon as possible’.

The second major change is that from 21st July health passes will be required for all aged 12 and above to attend events of over fifty people. This will be extended to cafés, restaurants, shopping centres, hospitals, retirement homes, planes, and trains and coaches for long-distance journeys from the beginning of August. (Long-distance travel means TGV and Intercités trains, inter-regional coach trips, and all domestic and international flights. Local trains, buses, or trams will not be affected.) Masks remain compulsory on public transport and in all enclosed public spaces.

By contrast, and as expected, Boris Johnson announced that most Covid guidance and legal restrictions will be lifted in England tomorrow, Freedom Day. There will no longer be limits on how many people can meet, and the ‘1 metre plus’ rule will be removed (except in certain designated places, such as hospitals and passport control points). Masks will no longer be required by law but still recommended in public places. Limits on visitors to care homes will be removed. On 16th August, most Covid restrictions in schools will come to an end. From the same date, double-vaccinated adults may not need to self-isolate if they come into contact with someone who tests positive. The guidance recommending against travel to amber countries will be removed. Adults fully vaccinated in the UK will no longer have to quarantine for ten days after returning from an amber-list country.

In France, with the exception of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement Nationale, all of the main political parties have endorsed President Macron’s strategy. Although there have been nationwide demonstrations, with a strong gilets jaunes presence, one senses that the vast majority of the population supports the new measures. Furthermore, they do seem to be having the desired effect. Within two days of the President’s television broadcast, over two million new vaccination appointments had been made. Prior to the announcement, only 46.5 per cent of 25­- to 29-year-olds in France had been vaccinated, and only 25.4 per cent had had their second injection. It was this age group that the new measures were targeting, and it was they, overwhelmingly, who responded by immediately making appointments.

There is a sense of walking through the looking glass when one examines the situation in the UK. There, it is the vociferous minority, the anti-vaxxers, who are supportive of Johnson’s policy, while the public at large are not so sure. A poll published in the Observer two days before his announcement found that 73 per cent of people thought that wearing masks on public transport should continue, while 50 per cent said that ‘freedom day’ should be pushed back beyond 19th July. The current steady rise in the numbers of cases and deaths is, inevitably, causing increasing public concern.

Case numbers in France are also on the rise. Though they are currently much lower than in the UK, we are yet to experience the full effect of the Delta variant here. In both countries, hopes are now riding on vaccine take-up being swift enough to keep the spread of the virus to manageable levels. I’m inclined to think that the recently announced French policy is more likely to ensure this. However, with the possibility of a new variant emerging at any time, I’d be reluctant to bet the house on it.

To continue the Alice in Wonderland analogy, the rules covering travel between the two countries are getting curiouser and curiouser. On Friday night, the UK government announced that France had been placed in a new ‘amber plus’ category – halfway between amber and red – under the government’s traffic light system for travel. From 19th July, all those travelling from France to the UK, even if double-vaccinated, will continue to have to quarantine at home for ten days, taking tests on (or before) the second day and on (or after) the eight day (with the possibility of release after five days). The UK government is worried about the prevalence in France of the Beta variant, first identified in South Africa and thought to be partially resistant to the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is used for the majority of UK jabs.

Meanwhile, as of midnight tonight (Sunday), unvaccinated UK visitors to France will now have to show a negative PCR or antigen test that is less than 24 hours old, rather than the 48 hours allowed previously. If you’ve had both doses, you’ll now be exempt from providing a test to enter French territory. Once these conditions are met, there is currently no requirement to quarantine when in France.

So, as things stand, once vaccinated, travel from the UK to France is relatively straightforward. Travel in the other direction is much more complicated.

There is a significant anomaly in the cost of testing in the two countries. My friend Christopher recently made a return journey between them and provided a helpful breakdown of the costs (this was before the most recent announcements):

Going from the UK to France: mandatory UK PCR test £80, optional French PCR test €0.

Going from France to the UK: mandatory French PCR test €0, mandatory UK day 2 and day 8 tests £140, optional UK test and release £90.

(In his last TV address, President Macron stated that at some as yet unspecified date in the autumn, CPR tests in France will no longer be free for non-residents but will cost a maximum of €49.)

***

The latest bit of graffiti to appear in our street: ‘Nobody is born free under capitalism and hierarchy.’ You may not agree with the sentiment, but you have to admire the syntax, spelling, and correct use of accents. Far better than mine.

***

Things I’ve learnt this week:

In 1865, the Duke of Buckingham was blown from Holborn to Euston through a pneumatic tube intended for parcels.

If you lift a kangaroo’s tail off the ground, it can’t hop.

The Scottish mountain Bod an Deamhain, ‘penis of the demon’, is usually translated into English as the Devil’s Point.

Home entertainment

Chateau d’Orion, Deux-Sèvres

Two of my favourite literary characters are Badger in The Wind in the Willows and Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock’s brother. Mainly, I think, because they both like to be left alone, Badger in his home deep in the Wild Wood, and Mycroft in his comfortable armchair in the Diogenes Club.

I wouldn’t say I am anti-social. I enjoy going to bars, restaurants, and other places of entertainment, on my own, with Madame, or with friends. These are places with fixed opening and closing times and defined codes of behaviour. Everyone knows where they stand. It is when this safety net of conformity is removed that I get twitchy.

I’ve always struggled to understand the ‘urge to entertain’ gene that some of us are born with – people who derive pleasure from organising ‘entertainments’ or home visits. As with smoking, those of us who do not have the gene are still liable to be affected passively. A wise friend once told me that three of the most depressing words in the English language are ‘Come to stay.’

Now, let me say at the outset that staying with family is OK. Here there is a sort of mutually assured destruction pact which ensures a high level of tolerance of individual habits, views, and foibles. Outside the family circle, however, it is terra incognita. There are minefields everywhere. Where to sit, where to stand, when to go to bed, when to get up, when to use the bathroom (which bathroom?), whether to flush in the night or not. When to suggest that you’d rather slit your wrists than watch another minute of Jamie’s Strictly Bake Off.

You are told at the outset to make yourself completely at home, and then reminded gently at regular intervals, ‘not that one … no, not there, no, that’s Dad’s/Sarah’s/David’s one …, actually, we normally … actually, we don’t …’ And then there is the phrase that, for me, is as gloom-inducing as ‘Come to stay’: ‘After lunch, we thought you might like to go for a walk.’ What I would actually like is an after-lunch nap.

***

Last Sunday, with our very nice neighbours Jean-Claude and Bernadette, we went to Oiron, a small hamlet (population 900) about 60 km away in the department of Deux-Sèvres. Jean-Claude, a retired teacher of dance and film studies, thought we might like a visit to the Château d’Oiron followed by a spectacle organised by a theatre group whom he occasionally worked with.

The château, a handsome edifice built for the Gouffier family, is the setting for the original Puss in Boots (Le Chat Botté) written by Charles Perrault at the end of the seventeenth century. Artus Gouffier de Boissy (1475–1519) was awarded the land of Caravaz in Italy after supporting Louis XII in the Italian wars, and he is the basis for the Marquis of Carabas in the story. Artus was responsible for initiating work on the château, just before he died, and it was completed by his son Claude (1501–1570). After centuries of steady decline, it was bought by the state in 1943, and over the next seventy years an extensive programme of structural repair and restoration was carried out. Today it houses the contemporary art collection Curios & Mirabilia, loosely based on the theme of the curiosity cabinet created by Claude Gouffier.

Curios & Mirabilia is an interesting collection but leans a little too heavily towards the world of Jake and Dinos Chapman. Once you’ve seen your third or fourth severed limb, penis/nose transposition, or grotesque hybrid animal, your eyes tend to glaze over.

A grotesque hybrid animal

In one room, a flock of small birds were scratching out a sort of tune with their feet as they landed on an electric guitar connected to an amp and speakers.

Not the Eagles

In another, a television was showing a film in which water flows into a bottle leaning at an angle, eventually forcing it to overturn and land on a small see-saw, causing a ball to roll down a slope into a bucket, which topples over and pours liquid onto a piece of glass, thus making a coin slide into a metal tray angled to allow a marble to fall onto another tilted surface and knock over a bottle which … This is fascinating for the first five minutes or so.

The exhibition makes for an enjoyable enough couple of hours. Unfortunately, we had three hours to kill before the spectacle was due to start. Refreshments were not available. To pass the time, we visited the nearby church of St Maurice. This has a large alligator nailed to one of the walls. We were unable to find out why. I suggested that it might be an allegory as well as an alligator. Nobody laughed. Lost in translation, perhaps.

The alligator allegory

Back in the town square, we assembled for the spectacle. I’d assumed this would be in a theatre, but was told that it would be performed at open-air locations around the village. By now a breeze was beginning to blow up, and I was regretting only wearing a T-shirt and shorts.

There is an attractive-looking bar, Le Salamander, in Oiron. It’s closed on Sundays.

The event was due to start at 17.30, but it was 18.25 before we were finally led into a courtyard nearby. We were given small, low shooting stick-type devices to sit on and told to take these with us as we went from scene to scene. They are relatively easy to sit on, but getting up unaided is well-nigh impossible.

Not as much fun as it looks.

The spectacle consisted of four short scenes. One was performed in the courtyard, the others in areas of parkland around the château. Two of the cast were women. One, in a blue tracksuit, carried a clipboard; the other, in a baggy purple coat and a cloche hat, carried an umbrella, which she would wave at the audience from time to time. They took it in turns to deliver short monologues, along with a thin man in a green hoodie and jeans who, when not speaking himself, hit some wine glasses with a small drum stick to provide a musical background for his co-actors.

The overall theme was Time (or possibly The Futility of Life – it was in French, and my hearing aids were playing up in the wind). One scene was definitely about postcards. They were all received in respectful silence by the audience, who clapped politely at the end. Afterwards, in the main square, we were given small paper cups of white wine and biscuits. By now, it had turned distinctly chilly.

In the car on the way home, we all agreed it had been a most enjoyable day, and that we should do something similar very soon.

In the evening, I sat in my armchair and watched The Ipcress File on TV. I’ve seen it many times, but there’s always something new to enjoy:

In a supermarket.

Colonel Ross (picking up a tin of mushrooms from Harry’s trolley): ‘Champignons’ … You’re paying ten pence more for a fancy French label. If you want mushrooms, you’d get better value on the next shelf.

Harry: It’s not just the label. These do have a better flavour.

Colonel Ross: Of course … You’re quite the gourmet, aren’t you, Palmer?

***

Things I’ve learnt this week:

Psycho was the first major American film to feature a flushing toilet.

It’s harder to tell how drunk you are if you’re surrounded by drunk people.

During the Christmas truce of 1914, an English soldier got a haircut from a German who used to be his barber in Holborn.

When I am old…

I was reminded of a poem yesterday. In Jenny Joseph’s  ‘Warning’, a woman contemplates old age and the freedom it will bring.  She has a list of things to look forward to, some of which – spending her pension on brandy, gobbling up free samples in shops, and running her stick along public railings – I find eminently sensible. Others – wearing terrible shirts and eating three pounds of sausages at a sitting – perhaps a little less so.

It’s an interesting poem, more so to me at present because I’m at an age where the line between having such intentions and being able to carry them out is becoming increasingly blurred. Last week, I only narrowly avoided realising one of the woman in the poem’s declared ambitions, ‘I shall go out in my slippers in the rain’, thanks to Madame’s alertness as we were about to leave the house.

I haven’t actually kept a similar list myself. One reason being, perhaps, that the poem is written from the standpoint of a person currently having to live with such strictures as to ‘not swear in the street and set a good example for the children’ – something I’ve never been very good at. Nevertheless, I find the idea is an attractive one, particularly because of the modest scale of the ambitions it describes. Far more sensible than a grandiose bucket list of things to ‘achieve’ before you die – learning Sanskrit, skateboarding down Ben Nevis – written more to impress others than to clarify one’s own thoughts.

As an aside, the nearest I’ve come to such old-age planning has been the steady accumulation, over many years, of books to be read ‘when I have more time … when I retire’. The pile continues to grow, waiting for some now undefined, ever-postponed future date. Reality is finally beginning to creep in. I now accept that I’m never going to read Don Quixote, Crime and Punishment, or Jane Eyre (though I will almost certainly re-read The ABC Murders and Maigret at the Crossroads for the umpteenth time). There will be a provision in my will for a coffin with bookshelves.

Anyway, I was reminded of the poem and its theme last night. One of the most pleasing aspects of the return to near normality is that we can now go out again each evening, around six, for un apéro. Short for apéritif, a pre-dinner drink, it is surely one of the most valuable French contributions to civilisation. One survey on the custom has stated that as many as nine out of ten French people enjoy an apéro, and according to French author Paul Morand, l’apéritif, c’est la prière du soir des Français – ‘the aperitif is the evening prayer of the French’. 

The word originates from the Latin term aperire, meaning ‘to open’, and according to some dictionaries, apéritif literally means ‘a laxative liqueur’. I can’t say that I’ve ever found it particularly so, but then my daily Bran Flakes and banana deal with all that sort of thing.

Some people go to the same bar each evening for their apéro, but Madame and I tend to mix and match between half a dozen or so. The choice on any evening will depend on a number of factors including the weather, the length of time since we last visited a particular bar, and whether we are feeling peckish – some bars are more generous with their accompanying nibbles than others. When we first arrived in Poitiers, we noticed how the French seemed to linger over one drink, so when we had finished ours, we would move on to another bar lest we appeared to be lushes. As we got better at recognising faces, we realised that many other people were doing the same, which made life a lot easier.

La Gazette

Yesterday, on a warm summer evening, we sat on the terrace of La Gazette. It’s in Rue Gambetta, the very centre of centre-ville, and the staff are very friendly. We ordered a glass of pinot noir and an Aperol spritz, and these arrived with a bowl containing peanuts and some sort of French cheesy Wotsits. Nothing odd about any of this, apart, perhaps, from the fact that the Aperol spritz was mine.

As I sipped it, it suddenly struck me that four years ago I would probably have been sitting in a pub in Ely, with a few like-minded individuals, having an ‘English apero’, which would have consisted of two, three, sometimes more pints of bitter. Any nibbles would have had to be bought and, in the case of my local, would have consisted of a packet of cheese and onion crisps or a bag of Nobby’s Nuts (dry roasted or ready salted).

L’apéro anglais

For countless years prior to this, I was involved in similar scenarios in various pubs in London. This is not to criticise or denigrate any of this, I hasten to add. I look forward to a time, post-lockdown, when I can return to the UK and re-enact some of these rituals.

Nevertheless, yesterday evening, I realised that something has changed. I looked at my drink. It was bright orange (like Tizer). It came in a large glass with a white straw, two slices of orange, and half a large strawberry. It was absolutely delicious. A younger me would have certainly ordered a pint of beer instead, or failing that, a large glass of red. Now, as I happily sipped my spritz and nibbled my Wotsits, the poem came back to me, and I began to think that terrible shirts might actually be fun to wear.

***

Things I’ve learnt this week:

God and Jesus are the only characters in The Simpsons to have five fingers on each hand.

British soldiers in the Second World War had a ration of three sheets of toilet paper a day. US soldiers were allowed 22.5 sheets a day.

The German for ‘contraceptive pill’ is Antibabypille.

A mid-week jolly

La Rochelle

We took a mid-week trip to La Rochelle, a seaport on the west coast about 90 kilometres from Poitiers, and our nearest seaside destination. It has a rich history and is probably most famous for the 1627–28 siege, during which the Huguenot city’s population fell from 22,000 to 5,000. The siege ended with complete victory for Louis XIII’s Catholic forces. Not being of the same persuasion, Madame and I tend to see this event from divergent perspectives.

Harbour Entrance

I like La Rochelle more and more with every visit. The quays around the harbour are lined with cheerful bars and cafés, and from here one can enter the town proper by passing through La Grosse-Horloge, a fifteenth-century city gate topped with an impressive clock tower. The main streets are lined with pretty arcades, and in the area around the indoor market, which is filled to bursting every morning, there is another lively cluster of bars and restaurants.

La Grosse-Horloge

We arrived mid-morning on Wednesday to find roadworks everywhere. The ongoing pedestrianisation of the harbour area is scheduled to last for another year. It’s noisy, but judging from the progress so far, it will look quite impressive when finished. After petit déjeuner at a small cafe on Quai Valin, we took a 45-minute bus ride to Île de Ré, an island just off the coast, now accessible by a 2.9 km bridge built in 1988. This was one of the reasons for our trip, as I’d been looking forward to visiting the island for some time. Sadly, it turned out to be a bit of an anticlimax. Nobody’s fault. The weather had changed. After a couple of days of bright sunshine, it was suddenly overcast, with an annoying blustery wind, the sort that Madame’s mum describes accurately as ‘making your hair sore’.

We took the bus to Saint-Martin, the island’s main town, only to find that the bus terminus is about a kilometre and a half’s walk from the town itself. Given the weather, this was not ideal, and I could feel distinct twinges of Eeyore-like gloom. On a more positive note, we did get to walk past the Saint-Martin Citadel, France’s largest long-sentence prison. Having lived in Wandsworth and worked for many years near Wormwood Scrubs, I regard myself as something of a connoisseur of prison architecture, and the Citadel is certainly worth seeing (overnight accommodation is probably a different matter entirely).

Saint-Martin Citadel

Saint-Martin itself is a pretty little place, a cross between Southwold in Suffolk and Cowes on the Isle of Wight, with a similar clientele. My guidebook says that August here is best avoided, and I can well believe it. Even on a cloudy June day it was very crowded. You can see all there is to see in less than an hour. Some expensive-looking holiday accommodation, a sprinkling of shops selling ‘crafts’ and chic sailing apparel, and that’s about it. I toyed with buying a bright yellow sou’wester but figured that opportunities to wear it in Poitiers would be limited.

There are various restaurants around the small harbour, and all were doing well. We had a very good lunch at La Marine, and by the time we walked back to the bus stop a couple of hours later, I was in a distinctly more expansive frame of mind.

Back in La Rochelle, things continued to improve as we spent the evening cheering France on in their Euro 2021 match against Portugal. This was in Corrigan’s, a bar in Rue des Cloutiers that serves excellent draught Guinness. Chatting to le patron, Barry, who hails originally from Cork, we were told that we’d dodged a bullet by changing from our original plan of staying overnight on Friday. The town’s rugby club, Stade Rochelais, would be playing their old rivals Toulouse in the championship decider, and the town’s bars and restaurants would all be packed, most of them booked out weeks in advance by regulars.

Allez les Corsaires!

This is another thing I like about La Rochelle: how the town gets wholeheartedly behind les Corsaires. Club shirts, hats, and scarves are very popular, and every other Covid mask you see is emblazoned with the club crest. Mind you, it’s debatable whether I’d be quite as enthusiastic about this if we’d arrived on the Friday and found all doors closed to us.

La Rochelle has several interesting museums, and the second reason for our trip was to visit the Musée Maritime, which currently has an exhibition of Robert Doisneau photographs, Allons voir la mer avec Doisneau. We saw this on Thursday and really enjoyed it. Some fine photos, and just enough to stop you getting ‘exhibition fatigue’. It is worth seeing if you are there between now and November 1st.

A poster from the Doisneau exhibition. Note the numbers. The likely obesity of English speakers is obviously a worry.

***

There is a sad postscript to our trip. Friday’s result: Toulouse 18 – Stade Rochelais 8.

***

Things I’ve learnt this week:

The first pet cemetery opened in Paris in 1899, after the introduction of a law that banned throwing dead dogs into the Seine.

In 2016, Australian police offered cash prizes to any drivers they found to be sober.

The quinine in tonic water is effective against malaria, as long as you drink 300 gin and tonics every day.