In a previous life I was a teacher, as was my wife Lizzie. I was given my full pension years before I was ready to retire so we decided that a change was in order. We had several places on our list of “possibles” and it was on our way back from a fruitless summer in southern Spain that we chanced upon the Pyrenees-Orientales.
We rented a small isolated cottage high above Prades for four months in 2002 and that experience taught us a great deal. Yes, we wanted to live in this part of the world, no we didn’t want to be living in a steep sided valley. After all, what is the point in living in a part of France with more than 300 days of sunshine per year if you spend more than half of it in shadow?
We returned to UK, sold our house in Poole, put the money in the bank and returned to P.O. In the spring of 2003, we found a house in which we thought we could spend the rest of our lives, bought it and moved in at the end of May that year.
After many years of competitive sailing round Poole Harbour, Lizzie and I needed something to fill the void. When U3A was born, we joined the organisation with a view to playing golf and have been doing it ever since. It is a lovely group of people and we feel very privileged to be a part of it.
I can honestly say that we have both found peace, harmony and happiness in this wonderful part of the world, not to mention an anecdote or two, which I am happy to share with you here.
Simon Bridges April 2020, Terrats.
It is no mere coincidence that this tiny corner of France has been identified by so many clever, informed and discerning people as the place they wish to spend their years of retirement. There is a reason – well, actually there are a lot of reasons, both geographical and social, that have made this corner of the Pyrénées-Orientales the perfect place for people to settle down to enjoy their years of not having to work to earn a living. Aged parents and family and lifetime friends still living in UK need visits and there is very easy access to all parts of the UK from here because of many regional airports and low-cost carriers such as Ryanair.
Well, there used to be before coronavirus raised its ugly head.
And then something dear to all our hearts… the wonderful par 3 golf courses just across the border! This part of France is sadly lacking in that department but no matter because just over the border are lots of these specialist golf courses, perfect for those of a certain age. Well, actually, that aspect of our lives is also on hold because of the C word. Something else loved by many of us was the opportunity to enjoy a cheap Spanish meal together after a game of golf. To my mind these meals really rounded off the day perfectly and highlighted the social aspect of our group. Yes, another casualty of the coronavirus. At least the sun is still shining.
Until recently the wonderful beaches, glorious mountains and stunning scenery were also on the list of “forbidden fruits” but as some aspects of lockdown are being eased we are just starting to get back some of our independence. The Spanish/French border is still closed but hopefully the Spanish desire to re-start their most important industry – tourism – will see a further relaxation of restrictions.
This is all very well but I do, in the back of my head, have a nasty inkling that coronavirus has not finished taunting us and altering our lives out of all recognition. A second wave now could see lockdown imposed once more and those dreadful statistics being read out on television every night. I believe that the fat lady will not be able to break into song until we have a vaccine – just as it was in the days of poliomyelitis, for those who can remember back that far.
Until then it is up to each and every individual to ensure they act within the government guidelines and make their own assessment as to how much risk they are prepared to take when out of their homes. Those who are more susceptible to life threatening symptoms of the disease will take this into account when doing the sums… it is all common sense really.
Each of us will need to decide whether Spanish people behave differently from French people when out and about. Well, in some ways they do and it is up to us to determine whether this affects our chances of catching the disease. There are marked differences in eating times – I still find it amazing that by crossing a border – an artificial line drawn on a map, things can change so dramatically. The French stomach seems to demand filling as the clock strikes noon but a few minutes down the road and the Spanish version delays the hunger pangs until 1.00pm. By 1.30pm the French restaurants will have taken their final orders for that service whereas their Spanish counterparts will still be taking orders and serving meals at 3.30pm!
Simon’s risk assessment
I have made my own risk assessment regarding contracting the virus and it goes along these lines…
Looking at the published figures, there is estimated to be approximately one person in every four hundred in both UK and France who is actively carrying coronavirus at this time and therefore able to transmit the disease. This number will obviously vary with time and you should look for up to date figures.
I would need to get within two metres of that person and inhale droplets from them to catch the disease. This is why masks can help reduce this risk. There is also a risk from touching contaminated surfaces – the risk varies with the type of surface, the temperature and the time elapsed since it was contaminated. The use of alcoholic hand gel should reduce that risk dramatically.
On a personal note, I think that travelling by plane is an unacceptable risk at present. At six and a half miles up where jets operate most efficiently, there is very little air outside and all the air inside is being recirculated. If it could be guaranteed that all the – say 200 persons and their clothing in that aluminium bubble were free from the virus then there is obviously no risk but as I understand it, people whose bodies have been invaded by the virus do not show symptoms straight away. This is only my view so please do not read my view on air travel as gospel.
Yes, it is all very difficult and I very much look forward to the time when we can all mingle as friends once again and give people a hug if we think it is appropriate. Anyway it is socially distanced hugs from me at the moment and I wish you all good luck in getting through this dreadful experience.