Flu in France

Lycée Pierre Bourdan in Gueret

Our experience of the flu epidemic in France has been a bit of a disaster really. Ruadhri was the only success story – he had his vaccination without any side effects. OK, his yells echoed round the Salle Polyvalente for several minutes, but he had it and he didn’t get flu. Caiti wasn’t so lucky. She had her vaccination at lycée on a Wednesday afternoon. She felt very ill that night, a little better Thursday, but so ill on Friday that I had to go and collect her. She picked up over the weekend, went back to lycée on Monday, but I was back again on Tuesday picking her up from the nurse’s office as she’d had a relapse. She was off the rest of that week. So I’m not sure the vaccine did her any good – she’d have been off for as long with the flu anyway. Benj got the flu the week he was due to get inoculated at lycée with Caits. He was very poorly, flat out on the sofa for a fortnight. I’m not entirely sure if it was swine flu or seasonal flu, but it was nasty. And this week, the same week that WHO declares the flu epidemic to be at an end in most of Europe, Chris and I get our call-up papers to go for our jabs. We shan’t be bothering. It’s way too late. Had we been offered back in November, then we’d have taken up the offer. There’s no point now at all.

It’s been well publicised that France bought far too many doses of vaccine, thinking patients would need two doses each. Even though the doctor told me that Rors would only need one dose (thank heavens, I don’t think I could have gone through that ideal again!), the admin ladies as we handed in our final form before leaving insisted he had to come back for a second jab. I relayed what the doctor had told me but they assured me he was wrong! OK I shrugged, smiling but having no intention of coming back. They were clearly doing their best to reduce the stockpile, but it didn’t work with me!

A lot of work went into the vaccination campaign. The day I took Ruadhri, there were several pompiers, a doctor, two nurses and three or four administrative assistants, and that was just in our little local town Boussac. Nationwide it must have been a Herculean task.  I appreciate the hard work and time that went into organising the whole thing. It was just too late though.


The census taker came yesterday. It’s our turn to be counted. Unlike the UK and Ireland, France carries out its censuses on a rolling basis. Communes with fewer than 10,000 inhabitants are censused (that’s a real word, honestly) every 5 years, but not all in the same year. For example, Nouzerines is subject to a census this year, but neighbouring Bussiere St Georges will be dealt with in 2012. Communes larger than 10,000 are censused every 10 years, but not in one go. A proportion of each of these communes is processed every year. This seems a sensible way of doing things. Maybe it doesn’t give a snapshot of exactly how many people are living in France at an exact time and date, like the UK one does, but is that a particularly useful measure anyway? There can be large, rapid fluxes in population which won’t be reflected in that figure. For example, the recent sudden arrival of tens of thousands of Eastern European people in Ireland was followed by an equally rapid exodus when the economy took a nosedive. A system like the UK’s wouldn’t ever register those people if it occurred between census dates, but the French system would at least take some account of it.

The form wasn’t too complicated, and anyway, the census-taker, our neighbour Jan’s daughter Gaelle, was extremely helpful. Ruadhri’s was the quickest to fill in. Caiti and Benj, being over 14, required a few additional sections to be filled in, and Chris and I had the most. There was also a questionnaire about our house to complete too. Gaelle wasn’t quite sure if we needed to complete one for the gite, since although it’s a furnished house, no-one lives there – but we filled one out just in case!

Gaelle was reckoning it would take her the full month she’s allowed to collect all the information. Our commune only has a small population but it’s quite widely spread and is out and about a good deal too. Catching people in is going to be tricky. Gaelle had left us a note informing us when she’d be calling in our mail box at the end of the drive, which we hadn’t discovered. But we’re usually in so she found us anyway. So we’re all done for another five years and France will officially acknowledge us as being here in its facts and figures from now on!

The last official figures are for 2007 and show a population of 252 full-time residents in Nozuerines with 9 part-timers. This group includes people who, for example, have a family home in another department, but spend long periods in Nouzerines for education or work purposes. Creuse as a whole has a fixed population of 123,861 with an extra 5,000 part-time residents. It will be interesting to see which way the figures move with this census.

Let chaos reign!

After two years of subscribing to several ‘organise yourself’ type newsletters, I’ve finally given up on them. I’ve become disenchanted with forever being told to have everything for the next day organised the night before (never mind that it keeps you up til midnight!), to multitask to the extent of reading mail while on the loo (an unfortunate mix-up could occur, surely!), to plan a week’s worth of meals in advance, to make sure my laundry room is clutter-free. Laundry room? Hmm. And the answer to most problems apparently is to toss everything into the tumble dryer, without a thought for the planet. Well, my non-existent dryer is in my mythical laundry room, so not much help there. I’m content with my clothes line and indoor drying rack – and, finally, with my less-than-perfectly-organised lifestyle.

I did get one good bit of advice from the organising gurus. That is to touch everything only once. So if you get a document through the post, read it then file it. Don’t shove it on the microwave for a few days, before moving it to the shelf, before putting it back on the microwave, before eventually filing it safely a week or so after getting it. And when you’re tidying up, don’t move things to temporary homes – put it back where it belongs straight away. I try and obey this rule. It’s sensible and means I’m less likely to lose things!

These days are long gone - thank goodness!

Having spent our ten months in Ireland preparing for our big move – decorating the brand new house and packing things, life was extremely muddly. Ruadhri was a normal messy, demanding toddler so I never quite caught up with things. Then we moved over here, from a big beautiful house, to a small farm cottage with one tap and light bulb, so there was a lot of renovating going on for a long while. Chaos – cold, dusty chaos. It was the reaction to that which made me think I should have everything labelled and neatly folded if life was to return to normal. So I tried but failed dismally, which made me even more depressed than the initial mess! And we’ve since moved house again into what was the gite, so more chaos and confusion, which is starting to clear now. But I don’t mind. We know where the important things are (most of them anyway), we’re healthy, we’re happy, we’re warm, our army of animals are loved and well-looked after – so let the dust accumulate and the odd box of unsorted junk linger. I’ll subscribe to some nice knitting newsletters instead!

January blues

I’ve read in several places that round about now (the 20th or so of January) is the most depressing time of year. It’s a month since Christmas, it’s the middle of winter and there’s nothing much to look forward to in the immediate future. Except perhaps more snow.
The very worst day is so-called Blue Monday, usually the Monday of the last full week in January. There is actually a specific formula for working it out which involves time since Christmas, post-Christmas debt level, time since breaking all New Year’s resolutions, and motivational levels. It doesn’t stand up to close mathematical scrutiny, being very tongue-in-cheek, but it makes you think!

But this Blue Monday idea is a very pessimistic view. There are a few things to brighten the dull days. There’s a strike tomorrow here – a good, brisk march through the sunshine should lift the spirits! And the sales are on. I’m not a great bargain hunter and the sales at this time of year seem to be mainly of bedding and curtains and towels. There’s a limit to those of what you can buy. However, there are other things on sale too. Gifi is full of cheaper than ever bling, and the clothes shops have reductions, so that’s more interesting. The supermarkets have some bargains as well, sometimes rather strange ones, but bargains nonetheless. Caiti is impatient to have a trawl round the shops in Gueret as soon as she has some free time between lessons.


And more fun things coming up are Burn’s Night next week. We love haggis and make our own (not going for the sheep’s stomach, you may be pleased to hear), and follow it with tipsy laird. We’re not Scottish, but we like to celebrate with the Scots. My brother in law is from Aberdeen and I spent a year at Stirling University so that’s a good enough reason.

Then Valentine’s Day and Chinese New Year arrive together on 14th February. It’s not too early to start planning for those to give you something enjoyable to do.

So don’t be downhearted. There may be two months of winter left – and here in Creuse it may be more than that. Our winters are long. But it’s not all doom and gloom. Every day is a few minutes longer and spring really is on the way.

Out brothers, out

There have already been some strikes here in France in 2010 – and we’re only halfway through January! There has been a traindriver’s strike, a pilot’s strike and an air traffic controller’s strike, and next week there will be general strike in the French principality of Guadeloupe on the 20th , and then one here on the 21st, not forgetting the nurses who strike on the 26th.

Do the French strike more than other countries? It certainly seems so. However, a quick poke around on the net reveals that its the Canadians who down tools most often. Between 1995 and 2006, the number of work days lost through strikes per thousand employees was 203.4 in Canada, 134.8 in Spain, 91.4 in France and 74.3 in Norway. The country that had the fewest strikes was Switzerland, with 2.8 days lost. (These figs from www.metiseurope.eu.)

The rivalry between unions is one reason for frequent strikes in France, apparently. Each union must be seen to be at least trying to outdo the others!

I’m not generally in favour of strikes as they inconvenience the wrong people the most. I mean, is Sarko going to care particularly that my two teens will be having to come home on Wednesday afternoon now instead of being able to stay at school. Their ‘internat’ (boarding facilities) will be closed on Wednesday night because of the strike. Does it bother him that they’ll be using two extra bus tickets each this week, that I’ll have to get up at 6am on Thursday as well as  Monday to get them on their bus, and that I’ll be making two extra journeys of 22km each to get them from and to the bus-stop. And Benj and Caits won’t be getting two meals each that we’ve paid for as part of their fees. They’ll be eating here instead – two teas and two breakfasts. It’s not a colossal sum of money involved, but it’s a good few euro, and it all adds up. And do I have any influence on whatever it is the strikers are striking for? Unlikely.

However, workers have the right to strike so I must respect that. But it would be nice if it didn’t mean I had to get up early two mornings and have more washing up to do …!

Bare cupboards

We’ve been snowed in for a week now. The kids are convinced our food is running out. True, Caiti is out of ice tea, Benj has noticed there are just a few yogurts left in the fridge and Ruadhri’s chocolate breakfast cereal is dwindling fast. But it will be a long, long time before we starve. We can walk to Nouzerines, as we have been doing regularly through the snow and ice, to buy milk, bread, croissants and flour. The boulangerie is only small and doesn’t have a great range, but the staples are there. I haven’t noticed a fridge, but I’m pretty sure they must sell cheese and butter. I can’t imagine a small French shop that wouldn’t! We have a freezer jam-packed with blackberries and chestnuts from our summer hedgerows and autumn trees, and apples and pears from a friend’s orchard. Not to mention well over a hundred frozen eggs from our chickens and ducks. There are plenty of frozen meat dishes too. Chris always cooks in quantity so there are leftovers to freeze whenever he’s been slaving over a hot oven. There’s a giant pumpkin that will make us a good few gallons of soup, nets of onions and a large bucketful of carrots in the kitchen, and several rows of potatoes out in the veggie patch still. And of course we have three turkeys, two ducks, half a dozen chickens, loads of rabbits (and a brand new litter has just arrived to our great surprise – we left the last litter in with momma bun too long)… and not forgetting the goat!!! (OK, we won’t be eating the goat unless we’re still snowed in come July.) It might not be the diet of choice for the kids, but we could keep ourselves fed for ages.

I guess that makes us partially self-sufficient, which is something to be very proud about. We also keep ourselves in wood as well, and my knitting and sewing kits us out with a few clothing necessities. I should have enough alpaca wool from now on to produce my own yarn. Chris can turn his hand to pretty much any job around the house and grounds. He’s done wonders in the last few days, sorting out our frozen pipes. But we’d need cows, pigs, fields of wheat, tea and coffee bushes, a private oil well and a windmill to be fully self-sufficient! We intend to increase our livestock this year, but I can’t see myself taking up milking. We thought about some dairy goats a year or so back, but since none of us like goat’s milk, and certainly not goat’s cheese, there didn’t seem much point! If we really wanted, we could start drinking llama milk – but I think Gabby would have a lot to ‘say’ about that. And I wouldn’t be the one to volunteer to milk her! Gabby is a super llama but doesn’t do the touchy-feely thing.

I think we’ll be able to get to the shops before the week is done. But I look forward to needing to buy less in the future.