We catch the Newhaven-Dieppe ferry at 9 am, and by 2 pm we are on the road from Dieppe heading south. After days of confusion, we have thrown caution to the winds.
Before we made our escape, the French Corona virus infection rate had soared, and there were constant rumours that the government would impose a travel ban, or (as had happened to Spain and its islands a few days earlier) that France would be added to the list of countries that are not exempt from quarantine on return. After hasty last-minute conversations, and frantic calls to insurers, we decide on a plan. If the Foreign Office advises against all but essential travel, and our car insurance is invalidated, we will have to Remain. But provided this does not happen, and our travel cover is intact, we will make our Brexit.
Emily had taken a split second decision to fly to Montpelier the day before we left, so she arrived just before it all kicked off, making the trip from the airport to Lodeve by navette, tram and then bus at a grand cost of about 5 Euros! I was very proud of her, she is quite an experienced traveller after her trip around south and southeast Asia, the Balkans etc. and she dealt with the logistics of getting from the UK to Les Oliviers very calmly. But we felt secure that we would see her the day after she arrived.
As we opened a bottle of rose on the evening before we escape, Jenny said confidently: “Well, they’re not going to do anything at this stage. I think we can relax”. At 10 pm, BoJo tweeted nonchalantly that all those returning from France will be required to quarantine for two weeks.
How can governments do things in such a high-handed and inept manner? Our departure had been booked for weeks, we had arranged our Green Card, travel insurance (no longer with HSBC) and the extended car insurance to include roadside help in France. We had also added Jenny’s father as a named driver for the trip down. We had been assured by our insurers that the cover was intact. Of course, a public health crisis requires prompt action, but this government seems to act without any concern for who is affected, and with a complete disregard for consequences. It has got into power by disdaining the experts, and then hidden from taking responsibility for its actions by pretending that its policies are guided by medical expertise.
I’m not sure what anyone else expected at the ferry, but I had certainly anticipated that there would be a panoply of government mandarins in grey trench coats and with clipboards to record details of the unpatriotic individuals and families who had decided to leave the country at the moment when when “it stood alone” in its heroic battle with the treacherous germ. But in fact it was all exactly as usual, although fewer people, and opening hours on the ferry shops were shorter. But nothing at passport control to warn of the impending quarantine and so on, and it felt well organised on the boat, hand sanitizers everywhere, clearly marked seats where you could sit or not, everyone cheerfully wearing masks, and the crew friendly and relaxed — it all felt like a well-organised and thought through set of precautions, but without the overblown Captain Mannering officiousness that you see in some of the British response. Not that I am biased towards the French, of course.
The quarantine was due to go into effect on 15th August at 4 o’ clock (we are still unclear whether this was am or pm but was definitely BST!) Many people feel it is no coincidence that the need to quarantine was announced at the peak of the holiday season, as the government is desperate to keep people in the UK to boost the local tourist economy. Our neighbours in France, who own the house below les Oliviers, said something fairly skeptical about the motives for the quarantine. It seems obvious, to them, that the UK is acting out of economic self-interest rather and cherry-picking data to support its decisions.
As soon as we reached the Continent, you could sense the hostility towards Bojo and his band of merry men. Conversely people seem friendlier than usual to the few Brits who have defied Boris — either that, or perhaps they just pity us for having to deal with such a government. When we arrived, Jenny’s father got into some football banter with the passport officer, based on the preference of the latter for Arsenal over West Ham. I was astonished at the end that the passport officer said that he really didn’t like our government! It was something we all readily agreed with, but I haven’t ever heard someone at passport control say something like that.
The drive down was a joy, although it got very tiring towards the end on the A75 section as I was getting tired, and the traffic was quite heavy coming the other way, so a lot of glare from the oncoming traffic. I decied this time to have Richards sausages rather than Milk Chocolate and Crisps as my main energy source for the journey, and it was certainly a good idea . I had had a delicious Bouef Bourgouignon on the ferry, and we drove down through Rouen, then Chartres, then almost all the way to Orleans, before heading off east towards Clermont Ferrand. It’s a rather longer route than around the peripherique and Versailes,
On the journey, Jim talked about the French Voies Vertes, a network of cycle tracks that spans most of the country. Years earlier, he had cycled all the way from St Malo to Nantes on one of these paths, and there are similar journeys from Calais to Paris and many other towns. I am determined to try out some of these in future, whatever happens with Brexit.