Poor availability of WiFi in France means sporadic post this summer. Sorry.
We humans have a tendency to feel sorry for ourselves. Yes, we’ve lost half our money and yes, we’ve no home to return to after this French trip, but there’s always somebody worse off.
Take the fifty something woman employed by the local council to run this campsite. The moment you meet her you recognise a highly capable woman you’d employ to run your precious business. So what is she doing in a job usually occupied by students wanting summer jobs? OK, this is France where unemployment is high, where entire communities limp along without work despite the government’s rhetoric, but she’s not the type to be at the bottom of the ladder, cleaning filthy loos, sinks and showers. On top of this she organises everything in this 80 emplacement campsite on the edge of town.
A year ago, her world sank, literally. Her and her husband had given up secure jobs, sold their home and put everything into a floating restaurant. They’ve been in the hôtelier trade all their lives and had seen an opportunity when the successful business came on the market. Spending good money, they slogged away all last year preparing the boat and were just about to open when it sank. Nothing they’d done could have made this happen for it turns out there was a hidden fault underwater. Image the horror....
What’s worse, the government insists they keep paying the pre-calculated taxes based on the previous owners turnover. Topping this unjust bill, even though a year has past, they must continue paying the social charges and salaries for the staff they had taken on but whom had not done a day’s work for them. It sounds mad, but this is the reality in La Belle France where workers rights override common sense.
Newly employed staff often work hard for the government’s requisite three month testing period, then slack off the next day or never turn up for work.... and they are still paid!
As if this isn’t bad enough, the woman’s insurance company refuses to pay a cent. Again, this is common in France. Near where we once lived in the Pyrenees, an entire little town was subsumed by a rare three metre high flash-flood! The same storm lifted our village bridge and dumped it downstream. Helicopters lifted the elderly from their attic windows, it was huge news on all French TV channels, particularly because Le Tour de France was to ride through it two days later. It was declared an act of god, the official trigger for government aid. Huge effort was made to clear the road in and to ensure the only bridge standing was open so La tour could speed through.
Then absolute silence. The only money those poor people ever got in the three years we continued to live in the area was due to Chris Froome, leader of La Tour. My fellow Kenyan stopped the entire pèlethon, asked them to sign their shirts and gave these to the town to raise money. A small act, but the only help and as we left, they were still contesting their rights with the insurance companies... and government aid, well it never materialised. Imagine all those people unable to move back into their ancestral homes, all those businesses dead due to lack of compensation. It is like going back to medieval, pre-insurance days.
After crying all winter, the impressive woman in the campsite decided to work cleaning toilets and organising the council’s lucrative business to pay ex-staff who might even been working for others by now. It really is crazy. Let’s hope she finds a way out of the mess, poor woman.
Bearing other people’s suffering in mind, our own problems are put into context. As this woman discovered when she stopped crying and got on with life is that you mustn’t let yourself sink. It is how we take things which defines the quality of our lives. We have choice, to wallow in the sticky wet mud or to rise above the quagmire and look for a way forwards. Even if it is cleaning toilets we must be positive, it way may not be what we’d imagined for ourselves, it may not be something we’d ever thought about, but it could pave the way to a new and possibly better future. She’s the character todo so. A good friend of mine unwittingly lost the superb law firm he’d spent decades building up, but he became a High Court Judge and couldn’t be happier.
And that environmental message you are waiting for me to make? With Trump, Boris and Putin out there, we and the Planet need to be as resilient as these people and work a way out of the catastrophic mess we’ve made! If they could transform their private hells, so can we. Good luck.