France is divided into a red zone and a green zone. We’re green. Green for go. From this morning we no longer need a signed and dated permit to leave the house; we can socialize with up to 10 other people at a time; and we can travel up to 60 miles in any direction. In theory we could fill a minibus and go on a beano down to the coast tomorrow.
And in spite of the government ordering bars and restaurants to remain closed, the village beer bar unexpectedly opened for business last Saturday, and the lights were on in the poshest village restaurant where people inside could be seen tucking in. Perhaps, in truth, the delicate decision about when to open the bars and restaurants has been quietly devolved to the local mayors’ offices. Further down the street, a notice fixed to the door of the hair salon says that lovely Elody will have her electric shears oiled and running non-stop from tomorrow morning.
Catriona is demob happy. As I write, she is spread out on the beautician’s couch getting a comprehensive waxing. I’m less sure. Our respective attitudes to these new incrementally reinstated freedoms can be summarized by that memorable exchange between Pooh and Piglet:
‘Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it,’ said Piglet. ‘Supposing it didn’t,’ said Pooh after careful thought.
Catriona is Pooh. She thinks that the coronavirus is keeping an eye on the news in order to conform to any time frame set by the French government or coloring of the map. Clarke maintains darkly that the second wave of infections will be even more devastating than the first. Catriona runs a vacation lettings agency. She is keeping positive that bookings from the UK will begin to pick up from June onwards. To this I say that the pandemic is the easy bit and that those emerging from the rubble after the exchange of nuclear warheads between China and the US will look back longingly on these past two months of confinement as halcyon days.
Catriona argues that the Chinese aren’t a bellicose nation. I refute this by opening the Global Times (the English-language propaganda sheet of the Chinese Communist party), and reading aloud at random from an editorial. The last time I looked there was this sentence: ‘Chinese society is more capable than ever to undergo complex situations when competing with the West, and we can enhance our initiatives in this regard.’ Which sounds to me like a veiled military threat. Catriona regards it as a modest and rather touching hope for greater economic efficiency. Quite sweet, really.
In any case a vaccine might soon become available, she says. Maybe so, I say. But they still haven’t found one for the HIV virus after 30 years, have they? Coronavirus will die out, she says, with or without a vaccine. Die out, I scoff? Only last week in Seoul an asymptomatic 29-year-old man visited five nightclubs and infected 54 people. Catriona is skeptical. Maybe he wasn’t asymptomatic, she says. Maybe he felt a bit under the weather and went to five nightclubs to cheer himself up.
And the gilets jaunes are threatening violent revolution again, I say, reading again from the newspaper. She isn’t listening. She’s dreaming of a nice little holiday somewhere. Oh, we must go to Greece this summer, she says. Mount Athos. I’ll sit in the boat while you visit the monasteries. Great, I say. And I could try and beat that Seoul man’s record by visiting five monasteries and seeing how many monks I could infect.
Tomorrow evening we have accepted an invitation to a sunlit uplands party at the foreign correspondent’s new house. Catriona is looking forward to going. She is planning to wear a 1940s-style dress and treat the occasion as a VE Day celebration. It will be the first time we have driven out to a social event or seen more than one other person socially for two months. I expect a boozy, convivial affair with much laughter and the foreign correspondent on top form, exultant at the new and exciting possibilities thrown up by the dangerously shifting geopolitical plates. If the definition of a neurotic is someone with a heightened sensitivity to threat, the foreign correspondent is the least neurotic person I know. And no doubt after the change of scene and about 10 drinks and a bracing blast of the foreign correspondent’s swashbuckling seaworthiness, I will see my neurosis for what it is and laugh at myself and make profuse apologies to Catriona for my recent macabre state of mind and make of it a great joke against myself in the succeeding days. But until then, though freer, I’m pessimistic.