As a scientist, I feel that I have just let myself down. Throughout my adult life I have given the highest priority to the reasoned argument, but having spent the summer in France, I do not know exactly what persuaded me to return to London. My decision-making has, in fact, echoed perfectly Blaise Pascal’s dictum that “The heart has its reasons which reason does not know.” Based on the views of this seventeenth century polymath, and taking “heart” to mean “subconscious”, and “reason” the “mind”, then I have let the vagaries of my subconscious persuade me what to do, and in so doing the ‘rational’ me has been marginalised.

Ultimately the decision to return was made jointly with my wife, Rohan, but in this blog I will describe the process I followed.

I decided to compile two lists; one containing those things I would miss if I left Tréguennec, the other what I would gain by being back in Richmond. With the two lists in front of me the decision should be straightforward.

First – things I would miss. It has been a wonderfully relaxing summer having the freedom of living in a house with a big garden in a village that is pandemic-free. There have been no coronavirus cases here or hereabouts throughout the pandemic and at a Departmental level, apart from a blip in August, Finistère has been one of the safest places in France. Currently Finistère is reported to be one of only eight departments in France where the public’s vulnerability to the virus is described as ‘limited’. And on the Government’s red, orange, green classification, Finistère is one of only twelve green departments where the vigilance needed is ‘minimal’. If I leave Tréguennec I will miss this security terribly.

Second, there are the Breton people, who obviously include our friends and the Breton community at large. Those I know are rather special and I would miss greatly their thoughtful, outspoken, independent, generous and a tad quirky manner. There can’t be many other places where, just before our departure, I could wake up one morning to find on the letter box on our front lawn the gift from an unknown donor of a ripe pumpkin neatly inscribed with the words “Sir Joseph Collier” (see illustration).

Forgetting fun for a moment, there are, of course, older Tréguennec friends who are now frail and who, were I to leave, I might never see again. Not being able to say goodbye is a  prospect I find very sad.

Finally, and more parochially, I will miss our garden which, as always has been a great provider, and as we are preparing to leave we have been treated to a lovely surprise. For the first time the fig tree we planted five years ago in memory of our son Daniel, is producing figs in abundance and, what’s more, they are delicious. Leaving behind the garden, and now weeks of ripening fruit that will fall to the ground and be wasted is upsetting.

Now to things I would expect to gain if I return. First, and probably foremost, are the feelings of security related to our medical care. We are well aware that the second wave of the pandemic has now arrived in England but, of course, earlier this year we lived through three months of confinement during the first wave and know both what it is like and that we can survive. Importantly throughout that first confinement there was, and will be once again, the enormous reassurance of knowing that were we to fall seriously ill the hospital treatment we might need could not be bettered. Certainly the level of experience could not be matched by the hospitals near us in Treguennec. But there is more than treatment. Back in England we would expect to be given priority when it came to vaccination against flu or, in time, against coronavirus. We have worried that in France such provision would not be guaranteed.

The second gain is that we would be close to our family. We know that with confinement and the various distancing arrangements family members can’t be hugged or kissed, but, even so, having them nearby and seeing and talking to them in person will be magical. Skype and WhatsApp work well, but they offer nothing compared to the the real thing. Of course, once our quarantine is over we will also be able to ‘meet’ up with our London friends and that will be lovely too.

Finally – the weather. While London will be a little colder than Tréguennec, living there will mean missing the driving winter winds and horizontal rain that are common in Brittany at this time of year.

Faced with my two lists, my only option was obvious – we should leave and Rohan, through her calculations had decided the same. Echoing the views of Pascal, this has been an important reminder of how powerful the subconscious is when making decisions.

The illustration shows a photo of the engraved pumpkin sitting on our letter box which I discovered one morning a week before we left.

For helping me write this blog I would like to thank Marie, Denis, Rohan and Vivien.  

Footnote: this blog is being published on Saturday evening as on Sunday I will be leaving very early to catch the Roscoff ferry home.

13 thoughts on “The Heart has its Reasons

  1. Personally, Joe and Rohan, we just can’t wait to have you back in the Avenue.
    You have been sorely missed. Nothing much has changed – hurry home !!!


  2. Interestingly we did not make a list but unlike you we have only been here a few weeks and there was no hesitation on our part to decide to stay on another month.
    I think the beauty and the tranquility of our valley here in the Lot were important factors but the main factor was how safe from the virus I feel here. Most of our friends have gone home and the only passers-by we see are walkers eager to reach their destination on the Compostelle way.
    I agree that that the medical facilities here are nowhere near to what we would get in England hopefully we are unlikely to need them
    Unfortunately the weather is very unusual for September, Lots of rain and almost cold 12o today. But the sun will come back I was told ;I forgot to mention that a gentle September sun was also very attractive to me compared to the English drizzle.
    and of course the mushrooms and fresh walnuts
    So all in all England at the moment has lost its attraction, I do miss my garden and my grand children but WhatsApp videos makes up for the lack of human contact.
    Have a good journey back I hope you won’t have to push your car at the end as you will not be “allowed” to fill your car with petrol I am afraid….
    Bon courage pour la quarantaine and I am looking forward to your next blog.
    Love to you both. Guillemette.


    1. Dear Sauliac, Thank you for your comments. I understand entirely your feelings about staying in France. When we escaped London for Tréguennec at the beginning of July our feelings were similar. Now, having worked hard on the garden, harvested most of the products and enjoyed the wonderful weather over the summer, the decision to come home was easier – at least for the subconscious! Love, Joe


  3. Dear Joe and Rohan, As ever, your writing makes a mark in these such difficult times I had never imagined. I am seeing how difficult these decisions are for all in the various people I have the privilege to live amongst: patients at the practice; medical students at SGUL; healthcare colleagues and educators of all types; my children, family, friends and my neighbours. The pros and cons of every action being carefully weighed. Bon Voyage tomorrow and welcome back to London. Judith Ibison


    1. Dear Judith, Thank you for your comment. I suppose it is beholden to decision makers to note the extent in which any decision has been influenced by the subconscious. But that is asking a lot. Yours, Joe


  4. Dear Joe I loved staying at Treguennec and could imagine staying there for long term.

    Your blog about science and reasoning touches on what I have been thinking this last week. following a news item and a book I read.
    The book agued the Opoid epidemic in the USA was basically caused by a greedy pharmaceutical corporate and a few greedy doctors and pharmacists. Those in authority including the FDA Federal Drug Administration were all “encouraged” to accept the statements that strong slow released painkilling opiates were not addictive. A huge team sold these ideas using lessons learnt from the tobacco industry. The encouragement seemed to be money wrapped up in various forms.
    This combined with a recent TV item on the origin of the anti vax autism scare which was a again deliberate misinformation by a very well paid doctor supported by another corporate. Seems the same “doctor” is now promoting that Covid is not real or not important.

    I feel I now have some understanding of why so many are anti science and anti reason. They have been mislead in the past and no longer trust. As a science trained person this has always concerned me, but it makes sense from this perspective. My scientific mind always likes knowing the reasons.


    1. Dear Heather, Thank you for your comment. Certainly, the ideal is to be rational, but the subconscious is very powerful and it’s role is often not easy to discern. Love,Joe


  5. We enjoyed reading your blog, as you make your long journey home to London. Decision making should be so straight forward and even when I think I know what I will do, I often seek the views, support and advice of friends to provide (as much as they can) an objective view. Your decision to return is reasoned and rational, and we look forward to seeing you very soon.

    Btw, the pumpkin made us laugh out loud, the thought of Daniel’s figs falling to the ground saddened me… can a neighbour gather them up and make some jam for you?


    1. Dear Carolyn, Thank you for your comment. In fact, I discovered that, just before we left, Rohan did ask a neighbour to pick the figs if she wanted to. The trouble is that with dozens of them, most will fall to the ground and rot. All very sad. Love, Joe


  6. A bitter sweet moment leaving France. I do love reading your posts. It is always such an inspiring Read.


    1. Dear Mark, I am so glad you like the blogs and, yes, deciding on leaving France was difficult. If I remember rightly you are just completing your PhD, so the challenge will be to know which of your various interpretations are fully ‘rational’ and which have relied heavily or otherwise on the subconscious.
      Please give my love to your Rohan. Love, Joe


  7. Dear Joe,

    Such decisions these days seem to have become more poignant and much more complex, involving both the head and the heart much more consciously. Something that I have noticed is that I am more acutely aware of the positives of a situation – your description of your lists reminded me of an exercise in counting the ‘blessings’ of both options. Perhaps a lot of us have developed the ‘gratitude habit’ in relation to things that we might once have taken for granted.

    I am glad you are safely back in London. Good luck with the quarantine period and I look forward to a future blog outlining your creative ways of getting your daily exercise whilst confined to quarters!

    With love as always,
    JJ Fruitbat


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