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.