Brittany Tales


Locked Down In The Land Of Cheap Wine And Cheese


Probably like a lot of people, the C-19 pandemic was something that I thought would probably not affect me to any great extent. Boy, was I ever wrong!

Over the centuries, the French have developed bureaucracy into an art form. So as soon as C-19 really started to get a grip on the world, they came out with a form which had to be filled out every time you stuck your nose out of the front door, and you couldn’t go more than a kilometre from home unless it was for something essential - like food. That didn’t stop all the second home owners leaving Paris en masse and fleeing west. The police soon caught on though and went round knocking on doors and making them all go home again.


On the form you had to tick a box giving the reason you were out and about. Being out and about without a form could set you back 450€, so having better things to do with my money than give it to the government, I made darn sure I had it on me before opening my front door. A couple of times when taking my dog out though I forgot it and spent the whole time looking out for gendarmes. Now I know how the great train robbers must have felt when they were on the run.

As things started to improve, we could then go out without a form anywhere within a 100km radius of ones house. I think it’s still in force, but it seems to have been quietly forgotten about from what I can gather.

I live on the edge of a small village in the Cotes d’Armor department of Brittany. The nearest town is about 10km away and the supermarket there has managed to keep reasonably well stocked with life’s essentials. There was an initial run on pasta, rice, flour and wine boxes, but only the flour and rice shelves are looking a bit sparse right now. At least they didn’t run out of Camembert or Roche Mazet Merlot. That would have been a disaster!

My partner in crime here is my ageing rescue dog, a Lab/Boxer cross named Gouffy, and bizarrely, his ears are different shapes, one from each breed. He’s thirteen and a half now (approximately 85 in human years), he has arthritis and a heart murmur and is as crochety as I’ll probably be when I get to that age. Sometimes he’s happy to lay on his sofa all day inspecting the insides of his eyelids, and the next day he’ll be bouncing around at half past seven in the morning raring to go on a three mile walk. Every day’s an adventure.


The one thing he manages quite well is to keep the vet occupied. It’s no great hardship for me though, she’s quite good looking. Our last - socially distanced of course - visit in May, was because he had stopped eating. The vet couldn’t find anything specifically wrong with him and thought it might be his arthritis playing up. A few days later, I found through experimentation that he didn’t like his biscuits mixed in with his tinned food but preferred them in a separate bowl. Sometimes I think that dogs and cats having the gift of speech might be a moderately good idea. Speech maybe, opposable thumbs, no.

Being something of a family history nerd and because at the moment there’s not too much else to do, thanks to the interwebnet I’ve been able to indulge myself in spending hours looking at old documents and trying to work out who might be married to who and is that person there really the son or daughter of that couple. All this about folks who lived and died over two hundred years ago. For this, I blame my grandparents. When I was quite young, I was intrigued to hear one of them say, “He came back from Jutland in a lead coffin.” I rather suspect it would intrigue anyone. It was only about 20 years ago that I finally found out to whom the phrase applied; my Great-uncle Alfred Oliver Matthews, and it wasn’t Jutland. He was killed on HMS Phoebe during the Zeebrugge raid on St George’s Day 1918 and is buried with his parents in Greenbank Cemetery, Bristol.

I’m not the world’s most natural gardener, but I like watching stuff grow and when I strolled round to the other side of my woodshed a couple of weeks ago, I was a bit taken aback by a 4-feet-high thistle. I had no idea they grew that big, so I did the only thing possible and watered it. Now nicknamed Le Triffid, today (09 June) it’s 77 inches high, or if you prefer metric, 196cm.

phil-cott. .triffid .pot-rhubarb

About a third of my garden is populated by raspberry bushes and rhubarb plants. So at various times throughout the year jam-making features large in my life. My latest lockdown efforts have involved rhubarb, ginger, and just before the jar-filling process, adding a generous dollop of whisky. Not any old blended stuff, but Cardhu single malt. I go with the Keith Floyd school of cookery, ‘lets put some fish in this wine pie…’.

There are four of us in our moderately successful quiz team, and one of the things we liked to do was go for a team lunch once a month. Both the quizzes and our lunches have been on hold and we are all in dire need of a meal someone else has cooked. Now, with restaurants being allowed to open from June 15th, we are booked in for a meal on the 16th but a different restaurant to our usual one, which unfortunately has been yet another casualty of C-19.

And finally, added into the mix was the fact that I had accepted an offer for my house, the sale of which skidded to a halt because the notaires weren’t working. It was through no fault of the notaire, or the buyer, that the sale ultimately collapsed because my buyer just couldn’t wait any longer. Ah well…

But throughout all this, as Clint Eastwood says in the film ‘Heartbreak Ridge’, you just have to ‘Improvise, Adapt, Overcome’ - and I think we will all be doing that for quite a while yet..

from a 'Gosling' genealogical friend, 10/6/2020.

More Tales of lockdown