By Simon Hacker
As lockdown continues, The Wotton Times has been talking to the Beaumont-le-Roger Society’s chairman Martin Lee for a snapshop of life across the water, in Wotton’s twin town.
For more than thirty years, the entente has been unshakeable.
Nations can be friendly, but communities that reach out to each other across borders can take friendship to a far deeper level.
Not that Coronavirus cares about that: this year’s turn for families from in and around Wotton to host families from our twin town in Normandy has been swept away with a flourish – and Martin Lee is poignantly aware of the loss.
“Our plans for Whitsun weekend, at the end of May, were well advanced, though sadly it became clear early on that this year’s visit would be a victim of the travel restrictions resulting from the pandemic and it would have to be either postponed or cancelled.”
Since the whole exchange is founded on the notion of enriching our lives by sharing culture though, Martin decided to find out exactly how our counterparts in France are coping with the lockdown.
“Interestingly, we call it isolation but they call it containment.
“As of today, the restrictions in Beaumont are very similar to those here in our area: schools are all closed, all public meetings are banned, and most people are stuck at home – irrespective of their age.
“Limited excursions for essential shopping and medical reasons are permitted,” explains Martin, “as is travel to work for those in essential occupations which cannot be carried on at home.”
Other changes ensure the feel of modern life is alien to normal protocol: “Very French customs, such as shaking hands and kissing, are forbidden, as is cycling – and this in the home of the Tour de France!”
But perhaps the biggest difference underlines a stricter enforcement of individual behaviour.
“One big bureaucratic difference is that in Beaumont, as in all of France, to go out from your property you must carry an official document, an Attestation de Déplacement Dérogatoire, which states the purpose of your journey, self-certifying that it is in line with permitted travel reasons.
“Failure to produce this document when challenged by the police will result in a fine.”
And no small fine – caught once, the gendarmes will squeeze you €135, caught twice within fifteen days and the punishment elevates to €200.
Against UK current arrangements though, the Beaumontais have some promise of change: come May 11th, many regulations are set to be relaxed, with some children returning to school and many shops being allowed to reopen.
Until then, wIth tough rules reinforcing social responsibility, it’s little surprise that the streets of this usually bustling Normandy town have fallen eerily quiet.
And although media coverage of life in France here in the UK is at best flimsy, Martin says we can be assured that our counterparts share our lockdown frustrations.
“It is clear that our situations are very similar – they have exactly the same frustrations as us, such as a lack of masks and tests.
“Our Beaumontais contacts have expressed surprise that a nation renowned for its lack of respect for authority has, so far, respected the inconveniences imposed on it!
“Ultimately, I think the words of the chairman of their Comité de Jumellage, say it all: “This confinement will continue for at least another month, unless the French people decide to “deconfine” themselves!”
Provided their distant friends haven’t been locked up for insubordination, Martin says our Cotswold community looks forward to being able to host their French friends next May.
And should you be interested in finding out more about being a host, or joining the society, you can find out more at wottontwinningsociety.org while, all going well, the Society plans a Town Hall Tea in Wotton on August 23rd.