Friday, September 4, 2020

La Rentrée 2020 a return to a new normal

French Village Diaries la rentrée 2020 a return to a new normal
2020 back to school picture

It has been a testing week. My sixteen-year-old car had to have its CT controle technique (MOT) and unbeknown to us, the test centre itself was being checked and tested as it put my car through its paces. As if that wasn’t enough, at exactly the same time, but in a town forty kilometres away, Ed was taking his driving test. She (for in France it is la voiture) passed her CT but it was a few days anxious waiting to find out about the driving test. Ed had come home from Poitiers at the beginning of March for a long weekend, a last lesson and to take his driving test on the Monday morning, when lockdown scuppered all his plans. The weird thing is that on the eve of him returning to independent life in Poitiers, the news we’d hoped for was in; he’d passed his test. Well done Ed, that’s another tick in the major life events box and the beginning of a new chapter for us all.

French Village Diaries la rentrée 2020 a return to a new normal
Ed in his car with his A plate (new driver marker for three years)


September signifies the return to school, or la rentrée and even if you don’t live here, just being on holiday in France at the end of August or beginning of September is enough to know that it is big business. Supermarkets dedicate aisles to back to school supplies, frazzled mothers search out the required items on the seemingly never-ending lists and bored kids squabble over pencil case or school bag designs. I am relieved I no longer have to worry about buying the correct size of exercise books, or why it is some teachers request paper with small squares, some large, some A4 sized, some foolscap. This year I’ve baked him a cake and will stock up the fridge and cupboards with tasty treats, as I’ll miss not having to cook for him. Having had him at home with us for almost six months, taking him back to Poitiers today felt quite odd and the house will seem quiet without the backdrop of his guitar and music.

French Village Diaries la rentrée 2020 a return to a new normal
Ed off to school 2004


This year it is our 17th rentrée in France, and it has never been my favourite time of year. My Facebook memories this week have shown me it was five years ago when we first left Ed at lycée, where he was boarding from Monday to Friday, and two years since we set him up in the flat in Poitiers. I should be used to it by now, but this year feels as hard as leaving him in 2004, aged not quite four, for his first morning in a French speaking nursery school. I’ve no concerns on the language side of things now, but it’s the realisation that letting him return to Poitiers and the lecture halls at university will well and truly burst our virus-free bubble, and there’s nothing I can do to keep him safe. This week he went to a meeting on campus, that was well organised and has left me a bit more reassured. Obviously, masks will be worn, but there are also one-way circulation systems inside corridors and staircases, plus a contingency plan in place to split and rotate classes between online and onsite should the need arise. La rentrée this year is a return to a normal that’s not quite normal, except for the swallows.


The September weather has a fresh edge to it, especially overnight, and every morning the swallows gather in large numbers on the electric wires, enjoying the warmth of the sun, scattering into the sky like confetti when a car disturbs their chatter. It’s a magnificent sight, more spectacular than the excitement of seeing the first swallow arrive in March or April but tinged with sadness as I know they will soon be off for a winter in Africa.

French Village Diaries la rentrée 2020 a return to a new normal
My new notebook


September is also when Adrian would normally return to travelling away from home for work, but all is eerily quiet on the work front. For me, at least this has offered a gentler rentrée than the abrupt end of summer I am used to. I still see it as a time for new beginnings and I didn’t totally avoid the back to school aisle, seduced (as usual) by a pretty pack of notebooks, offering a fresh new page to release the tumble of words that have been bouncing around inside my head all summer. It is also time to return to the writing projects I lost confidence in over the last few months and get back to regular blogging.


If you or your family are also heading back to a new normal, I do hope it’s as safe a rentrée as possible for everyone.



French Village Diaries la rentrée 2020 a return to a new normal
Ed back at his flat giving me a goodbye hug

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