... in a haze of Vicks VapoRub, Kleenex tissues and early nights. Even now, two weeks on, we are still coughing and sneezing, along with every second person in Leclerc's supermarket.
We negotiate "Bonnes Années" (Happy New Years) and "Meilleurs Vœux" (Best Wishes) with caution. To kiss on each cheek? Or not to kiss? I wave a packet of tissues at friends in the photo club and they back away hastily (wisely I suspect) and someone cheerfully informs me that this particular virus is good for at least three weeks.
And through all this, instead of lounging indolently watching bad TV, we grump and grumble our way through the process of getting paperwork together for the prefecture at Agen. We decided way back in October, in the light of uncertainty around Brexit, that we would each apply for a Carte de Sejour, which gives us the right of occupancy here in France for the next ten years.
As so often in France, each department seems to be a law unto itself and Lot-et-Garonne seems to be particularly exigent with a three-page questionnaire to complete requiring everything except inside leg measurements and a list running to a page and a half of paperwork to be presented at an interview on January 2nd.
So, we drag the wallpaper pasting table out from the garage and set it up in the cottage and start piling up the contents of our two dossiers - two copies of everything because we each have our own interview appointment (very Green Card. Are they checking up on us?). Five years of bank account statements, for him, for me, UK and France, downloaded from the internet. Five years of electricity bills (to show we live here). Five years of tax demands from the French tax man. Five years of evidence that we are receiving pensions (and hence will not be a burden on the state).
As a hoarder (I've kept every single bit of paper about my pensions from the moment we began to talk to an IFA) I have no problem producing the evidence - tedious, but no problem. My beloved, as an accountant, on the other hand, keeps a massive Excel spreadsheet on our financial lives and knows to the nearest penny how we are doing. But, of course, does not keep the supporting paperwork. Why does he need to keep the annual state pension letters when he just enters each new amount in the spreadsheet? And what little paperwork there is could be in the cottage, or in the house, and if in the house could be in one of half a dozen places. Hence all the grumping and grumbling. (This is why behind every good accountant is an even better accounts clerk who is keeper of the paperwork.)
I post anxious messages on the French forum asking for advice and suggestions and along with the helpful replies come the questions - why are we bothering to do all this? Why indeed? It just feels like an insurance. We will already be "in the French system" if/when Brexit happens.
January 2nd comes like the morning of an aural exam. We carry our large ring binders and supporting folders with three-quarters of a ream of paper up the stairs of the prefecture - to be greeted with smiles and an "of course you can be in the same interview". We sit together and papers flow steadily across the desk, are noted and recorded in the computer. After half an hour of French bureaucracy at its best we are told that our dossiers are complete and the "cartes" should be with us in five to six weeks. We depart with more smiles and more "Bonnes Années" all round.
Despite all the Vicks and the Kleenex laden days it feels like a good start to the New Year. Hope yours too has started well.
I can safely send virtual greetings to you without the obligatory kisses and without danger to health and well-being. So "Meilleurs Vœux" and "Bonne Année" to one and all.