In Need Of A Holiday (or Down at The Doctor’s)

Time for another rambling post about life in my part of the world.

I work for the French army, teaching English to soldiers. Last week, I had my annual medical visit to the Regimental Medical Officer. (though the original aim of this post was to talk about French holiday habits – nevertheless, we all need a holiday

Same routine as last year – visit the MO for the annual medical check. We’ve got a new Medical Officer this year, a dour, bespectacled «twig» of a man. All the airs of a puritan geek – though at first sight he seems pleasant enough, rubbing his hands in a Uriah Heep gesture and ushering you in to his « humble » consulting room.

He’s a radical change from our last MO – a rotund jovial Colonel with a deep fruity laugh and a nose red from drinking. In Dickensian terms he was very much the Fezziwig type with a Micawber outlook on life

«Do you drink much?» He’d ask.

«Too much.» I’d say.

«How much is too much?»

«A couple of glasses of wine a day.»

«That’s nothing. Three glasses is considered as a healthy limit – only good wine mind you.»

As for smoking – «a little of what you fancy» was the old MO’s maxim. And in relation to sporting activities, the old MO could see that I was not the athletic type, so a twice weekly walk to work and a little «energetic» gardening were considered as quite ample sporting activities

This was my kind of doctor.

So, the new guy weighed me, prodded me, peered down my throat, shone lights in my ears, took my blood pressure, tapped me on the knees with his «reflex tester», got me to stand up, sit down, walk in a straight line with my eyes closed, and as I stood freezing to death in stocking feet and underpants in his cold consulting room, he walked around me yet again, peering from top to bottom.

«Have you had a blood test recently?»

I left the consulting room with a prescription for a blood test longer than a scroll of holy law. What exactly was the MO looking for?

48 hours later, the blood test was done and the results showed that everything was ok, save for a massive vitamin D deficiency.

A voice started screaming in my head.

“OH MY GAWD – Is that serious? I mean like I’m not going to die or anything am I doc? Tell me the truth, I’ll be brave”

“Oh” I remarked.

“Nothing serious, you just need some sun.”

I pointed out to the MO, that this was the worst spring weather recorded in France since 1874, apart from two days of decent weather within recent memory, it has been grey skies and uninterrupted rain since … erm … since? Have we had any sun at all this year?

“No sun that’s a real pisser.” (of course, Medical Officers don’t talk like this.)

“If you can’t get sun, eat fish,” recommended the doc. “The two best sources of vitamin D are fish and sun,” he added before launching into a litany on food stuffs that are supposed to (but don’t really) give vitamin D. “Veg is the worst. We eat the stuff thinking it’s going to do us all a power of good, but vitamins from veg never make it into the bloodstream. You might as well be eating paper. Meat is best.” (though he didn’t say anything about wine)

Sun and fish – sounds like a short sojourn on the shores of the Med might just be in order. For all my tirades against the Côte d’Azur, (you’ll have to read on) I do actually love the place.

This somewhat protracted and “lacking in vitamins” medical discourse is merely intended as an introduction to the subject of Summer Holidays, which despite the autumnal weather in France, are only a month away. Come July 1st, Final year French high school kids will have finished their exams. Most formal teaching in all French schools fizzles out during the last week in June as most teachers are requisitioned for exam invigilating and marking. Officially, French schools are “out for summer” on the afternoon of Friday July 5th.

So, there was a Europe-wide Ipsos poll last week on the subject of summer holidays. 54% of those questioned said that they were taking some kind of break this summer – that’s the lowest figure for over ten years.

In France, 62% of those polled said that they were taking a holiday, that’s 8% less than last year. The holiday budget however remains the same, with a standard two adult, two-kid family spending an average of 2100 Euros for their fortnight in the sun. This comes in far lower than the Brits who spend 2800 Euros on the great summer getaway. Of those 62% of French people taking a holiday, 81% of them will stay in France.

In these hard times, more and more people are camping. However forget your «camping à la ferme» – tent pitched in a farmer’s field and only the bushes to satisfy the call of nature. Many campsites in France now come with swimming pools, wireless internet, baby minding services and camp shops that are almost like mini shopping malls. Taking all categories of site into account, France boasts 11,000 campsites, making it second only to the USA in the number of places to pitch your tent.

In 2012, 6 million French holidaymakers went camping. The average price for one night’s camping is 31 Euros (an emplacement for 1 tent and 2 people, the price includes electricity) – Of course if you don’t like life under canvas, why not try an «all mod cons» mobile home. There are 270,000 of them on French campsites with an average weekly rental price of 1000 Euros.

There are other holiday alternatives to camping – Bed and Breakfast, holiday camps in the style of Club Med, though the owners of Club Med would refute the label « holiday camp, » – « holiday village » would perhaps be more appropriate. However, Club Med is beyond the reach of most French families.

Traditionally, the French take their holidays from Saturday to Saturday, meaning that every Saturday in the summer months, the roads from North to South are one giant traffic jam.

Back at the vitamin D deficiency – the Doc finally gave me some supercharged vitamins and told me to get some sun. I did ask him if he couldn’t send me to the south for a few weeks. In France we have a massive welfare bill, mainly due to our free, universal, cradle to grave health care system   – it is quite common for the public Heath system to send the sick, the lame, the stressed and the depressed, away for long term cures by the sea or in the mountains why cant they send a low level vitamin D teacher to Corsica for a couple of weeks.

«You want me to give you a fortnight’s sick leave and send you to Corsica. »

« Yes. »

« You’re Mad. »

Anyway, as I write the sun is shining, and I took the advice of our old Medical officer – some energetic gardening »