Monday, 10 August 2020

And Back

On the face of it, little seemed to have changed in Dieppe – though the statue of le grand Duquesne (above) now sports a necklace of scallop shells and holds a fishing rod in his hand. Nothing obvious had closed down in the fallout from le Covid-19 (which sounds like a French aperitif, come to think), the steady smartening up of the old town had not slowed down, and the shops and restaurants were doing a roaring trade – indeed more than roaring, as the place was absolutely rammed. I have never seen so many people in Dieppe – not even in August, not even with the vast, cacophonous funfair in full swing and a blazing canicule under way. For the first time I can remember, the beach was as crowded as in those photos from Dieppe's golden age, though alas the bathers no longer wear those delightful blue-and-white-hooped one-pieces that were once de rigueur. The crowds too were overwhelmingly French, presumably sampling what is on their doorstep rather than jetting off to some foreign beach resort.
  As for le Covid, the Dieppois have embraced mask wearing with surprising enthusiasm: there were many more mask wearers on the street than you see in England, notices declaring that le port de masque est obligatoire were everywhere, all shops seemed to be enforcing the mandate, and restaurants were insisting on customers masking up at their coming in and their going out. I grudgingly went along with this, being in a foreign country and under an alien jurisdiction. 'Social distancing', however, was very much less in evidence and, with the number of people milling about, would have been impossible anyway. Notices vainly requested distancing of 2 metres, 1.5 metres or 1 metre, au choix. Despite all these regulations, business was booming in the cafés, bars and restaurants, to the point where getting a table was often a real problem. Dieppe, it seems, has bounced back and is having quite a summer.
 It is, however, increasingly difficult to visit the place as a foot passenger on the ferry. In the good old days, of course (the days of the ten-franc pound), the ferry sailed merrily into the centre of town and you could step straight off it and into a restaurant. Then a fine new terminal was built a little way out of town, but still a pretty easy walk – and then, mystifyingly, that was abandoned in favour of a much less fine terminal further out of town, into and out of which sail just one day and one night ferry. Now the bus timetable is no longer co-ordinated with ferry arrivals, and there is never a taxi waiting – and, as we discovered the hard way, there is no bus on Sunday and it can be all but impossible to get a taxi. To think that in the 1890s, you could get to the centre of Dieppe in little more than half the time it takes today, and you could make the journey at practically any time of the day or night...
 On the boat over, we were handed a sheet of paper telling us that, to be allowed back into the UK, we would have to fill in an online form that could be found on a 'gov.uk' website. I tried to forget about this, but there was a stern reminder as we boarded the homebound boat, so we set to filling the damned thing in. Even the younger members of the party found it a fiendishly difficult, laborious and clunky form, and it took an awfully long time – at the end of which you had, at the expense of much effort and frustration, given 'gov.uk' a lot of information that it either already had or could easily have got off the shipping company. The aim of this exercise was of course to enable you to be traced and placed under house arrest if anyone on the crossing was found to have Covid-19. Still, it that was to be the price of being readmitted to the UK without further ado, then we had no choice but to comply.
 You might by now have guessed what happened next. On our arrival at Newhaven, no one so much as mentioned the form, let alone asked to see it, and we were waved through with only the usual passport checks. Like so much of this flailing government's activity, this was a futile exercise in being seen to be doing something. Still, at least we got back before they decide to quarantine everyone coming back from la belle France
 Here is Sickert's crepuscular take on the Duquesne statue –

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