Postcard From the Alps

26 February 2021. Updated 27 February 2021.

Emboldened by your recent contributor’s account of his upcoming trip to Miami to attend a job interview (and I wish him the best of luck), I would like to share how I and one companion were recently obliged to travel from the UK to the Alps. The envy of frustrated skiers across the nation, I’m sure – but I hope this inspires some others who may be underemployed to think outside the box when looking for work.

So many essential workers put their lives on the line to keep the lights on for the rest of us that it occurred to me that I should show similar courage and do my part. With no real work at home, I decided that I was willing to step out into the virus-ravaged wastelands and risk it all. As we know, international travel is perhaps the most dangerous act of any, and so that would be how I tested my mettle.

Ideas such as ‘chalet inspector’ or ‘independent fondue taster’ seem unnecessary these days; I’m sure people can manage to taste their own fondues during a pandemic. What, though, is the field that absolutely requires travelling in person? Transport, of course – whether that’s driving a coach, flying a plane or moving a lorry full of goods.

Readers will remember the chaos suffered by hauliers backed up along the motorway just before Christmas after Mr Hancock felt it opportune to popularise the now-foundational ‘mutant strain’ gimmick. After much hoo-ha, the poor, stranded souls were allowed to continue their journeys and the transport/haulage industry rolled on.

But, alas, I am not in possession of an 18-wheeler, and parking on my street would have been a little tight. A small van, though? Practical as well, for someone who even in normal times tends to carry more equipment than passengers. A suitable second-hand vehicle was acquired locally and the plan was set in motion.

Now I needed a job. It turns out that quite a number of UK nationals are marooned in ski resorts this season, having gone over in the more optimistic days of early December and found that there would be no work after all, but also no particular reason to return to our gloomy islands. Perhaps they required courier services of some kind?

As it happened, I was soon able to identify a prospective customer – with his stay in the mountains indefinitely extended he required more of his worldly goods bringing down to him. The house to collect from was coincidentally not too much of a detour from our route to Folkestone.

The correct paperwork was downloaded from the French Government portals. Boxes were ticked and signatures scrawled. For good measure, I made sure to include various other bits of paperwork evidencing the job at hand and the legitimacy of my newly formed courier company.

The van was loaded with a few essential bits of our own, and my colleague and I set off to make the collection. Several hours later we passed through border control at Folkestone with absolutely no trouble – UK side wished to see our passports and negative Covid test certificates (a pdf on one’s phone is sufficient). French control wanted the same, plus a very brief conversation about my reason for travel, which was of course easily explained. This was much to their satisfaction and onto the train we drove, along with 30 or so other vehicles.

An uneventful journey followed, seeing us arrive in the Alps in time for bed.

In the spirit of your ‘postcard from’ series, I’ll finish with some words about the state of things here in France. Readers will likely be aware that there is an 18:00-06:00 curfew every day (routinely broken), but apart from that everything is much more open. All shops are trading, social distancing signs recommend 1m but few really seem to care, and you can even try clothes on if you want. Masks are compulsory and staff or the occasional member of the public won’t be shy to remind you of it. Bars and food outlets trade during the day and while terraces/outdoor seating areas are technically closed, groups do gather immediately outside to consume their purchases. Some mountainside bars have good crowds at the right time of day.

Most, but not all, ski lifts are closed, but some strategic use of public transport allows access to the pistes (still maintained well), plus of course there is plenty of ski touring, cross-country, and other activities such as rock climbing and hiking as may take your fancy. Parties take place in chalets here and there, we’ve found ourselves at a few so far with 20 to 50 people in attendance. The gendarmes don’t attempt to break up any gatherings like that or even to question how many people are there – arriving on one occasion in response to a noise complaint they didn’t probe further and the event continued. It’s all quite in contrast to some heavy-handed policing I’ve experienced at very small gatherings in private gardens back home – perhaps a story for another time!

There is the sense that if restrictions were eased here tomorrow, a good majority of people would be ready to spring back into life. Not so in the UK, where I can imagine angry protests by our fearful lot if the boot were to be lifted at all.

Sadly, I haven’t been able to find a suitable courier job to justify the return trip just yet. It would be scandalous to waste the diesel driving back without a full load, and not an essential journey in any case. I suppose we’ll have to stay out here for a while longer.