One of the biggest changes in my life, when I first moved to a tiny rural village in the middle of France from a large bustling town in the UK, was getting used to the sound of silence. And in the beginning I won’t lie, it was very strange.
And one of those things that you don’t genuinely consider. But just as if you’ve always lived in big towns, it’s never really dark due to street lights and life going on at all times, it’s also never really quiet or even remotely quiet.
One of the things I noticed towards the end of living in the UK was the constant noise, and maybe I did realise that it affected my mood and my nerves and anxiety. The constant hum of people moving about, living their lives, or perhaps more applicable to where I used to live, the constant fighting and arguing, screaming and shouting. The sirens which in the later years I realised never stopped even for one moment. The constant whir of helicopters circling overhead, presumably police helicopters.
And whilst you know that constant noise is aggravating, I don’t think I thought about how it all felt so threatening. Every siren, every helicopter pass, every argument, every fight. And every sound brought with it a negative connotation of some sort of threat. And whilst I did recognise that my patience with it was certainly waning, I don’t think I quite realised what it truly did to my psyche.
Fast forward to first being here. It’s not *really* silent all day long, not by any stretch. In fact throughout most of the days here, you can hear some sort of gardening or machinery noise. But it’s a very different sort of noise and come the evenings, especially during winter, the air falls completely still and apart from the occasional roar of a passing train, absolute silence. And in the evenings in summer, the noise you hear is that of happiness. People eating, drinking and laughing together. Very seldom have I heard the sounds of raging arguments floating through the air, including and involving you with or without your consent.
When I first arrived, it must have been 6 months before I heard the first siren here. And when I did, I realised that it felt so out of place, and yet was a constant of my life of not so long ago. And whilst I truly hadn’t really noticed the absence of it, because so many other things had happened in between, I certainly appreciated it. Because when I heard it, it almost stopped me in my tracks and I felt that feeling of dread instantly.
And so, having got used to not hearing these kinds of sounds, on Tuesday afternoon of this week when the sirens started it was a shock. And you can put *one* down to someone having a really bad day. But it continued. And then the roar of the overhead planes started. The wonderful Canadairs, whose job it is to scoop up water and then dump it on forest fires. And whilst I stood watching the black smoke coming from the forest from my terrace, and watching the Canadairs come, go then return, it all seemed slightly surreal. Because in the main, I regard where I am as the safest place I have ever been.
Like everywhere else in the world right now, France is completely dried out, and in drought crisis. In the 5 years I have been here it has got noticeably hotter, and hotter and for more prolonged periods of time. We haven’t had proper rain for as long as I can remember. And because it is so hot the rest of the time, when it arrives, it arrives in the form of ferocious storms, bringing huge water dumps but also terrifying hailstones, the size of which I have never before seen anywhere else. And which are a whole other potential lifechanging threat in themselves. And in fact, recently a village not far enough for my comfort bore the brunt of one of these such storms. Within a certain distance, not a roof, windows of buildings or cars survived. You truly begin to ask yourself just what is coming next.
And over the last month France has experienced several forest fires, some of which have raged for days if not weeks and destroyed hundreds of hectares of forest. And only around 3 weeks ago, we woke up to smoke hanging in the air, you could certainly see it and very much smell it. And everyone was worried, before the communication went around that the source of it was the forest fires 160km away. Absolutely staggering. And the next day, even departments that were over 250kms away could smell it. And reading about it, makes you grateful that it is not closer. And yet now, it is.
Since Tuesday afternoon when the first fire here took hold, this has now become a daily occurrence, sometimes several times a day. And with at least three of those fires starting in roughly the same area, it is now believed that someone is deliberately starting them. I just can’t get my head around that at all. That someone could generally want to put lives, animals, the wonderful nature around us and people’s livelihoods at such appalling risk is something I just, and I imagine most sane people can’t, comprehend. And that in the current climate, should someone choose this path, we are simply all sitting ducks with the luck of the gods with or against us is just a complete headfuck to me.
The pompiers are already exhausted. There are enough fires breaking out for other non man made reasons for them to be dealing with. And the pilots of the planes who I certainly have never seen before with my own eyes and yet have seen several times over during the past few days must be well and truly over it, let alone what they must think of this news that people may in fact be doing this deliberately.
And once again, though I try so hard not to, I find myself going down that familiar path of worrying more, hating people as a whole more, sleeping less and generally not feeling bouncy. But whilst I will get over it, I certainly wish it would stop. Everybody just needs a break right now. Let’s just hope that the cretins who may be deliberately starting fires anywhere are caught soonest, that the heavens open and give us all some respite. Not least of which the wonderful firefighters who are more than doing their jobs right now and to them we say a massive thank you!
Look after yourselves and stay safe!