Preface More Letters from Brittany

Index Letter from Brittany 1

The Testing of the Blood

Just had my quarterly prise de sang (blood test). I don't think the medical people that look after me really want my blood at all but they take it anyway, because they can.

In France, as everyone knows, we have the best health service in the world. Seriously, we really do. It would be extremely difficult to find fault with it. However, seeing as I'm English then I'll do my best.

The place in our small village for the taking of blood is a little purpose built, single storey building directly opposite the Pharmacie (Chemists). Just to cheer its victims up whilst waiting to enter it was built close by the local cemetery.

The building is quite unobtrusive and I only mention it at all because I'm so fascinated that our Froggie chums will go to so much effort and expense constructing a building that serves only two relatively insignificant functions. They must be relatively insignificant because the place is only open for seventeen and a half minutes each time on the few days of the year that it is open. And more about those few open days later.

First of all, the building's functions.

Well its primary function, as I have already said, is to take blood. This is taken from victims referred by the local group medical practice which now operates from the old converted Boucherie (Butcher's Shop) on the other side of the cemetery. Our loveable French 'cousins' are not without a sense of humour it seems.

It's second function from what I can tell is to accommodate a large array of instruments of torture used in the setting of broken bones. These are all shiny black enamelled and chromium devices. The local health authority obviously acquired them as a second hand job lot left over from the Spanish Inquisition. There's a lot of them. Put it this way, Ryanair could land one of its BA111 jets, inbound for Pleurtuit, short of the runway into René Gauthier's cabbage patch and within the hour the whole passenger load would walk away looking like contestants from 'It's A Knockout'.

Apart from such unwelcome and fortunately rare (even for Ryanair) occurrences as forced impromptu landings what all these fiendish devices seem to be doing for the most part is gathering dust. Handy though I suppose if following the daily skirmish at the village Boulangerie for the morning's last Baguette you inadvertently sustain a dislocated clavicle. You could get that fixed whilst having your blood taken. Providing the affray in the Boulangerie at the other end of the village takes place between its opening hours of 7:53am and 8:27am, giving you enough time to hobble down to the Blood Letting Clinic and join the assembled scrum waiting for the doors to open at 8:39am - sharp. Which open sharply it never does. L'infirmière (nursey) always turns up with the customary greeting of "Bonjour. Désolé, je suis plus tard." ("Hello. Sorry, I am late."). To which the similarly now customary reply from the assembled mob is "Bonjour. Plus tard encore." ("Hello. Late again!")

French people are very good at queuing. Though this is sometimes difficult to observe as they tend to do it four abreast, three long and two deep. The French though do form an unruly rabble in a most orderly fashion and when Nursey arrives, jangling her keys like the jailer from La Bastille, everyone manages to pass through the door in one solid block of wrinkles and creaking bones. There is great respect and civility here though and it is considered impolite to stand upon wheelchair bound paraplegics for any longer than is necessary to get to the head of the queue. Standing on and pushing geriatrics like me is however considered to be a national sport. Similar to the Irish game of Hurling.

I did say earlier that I would elaborate on opening times. So please pay attention because this is complicated, or, as we say here in France "This is French".

Although a secular country France is very respectful of religions. Providing the religions are all Roman Catholic of course. This means that state governed organisations and everything else for that matter, must respect strict religious rules on opening times.

For example. No commercial organisation, or any other organisation for that matter, may open its doors for business, or for any other reason for that matter, on any 'Saint's Day'. You're ahead of me here aren't you!? Yes, that's right. Every day of the year in France is a Saint's Day. All 365 days, unless it's a Leap Year and then it's 366 days, are attributed to some saint or another. They have saints for good harvests and saints for bad ones. Saints for getting across the road safely (a particularly busy saint in France that one), a saint of shooting your wife's lover and even a Saint of Saint's Days.

This of course means that no commercial organisation, or any other organisation for that matter, is allowed to open its doors at all. On any day. Ever.

The French though are a practical people and when they aren't running away from invading Germans hoards, spend their time inventing rules to get around the first set of rules they just made up. It's called 'bureaucracy' and the French are experts at it.

So now the only saints that qualify to have something shut are ones where their anniversaire de naissance (birthday) is known. As most saints were born a long time ago and such records were less diligently kept in those days (not many French about) and even more particularly because saints frequently didn't set out to fulfil the sainthood prerequisite role of becoming a martyr from the time they were born, then not many records of saint's birthdays exist.

All of this means that our local blood spilling and collecting clinic is generally open from the hours of 8:39am, not very sharp, to 8:56am, extremely sharp, on Tuesdays and alternate Thursdays. Unless the week in which either the Tuesday or the Thursday falls happens to include a saint's birthday.

Thus I had my blood test today.

The price of which is 4 Euros and 73 Centimes. Except nursey never has any change so it generally costs me 5 Euros. Fortunately here in France though we are very bureaucratic (I think I may have mentioned that earlier) and this means I can recover all of my 4 Euros and 73 Centimes by completing four forms in quadruplicate and sending one set back to the clinic that just gave me the soddin forms, one set to the French Health Service and the last one to my medical health insurance provider. The last part of the quadruplicate set is needed because my medical health insurance provider will lose the first set I send them without fail.

I've finished moaning now.

For the day anyway.