Chris and I had our first Covid vaccinations a few days ago.

When the vaccination campaign began in France at the end of December 2020, at a pace that made even the slowest snail feel very nippy, we were sure we’d be waiting until the summer at the very least to receive a first dose. However, socks were pulled up and, I suspect, a few butts kicked and the campaign was steadily ramped up. There’ve been a few setbacks in supply of all the various vaccines, and on top of that, the Astra Zeneca vaccine was at first not allowed for over-65s, and then its use was paused altogether whilst its link with rare cases of thrombosis was investigated. But bit by bit, we shuffled up the queue.

In early March, a new timetable announced that over-60s would be eligible for vaccinations from 16 April, and 50-59 year-olds from mid-May. Chris began looking for an appointment for after 16 April, but the system didn’t allow for such forward-planning! He was always stymied online as he got to a stage in the booking procedure where you had to declare on your honour that you were either 74 or over, or 55+ but with comorbidities. The rules had changed, but not the set-up!

Then in early April, there was a new announcement: all over-55s were now eligible.

But with a few caveats, as we soon discovered. As soon as that announcement was made, Chris began looking for slots for both of us as we now fell in the same vaccinnee cohort. But again, there were stumbling blocks, either in that wretched over-74 declaration still being there on the un-updated online application forms, or, in the case of the ‘vaccinodromes’ (mass vaccination centres), the need to be already-registered with the hospital that was organising it. For example, for the vaccinodrome at the Espace André Lejeune in Gueret you have to be known to Gueret hospital. (Chris has been an outpatient there, but I haven’t. And when you said that no, you weren’t already on their books, the list of available slots immediately disappeared. It was all very frustrating.

We went round in circles for several days. I even contacted the local paper to ask if they knew when the booking systems might be updated, but they were none the wiser. Then gradually we began to untangle the complicated, badly-explained system. It transpired that all over-55s were indeed now eligible for a vaccination, but only for the Astra Zeneca one administered by your local pharmacy or GP! Despite a few initial misgivings on my part, since at that time the majority of the admittedly very few victims of blood clots had been women of around my age, we could see the advantage in getting vaccinated sooner rather than later, even if not with our preferred option of Pfizer. (It’s since emerged that there have been rare blood clot issues with that vaccine too.)

The next hurdle was how to make an appointment; Boussac never appeared as an option when we looked online. We eventually happened across a mobile phone number for the vaccination centre in Boussac. I rang it at once, and got our appointments for a week’s time, and also for the follow-up jab in three months’ time. That last bit came as a slight shock as I’d thought the delay was six weeks. We won’t be fully covered until the beginning of August. A nice birthday present for me, though!

What also came as a slight shock was the appointment-giver’s announcement, just before ending the call, that we needed to bring certificates of eligibility from our doctors with us. Say, what? They’d never been mentioned online, or on any TV news coverage. So another phone call, this time to the doctor’s surgery to find out what this was all about. If it was something we needed doctor’s appointments for, then we’d be lucky to get them in time. Fortunately, however, we could obtain our certificates by dropping off our carte vitales (health cards) at the doctor’s reception and calling by a day or so later to pick our certs up. This we obediently did.

So armed with our certs, and in short-sleeved tops (to avoid the lengthy shirt-unbuttoning and half-undressing rigmarole that all the vaccinnees shown on TV seem to go through), we turned up at the health-centre at the allotted time. ‘Covid vaccines this way’ said a sign (in French, of course), so that’s the way we went. There were quite a few people waiting in the denoted area, all of them apparently very many years our senior. We briefly enjoyed feeling very youthful. Then the nurse came over to us, and asked for our certs. She asked us, puzzlingly, what vaccine we were having. When I replied with Astra Zeneca, she instructed us to go to the other side of the foyer, to the waiting area for the doctors. We were lonely figures there, for about twenty minutes, increasingly worrying that something had gone wrong somewhere. Had I misunderstood something over the phone? That’s always a possibility. Then another couple of people joined us, and just as I was about to go over the receptionist to check that all really was well, fifteen minutes late I was summoned by an elderly doctor in a white coat. When he realised that Chris and I were together, he ushered us both into his surgery. The first thing he did was print us out new certificates of eligibility!

He asked us a few questions, muttered at his computer a lot, then delivered the shots. I didn’t feel a thing, not then anyway. We duly waited in the waiting room for a further quarter of an hour, as instructed, and since we didn’t collapse during that time we were subsequently allowed to go on our way. We did a quick spot of tomato plant shopping at Gamm Vert, then headed home.

But the day’s excitement wasn’t over yet, A few kilometres from home, we came across a car in a ditch at the side of the road. A shocked young woman was clutching a fox terrier. We naturally stopped, and asked what we could do to help. The woman said she was OK, apart from shaken up, but there were two other dogs to deal with: one had run off, and just before spotting the car we’d seen a dog running through the field, while another dog was hiding under the enditched car. I popped the terrier on our back seat amidst the tomato plants and Chris had had a quick look on foot for the escaped dog, but there was no sign. Everyone who passed stopped to ask if they could do anything. Our neighbour was amongst these, and he set off to hunt for the lost dog in his car, but came back a while later to report not having seen it.

After a lot of delving under her vehicle, the woman finally managed to fish out a very shocked blue marl border collie, called Caline, which she asked if we’d take to the vet for her. We tried to get her to come with us, but she wanted to wait for her partner to come and pick her up and sort the car out. Her vet was the same as ours, so we now drove back into Boussac with a total stranger’s very well-behaved dog on our back seat! I ran into the vet’s when we got there to alert them. Chris meanwhile tried to get Caline out but she preferred to remain, understandably, just out of reach. We borrowed a lead but not being experts in handling other people’s animals, we didn’t want to risk pulling and hurting Caline, especially as one of her front legs didn’t look quite right. We were relieved when the vet appeared at that point to take over. She muzzled Caline and carried her into the surgery. It turned out that the young woman had been at the vet’s about half an hour earlier with Caline, who was pregnant.

We couldn’t do anything else to help, so had another go at getting home. The car was still in the ditch, but the young woman and fox terrier had gone.

Chris cycled to the scene the next day (I was too achy with vaccine after-effects to join him) but the car was gone by then. The woman phoned me up not long after he returned with this news to report that she was on her way to pick up Caline from the vet. Caline had a broken leg, as we’d suspected, but was otherwise fine and her babies hadn’t noticed a thing. The missing dog was still missing, but all the local mairies have been notified so let’s hope our young lady gets him back.

And let’s hope our second vaccination will have less drama to accompany it!