HARK! Who comes there down our chimney, this festive tide?
Well - he doesn’t quite come down the chimney… But I bet he could if he wanted! And he does bear gifts and glad tidings and plenty of Christmas Cheer... He’s the POMPIER on his annual calendar round! (Firefighter in England-our-old-country).
This year it was Caporal Legrand (or Bernard as he introduced himself) who called with the 2009 Pompiers Calendar. Their visit is always a delight. They come in the early evening, take a glass of wine and stay for a jolly chat. Bernard even invited us to his home for aperitifs!
Our first calendar-call seven years ago was, admittedly, slightly tricky; we’d only been in the country for three days and didn’t immediately grasp his Fund-Raising purpose. It took the poor man quite some time to get money out of us for his kind offer of a calendar.
Pompiers deal with fires, road accidents, medical emergencies, escaped llamas… in fact traumas of every ilk. They also attend commemorative events, and spread the Joy of Community.
Astonishingly, 85% of Pompiers in France are volunteers. (Well, it astonished me, but I hadn’t realised that in other European countries they’re mostly volunteers - the UK seems unusual in being largely professional). Here, they often have full-time jobs but are constantly on call.
During our first year in France, the village Chef Pompier came away immediately from his masonry to do something about the seven trillion bees we’d just found upstairs. How exasperating for him! Yet after bee-banishing, he even gave us his mobile number in case we needed to contact him urgently again! I wanted to marry him.
And I’m not alone… there is a huge feeling of warmth, respect and trust towards Pompiers. Some people even choose to phone them instead of the Medical Emergency number when they’re having a cardiac arrest or the odd arm has been broken... A friend explained that for her, it's an inbred response from childhood – Pompiers are like Supermen – they can solve anything.
This year’s calendar is fabulous as always: packed with colourful, exciting photographs of these amazing men and women coping in all sorts of dire emergencies, saving people, shrugging it all off with a smile. And there are photos of the local force posing shyly with helmets and handy digging or chopping implements. Inspirational people - always looking happy, always ready to make it better!
(Of course, I could have been one if I hadn't just reached the upper age limit)
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