Provence Diary: Let bidons be bidons when having a urine test

Bidons Yellow Cans

It’s just possible that this is my last column for the Riviera Reporter. Either the mystery illness I’m about to write about will get me, or the editor will decide the column’s content is inappropriate. If this is farewell, I’d like to say it’s been fun.

You see it’s been a month of visits to the local blood and urine test centre. Develop the slightest sniffle in our village and you end up there. The generaliste has a notorious hair trigger, so the odds are there’s nothing wrong with me. Yet I have a nagging doubt.

It’s been over two weeks since the last test and I’ve yet to get the all clear. Delayed results like this are usually due to anomalies in the testing process, or a stock interruption, which means a necessary chemical is unavailable. Very occasionally it’s because something is seriously wrong and they need to double check.

Now I imagine in cities there are some rather pleasant testing centres, where the majority of “testees” wear suits and don’t invade each other’s body space. Oh to live near such a place. Despite my loathing of the congested outskirts of Avignon, I’m considering, if there is a next time, making the trip there.

You see the clientele at the nearest place to me is largely retired farmers. They’re accustomed to being up with the larks and so by 7 am the queue is snaking around the corner. At first glance it looks as though they’ve brought along a vast amount of Cabernet Sauvignon to ease the wait. But nobody is sipping.

Now the average person when asked to give a urine sample takes home the small plastic receptacle offered by the lab, and at an opportune moment attempts to capture a few centilitres. Not my locals.

For whatever reason, the majority around my village opt for the old fashioned bidon – a large plastic container designed to be filled up with cheap wine from a vineyard pump. My personal theory for the bidon use is that this way “testees” don’t have to get up from the table to go to the loo: “Doctor’s orders, dear.”

What amazes me is the vast quantity of pee these old people can generate. The vrac bidons hold over 5 litres of liquid and they are handed back at the centre half full. They are also universally stained red from their previous life as wine carriers. I’m no chemist but I would have thought that any tests on their new contents would inevitably churn out erroneous results.

A bidon is, as it turns out, quite simply the most powerful queue barging weapon ever invented. Not only is there the odour but also the fear that those frail fingers didn’t screw on the cap as tightly as possible. Worst case scenario is a pensioner holding a bidon in each hand. This is a fearful obstacle, a barrier that prevents any possible plaintive eye contact with the receptionist.

When they are packing his and hers samples like this, the wind-milling arms are almost impossible to avoid. Without exception I return to the row of seats, meant for those who have already seen the receptionist. A more opportune moment to advance towards the desk is when the bidon-wielders faire la bise. Amazingly the urge to kiss hello outweighs all other considerations. Bidons, rather than barring the way forward, are wrapped into embraces. What’s a slosh on your jumper between friends?

However, even choosing my moment like this, every time I’ve neared the front of the queue another pensioner has arrived, packing the threat of a geriatric golden shower if I don’t step aside.

And so I’ve lost my nerve. The pain in my toe could be something terrible from the tropics, or just a recurrence of the gout that occasionally besets me. I’ll never know because I’m too terrified to go back for the results.

The phobia is so bad that my dreams are filled with grizzly old farmers. There’s also another nightmare. In it, I’m sitting at my computer typing away when an email arrives from the Riviera Reporter, informing me that 700 words about urine was not what they expected when they asked for a column about everyday life in Provence.

My excuse – I’m telling it how it is.

Their response – stop taking the p***.

Jamie Ivey is the author of Ten Trees and a Truffle Dog and runs the website www.provenceguru.com

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