Susie Kelly writes:
We went to Poitiers yesterday evening intending to do some night photography. Unfortunately, as somebody had unplugged my camera's battery charger unbeknown to me, my battery was almost dead so I only took a couple of shots before it ran out.
However, that didn't mean the evening was without excitement.
For those who don't know, there is a movement in France at the moment called 'gilets jaunes' after the protestors who wear the high viz yellow vests. They are causing disruption, protesting about the rising cost of fuel and living and generally expressing their disappointment with Mr Macron and inviting him to resign.
Although there has been some violence in major cities, around here it is generally good humoured. We see groups of gilets jaunes on the roundabouts waving placards, and that's about it. Last night we shared an experience with them.
They were at the entrance to the multi-storey car park and had raised the barriers so everybody went in without paying. They were polite and friendly, and said they were helping reduce our living costs by giving us free parking. Which was most kind of them.
By the time we were ready to leave, they had gone. The exit barriers had come down. Hundreds of people who had enjoyed free parking had no tickets, so they couldn't get out unless they knew the secret password 'Gilets jaunes'.
Terry went up to the 6th floor to recover our car, while I waited at the exit. I stood between the two barriers explaining to the queues of drivers they had to press the intercom button and say the password so that the barriers would be raised. They were grateful and it worked.
For about 5 minutes.
Then the intercom began playing a recorded message saying that their calls would be answered. It kept repeating itself but no calls were answered. All the cars were trapped. People began hooting, some repeated short hoots, some keeping their hands on the hooter. People I had previously spoken to came to ask me what was happening and why the barriers were no longer working.
A very angry man reversed from one barrier, almost smashing into the car behind him, and tried to escape through the second barrier. He repeatedly punched the intercom button with his finger until somebody answered, when he yelled and waved his gilet jaune into the intercom until he was allowed out.
Then the intercoms stopped responding at all.
The continual hooting became deafening.
Then the sirens went off, followed by an announcement that there was a technical problem and everybody must evacuate the building immediately.
People poured out of doorways and down from the ramps. A man with a clipboard appeared and and was swamped by a barrage of questions. Terry appeared, having come down from the 6th floor to find out what was happening.
The party spirit took over. The people laughed and joked in the same way they did when we had the bomb scare and were evacuated at CDG.
Then the police arrived and after lengthy discussions the sirens stopped and the barriers were raised, and people were instructed to return to their cars. Terry went back up to the 6th floor.
However, during the evacuation mentioned above, some drivers had simply left their cars wherever they were at the time, on the ramps, and gone away, leaving them there. So any cars behind them were trapped until the drivers decided to return.
A dribble of vehicles came by, among them a number of people who had previously bought parking tickets and were determined to put them into the machines, which were not functioning because the system had been switched off. Instead of driving straight through, encouraged by the police waving their arms, they persisted in putting the tickets into the machine and when nothing happened, turning them the other way round and putting them in again. The cars behind began hooting, the police waved their arms, and after several minutes the ticket holders accepted that they would have to leave without paying, just like everybody else.
Every so often no cars appeared for long minutes, due to abandoned cars blocking the ramps. Then a few cars rolled past, then a few more. Another long wait. A few more cars.
I don't know how long I stood there with my two tripods. A security man kept walking by and saying it was just a matter of being patient, there were still many cars trapped on the upper floors.
There was also an elderly lady with her shopping bags waiting anxiously for her lift. We pulled sympathetic faces at each other.
Terry finally arrived, after the driver of the car who had thoughtfully abandoned it across the ramp returned to remove it.
Merci aux gilets jaunes pour ce divertissement. (Thank you, yellow vests, for this entertainment.)
Susie Kelly's new book In Foreign Fields: How Not To Move To France is just out, in ebook and paperback.