I was looking forward to this week. The first part was chock full - five days of work crammed into three in order to take the last two off. There was a poster to make; that should take a day. And a grant due the following Tuesday that needed to be done before leaving, with just a final re-read and polishing for the due-day. Plus the usual meetings, reports, problems to solve.
Then late last Friday, late enough to have reasonably been out the door already, the news came. My lab had won the lottery: we were to be one of the three services to be evaluated by the auditors coming for the hospital’s certification visit at the end of the month.
We are so not prepared for that.
We’ve been making baby-step progress toward accreditation of the laboratory for two years now, but it must be admitted that we’ve made, what? 10% of the progress necessary? In the last two months we’ve gotten much more serious, with the October 2012 deadline looming. Baby steps - the newly created QC unit is taking its time just measuring the task: it’s not doing the documents, just identifying what documents need to be done.
And now we’re being visited in three weeks’ time. The first week (this week): the two main people of the QC unit are on vacation all week, and I’m supposed to be off Thursday/Friday. Way to start!
So I shoved my grant-writing and poster design off on a colleague, and dove into building a Quality Management System. Not that I can do the whole thing on my own in a few days, but it’s important to get some of the key things done, a skeleton that my colleagues can flesh out when they come back all relaxed and ready to work hard on Monday.
So here it is Thursday noon, and my colleague who’s taken over the grant is surprised to see me. What are you doing here? Go take your vacation! Somehow it doesn’t seem right, to go off and have fun with so much to do so fast. But then, it doesn’t seem right to have to do it all myself. And I am getting so tired as to not be terribly efficient. So fine, off I go.
Gannat. What’s here in Gannat?
Agricultural train station, scattered houses too modern to be interesting, grain silos.
How to get out of Gannat? It’s three pm. Must be a train going on to Montluçon before night. And there are several: 18:11, 18:47, 19:55. Perfect. Plenty of time to see the town, if there is one on the other side of the station building, and move on.
Ah, yes, there is a town! A nice little town in the tradition of small towns in central France: a medieval heart confined in the vestiges of ancient walls, a bit of guard tower peeking through here and there. A main road through this heart and another around it. Around this, a layer of middle-aged houses and businesses, around that farms.
It’s a nice little town. There’s a good-looking castle just off-center; the municipal museum, in fact. I figure I’ll go in and have an hour at least to look around, but alas today is only the tenth of March. Closed for another three weeks. The Tourism office is open, though, and a very helpful woman helps me choose a book of hiking trails in the region. Two start right here in Gannat: one short enough to do yet today and I can try the long one tomorrow. (one of the birds in the trees)
With two hikes in mind, I look around for a hotel. There are three on the square opposite the castle, but two are closed for the season. The third has people in the bar of the restaurant, but the door is blocked by a table and chairs. Closed too. Well. A stroll around the town center turns up no lodging at all. I’ll keep an eye out on my way to my hike, but if nothing turns up, it’s on to Montluçon for the night.
My book’s explanations for how to find the trailhead are inadequate. There’s a bit of highly detailed map, but none of the streets are named and there are precious few obvious landmarks. Eventually I locate the starting point, and from there it’s easy - the trail marks are frequent and recent. It’s wonderful to get out in the fresh air at last. And surprising how long it seems to take to get out of town. The thing is that all roads leading out are lined with houses, cheek to jowl. Half a mile down the road you’re still penned in by the houses and small industries, and yet you know you’re out of town because every time you pass a driveway you can see that just beyond the yard there’s a huge field and some cows, and a few sheep. The road is a tunnel of buildings.
Finally my trail leaves the road and follows a dirt track between newly planted parcels. Ironically, I’m still in a tunnel. The path is in a deep ditch between rows of trees and blackberry brambles. Just another hundred meters. A few more...
Yea! Sunlight! Bucolic vistas in the warm glow of the late sun. The perfect trees on the horizon. The abandoned shepherds’ shelters. The bright bright green of new-sprouted wheat.
Having finished ¾ of the loop, I come to the woods where wild orchids have been promised. The barrier across the path is heavily padlocked and the sign says the patch of woods is closed until March of 2011, after an incident in 2009 in which the tranquility of the deer employed to keep the site healthy were subject to incivilities.
Some idiots thought it would be fun to chase the deer around, or somesuch. And now my path is closed. But hey, it’s March 2011 already. The 10th! Apparently they meant the end of March. Or the 11th. Or they forgot. I just make my way across the 3-inch wheat and back to town on a tractor road. At the station at 18:14, the train to Montluçon should have just passed through, but today it’s 10 minutes late. Just time to get over to the far quay. Must be a sign! The train waited for me.
Funny how tender my feet are. I’ve only been walking for three hours. Half of that on asphalt, which tenderizes feet quickly, but it does make me appreciate that it’s been a long winter of staying in. A couple of strolls around Clermont have not in fact prepared me for the 20km afternoons of summer. My dogs’ll be crying after tomorrow’s 14km, and that’s just the trail, not getting there or seeing Montluçon.
Ohhh, it’s nice to sit back and relax on this new and very comfortable train. I almost forget about the certification visit. I almost forget about Yannick is wrapping up his day of working on my grant and my poster. I recall how strange he thought it was that I came into work at all - if he hadn’t been willing to take on these tasks (he’s second author on them, after all), he would have just said no. Go on your vacation, he said.
Alright! Ski reservations came before the certification visit for my colleagues, why not for me? Take off. Enjoy. Reset..