Today, we have sunshine. Spring has arrived, the garden is calling, and new buds offer new hope, and a new season. I am trying to be incredibly positive although I find myself struggling to come to terms with all that is happening in the world. I flick between being very calm to moments of panic where I cannot tear myself away from the computer screen, scanning the news for the latest developments.
It’s a stupid state to be in, but all that we have built up here over the past six years is at risk. We’ve worked so hard to create the most welcoming holiday cottage we possibly can whilst retaining as much of the charm and integrity of an old French cottage as possible.
We’ve started tailor made holidays, and guided guests around our area – guests who have now become friends because that’s how we like to think of every person who comes to stay, a new friend to be made. Every person who has visited has shared a meal with our family, often under the stars late into the evening. Guests have sung songs, played the guitar and told mesmerising tales that have enthralled not just Roddy and I but our children too. We’ve chatted for hours, faces gently illuminated by the soft glow of the fire pit. We have discussed politics, and we’ve debated Brexit for what seems like years. Guests have cuddled puppies, picked fresh vegetables from the garden and gorged themselves on figs.
Soft music has floated on the air across the garden from the gîte sitting room, accompanied by the tantalising aroma of their evening barbecue. We love it all.
We’ve started our online brocante store and this year have been working hard on a new private little shop inside the barn. Roddy made the room, building walls and adding lighting. He’s made tables for me from cast-off planks of wood whilst I’ve hung wallpaper and painted. We want this to be somewhere people can browse at leisure when they visit, with a glass of wine or cup of coffee in hand, and no one watching or peering over their shoulder. It’s all a matter of trust.
And now everything hangs in the balance, our future held together by a tenuous thread. Our income and means of supporting our family are all suddenly up in the air. I know we are not the only ones scared and hurting. The entire hospitality business is being crippled. There are those with loved ones fighting for their lives, they are more important, the elderly and the sick, and I pray for every single person. But I have to be honest and say sometimes I feel like dissolving into tears because I can see all we have worked so hard to build here slowly being taken away. I pray that we can still receive guests this summer, and in the meantime we continue to make updates to the accommodation, spending as little money as we possibly can. We’re painting and gardening, working hard as if there was no crisis, we have no choice.
I have to stay positive, for both Roddy and I, but especially for the children. And when it all gets too much I pinch myself, grab the leads for the dogs, suggest a walk to the kids and head off. Out of the front gates and across the road, deep into the countryside, where the small vineyards lay neglected, where the wild flowers are bursting into life in the hedgerows, where there’s nothing to be heard except for birdsong and the sound of our feet on the wet muddy paths. We’re far luckier than many, France is in lockdown but we are allowed to still walk in the countryside.
I return home to more horror stories on the internet. A leading medical scientist has predicted in France that if nothing was done, if no preventative measures were taken, there would be between 300,000 and 500,000 deaths. Those are staggering figures in line with the Spanish Flu epidemic at the beginning of the 1900’s. And yet there are still those with the mindset that “It won’t affect me, it won’t come here”. Fortunately, I believe in France and the French people, I believe we can conquer this.
We’re all hurting one way or another. Most of us have never lived through the horror of a world war. But many of us have heard the stories of the camaraderie, how communities came together and helped one another. The problem with this virus is it seems everyone looks at the person next to them with distrust, it is pitting one man against another.
Our two eldest daughters are not at home, Millie has returned from her travels in Vietnam and is back in the Channel Islands; her aunt lives there, so does her godmother and a great many friends of the family we have known for decades. On the other hand, Izzi, our eldest, is working in London. She has no family there. Today she went shopping, thinking maybe she should stock up on a couple of extra packets of rice, some beans and just a few essentials, nothing excessive. But she was met by a supermarket with shelves which had been stripped bare. She found the last packet of dried kidney beans and a very expensive bottle of gin!! At least she still has a sense of humour. But still we are worried sick as any parent would. I wish I could have all my babies at home with us, where we could all stick together, our very strong family unit as one.
She told me a story of a friend of hers who was shopping earlier this week. Ahead of them in the queue were a couple with two carts overflowing with more than 30 packets each of rice and pasta, plus numerous other items in bulk. An elderly lady just behind them asked if she could have just one of the packets of rice as there was none left in the store. “No,” was their reply and they turned away. What has happened that people have become so selfish and so self-centred?
I know, because I just know, that every person reading this is the type of person who helps their neighbour. We all have to think of those in need, we have to support families and small businesses, we have to support our community. Together we are so much stronger.
Yesterday evening, knowing that all except food shops would be closed as of midnight, I headed to our local farm store. I didn’t panic buy loo paper, pasta or rice. Instead I bought young vegetable plants (fortunately being mid-march they are starting to appear for sale), and I bought potatoes to plant and lots of seed packets. We are fortunate we have a big vegetable garden. If everything gets worse at least we will be able help out a few people in the village with some healthy garden produce. Stay safe everyone. xx