Since I wrote here last week, our world has changed. France is now in total lockdown, and everyone has become a recluse within their own small enclave. In so doing we stand together, but safely apart. And yet, strangely, I find relief in this. For despite the fact that it is easy to become so overwhelmed that one feels helpless and at a loss, and despite it being harder to be upbeat and positive, we must do so – not just for ourselves but for everyone else too, and in the collective energy of so many doing the same thing, we can remain strong.
I know we are much better off than the vast majority of people, we have plenty of green space in which to lose ourselves, and I guiltily confess that I do enjoy our little oasis. I would willingly share it with anyone, but sadly cannot.
We have enough land that we can seek isolation in a far corner should anyone need it, little areas where we are able to calm our own thoughts until we face the family with a broad smile on our face. Upbeat and determined. Grateful for what we have.
So far we have ventured out only once to restock on essential food items, and we’re limiting these trips to just one time per week to try and lessen any risk to anyone. Roddy went and picked up our ‘online shop’ from the supermarket yesterday, the first time we have used the drive-through facility here, and it worked like clockwork – hats off to all the staff at Carrefour, who met him with a cheerful smile. He did not have to leave the car, a two metre distance was kept between all concerned, and they opened the boot (trunk) to put our purchases inside and then he left.
He also visited our local ‘fruit&veg’ shop, mindful of the fact that we should support them and their family. A polite notice at the door requested only two people at a time enter the store, and that customers should wait 2 metres apart. There were no queues, no crowds and everything was calm. But then, this is a small town of some 3,000 people. For me, anyone working in these times, with the public, are the real heroes and heroines, along with the doctors and nurses and anyone who works in medicine of course. But these everyday people, who man the tills, who stock shelves, these people cannot retreat to the safety of their homes; they still come out daily and meet the general public, they keep our lives ticking over for us. Last week, before the lockdown I was chatting to the young girl who works at our local farm store, we know her quite well as we are very regular customers and naturally we are on first name terms. She was scared to keep on working, scared for her parents and her grandparents, worried who might enter the store, she’s probably younger than our eldest daughter, my heart went out to her. To those working in the stores we will be forever grateful.
At home in the village it is eerily quiet. I have left the house just once to venture out with the dogs for a walk. My required piece of paper in my pocket, signed and dated and stating the reason I was out and about. It was surreal, the strangest feeling I have ever known. I cautiously opened the street gates and wondered if this is how a prisoner feels when escaping, I looked left and right, but there was not a soul in sight and then chin held high I determinedly set out, turning left past our neighbour’s house. I wasn’t doing anything wrong, exercise is allowed, but still I felt ill at ease. Slowly, that ill feeling lessened. I called out ‘Bonjour!’ to a neighbour, and a friendly face in a distant garden smiled and waved at me as I got into my stride. I stopped at a good distance from someone who was making a temporary greenhouse for his radishes, and we chatted for a minute about the eerie silence and clean skies. I waved at a farmer, still going about his work high up on his tractor; it was the only mechanical noise I heard throughout my stroll. I listened to the call of the geese in another smallholding at the far end of the village, their cry carrying on the breeze in the otherwise silent landscape. I stopped to try and capture the silence with a hastily snapped photo on my phone, a task far harder than it looks with two Jack Russells pulling at the lead, wanting to get on with the excitement of actually being out for a walk.
The weather has been incredible, Mother Nature has really helped us when she was most needed, with brilliant rays of warm sunshine enveloping us every day, encouraging us outside. The garden table has become the children’s classroom, freckles have reappeared on wintery pale faces; the children supporting a healthy glow as if they’ve been on holiday rather than studying in a spring garden. Our lunches have become picnics, turning a negative into a positive.
In our little enclave it’s as if the outside world doesn’t exist. It’s allowed us to escape the news, the tragic happenings, and when we can feel the soil in our hands nature is working its magic, healing as we weed and plant. The children have helped clear the vegetable garden, with the dogs never far from our side, unquestioning why we are all at home, all the time.
We’ve chatted with our neighbours, exchanging tidbits of news as we sally forthwith with spades and gloves. We’ve been providing them with eggs, leaving them on the wall at a safe distance.
Pondlife is wakening, as we pass frogs hurl themselves into the water with an almighty leap, an angry splash letting us know we have spoilt their blissful sunbathing on the old stones.
The Spanish bluebells are unfurling their delicate blue petals; they’re an invasive species, and spread with abandon, but I don’t care; I appreciate their early spring colour cheerfulness and Roddy says they are a good source of nourishment for the early bees.
Not to be outdone the tulips are adding a flash of intense colour, a joy for jaded souls….
….and the euphorbia and kerria battle with one another, side by side as to who can put on the best display.
And as life just gets on with it, we have time on our hands to keep us busy. There is so much work to be done; the garden will not allow us to get bored, instead we will be fit and our land will have the attention it deserves. I can stand and watch the ducks – what’s that saying “Having all your ducks lined up in a row” ? I wonder if that as we have fuel in garage, seeds in the summer house and plenty of rice and beans in the larder that the phrase will still be ringing true in three months time. But for now, no one is tugging at my sleeve, calling impatiently, telling me we are going to be late. We have nowhere to go.
The only requirement we have to adhere to is to keep contact with our nearest, dearest, and furthest, all via video calls and messages. Each day we have to think of our two eldest daughters not at home with us and then there is other family and friends; some of the latter are very elderly people who are learning fast what a lifeline the internet can provide. Those are the only vital things that must be done in these strangest of days. And if we are busy, then I can only guess that all of you are too, doing exactly the same as we are, doing the best you can and keeping everyone you know and love close to your hearts.
The bees are more plentiful this year than last, hopefully we will have a good crop of cherries in a couple of months.
The Spanish Chestnut is uncurling her leaves, the flower buds which will eventually be over six inches growing fast. There is new birth all around breeding hope.
We live amongst the heirlooms of previous generations; these old stone walls have seen much worse, they’ve survived two World Wars; they are still standing strong and we shall do the same.
Every day I open the guest house and let the warm air waft inside. As I do this, I have a hope that the world will become a better place when the virus is behind us. I know it will be a long battle, perhaps longer than we all think it will be, but I know we must all stick together. We have to remain positive and help one another. I shall continue to write once a week, sharing stories of daily life as always, of a life in the country in rural France. A life here that although confined, is so much better than it is for so many people. My heart goes out to all of those people worldwide who will be living with this virus in small apartments and housing with no gardens. If I can bring just a moment of happiness and a smile to a sad face, I will have done my bit.
If you have Instagram you can follow along @ourfrenchoasis where I post daily photos and ‘stories’ as well – anything to keep away encroaching dark thoughts.
Stay safe my friends. xx