Monday, 20 April 2020

Social Distancing - Not

Tod has been on the phone to an old school friend for nearly an hour.  This, mind you, is a man who tells me he hates the phone.

I call the HomeAway helpline to renew the advert for our cottage. (Normally a somewhat irritable conversation with a stressed agent in a call centre.)  I can hear domestic sounds in the background - a child's chatter, the clatter of kitchen routines, scraping of a chair - and I ask the man who answers if he is working from home.  He tells me about his bulldog who prefers his bed to a walk in the morning and we chat and laugh.  Never has HomeAway taken my money so easily and pleasantly.

I send my "Just checking" email to a friend in the UK and we gossip about gardening.  Photos are swapped, of the small shed she has made, the dogs, my roses.  And she describes the challenges of self-isolating from her granddaughter who lives next door.

Funny or nostalgic videos, snippets on Twitter, cartoons by Matt (from the Daily Telegraph, who is mining a rich vein of coronavirus humour) are shared round the world.

The British government has chosen the wrong phrase. We may be distant physically, socially we have never been so close.


Saturday, 18 April 2020


Bertie sits barking on the bank at the side of the house, looking down into the field. He's on full guard duty. There are some strange silvery shapes in the distance that obviously need warning off.

The News brings us images of sheep, deer and coyotes strolling through lockdown emptied streets and countryside.  And here too, our wildlife is getting bolder.

With no bikers or chainsaws in the woods across the valley to disturb their peace, the deer are free to roam - including into our garden and field where they are beginning to strip the bark from our still young trees. Hence the silver.  I've deconstructed unused sheets of sandwich insulation and wrapped the outer shiny layer round the already damaged stems, in the hope that the deer - like Bertie - will be disconcerted by the reflections.

Human hair is reputed to work. I need more than Tod and I can provide (even with lockdown, lack of visits to the hairdressers and ever-increasing tresses).  Perhaps I can ask friends to save theirs for me?  Collecting it would be a problem though for the foreseeable future.

Bars of perfumed soap hung from the trees is another option, but the supermarket shelves have been stripped. Were the French not using soap before all this?  Don't answer that, I'd rather not know!

So, in the short term I hope that the silver wrapping works - supported of course by Bertie's indignant and loud protestations.

Sunday, 12 April 2020

At Least Only The Dogs Will See

We have a new "essential".  Tod needs a haircut - badly.

I never realised that barbers shops are much more important to men than hairdressers are to women.  Unless the man is courageous enough to let his wife cut his hair.

Tod has began to look fluffy.  Over the ears and round the neck.  To the point where he's been muttering about my using the dog clippers on him. Leaving it to grow is not a good look for him.  I have seen the photos of late teenage Tod looking not unlike a young Leo Sayer.

So I do some research on the internet and find a video of a man cutting his own hair.  It looks suspiciously simple.

A quick trip to Leclerc's and a hunt along the men's "personal grooming" shelves reveals dozens of gadgets for beards, ears, nose and body but only one for hair.  OK, that's the one then.  Yes, we could buy online but deliveries have slowed in the lockdown and another week's hair growth and we could be in serious trouble.

I start cautiously, at the highest setting and take off single millimeter lengths. Maybe this is easy!  But then, I don't know how - a moment of overconfidence perhaps - and there is a small bare patch where there shouldn't be.  Maybe he won't notice?  He does.

He's now in the bathroom showering off all the shorn bits. I think I can also hear him praying that lockdown will end soon.

I wonder if I'd have done it better with the dog clippers?

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

What is "Essential"?

The attestation paper that we have to fill in and sign every time we go out tells us that we are only allowed to make "essential" purchases.

Ah, but what is "essential"? As the days lengthen and the temperatures increase and we work outside our "essentials" list gets longer than just food and toilet paper.

The water in our swimming pool has gone a startling pea-green.  Suddenly it is "essential" that we have pool chemicals.

The field has a patch that can only be attacked by the large strimmer.  Suddenly it is "essential" that we have the special Stihl fuel mix.

But pool shops and agricultural stores are closed.  Aren't they?

Apparently not.  There is a discrete French pragmatism to all of this.  No, you cannot go into the shop.  The door is barred.  But if you know what you want they will get it for you.  Social distancing is strictly maintained.  Only one other car in the car park.  You hang back until you are waved forwards.  The item is produced and placed on a table by a solitary man wearing gloves who looks like the manager. Wearing mask and gloves, you keep your distance, pay by card - ideally contactless. And the "essentials" are purchased.

The pool water is blue again and will be ready for our guests when they can travel.  The coarse grass in the field is being subdued.

And this is how life goes on in lockdown in rural France.

Friday, 3 April 2020

The Christmas List

Each year, some time near the middle of December, a good week later than I should if I want to make sure the cards arrive in time, I print off last year's Christmas list, change a few addresses, maybe remove a name or two, and sit down with a pile of UNICEF cards (the French don't do charity cards) and write my Christmas greetings.

All too often, although I promise myself I will write some news, in fact there is only time for a few vague platitudes: "we must meet next year", "it would be lovely to see you here", "hope all the family are well".

This year, though, I know I cannot do that.  I cannot get to December and write those platitudes not knowing how these people, these friends, these relations who have been important in my life have fared.

How can I write "how was 2020 for you"? How can I tell them what 2020 has meant to us?  For the first time in years I know a card rushed in the post at the last minute will not be enough.

So I email, I phone, I write letters and tell our story and listen to theirs.  And with that first "hello" on the phone the decades drop away and I know why this matters.