Monday, November 23, 2020

Lockdown Diaries, day twenty-five, espressos and armchair travel

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-five Espresso Day
Espresso Day, 23rd November

Day twenty-five, Monday 23rd November 2020

Espresso Day 

It’s Espresso Day today, but then isn’t every day, an espresso day? It certainly is chez-nous, although technically our morning coffees are probably allongés, as much as we love the hit of a decent strength black coffee, we do prefer it a bit longer than the traditional tiny shot favoured by the Italians. However, serve my daily fix in a ‘regular’ bucket (as most UK coffee shop chains seem to do) and I’ll run a mile. My perfect coffee would be served on a sunny terrace with a view, in an attractive little cup, with a sweet biscuit in the saucer. I’d also have to add a square of dark chocolate, minimum 74%, that I’d have packed in my bike bag. Once suitably caffeinated, we’d hop back on the bikes and spend the day cycling the back roads of France and enjoying the stunning scenery and sunshine.

Armchair travel 

As my face enjoyed the warmth of the sun in the garden today, the rest of me was miles away, lost in the pages of an adventure. In life there are those of us who dream and those who do. It has long been a dream for me to cross France, by bike, and La Rochelle to Geneva has been my favoured route, following in the footsteps of Susie Kelly’s solo walk Best Foot Forward. Adrian and I may seem the adventurous types and have tackled some pretty cool holidays by bike, even in this virus-challenged year, but the logistics of getting back again, means a truly epic ride across France is still only at the dream stage. 


A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Paul and Diana in the planning stages of their Susie Kelly inspired La Rochelle to Lake Geneva charity bike ride. Online at first, we met in person at the end of their second day on the road and we’ve kept in touch since. They had more barriers to overcome than we would, including needing flights to get them and their bikes to La Rochelle and home from Geneva, Paul recovering from an horrific car accident and neither of them being seasoned cyclists. However, they are doers not dreamers and with grit, determination and emotion, made their adventure real. It was a pleasure to have played a small part in their journey and an absolute delight to spend today reading through the book Paul has put together during lockdown. I really hope Naked France will be available to share soon.


We did manage a little escape on our bikes this afternoon, combining an essentials shopping trip to Chef Boutonne with a Living Magazine drop at the supermarket. Leaving home once Adrian had finished work for the day, we pedalled furiously in the cold air, as the colours of the sunset rapidly gave way to night. It made me feel alive and for now, trips like this will have to do to satisfy my wanderlust, but it’s not really enough. Cycling might be the perfect post-Covid-19 social-distance-ensured method of travelling, but we have never camped, by bike. The risks to staying every night in a different hotel, without the luggage capacity to pack all our own bedding and towels on the bikes, makes me uneasy. It is sobering to think that we might never be in a position to roam carefree on long distance adventures, where the only risks are cycling safely and ensuring we remain well-fuelled. I guess now is the time to spend plotting routes and planning, as well as reading about the adventures of others. 

Sunday, November 22, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-four, sunny Sunday

French Village Lockdown Diaries Day twenty-four sunny Sunday
Our village church in the winter sunshine

Day twenty-four, Sunday 22nd November 2020

Sunny Sunday 

Yesterday may have been a busy and productive day, but today was much more leisurely and even included the luxury of a lazy lie in. Watching the colours from the sunrise changing from orange to gold as they moved around the bedroom, gave a hint to the glorious weather we had to look forward to. Lunch was once again in the garden, and our little Robin was back to serenade us in the sun. I really don’t ever remember being aware of the Robin’s song before this week, despite how distinctive it is, and we’ve always had Robins visit the garden and potager. Lockdown and life will seem much brighter if the weather continues to let us eat outside and the Robin continues to sing.


What we did manage to achieve today was the fiddly little finishing touches to the rooms we’ve decorated. Washing the light fittings and rehanging them, putting the door handles back on and having a tidy up of all the bits and pieces. During the last lockdown we had a big clean-up of the spare bedroom, setting it aside for use as Covid-19 contamination suite. Thankfully it has so far not been needed, but what has happened is that it’s become a decorating storeroom. Rolls of wallpaper, tins of paint, sanding blocks, dust sheets and paintbrushes have spread themselves out all over the floor (out of sight, out of mind) and multiplied, I’m sure. Armed with some cardboard boxes, I sought to bring order to the chaos this morning and cleared enough floor space to store two of the bikes in there as well. It’s still not going to be much good if we do need to isolate one of us, but by moving the bikes, I’ve found a cosy indoor space for the fuchsias tonight. They are still in full bloom and look fabulous, but with overnight temperatures dropping to zero, they need a bit of protection.

French Village Lockdown Diaries Day twenty-four Living Magazine
Living Magazine, delivery by bike

Living Magazine 

This afternoon we set off for our hour of exercise on the bikes and combined it with delivering the latest edition of the local English language magazine to the Brits who live in the village. Most of the houses were within our one-kilometre radius, but some of the deliveries out to the hamlets stretched that a bit. I am not one to bend the rules, but as I have agreed with the Mairie to do the occasional lockdown check-in with some of the older residents, who just so happen to live at the further reaches of the village, we combined the two. Hopefully finding a new magazine in their postbox, and my little note letting them know I’m thinking of them, will put a smile on their faces. It was also nice to chat with all those we met, out enjoying their gardens or a local walk in the sunshine, too. It doesn’t get much more exciting than face to face chit chat, with six different people, all in the same day. 

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-three, the Robin

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-three Robin
If you look closely, you'll see our Robin

Day twenty-three, Saturday 21st November 2020


A visitor to the garden

A number of times today I was aware of hearing a really pretty birdsong coming from somewhere in the garden. We are lucky to hear lots of birds here and although I know the Blackbird, the Hoopoe, the Redstart, the Great Tit, the Swallow and the Sparrow, I couldn’t identify this one. As it was so persistent, and so beautiful, I took a moment and stood for a while trying to see who it was. High in the tree, right outside the kitchen door, singing its heart out for me, was a Robin. 


Robins have long been associated with lost loved ones and many believe they are a sign that loved ones are near and at peace. In spirituality the significance of seeing a Robin is all about renewal and new beginnings, a reminder to let go of the negatives and encourage us to move forward to a happier place. The older I get, the more I find myself drawn to spirituality, and as it was four years ago today that we lost Adrian’s Dad, I am sure that Robin wanted me to notice him in the garden today and take a moment to enjoy his song. I’m also ready to embrace a new and positive future.


French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-three decorating DIY
Phase two of the hallway/landings project this morning

It was important for Adrian to feel that he had achieved something today, so we wasted no time in getting going on our latest project, phase two of the landings/hallways upstairs. We were up early and the first job of sanding the filled bits in the walls, and cleaning the dust this created, was all done before morning coffee. I started off with the final side of the door into our bedroom while Adrian opened the new paint and got going on the pipework, and then we both attacked the walls. 

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-three decorating DIY
Another project finished

At first, we thought our duck-egg blue paint looked a bit too blue, but as it’s dried it’s much more like we were hoping, and we even managed to get a second coat on late this afternoon. Add in a wash load, another cake baked, a bike ride just before sunset, time spent preparing his course for next week and a batch of pizza dough proving, and I think between the two of us we’ve had a pretty productive day.


World Television Day

Today is World Television Day, as decreed by the United Nations in 1996 to stand as a reminder of the power of visual media and how it can educate, but also shape public opinion and influence world politics. I might not have heard of it until this year, but I think this is certainly something that is very relevant to the world today. 


We are not a family who are big on televisions. In 1997, when World Television Day was in its infancy, Adrian and I bought a second hand television from friends for £50. We then upgraded (for free) when his aunt and uncle passed on their old one, and again, when his Mum and Dad did the same. Almost ten years ago, we got our first brand new television, a fortieth birthday gift to me from his Mum and Dad, and in all this time we have only ever had one television in the house. We have never had a television in our bedroom, ever, and Ed has also never had his own, until this autumn, when we bought him a second hand one for the flat in Poitiers. Now how is this for a weird coincidence, when we were in Niort yesterday, we picked up an early Christmas gift from Adrian’s mum; a new television. It is so big that until we can get back to the DIY store to collect the unit we can’t buy in store; it’s resting on a chipboard shelf, and while we try to get to grips with all it can do, Ed is over the moon. He is now the proud owner of two televisions, one in the flat and one, for the first time in his life, in his bedroom. 

Friday, November 20, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-two, there's no escaping Christmas

French Village Lockdown Diaries no espcaping Christmas
Christmas shopping at Jouet Club, Niort

Day twenty-two, Friday 20th November 2020


There is no escaping Christmas

Whether things are normally this regulated in France, or whether it is a Covid-19 thing, I’m not sure, but as of today it is legally ok to sell, and therefore buy, your Christmas tree. As we had the ‘pleasure’ of shopping in Niort this morning, I can confirm that not only are they on sale, they seemed to be selling like hot cakes too. It’s not something that is going to happen around here, in November, but our day did involve more than a nod to the festive season.


Santa’s little helper

In some ways, things felt almost normal today, out and about for our annual Christmas gift shopping day for the children in the village. I had the excitement of mixing with people, heading to big town, wearing real jeans rather than leggings and a whole hour and a half of talking in French. I also felt rather important as I had two attestations (the official paperwork for leaving home) on me today. My normal one for going shopping and one from the village Mairie stating I was on official business, as it doesn’t really get much more important than being one of Père Noel’s little helpers, ensuring the under elevens get their Christmas gifts this year.


It was a beautiful early morning drive, the colours of the sunrise melting into the swirling cloud formations above, and tops of trees and wind turbines rising out of the low-lying layers of mist over the fields. It is only the second time we have used the car since returning from the Lot at the beginning of lockdown, and we were surprised there seemed to be no less traffic than normal.


In previous years, three or four of us elves would bundle into a car, stop for a coffee on the way, go mad in the toy shop (after all, how often do you have free rein to spend around 750€ on toys) and then head off for lunch together. Today I met the other two there, so no unnecessary mixing of households in the small confines of a car, and then when we were done with the toys, Adrian and I ticked off the other bits of shopping we needed (and yes, advent calendars may have featured). Jouet Club, the toy shop, really do look after us as not only do we get the morning with the manager, advising us about what is on trend this year or a popular choice for a certain age group, they also take care of all the wrapping, labelling and delivery to Père Noel before he visits our village. This year there will be no party, no hot chocolate, no singing and no pastries from the boulangerie, but Père Noel will be there, making house calls to personally deliver the gifts on 20th December.


Shopping during lockdown was a bit of an unusual experience. The traffic might have been busier than we were expecting, but the car parks were pretty empty, and it was quite sad seeing so many places shuttered and closed. Our last stop was a DIY store where we successfully picked up the paint we needed to carry on with the decorating. What we couldn’t get though was the new shelf unit for the lounge. We could see it behind the tape but weren’t allowed to touch it. We weren’t allowed to place an order in-store, although doing exactly that sat outside in the car park would have been acceptable. However, we’d already been out for five hours, energy levels were running low and when it advised it would be two hours before it was ready to collect, we left it and headed for home. 


French Village Lockdown Diaries Beaujolais Nouveau 2020
Beaujolais Nouveau 2020

As per usual, no matter how exciting our purchases in Niort are, and today rated pretty high on the excitement scale, by the time we arrived home, all the energy and life had been sucked out of me. So far, all I’ve got planned for dinner is a bottle or two of Beaujolais Nouveau and some goat cheese.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Lockdown diaries, day twenty-one, benefits of shopping locally

French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-one benefits of shopping locally
Mussels, eggs and honey

Day twenty-one, Thursday 19th November 2020


I thought as a family we had all embraced the mostly vegetarian way of eating that our diet has evolved into this year. It seems I may have misjudged things slightly. The frisson of excitement that passed around the dining table as Adrian and Ed tucked into their meatballs yesterday, was quite something. Maybe this winter I should relax the rules and add in a few more meaty treats for them.


Beaujolais Nouveau

There were quite a few firsts to celebrate today, including Beaujolais Nouveau Day, the day the first 2020 wines from the Beaujolais region, just south of Burgundy, are released for sale. We will be buying ourselves a bottle or two, as we do every year, usually by selecting the label we find the most appealing, but heading out to Chef Boutonne today, just to buy a bottle of wine, would that really be classed as essential shopping? This being France, probably yes, but we can wait until tomorrow.


First thing this morning we had our usual Thursday morning natter with the small group of seafood lovers who join us, whatever the weather, as we await the moules and oyster lady. Then it was off to the egg farm for our weekly dozen eggs and our first jar of local honey too. Here we bumped into another friend from the village and enjoyed a good old catch up with him. It is only when we see someone by chance, like this morning, that I realise how much I miss the conversations with my French friends. This time last year I was still on the village council, attending regular meetings, as well as involved in a number of associations who got together weekly. It’s sadly all a bit different now, but at least shopping close to home has provided the added and unexpected benefit of social encounters too. The first thing we did when we got home, even before the moules were put in the fridge, was open the honey and dip in a spoon. It is the colour of summer sunshine with a delicate floral taste and will help to brighten up our winter. 


French Village Lockdown Diaries day twenty-one benefits of shopping locally veggie box
My first local veggie box from Espoir Nature

This afternoon we were back out on the bikes to pick up our first veggie box from Espoir Nature, that I’d ordered online yesterday morning. My six choices this week were a kilo each of carrots, leeks and turnips, half a kilo of shallots, three heads of garlic and a local goat cheese. That will certainly keep my soup pot happy, and to celebrate reaching the end of another week, the goat cheese should go well with a glass or two of Beaujolais Nouveau tomorrow night.