Saturday, March 28, 2020

Diary of Covid-19 confinement, day twelve

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement day twelve
From our evening walk around the village

Extended confinement

Last night it was officially announced by the French Prime Minister that our original fifteen days of confinement, due to end on 31st March, has now been extended to at least 15th April. Anyone who has caught even a glimpse of the news headlines in the last two weeks won’t be at all surprised by this and many of us feel a further extension will be likely. All current rules on lockdown remain in place and you can find the form you need to fill out every time you leave home here

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement day twelve
Attestation to fill in before leaving home

Maybe it is time I admitted that this has been my cunning plan all along. With Adrian often working away from home we have spent many birthdays and anniversaries celebrating from afar in different countries. April is a special month for us as it’s our wedding anniversary on the 17th and Adrian’s birthday on the 22nd. Looks like this year we won’t have any choice but to be together for both, yippee!

What we will do to celebrate, I’ve no idea but I know the things we won’t be doing. We won’t be cycle touring this Easter on Ile de Ré, as we had planned, especially now the poor little island has been invaded by over 5000 germy Parisians, looking for somewhere better than Paris to sit out the lockdown. We also won’t be returning to the Pays Basques just yet to climb the mountains we had such fun doing last May, but I will have to come up with something special as it’s Adrian’s 50th this year. 

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement day twelve
Jackfruit and wraps

It’s a wrap

Our first sample of Jackfruit last night was a hit, even if it raised some skeptical comments from some of our friends. It certainly smelt more fruity than meaty when I opened the can, and I’m guessing by itself it doesn’t have much flavour, but once cooked in the sauce of spices, tomato purée and vegetables, it did a pretty good impersonation of meat and we all enjoyed it.
French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement day twelve
Ed working in the orchard

Today’s exciting activity was hoovering the dust mice from behind the TV cabinet, and we even moved it out from the wall to properly get underneath and behind it. That is a job that doesn’t happen often around here, and it showed. My daily barrow of weeds was accompanied with a barrow of prunings today, cutting down the many plum tree saplings that seem intent on taking over the potager. As our garden waste tip is currently closed, weeds are being stored in an open barn where they can’t re-root into the ground and the prunings were all shredded by Adrian and added to the compost heap. My courgette seedlings will enjoy the fresh homemade compost later in the year.

Ed has been doing his best to get a bit of driving practice in, mowing with the tractor mower and the orchard is looking fantastic with freshly mowed grass and fruit tree blossoms.

Tonight our clocks go forward an hour, so I guess that is one less hour of confinement to endure and at least when I wake up at 6h15, as usual, it will actually be 7h15 and I’ll only have fifteen minutes to wait for the boulangerie to open.

Lockdown library 

My reading suggestion of the day is Blackberry Wine by Joanne Harris. I first read this book over fifteen years ago and it is a very special read, one of those that stays with you and the characters pop back in your head even years later. For a little bit of magic between the pages, don’t miss out on the current 99p price reduction on Kindle UK.

Friday, March 27, 2020

Diary of Covid-19 confinement, day eleven

French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day eleven
With my emergency pack ready to head out

I’m feeling a little glum today. 

Having spent the last three years shying away from news reports as the reality of Brexit was too much, I’ve found myself oddly fixated with the current situation and have been binge watching the news, press conferences and addresses to the nation. I think I have overdosed. 

News from France has been pretty dire these last few days. Yesterday a sixteen-year-old died near Paris. The only symptom she had was a mild cough for a week or so, then she experienced shortness of breath. Her doctor sent her to hospital on Monday, the first tests they did for Covid-19 came back clear, then she tested positive and died on Thursday. How you come to terms with that as a parent, I have no idea.

Closer to home, the reports have been of local retirement homes who have been hit severely by the virus, resulting in a number of deaths in the same establishments this week. With no visiting allowed and no communal meals or socialising, life for the residents must feel like you are waiting for your turn, trapped, and with no escape.

As well as the reality of the health situation, we have also been advised to keep vigilant for con men. Two scenarios that are circulating are bogus plain clothed Gendarmes, stopping people in the street and claiming their paperwork is not in order before demanding immediate cash payment of the 135€ fine. No Gendarme out of uniform has the power to imposes a fine and no legit Gendarme will insist on payment on the spot, fines are posted to your home address. The other issue is a door to door scam targeting older people. The con men gain access by stating they have been sent by the council to conduct a deep clean of properties and once in, they are robbing the vulnerable residents. As if there isn’t enough to worry about already, these people are scum.

French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day eleven
Queuing to get into the supermarket 

My mood was not improved by the realisation that I had to leave the safety of my bubble and head out into potential germland to shop. I packed my authorisation form, my ID, my car documents, my purse, my latex gloves, my hand sanitiser, my Dettol wipes and almost forgot my shopping list. The local supermarket is operating a one in, one out policy, so I had to wait for six shoppers to leave before it was my turn to enter. Once inside it was quiet and calm and with only a few noticeable absences; flour and yeast, plus milk and pasta were looking a little depleted. Imagine my horror when one of my three packs of (stores own brand) butter was confiscated at the checkout (maximum of two allowed) at the same time a Gendarme walked into the store. Thankfully he obviously wasn’t there to arrest butter hoarders and I was free to pay the bill, pack the car and drive home.

Looking for distractions

It is days like today that I am desperately looking for things to distract me. I called Mum and Dad at lunchtime, to wish Dad a happy birthday and inflict my singing on him, and this evening we will be holding another virtual apero party with friends to celebrate surviving another week. It will be great to laugh together, even if there is sometimes a bit of a time delay on the sound.
French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day eleven
My courgette and tomato seeds

I am also spending far more time than is healthy watching my seeds grow. It is now ten days since we sowed them and we have about 30 germinated tomatoes, 12 courgettes, 6 butternut squash and 6 pumpkins. If I try really hard I can visualise myself in the weed-free potager, picking tomatoes and courgettes to make into a quiche, which we take on a bike ride and enjoy a shared picnic with friends this summer.
French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day eleven
Jackfruit, harvested from the back of the cupboard

In other exciting news, I've discovered a tin of Jackfruit at the back of the cupboard, which is supposed to be a vegan alternative to pulled pork. Never tried it, never cooked with it, but tonight's it's night to shine. If it does what it says it does on the tin, we will be fooled into thinking we are eating meat, when in fact it’s really a fruit. As Jackfruit virgins, I’ll let you know what we thought about it tomorrow.

Stay indoors, stay safe.

Today is the publication day for author Deborah Carr’s latest novel Mrs Boots. With the world focused on medical professions, including pharmacies, it seems quite appropriate as this book is a novel based on the early life of Florence Rowe, wife to Jesse Boot who opened the first Boots chemist store in Nottingham in the late 1800s.

This book is set in Jersey at a time where women didn’t have opinions, where young women obeyed their parent’s wishes and social expectations were strictly adhered to. Florence is a remarkable woman who despite the many obstacles she faced made positive changes to many lives and never let the fire within her die. It gives us a great insight into a forgotten era and is an enjoyable read that highlights the good that can be done in this world. It would be the perfect escapism read for those who enjoy historical fiction based on real lives.

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Diary of Covid-19 confinement, day ten

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement day ten #purpleday
Ed and the car he can't drive

Two weeks clear

Although today is the tenth day of official lockdown here in France, it is actually two weeks since Adrian arrived back from working in the UK and Ed came home from uni, supposedly for a long weekend to have a last few driving lessons and then take his test. The lessons went ahead as planned, but in the 48 hours between his last lesson and the test, everything was shut down and cancelled. Poor Ed. We can’t even use this time of nothingness productively to go out and practice, as that isn’t classed as an essential need to leave home. It also brings back memories for me from a similar age. Aged 17, my driving lessons were going well, I had my driving test booked and then I suffered a seizure, the first in seven epilepsy-free years and a huge blow to my confidence and independence. It would be another two years before I had the opportunity to restart lessons and take my test. Fingers crossed Ed will be driving sooner than I was.

Two weeks in and miraculously we are still talking to each other and surviving our family lockdown. Given we haven’t spent this long living under the same roof for months, and then only during the summer holidays when everyone comes and goes as they please, it’s pretty good going. So far so good in terms of us all feeling fine and no one showing any symptoms, so let’s hope we were all virus free two weeks ago and have stayed that way. We are still in a fairly low risk area, but with a lack of testing here, as everywhere, and the advice to self-isolate if you do have any symptoms, I’m not sure figures can be believed anymore. Our local paper reported today that the hospital in Niort is preparing for a spike in hospitalised cases next week.

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement day ten #purpleday
Curry, rice and homemade naan bread

A change to my cooking habits

I have to admit to being a lazy cook when there is just me to cook for. I will usually start the week making a huge batch of wholesome soup packed with as many vegetables as possible and lots of bone broth stock. Some batches will have lentils, some barley, some chickpeas, some beans and I have no problem with eating the same meal for as many days as it lasts. These last two weeks have shown that I’ve forgotten how to feed a family. It would seem not everyone is happy living off the porridge and soup diet, and now it’s not just me and my funny ways to cater for, it’s been quite a challenge to plan and cook something different every day. Thankfully the freezer threw up a few suggestions when we cleared it out at the weekend, but having used my last courgette yesterday and the last red pepper today, I’m running out of ideas and resources. I fear a shopping trip might have to happen in the next few days, but one of the things that feels the strangest is having Adrian home, and not being able to pop to the shops together as we always have.

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement day ten #purpleday
Victoria sandwich cake

I’ve just made my third Victoria sandwich cake (see here for recipe) in two weeks and I can’t remember the last time I was organised enough to always have a homemade cake ready to eat in the kitchen. This is not a habit I will be continuing when it’s just me to feed as I’m not the biggest fan of carbs, unless I’m fuelling for a bike ride. Most days I am sat at the laptop all day or stuck with my head in a book, so I’m careful with my carb intake. It is all about balancing energy consumed with energy expended. 

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement day ten #purpleday

Purple Day

Today is also Purple Day, a day to get the world talking about Epilepsy and how it affects lives. Here is a handy guide from Epilepsy Action about what to do if you are confronted with someone having a seizure:

Protect the person from injury - (remove harmful objects from nearby)
Cushion their head
Look for an epilepsy identity card or identity jewellery
Aid breathing by gently placing them in the recovery position once the seizure has finished
Stay with the person until recovery is complete
Be calmly reassuring

Restrain the person’s movements
Put anything in the person’s mouth
Try to move them unless they are in danger
Give them anything to eat or drink until they are fully recovered
Attempt to bring them round

Call for an ambulance if...
You know it is the person’s first seizure, or
The seizure continues for more than five minutes, or
One tonic-clonic seizure follows another without the person regaining consciousness between seizures, or
The person is injured during the seizure, or
You believe the person needs urgent medical attention

Please feel free to share this post with your friends. The more people who are aware of what to do and what not to do when someone is having a seizure, the better.

Today’s reading selection comes from Laurette Long whose French Summer novel series will whisk you away to Biarritz and the Pays Basque.

Stay indoors and stay safe.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Diary of Covid-19 confinement, day nine

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement, day nine
Getting serious with the weeds

Focus and motivation

One of the things I expected to fill my lockdown days with was reading, in fact it seemed the perfect excuse to sit around with my kindle without feeling guilty. I have surprised myself. I have now realised that a lot of the time I lack focus and direction, but this situation has given me focus and motivation to get out of my favourite reading chair and tackle things.
French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement, day nine
One barrow of weeds

What I have found works best for me is to split things into manageable tasks. For example: one wheelbarrow of big weeding (ivy, brambles etc) each day and with our garden, orchard and potager, it will take many, many days before I run out of weeds. I pick an area to work on, get my gloves and barrow, and keep snipping away until the barrow is full. By then my brain has had enough and it’s time to head indoors for a cup of tea, a sit down and maybe some reading. I have to be careful of overdoing things in the garden as I'm at risk of having a seizure and when I am home alone, I often don’t have the courage to get out and give it a go. Having Adrian and Ed at home makes me feel a lot more reassured as there is always someone to keep an eye on me. Even if you haven’t got photosensitive epilepsy to get in the way, this is a great way of motivating yourself to get a little bit done every day.
French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement, day nine
My finished knitted neck tube

I’ve also finished a knitting project, by spending a little bit of time on it each morning. I hadn’t knitted for about twenty years, but just recently the benefits of knitting kept cropping up. One TV programme I watched said knitting would stop you snacking in the evening as if your fingers were busy with wool and needles, they wouldn’t be able to open the biscuit tin or find some chocolate in the fridge. Another show, a matter of weeks later, said knitting would keep your brain function sharp and help improve your memory. Well, that was all I needed. I found some wool and some needles and dragged my mind back to when knitting was something I regularly did. I remembered how to cast on, how to knit and how to pearl, but had to ask for help when casting off, as that memory had drifted away. I am now the proud owner of a knitted, patchwork, neck tube. Every square, and I use that term in the loosest geometrical way possible, has a slightly different pattern as I practiced my stitches along the way. It may be a bit warm for it to get regular use at the moment, but I love it.
French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement, day nine
A selection of nine hand creams

Something else I am trying to get into the habit of doing regularly is using hand cream as the combination of gardening and increased hand washing has left them very dry. I am the worlds worst woman for remembering to use any type of beauty product, with the exception of shampoo, conditioner, soap, deodorant and face cream. Over the years I have bought and been given many different moisturisers and today I found most of them, some full and some almost empty, but all covered in dust. They are now easily accessible on the little shelf by the kitchen sink, in an attempt to get me to remember to use them.

The Bells

Tonight at 19h30, the church bells all over France will ring out in unison, an initiative of the Church to enable Catholics to celebrate the Annunciation (where Mary was visited by the Angel Gabriel) while churches are closed. It will also be a way to show solidarity with the healthcare professionals who are working so hard for all of us, and people are invited to light a candle at their window while the bells are ringing. We will be listening in our garden and although I’m sure it will sound much more impressive if you are in a city, it is a way of bringing people together in a time of isolation. 

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement, day nine

1 km radius

Here is a helpful website for those of us in France letting you see how far from home you can currently walk when taking your daily one hour of exercise.

Stay indoors and stay safe.

Today’s reading choice comes from author friend Paulita Kincer, whose kindle books are currently FREE for a limited time.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Diary of Covid-19 confinement, day eight

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement day eight
An isolated dog walk

Welcome to the club, UK

I started this daily update as we found ourselves in an unusual situation. China seemed so far away and although Italy and Spain were a few days ahead of us here in France, for most of the English-speaking world it was difficult to comprehend what living in lockdown meant. 

Writing about our daily life here is giving me something to do, as well as a record to look back on in years to come, but also as with any form of journaling, it is a way of focusing my thoughts and helping me come to terms with the changes that have been rapidly imposed on our lives. With the UK being the latest country to impose lockdown, how quickly the unusual has become normality for so many of us. 
French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement day eight
Official rules regarding going out to exercise in France:
No more than one hour, once a day
No further than 1km from home
Individual activities only
Walking with those you are in confinement with
Walking your pets

I think we were all a little guilty to begin with of creating our own understanding of the rules, especially as things are changing so fast our minds are taking a while to catch up with what is happening. I envisaged using my bike a few times a week to pop into Chef-Boutonne, 7kms from here, to do a bit of essential shopping or pick up a prescription for a neighbour, and at the same time enjoy being out in the fresh air. 

It doesn’t work like that. Staying safe means staying in. 

I have done one essential shop in the last week, but alone and by car, and although we could do with some more fresh fruit and vegetables soon, I am no longer in any rush to leave the safety of home. The sooner everyone stops trying to find a way around the rules and stays in, and away from others, the better, for everyone.

I am once more counting my blessings that we have outdoor space where we can enjoy fresh air and where there is always something that needs doing. I am also thankful that Ed is old enough to understand the situation and can occupy himself without my constant supervision. My day to day life is easy, I am lucky; single parents, at home with little ones and no garden, must be feeling overwhelmed and very isolated. One positive that does seem to have come from this bizarre situation is the online resources that are available. From free exercise sessions to museum tours, choirs, concerts and courses, there is something out there for everyone to try something new. Ed is working on his music theory, Adrian is improving his French, his mum has signed up for a history of royal fashion course and I’m on the verge of diving into an online writing course, when I can find the time.

French Village Diaries covid-19 confinement day eight
The first courgette seedling

Light at the end of the tunnel

On day two of our lockdown, Ed and I started seed sowing for this year’s potager crops and this morning, a mere six days later, the first little courgette seedling poked its head above the soil. This is all the proof I needed that life will go on and the fact that I am one step closer to having a courgette harvest this summer, put a huge smile on my face.

I also had a message from a friend who I haven’t seen in person for over fifteen years. She said she used yesterday’s blog as reading practice with her nine-year-old. It is messages like that, that keep me going. 

Thank you to everyone who has commented, liked and shared these posts. 

Stay indoors and stay safe.

Monday, March 23, 2020

Diary of Covid-19 confinement, day seven

French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day seven
Ready for a deep clean

Preparing a self-isolating suite

Don’t panic! None of us are ill, or even feeling a tiny bit under the weather, but having watched the programme on Channel 4 (UK) yesterday evening, How To Isolate Yourself, with the handsome Dr Xand (and I wouldn’t mind self-isolating with him) we have decided that preparing the spare room before it’s needed might be a good idea.

Ten days ago, I was home alone, but out and about as usual, with the only exception being I was avoiding all physical contact with those around me. Ed was living with Pearl in Poitiers and they were in contact with other students and many more people as they went about their city lives. Adrian had been in the UK for ten days, working in London and Birmingham, travelling on trains and planes and mixing, at a safe contact-free distance, with many, many people. With the incubation for the virus being 14 days, the next few days could prove exciting around here.

I’ve mentioned it before, but we really are extremely lucky to live in a house with four double bedrooms, three shower rooms with toilets and have so much space it is normally too big for our needs. It is coming into its own right now. The downstairs spare bedroom is ideal for self-isolation as it is at the far end of the house and has both a kitchen/living space and a shower room next door. When Adrian had a nasty case of the flu about four years ago, he moved downstairs, and with regular check-ups from me, fluids and paracetamol, we got on top of his fever, he had peace and quiet to sleep and no germs were spread. 
French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day seven
Captured cobwebs

Today I have given this room a clean the likes of which it only sees in the days before a state visit (parental arrival). This often-shut-up bedroom had cobwebs covering the walls as well as the ceiling and with broken shutters I can’t open, felt a little spooky when I first ventured in this morning. As it all smelt a little musty, the mattress has spent the day airing in the sun, all the bedding has been aired and changed and I’ve even washed the curtains. Now Adrian has a super new garage space, I also took the opportunity to evict the boxes of obviously important junk he’s been storing under the bed, untouched but gathering dust for years. 
French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day seven
The back garden today where even the mattress was caught sunbathing

To say I’m pleased with my results is a bit of an understatement and if we don’t have to use it as a sick-bay, at least the bedroom has now had a damn good spring clean and I’ve ticked something else off my list of things to do.

Whilst I am not overly frightened or panicking, I am taking this situation very seriously indeed, even at a subconscious level – as proved by the amount of cleaning I am suddenly feeling the urge to do. 

One week in

We have now completed our first week in lockdown, but in France, as elsewhere, numbers are still rising. 

French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day seven
Online symptoms checker

If you live in France, there is now an online symptoms checker, in French, that is aimed at guiding you through a self-diagnosis if you are worried you may have Covid-19. It also gives you the information about what to do next. Click here for more information.

Please think before you leave the house. 
Keep your social contact to a minimum and stay safe.

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Diary of Covid-19 confinement, day six

French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day six
Lazy Sunday morning breakfast

Lazy Sunday morning

It would be easy to lose track of the days, but as Sunday has always had a special start for us with croissants for breakfast, today was no exception. The only difference being that this morning there was no chit-chat in the boulangerie as only one customer is allowed in the small shop at a time. It will be a sad day for me if boulangeries have to close their doors for a while.
French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day six
Ice yoga!
The rest of today has been very productive, especially for a Sunday, although I have found myself questioning why I’m now so keen to complete jobs I could and should have done weeks ago. I have no answer, but it is making me happy. In fact, I am ridiculously happy now all the freezers have been defrosted, cleaned out and I now know what I’ve got and where it is. 
French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day six
Adrian on the road to nowhere
To keep our spirits and energy levels up I’ve baked another cake and Adrian has set up his turbo trainer, enabling his legs to feel the benefit of cycling, even if the rest of him was going nowhere. I’ve also made more soup, using up some of the more dubious items found in the freezers, but also packed full of chilli, ginger, turmeric and today’s special ingredient, nettles. I’m planning on ensuring we are all kept fully topped up with as much vitamins and minerals as is possible over the coming weeks.


In other news Covid-19 has managed to overrule Brexit, even if it is only for a short time. Last Sunday France went ahead and held the first round of the local elections, but for many communes, including ours, a second round of voting to obtain the required number of councilors was required. This should have been happening today, but sensibly, this time, President Macron decided to delay voting. I felt so strongly at his decision last week, I refused to do my two-hour slot at the polling station, out of protest, so I am glad that common sense has prevailed today. What this means for all communes in France who have yet to vote in a Maire and deputies, is that until at least 15th May the previous Maire and councilors are still in office. I’m still on the council – yippee! I know we won’t be sitting around the table making any decisions, but we are all in regular contact and I will do all I can to help those in the commune get through this. 

French Village Diaries Covid-19 confinement day six
With my Mum in the 1970's. Can you tell I was a bit of a handful?

Mother’s Day

As the UK is celebrating Mother’s Day today, we had a good catch up on Facetime with both our Mums and although celebrations were probably more subdued for many this year, I hope if you too were celebrating, you had a lovely day.