Week 10 (France 5)

Where were we?

Still the same view, still sunny. Forecast is wet though…

For the fifth week in a row we remain in exactly the same place. Tomorrow we will have been here for the same amount of time as we were previously travelling.

Where should we have been?

When you left us last week we should have been staying in Oslo with friends. Aurora in particular was totally delighted to be with her BFF. We celebrated Easter with them, before heading off on two trains and a rail replacement bus service (have to admit to not being entirely devasted to miss that one) from Oslo to Stockholm.

Better than the bus

Then two days in Stockholm, staying in a hostel which would have been a new experience on this trip (and a new experience full stop for four of us). On Wednesday night we got another overnight ferry to Turku, which is on the West Coast of Finland (as recommended by Harriet’s brother). An afternoon in beautiful Turku (where the weather was stunning) and then a bus to Helsinki.

On Friday we got a train to St Petersburg, where we are until Lucy’s birthday on Tuesday.

What was new and exciting this week?

None of the above, clearly: no trains, no boats, no galleries, no friends.

But we have not done nothing:

The Easter bunny came, leaving little offerings all round the garden. We have, now, just about finished all of them, although an excess of yeast (sounds unpleasant) means that we may accidentally have to make some more not cross buns later this week or next.

We received lovely letters from friends. And some parcels to be opened by Lucy next week.

Sophie and Aurora dyed their hair magenta.

It goes very nicely with Aurora’s socks

After a request for “no more circuits” we tried Joe Wicks’ PE lesson. It was universally agreed that it was harder and he was more annoying than circuits. We will be going back to circuits.

The flag irises are out in the garden and looking stunning.

Our walks continue to provide exercise, distraction and endless beauty. Top interesting moment this week: half a snake.

Magnus’ godfather organised an online quiz with his kids. The Campbells sadly failed to claim the coveted Loo Roll Trophy but a great time (and a lot of shouting) was had by all, even if Magnus disputed a key answer on the Superhero round….

Sophie and Lucy each had a day “in charge”. Lucy gave everyone a notional £500 to buy presents for everyone else (more generous than her parents) and we enjoyed seeing what we were “bought”. Ben is going to be playing a lot of lego.

We earned our keep by doing lots, and lots, of gardening. Some of us are more enthusiastic than others.

When we made our epic dash here from Vienna we had the idea that the children would use this time to learn French. Of course what we failed to realise is that as the children aren’t allowed to talk to anyone other than us, they’re not exactly getting much exposure to French. They’ve been rather unimpressed by our brief moments of speaking only French (although given that French is what we use when we don’t want them to understand, there could be benefits or other consequences to this, which they don’t seem to have worked out). This week we tried a new tactic and Ben has now labelled all the important things in the house….

Oddly some important things did not get labelled.

Magnus has started reading a story to his cousin by video.

We started gathering and painting stones to put in one of the newly cleared flower beds (as approved by our landlords!)

The Trivial Pursuit score is currently 5:2 to Harriet. She is not smug about this at all. Ben is not at all peeved about it either.

Ben decided enough hair was enough and got his father’s ancient set of clippers out.

Aurora has done a deal: if she doesn’t bicker with her siblings for two weeks she can download tiktok. This is day 2 (and day one went through on a whisper and a prayer).

How was it?

Good bits

Lucy: Easter. Because Easter. It’s got chocolate. Stone painting. I felt it was really nice, especially when we were doing it all together. I enjoyed my day in charge and I think everyone else did too. I tried to make sure that everyone had something that they would enjoy. The weather has been lovely.

Sophie: I liked Easter. We got chocolate. I liked painting rocks. I also liked getting letters from and writing to Jo and Harry. I like my hair. I didn’t like the dying process because Mummy pulled my hair and my head went slightly pink but I love it now. I love Daddy being a dog.

Ben: The weather has continued to be lovely, as have the food, the drink and the panorama. I’m thoroughly enjoying my current book (Lotharingia, by Simon Winder), though I should have probably read it during our time in the Netherlands, Belgium or western Germany, given that’s what it is about. None of us is ill, which is certainly to be welcomed, and Isère remains relatively lightly affected by COVID-19.

I was pleased to be able to complete my target 10km within the legally prescribed hour-limit on Monday morning, scraping home by the skin of my teeth with 18 seconds to spare. I might have to try to improve. I’m still enjoying getting fitter and stronger and losing weight, despite eating lots (and Easter).

Magnus: I liked Easter. Definitely. Because we eat chocolate and chocolate is yummy. I liked the brightly coloured lizard we saw. I enjoy reading to Amos because it is Bad Dad which is a good book about cars. I like painting rocks. My new t-shirt is awesome.

Aurora: When Daddy ate all my chocolate. It was really funny. I gave him a tiny bit and he just took the rest of my bunny. It was so funny. I liked dying my hair. I liked Easter because we had loads of food. Simon’s quiz was fun and it was good to talk to Isabel and Olivia.

Harriet: Pollyanna alert: the extra four weeks of lockdown gives us a better chance of seeing our tadpoles fully mature (this was a small but real concern). In a similar making-the-most-of-it-vein, not being able to sleep one night meant I saw the mountain at its most spectacular. The weather has continued to be glorious. This would be so much worse if it was pouring every day. I really enjoyed painting stones. I am definitely fitter than I was (not difficult, really.)

It really isn’t all bad!

Bad bits

Sophie: Not having any ankle socks that aren’t in the wash. The French labels are fine but it’s a bit annoying because everywhere you look there’s one and I don’t like it.

Lucy: The glitchiness of WordPress is really annoying.

Ben: Confirmation that we will be here for at least another 4 weeks took a while to sink in, despite not being unexpected, but has not been pleasant. I don’t expect that I’m alone in feeling a bit trapped and uncomfortable, as the worldwide lockdowns continue, but I have found myself being a bit petulant and grumpy. I think that has contributed to poor reactions on my part to some niggly situations.

I have been excessively checking the post for a pair of t-shirts I ordered over 2 weeks ago, and reacting with slightly shameful jealousy when packages arrive for others, especially when Magnus’s t-shirt (which I ordered after mine) arrived. [But thank you to all of you for letters – they bring joy to us all.]

I cooked a tartiflette this week, which I normally love, but I didn’t boil the potatoes for long enough, so it was a bit rubbish, and given the reaction it got, we probably won’t have it again. Grrr.

There’s something too about having achieved various lockdown goals I’ve set myself – whether it’s the running thing, or getting to the top league on Duolingo (a language app) – and being a bit “prowly” looking for something else to fill the days, and trying not to think about the missed / postponed / longed-for / receding possibility of the countries we had planned to visit. That jellybaby jigsaw is keeping me occupied in fits and starts, but let’s face it, jigsaws are just jigsaws.

I might well bite off more than I can chew and attempt to renovate the heavy wooden front door next week. That should shut me up.

Aurora: I am still missing Duplo. I didn’t like Joe Wicks it was really boring and hard. Some of my friends at home are annoying me and so is Magnus. My knee hurts.

Magnus: I have no idea. Fighting, but I don’t want to say that because I say fighting every week. I don’t have anything else bad to say.

Harriet: I found Macron’s announcement of a further one month extension to our lockdown (which, if anyone is comparing, will mean that France has been locked down for 8 weeks as against the UK’s 6) very difficult to take. I know it is the right thing, but on a personal level it makes the hope of our travels continuing recede ever further. This is not something we can easily postpone until next year (for all that we could then go to the Olympics) – there were years of planning and saving and negotiating with employers to get to this point. We can hardly take the children out of school again. This was a once in a lifetime event and it has been, at best, changed beyond recongntion. There is a part of me that is very angry about that.

Even the things that some people are enjoying about lockdown aren’t necessarily “good things” to us: My brother-in-law said to us that he is quite enjoying not having to get on a commuter train or travel for work and instead having time to spend with his family; many of the children’s friends are loving not having to go to school. We can of course see that these are good things and at home we would be enjoying them too. Indeed we are enjoying them here, but we had set aside this six month period to do exactly that.  So while it is a good thing, for us it is not a consolation for the dreams we have lost.

“It is the whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be, and I can see it.” (Dennis Potter. If you haven’t seen the interview, go and watch it now. You’ve got time.)

Generally my emotions are very variable. Mostly (my family may disagree) my rational, sensible side is to the fore and I know, and believe, how fortunate we are. Sometimes, particularly if the children are fighting or being difficult (unhappy, recalcitrant, argumentative unenthusiastic, sullen, phone-obsessed, delete as applicable) I sink into what can feel very much like despair. It passes, as these things do, but it’s not much fun for any of us.

The passing overhead of military aircraft which we believe are transporting the ill to Grenoble and other nearby hospitals (Isère has a comparatively low infection rate), was a timely reminder of how lucky we are.

How are the tadpoles?

Our frogs-to-be are continuing to thrive, although oddly one of the groups of bird bath residents seems to be fewer in number. We can’t work out if they’re just shy and hiding at the bottom or if something is eating them (possibly at night), or even, horrors, if they’re eating each other. There’s no sign of bodies so they may just be hiding.

They certainly don’t seem traumatised. Their eyes are visible and they are becoming more froggy in shape. In the sunlight they are flecked golden and shimmer. They seem to enjoy turning upside down at the surface and their mouths open and shut, presumably as they eat microscopic things off the surface of the water. They remind me of lambs as they butt up to the side of the pond to feed and wiggle their tails.They are (proud mother – honestly, it’s like having another baby) visibly pooing.

Any new foods? Plastic update?

A lot of Easter chocolate, of varying quality, a mediocre tartiflette, some good vegetable curries, excellent cheese (a Tomette de brebis was/is a winner), saucissons from the still-open local Sunday market, and plenty of beans. The live yeast naan breads that we are having this evening are exploding as I type.

La Crystal IPA from the Brasserie de Mont Blanc is going down well, better than the tizer-like Aperol mix I thought might work well. Lots of tea.

Squadrons of fruit pots and yoghurts as well as plastic bottles of milk is not helping the eco-friendliness situation, but it remains much as previous weeks.

What’s next?

The French lockdown has been exended for another four weeks (from last Monday) so we will be here until 11 May at the earliest. What happens then will depend on what is then allowed in France and all the other countries we still hope to travel to.

Another four weeks

As I write Emmanuel Macron is speaking to the French nation. Ben is watching while I try and chivvy the children into bed and to hang on to the hope of good news.

I may have to have a glass too.

It is not to come. The lock down, our confinement, is going to continue here for at least another four weeks. We will be here until 11 May at the absolute earliest and, quite possibly until the middle of July, as some restrictions will continue until at least then.

And I realise that I had foolishly allowed myself to hope. That the lifting of restrictions in other European states might follow here and that we might be on the road again, perhaps even at the beginning of May.

But we will not be. And who knows if we will ever be. The countries we want to travel through, and to, also remain closed or locked down. We have no idea when that will change. Even if we can get to them, who knows if transport will run or our visas will be valid.

I am beginning to allow a glimmer of a possibility of a chance that we may not make it to Tokyo at all.

And I realise that this is a very selfish thought. This decision is absolutely the right thing. The stories coming out of the UK, and indeed our home town, where the ice rink is being turned into a temporary morgue, remain terrifying, as does much of the media coverage here. All we are being asked to do is stay put.

M. Macron has asked us to be calm and courageous, and he is right. There is nothing else we can do or be. We remain well. We remain safe. We are very fortunate indeed.

But for the moment I, at least, am, selfishly, bitterly disappointed too.

I suspect I will wake up in the morning having accepted this and, probably, having worked out in my head a multiplicity of ‘ifs’ that may still allow us to make our way East, perhaps even still overland.

For now though, I give thanks for all those who are keeping this and every other country running. We are all in their debt. I am going to try very hard not to forget that.

Harriet

A Run in Every Country

One of my goals for this adventure has been to run in each country we visited, and I have managed this to date, recording each of them on Strava, a phone app which tracks your progress by GPS. Since we have been stuck in France, this challenge has changed somewhat, but that’s the nature of most things today.

The Strava app encourages you to sign up for challenges, such as “Run a 5k this month” and being a shallow sort of fellow who doesn’t like to back down (see the horrid cricket jigsaw) I have found these quite a useful way of forcing myself to run. For instance, I signed up for the March 10k badge which meant that I had a fabulous morning running along the Danube in Budapest.

The runs started with a dark evening getting lost in the wetlands north of Amsterdam. Slow, wet, meandering, getting darker with each minute, but a start which gave me hope and a small kernel of inspiration that this might just grow into something that I might enjoy.

Brussels was another exercise in getting lost, this time finding myself in the tabloid-favourite “terrorist hotbed” of Molenbeek, before heading back to Grande Place and tourist loveliness.

No picturesque windmills or guildhalls in Rommerskirchen, outside Cologne. But a couple of very impressive power stations. I did this one in my Where’s Wally carnival top too.

An early morning in Berlin gave me a beautiful view of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, before the tourist hordes (remember them?) arrived. I even remember feeling a bit like a runner on that one.

No tourists at all in the Oder Delta, but I saw my first ever wild boars in the wild – I don’t know which of us was more startled – and ran to the accompaniment of woodpecker rattles.

My run in Kraków would have been better had the bridge I wanted to cross not been completely shut due to tram works. Quite a lot of central Kraków was blocked of because of this, and it was raining. Bleurgh.

Budapest was my favourite, and longest, run. The early morning Danube, Imperial Palace, and Parliament were magnificent, and I was pleased to have completed my 10k challenge.

From one Austro-Hungarian capital to the other, and though we were much less central here, I thought I would try to spot the wild hamsters we didn’t see the day before, in the great Viennese Central Cemetery (Schubert, Beethoven, Boltzmann, Schönberg, allegedly Mozart, and countless others). I’m not sure running in a cemetery is appropriate, but it was early, so there were not many people around to be offended, and the dead did not seem to mind.

Since then, we have been locked down in the Chartreuse in France. I managed my “usual” 5km once, before the restrictions came into force, but since then the regulations are such that there is a limit of a 1km radius around the house, and a maximum of an hour.

In the spirit of challenging myself, I signed up for the April 10k badge at the end of March, so I have been plotting how to do this 10km within the time limit. This should be achievable (I can normally do a 5km within a not very impressive 28 minutes) but it means working out where to go, and how to be back in time, given that there is hardly anywhere flat here, and there are not many circular routes within the permitted radius.

The other thing is that we generally use our permitted up-to-60-minutes-outside time for a family walk, and I also signed up for an April walk challenge, so my days for running are very limited. I can generally count on the Mondays that I go to a supermarket in a neighbouring town, but not much else.

I am enjoying this though, and I’m enjoying being fitter and stronger. It’s also a chance for some headspace alone, which is always welcome.

Tomorrow is a Monday. This post is another way of making me do this. Wish me luck.

Ben

Week 9 – France (4)

Where were we?

Same hill, rather less snow

No prizes….

But we remain safe and healthy and we continue to comply with all lockdown requirements. The surroundings could be a lot worse.

Where should we have been?

We hesitate slightly to put this in here, but we sort of want to keep track of what could have, should have happened. If it starts to depress us too much. We’ll stop.

So, in the Covid-19 free parallel universe, on Sunday, after a lovely five days in Paris (where we enjoyed meeting friends) and armed with new Mongolian visas, we got a late train to Mannheim. We changed trains there (at about 11.30 pm – no one was scratchy and tired at all) and got our first overnight train (all six of us in one compartment) arriving in Hamburg for breakfast (some of us had hamburgers – because we “had to!”).

“Pine-ing” for the fjords? (Sorry)

Then on to another train to arrive in Copenhagen for lunch, as you do.  Two and a half great days with friends there who we hadn’t seen since we got married.   Then on to an overnight boat to arrive in Oslo yesterday morning.  We are staying with more friends –  including one of Aurora’s best friends: she’s been waiting for this bit all trip.

What did we do?

Much of this week was the same as the previous three, but here are the bits that were different, and the things we learned:

Gel nail polish does not set properly in the sun.

The brief moment when I thought it would work

At our sister-in-law’s suggestion, we filled in one of those “tell us your story” boxes on the BBC sport website: Have your plans to go to the Olympics changed because of the Coronavirus? We got a very speedy email back from a journalist and Harriet ended up being interviewed over Skype on Tuesday. We will let you know as and when we have a moment of fame.

Wearing make up!

Ben completed a jigsaw that is so hard it is only attempted once every twenty years.   Actual fact.

“The Cricket Match” by Sisyphus (probably)

The tooth mouse (we’re in France, no fairies here) is still operating despite Coronavirus. We do not know if mice are suceptible to the virus, but we trust it washed its hands.

Some years ago we were here on holiday and Sophie’s tooth fell out. The tooth mouse came and left her a €2 coin (excellent exchange rate from the tooth mouse there) and in the morning, a parent, who shall remain nameless, took her to the boulangerie and, in the spirit of excellent dental health, allowed her to spend her new coin on anything she liked. She came back with a meringue the size of her head which she proceeded to eat for breakfast….

Apparently this is now a tradition.

Five out of six of us have now downloaded MarioKart. We compete against each other.  Some of us consistently come last.

We spent a lot of time and had a lot of fun exploring the river at the bottom of the hill. Shoes and socks don’t dry as quickly in the sun as you might think.

After you…

Skipping is like riding a bike. You really don’t forget, even after a thirty year hiatus.

The hawthorn on the way down to the river is bursting into a froth of white blossom.

Aurora had a day in charge. She set her own schedule (presentation not her finest point), designed an academic schedule (write about your dream holiday… Erm… Not having a pandemic would be a start), planned and helped cook the meals and sadly didn’t manage to beat Ben at Risk.

Magnus wowed us with his holiday descriptions. Spelling notwithstanding.

Non-screen academics at its best.

Ben met a baby mouflon (prehistoric sheep) in the mini-market.

It has been too hot to sit in the sun without burning (we are factor 50 types and that was another thing we planned to buy en route – even we didn’t need it in Germany in February).  We could call that a bad thing, but our vitamin D stores are loving it.

The 1984-era Trivial Pursuit set has come out for late-night competitiveness.  Harriet is currently 2:1 up.

About seven and a half years ago, and about three weeks after we came up with the idea of this trip, Harriet bought herself an Olympic t-shirt in Sainsbury’s. It was on sale as the Olympics were over. It has sat, unworn, in her drawer and then rucksack ever since waiting to be worn at the Olympics this Summer. With the Olympics now postponed, and the weather really too warm for merino, it came out this week. It already has hair dye (Aurora and Sophie) on it.

Magnus also had a day in charge. We’re in the middle of it as we type.  We’re having fondu for supper and then challenging each other on Mario Kart.  Plus ça change…

Our photo competition this week, in which we were inspired to recreate classic paintings, was a huge success and lots of fun to do.

How was it?

Good bits

Harriet: The weather has been glorious.  It is so good to spend time outside in the sun.  Some of our walks have been wonderful as a result, albeit short.  It has been fantastic watching the children explore down by the river  – we are so lucky to have that within five minutes (downhill anyway) of the front door.  Our photo competition was brilliant.  I’m so chuffed with all of the results and they really were all properly collaborative efforts.   I was very proud of my hot cross buns!

Sophie: We’re about to have Fondue tonight. Aurora’s day was more fun than normal days, I’m not sure exactly why, but it just was. Being a cherub was fun, and clambering about in the river to get Lucy’s photo was good too. My friend Zara sent us girls some nice bracelets.

Thank goodness for goretex

Ben: Having little variation to the days, and very few obligations, has been both a blessing a curse. As far as the blessing part goes (this is the good bits bit after all) our walks, the weather, the food, and the views remain spectacular. I loved our recreations of artworks, and the reactions they got.

My runs have been getting longer, and I have enjoyed feeling healthier. The simple pleasure of a clean house is also not to be sniffed at, especially when you have as many allergies as me.

Saturday is cleaning day.

Lucy: It was lovely to feel thought about getting bracelets. It seems daft but I enjoyed Daddy bringing Head and Shoulders 2in1 from the supermarket. The river has been really fun and an enjoyable way to spend the morning. The video call to Ele was a nice way to see them [Ben’s parents]. We found the best way to listen to Harry Potter during quiet time without arguing – with Sophie and Aurora on the bed drawing and me making pom-poms on the armchair. Hot Cross Buns.

Aurora: Hot Cross Buns, and I liked bossing people about on my day in charge. Watching Jumanji was fun. I am looking forward to Fondue tonight. I had a good facetime with Maia and others. I enjoyed dressing the same as Sophie for a day.

Monochorionic Diamniotic at its best

Magnus: I enjoyed everyone joining MarioKart tour and racing against them. I waited so long to be boss for a day, and it happened today. Playing cars with Daddy was good. I liked eating tarts with Ele on the video call for her birthday. It was funny because it was a bit crazy. Throwing rocks in the river was the best part of our walks.

The thinker?!

Bad bits

Sophie: I had to climb up from the river twice (once for a walk and once for Lucy’s photo) which I did not appreciate. This week has been better though.

Aurora: I still miss Duplo A loads. Sometimes my family annoy me.

You are going to get very familiar with pictures of this river

Harriet: If I’m honest – and this is me putting myself out to be judged here, which is not something I do lightly or with any degree of comfort – I am finding the increased contact with home, which in many ways is so delightful, a challenge too. I am realising that I find being (or perhaps feeling) under an obligation difficult – if people expect me to do things, albeit something as simple as calling them at an agreed time – there is the risk that I may let them down; Be late; Say the wrong thing; Not have good enough internet; Not do what they expected me to do; Be not good enough. By taking myself away from our usual life I took myself out of all obligation to anyone other than the five people I live with and I now realise that that lifted a huge weight of anxiety and pressure off me. I cannot live as a hermit and so this is something I have to learn to deal with: I suspect that people’s expectations of me are not quite as high as mine are of myself.

I also worry slightly that we are becoming a group of people who are living separate lives (jigsaws, crochet, books, Instagram, lego) in the same place and not really interacting with each other at all. Or at least enough.

Daddy, did I tell you about MarioKart?

Lucy: I haven’t enjoyed when anyone has been scratchy generally. It’s slightly scary that we are already a good way through the Half Blood Prince and have finished the massive Order of the Phoenix.

Ben: Last week I wrote about enjoying the slower pace, and the lack of obligations. This week I have enjoyed those aspects less, particularly passing both the 60 days and 2 month milestones without seeing an end to lockdown on the horizon. We still have almost two thirds of our trip ahead of us, in terms of time, and there’s a lot of adventure to be had in four months, or even two or three if that’s what we get.

This sounds like a whinge when I read it again. Many people are in much worse situations, whether health, company, job, location or any other aspect of this bizarre situation. I am very grateful for what I and we have.

Whether it’s sakura or fleurs de cerisier, it’s still pretty.

Magnus: Fighting. I hate it but it seems like I’m at the centre of every bit, and I don’t know why.

How are the tadpoles?

Doing well, thank you for asking.  They don’t seem particularly interested in our lovingly frozen and defrosted manky ends of salad, preferring to nibble at the algae and other things (lots and lots of tiny worms) that appear naturally in their various pools.  The outside sink colony are properly hatched and swimming busily. They still have their external gills.  The bird bath crew are growing well (maybe now 3 cm long) and are getting more of a frog-like shape to their bodies.  Up close you can see that they are becoming more greeny grey and spotty too.

What did we eat?

A mouflon was, actually, the second most exciting thing that Ben found in the mini-market that morning. He also found live yeast.

So we made pizzas.  And hot cross buns.

And we had lovely tarts too.

And the plastic?

Again, more of the same really.  We have redisovered “pot pots” (ie fruit puree in yoghurt pots – why don’t we have these in the UK (other than branded as weaning food – that’s business idea number 3,857 by the way) which are delicious but do generate more plastic waste, as do yoghurts.   We need to wean (pun intended) ourselves off them.

What’s next?

The French government has confirmed that lockdown here will continue beyond 15 April, although we don’t yet know when it will be extended to.

Coming up: Another masochistic jigsaw

Lucy’s birthday is on 21st April so we are busy plannning that. the original intention was for us to be in St Petersburg then (and then on an overnight train to Moscow) so the reality will be slightly different, but at least this way she will get a home made cake. We’ve even located some candles. Like everyone else we’ve had lots of practice at singing happy birthday recently…

Marsh marigolds. We’re hoping for real Buttercups by her birthday.

Week 8 – France (3)

Where were we?

Still France. Still not going more than 1km from our front door. (Apart from Ben who gets to go to the supermarket once a week).

What did we do?

More of the same, really. We have settled into our routine, which is not really a routine as such, but is at least a structure. We have agreed that we all need this, for all that there’s a statutory whinge at the mention of it. So every morning we agree on a plan of action of the day.

This normally involves some learning (screen or paper-based and mostly both), some exercise (usually a walk first thing and then two shorter sessions later on in the day (Canadian airforce XBX and our home made circuit), some “quiet time” in which the children disappear to their rooms to listen to stories or read and we crochet or do jigsaws or read or blog, and some free screen time. We are trying, too, to build in some clear family time for games or doing something else together.

When you’ve got the ace and king of trumps.

We are thinking, too, that the children should have a chance to plan this, rather than having it imposed on them. We’re going to try that next week…

Highlights (i.e. things we did this week that we didn’t do last week)

We took our croissants on a walk with us yesterday morning and sat looking down at the village in the sunshine.

What about second breakfast?

We discovered a new walking route that none of us had been on before and did it twice (clockwise and anti-clockwise).

We enjoyed collaborating to make our optical illusion photographs.

Two of us downloaded MarioKart and have been enjoying having their “arses whooped” by Magnus. One of us has occasionally been found playing it when Magnus is nowhere to be seen…

3, 2, 1… Go!

We used up the ingredients in the house (as instructed by our landlords) to make a honey cake.

We dyed each other’s hair, with varying results.

Some of us completed several jigsaws.

Also completed: the South Rose Window at Angers Cathedral.

We learned hearts, and a new form of whist, and Risk (that may or may not be considered a “good thing”)

Aurora made a washing and drying up rota (six day rotation) so that each of us only has to do one chore once a day. Most of us are very happy with it.

Spot where the system falls down.

Ben learned that nail polish and gel nail polish are not the same thing. We will be experimenting with how much UV light there is in sunlight in due course.

We watched a “family film”, pressing play on six different devices simultaneously and heading off together to Arendelle to watch Elsa and Anna battle an entirely unconvincing plot to reach a satisfactory conclusion once again. Ben played the soundtrack over and over again afterwards.

Quality family time. Honest.

We’ve added a brief period of mindfulness to the end of our daily exercise. We’re not all entirely convinced by it yet, but hoping that will change.

In the spirit of grooming (see hair dye above) Ben trimmed his beard (and pulled highly entertaining faces while doing so – hence no pictures).

We enjoyed 3D animals in the living room courtesy of google. Next week we might put a shark in the swimming pool.

How was it?

Good bits

Sophie: I liked watching the family film and I liked planning our rooms for education time. I liked eating our croissants by the chapel because we’ve done that lots of times before when we’ve been in France. I liked dyeing our hair lots, apart from mine didn’t work so I want to do it again. I’m going to do it purple. The tadpoles are quite cool as well.

It’s still beautiful and it hasn’t rained yet (famous last words)

Aurora: Good bits were watching the movie and playing Risk. I’m 100% going to beat Daddy next time. He didn’t actually win that time because we didn’t finish it.

And Mummy fed me!

Harriet: At the risk of coming over all Pollyanna. I get a little boost every morning when I come downstairs and I don’t have to empty the dishwasher. Clearly the actual reason for this could be considered a bad thing as the twenty year old dishwasher broke about three days after we got here. But Aurora has created a washing and drying rota which has simply been absorbed into the rhythm of our day, mostly (apart from once) with very little conflict and that is a good thing too.

I have lovely friends and family who have sent us, in no particular order, books, wool, crochet hooks, kitchen scales and tea. I am now set up for the long haul (and can make Lucy a birthday cake)….

My new glasses (bought online, with some trepidation) have also arrived, which means I can see properly again. I definitely need to talk to the optician about my contact lens prescription when I get back.

Remarkably similar to the old ones.

In bigger stuff I think (famous last words) we have got on better this week. The scuffles have been shorter and fewer in number and we have avoided (wait for it) a major blow out.

Magnus: Daddy joined MarioKart Tour. It’s fun because I can play against him. I liked watching Frozen II with everyone. I liked talking to my friends. I like my new lock screen on my phone.

Ben: The rhythm we have found seems to be more settled, which is definitely a good thing. I continue to be entranced by the scenery of our walks, and despite being limited to a kilometre radius we have walked trails I have never been on. I have been struck by the birdsong – its variety and its volume. Spring has definitely sprung.

If I don’t think about what we are missing, and look at what we have, we are in a lovely place, taking our days at a very leisurely pace, with plenty of lovely food, more exercise than I am used to, and mostly in the sun. I am surrounded by my family, and none of us is ill. I have very few obligations. I can play MarioKart and call it bonding with my son. There is excellent cheese here (we are about to have our second Raclette of the lockdown). We have had good chats, and social network exchanges with friends stuck in their houses. On an absolute level, life is good, and on a relative level (compared to what many other have today) we are in an amazing place.

I have had lovely times with each of my fellow inmates this week. And the soundtrack to Frozen 2 was an unexpected pleasure.

Lucy: I liked the parcels arriving. It just shows that everyone is thinking about us. I enjoyed dyeing our hair. I like the walks that we’ve been going on. The weather has been really nice. I enjoyed winning at Quiddler today.

Bad bits

Lucy: I’m not really sure. I mean we’ve argued but not as much as sometimes. There haven’t been many bad bits.

Harriet: I know I have had some very down times this week, and I’ve struggled with negativity from the children which has an immediate and extraordinary lowering effect, but now, sitting in the sun, the warmest it has yet been, with a cup of tea and my crochet to look forward to, I’m concentrating on the positive. And it has been, this week, mostly positive.

It’s going to be a blanket. I rather hope I don’t have time to finish it.

Sophie: Nothing really apart from when we fight and when Magnus tries to annoy me. I always try to ignore him but then I do get annoyed and it’s just annoying.

Magnus: I don’t like the rota. I just don’t. I didn’t like last night because I was fighting like half a million times.

Lucy feels less strongly about the rota.

Aurora: Cleaning. I don’t like all the dusting and hoovering upstairs because the hoover is rubbish. Magnus winding me up. I don’t like the mindfulness. I can’t be bothered to do it. Daddy taking my phone away when I didn’t actually do anything that was that bad.

Ben: Not knowing about the future, when the mind wanders from the present, whether that future is how on earth am I going to earn money when I return, or are we going to be able to go anywhere, is a trap I need to avoid.

Normally I go to the Intermarché about 11km away in St Laurent du Pont on a Monday, for a weekly shop, when the local minimarket is closed. This week I went down to Meylan, outside Grenoble, which is about 20km in the other direction, and I don’t think I will go again. It was not an enjoyable experience, and it made me appreciate the tranquility and solitude (enforced or not) of the hills. There was more produce on offer at the People’s Republic of Carrefour (so big you can see it from space*), but more people, and it made me think that the risks to me, us, and everyone else, are probably not worth it, just for a few things which we could potentially/probably forgo. Not going to happen again.

The early morning queue outside Carrefour

*not actually true.

What about the tadpoles?

Our new babies continue to grow. The outside sink colony are gettting bigger and wrigglier but are still not quite hatched. There are quite a few eggs (is that the right word?) in there which haven’t developed and have gone cloudy. We wonder if that’s to do with it being cold. The bird bath crew are definitely hatched and very active. Some of them are losing their external gills and they are all getting more tadpole like in shape. They are about a mighty 1.5cm long. We haven’t yet started to feed them; that’s next week’s excitement.

What did we eat?

This is a bit more like being at home, in that we meal plan at the beginning of the week, before Ben heads into town to the big(ger) supermarket. We are trying to be more vegetarian, (when not eating sausages) and continue to rely on the only recipe book we brought with us, The Green Roasting Tin, to varying approval. Magnus was not a fan of the red cabbage salad.

And the plastic?

Not having glasses was not great for the plastic consumption: contact lenses seem to be all about the single use plastic and none of it seems to be recyclable. That’s another reason to be glad the new glasses have arrived.

Here is a green picture. See what we did there?

Dyeing our hair, while fun, also created quite a bit of non-recyclable waste.

We fear that with the current advice to use single use gloves and wipes and endless handwash and sanitiser, our plastic challenge (although we are not currently using the gloves or wipes) is going to get harder as this continues. We are still making an effort though, and a trip to the communal recycling bins is now a regular part of our walks.

What’s next?

This week we cancelled all our remaining plans up to and until Mongolia (scheduled for 1 June). Russia is in lockdown until 1 May at the earliest and so we wait until then to see where we can go and how.

We are very much hoping that this is not the closest we get to Japan. (It’s not Japan, for the avoidance of doubt).

We’ll let you know…

A book from every country – France

After my failure to try and find a book in English that encapsulated the spirit and culture of each country we have so far visited (funny that), I decided to give up on both my criteria.

As a result my French book was a) a detective novel and b) (deep breath) in French.

I do have a degree in French, it is true, but it is over twenty years since I last read a book in French, and if I’m scrupulously honest I’m not sure I even did then (publishers in university towns are surprisingly good about producing reliable and cheap translations of set texts, I found).

Anyway, a lovely friend had recommended the Commissionaire Adamsberg novels of Fred Vargas so I thought I’d give one of them a go. When we arrived here I did my customary trawl of the books in the house and noted that there was one of hers here already, in English: Have Mercy on Us. If all else fails, I thought, I’ll read that…

But the supermarket did me proud and had several of her novels. No English version required… I picked one, mostly at random, influenced only really by price (it was oddly slightly cheaper than the others) and the fact that it had won a prize. It’s called Pars Vite et Reviens Tard. In English, that’s Leave quickly and come back late.

I don’t know what made me, on my return to the house, get out the two novels, with their very different titles, and compare them. But I did. The original French title of my English book is, you guessed it, Pars Vite et Reviens Tard. They are the same book.

I was slightly annoyed by this, to be honest, although with hindsight I’m not sure why. There was nothing stopping me just reading the French one and ignoring the English. Or vice versa. But in the end, I’ve, sort of, read both.

I started with two or three chapters of the French and then quickly skimmed the English just to check I hadn’t missed anything. It’s been an interesting experience and a glimpse into the skill that is translation. Pleasingly I’d generally understood the plot, but the words used were, often, wildly different. Rather than being, as I would have imagined, almost a word-by-word exercise, in which the translation is as close to the original as possible, this read much more as if the translator, David Bellos, had read the book and then, almost without looking at it again, retold the original French story in his own, English, words.

This is the epigraph on the first page of both books. If you read French you’ll see what I mean. I haven’t yet put either through google translate but I’m quite tempted to.

It made me realise what a skill translating is, and in turn, how we can never know, when we read a book in translation, not just “how close” to the original it is, but also what “how close” really means. If the author has used a word, should the direct translation be used? Or is there another phrase which may express better the feel or mood or style of the author? Or which may simply sound better in English? And if so, how do you choose which to prioritise?

So I take my metaphorical hat off to the translators* of all the books I have read. With the exception of this one I will never read the original works, so I will never know how “close” or “good” or “true” they were, but to differing degrees I enjoyed them all, and I never felt that the English jarred.

And what of the book itself? I enjoyed it, although I was irritated by several of what, to me, felt like plot holes. And I certainly didn’t get why anyone, much less two attractive young women, would leap into bed with Adamsberg. He wears sandals…

I’m also not sure that now is the time to be reading a book about plague and panic.

I would read more of Fred Vargas’ books though, and not just because I am very chuffed with myself for doing so in French.

As for the change of title. It does make sense. But it’s still a bit annoying.

Next: to read the books I’ve been carrying round in the expectation if visiting countries we will not now get to. First: Slovenia.

* I should have credted them in my last book-y post, and I apologise for not doing so. I can’t go back and edit it (there’s a glitch somewhere) so I’m doing it here:

The Tobacconist translated from the German by Charlotte Collins (Austria)

The House with the Stained Glass Window translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd Jones (Poland)

War and Turpentine translated from the Dutch by David McKay (Belgium)

The White King translated from the Hungarian by Paul Olchvary (Hungary)

One Clear Ice Cold Morning… translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch (Germany)

On Control

The lack of control that we have over being in lockdown, and what we do while we are confined, is something which I expect is affecting many of (the wider) us.

Here in France, I think we are probably a week or so ahead of the UK and about 10 days behind Italy, in terms of lockdown. I have noticed changes in my psyche and mentality over the two weeks since M. Macron instigated his restrictions.

I like being in control of what is going on. So does Harriet. As previously stated, we have been planning this trip for more than 7 years, and in earnest for several months. We had a Cozi family calendar which showed that we knew exactly where we were going to be for almost every night until leaving Tashkent, in early May. (Ironically, we were actually meant to be where I am right now, right now. We would be leaving for Paris on Wednesday, in some parallel universe.) We were very much in control of this trip.

Until COVID-19, and Corona Virus, and Lockdown, and Social Distancing, and Border Closures, and all that. Now, we are not in control of any of this. Not just the difficulty in sourcing a replacement pair of socks, or pair of glasses, but also what the restrictions will be tomorrow, or next week, or next month. And what the restrictions will be here in France, or in Russia, or whether the train will run from Paris to Moscow (currently suspended due to Poland border closure).

The FCO is advising against all foreign travel. Entry to UK citizens is currently not permitted in Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, or China, although we did have a nice message from our AirBnB host in Kyoto Japan asking whether we were going to need parking in late July.

Continuing our trip, which remains our goal, is dependent on any number of current regulations and restrictions being lifted. And we are not in control of any of that. All the discussions we start turn into a great game of “ifs”, so we have stopped having them. Mostly.

I read an excellent piece, which was shared on Facebook by a wise former colleague, by a psychologist who summarised her advice, given to 31 patients over the course of a week. I recommend it to you. There are several parts in there which we have also found to ring true, by trial and error. One which struck a particular chord was the one which stated “Find something you can control, then control the heck out of it.”

I have found myself drawn to puzzles and games which have a solution, however tricky. I started and finished an epic jigsaw of the South Rose Window of Angers Cathedral, and have reinstalled Flow Free on my phone. These things are tricky, but not impossible, and they have a solution. I have enjoyed much of the maths home schooling with the children, for much the same reason (though I’m not sure the feeling is mutual).

I have enjoyed setting up and using our home “gym”, and even going on a run or two. (Those that know me can vouch that this is not a usual situation.) I have been the laundry person (monitor?, manager?, prefect?) in our family for a good few years, and the laundry here is running like clockwork.

Because until we can start really planning what on earth we are going to do with the rest of our adventure – we are only in week 7 or 8 of a 26 week trip after all – that’s one part of what I can do to stay sane. And thank you to the Kyoto AirBnB chap, who unknowingly gave us both a lift with his question about car parking. If he thinks there is every reason that we will be in Japan in late July, why shouldn’t we?

Ben

Week 7 – France (2)

Where were we?

Silly question…. still France.

Why aren’t we coming home?

Earlier this week, Dominic Raab, the UK Foreign Secretary (*refrains from political comment*) advised all British citizens “currently on holiday or business trips abroad” to come home “while they still could”.

We are not taking Mr Raab’s advice and will be staying here for the duration. There are two simple reasons for this (neither of which is related to our opinion of Mr Raab himself):

  1. We don’t have anywhere to go. Our house is let out and the people living it wouldn’t thank us for camping in the garden. We can’t go and stay with anyone else because a) social isolation and b) there are six of us so no-one has space for us all, certainly not for an indefinite period of time.
  2. We are not at all convinced that the French government, who won’t currently let us go for a walk more than 1km from our house, would be entirely chuffed if we decided to drive six potential Covid vectors 900 kilometres across the entire country. It has to be less risky for us and everyone else, whether in the UK or France, if we just stay here.

So what did we do?

Learning

Like parents worldwide, we have a new found admiration and respect for our children’s teachers’ patience and ability to suppress strings of four letter words…

“Creative time”

Our rigid routine has become rather more relaxed over the last two weeks but we have discovered that some structure is definitely better than none. We are therefore trying to incorporate two periods of “academic” time into the day, one screen based and one not. With the shutting of UK schools, and despite Lucy’s school’s refusal to provide us with materials (beecause she’s officially not currently enrolled), we have now, courtesy of other parents, got a got a load of additional learning material that we are, with varying degress of enthusiasm, gradually working through.

Despite this we’re definitely being more relaxed about what constitutes learning. Magnus enjoyed “times tables tennis” over video with his best friend Joe, and scrabble, puzzles and knock out whist have all featured in our “lesson time” this week.

We also have our living biology lesson in the form of the tadpoles: one colony of which is in the outside sink (colder, shadier, not hatched yet) and one colony in the very large bird bath (shallower, sunnier and therefore warmer – all hatched and very active). Other than Ben, who actually was a biology teacher, we’re all getting very fond of them. It’s only a matter of time before they get named…

Exercise

We have continued to exercise like the Canadian airforce, with their rather outdated but mercifully brief 5BX and XBX routines. This happens after “quiet time” (thank goodness for the blessed combination of JK Rowling and Stephen Fry) and invariably provokes whinging but reluctant compliance.

More successful yet was our home circuits set up, inspired by Sophie and Lucy’s judo coach and created by Ben. We’ve varied between 30 second circuits (too much faffing) and 1 minute ones (“Is that really a minute?!“), and although we have yet to set on the perfect time, we have all done it, every day this week. I call that a win.

This, almost literally, means “Fun not allowed”.

On Wednesday a new “Attestation dérogatoire” was published. This is the formal document we have to carry with us each time we leave the house. Pleasingly (for two of the six of us) the new version makes it clear that we are allowed to go for walks, although these can be only within a kilometre of the house and for a maximum of an hour, once a day. We are now ready with our facts should the gendarmes get called again…

Our walks restarted on Friday morning and will remain part of our daily routine until we learn that we really aren’t allowed to do them.

We also tried body percussion, which further reconfirmed the adults’ suspicion that we ain’t, unlike Ella Fitzgerald or Gene Kelly, got rhythm. Not a beat.

How has it been?

Good bits:

Harriet: Not only have I been exercising three times a day, I have been enjoying it. Anyone who has met me at any time in the last 43 years is permitted to fall over backwards at that information. The world really clearly has been turned upside down by this virus….

I also drew a picture that actually looks like what it’s supposed to be. Another first!

Ben: Setting up and using the gym has been fun. I enjoyed the ease with which having a physical challenge improves my mood, for now at least. I’m also pleased that the French ministry of the interior has clarified that we are allowed to go on limited walks as a family. I finished a good book, ate some lovely food, and even enjoyed a run for the first time in forever.

Magnus: Sleeping. Playing with cars. Talking with Joe was by far one of the best things I have done this week. I liked getting some new socks. I think I’ve got on better with my sisters this week, towards the end at least. I’ve liked reading Dogman with Daddy.

Aurora: Actually knowing where we are, and being in this house, which I know and love. I liked getting out of the house too, to go shopping with Daddy [now unfortunately no longer allowed], because I got to step outside the routine for a bit.

Sophie: I liked winning Mexican Train. Before we would listen to everyone’s ideas but not considering actually doing them, but now we do, like not always going on walks. I think we’re getting on better as a family. Listening to Harry Potter during our quiet time has been fun.

Lucy: I enjoyed today’s walk, because it was the nicest walk we’ve been on so far. I’m enjoying Murder Offstage, by LB Hathaway, which was here in the house, and is written by a friend of Mummy’s. I like it when I get the giggles and can’t stop laughing at the dinner table.

Bad bits:

Harriet: I have struggled with “having stuff to do” this week, especially since we have slightly relaxed the schedule. Unlike the children I don’t have the ability to disappear into my phone for hour on end: there’s only so many times you can look at the same stuff on facebook or instagram, I don’t get twitter, I’ve never been one for computer games (I was the only child I knew who never wanted a game boy) and the news is too depressing to spend more than a couple of minutes on (and that was true even before Covid). Lovely friends have sent me wool and crochet hooks (although the postman, like a watched pot, still persists in not bringing the second parcel) and I have a project on the go, but I’m conscious that I can’t do too much at once for fear of running out later. (I can’t have my wool and crochet it, perhaps). I can and have been reading, but reading has always felt like a luxury and my overdeveloped protestant work ethic won’t let me do something that doesn’t produce anything for too long before I get up and start looking for something to tidy…

I have also intermittently been devastatingly convinced that this really is it for our dream. Talking to the insurance company (more below) and methodically going through the file of booked travel and activities and cancelling everything that was so carefully planned, and with such excitement, has been soul withering and emotionally exhausting.

I’m finding it difficult not being able to help too. I want to be volunteering in the NHS or delivering food or (there’s a theme here) doing something. Here we can’t. Or if we can I don’t know what it is.

So if you are reading this and you do know of anything we can do, whether here or at a distance, please let us know.

Ben: Friday was a horrible day for me. A small argument between children about who was “entitled” to use which mat for exercising descended into a pit of family doom, with threats and sanctions and tears. I went to sleep not liking my children. I had thought we were doing better, but it’s clearly a fragile better. I expect lockdown will create these kind of pressures for many people, and I hope, but don’t expect, that this is all behind us now. If we can come out of the whole COVID-19 lockdown pain closer as a family, that will be a superb (and realistic) achievement. Saturday was better though, showing the benefit of a good night’s sleep.

The “not knowing” about the future is grim. It comes in waves for all of us I think, but the idea we might go not much further than back home, after the years of planning and dreaming, is horrible. The cancellation/postponement of the summer Olympics was another, faintly inevitable, nail in the dream coffin.

For me, Europe was the appetiser for the main adventures lying ahead in Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Mongolia, before China and Japan. We’ve cut short our appetiser (no Slovenia, Italy or Scandinavia) and the borders of each of the main course countries above are currently closed to UK nationals. Not knowing when or if they will reopen, at least within either our trip time frame, or for Russia at least, our visa validity time frame, is not pleasant.

Aurora: Going on walks. I didn’t like pulling the skin off my toe today. Everyone getting really stressful was annoying. Maths.

Magnus: Fighting with my sisters at the start of the week. We weren’t very nice. The Olympics being cancelled is a bit of a downer. I would have liked to see Portugal play France at Football.

Sophie: Us fighting. When I forget to put deodorant on and we go on a walk. I find “creative time” quite boring.

Lucy: Yesterday. (I don’t want to write more about it).

What about the rest of our trip?

Who knows?

Now that the Olympics has been postponed the ostensible purpose of our whole trip has gone. But in reality that was only ever an excuse for an adventure and we would still like to get to Tokyo overland this Summer if at all possible.

Whether that is possible will entirely depend on what happens with borders being reopened, transport links being started up again, and visas still being valid. We will know more at some point. At the moment though we keep starting conversations with “if” and then tailing off because there are so many “ifs” that trying to get your head around all of them is a pointless impossibility.

We have been trying to get some answers from our insurance company about what costs we can recover and what we can and should cancel now: we have bookings into August and who knows whether those will be possible – we don’t want to find that if we cancel them now our insurance company says we shouldn’t have. This has been a slightly frustrating experience (the email starting “Dear Helen” was a particular high point).

We finally got some answers on Friday, but in some ways they just give rise to more questions. We can “curtail” our trip at any point and the insurance company will then “consider a claim” for any expenses we have already incurred.  If we do that though they will then consider our trip over and we will no longer be insured.  That’s probably liveable-with while we remain in France, but should, by some miracle, we be able to carry on towards Japan in the months to come we do not want to do so uninsured.  We would, in normal circumstances, simply then get another insurance policy, but we’re not sure how keen travel insurers are to take on new clients at the moment.

Equally we can leave our policy running and continue with our trip, but if we do so we cannot claim for any travel that is cancelled other than our “outward” and “homeward” journeys. There is a part of me that wants to try claiming that it is all outward journey until we get to Japan, but I’m keeping that one up our sleeve for the ombudsman.

For the moment we have cancelled all our planned travel (where possible – there is a gulf between the levels of helpfulness of the various different train companies: SNCF and ÖBB – excellent, Deutsche Bahn and DFDS – awful, others in between) and accommodation between here and Moscow. In an ideal world we would pick up our travel there, although later than planned, but as with everything else we will have to wait and see what can be done and when.

What did we eat?

It appears that one of the aims of our trip is already on its way to being achieved (it may be the only one so we will take this small mercy). Our children, who previously were very much fish finger and spag bol eaters, have become much, much more open to new foods. So this week we’ve had fondu, Tuscan bean soup, spinach and squash curry, fennel pilaf and raclette and they’ve eaten it all (although Aurora wasn’t a massive fan of the raclette). None of those is half as scary as yak butter tea or sushi, but we’re still hoping to work up to those.

How plastic free were we?

As ever, we try, with varying degrees of success.

What’s next?

More of the same, at least until 15 April, which is when the current lockdown ends.

Til then, there are worse places we could be.

Fair Wear and Tear

I was so proud of all of our packing for this adventure. Each of us packed a minimum – clothes, toiletries, luxuries (cuddly friends, jewelry, etc.) – with the expectation that each place we were going would sell clothes appropriate to location and climate, if we needed a change, and we could replenish soap and toothpaste when required too.

Very proud of my minimlist packing

Harriet wrote about her dissatisfaction with her traveling wardrobe while we were back in Brussels (that feels a long time ago…), and bought a very useful bright pink jacket there and has subsequently bought a t-shirt in a Berlin market.

There have been a few more purchases along the way – some pants for me and Lucy (different styles and sizes…), some socks for Sophie, some trainers and a cap for Magnus – and we had always planned to do a wardrobe review about now, probably involving a family trip to Decathlon in Grenoble, to get shorts, t shirts, etc. and convert our winter wear to spring/summer, and eventually to send back our heavy duty cold stuff with our car.

Being stuck in one location, with a minimum number of shops allowed to remain open by law, just as Spring is springing, has meant that this has been a little more challenging recently. Clothes shops are not “essential services”, and are closed. Supermarkets and hypermarkets remain open, but the two closest to us are pretty small and don’t run to clothes beyond slippers, bras for enormous people and awful nighties.

Constant wear, and an annoying tendency of our children to grow, has meant that some of our clothes are either worn out, or too small. And it’s not just clothes – Harriet has scratched the lenses of her glasses, making them virtually unusable (she has contacts, so it’s not catastrophic), the dishwasher here has packed in, Magnus’s headphones broke, and loads of other utterly normal and banal stuff has gone a bit awry.

And here’s the thing. Because of the lockdown, we can’t get them fixed or replaced, or at least the lockdown has made it much more difficult. While we were sitting down to our Fondue Savoyarde, Lucy made the valid point that the French Government clearly consider a cheese shop an essential service, but not an optician. Harriet has ventured into online glasses shopping.

As the UK and other areas enter lockdown too, I expect many of us will be experiencing the same thing.

I fear for the long term prospects of smaller shops, selling clothes, stationary, electronics, sports equipment, etc. if the only available source of these is either an online giant, or a hypermarket.

Cousin Freddie in the UK also has a worrying tendency to grow

Until then, I shall continue to wear my grey winter kit, do the washing up by hand – this and all the handwashing is playing havoc with my skin, darlings – as will we all, and look forward to having a little splurge on something new when I am allowed.

Stay home, stay safe, stay well.

Ben

Week 6 – France

In which our trip comes to an abrupt (and hopefully temporary) stop.

Although, as everyone knows, the world is a very strange place right now, some things go on. We have decided that our weekly post should be one of those things. The first six months of 2020 was always intended to be a life changing experience for all of us, and though it is not going to be as we planned, we do want to remember it as it was.

Our daily facebook and Instagram posts continue too, so if you want more of us (who wouldn’t ?!) have a look at those.

Where were we? What did we do?

The drive

When last we wrote we were nearing Ben’s parents’ house in the Chartreuse, in the foothills of the Alps.

The journey here was long (1,150 km and 11 hours and 59 minutes) but relatively (we thought) uneventful. The driving conditions were perfect: blue skies and very little traffic, with the snowy Alps looking glorious away to our left. We passed several major cities and towns on the way – Linz 🇦🇹, Munich 🇩🇪, St Gallen 🇨🇭, Zurich 🇨🇭, Bern 🇨🇭, Lausane 🇨🇭, Geneva 🇨🇭, Annecy 🇨🇵 and Chambery 🇨🇵 – without a footstep in any.

We were nervous about the four borders we had to cross (and in fact the German border was closed the same day) but again these were easy. Three were unattended. Austria to Switzerland (we had had to briefly go from Germany back into Austria to get to Switzerland round the Bodensee at Bregenz) was manned, but unconcerned with six people in a British car. We did need to get a Swiss motorway vignette there. We believe that all these borders are now closed, all the others closing the day after our drive on the Sunday.

The most eventful of our three stops was the last, at Restroute Rose de la Broye, just as the signs turned from German to French at Avenches on the Swiss A1, though we did not realise this at the time. Duplo A, Aurora’s beloved teddy, fell from the open car door and was left behind. When we realised this, upon arrival at Ben’s parents’ holiday house in France, 3 hours later, what should have been our triumphal arrival felt very hollow. Aurora has written a post about Duplo – you can find it here.

Gone but never forgotten

One ray of sunshine was that our AirBnB hosts in St Gallen (where we had planned to break the journey) refunded our money, even though our cancellation was too late to qualify for any refund. It is gestures like this, and the goodwill it spreads, that have led us to do the same for any of our guests who have booked to stay in our holiday cottage in Kelso.

France

And now we are here. In France, where we speak the language, know the village, and are familiar with the equipment in the kichen (which includes a colander, a potato peeler and a large number of sharp (and not so sharp) knives).

We’re just going to scatter the rest of this post with pretty pictures. Because we all need pretty pictures at the moment.

We arrived on Sunday night and on Monday headed to the nearest town, where there is a larger supermarket, to do a weekly shop. It is a good thing we did. On Monday night, President Macron announced sweeping restrictions on movement. We’ve written a longer post about these and our life “under lockdown”, but suffice to say that we have not left the village, other than for our hitherto permitted exercise walks, since then.

The rules here do keep shifting – our long walks earlier in the week will not be repeated, as we are now (and in fact then, but we didn’t know) not allowed to go more than 2km from our house for our daily exercise. In fact since I wrote that second sentence yesterday, we have been informed (very politely) by the gendarmes (called we believe, by a woman whose house we walked past), that in fact it is 500m from the house. We remain unconvinced that that is the case (or that walking is not a permitted form of exercise which they also told us), but we did not feel that arguing was sensible. Our walks will be futher curtailed…

We are also shifting our own understanding and expectations: non-screen academic time now includes writing letters, playing scrabble or even, we hope, listening to some classic literature.  Our daily exercise routine has been moved outside (weather permitting, which it fortunately has so far) and we are settling for just being outside a bit more if we cannot walk.  The not-quite-yet-tadpoles need a lot of looking at….

Definitely now more “comma” than “full stop”

We can leave the house for short periods to exercise (although that apparently means “sports” and not “walks”) or go shopping and so each morning one of us (without the children) heads to the boulangerie for bread and the small supermarket for any other essentials. There seems to be no panic buying here and the shelves are all stocked.

The pasta aisle was empty but otherwise no sign of stockpiling

We have not yet tried to go further afield since the restrictions on movement came in on Monday night. We may experiment with that next week.

Generally how have you found it?

Magnus: It’s been ok, being here. It’s good because we know where everything is. I don’t like the routine because I think we should have screen time in the mornings as well.

Sophie: It’s good because we know where to go and we don’t not speak the language. It’s very quiet in the village.

Aurora: I like being in France because Mummy and Daddy speak the language. I know this house and we know lots of people here. We don’t get lost on our walks.

Not lost.

Lucy: I enjoy it but I think over the coming weeks it will feel very strange – I have always thought of St. Pierre as a holiday home rather than a long term home but I love being here.

Harriet: Mixed (see more below). Its always lovely to be here but the village is oddly quiet and the chat is all about one thing.  It’s very strange not being able to send the children for bread in the morning (we’re not sure if this is allowed or not so aren’t risking it). It’s discombobulating not knowing what is going to happen. But we aren’t the only people in the world feeling like that at the moment.  My mood changes from day to day and some days are very much easier than others.

Ben: A strange mix of familiar and unfamiliar. Restrictive. It’s generally fine if I think in the present tense. I’m not enjoying considering the short and long term future, although I’m hopeful about the mid term. A lot of it is adjusting to changes and what we can and can’t do: both now and in the future.

What were the good bits?

Harriet: It is just so beautiful here. We are so fortunate to be in the mountains and to have the space to be outside.  I have enjoyed every one of our walks outside.  The primroses, crocuses and cowslips are all out.  I’m looking forward to seeing our tadpoles grow.  Also French bread.

Ben: The weather has been very nice. I’ve had good chats with many of the children. I’m glad we made it here.   I have loved the beauty of the Chartreuse, particularly on our walks.

Sophie: I like French bread. We haven’t gone on massive long walks. I like playing Pictionary and other games that we haven’t had before on our trip because they’re too big to carry with us. I liked getting the tadpoles. The long journey was fine because we got to watch movies.

This experience would be so much worse with Mothers’ Pride.

Lucy: Food, French and generally, walking, “listening” to Harry Potter (for the 1,200th time) with the twins, tadpoles, learning French and just being here!!!

Aurora: Getting croissants from the bakery because French bread is always the best. We’re about to have fondue! Getting my new teddy, Sandie. Listening to Harry Potter.

Magnus: I have enjoyed eating chocolate Special K and nutella. I like the Beanos and lego.

And the bad?

We are conscious how lucky we are. This could have been so much worse for us (had we got ill in a strange country or were now in lockdown on the wrong side of a strange border with nowhere to live). It’s also so, so much worse for many others, including many of our friends and loved ones. Our hearts go out to them and we are trying to remember to count our blessings.

That said, this last week hasn’t all been easy so please forgive us if we whinge, in the knowledge of how fortunate we are in the bigger context.

Ben: The constant close proximity has its challenges, as does the loss of hoped-for opportunities, whether short-, mid- or long-term. I’m worried that our trip will be much shorter or impossible. We already know we’re not going to some countries we had planned to. I’m worried about what happens when we come back, given the likely state of the economy and the fact that I don’t have a job. I am peeved that the dishwasher has broken down. I don’t like being stuck.

Sophie: I don’t want to miss out on Mongolia, because I want to do a Sophie and yak selfie. We go on tons of walks and I don’t like going uphill because it hurts my legs. I miss Duplo. It’s annoying that we can’t watch any BBC iPlayer things (Editors’ note: there is no TV here anyway).

Self isolation. Not a yak though.

Harriet: I had been proud of my unexpected (to me at least) resilience in the face of the loss of everything we have planned for. That all came crashing down on Friday. I’m hoping that was rock bottom.

Since this morning’s gendarme incident I have been feeling increasingly anxious again. I don’t like doing the “wrong” thing and it feels as though the parameters for what is “right” are shifting (or being interpreted differently) without warning.

I have scratched my glasses such that they are unwearable. It turns out that opticians are not an “essential” service. I do have contact lenses and I have just experimented with online glasses ordering, so this is only a minor irritation but one I could have done without.

More mundanely cancelling all our booked accommodation and travel for the next month was not fun.  Some companies made it very easy.  Others (including our insurance company – Hiscox – who insist, in the face of compelling evidence, that we bought through a broker and are therefore not their responsibility) not so much….

Magnus: I don’t really like the schedule. I am missing Joe and my cousin Freddie.

Aurora: I don’t like the schedule. It’s annoying because it doesn’t give me any time to talk to my friends except a bit, and I don’t have any time to do anything. Except for when I do. It’s annoying. It has limited my phone time, which is so annoying. I’ve been really missing Duplo. I had a big fight with Mummy.

Lucy: The fight a few days ago (which I will not go into detail about), the feeling of the fact that Tweed might never get to Tokyo, I’m getting slightly bored of the endless Tintin and Asterix. I was slightly disapointed not to have a St Petersburg birthday but there would be worse places to become a teenager.

What did we eat?

The contents of Ele’s cupboards (at her request and including a *lot* of spaghetti, and a jar of Sainsbury’s Thai Green Curry best before this month – not together, for the avoidance of doubt). We had duck in a tin too, and I used some of the Hungarian caraway to make a cake.

Disappointingly, the kitchen scales here have vanished so although I do have all the ingredients to make a Bled Cake, I haven’t yet been brave enough actually to do so.

Caraway seed cake. Very Victorian and surprisingly delicious

Ben is currently grating the cheese for our first adventures in fondue.

How plastic free were we?

The supermarket in the village pleasingly sells refill pouches of handwash, so that was a victory, but otherwise shopping for food remains the sticking point.  It is probably better here than in other countries we have passed through as we have used the boulangerie and the fromagerie for bread and cheese, so both of those come wrapped in paper rather than plastic.  We continue to buy loose fruit where possible although I do wonder if I should be peeling it.

We could peel these. But it would be good to know what they were first.

What’s next?

Who knows?

When M.Macron addressed the nation on Monday he said this would last for an initial 15 days. After four days that was increased to four to six weeks.

We fully expect to be here on Lucy’s birthday, 21 April. We hope not to be on Magnus’ which is 31 May, although where we then will be is anyone’s guess.

We are still very much hoping to get to Tokyo.