Are times like these the new normal?
Another long gap between entries. It’s because for weeks I had the musings of a blog entry buzzing around in my head – but it was all rather negative – so I was trying to wait for some great news to write about – but came to the realisation that as far as the Covid-19 pandemic is concerned that might be some time yet.
It’s surreal – we get up every morning – it all seems normal. We look up at the sky – that all seems normal – and very beautiful blue skies and lovely sunny weather it is too. But just when you start to act like normal you get caught in that thought process – actually nothing is normal at all.
Just what is normal about not having the liberty to plan a trip to the UK to visit your family? We are in the 21st Century – we have the modes of transport to allow us to cross continents – for goodness sake some of us can even cross interplanetary boundaries with spaceships. But all because of a virus we cannot now simply book a channel tunnel crossing or hop on a plane and go and see the ones we love the most.
To be fair, we actually could go the UK if we wanted to right now – there is no requirement to quarantine at the moment, and there is also no lock down. But, our only practical means of getting there is to take the dogs and go in the motor-home. Only one person out of our entire family has the space to accommodate us on their driveway – so we would need to book campsites and the ones that we would normally use have bizarrely closed for the entire season – and the ones that are open are either chock-a-block full – or have a “no visiting” policy.
Normally we would find campsites close by to where people live and they would visit us at the campsite or we would hop on a bus or train with the dogs and go and visit them. For those of you who live in France you may not fully appreciate the lack of space in the UK – so for context – it is actually quite rare for someone to have space to park an 8-metre motor-home – and some roads you cannot even get down in a large vehicle.
Then there is the issue of meeting up with our family members who have been self-isolating and, in some cases, shielding for months on end. It’s no longer practical to arrange for large family gatherings where groups from different households will all come together under one roof.
So, our trip needs to be sufficiently long enough to enable us to meet up with everyone we want to see separately. And that’s no mean feat to plan. We are hoping that we might get our window of opportunity after the UK summer holidays – but being realistic we are acutely aware that at any time a lock-down or requirement to quarantine could be imposed which would scupper that. We also have the long awaited, much excitement provoking, installation of our heating system to work around.
I’ve dragged my office admin and teaching skills out of the compartment in which they have been long buried – and am putting them to good use – creating spreadsheets with people’s Post Codes and researching the closest campsites and pubs with motor home stopover facilities -and then, are these dog friendly?, do they sell food? and if so – do they do veggie options? etc. I’ve got a notebook dedicated to it too, and have been setting family members homework to check out the quality of the beer at the suggested stopover points.
We’ve become acutely aware of the longevity of time since we last saw some of the people. Martin’s mum has never been out here to visit, and it’s now 17 months since we visited the UK so the same since we saw her. 12 months since I have seen my mum, and the same since we saw Martin’s son’s and grandson.
And in thinking about that cold, stark fact – that is when it hits me and makes me think – this is just not normal. Yes, I know people emigrate to Australia and never see their family again – or maybe just once every five or ten years. And that is the choice they made when they made that move.
But we made a choice to move one measly little country away – over a 25-mile expanse of water. But it might as well have been to Australia now that Flybe went bust and the Southampton to Bergerac flight route has been lost, and all this Covid-19 shit fest!
My mum mentioned the other day the stuff that I left behind in her cupboards – and she said to me – “how come there is a bag of your toiletries and make up here”? And I remembered – that’s the bag that I left behind so if I needed to pop back for a quick visit for any reason (her illness, a problem with the kids – etc.) they I could do so, quickly, cheaply and simply – with just hand baggage – and use those toiletries. It’s remembering that which reminds me that this scenario will not be possible now – the days of spontaneous, impromptu flying visits are gone.
Then I think – well, hopefully this is just for now – surely it will all get better in time? But that is very uncertain too.
I secretly hope that one day soon we will look back on 2020 and say
“wow!! That was some shit – thank goodness it is all over”.
But I fear it might be more like
“2020 – that was the year all this shit started”
and that our lives will still be similar to how they are now. Maybe even more restricted.
We are facing the prospect of having to wear masks all the time outdoors. Parts of France are already having to do this – the number of places is increasing daily. Hopefully here in rural SW France it won’t be necessary – with all this space – but with the tourist season well under way, if I am to be realistic, I need to accept that the day we are told it’s our turn will come at some point.
I’m still not sure what scares me more – seeing “gendarmes” at our Saturday markets or the prospect of being blind as my mask steams up my sunglasses as I walk along (I can’t be without sunglasses as I am hypersensitive to sunlight)
But the reason that humans have survived so far on this planet is our ability to cope with change and to evolve. Our ability to change to suit our environment and to make the best of whatever challenges we are facing will help to carry us through this dilemma – and the next…and the next.
Back in January we had a clear plan as to what order we were going to complete the house in. It’s such a long time ago and that plan has changed so much – I cannot even remember what order we were going to do it in. But that doesn’t matter – because when you are faced with a lock down preventing you getting supplies for one element – you simply focus on what you can get – and continue with that to the best of your ability. Flexibility is key to survival in these circumstances.
One thing we have been quite keen to do with our house build is to source our materials from France where possible, or at least from Europe. We found out the hard (and expensive) way of what might happen if we had stuff from over that 25 mile stretch of water back last year when we had a mad panic to get the TEK panels shipped over before Brexit in case we were clobbered with import duties. Initially we thought we were buying a European product but when a factory closed down the panels were sent from Europe to the UK – then cut there – and then shipped back. Not quite what we had in mind when we set out a vision of a low carbon footprint!!
We also believe firmly in supporting the economy in which we live as that is where our future will be. It makes sense to us to buy as local as possible – from as small scale and personal as shopping for vegetables in our own village – right up to big purchases such as tiles, wood, and such like.
So, for us – it was never a quick fix of pop back to the UK with a van and pick up a load of cheap paint and maybe a B&Q kitchen – and our search for products which are local where possible, European where not, and represent good value, and staying power – has cost us a lot of time. We are indeed slower than the average house builders that’s for sure.
Our tiles are a perfect example of this. For months and months, we were fixated on Travertine tiles – a lot of the Travertine sold in France comes from Italy and if not there, then Turkey – that was OK as still European. So, we went round loads of suppliers – but for some reason we just were not convinced. We had the occasional glance at ceramic tiles in shops – but I could never decide on whether to go for grey tones – or beige tones. We wanted to do the entire ground floor as one entity so the colour scheme would need to be suitable to blend with living space, bathroom and bedroom. And I couldn’t get my head around needing to go for greyish tones in the bedroom area.
Then we discovered the colour “griege” – as you might expect it is the perfect blend of grey and beige!! The moment I spotted the tiles (that are now in place on our floor) in the shop (that I had been to many times before and somehow missed) I fell in love!! I could instantly see them in our house!! Months and months of time spent in pondering loads of different options with Travertine – to decide in 30 seconds that ceramic tiles were the way to go after all.
Unfortunately, as is nearly always the way in France – the tiles needed to be ordered in – and although the guy in the shop said 2 weeks – it was in actual fact nearly 2 months before they finally came in. They are Italian – and the Italian’s are even slower at delivering than the French it seems (if that is indeed possible).
I know that two years ago I would have been furious if I had ordered 2.5€K worth of tiles and been told I would have to wait for 2 months to get them. But, such have we already adapted to our new normal in France we accepted the delay with a shrug, and a laugh – it’s just the way it is. “C’est la vie”.
Life in France – and Covid-19 – have taught us the art of patience like nothing else ever before. And flexibility, with a large helping of resilience too!
And we keep focusing on what we have done – rather than what we haven’t. For instance we now have hot water in our bedroom – only a temporary sink which was bought from a Facebook forum – but it will do for now and when we have finished our “proper bathrooms” we will install it in the Garden House which will in time become a little eco-studio to let out on AirBnB and HomeAway and also my Treatment Room.
Another thing that has really helped us both is our Yoga practice and also Reiki. During the lock down period I completed my Reiki Masters Teacher Training and became a Reiki Master – and Martin was my first Reiki Level One student. So now we both have that tool in our boxes to help guide our lives. It really does help us to focus on the here and now, to be in the present moment, and to live our lives kindly and compassionately.
So yes, we will have to wait until the time is right (and safe) to return to the UK to visit our family (and collect the items in storage at various family members houses), and in the meantime we just need to adapt to that and embrace the positives about that situation. And of course, we will look forward to getting our treasured possessions – like our wedding present cut glass wine glasses – and I’m sure my mum will be glad to get her cupboard space back.
We are blessed to live in such a time that technology allows us to see each other face to face in the present moment – stuff like Skype and Facebook messenger allow us to celebrate birthdays, have family get-togethers, and even go on “virtual mum and daughter shopping trips “ as I found out the other day.
My daughter Sian is about to embark on an UNPAID NHS placement for 30 weeks (yes, she is a bloody hero – it’s quite one thing to be paid to work in the institution that us Brits hail as our national treasure – but as the poor student nurses have found out – that institution doesn’t quite reciprocate that care to the very people who make it. I’ve had my day of working “with” the NHS – not “for” it thank goodness and have seen first-hand how broken it is becoming) – and she needed to get some new clothes to fit better into their dress code. So off she went to the shops – and she sent me a message on the way back to say she had been very successful, bought loads of things and would I like a video call when she got home so she could show me everything. Yes of course!! I would love that – that’s the next best thing to actually going out shopping with her – and I do so miss the times we would go off to Bournemouth for a girly weekend – for a theatre show, a waffle and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and then endless traipsing around the shops. She said she was stopping off for a coffee on the way back so would call me when home.
So, she video called me and gave me a lovely fashion parade – modelling all the things she had bought – asking my opinion and advice – what would be the best one for her first day, was the white one a bit too much – should she take it back – all the things that a mum and daughter would do on a shopping trip. And of course – me being a mum wanted to treat her to something – so I asked what each item had cost, and made a note of what I thought was her favourite item – and thanks to our brilliant technology – at the same time as chatting away to her I was able to do a quick bank transfer for the cost of the gorgeous Burgundy Blazer and added a couple of quid for her coffee too!! Just like a mum slipping a few notes in her daughter’s pocket when they are out.
Simple things like that help me to feel that I can still be a “proper mum” to my baby girl (who ain’t a baby no more) in these crazy times.
My weekly Skype calls with both kids together are often the highlight of my week – sometimes Sian is busy getting ready for work (she’s a carer so works a lot at weekends – and night’s too) so she will stay on for half hour or so, and then Ryan will stay on chatting for a while afterwards – and we talk about all sorts of things – last week he was giving me some healthy eating tips on how to get more protein in (always difficult for vegetarians and my solution is often to put a pecan nut on top of a cake ha ha) and teaching me a few Japanese words. His trip to Japan probably won’t happen next year now – but instead of moaning about it he is simply saying “well another year will mean I am even better at speaking Japanese”.
I know all (well most if not all) mums are immensely proud of their kids – but I really do burst with pride over both of mine – they are intelligent, caring, polite, and both very resilient. Oh, and clever – both of them – very clever!!
And let’s not forget the dad’s too – I know that Martin misses his boys enormously – and he will probably kill me for saying so – but the only time I have seen tears in his eyes over the past few months was when we realised we were on the one year anniversary point since we both saw them. He’s extremely relieved that they have both remained in work throughout the pandemic and like me, enjoys the video calls to keep in touch. And finding little things that represent a connection when we unpack boxes are enough to bring a smile to his face after the tears].
So, is this the “new normal?” – does our future now involve keeping family relationships together with modern technology, learning the art of patience to a far greater extent, and acceptance that the universe not only doesn’t revolve around us it is also changing very dramatically and very quickly?
The hardest thing I find to accept is that our plans for the purpose of this house have been put under threat.
Initially we intended to throw everything we had into this building project to create a home that was big enough for us two to live all the time, that for all four of our children would be a holiday home, a safe haven, a place to come to relax, and (hopefully) distant into the future, when we are no longer – a place that they would inherit together that would be a part shared holiday home for them all. A place that over the next 1, 2 or even 3 decades they would have come to enjoy and visit often – a second home to them. We thought that Brexit might shake that plan up a little but over time that would settle down, but now Covid-19 seems to be the biggest threat to that. But there is really little point in worrying about that – as all we can do is life in the present moment and see it for what it is today.
Is this the new normal? I hope not, but if it is – we will all adapt to it – and the most important thing is that we will survive and thrive.
In the words of the Foo Fighter’s excellent (but not well known) track “Normal” (B side of Times Like These).
But I won’t give up when I want it enough
No I won’t give up
Anything, anyway, anyone, anyday
Cause I figured it out
Here and the now takes me day by day
Will you come out tonight
Will you back down, will you put up a fight
Turn me around and make everything right
Make me normal from now on
I love the A side of that track too – but even more so I love the Pandemic version which was released by a multi-star cast in April for the BBC Radio 1 Stay Home Live Lounge. It’s worth a watch – even if just to see Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighter’s drummer) playing a Lava Lamp!!