Last week was my birthday. Obviously, it was a rather quiet affair – not that I have ever done big parties or extravagent holidays to celebrate, but a nice meal out would have been nice…
Unfortunately all bars, restaurants etc have been shut in France since October and look unlikely to reopen any time soon, so that was not to be. A friend sent me a birthday message with an image which made me smile wryly and think “Too right!”
But then I got to thinking – had it really been such a disaster? I mean, as a year in my life, for me personally?
Life was still normal at the start of the year. We spent a week in the UK with family and friends at the beginning of January and I did have a lovely birthday 2020 meal in a great restaurant with the family.
When we got back to France, I was ready to settle back down into the work routine but discovered that my main client, that I had worked with for several years, had just been taken over by another international group. The UK branch was closed down and although the French branch were keen to use me, they wanted me to go back to face to face training which would mean thousands of miles of travel a month and a return to all the stress that I had managed to escape in my move to the French countryside. This obviously gave me a bit of a pause for thought. What did I do now? Carry on with what I had been doing (freelance IT training and consultancy in the education sector) and try and find new clients? No. I realised my heart was no longer in it.
Instead, I opted for a complete change of direction. Having analysed my skill set and realising that the one thing I could do well was speak English, I set up as a freelance translator. Nine months in, and with a steady flow of work from clients ranging from vintage couture fashion to wineries to artificial intelligence developers, it’s been a blast!
We carried on working on the renovation of the mill. Luckily we had already bought what we needed for the transformation of half of our enormous landing, before the first lock-down, so that kept us busy for a couple of months – I’ll show you more in another post 😉 …
… and with the lovely weather we had last summer, it was the perfect time to replace some rotten windows and repaint the outside of the house.
In May, we were devastated to find our beautiful kitten, Minuit, squashed on the lane outside the mill. Except, as we discovered a few hours later, when he sauntered in for his dinner, it wasn’t him but a farm cat from the farm up the lane (probably a sister). Two days later there was a tiny kitten squashed in the same place on the road. Colin went to investigate and found another two fortnight-old kittens in the hedgerow. “We can’t just leave them to starve”, he said, so after many weeks of hand-feeding these little scraps and getting a very unconvinced Minuit to accept a new brother and sister, we have a totally madcap family of charming, funny, loving and very entertaining felines.
When the first lockdown finally eased in the summer, we poked our noses rather nervously outside the mill. In January I had bought a book of Petits Cités de Caractère, recognised picturesque villages and towns in our region of France. Each week we masked up and spent a wonderful day exploring a different beautiful, deserted beauty spot in the Mayenne and the Sarthe. It was a joy to find so many beautiful, historic places within an hour’s drive from home.
In July, when things looked like they might be getting back to normal-ish, we dared to meet up with friends we hadn’t seen since the beginning of the March lockdown. Masked-up and out in the open air, it was lovely to chat and catch up as we strolled along the river.
Colin’s seventieth birthday in August wasn’t quite what I had hoped for. The surprise visit from his children had to be cancelled 3 days before they were due to arrive, because of COVID quarantine regulations introduced in the UK. But the two of us managed to get out for a meal to our favourite restaurant, where the restauranteur gave us a whole floor to ourselves!
September through to October, we were busy trying to get the repairs finished to the smashed sluice gate under the mill. During lockdown it had been impossible to even get quotes for the work needed, but we finally found a local company who were able to make a replacement sluice gate and trash grill for the wheel tunnel. While the bief, mill pond, was drained I spent several hours a day, week after week, digging out tons of mud and silt from the bottom of the leat and rebuilding the bank to extend the garden around the pond. The relief of getting control back over the river running under the house was IMMENSE!
For two brief weeks in September our local choir managed to hold our normal rehearsals. There were probably only half of the usual members (we’re all a little ‘senior’ and therefore ‘vulnerable’) in the large village hall we had moved to, in order to have our 9m2 per person. It was fantastic to meet up with the other members again and to be able to sing together. A real ‘magic moment’. I suddenly realised how precious our weekly rehearsals were, and how many friends we had made through the choir.
And then we were back into confinement 2, lockdown. There wasn’t quite the shock and disbelief of the first confinement. People knew what to expect and many businesses and organisations had developed ‘click and collect’ or virtuel ways of continuing to operate. Everyone was trying hard to support small businesses and the local Asso’s, voluntary groups and village networks were working their socks off to look after the elderly and vulnerable. Our region of France saw a spike of new cases, with a few ‘hubs’ in the local town, but generally it still felt pretty safe here. When it was my turn to do the supermarket run I never saw anyone without a mask, indoors or out. Although our little valley here at Moulin de la Roche is beautiful, I have really appreciated the beauty of the rolling farmland and ‘big sky’ as I drive to Super U or the local farm shop through the lanes; something I had perhaps started to take for granted.
Throughout the year I have been using my spare time to research the history of our water mill. This has proved quite addictive and improved my knowledge and understanding of French history no end. I’ve tried to examine the lives of previous millers through what was going on around them, in the local area and across France, to get more of a feel for the story of our home. I’ve been really lucky that so many documents have been digitised and put onto the departmental archives’ website. I’ve pretty much got as far as I can with what is online now, so I’m really looking forward to a trip to Le Mans, to the Archive reading room, where I hope to make even more exciting discoveries. I’ll tell you all about it when I finally get there.
Christmas was going to be a big family affair with all the children booked to come over for a week, but once again it had to be called off at the last minute. So, a quiet, but very pleasant, festive season was had with walks in the forest and cosy evenings in front of the fire.
And so here we are, at the start of another year.
COVID is still with us, nothing has changed, but in subtle ways everything has changed. I now appreciate more than ever the time I get to spend with friends and family (even virtually). Life has become simpler, with even less rush and the (often self-inflicted) pressure to get things done yesterday. I am more mindful of the beauty and nature I am so lucky to have around me.
I have been privileged to spend another twelve months with my quiet, generous, kind husband who always sees the best in life and makes me smile every day.
Would I scrap 2020 if I had the chance? No way!