By Antonia Lloyd
After 105 days of family confinement in our small Oxford home, we have escaped to one of the most underpopulated parts of Europe – Saone et Loire, the most southern Burgundy region, renowned for its white chardonnay grape, sleepy countryside, and stocky white Charollais beef cattle. Never has the cliché ‘like a dream come true’ felt so real.
The last four months of social distancing has felt horribly tough and relentless yet, undoubtedly, we have been the lucky ones – we aren’t part of the army of key workers that have had to combat the virus at close quarters; haven’t faced the breadline like many families with food banks to rely on; or dealt with the anxiety of one of us having to recover from contracting Covid-19. Our life has simply felt repetitive and slowed to an unprecedented snail like speed with one constant centre of gravity: our home. The weekly ritual of Vita and Amelia home schooling, Harry home working, and myself freelancing on an avalanche of free consultancies for prospective TV jobs that will hopefully happen, has been an unusual social experiment of living together day-in-day-out at work and at play. Teenage angst, work stress and constant deadlines have taken their toll but, all in all, it has been a manageable experience which is more than many can probably say. Mental health issues nationwide, school regression, and long-term unemployment weigh down the majority in our immediate society, and if we have dodged these, then we are the lucky ones.
And now, we are fortunate enough to have found ourselves in a rural idyll, an overgrown French country farmhouse requiring attention inside and out. The desire to prune, trim, mow, clean, tile, paint and make jam is overwhelming, and at last the opportunity arises to stop consuming constant negative stories about the pandemic. A new location – wherever it might have landed – is a rush of fresh air to the lungs, giving life and hope to our tired and repetitive set of routines. Here local worries and country issues replace the global fears that we’ve obsessed over for months. Our 91-year-old neighbour, Fernant, who lived through the Second World War here, has run out of fresh grass for his nephew’s pony, so we now have a lodger in the form of ‘Night’, an inappropriately named Belgian-born cream coloured mini Shetland pony that is as least night-like as you can imagine. His days are spent roaming around the field gorging himself on sweet grass while his kind eyes lure us over and elicit head pats, carrots, and the urge to plait his mane. Night has won us over; although we have renamed him Jean which is more befitting our gentlemanly friend.
Our other lodger is a local half-starved grey cat called Felix, whose owners have long given up on him, that we renamed Chevalier a few years back – a great idea of my nephew Idris who at the time was knight-obsessed. Back then Chevalier was a handsome moggy with elegant poise and a full coat; it seems Covid times have been tough on him too and he has re-emerged a skeletal version of his former self, or a ghost, as Vita calls him. We feed him daily with a food that promises reimbursement if a transformation of vitality doesn’t occur within 21 days- never has the brand faced such a tough test in such unprecedented times. After several days his ribcage is less visible and his coat is fuller, but his lethargy is somewhat worrying and at times I wonder if he is indeed dead as he refuses to move when the car passes close by him. It strikes me that many people, like Chevalier, will emerge from the Covid experience a shadow of what they once were with life less technicolour and varied than it once was. The challenge now is to pick ourselves up and learn to live alongside this virus and find the colour, joy and space wherever that may be.