Day 37: All holidayed up with nowhere to go

Wednesday, 22nd April

First police check

It’s really strange being on school holidays and not being able to go anywhere. The kids and I had our first police check today as we tried to find a new place to hang out: a nearby park, where a few people were taking a stroll with their kids or their dogs. The officer kindly asked us to leave as parks are officially closed. He was nearly apologetic, when I said with a smile, “It’s not easy finding stuff to do with the kids during the holidays”. I say that because I find that my kids struggle to fall asleep at night. Like in most families, confinement has led to relaxing the usual bedtime hour somewhat, but some evenings they are still awake at 11.30 pm! They are simply not tired enough because they are not getting enough exercise. I have spoken to other parents who notice the same with their kids. I am determined to exhaust them, and will make them ride up and down the hills to the Croix Rousse if necessary – I did it the other day and it worked!

The upside of lockdown

Ironically, as the school holidays start, I have been getting quite a bit of voice-over work. Which is great news as it means things are picking up again (though I’ve had less time to write). Which has also meant leaving the kids alone. Well, they have coped well, keeping themselves busy with books and drawing, and screens of course. But essentially, it’s a new step as I know I can now trust them to take care of themselves for a couple of hours. It will be important after lockdown as it will mean they can come home from school alone if I need to work a bit later than usual. A relief when I take on freelance jobs at the last minute and can’t always find a babysitter. It’s interesting how this lockdown is opening up new windows of opportunity into our post-confinement world.

Schools re-opening?

And a good thing, too, as it’s far from clear yet how things will start up again for us. It’s not certain schools here will reopen on the 11th of May, and if they do, it’ll probably only be half-time, and probably only one of my two kids (the eldest) will go back to school in the beginning. No point speculating now, we will have to wait and see. The government is under massive pressure to elaborate a de-confinement strategy. Not sure either whether we will be able to travel in France in the beginning, let alone in Europe. I hope it won’t be too long as some of my freelance work involves travel.

Freedom is… a swim

More than anything, I am dying to go for a swim. I normally swim wherever there is water – pools, lakes, the sea. It will be one of the first things I will do after de-confinement, as soon as possible. It is so warm and sunny here – the rain they had promised only fell for one day… Our plants in the shared garden need water, and they will soon get some: we have established that neither the town-hall nor the police put the lock on the gate, so we will get rid of it, and resume tending our flowers and playing basketball. Vigilantes, eat your heart out!

Day 33: Going on Staycation

Saturday, 18th April

Rediscovering our neighbourhood

The kids’ Easter holidays have started. We go on adventures on our bikes within – more or less – the authorised kilometre of our picturesque neighbourhood, cycling down narrow roads we had never taken before that lead down to the river. We even discover a little wood we didn’t know existed within just 1 km from our home!

We bump into some of the kids’ school friends on the square near our home. While the children run around burning off energy, I chat with the parents. One mother tells me a funny story about how she felt the urge to hug a tree the other day. I totally get it: though we have chosen to live in town, many of us head to the countryside at weekends to reconnect with nature. Lyon is surrounded by beautiful hills and mountains. A month of confinement is leading to withdrawal symptoms!

Cosy holidays

The weather forecast is for rain in the coming days, which will be great for the plants since we can no longer water them as someone has put a lock on the gate of our shared garden. I am working on a schedule involving games, baking, popcorn, and general cosy stuff. My son’s teacher has also provided us with a wealth of ideas for creative fun in the coming days.

The kids have built a den in my son’s bedroom with mattresses all over the floor. Tonight, as part of our children’s film classics retrospective, we watch “Jumanji” (which I had never seen). They are deliciously terrified by the creatures and delighted to be sleeping in the same room!

Day 31: One month down

Thursday, 17th April

What will tomorrow look like?

As I was reading the latest coronanews this evening, I realised my frantic need to keep up had calmed down. It’s been over a month now and we have another month to go, more or less. I am no longer stunned by the surrealism of the situation, or the number of deaths announced. I am left wondering, like everyone else, what tomorrow will look like.

Many of us feel this way. This week, I was emailing with an old friend who lives in New York. She and her partner have just been through a very scary time: he caught Covid-19 and ended up in hospital with pneumonia. Fortunately, he is now out of harm’s way and recovering. She tells me she does not want to go back to life the way it was before.

Working from home

For a few years now, friends in the US and in the UK have been able to opt for a less hectic rhythm by working from home: clearly, anglo-saxon companies are much more comfortable with their workers doing this. The French still have a way to go. Here in Lyon, my former colleagues at the news channel where I used to work have suddenly all been equipped with the material needed to work from home since confinement started, and guess what? It’s working. They had been asking to be able to work remotely for years, mostly for family reasons, but the employer was very reluctant. The question is: will it resume once confinement ends?

I decide to make myself a proper office upstairs rather than a temporary one. I have been working from home for a couple of years now and usually choose to sit in the sunny kitchen to work on my laptop when the kids are at school. But now, I feel the need for my own space.

Going on staycation

School Easter holidays start in a couple of days. We were supposed to go to Sète to visit my father, but that won’t be possible right now. I spoke to him this morning. Though he keeps himself very busy I sense he is looking forward to resuming a relatively normal life – albeit one that will include face masks and social distancing! I hope he is right.

In the meantime, we will have to holiday here, and find ways of making it fun. Especially as we no longer have access to our shared garden: someone has put a padlock on the gate preventing anyone from entering – until now, the gate had been left open. Apparently, some neighbour has decided to take the law into their own hands… while we knew that shared gardens were not supposed to be used during the lockdown, we supposed there would be some kind of tolerance if we were respectful of others and didn’t gather in big groups of make too much noise. Clearly, not everyone agrees. It’s interesting how this confinement has brought about both inspiring examples of solidarity but also the worst in people. There have been several articles in the French papers on the soaring number of calls to police by people denouncing their neighbours for petty infringements to the strict lockdown. We call the local councillor who helped us set up the shared garden, and she confirms this: she says they are overwhelmed with calls. It is scarily reminiscent of WWII under the Nazi-friendly Vichy government – shudder.

Stay out : some citizens take the law into their own hands in French lockdown

Day 29: The confinement in poetry

Tuesday, 14th April

As I mentioned earlier, one of my kids’ weekly school assignments is writing a summary about what they’ve been up to. For a change, my daughter decided to write a poem with the help of her grandma via Skype, using Jacques Prévert’s “Inventaire” as a model. It is part of his book of poems “Les Paroles”, where he frees himself from the rules of traditional poetry to write prose that is closer to the spoken language. Here is her poem:

Inventaire à la Prévert
Un lundi nouveau 
Un pari 
Trois clémentines quelques radis 
Un match de volley 
De la géométrie un compas une règle
Du soleil à la fenêtre 
Le confinement

Et voilà mardi
Un cours d'orthographe conjugaison
Des raisins secs des noix
Une pince à linge au bout des doigts
Passé simple imparfait
Un baccalauréat
Le confinement

Mercredi passé
Promenade autorisée
Quiche aux lardons
Du soleil et des maisons
Gel hydroalcoolique un virus
Ma grand-mère et les devoirs 
Le confinement

Jeudi c'est aujourd'hui
Salade de fruits litchis 
Mathématiques dramatiques
Tous les jours papa maman Elliot
Masques et gants pour les enfants
Et puis le confinement

Vendredi la semaine est finie
Mathématiques géométrie
Ensuite je lis 
Des pavés et des cylindres
Arthur Rimbaud
Pâques bientôt
Et encore le confinement

Days 26 to 28: Easter weekend

11th, 12th and 13th April

Urban fun

On Saturday, I take the kids out for a bit of urban fun (not forgetting the attestations, of course). They grab their scooters and off we go for a walk through the Croix Rousse in the blazing sunshine. We head to one of my favourite spots to admire the breathtaking view over the Fourvière hill and its basilica perched on top.

Admiring the view over to the Colline de Fourvière

We get some naughty fizzy drinks and the kids have some fun sliding down urban furniture before we head back home.

Urban fun

Egg hunt

On Sunday, the kids wake me up with coffee in bed, asking when are we going on the egg hunt. I zip over to our shared garden to hide some chocolate eggs and bunnies. My 10-year old, who’s been saying she’s waaay too old for this, is nearly more excited than her little brother. By 10am, they are having a major Easter sugar rush! We paint eggs while Otherhalf cooks lunch which involves a boeuf bourgignon and a tarte tatin. I speak to my father, 400 kilometres away, who is cooking himself a leg of lamb and opening a nice bottle of wine. I wish we could be together. Hopefully soon.

Towards a new world order?

We are so privileged in our confinement. I read articles in Le Monde by Bill Gates and Thomas Piketty, calling for a systemic change of our economic governance and the need to lead a global, united fight against the virus. Their premise is simple: those of us living in so-called “rich countries” cannot afford not to help those living in poorer countries or we will all pay the price. Brilliant, inspiring minds which I hope will have some impact on our political leaders.

On Monday evening, we watch president Macron’s long-awaited speech: he praises the French and tells us we need to hold out another month, until the 11th of May. From that date, schools will start reopening, and people will start going back to work. It is earlier than I had anticipated. Good. Let’s hope we can keep it up, and that the French government can deliver the crucial tests needed for de-confinement.

Day 25: Pressing reset

Friday, 10th April

Oh the joy of cycling along the Rhône after a month! I look at the world and at people’s faces with that feeling of waking up from some kind of hibernation. It is bizarrely intense, and in that sense, it reminds me of the way you feel when you lose a loved one: it’s as if the pain causes a shift in your perception – a bit like hitting a reset button – and makes you see things more clearly. It’s kind of raw. And you feel strangely alive.

Was all of this necessary for us to hit reset? Well, at least, I can say that I have a head start: a couple of years ago, I made a life-changing decision and gave up my nice, comfortable full-time job, which was making me mostly unhappy, to go freelance. Read “free”. It was scary but necessary. There is a heavy price to pay, and you have no guarantee you will get enough work, or the work you would like, but it is worth it. Even in times like these when I feel how precarious my situation could become. And I am not alone.

In the UK, BoJo is out of intensive care and is said to be “in extremely good spirits”. Until he recovers, it is his foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, who has taken over. I am relieved that he is out of trouble. He has been more fortunate than many. The number of deaths from Covid-19 in the UK is rising by nearly 1.000 a day – and looks likely to pass the 10.000 mark this Easter weekend.

Easter. Not sure what we are going to do about it. We are not religious, but it is normally a time we spend with family. This year, we cannot visit the grandparents, holed up in Paris and Sète respectively. Otherhalf will cook boeuf bourgignon, and I will hide some eggs for the kids in our shared garden, between the flower boxes and the basket-ball ring. And we will drink a nice bottle of red wine, and enjoy an hour of glorious sunshine.

Day 24: The storks are back

Thursday, 9th April

This morning, my father takes us on a virtual tour of his garden. The strawberries are out. There are chrysanthemums and black-eyed Susans and roses. In the vegetable garden he has planted tomatoes and potatoes. And there are citrus and fig and peer trees. He says he hears the birds more than ever. We observe the same in Lyon: Otherhalf has noticed a flock of storks flying in and out of the Parc de la Tête d’Or, which we can see from our flat. Normally, they wouldn’t hang around like that. The park – one of the biggest in Europe with its own zoo and botanical garden – has now been closed for nearly a month and it seems the animals are enjoying having it to themselves.

Unwanted quarantine

I am able to work as Otherhalf is home this week. The situation is quite extraordinary: after a week reporting on the ground, video-journalists are being sent home to self-isolate in case they caught the virus (all of their reporting is linked in some way to the coronavirus). Which means he is expected to stay home for 14 days. He is like a lion in a cage. So he cooks, to our delight.

Otherhalf’s tarte tatin

Amazing teachers

This afternoon, my 8-year old and I get our stomping socks on and learn a body percussion routine his music teacher has sent via email. The idea is to get all the kids to learn it and then record it and send it to him. The teacher will then edit the lot into a short film – what a wonderful project, these teachers are amazing!

I have a big voice-over job tomorrow morning – how exciting: I get to hop on my bike and cycle to the studio on the other side of town for the first time in nearly a month !! – so I’d better get to bed. Good night and stay safe.

Day 23: Self-isolating in self-isolation

Wednesday, 8th April

For the past couple of days I have been self-isolating in self-isolation. I have made myself a little office space in the guest room upstairs where I can close the door and work. No more carrying my laptop around the flat looking for a quiet place. It means I am not so available for my family, but I am really enjoying having my own space and my own work to concentrate on.

A new “normal”

It also means I have a less time for this diary. But in a strange kind of way, my brain is no longer so frantically trying to get to grips with the situation. We are settling into a new kind of “normal” for the time being. I heard in one of the many podcasts I listen to that those who are dealing best with this whole, strange new world and its implications are the people who understood long ago that nothing is immutable. Life is fluid, ever-changing, and when you accept that rather than hold on to what you know, you’re better equipped to adapt and evolve. And be happy.

The glass half-full

I guess I’d better see the glass half-full: a Portuguese friend of mine has just informed me that schools in his country aren’t going to open again until September. Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” emoji springs to mind. Or maybe, since I cannot change the situation, I should see this as a time when I can get closer than ever to my children in a whole new way, learn to trust their ability to be autonomous so we can live and work together?

I spend the morning working, then take the kids out for a stroll in the blazing sunshine. It feels like June. We turn off the heating, open our windows, and clap for the health personnel at 8pm, like every evening.

Drinking an e-beer with friends

After dinner, we meet with our Lyon friends online. It is good to talk and laugh about how we are all dealing with the confinement in our own ways, with or without kids. One friend, who suffered heart failure two years ago and has since recovered but remains vulnerable, says with an ironic smile that it feels just like another convalescence – but without the visits. Another, whose sister is a doctor, has been very worried by what she has heard. And a third recorded this wonderful piece with a friend :

Day 22: “We’re not at the peak yet”

Tuesday, 7th April

On Day 22 of confinement, the peak of Covid-19 related deaths has still not been reached here in France, according to authorities. In the UK, there was somber news as it was announced Boris Johnson had gone into intensive care.

A somber mood in the UK

A friend of mine in Sussex tells me the mood in the UK is very dark. Not surprising considering a report by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) today which predicts that the UK will be the worst affected country in Europe: according to their predictions, it’s estimated more than 60,000 people will die of the disease by early August. It has to be said the data is disputed by scientists, and there remain many unknown factors in this crisis.

Day-time jogging banned

People are growing weary of being locked up, and the gorgeous weather is not helping. This morning, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, announced she was banning jogging between 10am and 7pm, saying each trip outside that could be avoided contributed to fighting the epidemic. There have been a lot of jokes – and people getting very annoyed – on social media about the number of people suddenly taking up jogging since confinement began. That is because one of the boxes you can tick on your “attestation” to go out includes “individual sporting activities” – so running fits the bill perfectly.

When it comes to seeing the end of the tunnel –  « Il est certain qu’un retour à la vie d’avant n’est pas pour tout de suite » says France’s prime minister.

As I tell my friends jokingly, if this will mean I no longer have to “bise” people with smelly beards, unwashed hair, too much after-shave – or all three! – that’s fine by me. I do, however, miss hugging friends when I see them. Strange scenarios pop up in my head: will the post-Covid world be one where the first question people ask each other is no longer: “Ça va?” but “Tu l’as eu?” (“Have you had it?”) before they give each other the traditional kiss on the cheek?

Day 21: Boris Johnson in hospital

Monday, 6th April

Sorry, I skipped the 5th. There are confinement days like that, and it was Sunday after all.

An eventful weekend in the UK

In the UK, it was a very eventful weekend. On Saturday, Labour got a new leader, Keir Starmer: a serious and competent politician according to The Guardian.

The Queen gave a very rare televised broadcast (only the fifth in her long reign other than the xmas messages). It sounded like a wartime speech, in which she praised Britain’s “national spirit”, ending with “We will meet again” (the 1939 Very Lynn hit).

Queen Elizabeth gives rare address on 5th April 2020

And there was shocking news yesterday morning: the British prime minister Boris Johnson, who was diagnosed with Covid-19 just over a week ago, has been hospitalised.

4th week of confinement

In France, we are starting our 4th week of confinement. It is also our 4th week of homeschooling. And today, I am handing over to Otherhalf, who is back home after a week of “Covid-reporting”. As I said at the end of last week, I am not a natural teacher, and I am happy to delegate for a couple of days. Plus, I have an assignment for a production company I work with: they want to launch a campaign on building a “post-Covid world”. A challenge to say the least.

My 10-year old daughter’s teacher has given the class an interesting project: they are to write a poem on how they feel about confinement. I will definitely post it in this diary when she’s written it. Another assignment both my kids have every week is to write an email to their teachers, talking about what they’ve been up to and how they are feeling. It’s a great exercise which makes them sit down and think about the way they feel. They talk about the frustration of not being able to go out and how much they miss their friends, but also about the gardening we do, the games we play, the funny, creative videos that people post on the internet.

Super-creative confinement video by Philipp Klein

Like many people stuck at home, I am part of a number of WhatsApp groups with family and friends around the world: we organise the occasional “online apéro”, which is an interesting experience. It is good to see my friends’ faces and hear how they are doing. Those who have a garden try not to gloat. The rest of us drink another beer 🙂