Manny's Blog

Sharing our French adventure as we live and work and renovate our forever home in the Haute Loire.
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We’re coming to the end of our fourth week of lockdown during this extraordinary global pandemic. I’ve been thinking I really want to write this blog as a reminder of this unprecedented time in years to come – when life is hopefully a little less extreme… I wonder if things will ever feel the same as before, or if we will always think in terms of ‘before’ or ‘after’ Covid-19.

Here in Solignac, we don’t for a moment underestimate how lucky we are… to be in good health; and to live in a big house with so much space around us.

We don’t take it for granted at the best of times – but at the moment we are acutely aware of how lucky we are!

For us, not much has changed in our day to day life on the home front – we’re continuing with the renovation, wood-prepping for next winter, eating well and watching a lot of Netflix! Spring is springing and the sounds of nature are even more apparent than usual.

First year we’ve had jonquils on our patch!

Arty is with us, and has been since the University stopped classes on March 16th. Separated from his beloved Cass, as she is working in a big supermarket near her home, they are tantalising close to each other, but forbidden to be together. Luke and Marie are just around the corner, and we haven’t seen them for a few weeks now, although Luke and I had a glorious chance meeting in the supermarket carpark the other day – we stood far apart and chatted for a good while – it was really quite emotional! We hadn’t risked seeing them since Marie came back from her Montessori training in Paris just before lockdown, so needed to be in isolation for a couple of weeks – Harry and Armel are safely together in Sweden, which so far doesn’t seem to have been as hard hit as France. And Beth and Jacob are in their flat in Brighton – the UK having gone into lockdown last Monday (March 23rd), so a week later than us. I’m really chronicling all this for myself for future reference – I’m amazed at how easy it is to forget the details – the huge shock of Macron’s first speech to the nation on Thursday 12th March, when he announced the closures of schools and universities, followed by his speech on Monday 16th announcing the full lockdown. I have to say, we were really impressed by his calm and reassuring handling of the situation – we felt like we were in good hands, and also felt really happy that we live in France, as at the time the UK seemed to us to be reacting too slowly in their handling of this extreme and terrifying virus.

More than three weeks on, and we are adjusting to this new situation with its practical restrictions, and time for reflection. As I write I feel like there’s a sense of global uniting as we all fight the same enemy, after the last few years of so much division with Brexit and Trump’s terrifyingly reckless leadership, (which of course continues to cost lives daily). And now there is just one topic of news towering above everything else. I turn my phone off at night, then wake to check in the next day on the escalation and changes overnight. The statistics are unimaginable and leave one numb – and we all know in our hearts that things are going to get worse before they can start to get better. So we do as we’re told – stay home and try and do everything in our power to stop the spread – it sometimes feel like living through a dystopian movie – I feel like the edge of our field, or the end of the lane is like the edge of the ‘world’ in ‘The Truman Show’!

We are truly living in the moment – what else can we do? Cooking what we have in the cupboard, not wasting a thing, working on the house with what we have as we can’t buy any building materials, practicing golf shots in the field (that’s Joe and Arty, not me!), hyper-aware and relishing the warm Spring days with an appreciation the season deserves.

Golf ball collection – the goal is to get it in the bucket from about 60 metres away (not yet achieved!)
Coffee and snacks in the Spring sun!

I’ve even made a ‘starter’ to make sourdough bread – feeding it with flour and water every day … first loaf was a little dense, I’ll be honest – but there’ll be more! I feel a yearning to bake, to clean and organise, to make home-made soup – and I know I’m not alone !

My first loaf – tasty, but too dense… start of a learning curve of bread-making!

The most extraordinary thing about this simpler life, with no daily commute, and with no person-to-person socializing, is that it has arrived in an era where the Internet and technology allows so much communication. I’m doing many of my English classes on Zoom; we talk as a family virtually every day, play online games together (fantastic fun and so comforting when we are forced to be physically apart, and we really don’t know how long for). My sisters and I are in constant contact on Messenger, and Joe is able to Facetime his parents every few days … even 5 years ago this would have been so much more complicated!

I’ve learnt so much over these last few weeks about how to teach online, (having always resisted it, maintaining face-to-face was the only real way to learn). Now I’m really excited to imagine a future where I don’t spend so many hours on the road travelling around from lesson to lesson…. and I can do more of them online from home… from our stunning new OFFICE!!

And on that note… here’s what we’ve been up to:

The Studio

So with the floor down in the studio and the walls clad, we decided to cover the ceiling with acoustic foam – it’s worked like a dream! So much easier than plasterboard, and really effective at sealing up all the drafts. And of course being acoustic foam… it sounds fantastic in there!

Acoustic foam going up to clad the ceiling in the studio
Through the window on the bridge, house-side.
Complicated tower-around-beam configuration!
Job done!

Just before lockdown we hired a floor sander and spent the weekend sanding first the studio and then the office and conference room beneath it.

Lovely big rectangle to sand – and the result feels and looks so good!
We’ve had such a run of sunny days – they really lift the spirits!

The Office and Conference Room

In the last blog, I’d just started undercoating the office and conference /teaching room…well both are now painted, the floors are down, sanded and varnished and the down-lighters installed, desks built, shelves up … we are so close to moving down there!

“French Grey” on the walls, and “Lime White” on the ceilings – woodwork in “Railings”
Floor laid!
We decided on two white walls – this one and the one through the verrier in the office.
Glass panes in, and surrounds painted
Cupboards for all my teaching bumph – and shelves and a new table, made to measure.
Time to start the office floor.
Arty was doing a law exam for the Uni… so
…time for me to get measuring and cutting!
Measure twice – cut once!
More corners and floor sockets on this side!
So this is where we’re at now – shelves up – my beautiful hand made desk on the left, and Joe’s on the right. There’ll be a third desk for Luke in the middle (over the floor plugs)
And this is where we’re at with the conference room – I’m slowly bringing down and sorting out all my various teaching files, and properly organising them in the cupboards.

Arty’s bedroom

With the unexpected bonus of having Arty home, and with me not going out anywhere to teach, we’ve managed to get so much more done! Arty of course still has uni work to do, and he’s also continuing to work from home for the Escape Game company 1909 where he’s been working for a while now. The Games are of course closed to the public, but he’s been designing a new escape game for children for his boss for when they’re able to open again, as she is expanding in to new premises. He loves his work, and is brilliant at it – so he’s really happy to be putting the time in.

Once we’d finished the flooring in the studio and office, and I’d finished painting, we all decided it was time to get to work on Arty’s room. It’s had bare plasterboard walls since we moved in just before he and Cass went off to Canada. With the rough concrete alcove – which used to be the old window from before our neighbour’s house was added (in the 1950’s we think). He moved all his stuff out and moved in to the middle bedroom, and we set to it!

First thing we did was to clad the ceiling in wood like we did for the wall in the studio.
Then we decided to repoint the stone wall – we figured it was now or never, and would make such a difference – we weren’t wrong!
Messy work, and not easy!

End of day one!
Arty flattened out the alcove …
and Joe designed the unit which would fill it.
And here it is – the plan is to have a dart board !

So wood clad ceiling, re-pointed walls and a beautiful wooden dart board unit in place. Joe has also designed, built and installed a stunning up-lighter running across the beams. And while this was all going on, I was sanding and pasting and re-sanding and re-pasting all the plasterboard joints ready for painting. There’s a bit of filling and caulking to do but Arty and I have now done the undercoat. Frustratingly we can’t buy the paint to finish the job as, of course, the paint shop is closed for the moment!

Starting the undercoat.

There’s more to tell, but I want to get this up now – I’ll follow on swiftly with another blog soon.

Thank you for reading – stay safe and if you’re lucky enough to be locked down with loved ones – make the most of this unexpected and precious time together!

Half the gang! Can’t wait until we are all together again – there’s going to be one hell of a family gathering!

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  1 comment

  1. janet and David Atkins says:

    What a tremendous effort Manny, such a lot of detail. Also the advancement with your wonderful property that you, Joe and Arty have made. Very well done.
    Sending all our love, Mom and Dad, XxxX

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