It’s the start of spring in the South of France and as we walk through our front door into the garden, the birds are singing, the fruit trees are in blossom and the first shoots of growth are visible in the vegetable patch. It is one of the best times of year to be here.
However, things are far from normal and as the world battles the Coronavirus pandemic our life here has been turned on its head. The French government, along with many others around the world, has put the country in lockdown and the doors of Zero Neuf are closed.
As small independent business owners, we live and breathe Zero Neuf and at first the enforced closure was hard to stomach; we were entering a really exciting period and the timing could not have been worse. We have been through a rollercoaster of emotions since but fully accept the restrictions we are facing are for the greater good.
Owning a small business makes you incredibly resilient and teaches you to work your way through problems. We have always prescribed to a ‘nothing is impossible’ mantra but this situation is testing on every level. For the first time since we started the business, our livelihood has been taken entirely out of our control and that is terrifying.
We have spent a lot of time working our way through the administration required to obtain the support Macron has hastily promised. Help is indeed available though and this is of great comfort. More practically, like many others, we are home schooling our boys and the workload they’re set is high. We have teachers in our family and several of our closest friends are in education – our respect for them has grown immeasurably.
We’re all adapting to a very different way of living and whilst it would be easy to allow the situation to become suffocating, give the kids 24 hour access to the PlayStation and weep, we have found many positives in lockdown. The philosophy of Zero Neuf is built around experience, adventure and escape and we are now fully embracing them as a family.
Manny (our youngest) has started to experience cooking. There is a rich family tradition here so we are delighted he has picked up the mantel and it turns out he makes a delicious fruit smoothie (he’ll be preparing these for guests when we reopen!)
One of our lovely elderly neighbours let slip that wild asparagus grows on our doorstep. We are lucky; this is usually a closely guarded secret! Our daily dog walk now incorporates family foraging adventures, and a competition to find new things for our plate.
Max escapes by embracing his insatiable passion for wildlife, and is busy documenting our local bird life. We are always delighted by the variety in the garden and surrounding fields. We have a huge number of passerines and game birds and we are lucky to have stunning raptors like the black- shouldered kite and our favourite, kestrels hunting overhead.
Joss is finally learning to slow down and is spending more time practising pilates and yoga and indulging her creative side. It’s brilliant to see her with her pencils and sketchbook open. Our vegetable patch has never looked better and her hard work means we are moving ever nearer to being self-sufficient.
We’ve introduced the boys to old records and that has prompted a huge wave of nostalgia for Joss and me. We’ve trawled Netflix for films and series old and new and we’ve played a whole load of board games. We’ve looked at old photos and spent time reminiscing. Ironically, we’ve done all the things a family should be doing but don’t because of our on demand lives. Has it really taken a global pandemic for us to get here? And will we remember to maintain these valuable lessons hereafter?
Not being able to ride (cycling is currently forbidden in France) is proving really tough, particularly as it’s a major tool in managing my mental health. Rollers and Zwift offer some respite but cycling to me is so much more than simply turning the pedals. I applaud countries that continue to allow time on two wheels and I implore people granted this luxury to respect the rules. You don’t know how lucky you are.
We are acutely aware that we are incredibly fortunate to have a large amount of outdoor space to escape the confinement but we built Zero Neuf to share our life here with others and it is this we miss the most but the support we are receiving from friends and family, guests old and new and our partners has been overwhelming – it is helping enormously.
Life under lockdown is by no means perfect, there is plenty of stress and worry but we are doing our best to make it work. We remind ourselves regularly that there are many far worse off than us.
We are planning an alternative calendar of events with our partners and we will be open as soon as the restrictions are lifted and it is safe to do so. One thing is for certain, nothing will be taken for granted and we will be living a new normal. That said, our new normal will be much like our old normal – there’ll be much to experience, plenty of adventure and we’ll still have the perfect environment in which to escape.
We’re looking forward to sharing that with you.
Mike and Joss x