Remembering life before Coronavirus

Welcome to the third blog of The Olivia Rose Diaries. It is the 3rd April 2020, we are now just over two weeks into lockdown and life has become weirdly frantic. The entire world may have closed down in a physical sense, but our on-line lives are not bound by any such restrictions. As one huge, inter-connected entity we are turning to our phones, tablets and laptops for solace. Being a bit of a technical dinosaur, I had never even heard of Zooming until last week but now it provides a means of carrying on doing almost everything that we used to do in person, from yoga to quiz sessions, from family chats to working from home. My phone never stops beeping at me with WhatsApp messages and I am ringing friends and family far more often than I ever have in my entire life. And then there is the round-the-clock digital news – if you can bear to read it.

There is no doubt that it is hugely comforting to keep in touch, to share our thoughts on the big issues of these extra-ordinary times and, just as importantly, on the ordinary events of our everyday lives, but at times I feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of the various forms of communication. There is a hint of desperation behind the jokes, the gallows humour, the sharing of videos. Perhaps we are all trying to persuade ourselves that life is really quite normal, even though we know it isn’t. In a bid to re-connect with a life before Coronavirus, this blog is going off in a different direction this week.

In the nature

There is a place to go where things are still normal, where the inhabitants don’t know about Coronavirus and wouldn’t care if they did. In truth, they might have noted our absence and breathed a sigh of relief. I have always turned to the natural world around us when life gets a bit tricky, usually by taking a long walk. Sadly, there is no box to tick for long walks on the much-loathed form that allows us to go outside, but instead I am getting to know my little patch and its inhabitants more intimately and finding it a rewarding experience. Spring is bursting forth all around me, a welcome reminder that life goes on and will continue to go on. The French have their own phrase for being outside. It is ‘being in the nature’ – I can’t think of a better way to put it.

Let me introduce you to some new-found friends who share our small world. The most exotic are the kingfishers. We have spotted a pair, although they are incredibly difficult to follow, despite their bright colours. They take great delight in teasing us, sitting motionless on a neighbouring boat or a branch, almost invisible, so that we only see them out of the corner of our eye as they fly off.

We also have a pair of herons, whom we have named George and Mildred, until we realised that there were actually four of them. As we can’t tell one pair from the other, they might as well share names. They are big birds and they produce absolutely huge droppings! We would never have known if they hadn’t pooped on our pontoon. It looked like someone had knocked over half a tin of white paint. Now I cringe every time one flies over my head.

We have two gangs of cormorants, one group of three and another of six. The river here is teeming with fish, rich pickings indeed, and when these endearingly scruffy birds are not fishing they roost on the highest branches in the trees, reminding me of vultures. If large numbers of the birds congregate in one tree the combined effect of their droppings apparently causes a white discolouration of the tree and may eventually cause it to die. (That’s probably enough information on bird droppings for now.)

The list of birds around us is a long one, – moorhens, coots, Egyptian geese, numerous ducks, swans, as well as all the usual land birds.

A large flock of crows has also become part of our new family. I like crows, rooks, jackdaws and the rest of the Corvid family. I admire their intelligence but many people regard them as pests. We travelled along the Canal du Nivernais in spring last year and I can remember cruising past one of the biggest rookeries I have ever seen, the trees crammed with nests, and the waters of the canal filled with dead birds, their limp bodies floating like crumpled black handkerchiefs. It was a horrible sight. They had been shot, either for sport or because there were simply too many of them.

On a lighter note, we have our own resident scrap of wildlife – Maddie, of course. She’s always there to sit at my feet or, even better, on my feet, and listen to my ramblings. For those of you who know and love her (said with no hint of irony) you will not be surprised to learn that I don’t get much of a response, but you should never underestimate the value of a good listener.

As a final note on the wildlife I include five bird questions below. They were provided for the family Zooming quiz by my mother-in-law Tricia and although I have to admit I didn’t know any of the answers they are good questions.

1. What is a baby pigeon called?

2. Which bird can fly backwards?

3. How many toes has an ostrich on each foot?

4. What classification/family of bird does a budgie belong to?

5. What is the scientific name for the study of bird eggs?

Answers in the next blog.

Learning new skills

Michael has started to learn how to draw. I attach his first attempts. I am confident that he will become a famous painter and keep me in the manner to which I should like to become accustomed. Signed prints on request!

Don’t look at the news

I’ve just made the mistake of clicking on the BBC news website. My fingers must have a mind of their own because I never meant to do it. The Italians have stopped singing from the balconies and are beginning to turn to civil unrest, the number of cases and deaths worldwide are rocketing up and even Trump has realised that we might be in serious trouble. In contrast President Bolsonaro in Brazil has repeatedly dismissed the virus as just ‘a little flu’ and a media trick. According to the Guardian he’s reported as having told people to ‘….face it like f****ing men, not kids. We all die one day.’

It’s all too much! I’m turning the computer off and going up on deck to talk to George and Mildred and the gang and see how the fishing is going today.

Stay safe everyone and see you in the next blog – with answers to bird questions of course!

13 thoughts on “Remembering life before Coronavirus

  1. What a delightful read in these troubled times! Looking forward to the bird answers! I’ve managed two without googling!! Stay safe and well xx


  2. 1. Piglet
    2. American V-22 Osprey
    3. One – or more
    4. All Budgies belong to Burgess family
    5. Omlettology

    Love the blogs, MJ. Stay well, both of you


  3. I got zero marks on the bird questions when I first tried. Perhaps I am not a birdie person after all. I like your reflections on the wild life with you. Keep going – you are doing a lot of good for all your readers.


  4. Loved it, MJ – great piece of writing my friend. Really cheered us up. I can’t put two words together just now which makes reading yours even more cathartic ! Stay safe both of you xxxxx


  5. Right, the answers to your bird questions, without googling…..

    Gareth says.

    1. Squab
    2. Hummingbird
    3. 3 toes (on each leg)!
    4. Caged bird family!
    5. Ornithology / maternity ‘nuts”!!

    Love your pictures, and well done Michael on your drawings, albeit we thought your moorhen was a Rail Bird!

    Keep up the good work MJ, loving it and look forward to next weekend …..

    Stay safe and well both.

    Love from us both x


  6. Brings me closer to Socca and my normal life.
    Great drawings Mike, good for you. I find it difficult to focus on much more than online magic jigsaw puzzles.
    Thanks again MJ


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