Hello and welcome to this anniversary blog of The Olivia Rose Diaries on June 3rd 2022.
I sat down to write this 100th blog thinking it would be relatively simple to re-visit the last two years, using photos to bring those memories to life.
It turned out to be a fascinating exercise, but far from simple. How do you condense two years into a short blog of around 1500 words? It would be hard enough in normal times, but the past two years have been anything but normal and there are some emotions and feelings that pictures cannot convey.
Statistics tell their own story and, to date, my blog has had 18,000 views from just under 5000 visitors in 54 different countries. I know this is nothing compared to the big hitters of the digital world, but it is quite astonishing to me to think that so many people all around the world have seen it.
I began this blog in early March 2020, when Michael and I arrived back to Olivia for our spring/summer cruising season. The coronavirus had just appeared in Europe and we had a suspicion that it might impact on our travel plans. However we were moored in a pleasant marina and if we had to hunker down there for a few weeks it wouldn’t be a problem.
Four days after we arrived, France went into lockdown. Below is an excerpt from my first blog which gives an introduction to this almost unbelievable new world we found ourselves in.
‘This is a blog about living on a boat in a foreign country through a pandemic, where the most precious, simplest and taken for granted freedoms are abruptly curtailed: of days, weeks or months of going nowhere, of searching for a new equilibrium and working out positive ways to fill our time, for time is the one thing we have in abundance.’
A boat is quite a small space in which to be confined during a lockdown that lasted around three months. Michael taught himself to draw, I finished and published my first book, ‘Just Passing Through’ and somehow the days passed, each one the same as the last, and yet suddenly another month would have come to an end. Looking back on it now the memories are vague, as if the brain has decided that it’s in my best interests not to dwell on that time and move on.
In mid-June of 2020 we finally began our cruising season but our options were limited. The canal network in France was in complete disarray, a combination of a lack of maintenance during the lockdown, water shortages due to a drought, and certain canals being blocked by weeds as there had been no boats going through to keep the channels clear. We managed only four weeks on the water that year, seven weeks the next, and it is only now in 2022 that we hope we might have a normal five or six month season.
It wasn’t just the pandemic that played havoc with our lives over this period. Brexit, with all the new rules and regulations that went with it, also had a major impact. In order for us to stay in France for more than three months in every six we needed a residency card, and for that we needed to buy a property. In September we bought an off-grid cabin in the south west of France. We called it Le Shack and initially regarded it as a means to an end, a humble dwelling in a field, with no electricity, no bathroom, kitchen or bedroom and the loo just a bucket in the shed, but it allowed us to stay in the country. However, in November, when the pandemic struck again and we went into a second lockdown, it became a haven and a home.
The winter of 2020/2021 was a blur of new variants of the coronavirus, of a scramble to develop vaccines, of partial lockdowns and curfews. In April 2021 France went into a third lockdown but the vaccines were making a difference. I had my first jab that month, Michael had his in June. In May the lockdown was lifted, and I published my second book, ‘A Simple Life’ which was all about living off-grid. (For those of you who have not yet read it, it is available as a Kindle deal for June 2022 at the bargain price of 99p! This only applies to the Kindle version, not the paperback, and lasts for just one month.)
Sadly May was also the month where we lost the last of our dogs, Maddie.
I’ve had three dogs over a span of thirty years, and with each dog I have been through the process of taking them to the vet for that final visit. It never gets any easier. In the past, although I’ve lost a dog, I always had another one to come home to. This time there was nothing, all those daily routines no longer a part of my life. It left a big hole, but we will not be getting another dog. I can’t face a fourth visit to the vet, even though it would be a long time away. It is time for a new chapter.
In June we were back on Olivia, and managed two months of cruising. When we were in our little bubble on the water we could almost pretend that the pandemic was over, but that was not the case. Freedom had been redefined and was now governed by face masks, social distancing, special passes to allow access to public places, booster jabs, tests, quarantines and travel bans.
In September we finally made it back to the UK to see friends and family, an emotional reunion after 18 months apart. As we were nearing the end of our visit, the British papers ran a story about a few petrol stations running out of petrol, but urged people not to panic. People did panic, and within a few days the country had run out of fuel. It was a salutary lesson on the fragility of the systems that we need to keep our lives on track.
Back in France we spent part of the winter at Le Shack, and part of it travelling around the country, house-sitting in five different properties and looking after a total of sixty-nine different animals, including goats, a turkey, sheep, rabbits, ducks, geese and chickens as well as dogs and cats.
Like everybody else we were now pandemic-weary and wanted nothing more than to move on, but in December 2021 the Omicron variety arrived and plunged us all into chaos yet again. In February 2022 Russia invaded Ukraine and unleashed a new horror on the world. We all wait to see what the long-term consequences will be but stability is no longer a word to be taken for granted.
Coming back to the present day, as I sit and write this in my ‘office’, which is our caravan, parked at the far end of our field down at Le Shack, the sun is shining and the birds are singing.
We saw a doe up at the top end of the field the other day and assumed she was by herself until a little head poked up through the long grass and we realised she had a fawn with her.
We’ve all learnt new lessons over these past two years. For myself, it has re-confirmed my need to be close to the natural world, a place where I can find solace, if needed, as well as joy. Having had my opportunities to travel seriously curtailed has confirmed just how essential that part of my life is to me: the freedom to be able to constantly move on is my oxygen. And lastly, from being something of a loner – apart from being with Michael of course – I have a new appreciation of how much I need other human beings. Not just the vital relationships with family and friends, but also the passing encounters with strangers, the comfort of seeing people walking about, eating in pavement cafés, and just living their lives. Being normal. Being together.
Who knows what will happen in our little lives and on the bigger world stage by the time I get to the next anniversary blog? Who knows if I’ll have any teeth left by then? By mid-June we’ll have finished our dental marathon and be back on Olivia, and I’m not looking much further ahead than that. We hope to head up to Paris, then on through Belgium and to the Netherlands. Given that we’ve been trying to do this for the last three years no-one will be more surprised than me if it actually happens but, either way, it doesn’t matter. We’ll treasure each day and end up wherever we end up – that’s good enough for me.
See you next week. All the best.