We miss seeing the children, Debbie can’t go in to school or to church and I can’t play music with the band or my own quartet; but even during lockdown we were able to get out walking on the hills. We were unable to go to France for four months but made up for it when conditions were relaxed. We have not been able to stay with the children, but have had numerous video-chats via FaceTime or Skype, we have met them for a walk somewhere between their houses and ours and we even had them to stay for a few days when we were all in France in August. That was rather special. We had amazing weather with blazing hot sun and blue skies. We had a session riding with each family and I think everyone enjoyed it. I had a particularly amenable horse.

Both families also managed to snatch a few days in St Raphael. They always love the sea, but they were a bit disappointed there by the lack of precautions against infection. In the mountains there were fewer crowds and more consistent wearing of masks.

The reintroduction of quarantine requirements for anyone returning to the UK from France meant that Alistair’s and Matilda’s families had to cut short their holidays; but for Debbie and me it had the opposite effect. We had intended to return home for a West family gathering (and for me to play at a couple of events) and then to go back to France in September when we had to meet some workman at the flat in St Raphael. In the event we simply stayed in France, which was just as well as we needed to get the car fixed - read on.

One morning the phone rang at 08.30. It was the Gendarme from La Chapelle en Vercors some forty-five minutes drive away. He wanted to tell me that my passport had been found in a river. In fact it was a lot more than my passport: it was our security bag with passports, car documents, cheque books and credit cards. This was excellent news, as we had thought that we would have to drive to Marseille and buy emergency travel documents from the British Consulate. We spent the next two days drying out documents and pressing them under piles of books and in the end everything was legible. The garage in Villard, some hundred metres from the house, sorted out the two windows that had been broken by the thieves. So the whole experience could have been very much worse.

When we finally got back to Church Stretton we had two weeks of quarantine to work on the garden. In fact both our gardens have thrived this year! In Villard our lovely neighbours have mown the lawn and watered the thirsty shrubs. When we arrived we set to work on the weeds joined by a lad from two doors down the road. It was so hot and dry that I watered every day, and by the time we left things were looking quite healthy.

In Church Stretton things have also done well with excellent crops of damsons, pears and apples.

And the children?

They too have thrived. Bethan is now in her third year at secondary school and has had to start to narrow down her choice of subjects in the run up to GCSEs. Dylan has just started at secondary school and travels there by bus. The bus company has an interesting approach to child safety. If the bus has as many passengers as are permitted by the Covid regulations they just leave the poor child standing on the pavement, with no explanation and no relief bus offered. Dylan seems to have taken this all in his stride and after getting bailed out by Alistair once or twice he found that he could go to a different bus stop and/or catch an earlier bus. Josiah and Reuben are still at primary school. All four of them seem to have coped well with the adjustments and challenges of home schooling, though they missed their friends and sports activities.

And that is us for this year.

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