Staying Safe and Well in Extraordinary Times - April at No.fifty6

Posted on 30th April 2020 by Julie and David Thomson in General News.

Staying Safe and Well in Extraordinary Times  - April at No.fifty6

As we write this it is Day 44 of total lockdown here in France. Again, it is not the newsletter content we thought we would be writing this month, but we are aware that in many ways we are living history at the moment. These unprecedented times will be looked back on, evaluated, studied, commented on, argued over, for many years to come.  We are fit and well and following government advice and hope, wherever you are, you are too.

Of course we have been closed. Those booked for May have trickled through their cancellations. Some for even later in the year, it is a rolling programme.  There is nothing to be done, and we know our loyal guests and friends will be back to The Somme and No.fifty6 just as soon as circumstances and procedures and lifted restrictions make it safe to do so. We will weather the storm. Health is the most important thing.

On 28 April, Edouard Philippe, Prime Minister, outlined to the French Government the plans for deconfinement and received parliamentary approval. The key points of a Protect, Test, Isolate strategy are:

• Lockdown will be partially lifted on 11 May dependent on the number of Covid cases staying below 3000 per day
• Shops can reopen but not large shopping malls
• Bars, cafes, restaurants, large museums, cinemas, theatres will remain shut to be reviewed at a future date
• Gatherings of more than 10 people indoors or outdoors are banned
• Schools can begin to reopen for younger children but at local discretion
• No journeys of more than 100 kms unless essential, and paperwork required for those
• Wear masks in public 
• Maintain social distancing and hygiene precautions
• 700,000 tests per week and if positive 14 days isolation
• Both rugby and football seasons have been abandoned with no further matches
• No religious services until 2 June

We do not know yet when the borders will be reopened. It is important to be extremely careful to avoid a second wave and we will have to learn to live in a new normal. The lockdown in our area is well observed and we are sure the new normal will be well observed too. Our community keeps an eye on each other. The only thing in short supply at the supermarket is flour and yeast as everyone must have heeded our advice last month and realised baking is good for the soul! Even so we can still get flour, just not the usual full range.

The weather has been kind so the garden has benefited from the time we have. It is so easy to get lost in pottering. No major projects, just tidying, mowing, sowing a few veggie seeds, regrassing areas, always with the hens at our feet. The apple tree currently has the best show of blossom we have seen in our time here. Bees buzz about the clover and blossom, their sound so audible over the quietness all around. Last week while putting the chickens to bed at dusk a barn owl flew right over my head and headed off on its nighttime sortie. It is like nature has reclaimed the world we had taken for granted. Just as nature took back the Somme battlefields after all the carnage, death and destruction here. Now the rolling fields are full of natural life, we are just usually too busy to see it.  This time has reminded us that it is a beautiful natural world and we are servants not masters of it.


We make good quarantine buddies. Planning our days with the jobs to be done, lifting spirits when the other is down. But we are not perfect  - just real - and we have got on each other’s nerves too and row and bang pots and snap until we laugh at our own stupidity. That’s normal, right?

We are thankful for the good things. Family and friendship. People checking in to see if we are OK.  Video chats have kept us entertained and connected; David even wore a pink wig on one. He loves an occasion to dress up.  Webinars attended to discover and learn. Books read. New recipes created. Cupboards cleaned. We are always tasked to do something on our family video chats, be it a quiz or a project. Last week we were given a family member at random and for the next call, had to produce a portrait. Here is what nieces Rachel and Marie made of the 2 of us. Pretty good we think. Particularly spot on for David.


But it is not just about being busy. Taking the time to stop and absorb the moment. It is OK to be still. To reflect. We are taking this time as a special time, yes of course against an horrendous backdrop of suffering, worry, self-sacrifice, isolation, but a special time to reconnect with the most important gifts of all.

Anzac Day

The week around 25 April normally has the sound of our friends from Australia and New Zealand filling No.fifty6, with services at Caterpillar Valley and the NZ Memorial  and the  night of 24th into 25th April filled with preparations for getting to the dawn service at Villers Bretonneux usually with calls from Julie to wrap up warm as dawn at VB is a chilly place.

This year though of course was different, but the way Anzac Day was marked here was humbling. We put the Australian flag out on our front hedge and it was met by a toot from the lorry drivers who passed. All around the Somme families decorated their windows in a mark of respect. Friend Eric Brisse who leads the Amiens Brass Band and is usually involved in the dawn service streamed individual members of the band playing the Last Post. Friend Xavier Graux who lives in Le Hamel, walked up to the memorial to conduct his own individual service of remembrance – his house being within the kilometer maximum lockdown allows you to be away from your house. Friend Yves Potard whose house overlooks the 1st Division Memorial at Pozieres did the same. Laying green and gold flowers there.

You see remembrance doesn’t stop. Our ability to reflect on past events is one of the gifts that enable us to search for a better future. Lest we forget.

Sad News

We were saddened to hear of the death this month of one of our regular guests John Robinson. John has been coming to the Somme with his friends Terry and Graham every year and has stayed with us since we opened our doors. The trio came every Easter from the UK. Time for the 3 pals to have a boys weekend on The Somme. We remember John as a true gentleman. Always well turned out he would arrive in his flying jacket, his whistle in his pocket which he liked to blow at odd occasions! John worked as a window cleaner in the City of London. He would tell us stories of how his clients loved him and we are sure they did. He kept his ladders at Leadenhall Market  - no new-fangled gadgets, the man, his ladders and chamois, though in later years he has been retired. A widow, John was the first to admit he missed his wife terribly and it was his son Andrew  and his friendship with Terry and Graham that kept him going.  He loved to dance and he went dancing in his dapper suit, until his cancer made that too difficult. John, wherever you are now we know you will be missed by Terry and Graham and of course your son Andrew. We will miss your cheeky grin and forever will remember you around our table a red wine in hand and a tale to tell. Rest in peace lovely man.

  John Robinson

Animal Postscript

Ever tried to lay grass seed with chickens pecking at your feet and then watch them as they peck and scratch at what you have just done? Little helpers.  All watched by Shere the cat lounging in a sunny spot.

As we have no guests at the moment, David just said  “I’ve started a dating site for chickens. It’s not my full-time job, I’m just doing it to make hens meet.”

All is well at No.fifty6. Be safe. Stay well.



Comments (30)

Ferris Hatheson says:

I’ve just logged on to this page to jog my memory of last October’s visit. I can only imagine the enforced tranquility, down here in Devon it’s as though we’ve gone back 100 years, no traffic and birds tweeting. I’m glad you’re both coping with lockdown and that the hens are benefitting from your largesse. I’ve discovered a new hobby - Origami - the benefits are twofold (sorry ! ) Take care, Ferris

Bob Bourne says:

Hi Julie & David, glad to hear your are keep well. We should have been with as Andy said last week, I am sure we will be back again as this strangetime allows, some of lads earlier than us all.Due some us being in the high risk category. Hope it will be sooner than later. All the very best keep safe.Bob Bourne ( RND).

Neil Mackenzie says:

Dear Julie and David.
In normal circumstances myself, Andy, Gary, Ali, Mark and Bob would have been arriving at No 56 about now and would have been tucking into that first lovely cold beer! We are all so sorry not to be with you especially on such a lovely, sunny day. Wishing you all the very best and we hope to see you soon. Best wishes. Neilx

David & Jude says:

Your monthly update made us both laugh & cry & yes the banging of pots & raising of voices is this household anyway ;-) Stay safe & well you lovely people Xx

Didi & Ron Dickens says:

Thank you so much for the newsletter which is always a delight to read and especially during this time.So good to hear you are both well and we cant wait until we can plan to visit you again. All our love, keep well and safe and hope to see you both soon.

JIm Blenkhorn says:

Thanks very much for keeping me up to date with your news letter. My major regret is that I have never stayed with you before you sound like just lovely people. Hopefully I can correct my error when the virus passes. All the very best Jim

Richard Chandler says:

Your comment......... 'This time has reminded us that it is a beautiful natural world and we are servants not masters of it' is so true. Whilst out walking yesterday I thought the very same thing. This crisis has made me appreciate nature and the simple things in life even more than I did before.
Your newsletters are always an inspiration.
Best Wishes from Shropshire.

Andy bond says:

Hi Julie what a lovely blog I should have been out with you next week along with Gary Allison Bob Neil and mark but they say all good things come to thoughts that wait I just need to say that both of you stay keep well all best andy

Jim Harker says:

Love you guys and miss you both so much.keep well and safe and i will be at no 56 on the other side of all this. Xx

Gary James says:

Another great newsletter. David's jokes don't get any better. With no guests to worry about, he should have time to dust his model collection. Keep safe.

Kay Ferguson says:

Thank you for another great newsletter to keep our spirits up. Loved the pictures of you two....what a super idea! Keep well and we will be back! xx

Les Mepham says:

Enjoying the updates from our "home away from home" on the Somme. Glad to see that you're both managing well. Smaller businesses in Canada are being hit hard so I'm thankful that you're staying afloat. Still, very envious of your proximity to so much history.

Tell David not to fowl up his chicken dating site. Being cooped up for long periods of time will lead to error, throwing up one's hands, and no longer giving a flock. :)

Tim Pritchard-Barrett says:

Looking forward to again visiting the 'oasis' in due course. In the meantime I am endeavouring to get our very large garden in order for the first time in a decade or more. Clearing the farm pond is mucky and fun but is more appropriate for Ypres. Magnificent cherry blossom last week now replaced by leaves. All well here and best wishes to you both.

John Taylor says:

Lovely to hear your news - keep well and look forward to seeing you again soon!

Sally &Chris says:

Wonderful uplifting and thought provoking news letter as usual. Thanks both. Same problem here in Wales -no bread flour. But as David said "there's always Lidls"!! Stay safe and well. Speak soon xxx

Edward Foreman says:

Thanks for the newsletter, I find it helps me to read about events at 56.
Stay safe , so looking forward to a time when I can come and see you guys again.

Stephen Benson says:

Glad to read you are both well, stay safe and well. Planning a trip 8th/9th October. Fingers Crossed.

Bob Hamilton says:

Glad to hear you are both well and coping.Regarding your comment , I think it is normal.Keep up the good work and with luck the 4 (hopefully this time) from Wales will see you later this year.

Pauline Symmons says:

Glad to hear you are both well and sounds as though you've had lots of things to do especially writing the monthly newsletter which we look forward to reading. Of course we will be back as soon as things start to normalise although it will probably be a 'new normal'. Take care, stay safe, Lots of love Pauline and Robert

David Ellis says:

Another lovely newsletter from Number56. Thank you Julie and David. Good to hear you are both well and that you seem to be coping well with the lockdown! We seem to be doing much the same, FaceTime, Zoom, quizzes etc. As everyone says, health is the top priority in these difficult times! I am still hanging on to the possibility of June 8th but I suspect it is a fast disappearing dream? I believe there will still be a 100km limit when restrictions are lifted? I’ll wait and see. Thank you for another lovely Somme update and looking forward to seeing you both ......... .

Gordon & Joana (and Mary) says:

Following our visit to the extraordinary ‘Gallipoli’ exhibition at Te Papa, the notion was to combine a visit to No.56 to coincide with both ANZAC Day and our homage to J’s grandfather at Point 110 Old Cemetery. Apart from you being ‘fully booked’ at the time, events have transpired as they have. You’re right about the effects of nature - apart from everything coming out at once (and the blossom in fantastic profusion), the Wisteria has been out now for 10 days..! Keep safe and stay well you two, we’ll see you as soon as we can. XX (...’hens meet ...’ very funny, even made Joana laugh!)

Phil Leeke says:

I thought about trying Davids dating site but I'm too chicken.
See you soon....relatively speaking.

Colin & Jenny Caddy says:

Thanks for another lovely newsletter. We spoke about it this morning whilst on our morning excercise/dog walk - got home and it had arrived! Good to hear how things are over there in these difficult times. We are looking forward to being able to travel and spend a few days at No56 - later this year perhaps - who knows?? Best wishes & stay well. Colin & Jenny

Vic Philbey says:

So glad to hear that you are keeping well at this troubling time. Always looking forward to your monthly newsletter. Love and Best Wishes to you both. XX

Gordon Haymes says:

There is no better place to watch the last rays of the sun going down than over the patchwork of fields on the Somme. And when that day is done there will be the warmth of #56 to welcome you back. Hope you both keep safe and well, my plans to visit may be on hold but looking forward to returning when this is over.
Best wishes

Terry Sponder says:

Thank you for your lovely tribute to John, as you say he was a true gent. His funeral was a very sad affair as only a certain number of people where allowed to attend, luckily I was one. Stay safe and well both and look forward to seeing you soon. XX

Len and Julienne says:

Great to hear your news, all very much the same down in the Gironde with lockdown, lots of walks in the vines and lots of wine in the evenings... looking forward to seeing everyone again when it’s all over. My eldest daughter is nursing at St George’s Hospital in London right at the cutting edge oh the Covid19 care, I do worry about her but safe in knowledge they are the best at what they do and although many have not made it, a good number are returning to the wards and will make a full recovery. My wars I could see the enemy and we could act accordingly, this war is still coming up with its deception methods and I fear we will still have a long way to go before the fight is totally won. Stay safe drink wine

Heather and Malcolm says:

Ahhhh ... we keep thinking of you both. We will be back, whenever the world allows it. Stay safe. Lots of love.

Chris Prince says:

Great to hear you are both well and keeping busy in out lock down World. Is was great to hear Anzac Day was still remembered so far away in lock down. Bill and I held a Dawn Service in our drive way at the Flag Pole 11 other residents from our street joined us, all keeping our distance. We played The Last Post and Reveille. Everyone enjoyed it, very special in strange times. Take care stay safe and look forward to next month see how things have changed. Kind Regards Chris & Bill xx

Ash says:

Best wishes
Stay safe

Leave a comment