Mis à jour : mars 22
January 2021...a New Year and new hope?
With the UK going into their 3rd lockdown just a few days before Christmas, any hopes of my British clients hoping to travel to the UK to see their families in January were thwarted and the cancellations kept coming. I was very fortunate that 1 or 2 customers decided to make a break for it and made long-term bookings for their cats whilst they arranged to spend 2 or 3 months in Spain or, as in one case, Malwai. A third customer had managed to get to the UK before it went into lockdown but was now unable to return, so I unexpectedly had a canine guest for a few extra weeks too. Other than a weekend here or there, a booking due to a hospitalisation and another due to home improvements, that has pretty much been the summary of bookings so far this year. The February school holiday bookings didn't materialise as ski-lifts were closed so the traditional skiing holidays were all cancelled, so my handful of long-term guests are much appreciated.
The uncertainty of the Fonds de Solidarite continues....it seems to be a bit of a lottery and takes a couple of months to be approved each time, so I'm still searching for other ways to generate an income.
One idea was to host French students hoping to improve their English. Many French families send their children to the UK for an 'immersion' holiday, so that they can improve their English language skills. With the travel restrictions these UK holidays are no longer available so there is now a growing need for English-speaking host families living in France. Why not? I've got a spare bedroom, I'm here all the time and I think I have a generally good grasp of the English language, spelling and grammar (I can hear some of you reading through this blog groaning at all the grammatical errors I've made so far!). So, I looked a bit more into it and found that most, if not all, organisers required the host to hold a teaching qualification. A TEFL qualification was acceptable, but not something I held. How hard could it be? There seem to be hundreds of adverts showing young, fresh-faced students claiming to have completed the course easily and proudly displaying their certificates. After parting with a couple of hundred euros and registering on a course I soon realised how naive I was! Who knew there were 16 tenses? I thought there were only 3: past, present and future! Abstract nouns, past participles, present perfect, gerunds, auxiliary verbs, transitive and intransitive verbs....it's all gobbledy-gook to me and I'm struggling to get through the 6 month course!
Another idea that I'm still toying with is my dog bakery...biscuits and cakes made from dog-safe ingredients. The biggest stumbling block here is the high cost of postage in France so it would really only be practical if people were willing to collect their orders in person. The second, and more frustrating, obstacle is Brexit! One of the key ingredients to make some stunning cakes is the dog-safe icing, which isn't found easily in France, and attempts to make my own have been fairly disastrous. I have trialled a product available in the UK and the results are fantastic, so I'm eager to place an order. Brexit has other ideas though, and the supplier has been unable to export her product since 1st January. She has orders waiting at the docks to go to countries such as Portugal and Spain and until these export problems are ironed out she can't take any more export orders.
Exactly a year ago today, 16th March 2020, President Macron made a televised announcement informing us all that the country would be going in to a lockdown. One year on and there is still so much uncertainty and as long as bars, restaurants and hotels are still closed and travel restrictions are in place then my business, and other kennels and catteries across the country, will be struggling to get through each day. The virus is here to stay and we just have to find ways of dealing with it...I, for one, can't wait till the vaccination campaign gathers momentum and becomes widely available. Only then will restrictions be eased and holiday travel will be allowed. Only then will people be beating down my door wanting to make reservations for their pets so they can finally get away from the stresses and strains of the past twelve months.
Despite all the difficulties of 2020, I really feel like one of the lucky ones.
I'm lucky because I've had the love and support of my husband and my son. They have been there to wipe away the tears and encourage me to look to the future.
I'm lucky because I haven't had Covid or lost any friends or family members to Covid. My heart goes out to the thousands of families who have lost loved-ones or who are suffering from the long-term effects of this virus.
I'm lucky because I found an amazing group of 'friends' on Facebook. Early on in the pandemic I stumbled across a Facebook group dedicated to owners of kennels and catteries. It's a UK based group but it has members from all across the world, and to be able to talk to them and share my worries and concerns with them was invaluable. All working in the same industry, we understand each other and face the same difficulties. They have been amazing source of support, advice and inspiration.
I'm lucky because the French government finally stepped up and recognised that kennels and catteries were directly impacted by the lack of tourism and provided essential help in the form of the Fonds de Solidarite (despite it's glitches). My fellow kennel and cattery owners in the UK have not been so lucky – the UK government still does not recognise the link between their business sector and tourism so they are not getting the financial help they need.
I'm lucky because during each of the lockdown periods I was able to get out into the fresh air of my garden or walk my dog within the immediate area, unlike my 96 year old Nana who has been stuck in her 3m x 3m room at her care-home. She has spent her entire life working outside with horses, and the past 40 years or so in the New Forest. She remembers the war vividly but says she has never encountered anything like this. Her Christmas meal was delivered to her on a tray for her to eat on her own in her room as none of the residents were allowed to mix or to leave their rooms. She misses the fresh air and freedom, and I miss her terribly.
I'm lucky because I'm not a teenager trying to cope with the uncertainties of final year studies. My son is in his last year at lycée and, as well as being a guinea-pig for the new BAC regime, he is concerned about the validity of this year's BAC results in the years to come when trying to get a job. As one of the BAC 2021 class, the new syllabus has been a learning curve for both the teachers and students alike. The Covid pandemic has interrupted so much of their learning and there are constant changes as to how the final marks will be calculated. Even now the students don't know if there will be a final end of year philosophy exam, or whether it will be based on course-work. Most of the end-of-year exams have been cancelled due to Covid, and have been replaced by continued assessment and tests throughout the year, as well as school reports for the previous year. The continued assessment marks will also take into account last year's work, and since there was no school for the last 4 months of the school year, coupled with the belief that they would be taking exams this year for which they could revise, it leaves the marking system a bit questionable and could well have an impact on future employment. Already stressed with the day-to-day difficulties associated with Covid, my son was left completely demoralised and demotivated by his December school report, in which his teachers advised him to consider a different route to the one he had been working so hard towards (P.E teacher) as it was highly unlikely he would get into university. His career path is now changing and he is looking for an apprenticeship as a motorbike mechanic.
I'm lucky because I have an amazing clientele and I know that as soon as they are able to travel, they will be once again phoning me up and emailing me to make reservations for their pets.
I'm lucky because I love my job.
So, yes....the past year has been full of challenges and worries, but I am still definitely one of the lucky ones.
Thank you for taking the time to read this and stay safe!