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(CNN) — What do you get when you put a former opera singer, two ex-boyfriends, her French mother, an adopted Scottish brother, a Dutch tango instructor, a Norwegian flower designer and a cheery Argentine house manager together into a sprawling 40-room French chateau?

Well, you get “The Chateau Diaries,” the unlikely YouTube quarantine hit that has made a star of Stephanie Jarvis and her friends and family.

Buying the chateau

Fifteen years ago, Jarvis was living in London, despairing over the cost of housing and complaining about it to her best friend (and ex-boyfriend), Nic, when she realized how relatively inexpensive it was to buy a rambling chateau in France.

Stephanie Jarvis pooled her resources with her ex and decided to buy a chateau with him.

Michael Potts

“For the price of my two-bedroom flat and Nic’s two-bedroom flat, we were able to buy this chateau. It was the same amount of money as the sale of those two. It’s completely insane,”Jarvis says.

Jarvis had grown up in a large home in England after her British father and French mother bought a large country estate and set about making it into a home for Alzheimer’s patients. Her parents, both nurses, believed living in beautiful surroundings would be beneficial for the patients. So the Jarvis family moved into the attic and placed the patients into the main house below.

Flash-forward several years and Jarvis, then 29 and half-heartedly pursuing a career in opera, decided she missed living in a large, happy home surrounded by people. So she pooled her resources with her ex and decided to buy a chateau with him.

“For me, I just love being with loads and loads of people around me. There’s nothing I enjoy about the thought of living alone in a flat.”

Chateau de Lalande

Jarvis scoured the French countryside for the perfect chateau, one not too close to major roadways but not too far from important amenities (like cheese shops and good thrift stores).

In an area not far from Limoges, she first set eyes on the 16th century Chateau de Lalande. She knew she was home.

A dashing ex … and an elusive one

Though Jarvis bought the chateau with her ex, she got moral support (and free labor) from her parents and her then-boyfriend, Michael Potts.

Potts, who was remarkably encouraging of his then-girlfriend buying a chateau with her ex, recently bought into the property, and now Chateau de Lalande is jointly owned by the three of them.

While Jarvis spends much of the year at the chateau, the other two owners spend a significant amount of time away.

Stephanie and Michael Potts, a co-owner, appreciate spur-of-the-moment disco parties, James Bond nights and extravagant Versailles-inspired galas.

Stephanie and Michael Potts, a co-owner, appreciate spur-of-the-moment disco parties, James Bond nights and extravagant Versailles-inspired galas.

Michael Potts

Nic, known as “the elusive Nic” in the “Chateau Diaries,” generally shuns the spotlight and prefers to not appear on camera when Jarvis films her vlog.

His wife, Marie, and their son, Antoine, feature prominently on the vlogs, however, and have become a beloved part of the roving cast of Lalanders who inhabit the chateau. The family lives in Belgium during the school year, but are renovating a separate apartment in the chateau.

They spend long stretches at the chateau over the summer and winter holidays. They also decided to ride out the pandemic there.

“I think it takes a very strong woman to be fine with your husband still owning something with his ex, especially when it’s not just a little something, when it’s this big part of your life, and in fact, I would say that Marie embraces it more than he does … It was [Marie] who said “Nic, we’re going to Lalande. We’re having it [the lockdown] there.’ “

Volunteers keep it running (and help plan elaborate costume parties)

Jarvis recruits an ever-changing group of volunteers who have skills in cooking, cleaning, gardening and landscape design.

Volunteers are helping Jarvis to restore the chateau; pre-pandemic, they helped her attend to the guests. Free room and board is offered in exchange for their work. And sometimes they just stay on indefinitely.

Norwegian volunteer Marie Wiik initially came to the chateau to help cook and design the occasional flower arrangement. Now she’s set up a large floral studio at the chateau and has gained her own impressive online following, showcasing her flower design.

Dutch tango instructor Selmar Duin showed up at Lalande just as the first lockdown hit France. He drove up to the chateau in his camper van, accompanied by his dog, Diesel. Initially shocked by his appearance (he’d been on the road and unaware Jarvis was locking down and no longer taking in her scheduled volunteers), his carpentry skills and ability to MacGyver solutions to the chateau’s problems proved so useful he has been officially hired.

Argentine Natalia “Nati” Oliveto was so capable as a volunteer she was hired to handle all guest reservations, house management and fan mail coming into the chateau.

Other volunteers help with elaborate table settings and decoration projects. Since Jarvis loves a theme party, volunteers need to have an appreciation for spur-of-the-moment disco parties, James Bond nights and extravagant Versailles-inspired galas.

Staying at the chateau

Before the lockdown, Jarvis’ main income came from renting out five rooms of the chateau as a bed and breakfast. She supplemented that with music workshops and other events held on the grounds.

Chateau de Lalande is featured prominently in "The Chateau Diaries," the unlikely YouTube quarantine hit that has made a star of Stephanie Jarvis and her friends and family.

Chateau de Lalande is featured prominently in “The Chateau Diaries,” the unlikely YouTube quarantine hit that has made a star of Stephanie Jarvis and her friends and family.

Michael Potts

In 2018, she began appearing in a UK reality series called “Escape to the Chateau DIY,” which features several Brits fixing up French chateaux. Her appearances on the show were a hit, and it inspired Jarvis to start her own YouTube channel, featuring other behind-the-scenes moments at Lalande. She taught herself to film and edit but the daily running the chateau didn’t leave a lot of time for her new hobby.

And then …

… the lockdown!

When the pandemic hit, Jarvis found herself in the perfect place to quarantine, with one big problem: Without paying guests, how would she pay the bills?

“Lockdown changed our business completely. It closed it down, utterly,” she says.

“But it didn’t change our life very much because we’re a big household. And there’s so much space, and so much garden, that we didn’t really feel locked down in the way that some people have.”

Jarvis started filming more of her daily life during quarantine, sometimes posting as many as five half-hour videos a week.

“I’m so lucky because it’s easier for me to make so much content because of the people around me. You know, I can wake up in the morning and I’m going to wander around. I’ll ask Marie what she’s doing, I’ll ask Selmar what he’s doing, I’ll ask Dan the gardener what he’s doing, and then I have the videos. I’m lucky, but that’s because of the others. If I was sitting here by myself, I wouldn’t be able to make five videos a week.”

Jarvis’ fans have created an online community, who anxiously await each episode’s first live airing, and comment along during its initial broadcast.

“I think I’ve been stunned by how much being able to join our life has helped some people, who were completely isolated. Some women have been saying they haven’t seen anyone else since March.”

YouTube stardom

Before the pandemic, Jarvis had about 10,000 followers. “I was excited because I got to 10-thousand,” she says. Now she has surpassed 100-thousand followers.

She receives letters daily from grateful fans who say her videos have not only provided entertainment during the pandemic, but have also actually helped alleviate their depression.

Jarvis’ friends and families have become stars in their own right, being recognized in airports and stores across Europe. Her delightfully disapproving French mother, her adopted Scottish brother (usually attired in a dizzying ensemble of clashing plaids), and her new South African stepfather all have their own social media accounts and followers.

The much anticipated wedding of her mother (Jarvis’ father died in 2005) was turned into a “Midsummer Night’s Dream”-themed extravaganza, which aired on the reality show and featured in several of Jarvis’ blog.

Chateau renovations

Money Jarvis earns from Patreon is going toward fixing up the chateau's chapel and restoring a now-drained historic lake on the property.

Money Jarvis earns from Patreon is going toward fixing up the chateau’s chapel and restoring a now-drained historic lake on the property.

Michael Potts

Earlier this year, Jarvis started accepting online donations through Patreon to help restore the chateau. Money she earns through the site is going toward fixing up the chateau’s chapel and restoring a now-drained historic lake on the property. (Disclosure: This writer contributed money after spending several lockdown days binge-watching her YouTube series.)

“Patreon is about $22,000 (USD) a month, which is completely life-changing. And I didn’t launch it till February, so this is since February, it’s gone from zero to $22,000 a month. It’s just insane.”

Jarvis is now able to tackle restoration work she didn’t know she’d ever get to.

Since that Patreon account is a nonprofit and all money can only be used for renovations, she now earns her personal income (and keeps the chateau running) via the money earned from her vlogs. “Which means that my YouTube ad revenue keeps everyone in food and, let’s face it, wine,” she says.

Vlogging European culture

Jarvis’ vlog adventures are spotlighting an area of south-central France less known to tourists. Besides highlighting life in her chateau, there are trips to the nearby Limoges factory store and to local brocantes and thrift stores brimming with ridiculously cheap French fashion.

“Europeans travel a lot and we’re really guilty of not visiting our own areas. We go to work everyday and then we go on holiday. And we don’t think about what’s around us. And I was really guilty of that. Because of the vlog, I’ve discovered my local area much more as well.”

For now, Jarvis is happily hunkered down in her chateau for Christmas, celebrating each day of advent with a different vlog, and eagerly anticipating such Lalande traditions as the “Boxing Day Barbecue.”

She’s glad her videos have been enjoyed by so many people this year, and hopes others might consider saving a chateau, too.

“I think French chateaus, they kind of deserve to be a thing, you know? The amazing history … it would be wonderful if people come and start to get passionate about restoring them and looking after them.”

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Pelosi to move forward with impeachment if Pence doesn’t act to remove Trump

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“In protecting our Constitution and our Democracy, we will act with urgency, because this President represents an imminent threat to both,” Pelosi said in the letter to Democrats on Sunday night laying out next steps.

The House will try to pass a measure on Monday imploring Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment, through which he and the Cabinet declare Trump “incapable of executing the duties of his office, after which the Vice President would immediately exercise powers as acting president.” If Republicans object, as is virtually certain, Democrats will pass the bill via a roll call vote on Tuesday.

“We are calling on the Vice President to respond within 24 hours,” Pelosi wrote. “Next, we will proceed with bringing impeachment legislation to the Floor.”

But it’s not clear when exactly the Senate will take up the House’s measure. The Senate isn’t scheduled to return until Jan. 19, but will hold pro forma sessions on Tuesday and Friday. In theory, a senator could try to pass the House resolution by unanimous consent, but as of now it appears unlikely that it would pass.

On Monday, multiple House Democrats plan to introduce impeachment resolutions that would become the basis of any impeachment article considered by the House later this week.

Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), who will introduce an article of impeachment against Trump on Monday, said on Sunday that roughly 200 Democrats have co-sponsored the measure.

Currently, 211 voting members (plus three nonvoting members) support Cicilline’s legislation, and they are hoping to reach 217 voting members by Monday morning, enough for the House to impeach Trump, one Democratic source familiar with the matter told POLITICO.

A small number of Democrats have opted not to co-sign the bill, but privately say they will vote to support the resolution on the floor, the source added.

The impeachment effort in the House is likely to be bipartisan, with Democrats expecting at least one GOP lawmaker — Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois — to sign on. A handful of other House Republicans are seriously weighing it, according to several sources, though those lawmakers are waiting to see how Democrats proceed, and some are concerned about dividing the country even further.

Among the GOP members whom Democrats are keeping an eye on are Reps. John Katko of New York, Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Liz Cheney of Wyoming and Jaime Herrera Beutler of Washington.

Across the Capitol, at least two Republicans — Sens. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska — have called on Trump to resign. On Saturday, Toomey told Fox News, “I do think the president committed impeachable offenses,” but told CNN the next day that he does not believe there is enough time to impeach.

Sen. Ben Sasse (R-Neb.) has also said he would consider articles of impeachment.

Another option has emerged among some Republican and moderate Democratic circles — censuring Trump — though it remains highly unlikely to advance.

A censure resolution would gain far more support in the GOP than impeachment. Some Republicans have privately been pushing for that route and are trying to get Biden on board, according to GOP sources. That group of Republicans is also warning that impeachment could destroy Biden’s reputation with Republicans.

But censure is considered a nonstarter in an incensed House Democratic Caucus, where members see it as a slap on the wrist that gives Republicans an easy out.

The Democrats’ enormous step toward impeachment on Sunday comes after Pelosi and other top Democrats held a private call on Saturday night in which they discussed the potential ramifications that a lengthy impeachment trial could have on Biden’s presidency.

Democratic leaders discussed several options to limit the political effects on Biden’s first 100 days, with one option — floated by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) — for the House to delay the start of an impeachment trial in the Senate by holding on to the article of impeachment.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) has sent out a memo to senators explaining that the Senate could not take up impeachment until Jan. 19 at the earliest, absent unanimous consent.

A final decision has not been made, and House Democrats will discuss the matter on a 2 p.m. caucus call on Monday.

Lawmakers are already privately expressing concerns about returning to the Capitol for multiple days this week, worried about both a potential coronavirus outbreak and whether the building is secure, given how easily an armed pro-Trump mob invaded on Wednesday.

The Capitol physician urged House lawmakers and staff to get tested in a memo Sunday, saying they might have been exposed to someone who had the virus while huddling for safety in a large committee room for hours on Wednesday. During the hourslong lockdown, several Republican members refused to wear masks despite being offered them by Democrats worried about the spread of the deadly virus.

Melanie Zanona, Olivia Beavers and Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

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Matt Hancock Scraps “Unnecessary Training Modules” Blamed For Slowing Vaccine Rollout

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Matt Hancock has agreed to remove some of the training modules required for volunteers to sign up to deliver the Covid-19 vaccine (PA)

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Matt Hancock said people will no longer need to undertake training including an anti-terrorism course to give the coronavirus jab after MPs said “bureaucratic rubbish” was delaying mass vaccination.

It comes as MPs called for the government to produce targets for the number of people given immunity before lockdown can be lifted.

The health secretary said a series of “unnecessary training modules” are being scrapped to speed up the process of getting people qualified to deliver the jab.

Speaking in the Commons, Sir Edward Leigh said he was shown by his fellow the Tory MP, a qualified GP, the “ridiculous form” he had filled out to start delivering the vaccine.

“When he’s inoculating an old lady, he’s not going to ask her if she’s come into contact with Jihadis or whatever, so the Secretary has got to cut through all this bureaucratic rubbish,” he said.

In response Mr Hancock said: “I am a man after Sir Edward’s heart and I can tell the House that we have removed a series of the unnecessary training modules that had been put in place, including fire safety, terrorism and others.

“I’ll write to him with the full panoply of the training that is not required and we have been able to remove, and we made this change as of this morning and I am glad to say it is enforced.

“I am a fan of busting bureaucracy and in this case I agree with him that it is not necessary to undertake anti-terrorism training in order to inject vaccines.”

Dr Fox had earlier challenged Boris Johnson to drop the “bureaucracy” and “political correctness” of the forms vaccine volunteers must fill out.

He told MPs: “As a qualified but non-practising doctor, I volunteered to help with the scheme and would urge others to do the same. 

“But, can I ask the Prime Minister why I’ve been required to complete courses on conflict resolution, equality, diversity and human rights, moving and handling loads and preventing radicalisation in order to give a simple Covid jab?”

Mr Johnson said he had been “assured by the Health Secretary that all such obstacles, all such pointless pettifoggery has been removed”.

The government has been attempting to recruit thousands of volunteers to help with a mass vaccination programme, and with the recent approval of the more easily deliverable Oxford/AstraZeneca version has today revealed the location of seven mass vaccination centres set to open next week.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman told journalists at a briefing they would be at Robertson House in Stevenage, the ExCel Centre in London, the Centre for Life in Newcastle, the Etihad Tennis Centre in Manchester, Epsom Downs Racecourse in Surrey, Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol and Millennium Point in Birmingham, and it is expected they will be run with a combination of NHS staff and volunteers.

But so far the government has not said how many people need to be inoculated before it has an impact on the coronavirus restrictions.

Mr Hancock was asked by a number of MPs if the measures could be eased once the top few tiers in the vaccine priority list had been clear.

Former Conservative chief whip Mark Harper said once the top four groups, which includes care home residents and staff, frontline NHS workers, the clinically extremely vulnerable and everyone over 70 “we’ve taken care therefore of 80% of the risk of death”.

Adding: “What possible reason is there at that point for not rapidly relaxing the restrictions that are in place on the rest of our country?”

The health secretary replied: “We have to see the impact of that vaccination on the reduction in the number of deaths, which I very much hope that we will see at that point, and so that is why we will take this – an evidence-led move down through the tiers, when we’ve broken the link, I hope, between cases and hospitalisations and deaths.”

The ex-Tory minister and another doctor, Andrew Murrison, said: “The logic of anticipating what is going to happen in two or three or four weeks’ time from the number of cases we are getting at the moment is that we can do the same in reverse.

“That is to say, when we have a sufficient number of people vaccinated up we can anticipate in two or three or four weeks’ time how many deaths have been avoided. 

“That means, since it cuts both ways he will be able to make a decision on when we should end these restrictions.”

Mr Hancock replied: “The logic of the case that Dr Murrison makes is the right logic and we want to see that happen in empirical evidence on the ground.

“This hope for the weeks ahead doesn’t take away, though, from the serious and immediate threat posed now.”

The Cabinet minister said the challenge for the government is to increase the amount of doses available, claiming “the current rate-limiting factor on the vaccine rollout is the supply of approved, tested, safe vaccine”.

He added: ”We are working with both AstraZeneca and Pfizer to increase that supply as fast as possible and they’re doing a brilliant job.”

But Labour’s shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth called for the government to ramp up its vaccination programme to six million doses a week.

He told the Commons: “The Prime Minister has promised almost 14 million will be offered the vaccine by mid-Feb. That depends on around two million doses a week on average.

“Both [Mr Hancock] and the Prime Minister have reassured us in recent days that it’s doable based on orders.

“But in the past ministers have told us that they had agreements for 30 million AstraZeneca doses by September 2020 and 10 million of Pfizer doses by the end of 2020.

“So, I think people just want to understand the figures and want clarity. Can ministers tell us how many of the ordered doses have been manufactured?”

Mr Ashworth added: “Two million a week would be fantastic but it should be the limit of our ambitions, we should be aiming to scale up to three, then five, then six million jabs a week over the coming months.”

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How South African police are tackling pangolin smugglers


Quiet, solitary and nocturnal, the pangolin has few natural enemies, but researchers believe it is the most trafficked mammal in the world. The tough scales covering its body are sought after for use in Chinese medicine, in the erroneous belief that they have healing properties.

The animal has also been of interest to researchers during the coronavirus pandemic. Related viruses have been found in trafficked pangolins, though there is continued uncertainty around early theories that pangolins were involved in the transmission of the virus from animals to humans.

After South African police seized a pangolin from suspected smugglers, BBC Africa correspondent Andrew Harding witnessed how vets tried to save the animal’s life.

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