Outlanders

Back last year we noticed a little pony in a woodland meadow up the track where we walk the dogs a lot. I really don’t remember now if he was always there – but we started to stop when we went past and talk to him. He seemed a lonely little soul, and after not that long a time he seem to get more and more used to us, and would come running over to greet us. Any days that we went up there when we had not been for a few days he seemed particularly pleased to see us – so we imagined that maybe he missed us on the days that we didn’t go.

Much to everyone’s amusement I nicknamed him My Little Unicorn as he is white, quite small, and he has a little dip in his forehead where I would joke that his horn is – but only people who believed in unicorns can see. The French for Unicorn is La Licorne and before long this became shortened to La’li.

Of course – me being me – I got attached – and before long I felt guilty if there were any days that we could not walk up there. In particular, Christmas and New Year – especially after my Uncle died – I felt really low – we felt so upset that we had no family visiting us and the lockdown/curfew spoiled all our plans – and even New Year’s Eve got ruined as the 9pm curfew put paid to our party with friends. We (well me mostly I suppose) felt a commitment to pop up every day to see him – to offer him a few moments of company – and I guess in a strange, almost co-dependent sort of way – I felt as much as a need for this for me as for him.

A while back I went up one day and he was no-one to be seen. I called him – but this stage he would answer our calls and come running out of the trees – often with a whinny and sometimes a little dance – but this day there was no sign. I put it down to maybe the rain and he was keeping dry. But the next day he was not there either. After a bit of enquiring, we found that he had been moved to a field with 4 other horses as he had kept trying to escape. Close enough to see him but not close enough for him to running over. I was upset – but obviously accept that he doesn’t not belong to me so I have no input on his life and where he leads it – but I missed him enough to still pop up the road to see him from afar maybe once a week.

Then a few weeks back I popped up and saw no La’Li in the new field. My heart sunk – and all sorts of scenarios crossed my mind – of which I cannot bear to write down.

I still walk past La’Li’s original little woodland paddock with the dogs and always think of him when we do – and often wonder what happened to him – but after he disappeared from the bigger field thought it best to not keep going up there.

However, against my better judgement I went to visit La’li’s corner last week and ventured up the track to see if through some miracle he had returned. My heart sank even further when I realised that now, not even the two big white horses remain. Perhaps they have met the same fate as La’li? Who knows? Of course, I accept that all the horses are theirs to choose what they do with – La’li was never mine. But he was a piece of my life, and his owners broke a piece of my heart when they done whatever they done with him.

I reflected even further. Every soul (person or animal) who enters your life is there for a reason.

Some people are transient and just passing through – meant for you for just a short while, right at the time but not forever, and sometimes just for a lesson.

Some people are meant to be in your life forever and do remain in your life forever – like a favourite item of clothing – safe, comfy, familiar and easy to wear.

And further – some people are meant to be in your life forever, but for whatever reason life takes a turn and they are gone. And that leaves a hole in your heart, sometimes you don’t even know why you feel that hole, just that some part of you is missing.

 In French you don’t say “I miss you” you say “tu me manques” which means “you are missing from me”. I love that! Or should I say “j’adore”

And when, through some weird twist of fate that missing part is returned to you – in an instant you know it was a missing part and that it is back where it belongs. And you feel more whole than you have done for such a long time.

I learned a long while ago that my timeline is stuck on focusing in the past. By that I mean – I struggle to live in the present, and instead of seeing a future me – I torment my soul by reliving over and over again past events that I struggle to reconcile. This has, and continues to do so, caused me a lot of pain. I’ve had years and years of on/off therapy to try to resolve this, and really until last year (when through shifting up my Reiki practice quite a few notches) I couldn’t even help myself. But….I have made great progress on this through a whole bunch of techniques – letting go of the past, self-parenting, forgiving – lots of very deep, emotionally charged, spiritual and energetic work.

And I really believe that it is because I was moving in to a different phase of my own healing that what happened to me recently happened at all.

Through some chance twist of fate, serendipity (a happy accident) I was on the Facebook page for my old school, and found out that three brothers I had known had all sadly died. I was curious to find out more and so done a Google search and found myself in a Facebook group called Pompey Punks of all places. It seems so funny looking back now to think that I was a bit of a punk rocker in my time, well kind of a hippy cross punk ha ha!!

And then I spotted a familiar face, instantly recognisable as a childhood friend, and found that sadly he was another one who had died far too young. But in looking more at him I found the twin brother of someone who was a huge part of my life when it was just so utterly crap that I have spent the rest of my life trying to make sense of it

Well, everything that has happened since is deeply personal and not for sharing. Apart from to say that it would be a complete understatement to simply say that a missing part of me has been found.

The one person in all the whole world who lived through some of those same experiences, that same time – with me – has returned to my life, and it is just so completely and utterly powerful, validating and empowering.

Can you pick up a relationship after nearly 40 years of no contact at all and just continue where you left off? Yes – it seems you can. With the same ease that we shared so much of our childhood lives we have that same comfortable feeling – like wearing a favourite pain of jeans.

The person who was my soul sister when I just a child, who has been a missing part, is back in my life and her presence helps me to feel whole.

And just like when we were children, our present day lives have enough similarities for us to uniquely share similar problems in life. We are both “expats” living in countries that we were not born in and so share some of those challenges, so once again I feel I truly have a friend who can really empathise in a way that no-one else can – just like when her childhood was so similar to mine that we shared that deep understanding back then.

As for La’li – he came into my life at a time when I felt I needed a kick up the arse to do something as simple as go out for a walk in the morning, because I was so drained with all this Covid shit I could quite happily have stayed in bed all day and never left the house.

But that dear, sweet little pony gave me a reason to walk up the track because his sad, lonely little life seemed a metaphor for what I perceived to be my sad, lonely little life with no family visiting and missing everyone and feeling that I had no-one to really talk to who understand me. The friends who I thought I had made here have never really truly understood the issues that I face – and that is not through me not trying to explain – it seems they either can’t or won’t listen for long enough to understand. Every one has their own stuff going on I suppose and empathy certainly seemed to be in short supply around here last year!

But the joy that little pony brought to my heart when he gave me a little whinny and a dance when he saw me approaching is something I will never forget. I could, and do sometimes, feel angry that he was taken from my life, but of course it’s much healthier to just simply feel gratitude that he came into my life at just the right time.

Who could not feel joy in their heart when greeted by this funny little face?

My soul sister and my sweet little unicorn both have saved me in an unforgettable way.

When cultures collide, it can be a beautiful thing – the sharing of differences is wonderful in many ways – different foods to try, the learning of different traditions. But equally sometimes it can cause clashes. Us Brits have a certain way of doing things that are engrained in our psyche and of course so do other European people. It’s very easy to feel that you are totally on the same wave length as people because you share a common language (English) and then to find out that really, your different ways of doing things can cause misunderstandings. These are mostly brushed away with a sense of good spirit. But sometimes it is hard to accept that it is simply a different sense of humour.

For example, the woman who recently told me my French accent was horrible. I could try to put this down to her not being English – maybe she does not have sufficient command of the English language to understand what a nasty adjective “horrible” is. Or maybe her understanding of English grammar means that she does not understand that when you use a nasty adjective to describe a person’s actions you also are perceived to be insulting them too.

Indeed, I could also have put it down to her culture being very direct and saying out loud what they think without that “politeness filter” that us Brits have. But, when you find out that the person in question has spoken English for a long enough duration, to have full command of it that can only lead to one conclusion. Complete and utter rudeness!

The words I now regret not having the quick wit to formulate in retaliation are:

“I may have to work on improving my French accent but it is not horrible and it is none of your business anyway”

And then I should have added:-

“No, it is your horrible manners that need improving and I feel very sorry for you that you have such negativity in your self that you need to try to make me feel bad”

Yes, some cultures are direct, but thankfully most are not so direct that they lack manners to the same extent as that unpleasant woman did.

One of the things I have particularly struggled with in living in a small community is the perception of some people that they are now stakeholders in your life. Most of our friends here are “outlanders” in some way – either British or other European “expats” – I really don’t like that word – I prefer immigrants – but we do seem to be referred to collectively in that way.

But even more than the word immigrants I prefer “outlanders” the term that was coined by the gorgeous Jamie Fraser in Outlander (Netflix series) – in his description of Claire – who “dinna come from round here”. All my friends around here are “outlanders” – even the French people I am friends with all come from different parts of France. It seems that it is hard to be accepted by the locals even when a person is French but not from this village.

So, all the Outlanders have that in common, and mostly seem to stick together. In many ways because we are a very small community within an already small community it can feel as if a magnifying glass has been placed over every aspect of our lives. Nothing is secret, everything is shared, everything is seen, and witnessed. I’m not saying gossiped about as I think gossip is a malicious entity – done to cause harm. But people do tend to talk about what other people are doing – I guess as there is not much going on around here so I suppose it’s interesting. And one could argue that at least if they are talking about you that means you are important enough to be of interest…..and perhaps saves some other poor soul being talked about!

But that can cause problems as the knock-on effect is that people think they have a solution to your problems – some of these problems they have only heard third or fourth hand. Of course, Brits being Brits we will discuss problems just because that is the British way to do things – we like to let off steam – we don’t necessarily want other people to solve our problems. Then when other cultural ways of doing things enter the equation, things like unsolicited advice slip into it. As a person who has always liked to take ownership of my own life the whole concept of someone persisting with solutions tends to just wind me up and make me feel cross! Don’t get me wrong – if I ask for advice, I am happy to consider it. But I reserve the right to refuse that advice and maybe take another piece of advice or just simply disregard it all together. And I like to think that my own manners are good enough that when a person presents me with a problem I have the good grace to check if it is advice they are seeking or simply a sounding board.

But when advice is pushed it starts to feel that someone wants to live their own live through you (whether that is intentional or not).

The Toyah Wilcox song “I want to be free” in particular the lines

“I don’t want to be sweet and neat

I don’t want someone living my life for me

I want to be free”

Toyah Wilcox 1981

That says it well for me – And that is just it – I want to live my own life – it is my life and I will live it to the best of my ability with whatever I have available to me at that point in time – my decisions will be based on what time, energy, money, resources, motivations, health is available to ME. Of course, my life decisions impact on Martin and he and I always discuss everything major and compromise with each other – but that’s that – nothing else is of any concern to other people and I find it infuriating to have to constantly explain and justify why I am doing this, or not doing that.

But then – I realise that I do that over explaining because 1) it’s a bit of a British politeness thing and 2) because of my “updragging” sorry I mean “upbringing” – just all those childhood experiences and traumas that cause me to constantly doubt myself and feel I need to explain.

I am a work in progress and this is a huge area of self-improvement for me but one that I am putting a lot of energy into and I feel very empowered in doing so.

When we first moved here, we wanted to be friends with all the “outlanders”, especially the English -speaking ones – mostly on the grounds that we all shared a common experience and thought that would be the glue that stuck us together. We were quite hurt when we found some to be quite stand-offish. Now in retrospect I realise that those who came before us have already realised, like we do now, that one common experience is not enough to base a true, authentic friendship on, and

“an English-speaking dickhead is a dickhead all the same”

Sharon Rees-Williams 2021

I’m sure we are dickheads to some people (although of course we all like to believe we are perfect) and they have decided we are not for them (I suspect that some people have not liked us just because we were vegetarian which stuns me that people are so narrow minded), just as now, I am realising that my own self-worth is enough to justify a decision to set healthy boundaries and reject people who show little or no respect to me for the person I am and the choices I make. My experience with some of those people is that even when you try to be flexible and compromise to make it easier (for example) when we agreed to eat fish when out of the house – they will want to push those boundaries further and first – first they complain you are vegetarian, then they complain you only eat fish and not meat – I imagine that if we ever went back to eating meat those same people would feel the need for us to eat duck’s gizzards or something equally revolting – just so they could have more control over what we eat that we do!!

No, a healthy friendship will respect and welcome the boundaries, and I know that for my own good I should avoid anyone who does not show respect to my boundaries. For example, with the horrible woman who made fun of my accent – luckily she was not a good friend – in fact I had only (thankfully) met her once before – but there is no place in my life for people who leave me feeling so bad about myself in that way. Friends should make each other feel great about themselves – not leave you feeling hopeless and that you can’t do anything right. And alarm bells sound in my head if ever a person says that by me setting a simple boundary of respect for my feelings makes it “too hard for them to be friends with me”

Of course, equally it is no good to just sit in an “echo chamber” where your husband or friends tell you that everything you do is wonderful and ignore any hurt feelings that you express from their behaviour – that’s not helpful either – if for example a person’s behaviour when they have been drinking has become volatile – it is not helpful if those close to that person choose to ignore their own feelings and let them overstep boundaries.

One person who springs to mind in my past is a very close (ex)friend who had a drinking problem that got worse when her marriage broke down. It became an increasing problem over time. I was able to tolerate and understand a lot of her unreasonable behaviour (for example her habit of going “walkabout” – just leaving night clubs without evening bothering to tell me – leaving me to search the club looking for her and eventually going home alone in a taxi. In any case, I for one am certainly no angel – I could drink a navvie under the table back in the day.

But then I made the mistake of inviting her and her children to join me and my children on a short holiday when I went to visit my dad. Her bottle of vodka came out the moment we arrived in the little holiday chalet – and I was called all the names under the sun for not wanting to join her in drinking at 4pm in the afternoon.

“You are boring”, “you are a rubbish friend”, “party pooper” etc. For heavens sakes we had our children with us!! She had downed half the bottle whilst I cooked dinner for the 6 of us. I tried to tolerate her behaviour as it got worse and worse over the evening. Her two children were really upset – I had all four of the children trying to sleep in my little room while she went on a drunken rampage. In the end I poured her vodka down the sink, she poked her fingers in my face, and then eventually even slapped me – and said I had ruined her holiday, and then lashed out verbally at my children – insulting them for not being as advanced developmentally as her oldest child.

She left early in the morning – we did not utter a word to her and I have never ever spoken to her again! We had been really brilliant friends – we went through a lot together as our children started to grow up – but despite me having been tolerant and understanding over the years – making allowances for her because she was in emotional torment etc. she over stepped the mark that night and the worst thing was – she blamed ME for ruining HER holiday. I guess some people will never see that the cause of their pain is themselves. I have no problem with people drinking whatever alcohol they wish to drink – whether that is one drink a day, or ten drinks a day, or no drinks ever – it is entirely down to an individual – but when their views on alcohol cause them to poke fingers at me, or insult me, or worse still – my children – then it’s time to get out- hurt your own soul, your own liver, your own family – but leave me and mine well alone!!

I had another friend who I used to enjoy spending time with a couple of times a week – our dogs were related. We got on great at first, but as we relaxed into the friendship, she seemed more and more comfortable to tell me what I should and shouldn’t be doing, in all aspects of my life – not just to do with the dogs. And also creeping in was the racist and homophobic comments – subtle to begin with – and I never ever validated them – just hoped she would notice that I did not agree with them, then as they got worse, I would say I didn’t agree – then she seemed to want to sway my opinions. Before long I would drive back from those dog walks feeling really awful – as if everything in my life was not to her liking – my food choices, our hobbies, our preference for a motorhome over a caravan (so funny that she now has a motorhome – I guess she was jealous, eh?). The final straw for me came when we got Lillie – this so-called friend started to completely undermine me every time we walked. Apologising to complete strangers about my boisterous little puppy – always said with a smile on her face and laughing – but all the same – completely belittling and humiliating to me. And so, just like the friend who ruined our friendship through her awful alcohol induced behaviour – so this friendship ended – as for me – the feeling of having another person asserting a right to live MY life in a better way for ME is just so completely unacceptable. It tapered off over time – I found myself making excuses to not go for dog walks, and then after the Brexit referendum her vile comments about being glad all the immigrants would now be gone just confirmed to me that any tenuous bond that still remained was now so weak it was just not worth salvaging.

When I trust people as friends, I trust them with my heart, I trust them to take care of the information that I share with them. People don’t need to walk on egg shells around me – but a good friend would understand that poking fun at me is not kind, and not tolerable. And that I’m afraid I do have an issue with racism and bigotry. It always bemuses me how some people when expressing bigoted views about a group in society that reflects your own situation, then they turn around and say “oh…I mean them – but not you” as if that somehow makes it all OK.

“Oh good….you only mean the Syrian immigrants should be deported them – not us British immigrants – that’s fine then ha ha”

I have always tried to show unconditional positive regard towards all my friends whenever they have shared problems with me – by that I mean to not judge – just accept that they make their choices to the best of what they have to hand. Sometimes people have made decisions that I just could not comprehend and seemed on the surface to be quite selfish, but I have tried to understand that, for them, at that point in time they did not have the resources to draw upon to put their needs to one side to do something for another person’s good. And tried to not judge them, and certainly not ridiculed them over those decisions.

I live my life to my best of my ability – with what I have to hand, and actually have no expectations of another human being whatsoever. But I have hopes that people who I have called friends will respect my sensitive nature and not make me regret being in a position to hurt my heart.

I am constantly working on myself, and realise that I make mistakes, and that I don’t always do all the things maybe I should have done as fast as other people think I should, but I have my own reasons for things – and really it is of no concern to other people what those reasons are unless I have asked them for their input.

So, going back to La’Li – my little unicorn – he was a lesson in life, and so were the two past friends who I cut off for my own good – the one with the drinking problem taught me how destructive alcohol can be and the other one taught me that it is never acceptable to be so arrogant that you think you know what is best for another person.

The woman who said my French accent was horrible was also a lesson – she taught me that in future I really must stand up for myself straight away and call out these horrible bullies right at the beginning, to let them know that making fun of a person is never fun when the only ones laughing are those who are picking fun.

I’m doing alright – my French is coming on slowly but surely, I still confuse the locals who have the really guttural South West rural dialect, but most French people who speak a bit of English can work out what I am saying. I’ve read somewhere that if you don’t learn a language by the age of 19 you will never be fluent – I accept that my French will never be fluent – but I can make myself understood – most of the time. And that is what is important!!

Dinna Fash Sharon

As Jamie Fraser would say if we were sitting opposite me right now (oh I wish he was)

“dinna fash Sharon – you are braw just the way you are”

Jamie Fraser 2021 (how I wish)

Have your cake and eat it too

When we lived in the UK, we participated in many monthly health awareness raising events. Partly because my (last) job was a Cancer Information Specialist working within the Library Service – so was aware of just about every health campaign that exists. In fact, it was during one of these that I ended up becoming vegan for a year or so. I took part in Veganuary in January 2017 – but found it very hard so resorted back to eating a bit of cheese, but then dabbled with veganism for the following year or so, before moving out to France and finding that I really struggled without all the “meat replacements” that are readily available in the UK (I can eat Quorn but this doesn’t seem to have made it to France yet, but not Seitan which is available, and can only tolerate small amounts of Tofu). So, I conceded that sticking with vegetarian was the way to go henceforth. At least I tried!!

This year Martin and I done our usual January detox in which we attempt to recover from the excesses of Christmas. It’s funny how we always say we will “treat ourselves” by eating cakes, chocolate and our body weight in cheese, but then we end up feeling really ill afterwards – fat, bloated and in my case awful skin rashes. It’s hardly “treating” ourselves.

We aimed to cut out alcohol, meat and fish, wheat, dairy and sugar. Loosely following Carol Vorderman’s Detox for Life.

We managed the alcohol part absolutely no problem at all – neither of us drink much anymore, and obviously being vegetarian the meat was not a problem, we had only been eating occasional fish, so that didn’t bother us either. The wheat was not too bad – I have discovered red lentil and chickpea pasta which I love – and it doesn’t bloat me out like regular pasta does. But I could not manage to stop eating my favourite bread.

However, dairy was a big problem – out of all the dairy products it is only cheese and yogurt that I can manage to eat. I am lactose intolerant – and they both have some of the lactose removed in the process. I heave at the mere thought of drinking cow’s milk – I cannot stand the stuff, and as much as I like cream, any more than a tablespoon really upsets my tummy.

But I love cheese – all types – so I didn’t manage to cut back on this at all.

However, the really big shock was mine (and Martin’s) complete inability to cut back on sugar!

It seems that the bad habits of the past few years of Pain au Raisin, cookies and cakes (both at friends’ houses and also since I was lucky enough to get a fantastic Kenwood Food Mixer, I have been venturing into cake making myself) have crept up on us and we realised we were both suffering from quite bad sugar addictions.

Having a family history of Type 2 Diabetes (Mum and Uncle Peter were both borderline and managed well through diet alone) and knowing damn well that when I lived in the UK my blood glucose levels were high up within the pre-diabetes brackets – I know only too well that I can’t afford to let this become too much of a problem. I’ve been in denial for the past few years – struggling with weight gain – mostly around my tummy – all the classic signs of insulin resistance – middle aged spread, daily headaches, carb withdrawals, grumpiness after eating carb heavy meals, carb cravings, constantly hungry.

On top of all these things I am trying to eradicate Helicobacter Pylori and the resulting gastritis and sugar is a big no, no for this, and hyperglycaemia increases the risk of cancer in people with H Pylori – so in short, sugar will stop me clearing it – AND if I don’t clear it sugar will increase my chances of gastric cancer.

And, apparently Covid-19 raises your blood glucose – so if you have issues with high blood glucose and were to catch Covid-19 then this could be an issue.

Martin also acknowledged that he had a big problem with sugar too – not with weight gain – he’s as skinny as a pogo stick but he finds it impossible to say no to sweet things and cake, and he also gets very grumpy after eating sugary things – often resulting in the two of us having silly arguments just because we were having sugar crashes!!

So, we decided that we would both participate in Sugar Free February – a national campaign that in the UK is organised by Cancer Research UK. We decided that we would both do it as it’s easier to resist temptation if we are both saying no to sweet treats.

Martin is the one with a sweeter tooth than me – I will only eat it if it’s there and put in front of me – whereas Martin will go out of this way to seek out cakes!! So, it was only fair that I at least tried to make some sugar free cakes and treats. I also planned all our meals to include foods with naturally occurring sugars to help him cope with his sugar cravings.

In the aftermath of our “not very successful” January detox and the lead up to Sugar Free February – we discussed my “pre-diabetes” and decided it would be a good idea to get a Blood Glucose Monitor Testing Kit. One of the big challenges for me living in France is not really knowing how I can get routine health checks conducted – and I am a bit fearful that if I have some blood tests done to check for diabetes my readings will be high enough that the (over exuberant at times) French doctors will simply put me on metformin  and then it will be a vicious circle of being on a drug that makes you fat, and a condition that gets worse when you are fat. I’m much keener to manage any health issues with diet than medication having watched family members being prescribed drug after drug to the extent that no-one really knew which ones were for the issue and which ones were for the side effects.

So, we embarked on Sugar Free February in very good spirits. On the second day I had an awful headache which I know from experience would be a sugar withdrawal headache – this was explained to me very well by a wonderful GP that I had in the UK – she drew me a chart once which I still have!!

It explained how, even though I was sticking strictly to a diet throughout the week because when the weekend arrived and I “treated myself” my body wasn’t able to get into fat burning mode and my sugar levels were all over the place – lots of sugar over the weekend and then no sugar from Monday – by Wednesday I would have a sugar withdrawal headache. Even though I understood this – I could never quite manage to grasp the concept of having to stick to a healthy eating plan ALL OF THE TIME!!

Once my Blood Sugar monitor arrived it all suddenly became quite serious – my initial results were very high – way into the pre-diabetes range which meant that although it started out as a light hearted month long restraining from sugar it now seems like more of a long- term thing.

Reassuringly, after a few days I noticed the readings coming down – and soon they settled into mostly the normal range with the occasional higher reading in the morning – which I have since learnt is referred to as the Dawn Phenomenon the strange occurrence where even though you go to bed with a low reading and don’t eat during the night – your body still continues to make blood glucose and in turn insulin and if your body is funny (like mine) it doesn’t know what to do with it so it raises the blood sugar level.

There have been so many benefits to giving up sugar – it has quite simply been life changing and I am so happy about it!!

Firstly, I am so reassured to know that I can get my readings into a normal range – this means I am less scared of catching Covid-19. The issue with Covid-19 and high blood glucose is that if I were to have un-stable high blood pressure, and then caught Covid-19 which raises it even further then the result could be catastrophic – that’s not a risk I am willing to take when there is something I can do about it.

Secondly, and possibly the most life-changing aspect is no more headaches!! I have gone from having daily headaches – every single day of my life I would have a fuzzy head – which on at least 2 days a week would be a full-blown thumping head that would make me feel sick, light sensitive, and very, very tired – ALL GONE!!!! I have had 3 headaches to date since stopping eating sugar! One (already mentioned) on the 2nd day as the sugar left my body. One on a day when I ate too many carbs the day before. One on a day when I had a bit of a cold threatening to take hold. But all of these have been much less severe!! I am so happy.

I also have much less fuzzy head, much more clarity……

the line from Fergie’s song Big Girls Don’t Cry

keeps going round my head

“Clarity…..peace…….serenity”

It’s amazing!! I feel lighter – like a huge weight is lifted from my shoulders. My brain feels sharper! I feel happier!

My weight has changed – I’ve been struggling so much with my weight since peri-menopause and have been in full menopause for 7 years now – and despite my best efforts I struggle to lose even a tiny bit of weight and if I did lose it – any “misdemeanour” would result in putting twice as much back on. I’ve lost 5 kilos so far and have been eating really well. Not starving myself at all. But eating different things. Obviously, all added sugar is out – that was the whole point of Sugar Free February – but also, I have cut back on carbs significantly. Not to the extremes of a keto diet (I’ve been there, done that and it’s brutal) but really focusing on keeping my carb intake to no more than 35% of my daily diet and a maximum of 125gms of carbs a day. It’s been hard as I have needed to track the carbs on an app (I use Cronometer) which is time consuming and a bit tedious – but it won’t be forever, just until I find the magic number that keeps my blood glucose stable, my weight going in the right direction, but also a sustainable diet that I can enjoy and stick to.

There is no way I can follow a diet of lettuce leaves – this girl likes her food!! In fact, I like all aspects of food – shopping for it, preparing it, and cooking it. Cooking is one of my biggest and most enjoyable past times – I show love towards people by cooking for them – and I simply cannot imagine eating the same old boring stuff every day. So, this is a major consideration to take into account.

Because my weight has gone down my BMI has dropped too – and I’m now in a much heathier range. Still overweight but closer to normal than I was. For the record I don’t much like the terminology used for BMI but it is what it is – and it’s as good a tool as any to measure if my body size is going up or down. My concern was that with a BMI of over 28 I was at increased risk of Covid-19 but now it is lower and that is quite reassuring.

The nicest thing about the weight loss is that it is fat in the right places that is going. Martin rolled over the other morning for a cuddle and said “it’s feels nice – it’s less of a splodge” I know most women would punch him for that – but that’s Martin!! My body fat percentage has also dropped – it’s still quite high but at least it is moving in the right direction.

Talking of Martin – he’s happy – he’s still getting cake – although I keep threatening to cut the supply if he won’t cut back on how many peanuts he is eating!!

He’s working so hard on the house that there is no way I could deny him his cake – I fear he would mutiny if I did, down tools and go on strike!

So, I’ve been using my Kenwood Mixer to knock up some recipes that I have found on the Internet.

One of my Knit and Knatter ladies is on a Keto diet so I thought it would be nice to make some keto cakes to take round for that so that she could have something. But unfortunately, the combination of coconut flour and artificial sweetener is not to everyone’s taste so it seemed a pointless task.

But using the principles of Keto – I have tweaked a few recipes and come up with a few sweet treats that Martin really likes, and I can still eat in small quantities so we can enjoy an afternoon tea together – sometimes in the form of a picnic on one of our Sunday afternoon drives to one of the stunningly beautiful surrounding areas we are blessed with around here.

So, we are having our cake and eating it – so to speak. And very glad that we are able to do this. It’s about balance, I guess. Some people will see a 5kg weight loss in six weeks as not very much – but for me it’s about all aspects – a healthy diet, varied food, making sure that I get ALL the nutrients that I need it, and keeping my sweet toothed husband happy (so he keeps on working).

I’ve heard a lot said about Meghan and Harry in the last few days – some of which is along the lines of she wanted her cake and to eat it too – that she should have known what she was marrying in to, that she couldn’t expect her life to be normal etc.

I’ve watched the trolls out in force on the social media, the comments on news reports, people’s posts on Facebook and once again I am shocked by the hostility that people can feel towards someone they have never met, do not know apart from what the (racist) UK Tabloids allow them to see.

Being in France and not having “normal” TV just yet (we only have Netflix and the Internet) I have not yet seen the full interview – but I have seen online the short clips from it – the salient points – and I honestly think I’m watching a different interview to that of some of the people who hate her so much.

I see a couple who are clearly in love, and in support of each other. I see two people who are guarded about what they say, knowing how damaging it could be – but equally wanting to speak their truth.

I’m a blogger – I know how sometimes people don’t really understand why I would want my “dirty laundry” aired in public – and I know WHY I feel compelled to share aspects of my life that maybe some would consider too private. I can’t pretend to know why Harry and Meghan did the interview, but I would hazard a guess that it was for similar reasons to me.

I do it because I have a story to tell, a voice that needs to be heard, and in a world where people don’t always take the time to find out why we are who we are, why we behave the way we do, I would prefer that my story is told by me, myself and I – and no-one else.

I think Harry and Meghan did try to speak their truth quietly and privately – but when their cries for help were not heard, with the UK Gutter Press and public turned against them – they probably felt they had no other options.

We all have our story to be heard, we all have our challenges that we need people to understand.

Yes, the Queen is a remarkable woman who has devoted her life for nearly 70 years to the United Kingdom and 15 of the Commonwealth realms. But that doesn’t mean that every unfortunate woman (or man) who marries into the Royal Family will find it easy to fit in. It’s not as if they (the Royal Family – the House of Windsor – The Firm – The Institution – call it what you may) make it easy is it? Diana was never accepted, Camilla was initially outright rejected, Fergie wasn’t liked.

Meghan pointed out that palace employees will lie to cover up things to protect some members of the Royal Family – but failed to protect her.

I’ve seen it written that Meghan is out to destroy the Royal Family with her lies! Not so, you only have to look at Prince Philips’ track record (he pursued the Queen when he was 18 and she was 13 – in today’s standards that would make national news as grooming). He doesn’t need Meghan to run him down – there are a multitude of his misdemeanours over the years on the Internet including terrible misogyny and racism.

It seems like people will see the side of the story that they want to see. Based on their own feelings about the person, also how they are influenced by other people in their life, by the newspapers they read, the news channel they watch. Those who don’t like Meghan will probably never see it from her point of view even if it is blindingly obvious to someone else.

All I know is, Harry lost his mother at 12 years old. In a “normal” family there is no way on earth that a 12-year-old child would be made to walk behind his mother’s coffin with the lights of the cameras from the worldwide press flashing all around him, with more people that he had ever seen in his entire life watching from the side-lines, and knowing that the world watch watching through their TV screens.

Harry has seen reports about his mother suffering bulimia through her unhappiness with her life in the Royal Family

Harry has read reports that his “ginger hair” is an indicator that Charles is not his father – and then we wonder why he would be unhappy with an issue being made about his baby’s skin colour? Meghan is an American woman. In American it is a huge issue to discuss the race of a child – culturally that alone explains why she would be so offended. And please, anyone who might suggest that if she comes to live in the UK she must adopt those ways – that in itself is racism….can you not see that? Failure to accept a person’s cultural background is racism. A person moving to another country must accept that things might be different but that doesn’t happen overnight and things that are an inherent part of their make-up don’t just dissipate on the plane over. We know that from moving to France. We will always be British. We were raised British. We accept the cultural differences in France but sometimes those differences bewilder us. We understand that because we have lived in another country. People who never live in another country to that in which they are born really should not pretend to try to understand how it is for someone who is trying to do just that – let alone do it in the most famous of Royal Families.

Sadly, Archie and the new baby girl will be able to access and read FOREVER all the horrible things that have been written about them and their parents before they were EVEN BORN

And maybe even worse – the people writing these awful comments about Meghan – don’t they realise that Meghan won’t read this – but their own families will. So, if they have a family member who ever felt suicidal that person will know just who they cannot go to for support!!!

So, back to Harry. A family that inflicts that on a child can’t have their “cake and eat it” – you can’t have it both ways. If you cause that level of distress to a child then how can you expect them to not have mental health issues further down the line???? And it is shocking that Meghan was not given access to appropriate Mental Health support. Suicidal thoughts need professional intervention, not a little chat with your new brother and sister-in-law who clearly have got a better grasp on the stiff upper lip that is required for their life – lucky them!!!

Maybe this is the Royal Family’s karma?

Maybe this scandal will be the force for change that is needed?

Maybe finally the Royal Family will realise that without resorting back to incest (yes as recently as up until the first World War they were all marrying their cousins) the only way for them to procreate will be to welcome new partners with open arms – no matter what their skin colour, their nationality and to help and support them in understanding the role they must play

I have to say, I quite agree with Hilary Mantel who likened the royal family to pandas

“expensive to conserve and ill-adapted to any modern environment”

“But aren’t they interesting? Aren’t they nice to look at” he wrote later in 2013. “Some people find them endearing, some pity them for their precarious situation, everybody stares at them, and however airy the enclosure they inhabit, it’s still a cage”.

Harry has found his escape. He would have gone quietly I am sure, if he had been allowed to by the British Press. In the absence of any human decency from the press he done the only thing he could do.

He stuck up for himself, and his wife – who he clearly loves – against bullies.

I admire him. I would want my husband to do the same. Who wouldn’t?

November the 28th

November the 28th

“November the 28th…..November the 28th” – that’s what little 3-year-old me used to charge around chanting whenever anyone asked me when my birthday was.

We ran a Bed and Breakfast (Chambre D’Hote to our French friends) – well, actually my mum helped my nan to run hers after her and my dad split up and my grandad had died. So, there was lots of guests asking little me that question. It’s one of my favourite childhood memories – growing up being reminded of how cute I was chanting those words, and also “pretend talking” into the old, black telephone hand set – not properly able to speak but making all the right noises.

I used to gabble away quite happily to myself

I’ve touched on the fact before that we have a bit of a disjointed family – over the years there were some feuds which resulted in my mum and my uncle not speaking to each other for a long time. But back in August 2019 I got in touch with him (thanks to good old Facebook) – and we kept in contact since then. One of the first things he said to me that as he approached 70, realising the clock is ticking away, he regretted the missed years with me and Steve (my brother) and he hoped that we might meet up on a happier note. And, of course he said he remembered me running around Nan’s bungalow on the eve of my birthday singing November the 28th and thought it was really cute.

We clicked straight away, and had some lovely messages between each other for a few months, and then out of blue – on my birthday – November the 28th – Uncle Peter phoned me up as a surprise! It made my day – it was so lovely to speak to the Uncle that I had not seen since my late teens – and barely knew. After that first phone call we kept in touch regularly – he loved reading this blog, and of course because he had been a house builder through the 1970s, 80s, and 90s, he was always so interested in how the house building was coming on. And always very helpful and supportive.

One evening I was chatting away to him saying we had no idea how we were going to get the plaster board up on the high ceiling, and said that we had been told there was a tool you could get to help hold it up, but we had no idea what it was called, what it looked like, and didn’t have enough French to work it out. We were chatting away and suddenly he said he had searched for the tool, told me what it was in English (Plasterboard Fixers) and in French (Fixateurs de Plaques de Plater) and then I was able to find it on Amazon France.

He just knew the answers to all those little niggly questions. Time after time I would say we were worried about how long everything was taking – and he only ever said positive, supportive things – like how hard Martin is working, and how good it all looks – he loved getting photos from me about the various stages.

For a few months we were having a couple of phone calls a month, with messages in between, and we were hoping to get over to the UK in June 2020 and finally meet up with him.

But in Feb Uncle Peter went down with a nasty illness which lingered for some time, and meant that he wasn’t as able to have the long phone calls quite so often. He used to tease me that I talked so much that even just listening to me exhausted him. We went to once a month phone calls which I really looked forward to and enjoyed so much. He was so easy to talk to, always really positive and encouraging.

Of course, by now we were all going through the pandemic and travel plans became doubtful, and very sadly we missed the window of opportunity to return to the UK to visit. We used to talk about how lovely it would be when we could finally meet up, and we could see each other again, and meet his wife Linda, and his three children – my cousins – 2 of which I have never met, and the other one, not since she was a little girl.

I wrote in a previous blog about his incredible generosity in sending us out the fabulous taps, which are going to take pride of place when we finally have our kitchen in place.

I am so glad and grateful to have those taps now.

Uncle Peter was ill in March but didn’t say anything – I had a hunch something was wrong so phoned and Linda said he was in hospital. I sent him a card and a little bar of chocolate and you honestly would have thought I had sent him the Crown Jewels – he was so pleased. Another time I came across a typed transcription of a letter that my Great Grandma (his nan) had written so I sent it to him and it made him so happy. It was so lovely doing little things like that for him – he was really a lovely, lovely uncle.

We both felt sad that Martin and I were unable to make it back to his 70th birthday party in August – but accepted that the Covid-19 situation made travel too risky and hoped and believed that we would get more chances later on.

November the 28th came around again – and Uncle Peter had sent me a humorous card, which when I opened it up – out popped three packets of seeds – 2 poppies and 1 sunflowers – with a note saying we hope you might have space for a small Dorset garden. What a lovely idea!

He sent me a message on the morning of my birthday

I used to say to him that he was my favourite Uncle – to which he would laugh and say “I’m your only Uncle” – but I did actually have Uncles on my Dad’s side. To be honest though – if I’d had a million Uncles, he would still be my favourite – we just clicked!

Then on the evening of my birthday we spoke on the phone – we had a lovely chat and I told him all about my crazy lockdown birthday – and we had a laugh and a joke.

Mid December I had few messages but he had gone very quiet, which I noticed – but knowing that everyone was really feeling low about Christmas in lockdown – we were feeling that ourselves – so I was not overly concerned.

On Christmas Day morning – we took the dogs out early and as we walked past the church, I felt compelled to go in and light a candle.

When we checked the time of this photo we realised that my visit to the church was the same time that he was dying

At the time I was not sure why. Then further on during the walk, I said to Martin “I’m worried about Uncle Peter – I think he is ill and maybe not saying anything as he never wants to worry people”. Martin asked if I was going to phone him, but I said – not phone as it’s Christmas Day and I don’t know what plans they have – but I will send a message later on.

Which I did – that evening I sent a simple Christmas message and within seconds the phone went – I answered Happy Christmas thinking it would be him phoning rather than messaging (he was not a big fan of messages) but it was Linda – with the devastating news that Uncle Peter had died that morning!

The lovely Uncle that I had become so fond of, now I will never get to meet up with him again. All I could say was that I am so, so, sorry for all of them, and sad for me, and then sat stunned.

The last month has been a bit of an emotional roller coaster – I had to tell my mum that her brother had died, and my brother, that his uncle had died – neither of them had been in contact with him at all – so there were all the emotions that go along with that. But there have been so many positives too – getting in contact with my cousins – family that I never had in my life up until now. Me and mum have finally come to realise (I think her – certainly me) that life is too short and unpredictable to keep having falling outs between each other. I feel closer to her and my brother Steve as a result of this and that can only be a good thing.

This is the 6th death I have experienced since the start of the first lockdown. One friend’s daughter’s child (born at 24 weeks – did not survive), a friend’s partner to suicide, my Uncle George (my dad’s sister’s husband), my dad’s 92-year-old friend, my cousin in Wales, and now my Uncle. 6 funerals under the most bizarre circumstances – all causing way more suffering that necessary, and all in some way indirectly caused by COVID-19 – but only one of them had actually had COVID-19.

When will this pandemic end? I can’t help feeling angry at people who are being selfish – as surely, if people had done what was necessary at the beginning back in March 2020 then it would all be over by now? Yet all we see is people having what appear to be unnecessary trips. I suppose the trouble is, everyone thinks that their reasons for travel are important and valid. All I know is this – Martin and I made lots of sacrifices last year and it has resulted in me losing the opportunity to see my Uncle who I now will never be able to see, but also I haven’t seen my son since December 2019, or my daughter since March 2020, my mum since July 2019….the list goes on. We made those sacrifices whilst others didn’t (and still are not) and it is hard sometimes to not feel that we wish we had been a bit more self-centred.

I’m so grateful that I have some wonderful friends here in France. Usually, I reach out and lean on people when I need a bit of help, but when I am really, really upset I withdraw and go into my own little bubble and avoid people. My two lovely knit and knatter friends noticed that I was struggling and have been wonderful – it is hard to reach out to people when you are usually the one who tries to help others when they are feeling down.  But they saw through the excuses and persevered and have helped me spring back.

It was my Uncle’s funeral on 20th January, and obviously I could not travel back to the UK for it. So, me and Martin followed the Order of Service as best as we could to the timings, we thought that they would be. We read the bible readings, listened to the 3 wonderful pieces of music, including one I had never heard before “Home Thoughts from Abroad” by Clifford T Ward – which I now love and will always now associate with Uncle Peter.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=l9G0ENZJLI8

We also read out loud the poems and his eulogy. As always, when “at” a funeral you reflect on your own mortality and think about what your own life means and how you would like to be remembered. I know from what I remember as a child growing up, from what my mum has told me, and what Uncle Peter has told me himself – he was not an angel by any stretch of the imagination, he lived life to the full, he made and lost his fortune on more than one occasion, and he could be very stubborn – but deep down he had a very sensitive side – and I have seen that side of him over the 17 months he had been back in my life.

Uncle Peter made his fortune and lost it on more than one occasion. He liked fast cars, fast boats, and married 6 times. All expensive habits!!!

His death will leave a huge hole in my heart, although he was actually too young to have been a dad to me – he was a bit like a father figure, older brother, and good friend all rolled in to one. He gave out sound and sensible advice, in a no-nonsense manner. He said what he meant, and he meant what he said.

The day after he died, I chose a crystal to work with him as part of my morning Reiki practice. I was drawn to a piece of Leopard Jasper – perhaps in part because he was a Leo star sign – but also as it is a good stone for connection with animal totems. So, I attuned the Leopard Jasper to connect with Uncle Peter. So now, each morning I have a little chat with him – and ask him for advice on how to get this dammed house finished!! I think it’s working as Martin seems to making good progress. And I think our “requests” to Uncle Peter – or prayers if you like, have been answered as when our lovely Dutch friends Jan and Frieda realised how overwhelmed we have been feeling about getting started on the plaster boarding up high on the sloping ceiling they offered to help – and we are both absolutely thrilled (and very grateful) that last weekend Jan helped Martin to get the plasterboard up using some borrowed scaffolding (from a friend of Jans’s) and a really, useful machine that lifts the plasterboard up and holds it in place whilst it is screwed in place – a much, more technical version of what Uncle Peter had helped us to discover previously!!

Thank goodness for great friends

And looking back I can see that it was nearly a year ago that we had that conversation with him – so a whole year we have been worried about how on earth we would get up so high – of course we have had other stuff to worry about and to get done first – the various lockdowns, curfews etc. have dictated the order in which we got stuff down in a manner that we could not possibly have anticipated back then. But we’ve got there – and I know he would have been the first to have congratulated us on that.

The crystals over my heart chakra are increasing in number – rose quartz for my inner child work, the chakra necklace for connection with my mum, the tiger eye for work I do with my daughter, and now the leopard jasper for connection with my uncle. That’s a lot of work each day!!!

I really do believe that the Reiki helps me at so many levels. My mum sent me a little chakra necklace on my birthday and I began to use it on my heart chakra each day to connect with her and ask for healing in our relationship – and sure enough we began to re-build those bridges, and even more so since Uncle Peter has died.

My mum never fails to amaze me – she can be the sweetest person in the universe at times. One evening I was chatting to her on the phone and she said “I’ve just done a bank transfer to Sian for her new flat gift and noticed you have 2 bank accounts – which one do you use?” She is all innocent and I just start explaining how one is for “this” and one is for “that”. We carry on talking and I’m saying that we are planning to get some bits for our kitchen soon and then a few minutes later she says “oh, I’ve just popped a bit of money in your account – buy a few bits for your kitchen from me”. At this stage of the game – with us pretty much running out of budget for all but the most essential of items – this honestly meant so much!! I’m such a soppy old thing I know – but to have a few cupboards that are from my mum in our brand-new kitchen will mean so much to me – they will be called mum’s cupboards. I also want to use some of that money to buy the sink – as, with Peter having given us the taps I feel in some way that they will be reunited with her funding the sink to go with it. When I told her that she was delighted and said “yes it will be a Nunn sink as your grandad was a plumber”. So that all seems really appropriate and a lovely way to bring them into our lives together. There was 7 years between them so it is no wonder that they clashed growing up – but they did love each other at one time, and despite their differences I think it is right that they end up together in our house.

Seeing this photo drives home the age gap. Not so long after this time mum was a young woman with an annoying little brother when she started dating my dad.

Their situation reminds me of the song “Shame” by Gary Barlow and Robbie Williams – especially the first two lines

Shame

Robbie WilliamsGary Barlow

Well, there’s three versions of this story mine and yours
And then the truth
Now we can put it down to circumstance, our childhood, then our youth
Out of some sentimental gain I wanted you to feel my pain,
But it came back return to sender
I read your mind and tried to call,
My tears could fill the Albert Hall,
Is this the sound of sweet surrender?

What a shame we never listened
I told you through the television
And all that went away was the price we paid
People spend a lifetime this way
Oh what a shame.

So, I got busy throwing everybody underneath the bus, oh
And with your poster 30 foot high at the back of Toys-R-Us
I wrote a letter in my mind,
But the words were so unkind,
About a man I can’t remember
I don’t recall the reasons why,
I must have meant them…

The final poem that was read at Uncle Peter’s funeral was

“He is Gone” by David Harkins

You can shed tears that he is gone
Or you can smile because he has lived

You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared

You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday

You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on

You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes, love and go on.

I really like the message that this poem sends – that we all leave a legacy, a world that is different even in small ways for our having been in it (it’s up to us whether that difference is a positive or negative one) and that we all have a choice as to whether we focus on the past or live in the present.

And as Uncle Peter would say “Just keep on keeping on – even if it’s hard”

Where there’s a Will there’s a way!

Where there’s a Will there’s a way!

As always, our life in France is a balance of highs and lows, and of course we’ve had some ups and downs since my last blog entry!

Like a lot of people who make the move, we have left some wonderful people behind, who we miss enormously, constantly missing them on a daily basis – our children mostly of course – but some brilliant friends and family too. But equally, again like a lot of people – we left behind some tricky, difficult relationships, and some of those have sadly deteriorated further since we chose to live our lives in France.

I’m a firm believer though that people will always find their “tribe” – those people who are meant to be in their lives and those who are not meant to be in their lives will leave it somehow.

I spend a lot of time pondering my relationship with my dad, not least because our house stands of the land where his house should have been – if his dreams had come true. It was his sad departure from this world that afforded me and Martin the opportunity to buy James (half-brother) and Stephen (brother) out of their share of the land, and then to create our own dreams here.

When things go wrong, I sometimes left myself believe it is Dad’s way of saying “oi! What are you doing there?!” from beyond the grave. Sometimes there is even a feeling that he might not have wanted me and Martin to be here – maybe he would have preferred it if James and Nic had chosen to make this move – but equally I know that this is something James and Nic do not want to do at this stage of their lives – they are much younger than us and working full time. So, it makes me happy to know that we have created a home here that (once the world has reverted back to normal) will be a place that they can come to for holidays with Henry and Chloe (our nephew and niece) and be reminded of Dad and Ann’s dreams whilst they are here. And also, the rest of our family and those good friends who have stuck by us will also be able to come and spend time with us too.

I feel so strongly about this land, and the house being in our family FOREVER (so that the lives of Dad and Ann are honoured) that our recent findings about French succession law, inheritance tax, and joint property ownership nearly broke my heart.

It’s only now that it is being resolved that I can put into words just how close we came to feeling we had made the biggest mistake of our lives.

So, our plans are that when one of us dies, the other one will continue to live here. And then when that second one dies the four children (2 each) will inherit the house and it will become a holiday home for them to share. After having hopefully spent years coming out here to spend time with us on holidays, they will have by then become very fond of this house and the area and probably made holiday friends out here too. Ideally none of them will ever want to or need to sell it so it can stay in the family forever and their children will in turn enjoy it – and be told that the land once belonged to their great granddad Dave, and that Grandad Gruffalo (Martin’s nickname) and Nanny Sharon were the crazy people who built the lovely house.

When we actually looked into it, we realised that our Wills would be tricky and would be needed to be written carefully, using our legal right to have UK Succession Law applied to it. This is because in France the default position is that the spouse only inherits 25% and the children inherit the rest – and by having an “usufruct” the surviving spouse has the lifelong right to life in the house. This was not ideal – but we felt that would be acceptable.

Then we looked at French inheritance tax – this is brutal – if step children inherit anything at all they pay 60% tax on their share!! Yikes! That would basically result in them needing to force a sale – thus ruining the dream for everyone else – and (although we would be dead by then) our wishes would not be carried out.

It then got even worse – we realised that, whilst in the UK our property was jointly owned – here in France, because the land was in my name (as when I had bought James and Stephen out it had been done that way) this meant that Martin owned absolutely nothing!! Not the land – but more importantly – not the house either.

That in itself was bad enough – but on a day to day basis that just meant that our arguments would always be interesting and I would simply yell at him “Oi you!! Get orff my land”. But the grim reality was that if I die – Martin would inherit nothing – my kids would inherit the house – Martin would cease to have the right to live there and his kids would be disinherited!!

Now, I am fully aware that there are some parents who would think nothing of disinheriting their step-kids, or even their own children, grandchildren, cousins and so on – but not me!! I really don’t have much time at all for people who do that to their own family – although I know of a few people who have done this – often over really petty things too. But I think it says more about them as a person that it does about their relatives to be honest if even from the grave, they wish to hurt people.

So, this really weighed heavy on my mind – although I have to say Martin really took it in his stride. I was often laying awake at night imagining all sorts of horrible scenarios – whilst he was peacefully snoring beside me.

We had a number of frantic conversations at our “Notaire’s office” with lovely Candice – with me trying my very best in “Franglais” to explain that this was “tres tres importante” and I was “tres tres worried that je suis mort et Martin would be homeless”. Candice assured me that I would not die with the cheerful optimism that only a young person can possibly have in a global pandemic. She said that it was possible to remedy the situation but that it would (obviously) cost money to do so.

Then the shock came – the cost would be a percentage of the house value!! But Candace didn’t know what percentage it would be. We said (hopefully) “hundreds not thousands???” – she shrugged, looked awkward – and we knew in that moment – this was going to have been a monumental cock up on our part!!

We had to have the house formally valued – which thankfully was done on the current, unfinished state of the house rather that what it will be worth one day (if we ever complete it!!). I have never known a house valuation to have been quite so focussed on getting the value down as much as possible – although judging by the way the “immobiliere” and his colleague took it in their stride they were used to this sort of thing. Probably because there are so many harsh, horrible rules about inheritance in France – some of these laws go back to Napoleonic times so no wonder!

With the valuation completed, it was just the appointment to be made for the legal deeds for the gifting to be done. The reassurance from Candice that we could get an urgent appointment did however, as is always the case in France, quickly turn into frustration when we realised that “urgent” meant – ONE WHOLE MONTH away.

We spent the next week or so worrying ourselves sick – trying to work out from various websites what the percentage might be – and in doing so thinking all sorts – maybe 20,000€ – we felt sick.

We confided in good friends who were of the view that the Notaire probably made it sound as if it would be huge amounts of money so that when it was only (ONLY!!) a few thousand or so – we would be grateful and relieved.

I insisted on having conversations with all four of the kids, in the off chance that should the worst happen and I did die, they would understand that this had not been our intention. All four of them were fantastic!! They all shrugged it off and said “you haven’t done this deliberately”. Thank goodness that we have such lovely children, and that they are relatively comfortable and mature enough to deal with having conversations about not so nice topics.

I know how it feels to be left in doubt as to the motivation and reasons for being left out of a parents Will and feel it is really important that these things are explained properly, as there is nothing worse than hearing a false reason from a person who has no idea of the reasons but just wants to play mind f***ery with you. In my mind the reason that my brother and I were not in our Dad’s will was quite simply that after divorcing my mother many, many years before and leaving her with a property, and then him being remarried to Ann for over 40 years – it made perfect sense that he would leave it to Ann, and then in turn she would leave it to James. But, a particularly malicious person decided that they would tell me that it was all done to spite me, which obviously hurt a lot. But I still choose to believe my version of events and in any case, now we have found out just how complicated it is to leave non-blood relatives any property in France no wonder they tried to do it so that James would inherit it from Ann. They made the (wrong) assumption that Dad would die first, then Ann – but of course she sadly died before him. I completely respect their wishes – but, I do sometimes wish that Dad had spoken to me about it – which takes me back to my own need to have absolutely everything crystal clear with our own four children. No way would I ever want any single one of them feeling that way.

We insisted on a breakdown of costs as soon as possible as by this time I wasn’t sleeping properly over it – and as predicted by my lovely friend – it wasn’t so bad – yes, it was an amount that we could have well done without- but some of the costs would be entailed anyway – and the extra bit on the increased value from the land to the unfinished house will be a lesson learned by us for the future. My kitchen (if I ever get one) will be a daily reminder of how many mistakes we have made on this house building project. What was once a huge budget for a dream, luxury kitchen has now become the most basic of kitchen cupboards (but at least I had the sense to ringfence my range cooker which is safely installed in the temporary kitchen).

So, the appointment was on Friday and it went fairly smoothly. It was all in French which was very difficult, but we managed – a far cry from when me and James sat with the Notaire to do the original exchange of ownership back in 2017. Anyway – it’s all done now – the house and the land is in both names – and the Wills are in hand, and are going to be sorted out this week. Thank goodness for that!!

I realise that talking about Wills is something that some people just don’t like to do – it means facing their own mortality which is something that us humans just don’t like to accept I suppose. But I’ve always felt it to be healthy to talk about wishes for what happens to us when the time comes – in all aspects. I think this is largely due to the sort of work I have done. I have been involved with all sorts of things surrounding death, bereavement, anticipatory grief (that terrible time when you know someone will die but they haven’t died yet) because of work and also because I ran a support group back in the UK called Living with Dying. I also wanted to do the training as a Death Doula/Soul Midwife (like a midwife but even of babies entering this world – people leaving this world) and for a time I toyed with becoming a Funeral Celebrant.

I think that a funeral is the perfect opportunity to take a true 360 degree look at a person’s life – with partners, family members, and friends standing up and saying a few words, sharing stories about the person no longer with us. It must be wonderful to be a recently passed person standing witness at their own funeral and hearing how loved they are and hearing people laugh about their lives. But of course, that is more of a Celebration of Life than a traditional funeral service – but I know which I would want for myself – the party that I never got to attend.

We sadly had another funeral recently, although unlike our neighbour who sadly took his own life and was young, this one was a much older person who had been lucky enough to have a long, long life.

Both funerals made me reflect (again as they also do) how I would want the end of my life to be handled, and my funeral wishes. Martin has known for a long time that there is a folder on my lap top which gives full and explicit details about songs, flowers etc. But more than that – how I would want to be treated as I approach the end. I think an ideal death would be to be surrounded my loved ones, hearing their voices, listening to my favourite music, at home in my own bed, and when the time was right – being allowed to slip peacefully away with Martin, and my children holding my hand.

Me and Martin have made a pact that we will do our upmost to avoid a lonely, impersonal, prolonged death for each other.

We are also going to look into the French equivalent of an LPA (Lasting Power of Attorney) so that we can make sure that any wishes we each have concerning medical care are adhered to. This is especially important in these times of a Global Pandemic – with so many people being admitted to hospital ALONE and then being placed on a ventilator.

Although it must be difficult to feel that you are giving up your medical decisions to a partner or a family member in my view that is far preferable to giving up that control to a medical professional who has no idea of what my preferences would be. So, I’ll take my chances that Martin (or Ryan or Sian) won’t try to have me put in a nursing home – I’m sure they won’t!!  And in any case, I have made my daughter promise me all sorts of things – smuggling me out of dementia homes in France if necessary!!! And I am absolutely confident that they will make sure that I get a proper send off in the form of a Celebration of Life that was about ME, and my wonderful relationships and funny stories, the songs I loved and why I loved them, and my favourite food……and that they will ask my friends who knew me before they were in my life to share stories about me with them so they get the whole story of my life – that’s what I believe a funeral should be about!  

People get so isolated through anticipatory grief, and bereavement because people can’t handle talking about it – so I have always been determined to not be “that friend” who crosses the street to avoid talking to someone. I pride myself on being the sort of friend who is prepared to listen to anything without judgement, and without bringing my own agenda. I’m hoping that once this Covid-19 shit-fest is over I might be able to get more involved with Cancer Support France as a volunteer and I contacted the President of the Dordogne branch recently. It will be good to use some of the skills that I have acquired in the past and put them to good use. And who knows – maybe one day I will do that training to be a Death Doula – or a Funeral Celebrant.

So, back to some of these tricky relationships. The ones we have let go have been mostly so called “friends” who showed no empathy with us in all the issues and challenges we have been facing since making the decision to live in France – especially surrounding the uncertainty of whether we could stay or not. It’s been hard to get a balance between telling people how it is (“you are always making me feel guilty for voting to Leave”) or concentrating on the positives (“they are always bragging about living in France)”. You just can’t win with some people – and it is people like that who it is far healthier to simply let go – they don’t “get you” or understand what you are hoping for in life anymore – and that’s fine. And of course, it’s not just past relationships from people in the UK that are tricky – just because over here we are all migrants doesn’t necessarily mean that we will find relationships with others always run smooth. In fact, some of the worst offenders have been fellow expats – some of which gloat over those who are just finding their feet, or are jealous because they are new people around who may be having the fun that they once had when they were a little younger. Of course, we try with all the people we meet – but some of them you just can’t gel with no matter how hard you try. C’est la vie!!

There have been so many times over the past 2 and a half years where we have been so, so frightened that we have spent our life savings on a house that we would not be permitted to stay in – and the people who have understood that have stuck by us, egged us on, supported us when we have felt wobbly, and most importantly not belittled or down-played our worries. Thank goodness for great friends who are prepared to listen– they save us a fortune in therapy!!

But this week we finally got some respite from our worries about residency. Back in September last year we made our online applications for Residency Cards – but shortly afterwards, due to the Withdrawal Agreement being settled, the French Government closed down that application system saying they would be waiting until more details before opening again. So…. another period of uncertainty came upon us. Then the opening was delayed from July – but eventually finally got opened in October. True to their word the French Government did indeed process the applications that had been made in that short window back last year – so we were one of the first to be contacted. We needed to submit a little further information about our business activity and income which we need really quickly and then we were invited to an appointment in Perigueux – the capital city of Dordogne – to have our fingerprints taken and submit a photograph.

When the announcement was made that we were going back in lockdown we did fear that our appointments might be cancelled – but luckily everything went to plan and we went off to Perigueux on Wednesday.

Photo credit: Erick Orgibet – our lovely French friend

We left plenty of time for the 1 hour 20 minute journey in case we were stopped by the “gendarmes” (which we weren’t), or could not find parking (which we did) or if we simply couldn’t find our way – but with the ingenious and humorous signage that the people at the Prefecture put up all the way along the roads this was not a problem either!!

The appointment went very smoothly (all in French) and we were told that our cards will be posted out in about “one month – possibly two” (which is standard for France). We will get 5-year cards initially and then at that point we will get permanent ones.

So, all that remains to say is this:

To those people who have listened, and heard our stresses and worries and have stood by us, supported us, egged us on, gave us your shoulders when we needed to cry – thank you so much – without your love, support and friendship we would probably have given up a long time ago.

To those people who have laughed and mocked us when we were scared for our futures, or just not wanted to hear our concerns, or pretended it was not happening to us (only the other thousands of Brits making the mass exodus to the continent) – thank you too – it was better for us to have seen your true colours before we were given the opportunity to include you in this new life – you don’t deserve to be part of it – thank you for the lesson in life that you have provided us with:-

Those who made the bold move to live in another country before the EU Referendum were brave, resilient, it is not for the feint hearted at the best of times. This choice requires flexibility, a spirit of adventure and personal sacrifice.

Those of us who made that move during the Brexit shit-fest are all of the above – plus a little crazy, very stubborn, and perhaps at times a little bit pissed off with some people.

But, as all of us have shown: –

“Where there is a will – there is a way”.

Sharon and Martin – Happy and Legal (if a little skint) French Residents

Are times like these the new normal?

Are times like these the new normal?

Another long gap between entries. It’s because for weeks I had the musings of a blog entry buzzing around in my head – but it was all rather negative – so I was trying to wait for some great news to write about – but came to the realisation that as far as the Covid-19 pandemic is concerned that might be some time yet.

It’s surreal – we get up every morning – it all seems normal. We look up at the sky – that all seems normal – and very beautiful blue skies and lovely sunny weather it is too. But just when you start to act like normal you get caught in that thought process – actually nothing is normal at all.

Just what is normal about not having the liberty to plan a trip to the UK to visit your family? We are in the 21st Century – we have the modes of transport to allow us to cross continents – for goodness sake some of us can even cross interplanetary boundaries with spaceships. But all because of a virus we cannot now simply book a channel tunnel crossing or hop on a plane and go and see the ones we love the most.

To be fair, we actually could go the UK if we wanted to right now – there is no requirement to quarantine at the moment, and there is also no lock down. But, our only practical means of getting there is to take the dogs and go in the motor-home. Only one person out of our entire family has the space to accommodate us on their driveway – so we would need to book campsites and the ones that we would normally use have bizarrely closed for the entire season – and the ones that are open are either chock-a-block full – or have a “no visiting” policy.

Camping in the Forest sites closed
We simply cannot understand why these sites are closed….there are no toilets or showers in some of them so no cleaning. The jobsworth mentality of some businesses astounds me at times. Meanwhile here in France our friends are up at 0500 to keep their campsite ticking over so we have it here for our tourism in the future. 

Normally we would find campsites close by to where people live and they would visit us at the campsite or we would hop on a bus or train with the dogs and go and visit them. For those of you who live in France you may not fully appreciate the lack of space in the UK – so for context – it is actually quite rare for someone to have space to park an 8-metre motor-home – and some roads you cannot even get down in a large vehicle.

Then there is the issue of meeting up with our family members who have been self-isolating and, in some cases, shielding for months on end. It’s no longer practical to arrange for large family gatherings where groups from different households will all come together under one roof.

So, our trip needs to be sufficiently long enough to enable us to meet up with everyone we want to see separately. And that’s no mean feat to plan. We are hoping that we might get our window of opportunity after the UK summer holidays – but being realistic we are acutely aware that at any time a lock-down or requirement to quarantine could be imposed which would scupper that. We also have the long awaited, much excitement provoking, installation of our heating system to work around.

I’ve dragged my office admin and teaching skills out of the compartment in which they have been long buried – and am putting them to good use – creating spreadsheets with people’s Post Codes and researching the closest campsites and pubs with motor home stopover facilities -and then, are these dog friendly?, do they sell food? and if so – do they do veggie options? etc.  I’ve got a notebook dedicated to it too, and have been setting family members homework to check out the quality of the beer at the suggested stopover points.

Note book
Here we go again!! We already started plans for June which were scuppered – now we are planning again – knowing that anything can change at any moment. But we will not give up trying!!

We’ve become acutely aware of the longevity of time since we last saw some of the people. Martin’s mum has never been out here to visit, and it’s now 17 months since we visited the UK so the same since we saw her. 12 months since I have seen my mum, and the same since we saw Martin’s son’s and grandson.

And in thinking about that cold, stark fact – that is when it hits me and makes me think – this is just not normal. Yes, I know people emigrate to Australia and never see their family again – or maybe just once every five or ten years. And that is the choice they made when they made that move.

But we made a choice to move one measly little country away – over a 25-mile expanse of water. But it might as well have been to Australia now that Flybe went bust and the Southampton to Bergerac flight route has been lost, and all this Covid-19 shit fest!

My mum mentioned the other day the stuff that I left behind in her cupboards – and she said to me – “how come there is a bag of your toiletries and make up here”? And I remembered – that’s the bag that I left behind so if I needed to pop back for a quick visit for any reason (her illness, a problem with the kids – etc.) they I could do so, quickly, cheaply and simply – with just hand baggage – and use those toiletries. It’s remembering that which reminds me that this scenario will not be possible now – the days of spontaneous, impromptu flying visits are gone.

Then I think – well, hopefully this is just for now – surely it will all get better in time? But that is very uncertain too.

I secretly hope that one day soon we will look back on 2020 and say

“wow!! That was some shit – thank goodness it is all over”.

But I fear it might be more like

“2020 – that was the year all this shit started”

and that our lives will still be similar to how they are now. Maybe even more restricted.

We are facing the prospect of having to wear masks all the time outdoors. Parts of France are already having to do this – the number of places is increasing daily. Hopefully here in rural SW France it won’t be necessary – with all this space – but with the tourist season well under way, if I am to be realistic, I need to accept that the day we are told it’s our turn will come at some point.

Masks outside
Will our village be next? We are surrounded by green dots. 

I’m still not sure what scares me more – seeing “gendarmes” at our Saturday markets or the prospect of being blind as my mask steams up my sunglasses as I walk along (I can’t be without sunglasses as I am hypersensitive to sunlight)

Gendarmes at the market
Yes I know I’m a big baby – but I still really can’t get used to seeing armed police in such normal settings as a small village Saturday vegetable market. But they are very friendly!! 

But the reason that humans have survived so far on this planet is our ability to cope with change and to evolve. Our ability to change to suit our environment and to make the best of whatever challenges we are facing will help to carry us through this dilemma – and the next…and the next.

Back in January we had a clear plan as to what order we were going to complete the house in. It’s such a long time ago and that plan has changed so much – I cannot even remember what order we were going to do it in. But that doesn’t matter – because when you are faced with a lock down preventing you getting supplies for one element – you simply focus on what you can get – and continue with that to the best of your ability. Flexibility is key to survival in these circumstances.

List of jobs to be done
Shopping for building materials in France is a challenge to say the least. The shop we get our doors from is an hour and a half each way – and the stuff is never all in stock. 3 trips so far!!! 

One thing we have been quite keen to do with our house build is to source our materials from France where possible, or at least from Europe. We found out the hard (and expensive) way of what might happen if we had stuff from over that 25 mile stretch of water back last year when we had a mad panic to get the TEK panels shipped over before Brexit in case we were clobbered with import duties. Initially we thought we were buying a European product but when a factory closed down the panels were sent from Europe to the UK – then cut there – and then shipped back. Not quite what we had in mind when we set out a vision of a low carbon footprint!!

We also believe firmly in supporting the economy in which we live as that is where our future will be. It makes sense to us to buy as local as possible – from as small scale and personal as shopping for vegetables in our own village – right up to big purchases such as tiles, wood, and such like.

Market shopping
When you can get beautiful veg like this on your doorstep why would you drive nearly an hour to go to a big supermarket? And the eggs are local laid from a lovely lady who rescues hens. 

So, for us – it was never a quick fix of pop back to the UK with a van and pick up a load of cheap paint and maybe a B&Q kitchen – and our search for products which are local where possible, European where not, and represent good value, and staying power – has cost us a lot of time. We are indeed slower than the average house builders that’s for sure.

Our tiles are a perfect example of this. For months and months, we were fixated on Travertine tiles – a lot of the Travertine sold in France comes from Italy and if not there, then Turkey – that was OK as still European. So, we went round loads of suppliers – but for some reason we just were not convinced. We had the occasional glance at ceramic tiles in shops – but I could never decide on whether to go for grey tones – or beige tones. We wanted to do the entire ground floor as one entity so the colour scheme would need to be suitable to blend with living space, bathroom and bedroom. And I couldn’t get my head around needing to go for greyish tones in the bedroom area.

Then we discovered the colour “griege” – as you might expect it is the perfect blend of grey and beige!! The moment I spotted the tiles (that are now in place on our floor) in the shop (that I had been to many times before and somehow missed) I fell in love!! I could instantly see them in our house!! Months and months of time spent in pondering loads of different options with Travertine – to decide in 30 seconds that ceramic tiles were the way to go after all.

Tile order
Every corner of our house has a pile like this

Unfortunately, as is nearly always the way in France – the tiles needed to be ordered in – and although the guy in the shop said 2 weeks – it was in actual fact nearly 2 months before they finally came in. They are Italian – and the Italian’s are even slower at delivering than the French it seems (if that is indeed possible).

I know that two years ago I would have been furious if I had ordered 2.5€K worth of tiles and been told I would have to wait for 2 months to get them. But, such have we already adapted to our new normal in France we accepted the delay with a shrug, and a laugh – it’s just the way it is. “C’est la vie”.

Tiling
We have a long way to go before they are finished but we love them and the wait was worth it

Life in France – and Covid-19 – have taught us the art of patience like nothing else ever before. And flexibility, with a large helping of resilience too!

And we keep focusing on what we have done – rather than what we haven’t. For instance we now have hot water in our bedroom – only a temporary sink which was bought from a Facebook forum – but it will do for now and when we have finished our “proper bathrooms” we will install it in the Garden House which will in time become a little eco-studio to let out on AirBnB and HomeAway and also my Treatment Room.

Hot water in our bedroom
I actually really like this “petite” wash stand – but it’s the wrong colour for both of our bathrooms. 

Another thing that has really helped us both is our Yoga practice and also Reiki. During the lock down period I completed my Reiki Masters Teacher Training and became a Reiki Master – and Martin was my first Reiki Level One student. So now we both have that tool in our boxes to help guide our lives. It really does help us to focus on the here and now, to be in the present moment, and to live our lives kindly and compassionately.

Mandala Beads
Just like my own Reiki Master gave me a Mandala Bead String when I done my Reiki Level One – I got Martin to make his own one which will help him learn the chakras and Reiki precepts. 

So yes, we will have to wait until the time is right (and safe) to return to the UK to visit our family (and collect the items in storage at various family members houses), and in the meantime we just need to adapt to that and embrace the positives about that situation. And of course, we will look forward to getting our treasured possessions – like our wedding present cut glass wine glasses – and I’m sure my mum will be glad to get her cupboard space back.

We are blessed to live in such a time that technology allows us to see each other face to face in the present moment – stuff like Skype and Facebook messenger allow us to celebrate birthdays, have family get-togethers, and even go on “virtual mum and daughter shopping trips “ as I found out the other day.

My daughter Sian is about to embark on an UNPAID NHS placement for 30 weeks (yes, she is a bloody hero – it’s quite one thing to be paid to work in the institution that us Brits hail as our national treasure – but as the poor student nurses have found out – that institution doesn’t quite reciprocate that care to the very people who make it. I’ve had my day of working “with” the NHS – not “for” it thank goodness and have seen first-hand how broken it is becoming) – and she needed to get some new clothes to fit better into their dress code. So off she went to the shops – and she sent me a message on the way back to say she had been very successful, bought loads of things and would I like a video call when she got home so she could show me everything. Yes of course!! I would love that – that’s the next best thing to actually going out shopping with her – and I do so miss the times we would go off to Bournemouth for a girly weekend – for a theatre show, a waffle and Ben and Jerry’s ice cream and then endless traipsing around the shops. She said she was stopping off for a coffee on the way back so would call me when home.

So, she video called me and gave me a lovely fashion parade – modelling all the things she had bought – asking my opinion and advice – what would be the best one for her first day, was the white one a bit too much – should she take it back – all the things that a mum and daughter would do on a shopping trip. And of course – me being a mum wanted to treat her to something – so I asked what each item had cost, and made a note of what I thought was her favourite item – and thanks to our brilliant technology – at the same time as chatting away to her I was able to do a quick bank transfer for the cost of the gorgeous Burgundy Blazer and added a couple of quid for her coffee too!! Just like a mum slipping a few notes in her daughter’s pocket when they are out.

Burgundy Blazer
I can’t wait to see her in the Burgundy Blazer

Simple things like that help me to feel that I can still be a “proper mum” to my baby girl (who ain’t a baby no more) in these crazy times.

Healthy cakesMy weekly Skype calls with both kids together are often the highlight of my week – sometimes Sian is busy getting ready for work (she’s a carer so works a lot at weekends – and night’s too) so she will stay on for half hour or so, and then Ryan will stay on chatting for a while afterwards – and we talk about all sorts of things – last week he was giving me some healthy eating tips on how to get more protein in (always difficult for vegetarians and my solution is often to put a pecan nut on top of a cake ha ha) and teaching me a few Japanese words. His trip to Japan probably won’t happen next year now – but instead of moaning about it he is simply saying “well another year will mean I am even better at speaking Japanese”.

I know all (well most if not all) mums are immensely proud of their kids – but I really do burst with pride over both of mine – they are intelligent, caring, polite, and both very resilient. Oh, and clever – both of them – very clever!!

And let’s not forget the dad’s too – I know that Martin misses his boys enormously – and he will probably kill me for saying so – but the only time I have seen tears in his eyes over the past few months was when we realised we were on the one year anniversary point since we both saw them. He’s extremely relieved that they have both remained in work throughout the pandemic and like me, enjoys the video calls to keep in touch. And finding little things that represent a connection when we unpack boxes are enough to bring a smile to his face after the tears].

Tour de France mug
Ironically the day that I found this in a box Adam was also using his one in the UK. It’s now Martin’s favourite mug and in constant use when it’s not being washed up. Simple things really help to keep the connections going. 

So, is this the “new normal?” – does our future now involve keeping family relationships together with modern technology, learning the art of patience to a far greater extent, and acceptance that the universe not only doesn’t revolve around us it is also changing very dramatically and very quickly?

The hardest thing I find to accept is that our plans for the purpose of this house have been put under threat.

Initially we intended to throw everything we had into this building project to create a home that was big enough for us two to live all the time, that for all four of our children would be a holiday home, a safe haven, a place to come to relax, and (hopefully) distant into the future, when we are no longer – a place that they would inherit together that would be a part shared holiday home for them all. A place that over the next 1, 2 or even 3 decades they would have come to enjoy and visit often – a second home to them. We thought that Brexit might shake that plan up a little but over time that would settle down, but now Covid-19 seems to be the biggest threat to that. But there is really little point in worrying about that – as all we can do is life in the present moment and see it for what it is today.

Is this the new normal? I hope not, but if it is – we will all adapt to it – and the most important thing is that we will survive and thrive.

In the words of the Foo Fighter’s excellent (but not well known) track “Normal” (B side of Times Like These).

Normal – Foo Fighters

But I won’t give up when I want it enough
No I won’t give up
Anything, anyway, anyone, anyday
Cause I figured it out
Here and the now takes me day by day

Will you come out tonight
Will you back down, will you put up a fight
Turn me around and make everything right
Make me normal from now on

 

I love the A side of that track too – but even more so I love the Pandemic version which was released by a multi-star cast in April for the BBC Radio 1 Stay Home Live Lounge. It’s worth a watch – even if just to see Taylor Hawkins (Foo Fighter’s drummer) playing a Lava Lamp!!

list of people in the Times like these video

 

Pandemic Version of Times like These

 

Material Girl

Material Girl

Rewind to Spring 2018. I spent most of April sorting out our lifelong possessions trying de-clutter in readiness for our new life in France. We wanted to take only stuff that we felt would suit our new house (although we didn’t know what style that house even would be), and also stuff that we really loved.

So, it was a massive de-clutter. An exercise that I remember doing mostly on my own as Martin was first of all, still busy with his job – by this time he was still going in to provide a handover to the poor bugger who was taking over, and then once he left he needed to go “oop North” to get some essential work done on the Motor home – which was to be our home for the next 8-12 months (we thought back then – not realising it would actually be closer to 2 whole years).

I wish I had known more about Maria Kondo back then – I could have done with her system of how to get rid of clutter – but I did what I could – really thinking about the value of each item. And by value I don’t just mean the financial value (although that did come into the equation to some extent as we were paying a lot of money to ship our possessions over to France – they needed to be worth it).

I needed to decide if things had an emotional connection to me – was it a gift from a person who I loved? Orr an item that I had purchased that I found beautiful or useful, and was it going to look right in our house?

Most of the process was done with a great deal of consideration and was well organised. I created inventories of what box each thing was in, and some of the more valuable smaller items were taken to my mother’s house for better safe-keeping rather than run the risk of being damaged. However, as with most house moves – the last few days were disorganised chaos – and some of the boxes at the end were badly packed, not properly labelled and not inventoried. I’m not pointing any fingers – but he who is responsible for the chaos knows he was in the wrong and has been reminded many a time since!!!

Hopefully the ‘motor home weighing police’ are not reading this blog, but I suspect that we travelled down to South West France very much over loaded with a lot of the last-minute stuff that really ought to have gone in the lorry 3 days beforehand – but the chaos prevented.

So, we arrived in South West France 2 and a bit years ago with a basic wardrobe each, and sensible items only – with the rest of our wordly goods having either been sold, given away, or packed away and put into storage.

Over the last year we have brought stuff out of storage – but it’s always been larger bits – a few pieces of furniture to furnish our Garden House that we put up last year, and the seasonal change of clothes. The Christmas decorations box came out in December 2018 and was put back in January 2019, then came out again last Christmas – but by then we had the shell of a house so we kept it out.

But, apart from furniture we have been very disciplined in not getting too much stuff inside the house, as it is still a building site – a work in progress – and to clutter it too much would be madness.

However, with lock down easing and us starting to entertain small groups of friends again. In the UK you are calling this a “bubble” now – well, for us it’s the same thing I suppose – we have our small friend group who we survived lock down through Skype calls with, now we are having real life get togethers.Jam Jar Aperos

 

The first time we hosted the Happy Hour, I had to do ‘Aperos‘ for 8 people in Jam Jars – as all my best china is still in storage – it didn’t matter though – we are all good friends and not concerned about who has matching china – just each other’s company! And Gin!! Of course – always Gin!

But once lock down was lifted and we could go back to storage to start bringing a few bits back to sparsely furnish our new home I was tempted and so allowed myself to bring just 2 boxes of china.

Bearing in mind we have lived without ALL of this stuff for over 2 years. We’ve made do with the very basic equipment that has lived in the motor home – and bought a few more cheap coffee mugs for when we had the builders over. There were a few items that I had actually missed for fleeting moments over that time span – but mostly it was all forgotten.

So, last weekend in the morning we went to get some bits and pieces, and in the afternoon, whilst Martin was out……….. I opened the boxes.

I thought it would take about 20 minutes to go through the boxes and sort out what things would be useful now, and which would be better being re-packed for use later on.

But my heart had different plans. Every item that came out of the box stirred up something in me. Some sort of memory, or a feeling or an emotion.

The salad bowl that I clearly recall buying – I wondered how I had ever had a life in which I thought nothing of spending a ridiculous (crude) amount of money on a bowl to eat salad from. Without any thought to it. Back in the days when it happened we were both working in such well paid jobs that we thought nothing of spending money on a whim – but I do really love the salad bowl still….I just may be too frightened to use it ever ha ha!! It felt as if I was looking back, observing a life that I now feel so disconnected with. I would never dream of (or want to) spend money in that way now. But, back then I would do it without any thought.

Trifle dish now a fruit bowl

Then there was the giant trifle bowl – the memories of Trifle Wars – a game concocted for a charity fundraiser that I organised for Macmillan Cancer Support – all came flooding back. And then of course the “mini” trifle bowls that were actually big enough as giant trifle bowls for most people! My days of trifles are long over – so now it is a bowl for lemons and limes – always in plentiful supply in our house – not just for the gin and tonic – also my ayurvedic “yellow drink” that my darling hubby makes me every morning!

White jug love affair

I laughed at my new cupboard full of milk and cream jugs – all white – all different sizes, and it amused me that we don’t really need them as we don’t drink either milk or cream nowadays, and rarely have gravy either  – but I still love them. I’ll use them for water and remember when an afternoon in M&S would result in spending the equivalent of a week’s wages (in those days term’s – more likely 2 months money in today’s terms).

My little egg cups raised a smile too – just a few days previously I had been thinking I would really love to have boiled eggs for breakfast – but our plastic motor home ones are so big that any other than ostrich eggs would disappear so far down they get stuck so need padding out with paper towel to use. And it’s funny that every time I have boiled eggs that are too small for my egg cups I think of my mother in law -there’s a humorous story in my memory bank somewhere).

Dorchester ashtray

And my little Dorchester Hotel canapes dish – that drunkenly showing off to my work colleagues at a fancy Charity event we were all at I pinched it and then used it as an ashtray for the next few years. That came out too – and stirred up so many emotions and memories – I still remember popping it in my handbag like a trophy, and everyone laughing. I wouldn’t dream of doing it now – but then I wouldn’t be sat in the Dorchester Hotel in a “Joseph Ribkoff” cocktail dress either would I? It will never be used as an ashtray again (those days are long gone for me) – but I think it will be reinstated as an olive dish so I can tell the tale to people who I am sure will be shocked that I was ever “that sort of person”. I’m shocked myself!!

Looking back, I can’t remember when I began to change – when I started to see the life I was living as some sort of a hamster wheel hell – out to work to earn enough money to pay the mortgage on an over-priced house that we used to escape from at every opportunity, earn money to pay for childcare and then for holidays to compensate to my poor kids for the guilty feelings that I had for putting them in childcare – spending a fortune on clothes for work to “fit in” with a corporate crowd of people in a work environment that I never felt at ease in – and then maybe worse – changing jobs to find that the suits I had spent a small fortune on for the old job were of no use to the trendy, casual London office environment and another small fortune to get jeans that had the right rips in the right place on the knees. My this time my Joseph Ribkoff dress didn’t fit me – but it would have been better placed that the expensive suits I had shelled out on for the previous job.

As I say, I don’t know when I STARTED to feel that way – but by the time my Dad had been diagnosed with cancer I was definitely in a place where I really took stock and worked out that no amount of material belongings will ever take the place of a person. And no matter what a person has – they can’t take any of it when they leave this earth. And I learned the hard way – that even working for a cancer charity – when your loyalty is suddenly with your family – those corporate bosses don’t give a flying fig about you. Unable to manage a yo yo life of managing family life, visiting a dying father (and step mother), a house that didn’t clean itself, AND a demanding job that required loads of travelling and being away from home – I chose to put my family first and opted for a huge loss of income and instead of visiting Marks and Spencer to buy more white jugs my trips to there were limited to the little service stations branches to buy Dad the little tubs of Welsh Rarebit that he had a fancy for when he had lost his appetite for everything else.

So, why the strong feelings connected to my material possessions if I am no longer a material girl?

Nowadays, I get so much pleasure out of the connection that an item gives me with a person. Every day I touch and use things that connect me to a person. My Tibetan Singing Bowl that my son Ryan brought me – every morning I use that in my Reiki routine.

Broken spoon

My little ceramic spoons that I use to measure out spices in virtually every evening meal I cook – my daughter Sian bought me those. The other week when one of them dropped to the floor when I was drying up and broke into two pieces – I cried as if my heart would break – as I feel such a strong connection with Sian through the spoon. Luckily Martin knows exactly how my mind works with these sorts of things – so as soon as he got home he made it his priority to carefully glue the pieces together so I have a mended spoon.

Everywhere I look in our house there are things that make me feel a connection to people I love in some way. Even the white Marks and Spencer jugs – connect me to my dad because it reminds me of the Welsh Rarebit.

Recently my Uncle Peter made us a very kind and generous offer for something for our house – he had a spare set of kitchen taps going (as a person does – much like our friend Jan just happened to have that spare staircase in his garage). He asked me if we would like them. I said yes, that would be lovely – it would be wonderful to have something gifted from him in our house – and he joked that if they dripped at night, they would be a constant reminder of him!!

So, after checking that we could overcome the UK to French “differences in opinion of the plumbing systems” Uncle Peter got his neighbour to pop the taps in the post to us.

This is probably the best point to mention that these are no ordinary set of taps – they are in actual fact a very beautiful set of taps by ‘Perrin and Rowe’ – and should we have decided to buy ourselves a set of these we probably wouldn’t be able to afford the kitchen to put them in to.

When a week passed and the parcel had not arrived, I began to feel a bit concerned – the postal situation in both countries is a bit haphazard at the moment – but at this point I was not too worried. I told Uncle Peter they had not arrived he said “you won’t miss the parcel – it’s quite big and bright yellow”.

But when another few days went past I did begin to get really worried. I imagined that maybe a French postal worker somewhere in France was currently the flavour of the month with his wife as he showed her these beautiful shiny new taps that he was about to fit in her kitchen.

As part of my ongoing Reiki practice and training I have been practising the art of ‘manifestation’ – asking the Universe to grant you something for your highest and greatest good. Ordinarily I would not ask for anything material in this way as I feel uncomfortable with that – but in these circumstances it felt OK to be asking that the taps arrived safely. I sat on my mat, as I do, having a bit of a conversation – part in my head and part out loud, asking the Universe to make sure that the taps would arrive safely to me, that I wouldn’t want to begrudge the said French Postal Worker of the chance to impress his wife with his findings, but that I really wanted these taps so that I would have something tangible to connect me with my Uncle. Now, there’s a long story that could be told here – but I will say the short version. I’ve not seen my Uncle for many years – family fall outs when I was much much younger meant that “if she didn’t see him, then I didn’t seem him either”. So, it has only been in recent months that we have re-kindled our family relationship. And he’s been very poorly and in hospital, and with the lock down situation being so crazy I really don’t know when I will get to see him, so all of this suddenly became really important.

So there I was – asking for the taps to arrive safely – making sure the Universe realised I wasn’t being selfish or greedy (they are REALLY good quality and very indulgent taps) but it is the connection with my Uncle that is important. All my Dad’s side of that older generation have now gone – even the in laws on that side with my Uncle George only just recently dying – so all I have left of that generation now is my mother and my Uncle Peter. And being a sensitive and sentimental little soul as I am – that is all so important to me.

So….later that day – just after lunch – Martin was out for the day and I was here alone. I suddenly saw the little yellow post van – ordinarily the Post Lady turns round at the bottom of our track and pops the letters in the box…but this day she drove up the track.

I ran out the house excitedly saying “le grand jeune packet”“oui” she said – opening the back of her van. And out it came – bright yellow!!

Le grand jeune packet

“Ooh la la” I said. It’s funny as it doesn’t take long living in France before we started saying this!

She probably thought I was a little mad as I was clearly very excited. I said “merci, merci” about a hundred times to her. She said “votre maison is tres jolie”. They all love it – the police when they came the other week said the same.

So, there I was with the parcel – feeling very excited and grateful that they had arrived. As I opened the parcel I was like a kid on my birthday.

Perrin and Rowe box

I couldn’t wait to open the taps up, and then tell Martin they had come, and then straight away phone Uncle Peter. He was laughing at me recalling how I had been saying that the taps should come to me, that they were not for someone else – like a mantra – and he said it reminded him of when I was a little girl – charging around chanting “November the 28th” when anyone asked me my birthday. And that’s just how I felt – like a little kid who had been given the best present ever. But still, not excited over the acquisition of a lovely material item – but excited and thrilled that I have the taps that are going to remind me on my Uncle Peter every time I use them – even if they do drip at night (which I hope they don’t as we sleep on the mezzanine directly over the kitchen area!!

Taps in the right place but not plumbed in

Obviously we won’t put them in our temporary kitchen –  but hopefully it won’t be too long before the taps are fitted into our permanent kitchen. We have made some progress in this direction. Our recent tile shopping trip was successful and I managed to find the perfect tiles within about 30 seconds of being in the shop – quite how I couldn’t find them on our previous trip to the same shop remains a mystery – perhaps I was looking for something different back then. But this time it was very easy. We have 103 square metres of them on order – or at least we thing they are on order – it’s always hard to tell in France – we are going to phone them up on Monday to make sure.

Now the tiles are chosen the rest is finally coming together. We have decided on a smart black shower to go with the black slate shower tray. We’ve also overcome the issue we had with the toilet being in the wrong place by 1cm!!

We’ve found doors we like – all we need to do now is work out how to order them.

Sea view camping spot

And, after 2 days solid in IKEA in Bordeaux (yes seriously – two days – we stayed overnight at the docks in the motor home with our favourite “mock sea view apartment outlook”, I finally decided ten minutes after getting home that I don’t want the grey kitchen anymore – I want black instead – but no matter – we had not ordered anything so again, we now just need to navigate our way around the ordering system.

So, it seems that whether I like it or not – at the moment I am very much a material girl – there is so much needing to be ordered – and so much money to spend. But I am hoping that because we are taking such a long time in making the decisions we will only be making though purchases once – no mistakes – we can’t afford to.

The life we have chosen for ourselves is hopefully in the long term going to be one that is very simple. It’s not been particularly simple to get to this point, but we hope that our investment in a house that is so well insulated the fuel bills should be tiny will mean that our outgoings will be so small that our modest income will be more than enough – and we can live the life of the fisherman in the Fisherman’s Tale – a Buddhist story that was the catalyst for this change in lifestyle – the point when we decided to stop chasing our tails trying to earn enough to support a lifestyle that we didn’t enjoy to the extent that we needed even more money to try to escape it at weekends.

The Fisherman’s Tale

One summer, many years ago, a banker was vacationing in a small village on the coast. He saw a fisherman in a small boat by the pier with a handful of fish that he had just caught. The business man asked him how long it took him to catch the fish, and the man said he was out on the water for only a couple of hours.

“So why didn’t you stay out there longer to catch more fish?” asked the businessman.

The fisherman said he catches just enough to feed his family every day, and then he comes back.

“But it’s only 2pm! said the banker. “What do you do with the rest of your time?”.

The fisherman smiled and said “Well, I sleep late every day, then fish a little, go home, play with my children, take a nap in the afternoon, then stroll into the village each evening with my wife, relax, play the guitar with our friends, laugh and sing late into the night. I have a full and wonderful life”.

The banker scoffed at the young man. “Well, I’m a businessman from New York! Let me tell you what you should do instead of wasting your life like this! You should catch more fish to sell to others, and then buy a bigger boat with the money you make so you can catch even more fish!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman.

The banker’s eyes got all big as he enthusiastically explained. “You can then buy a whole fleet of fishing boats, run a business, and make a ton of money!”

“And then what?” asked the fisherman again, and the banker threw his hands in the air and said “You’d be worth a million! You can then leave this small town, move to the city, and manage your enterprise from there!”

“How long would all this take?” asked the fisherman. “Fifteen to twenty years” replied the banker.

“And then what?”

The banker laughed and said “That’s the best part. You can then sell your business, move to a small village, sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take naps in the afternoon, go for an evening stroll with your wife after dinner, relax, sing, and play guitar with your friends. You would have a full and wonderful life!”

The fisherman smiled at the banker, quietly gathered his catch, and walked away.

Don’t Stand so Close to Me

Feature photo

Don’t stand so close to me

It’s been over a month since my last blog entry.

Certain things happened straight after that last post was published and it’s taken me this long to get my head around it all, to feel in the right sort of place to write a blog.

Things that have happened that meant I was not at all happy with writing a “Polyanna style” #myperfectlifeinFrance account of our amazing and exciting time in France, and equally things were so raw for the people concerned that it felt insensitive to be writing about them at that time. So, rather than write an entry that glossed over the real issues I chose to wait a while.

Firstly, our Dutch friends daughter was pregnant with twins, due to give birth in July. We know her daughter – a lovely, bright, cheerful young woman with a happy, sunny disposition. She was very excited to be pregnant. All seemed well with the pregnancy so we were amazed when our friend contacted me to say that her daughter had gone in to labour early – at 24 weeks and despite the medical team’s best efforts they had not been able to prevent one of the babies being born. Her tiny little son was born weighing just 800 grams. The other baby (a girl) was still inside her for a few days and then 4 days later she was also born weighing a little less. All this was happening in The Netherlands, in the middle of the Covid-19 lock down with no way of our friend’s even being able to go to their daughter. Such horrible difficult times for them – and it has really brought home the grim reality of what a truly awful thing this lock down is.

Sadly, the little boy didn’t survive and lived only one week. But he must have been one heck of a fighter to have hung on that long – such a tiny baby, he had operations on his tiny body for not just one, but two collapsed lungs. His sister is now just over a month old and, although it is very up and down for her – she is still fighting her fight.

In ordinary times this would have been a traumatic enough time for any family to have dealt with – but the added impact of the lock down has been phenomenal. It’s not my story to tell, but all I will say is that it is humbling to see the strength of our dear friends in how they have handled this – they have shown such strength of character – and looking at the bigger picture they resisted the urge to make a snap decision to go to Holland and risk the tiny babies catching something they caught along the way. It’s times like this when you really do see first hand how bloody awful these times are when something extra-ordinary happens. And of course, everyone seems to want to add their own pearls of wisdom to the situation, just adding to the mixed emotions our friends were already feeling. It’s such a shame that people cannot consider that, until you have walked a day in someone else’s shoes you cannot possibly know what challenges they face.

Also, we very sadly lost a member of the British expat community here in our village to suicide. He was a troubled character, and had suffered from mental health difficulties for most of his adult life – and it seems that the lock down was the last straw for him. His way of letting off steam was to go for hard and fast bike rides – which with the French lock down rules were forbidden. At least that’s what he thought – only after his death did, we find out that he could have got a doctor to grant him permission on mental health grounds – but hindsight is no good once someone has taken their life. The day he killed himself a fine came through the post – his partner had been fined for going out without her paperwork – the ironic thing was that she was on her way to get forms so she could do the paperwork – so a fine of 135€ was another contributory factor. Imagine, an already limited income, little money to spare, no printer at home – you go out to get a free copy of the form from the Town Hall, and Hey Presto! The Gendarmes arrive and slap a 135€ fine on top of your already bleak situation.

It hit us all hard, his death. Martin and I were not close friends with either him, or the partner he has left behind. We saw them sometimes in the village and chatted, but never really socialised outside of that. But the tiny little English population of around 30 people in Villefranche-du-Perigord and the immediate surrounding area is so small that it can’t help but have an impact. It’s a stark reminder that we are all vulnerable to the overwhelming feelings of isolation. It’s lovely to have French neighbours and have a brief chat – but talking about anything deep and meaningful? That’s not so easy.

First, I felt angry at him – then I felt angry at the system – then at all of us who could have done more to help!! But then I realised, there is no point in being angry – it won’t bring him back.

His funeral was one of the most surreal events I have ever witnessed. There were 7 of us there. We had to be 1 metre apart at all times, were not allowed to go to the front to read our poems, testimonials etc. We had to stand in our places and read/speak from there. We were allowed to go up one at a time to address the coffin but not to touch it.

Curved crem screen
I stood watching the (rather contemporary) curved sliding door encompass his coffin feeling very disconnected to the whole thing.

To hear his partner, standing alone with no-one able to comfort her, read her testimony to the man she had shared her life with for 30 odd years was something that I honestly hope I never have to experience again in my entire life. It feels as if we have stepped back in time – or forward – to an Orwellian science fiction horror story!

Funeral flowers

 

 

We all did what we could for both him, and his partner, a few of us made funeral flowers from wild flowers,

 

 

 

 

 

and nice little touches

Teeny scythe brooch

(like the teeny scythe brooches as a nod to his strange wish to have death at his own funeral) but as with any bereavement these gestures are never enough to take away the pain, and with this being such a complex situation – so many unusual factors – death by suicide, death in a “strange” country, and then the lock down on top of it all – what a crazy situation it was. People’s lives changed forever and none of it made any easier by the Covid-19 situation.

I honestly wonder what the long term impact of these life events will be – will people need specialist counselling in the future to unpick all the craziness of losing a baby or a life partner in the midst of Covid-19 – and have our Governments even started to consider where all the resources will come from if this will be the case? It’s hard to really believe that locking us all up under house arrest for over 2 months and allowing businesses to crumble, relationships to suffer, and all the other horrible, horrible things that are happening to occur– is the right thing.

Yet, I have to say honestly – if I had been given the choice on whether to stay at home and avoid the virus, rather than being told to, I probably still would have done so – so fearful have I been of catching it. But choice is the key word here!! Like Big Brother on Channel 4 was just a big social experiment it feels as if one day we will look back and refer to Covid-19 as the point in time where everything in society changed.

Here in France our lock down has been lifted a bit – we are allowed to go out without paperwork for up to 100 km (and this looks to be relaxed further soon). Our restaurants are now allowed to re-open from today. We were given the opportunity to test run the new social distancing measures at our friend’s restaurant on Saturday night when we went out to get Fish and Chips to mark the 5 year anniversary of my dear step-dad’s death. He had it well under control – all the tables at least 1 metre apart, masks to be worn as we went in and out or moved around, food and drinks served to the edge of our table for us to move in to place to avoid him moving around us.

fish and chips
Fish and Chips was Alan’s favourite meal. A rare treat for him which he really, really enjoyed when he did get to eat it. We also seem to find little ways to honour our lost loved ones – often involving food. 

I’ve been going out a bit more but, I still get freaked out when people get too close to me. We are so lucky that the group of friends who we socialised with via Skype “Happy Hour”  during lock down are all really good at respecting the social distancing rules and since we have been allowed to meet up together we have turned our virtual Happy Hour into real, face to face Happy Hours – taking it in turns to host at our own houses.

Happy Hour
How would we be anything but happy in these beautiful surroundings. This is Jan and Frieda’s back garden! Lovely! 

But, outside that friend group there are people in our wider circle who we know have not been respecting the social distancing rules – and when we see them ignoring the rules, kissing our elderly friend, it’s hard to not recoil in horror – or say something. I suppose the chances are they won’t infect him with Covid-19 – we haven’t got any cases at all in our area – but who on earth would want to be the person who gave that horrible virus to an elderly man – why take the risk? I suppose the thing is, none of us really know how a situation is for another person. On the surface of it someone who is in their 70’s might be wondering why on earth me and Martin are taking it all very seriously – but they don’t know our full medical history. On the other hand, we don’t understand what factors might affect the way they feel about it. Maybe they do not know other ways to convey love and care.

I know that, for me, not hugging our dear friend on his 92nd birthday was a very, very hard thing to do, but sometimes you need to be cruel to be kind. And I believe we have shown more love and care by respecting the rules.

We isolate ourselves

Like Brexit – these times are very divisive. Nowadays we face the dilemma of not “are you a Remainer or a Leaver?” but instead “are you respecting the social distancing rules”?

Respect me…respect my distance

Love me…love my mask

Your 4 metre socially distanced square or mine?

Who knows what the next funky catchphrase will be?

Mask

We were issued with a mask by our ‘Maire’. Out and about in the shops we now find that some shops state “masque obligatoire” so on it goes! I’m not sure that putting a dirty mask that has been lurking around in the plastic bag inside my backpack on is such a good idea. 30 seconds later it’s slipped down my face so my nose is peaking out – so I pull it up – I repeat this load of times – making the whole exercise pointless.

We’ve seen people wearing masks and visors (neither of which are medical grade) and being lured into a false sense of security brushing right up next to people. It’s quite scary that people don’t seem to grasp that the masks will only stop them passing on the virus if they have it (and that is not guaranteed) but it will not stop them getting the virus from someone else who has it. The best preventative action is (in my humble opinion) to wash your hands frequently and keep a safe distance from people.

So, I’ve been singing The Police’s “Don’t Stand so Close to Me” in my head a lot these past few weeks. The song that is rumoured to have been founded in reality – that Sting as a teacher had an illicit affair with a student. I don’t think so – he was a teacher, and he experienced being the subject of many a rampant school girl’s fantasy, and he wanted to write about it.

I’ve been missing being a teacher lately – well to be honest I’ve been missing doing any sort of structured work or education as it has felt as if my life lacks structure – the lock down seems to have sent me a bit crazy.

Pandemic Pressure

And whilst I completely believe that no-one should have felt any pressure to have done anything other than survive during the lock down – in fact I felt myself getting really pissed off on a number of occasions when I’ve heard people big themselves up over how they couldn’t just sit idly by whilst the whole universe felt apart so they done some amazing task for the whole of mankind! But even though I truly believe that people had more than enough on their plate, I did manage to brush up on some skills and have completed a Level Three Diploma in Ayurveda which will really complement all the other strings in my bow. I’ve also made some really good progress with my Reiki Masters Teaching Qualification – I figured that after 3 years of being a Level Three Practitioner it is time for me to start teaching it.

Hazmet massage

And, also as Covid-19 social distancing rules will mean that giving people Indian Head Massage and Holistic Facials will be out of the question for a while (can you imagine having to wear a mask or a visor when having either of those?) I decided that I would get a qualification in Hot Stone Reflexology so I can concentrate on people’s feet for a while instead. All ways that I can adapt my work as a Holistic Therapist to live with Covid-19 but at the same time staying true to myself, respecting my own values and undertaking work that I believe will enhance and complement my work rather than just taking a knee-jerk reaction and becoming something entirely different instead.

I did rather enjoy the lock down period in many ways – not feeling any sense of urgency to get up in the morning and lingering over my daily yoga practice. I’ve even managed to entice Martin into joining me for 30 minutes yoga each morning followed by a daily gratitude exercise. We reflect on things we are grateful for, and many times that has included our wonderful friends, our amazing children, our beautiful surroundings, and the birds and animals we see all the time.

This routine of yoga and gratitude has had an almost tantric feel to it (and no, by that I do not mean that we are spending 7 hours a day practising tantric sex like Sting and Trudie were rumoured to be – again…it’s just a rumour so he says). But our little morning ritual has kept us connected deeply to each other when to be honest at other times it has all felt a little crazy.

Now we can actually go out to the shops to get the building supplies we need we are both loathe to give up that morning ritual – and why should we? It keeps us grounded and connected – and during these days of social distancing, and that tangible lack of human contact, Martin is the only one who “Can Stand so Close to Me” – so I am making the most of that! Yes we have a lot to do, and there is so much work to do on the house that it feels over-whelming at times, but if we ever reach the point that we don’t have time enough to take a few minutes out of each day to focus on ourselves, and to spend time with friends, then there really will be very little point in it at all. As the events of the past month have shown us – life is precious and we do not know what day will be our last – so live it whilst we can.

 

 

 

Holiday

Holiday

After our busy 10 days having the ‘fosse septique’ installed we were delighted that, with a bit of a tweak to our plans, we were able to get work on our underfloor heating system and floor installation moving forward as well.

Our Plan A for the underfloor heating had gone a bit pear shaped when a) the supplier who had our money and our goods was unable to deliver due to the lockdown and b) the person who had originally been going to help us lay the pipework turned out to be somewhat unreliable. This meant that a significant amount of money’s worth of insulation and pipework was sitting somewhere in Bergerac and we were unable to get it and they were unable to deliver it, and even if we did yet it, we were not sure if we would be able to even lay it. The supplier had made a mistake with the first plan, and he refused to re-do the plan without further payment, so we were a bit wary of trying to adapt the plan without a plan so to speak.

We had the idea of asking the man who was booked in to put the ‘chape’ over the top of the pipework if he was able to help us out with laying the insulation and the pipes – and it turned out he could. And even better he was happy to collect the pipework from the supplier in Bergerac!! What a fortuitous stroke of luck! And it really does go to show that it is always worth reaching out and asking for help!

So, a few days later and we had the insulation, the pipe work for the underfloor heating and the concrete floor laid on top – glistening like icing on a cake!! I love watching concrete being laid – it fascinates me, and I wonder if I ever grow up maybe I could get a job like that! Fancy being paid to wiggle a paddle around in a pool of gloopy cement wearing waders!! What a job!

Click here to watch my little video

The floor cannot be walked on for 3 days, so we cannot go into the house – at least not in the traditional manner, but we moved our temporary staircase to outside on the ‘terrasse’ so we can nip up to get anything we have forgotten as long as we don’t let any flies in!! We already spotted one dead in the floor this afternoon!! That’s not as bad as if one of the cats got in – can you imagine seeing a cat struggling to wade through the cement trying to escape! Mind you, when one of the daft buggers done that on our foundations, she didn’t get stuck – she just left some really cute paw prints – which we have enjoyed seeing everyday up until now – we will miss those!

Paw Prints

Resigned to sleeping in the motorhome for at least 4 nights we decided “f*** lockdown” let’s go on holiday!!! So, we hopped into Marsha and let her take us somewhere lovely.

Our holiday location is lovely!! Very picturesque – overlooking a lovely field that reminds us of Wales with it’s stone walls.

We are pitched up on hardstanding, with water and electric hook up. The lady of the house says ordinarily we could use her family bathroom straight through the stable door next to where we are pitched – but sadly it’s out of action due to the lockdown meaning bathroom supplies are not easily available. Never mind – we have everything we need here in our little home on wheels!!

Pitch next to stable door

It’s a shame about the weather as after nearly three weeks of sunshine it’s now turned rainy – but it’s still warm, and in between showers there is a lovely little woodland walk to take the doggos on.

In fact, on one of those walks we spotted a little place called the Garden House where the proprietor does wonderful vegetarian and vegan meals – who would think in rural South West France you could find a lovely vegan salad like this for lunch!! How lovely – we booked a table for two and plan to return most days we are here!

Chickpea pasta salad

I’ve been singing the song “Holiday” by Madonna in my head for the past few days and pondering….I don’t think she was actually writing about a holiday as such. I think the song is a metaphor for a better world for us to live in. Back in the early 1980’s (when this song was released) the world was a very troubled place – we nearly had world war 3 happen due to a fault in the Soviet Union’s ballistic missile early warning system!! Madonna talks about turning the world around, bringing back all those happy days, and also “let love shine, and we will find a way to come together, make things better”.

“Holiday”
If we took a holiday
Took some time to celebrate
Just one day out of life
It would be, it would be so nice

Everybody spread the word
We’re gonna have a celebration
All across the world
In every nation
It’s time for the good times
Forget about the bad times, oh yeah
One day to come together
To release the pressure
We need a holiday

You can turn this world around
And bring back all of those happy days
Put your troubles down
It’s time to celebrate
Let love shine
And we will find
A way to come together
And make things better
We need a holiday

I think it was a call to action! And one that is now so very appropriate once again! If there has ever been a time for all across the world/in every nation to come together it is now! All over the world our leaders are trying to work out what to do next! China and the USA want things back to “normal” (what even is that?) and here in France, Macron is saying that this unthinkable situation has the ability to remake capitalism and that we need to take this opportunity to invent something new because that is all we can do. Meanwhile in the UK, now that Boris has stared death in the face Covid-19 is now suddenly very scary and he is frightened to lift lockdown even though just a few weeks ago he said that it was OK if some old people died whilst gaining herd immunity. Is that the sign of a narcissistic psychopath? Or just a human being?

We found out today that one of the two boulangeries in our village has closed down. The owner cited the reason as it being impossible to be accepted in the village despite being here for 2 years, as she was not originally from here. That’s just such an awful thing – and sadly it’s not the first time we have heard this. It’s certainly not just the English or Dutch “incomers” who have noticed that – we know of French people from other parts of France who have struggled to integrate. And it’s not just this village – the lovely lady who gave us loads of crates from the vineyard where she works in Duravel told her she was moving back to Nantes as she was simply not accepted in Duravel and had been unable to make friends.

Surely, now is the time to “come together” and help to upkeep anyone who is prepared to support our village. All businesses are going to struggle enormously during and after Covid-19 and for some time to come – so we should each be mindful of that. With only one boulangerie in the village now we will not have bread, pastries or cakes on their day off or during their holiday periods. We have always tried to spread our support equally amongst all the shops, bars, cafes and restaurants in the village – appreciating all of them. Naturally it’s been easier to support some more than others, as being vegetarian our choices in some of the food places has been limited and some have been very unyielding in their approach to offering veggie alternatives – but we have done what we can, and spread our money (and love) amongst all of them. We truly hope that we do not see any more closures.

So, back to our little holiday. We love this little spot that we have found! It’s perfect to relax, we are undisturbed by people, close enough to a village to get bread and vital supplies, but far enough away to have a sense of being in the middle of no-where. And of course! We haven’t really gone away!! We have just had a staycation!! We’ve been here all the time – at home! Safe at home!!

Every day I reflect on the many things I am blessed with – and the beautiful surroundings that our stunning house is situated in is always high up on that list. We never intended to build this house for just us, we also had a need to share it – with family and friends, maybe also paying guests too, the odd passing motor homer from one of our many forums, and I really hope it’s not too long before we can welcome people to our little slice of paradise….but meanwhile we feel blessed that we can have our little holiday right here.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!

 

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it

Day 25 of Covid-19 lockdown, and no end of sight. Yet it all seems strangely surreal. There is no resistance on my part. I am happy to be safe at home, and I do not see it as being locked up at home.

Safe at home

But….we are lucky, and we know it. We have a vast amount of space to call our home so we do not feel the same confinement as perhaps someone living in a small apartment in Toulouse might do.

Life goes on. Yet it is not the same life we had just 25 days ago. Our daily routine has changed. We get up early – knowing that if we fall in to the trap of treating every day as a Bank Holiday we will lose the momentum on life. So, the alarm goes off, and Martin rises and makes me my morning drinks. Coffee to wake me up, and lemon and turmeric water to keep my respiratory system and gut healthy. I am terrified of getting this virus – my immune system is potentially still compromised and I have no way of knowing how much – still too scared to venture over to the Medical Laboratory to get my H.Pylori breath test done. Also, the gastritis can take such a long time to clear up, I have to assume that it is still there. I still have pain in my stomach, and on occasion if stressed or if I have eaten the wrong thing, I get severe pain – so I think it is a fair assumption to make.

Then my daily yoga and Reiki routine starts – with the gift of extra time I know spend about an hour on this each morning. With only myself and Martin for face to face communication I have found that now confronted with myself, I do a lot of soul-searching, and, much like when I went half way around the world as a young woman to “find myself” I am….well, I suppose “re-finding myself”. I’m not afraid to confront myself, but I find myself wondering how that process is for people who are always keeping busy and distracted to avoid dealing with themselves?

For me it’s an interesting occupation. I think a lot these days about my part in the universe, and the things that I personally have done to contribute to the state that the earth is in. Now that we cannot take all those things for granted it is easy to see that we didn’t need to take our huge, gas guzzler pick-up truck to the big shops 25km away once a week. One big shop once a month would have sufficed. We have always used our local shops and really value them…but we could use them more, and the market – the lovely Portuguese lady who served me each week and gave me a ‘petite cours de Francais in our interaction – why didn’t we buy more vegetables from her instead of the meagre few because we had been to Lidl the day before? She is now the only stall holder permitted to trade at our market – now scarily supervised by the ‘gendamerie’.

Saturday market

Then there are the flights for short weekends. I now feel ashamed that since we have lived out here as well as numerous longer trips, I have had two weekend trips by plane – one to Venice, and one to Geneva. It feels very indulgent and extravagant now to have made such a stomping huge carbon footprint for a few days away. And selfish! At the time it didn’t feel selfish – the Geneva trip was to spend precious time with my daughter – and boy do I wish I could spend time with her now – and my son. But now, with all flights grounded, Flybe completely out of business, and the future very uncertain, I think I would honestly be happy if I could have just one visit a year to see all of my family. It’s unthinkable and unbearable to imagine never seeing them again….and if I allow my mind to wander down that path, I start to lose my ability to breath as panic and overwhelm take hold….and so I don’t. I cling to the hope that once this is all over, the world will be a brighter place that enables us to travel oversees – just in a less selfish manner.  But meanwhile, we are all discovering just how many things we can manage to do using social media and technology.

Between Martin and his brother, they have brought his mum into the 21st Century and we enjoyed an hour long What’s App video call with her this week, giving her a virtual tour of the house. She has never been out here, and maybe now never will, but at least she has now seen it.

March was my son’s birthday and we managed a Facebook video birthday party of sorts!! It went a little pear shaped when his surprise Birthday Cake arrived and he inadvertently sent it away, and my mum couldn’t get connected – but we were still able to connect with each other on his special day.

Creams waffle

By the time it was my mum’s birthday in April we had practised often enough for us to have a successful Skype party – of course it is not the same as a real face to face party…but the feeling of warmth was still there.

Hugs are now done from a safe distance – over the Internet – and we are all sending each other virtual hugs, and encouraging memes. I love these…so much so that I accumulate them and save them in a folder so I always have one ready to send back when I get one – or if a friend or family seems in need. So much so that my daughter asked me the other day if I had a stash when within 30 seconds of her expressing an emotion, I had sent her an “appropriate” poster. I have noticed though the grumpy brigade is out in force and I have seen a few people moaning about getting these. Who could hold it against someone for sending them their thoughts in a message? What they might not realise is that the sender might be reaching out to someone as they need a hug (virtual of course). With all this time on our hands are we really so self-centred that we don’t have time to look at a little picture on Facebook?

Socially distanced hug

Even Martin and I are careful with our hugs. We have to be…..he is the one who is going to the shops so when he comes back I am very insistent that he washes his hands carefully to avoid passing anything on to me. Woe betide him if he forgets. And he felt the “wrath of Sharon” the other day when someone (who shall remain nameless) called to collect a borrowed item.

Co-vidiot

We assumed that the said person would realise that in lockdown we needed to keep a safe distance apart, yet the “Co-vidiot” (yes that really is a term now) actually followed Martin into our house even when Martin said “hang on – stay there” and then he actually clapped me on the back…before then attempting to elbow bump me!!

I restrained myself from knocking him straight off the ‘terrasse’ (there is still no balustrade there) and bit my tongue until after he had gone. But then the tears and the fear came. What if…..what if he had it…what if he passed it on….so we both stripped off – clothes into the washing machine, and triple scrubbing of the hands for both of us. And a very polite (much more polite than deserved) text to say that he must respect the social distancing if he should need to return again. It’s at times like this when we realise that we do not all place the same level of seriousness on the situation in hand. And that, in itself is scary.

Every aspect of our life seems dominated by Covid-19. After I do my Yoga and Reiki we have breakfast, then Martin gets stuck into some drilling or something and I do an online exercise class. I am determined to keep my fitness levels up as much as possible, because

a) when I emerge from lockdown I would like a summer ready body and

b) I have read that a high percentage of people who have died from Covid-19 had a high BMI and mine is sneaking in to the danger zone at 28.9 Interestingly, if I was 5 foot 9 inches I would be a healthy BMI so actually I think I should just find ways of getting taller. As Garfield once said “I am not fat, I’m under tall”.

Garfield

In the afternoon I have been trying to do a bit of gardening, which I find very therapeutic, or something useful outdoors – one afternoon I helped Martin move a huge pile of wood – and was glad that I had been doing some weight training beforehand.

And then in the evenings after dinner I have been working on my Ayurveda Diploma. So far, I have submitted three modules for assessment, so am hoping that I will have achieved this qualification before the end of lock down so that I can use it in my Holistic Therapy Practice when I can work again!! It’s fascinating to learn about and as well as using the principles on myself I know I can reach out to other people and help them by using this too.

Then it’s bedtime and my little night-time routine of my Golden Milk to help boost my immunity (Ayurvedic) and essential oils on my feet to help me sleep.

With the lockdown situation our work on the house came to an abrupt halt, which has meant that we both have had to practice the art of patience quite a lot lately. So, as Martin and I are learning that gift I thought I would teach the doggos some patience too – see the video for how good they are.

But saying that, we did have some brilliant progress on our house build this week. After being told that the installation of our ‘fosse septique’ was delayed due to the lockdown, we then had problems with the motorhome water pump, so, fearful that we could end up with no water at all, I wrote an appeal to SPANC (the authority responsible for sanitation). Long story short – they agreed that the work could star,t and start it did – this Monday. So, we are now very, very close to having running water into the house, and an appropriate way of removing the water from the house…and maybe even a flushing toilet – if only Martin can find one!!

Fosse installation 2

Meanwhile – we have our dry toilet, and I never thought I would ever say this but….there is nothing quite like a compost toilet….I might just keep it!! Just for me!!

It’s life Jim, but not as we know it!!

It's Life Jim, but not as we know it

I want to be a tree

tree

I want to be a tree

If only, when writing my last blog entry, I had known what our world was about to experience. Well, perhaps not, as back then I would have only worried and that would have robbed me of my joy for those days.

We are now in the middle (hopefully the middle, hopefully towards the downward part of the curve) of the Covid-19 Pandemic, and are on lock-down in France. Only allowed out with a signed ‘attestation’ (testimonial) stating the reason why we need to go out, and that has to be one of 7 authorised reasons.

Attestation

We are on Day 13 of the lock-down – which currently is expected to last until at least April 15th.

There is now so much time to reflect. Reflect on all sorts of things. For me, it is mostly reflection about what is important in my life, and also musings about how did our planet come to this? There is a surreal, almost Armageddon feel to each day – as if we might possibly be living the final days of our lives, sitting on a ticking time bomb – did we at any time in the last 14 days (the guesstimate incubation period) come into contact with one of those pesky little Corona virus cells. And if so…did it invade our bodies and is currently on its master mission to destroy.

coronavirus

I can very easily take my thoughts on a downward spiral towards catastrophic thinking – so I am doing all that I can to distract my mind from these sorts of thoughts.

I am spending lots of time doing various self-care rituals to look after myself, and my annoyingly compromised immune system. Looking back at that last blog entry where I was talking about taking turmeric and using coconut oil to support my immune system I feel very lucky that, at probably the most likely time I was susceptible to the virus I was already boosting my system for the reason of gut repair, but of course it will now be helping me with this new and imminent danger. Very fortuitous – but I believe everything happens for a reason. That’s Karma.

So, a good part of my mornings is now spent in mindful contemplation – now up on the mezzanine floor in our house – looking out at the most wonderful view of trees. In particular my particularly sentimental oak tree.

reiki spot

I find myself singing the words to Tim Pope’s “I want to be a tree” a lot these days. The words make complete and utter sense in a funny, retrospective way to me.

Looking out my window

What do I see?

A world full of people

All looking at me

Most of them got headache

It’s no place to be

 Few of them are happy

How can’t you see why?

I want to be a tree

I want to be a tree

From the very beginning

Of history

Man’s not seen the wood

For the trees

Now they’re all busy planning

World War Three

We are all invited

So, can’t you see why?

I want to be a tree …….I want to be a tree………….I want to be a tree…..I want to be a tree

It’s an old song, and one that used to make me smile many moons ago back in 1984 – of course it’s quite silly, but when you think about it – also very prophetic. A world full of people all very unhappy. And I truly think (and hope) that during these very difficult days every single person will reflect on what is important to them, and that in the future we can all make changes for a better life, a better planet, and a better universe.

Of course, ‘Nineteen Eighty Four’ is also the title of the famous dystopian novel by George Orwell, and it’s very easy to let yourself think that maybe he was right…maybe Great Britain is now ‘Airstrip One’ and ruling the world with the other totalitarian super-states (amongst other popular conspiracy theories).

So, as I sit in my Reiki spot, I spend a lot of time considering the metaphor of a tree, as something that I want to aspire to be like. A tree has lots of branches, some of which look a bit ropy, and a bit dead, and for the good of the tree – those branches really ought to be cut off. I see that as friendships or habits that have done their time and are now acting like poison to the tree – best to simply rid ourselves of those. But of course, some of the branches simply need a bit of attention – some tender loving care, and if that is given, they will quickly come back into full bloom. That’s the friendships or habits that have been a bit neglected – but are well worth nurturing and getting back into our lives. And of course, a tree has strong roots, and stands grounded and strong – it may wave a little when under pressure, but it will regain its composure and be able to stand proud once again.

So, I want to be a tree. At these difficult times I want to be a person who is strong and stable and can reach out to those around me and try to help and support them. I know that in order to do this I need to make sure that I do not keep any dead wood that is weighing me down, sapping my strength. I know that for my own good it is important to nurture the healthy relationships, and to rekindle friendships that simply need a bit of life injected into them. And of course to re-establish habits that have helped me in the past.

Most of all I want to use my branches to spread out as far as I can around me and shelter those who need it.

My Reiki practice is largely centred around this concept at the moment. I am, what I can only describe as levelling up my Reiki energy, so that I can look after myself, and also reach out to those around me and help them as well.

It is being said a lot, and I wholeheartedly agree with this, that a catastrophe brings out either the best or the worst in people. I am lucky and blessed that for the most part, all the people around me are showing that this is bringing out the absolute best in them. And, as is normal for us, even though in normal life situations me and Martin are grumpy towards each other, and have some very loud arguments at the best of times, when life deals us the worst of times we actually come together really well and get closer. We’ve even started doing the odd bit of dancing in the evenings.

Life really is what you make of it. I used to love that song by Talk Talk – “Life’s what you make it” – incidentally another music video directed by Tim Pope in the 80’s. The song’s basic message is to work towards a better future for yourself by not having your mind focused on regrets and the past. Life’s what you make it in the present, after all.

Baby, life’s what you make it
Can’t escape it

Baby, yesterday’s favourite
Don’t you hate it

Baby life’s what you make it
Don’t back date it

Baby, don’t try to shade it

Beauty is naked

Baby, life’s what you make…

The feelings that I have about this situation are sometimes very overwhelming and frightening, and if I allow myself to dwell too long on things that might happen, I feel my chest tighten, my breathing get difficult, and palpitations start – the beginnings of a panic attack. So, I do my best to think about all the good that can come out of this situation. It’s far better to spend our days enjoying what we do have, and can do, than to spend them fearful of what might happen, and what we might lose. I am reminded of the first Reiki precept, which I say each morning

“Let Go of Worry”.

Of course, worry only serves to rob us of our joy, and not only can we not live in the past as it has already gone, neither can we predict the future. So why let worry rob us of the joy that we can feel today. We know that we are very blessed with all that we have here. We have a stunningly, beautiful house – which although is not finished and has no running water, permanent electricity or sanitation (the contractors cancelled the work due to the Government rules about working) – it is water tight and we can use it as a camping style base. It’s quite novel at the moment – we have pretty much everything we need – but it is between three places – the house, the motor home, and the garden house. I seem to clock up miles and miles a day just going between the three places. I’m getting plenty of exercise doing just that and the dogs are enjoying relaxing in the shell of the house – they don’t care that there are no proper walls, curtains or a proper floor.

Relaxed dogs

One of the things we really were reluctant to give up was our daily walks together – in France it is very clear – we must not exercise in pairs – only alone. So, we spent the first 2 days of lock-down cutting through the brambles to make a little woodland walk, so we can at least take the dogs for a walk together.

woodland walk

The dogs love it, and I love it – it really gives me an opportunity to just mooch around looking at the trees, and the sky, and just being still and present,

 

And thinking that I really do Want to be a Tree. So, here is my advice from a tree:-

 

advice-from-a-tree