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)