S’no Fear

Since it snowed a lot, we’ve done some skiing.
I don’t think I mentioned that it snowed a lot. Well it really and truly did. And it scared me.
When you grow up in southern England, the idea of snow being scarey seems ridiculous. Snow is exciting. It’s unusual, and when it happens it’s a huge deal. Scarey? Are you stupid?!  But here we had so much snow over such a short time… I was honestly frightened that if I let the girls go out to play they would fall in and never be seen again. It really was that deep.
Fear is only as deep as the mind allows.
 Japanese Proverb
(or in my case, as deep as the snow!)
Although the Husb thought my fear was a tad OTT, even he agreed that we should probably supervise our children out at play. Letting them go out alone is one of the many things I love about living here. In the summer and inter-season they enjoyed going up to the swings solo, meandering about our little town on their own. But they didn’t understand that snow was anything other than EXCITING. I couldn’t relax. I knew that on their own the excitement of so much snow would overtake any cautions we gave them about edges, snowdrifts and what not.
Photo of swings shortened due to snow fall

This was the swings in early Jan – the chains looped around the top bar so they’re stil useable by littlies

The swings after the humungous snowfall – taken once the snow had settled a bit and the top had reappeared. A few days before I snapped this you couldn’t see anything!

I really was afraid. I didn’t like that feeling – it didn’t feel like me. And I knew largely it was irrational. Maybe it was because of the fact that I grew up in southern England and hadn’t experienced snow like it. Stories of people getting lost on the way back from places peppered the news. Those people froze to death.

A nice bar graph showing the level of snowfall over the years. Red is where the snowfall has been in Jan, and how much. See that last bar where the red is way higher than all the others? That’s this year

I remembered my first ever night in a ski resort. I’d arrived the night before my friends and had gone out with some people I’d met on the bus on the way there. I’d never drunk Belgian beer before…it’s strong! I was in my early twenties and really quite naive.  I remember wandering alone, pretty drunk, the snowy streets, looking for my chalet. At one point I was definitely heading out of town. I about turned and flagged down a car – a 2CV. Thank goodness for that. Thank goodness for my sketchy French. Thank goodness the people I flagged down were kind. I got in the car and they drove me to my chalet. (Thank goodness they knew where it was.) For some people an evening like that doesn’t turn out so well.
It all made me think hard about how ill-prepared people are when they come to the mountains. The risks we take. The risk I’ve taken – in travels all over the place. I thought back to the lonely, remote caves I visited in Thailand, where a young boy in flip-flops with a torch leapt from rock to rock deep under ground, me following, hoping I wouldn’t slip. No one else was with me. No one knew where I was….
Note to self – raise travel-savvy, worldly, risk aware  offspring.
Inaction breeds doubt and fear. Action breeds confidence and courage. If you want to conquer fear, do not sit home and think about it. Go out and get busy.
Dale Carnegie
Well, this post was going to be about skiing, but it’s ended up being about snow, and fear, and taking risks from ignorance and thoughtlessness…
Eventually I got used to the huge amount of snow. It settled in. I ski’d on it (and didn’t fall in – well, only about to my thighs anyway – the perils of taking your ski’s off!). The children loved it and played in igloos and snow holes, and I let them, buzzing them intermittently on the walkie-talkie to reassure myself that they were still there. They were, they are, and we are all learning a lot of valuable things about mountain life.

They loved it!

It was very beautiful too

Remembering those years-ago trips, and the risks I’d taken, brought other memories to the fore, so I might meander away from France once in a while and tell a few old tales, just to mix it up. That’s me for now. Stay warm, stay safe, ski happy!

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The Look: how the French make you squirm


So I started researching this article by Googling things like ‘Filthy look, French’. That delivered  lots of translations and suggestions for how to say ‘filthy look’ in French.

I tried, ‘French, France, dirty look’ and got articles expressing an opinion that the French are none too clean (hmmm, our own showering rate has definitely declined since we arrived in France. More on that later…)

What I wanted, though, was to see if there was any popular insight into the incredible look of utter contempt, seasoned with a good few other fiery emotions, that French people have in their not inconsiderable arsenal of Telling Looks.

It’s an absolute killer.

In English we’d call it a withering look. But that description withers itself against the French equivalent when delivered. A ‘withering look’ versus the French ‘Look’ is like the English attitude to sex versus the French. Whole nother level.

(The look is so swift that you can’t catch it on camera.
In the interests of adding some colour I’m including a few photos –
none of which quite capture the intensity or subtlety of the look.)

This elf’s look is only ‘withering’…

Dark

The first time I received The Look I wanted the earth to swallow me instantly into the darkest hole with the shadowiest corner I could crawl into, preferably with a very muddy puddle in it. My sins were too great to bear.

I can’t even remember any more what I’d done. Accidentally stepped in front of someone in a queue? Failed to say ‘Bonjour’ before placing my order in a shop? Tucked my scarf inside my coat?  Whatever it was, the look stopped me in my tracks and nearly made me cry.

And, oh boy, did I long to master it. What a Look! I could imagine myself delivering it to one of the kids next time they did something stupid. I’d rock!

He’s on the way there, but I don’t feel enough commitment …

Flung

I went home and described what had happened to the Husb. By then I’d just about got over it and was seeing the funny side. Husb was terribly excited about it and desperate to experience it for himself. A few days later he returned home triumphant that he had witnessed the great and terrible power of The Look (and possibly slightly pleased he’d watched someone else get it, not had it flung his way.)

‘Wow!’ Was about all he had to say.

After that we started to notice The Look more and more. I was relieved to spot French people delivering left, right and centre to their own countrymen, as well as us clueless foreigners. Phew!

I became a little less scared of encountering it again.

Probably has a French grandparent…

Cheek

And encounter it again I did. For some similarly benign sin. I stood at the checkout in the supermarket before the lady working it was quite ready. And waited. The cheek of me! So I got The Look, while she blew her nose and had a drink of water. I wasn’t in a rush. I was happy. She, clearly, was not.

Seconds later the very same lady was cheerily serving me. I delivered my best apology and she just brushed it off. Like it was nothing. Like The Look had never even happened.

That’s the exceptional thing about The Look. Its brevity. I’m not even sure I could manage a look as deep as this one quite so fleetingly. I think New Zealanders and Brits are better at sulking, holding grudges and picking fights than giving their all to one instantaneous, utterly committed look that conveys contempt with a lovely dose of disdain, disbelief, pity, condescension, scorn and a scattering of impatience, into one beautiful moment.

We just don’t have the passion. And we don’t do moving on in quite the way the French manage it.

Er! Okay, so there are some Kiwis who have that look off pat. Scarey, but not subtle like the French one, or as swiftly over with for that matter…

Giggles

Sometimes my eldest throws me a look that is somewhere in the direction of The Look. She can’t quite take it seriously enough though, and usually giggles afterwards. But the longer we’re in France the more French the girls are speaking, and the more being French they’re absorbing. So you never know…

Hang on – wasn’t the idea that I learn The Look to send her way when the occasion arose, not find I’m victim to it in my own home?

Right. I’m off to the mirror to practice. All that acting training can’t have been for nothing…

Conchords

While you’re waiting (because I feel a video coming on and I know you’re desperate to see it) check out me old Kiwi chums Brett and Jemaine, aka the gorgeous Flight of the Conchords in this awesome French number (the girl at the end really should have shot Jemaine The Look…). Hi-lar-i-ous.

And finally…

…nailed it!

 


Photo Credits:

Main image from Pixabay.

All other photos used were under Creative Commons licensing and were sourced on Flickr. Thanks to:

Peter Nederlof for the elf
Kristen for the slightly ticked off dude
Stewart Hamilton for the black & white ‘contempt’ image
Patarika for the Haka photo
Aislinn Ritchie for the schnauser


If you enjoyed this wee article in my series on living in France, please do stay a little and browse. You can even follow my blog and get an email next time I post here! Thanks for visiting.

My first book – Out Now!

Woo Hoo! I finally published my first book on Amazon.

Jumping Off The Edge Of The World is my real-life account of some of the highs and lows of moving to a new country. In this case it was moving to New Zealand.

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Each chapter covers a different story that happened to us, experience, or aspect of New Zealand life that was striking me especially at the time. It’s our ‘clueless settlers’ story, really.

Being in a new place, far from established friends and family, and pursuing a very different lifestyle, was a challenge. In the book don’t pretend it was easy, but I love adventure and I relished the challenges. It’s a positive, honest book that I hope will tweak your heart strings now and again, and give you a few laughs along the way too.

In love with a country

I fell in love with New Zealand in 1999 and just had to go and live there. And this time I actually did. Because I’ve had those sorts of convictions, the ‘I absolutely have to…’ many a time, and done nothing about it. Or done a little, and then chickened out.

Maybe it was because I found someone to drag along with me, I don’t know. But I went. And living in New Zealand was nothing like I expected. Mostly because I didn’t do any expecting, which is, in my opinion, the best way to have an adventure.

Read and review (please!)

I’d love you to read my book and leave me a review. As I write, Jumping Off The Edge Of The World is only available for Kindle (you can download the Kindle App for free for mobiles, tablets and desktops if you don’t have a Kindle reader).  But I’m working hard to have it available in print within the next week or so.

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The Blurb

As it appears on Amazon:

It’s not that her London life is destroying her, but it’s not inspiring her, either. And the fact is, Naomi’s in love – with New Zealand. She feels compelled to throw in the towel on London life; a successful career, friends, night life, and the stability of family nearby. 

Is it ill-advised, or boldly fearless? She’s not sure, but she’s selling up and moving to New Zealand anyway, and she’s convinced her boyfriend to come too.

With a plan that reaches about as far as the airport, thirty year-old Naomi and boyfriend James head into the unknown on the other side of the world.

Jumping Off The Edge Of The World captures the humour and the heartache of leaving it all behind and starting again somewhere new. Travelling to New Zealand as a backpacker was one thing, but Naomi soon finds that shipping out and making a life there is completely different. It’s easy enough to say you want to live in the middle of nowhere, but after living in one of the busiest cities in the world – what will it feel like?

In a land where, apparently, every woman wants her curtains cleaned, Naomi isn’t sure how to fit in or what to do. She’s abandoned her old life and is here to find herself – but isn’t she actually even more lost? 

Taking her cue from the people she meets, Naomi starts to question her place in the world. Who is she, anyway? She finds a solace in solitude and a place to think, or not think, on the wild, empty, black sand beaches near their new home.

Jumping Off The Edge Of The World is a true and honest, late (or perhaps second) coming-of-age tale of travel adventures, culture shock, soul-searching, leaky houses and smelly jumpers. 


This book is 93,724 words long, or approx 310 pages standard paperback. 

(Don’t be put off because Amazon tells you it has 700+ pages, it doesn’t! Hopefully this will get corrected when I launch the print version. According to everything I’ve read, that’s the case…)

Image of Muriwai beach on the North Island of New Zealand, with a flying gannet and flax in the foreground.

I toyed with this as a cover image, but I didn’t think it was really eye catching. This is Muriwai beach, looking north, with a gannet. I mention it a couple of times in the book.  And I miss it.

 

 

The challenges of change

Ripping yourself out of your relatively easy life isn’t all that easy, however much you want to do it.

First leaving

My first adult memory of properly leaving was, I suppose, going off to university. If you can call that adult, which it barely is. I was glad to go – I needed the break from the family home, that was for sure. But that meant that at the time I was also unhappy. In fact to be honest I’m lying – I don’t remember going at all, I just remember being there. In my own space. My own place. Making friends wasn’t easy. It’s not something that comes terribly naturally to me. But I wasn’t alone. It was what it was, and overall I relished the independence.

Second leaving

The next time I left was in my mid-twenties when I decided to move out of the flat I shared with my boyfriend and into London. I just did it. I wasn’t very nice to him really – goodness knows why he put up with me. We were living outside London and I was working in the city, commuting in every day (at that time from Wokingham to Tower Bridge). Then every weeekend we’d pile back into London by car to hang out and stay with friends , It just seemed crazy, all that commuting, and he didn’t seem to want to move. So off I went…

Third leaving

I suppose it was inevitable that I took leaving our flat to the next stage and took off around the world. That departure I do remember well. Immense relief. Peace. A sense of hope. My poor boyfriend.  What a bitch of a girlfriend – I didn’t even end things before I left (mind you, neither did he…).  I was a disaster in relationships.

Fourth leaving

Driving away, in 2002, from the Streatham flat I’d bought in 2000 was another moment of huge relief. I was moving to New Zealand.

It had been five months of agony waiting, hoping that the flat sale would go through. On moving out day – with all our things finally wrapped and in a lorry on the first part of their route to New Zealand, handing over the keys was like that full stop at the end of an exam essay. Sitting on the back of the now-husband, then boyfriend’s motorbike and puttering away, I didn’t look back. I didn’t even want to.

There’s no such thing as ‘let’s go back’. Only forwards. Onwards.

My own loneliness

But it was easier back then to move. It was just me. Or just me and him. I can manage my own solitude. My own loneliness is bearable – or if not, I can find ways to make it so. But when your upheaval affects your children it’s a different story. Ours were small when we yanked them out of their peaceful New Zealand life into England. Friendships weren’t quite as established, if at all. They were more attached to us than others – they went along with what we did.

Their loneliness

The early days in France seemed hardest for our youngest. Now we’d yanked the girls out of a school they loved, away from friends they’d grown close to. England was what they really knew – and just like that we whisked them away.

Miss 7 desperately missed her best friend from England – they were very close. She cried, screamed, threw tantrums.  I felt horrible. Not just guilty but sad. And part of me was wondering what the heck I was doing here too, and whether I shouldn’t just go back. But there’s no such thing as ‘lets go back’…

Our eldest’s quiet acceptance can hide what’s really going on. When we returned to the Alps from Barcelona in the summer (okay, sometimes there IS such a thing as ‘let’s go back’!) it was her turn to reveal her discontent and sense of isolation. Stalling tactics in the mornings, mystery ‘illnesses’, aches and pains, ‘I can’t go to school today…’, tears. There’d been a bit of that towards the end of the summer term, but now it was getting chronic.

After seeking advice from friends, I booked a consultation with an occupational therapist in Bristol who specialises with children. It was gold. A few changes in our routine and our behaviours and positive change began to happen.

My butterfiles

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Then school pulled in the integration and language expert for the area, and I went to a meeting with her and the girls’ teachers. They offered weekly language tutoring after school in place of a club on a Monday. I said ‘yes please’ and felt a huge sense of relief. We could do this.

We were here to stay – for long enough, anyway. School were supporting the girls, which felt like huge support for the family. The girls would be happier. James and I would be happier.

I found a great local tutor to help them each for an hour a week too. The girls immediately liked her and enjoyed their sessions.

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They started to ‘get’ French.

More positive change. More smiles. Happier girls and happier family.

It’s not the end of our challenges, but we feel like we’re over the first big hump. When we move to the next place there will be more – but I want to make that move a solid one. Ten years is my goal for a minimum stay.  Ten years feels like something. Almost enough to put down some roots – if you start digging down soon enough.

Watch this space.

Fitting in: 29m2, 4 humans, 1 cat, 1 hamster

 

Our day begins

On a weekday at 7:05am (cos we don’t like 7am – too early!) alarm goes off. One of us (usually me at the mo) gets out of bed to turn it off & throw open the curtains to see what we’ve got today.

TODAY = THE SUN COMING UP ON THE WHOLE LOTTA SNOW WE HAD EARLY IN THE WEEK 🙂

On a Saturday we get up at 7.45am – the youngest has ski school in the morning…

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Go into the girls’ bedroom / hallway to rouse our girls. At the mo it’s usuallyMiss 10 who’s better at waking and getting up. This is an about-turn from six months ago when it was Miss Then-7 (just 8), who rose and shone while Miss 10 groaned and bombed. I dream of the two-happy-faces morning…

Get out the girls’ clothes (ideally chosen the night before, but generally easy: Thermals, trackies, top, sweater.)

Coffee on

Me & the Mr get dressed along with the all-important Put The Coffee On, and after leaving it to air a while, turn our bed back into the sofa.

I get out the Dyson DC62 (ideal vacuum for a small pad like ours) and vacuum out the bath and around the edges of the hamster’s cage. He gets put in his daytime place on top of the kitchen cupboards (away from le chat!)

Photo of galley kitchen with fitted cupboards, orange boxes and a hamster cage on top of the upper cupboards

Safely out of the way of the cat

Puss’s litter tray goes from the kitchen to under the bathroom basin (all this switcheroo-ing keeps the small cute rodent away from the still-playful feline hunter. And stops us being kept awake by hammy running endlessly in his wheel at night!)

Cajaoling

Usually a lot of ‘come on girls, get your clothes on’ while the coffee bubbles and breakfast goes on the table. Either porridge or Weetbix with hot milk on a school or skiing day, with fruit to follow up in there’s time / they’re still hungry.

Miss 10’s latest ’thing’ – since turning 10, is a smidge of coffee topped up with plenty of hot milk, and a wee bit of sugar.

Water, water, water. It gets sucked out of you up here at 2150m and it’s too easy to get dehydrated.

Transformation

7.45am in the week is time for ‘teeth & hair’. We get the girls’ beds flipped up (so we can move, and get to our shoes!), find whatever outerwear is needed, and be ready to leave the house at 8.10 latest for the short walk to the school bus.

At the mo we need salopettes, ski jackets, our warmest wooly hats and mittens. Sometimes goggles are a good idea (handy in a blizzard), but as they’re downstairs in our boot locker most of the time, we just manage or throw on a pair of sunnies – it’s only a little way…

Then it’s back home to turn the dining table into work station, and our working day begins.

Driving on ice!

With the husb going away regularly I decided this week was the week to bite the bullet and have a go at driving in the snow.

Even though we have an excellent free in-season bus service between our little town at the top end of the lake, and the main town at the bottom end, the freedom and warmth of a car is sometimes what you need.

Our own car is totally unsuited to the conditions – we’d need to buy winter tyres, at quite an expense, and hassle. And where do you store your other tyres when you don’t have a garage or even a spare room? Or even a spare corner for that matter.

As luck would have it a local friend spending the winter season teaching skiing in Japan offered us the use of his truck type car vehicle thing for a very reasonable price while he’s gone.

As you can probably tell, I’m really into cars and can spot a make and model a mile off.  Ahem.  The trouble with the truck type car vehicle thing is that a) It’s a truck b) It’s left hand drive c) It’s automatic d) There’s snow and ice all over the road e) It’s parked at the top of a multi-storey carpark, which I’ve found kinda tight to get around in the past f) There’s no reversing warning ‘ding’ (which I’m used to and love) and g) It’s not ours.

The good thing is it has winter tyres, 4-wheel drive, and it’s not ours. (Only kidding about the last thing!)

The left hand drive is the least of my worries.  I’ve driven them before, albeit a long time ago, and it’s much better when you’re driving on the right. Automatic not so awful – one less thing to think about!  My main worry was the car park. Our own rather long and fat estate car (station wagon) is a bit stressful to get around the corners up and down the ramps. Doing it in a chunky truck that wasn’t mine was what was mostly putting me off driving the thing.

A couple of weeks ago I let the husb get it out of the parking and had a go driving. That was ok. Go slowly, but not too slowly, and all will be well.

 

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Today not only did I decide to get the thing out of the car park for the first time, but offered the girls’ tutor a lift home at the same time, from her day time work near us.   Eek!

When she met us outside the carpark I thought about asking the tutor if she’d mind waiting outside so I wouldn’t be so nervous, but my nerves were affecting my French and I couldn’t think how to say it while comforting a distraught child who’d mislaid her absolute most favourite toy. Luckily Mme Tutor is abosolutely lovely and immediately offered to help by standing and watching and guiding me if necessary (I’d told her it was my first time).

Long story short, we got out of the carpark without too much ado. There was a bit of two-point turning at the ramps, just to be on the safe side…

Proceeding ‘tranquillement’ we got all the way to the other side of town without major slips or slides. Mme Tutor recommended not descending the slope to the car park by her building and promised to bring the children out to me later on where it was flat. Phew!

Now to get home and back into the carpark toute seule (alone). Yoiks.

That end of town is on a one-way system that plunges you down a hill and then up again and round a 90 degree bend at the top. Not my favourite. Husb thinks it’s a right laugh. And cautioned me not to take it TOO slowly.  But not too fast.  Argh.  I must admit my heart was in my mouth and my brain echoing with too many instructions ‘hold the steering wheel like so, not like so… if you skid do that not this..” (what was I supposed to do if I skid, again? ARGH!).  I dared a teeny ‘gun’ up the hill, got a weeny bit out of shape on the corner, definitely wasn’t holding the wheel right, but got sorted out again no troubs. Tick – a bit of experience under my belt.

Next the roundabout. That felt slippy.  Not grippy. Made it out the right exit with the front of the car facing front. Woo hoo.

 

To be honest it didn’t fee like the car was really going the way it should. I had no idea what it was meant to feel like though. One short drive two weeks ago wasn’t enough to get the feel of the thing. Was I slipping? Wheel spinning? Just not hitting the accelerator hard enough?  Who knew.  But at least I was getting there.

Of course when you get to our town it has a roundabout followed by a steepish, bendy hill to get up to reach our pad. Of course that road is the snowiest. Of course there was a pedestrian in the road and a car coming towards me.  I dared a few extra revs and it seemed ok.  Well, it seemed and looked icy, and the car was definitely not behaving how cars do when there’s no snow and ice, but we made it!  Then it was up the next little hill towards the dastardly car park, sharp left turn and in. I pulled up to find the gizmo that lets you in.  Into ‘park’, handbrake on. Ooh – should the handbrake do that?  Hmm. I wonder if it wasn’t quite off from when I parked at the other end of town… could explain things. Note to self… check handbrake. (I’m not sure how much one needs the handbrake in ‘park’ in an automatic, but old habits and all that… mind you, it’s my old habit to take the damn thing off properly too. I’ll put that down to nerves).

Since I have to go back in a couple of hours to fetch the girls home I decided to park in the first available space rather than head all the way to the emptier top of the carpark as usual.  The fewer ramps the better, thanks.  The no reversing ‘ding’ thing meant it took a few checks before I’d inched it back far enough into its spot, but I patted myself on the back that I’m pretty crash hot at reversing, if nothing else.

Walking across to our apartment building I noted the drop in temperature. If the hill up to our place seemed icy at 5pm, what is it going to be like in two hours?!

Upate: Icier, and dark, is what. But I felt more confident and, rather boringly, didn’t slide at all. Go me!

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Icy and dark. There’s nothing like facing your fears in the cold and the snow … when your fears ARE the cold and the snow, that’s the only thing you can do!


Feature image used under Creative Commons licensing. From the excellent winter driving article here https://health.mil/News/Articles/2016/11/23/Preparing-for-Winter-driving.  THANK YOU!

 

And the cat, too…

Did I mention we love our cat?

When we moved into our house-on-a-soggy-river-flat in New Zealand in 2003 we soon realised we need cats. The ones we got were terribly small and useless against the mice for quite some time. But cute! A boy and a girl. He was sleek with a white spot under his chin like a parson’s collar. She was fluffy like an Angora sweater. As they got older the mice stayed away – until the cats brought them in as play things!

Our children arrived later so grew up with our mogs. They came with us when we moved to the UK in 2012 and we all grieved in 2015 when our girl lost her life to diabetes and kidney failure.

Photo of a black domestic long haired cat

Nicknamed ‘Spongepaws Fluffpants’ due to her penchant from coming in from the rain and padding muddy fluffy footprints around the house. And her fluffy behind…

When we moved to our small French studio Loco, our remaining beloved mog, stayed in England with a friend. The idea was he’d be better off there than in our little studio where he couldn’t easily go outside, and we’d fetch him just as soon as we had our new home sorted in Barcelona in the summer.

Image of a black domestic shorthair cat on a fence

He has been referred to as ‘The Richard Gere of cats…’

 

But then, as you might know, things changed – we didn’t end up moving to Barcelona in the summer after all, and are still in our wee mountain studio in France. So at the end of a family trip back to Blightly in October, we picked up Mr Beloved Furbaby Catpuss Loco in his brand new swanky foldable cat carrier. (Better size for long distance travel than your standard get-them-to-the-vet cage, and foldable for people who are short on storage, which we very much are.)

Puss seemed pretty nonplussed about being cuddled by various folk who wanted to say goodbye and others who wanted to say hello, but he had been woken from a cosy nap in a wardrobe! Leading up to getting him I’d slept with a old towel and got the girls to sleep with it too, so there was something that smelt of us. His foster family gave us back his blanket – so there was something that smelt of them too. Between us, hopefully the long drive from Bristol to the channel tunnel and then all the way to the Alps wouldn’t be too awful for him.

I think we were all a little bit worried he might have ‘forgotten’ us. The Husb especially had been cautious, telling us over and again ‘he might have forgotten us, he’s an animal.’ But I remembered those videos showing people who raised lion cubs then released the animals back into the wild, or at least safari parks, then gone to visit them years later and the incredible scenes of fully grown lions rushing to embrace human beings. ‘If lions remember, my soppy domestic cat will,’ I kept saying.

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He looks far too handsome to be soppy in this pic, but our 3-year-old neighbour in New Zealand used to call him ‘cuddle bum’

The first time we stopped en-route and checked on him him the boot (only place his big new carrier would fit) he was hunkered down looking miserable. I was pleased to note that the heat was circulating through the car well, and it wasn’t too chilly back there. We had the boot cover thing off since our estate car was packed to the gunwales, as always, which helped the heat get around. That was a relief and I relaxed a bit after that.

Next time I checked on him he looked like he was trying to bury himself. I unzipped the top and gave him a stroke and reassuring chat. He didn’t look reassured. He looked miserable. I covered him with his blanket – he used to like getting under the covers in our bed, if he could get away with it! I hoped it might make him feel more secure.

Then the fourth time we stopped, puss was sitting up. He miaowed and pushed his head up on the netting of his carrier. I talked to him again and opened the zip just enough to get a hand in to stroke him.

Form then on, I felt he’d ‘remembered’ who we were. I know cat’s don’t ‘remember’ consciously ok? But maybe it as being surrounded by our stuff, smelling of his old and original home. Maybe it was the sound of our voices in the car. But something in him had definitely ‘clicked’ and every time we opened the boot he was sitting up, demanding attention, and seeming to enjoy us stroking him and talking to him gently.

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See? Richard Gere of cats!

Within a couple of days of being in our little flat Loco seemed… relaxed. He just seemed amazingly nonplussed about his new location, and incredibly relaxed with us.  I mean, he’d been ours since he was really too young to have been taken from his mother (6 weeks old), so we shouldn’t have been too surprised I suppose. And, what a huge relief – he didn’t seem overly interested in the hamster, either….

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This nice pink fleece in this sunny patch will do just nicely, thanks!

They Speak French!

I could have written this a few weeks ago. But now it’s really true. They speak French. The children.

Not utterly fluently, but they speak. And…

“You don’t pronounce it like THAT mummy!” I hear, several times a day. I’ve even started toasked them for vocabulary.

Our youngest’s handwriting has gone from this:

To this:

And today even our eldest’s writing (two years more bedded in so harder to change) showed French flair today (check out those very French ‘r’s!)

As you can tell, I’m thrilled. The more so for them – they seem happier. Getting them off to school is easier – not a murmur, even smiles – every day!

And Christmas is coming, with lots of snow (we are already skiing), Père Nöel visiting, real wolves and lots of fireworks.

Life is good.

And we’re still moving…

Clearly I’m not in the mood, this year, to write a dull old tale in chronological order. I’ve plunged here and I’ve plunged there and I’m blaming my summer bump on the head for an inconsistent rush of odd memories I’ve had a sudden urge to document.

My current subject here on Jumping Off Books is our somewhat haphazard life plan, or lack thereoff, to live somewhere lovely (lovely = warm with beach…) that’s not as far from our ageing relatives as our beloved New Zealand.

But I feel the need for a recap. I mean, how did we end up here, up in the French Alps? We have more sun, to be sure, but sea?  Hmmmm.

Run Away to Paris

I always wanted to live overseas. Anywhere really. Once in a while my parents (who are English but met in Africa) would mutter hints about overseas opportunities. As I recall it my sister and I would utter approving ‘yes’-es, but somehow we stayed put in jolly old England.

Then as a teen, when French started to seem like it might possibly be within my grasp, and family life wasn’t so hot, the idea of running away to Paris and re-inventing myself appealed. But I never really had the guts to do it. I guess things can’t have been so bad after all!

In my pre-Uni gap year I travelled with a friend, mostly in France. I was better at French than I thought. And pretty good at travelling, for a novice, I reckoned. Nonetheless I was 27 years old before I left my home country for a proper trip.  I ran, solo, from my then life to Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, USA west, Italy.  It was the best year ever. My solitude was rarely an issue – I loved living life to my own beat. A year later, heading back to the UK, I was stuck with a need to live in New Zealand – I’d left a little bit of my heart in the bush there somewhere.

Long story short:

Met a guy late 1999 in London.

Things got serious-ish and I told him I was moving to NZ.

After some months of misunderstanding, he grasped that I was moving to NZ, not just ‘somewhere else on the planet’. Turned out he had a sister there. Turned out that though he was English he didn’t really grow up in the UK and wasn’t keen on the place. He went to NZ for a couple of weeks and liked it.

2002, having quit our careers and sold my London flat we moved to NZ.

We bought a house on the sometimes-soggy river flats outside a rural town north of Auckland (which didn’t look like Milford Sound, pictured above). We did odd jobs and enjoyed life. Husb worked his way into professional photography. After a spell of city temping I used my Home Economics ‘O’ level (!!) and worked in a local café (loved it), put my English ‘A’ Level and accumulated-over-the-years writing skills to work and did some freelance writing, and my years of acting training and Drama/Theatre Studies degree into action and did some odd bits of TV acting (fun).

Got married.

Then husb invented a photography thing in our garage, we agreed it needed to be commercialised, started a business and became entrepreneurs. In the middle of all that we got pregnant and I had our first child about the same time as we launched our first product. Stressful. Exciting.

By 2011 we had two children, a business, and a marriage in tatters. (Husb overseas for up to 1/3 of the year and me holding it together solo in the countryside with babies wasn’t working so well…)

We sold our house, moved into a rented home in the city, worked on ourselves, our marriage and on a move back to the UK.

Just Don’t Talk About It

The husb made it clear that he thought we should go back the UK (that country he said he hated… but you can’t choose where your family live) he equally felt very strongly that he wouldn’t stay there, suggesting we move to Barcelona in a year or two. I said ‘maybe’ but banned talking about it for a spell, wanting to feel it was worth making friends and give myself a chance to feel settled in the UK. And maybe save our marriage. But the weather took me by surprise – was England always so dark? So wet? So cold? So generally miserable?  We’d moved to the town of my birth, Bristol, and I loved it. But the weather… the cold… the damp… the mould…

… the autumn, my running club and drama group, friends, a great school, family closer by. For me there was lots that was positive about being back in England. But the damp, dark, expensive rental homes not so much. And somehow I couldn’t feel inspired to invest in overpriced British property either. And every time we drove to France the roads were so empty and we were reminded what it’s like to live somewhere less BUSY. And when the sun came out, once in a while, we also remembered what it was like to be warm.

 

A year or two into our UK stay, marriage dragged from the brink, Barcelona started to slip into our conversations.

One day I suggested it was time I actually went there, since we were talking about moving to the place! Went for a few days, liked it. Agreed.

Moved On

After a few happy years in a slightly dark basement flat, but which enjoyed a lovely location and all of the property’s garden, the owners decided to sell, and we had to move. Long story short, it took about three months and a whole lotta stress to find a new place to live. A year later we were given notice to move out of UK house number two. It was early December and we were told we had to move out of that house in the new year.

After the stress of finding this house I’d declared one day that I wasn’t prepared to go through it again, “If we got chucked out of this place, I think I’d just pull the girls from school and go straight to Barcelona,” I’d said.

Now I lay in bed and thought about that. I realised I pretty much meant it.

Where Can We Go?

I thought about New Zealand. Too far from family still.  Too expensive to move there without considerable thought. No time.

I thought about my husband’s late father’s house in Italy. Not ours. On the market. Pretty remote. Questionable wi-fi – and we did need to work, for which we would need decent internet.

I thought about the little studio flat we’d bought with inheritance money the year before. It was high in the French Alps in a ski resort. It was rather little, to say the least. But it was somewhere we knew. It was our family holiday home. It was ours in total… I felt a little seed sprouting within me. It was a seed a travelling acquaintance had sown when she said to me one day ‘now that we’ve spent a year in England, I’m wondering whether to go home to Spain, or spend a year in France now.’  As I fell asleep, the seed grew.

And all that remained was to suggest it in the morning…

Learning

Back at school in September was hard for our girls. They’s been told we were in France for six months. They’d imagined we were moving to near the beach in Spain. They’d had no idea what school in there might be. I don’t know if they thought it would be in English or what – but their incentive to learn and speak French had been compromised.

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There’s also lots of paperwork at ‘back to school’ time in France. Not so fun for Mum & Dad!

Our 9-year-old had expressed frustration in July with being moved from her French school just as she’d started to feel settled and had made friends. ‘First we have to move from Bristol and all our friends, now you’re making us move again just when I’d started to make some friends,’ she complained.

Then we’d done an about-turn and come back, and they were, not surprisingly, discombobulated.

For some reason, perhaps their own mental state, school didn’t feel like the welcoming place it had. Old friends turned strange, teachers lost patience with their slow grasp of French and the girls weren’t happy.

I, on the other hand, felt their French was suddenly coming along pretty well. The summer break had allowed their learning to gel and they returned from school on the first day back saying they felt they understood better and were more confident. It was clear that our eldest, soon to turn ten, was as much a sponge for French vocabulary as she was for general knowledge facts (especially to do with animals and science). All they needed was support, positivity and confidence to speak up.   I’d realised too that it wasn’t just the language challenge, but a culture challenge too. School felt different. People acted different. Being in a new country is hard. Come ON teachers, I thought, give them a break.

To get school on side and to help the girls, I put the word out for a tutor. We found a lovely one – a trained teacher who loves to travel so gets what it’s like to be in a new place, and who puts her skills to use as a great French tutor. Her home is set up with a little desk where she can sit with a pupil, shelves full of books and cupboards full of games for interactive learning. The girls immediately liked her and I could see that she would give them confidence and help them to enjoy learning French.

She did!

After only a couple of sessions with their tutor, in October teachers started coming out of the school to tell me in amazement how my children had been chatting in French! One teacher declared that if the girls really made a big effort my Christmas he would give them a chocolate Santa. If not they had to buy him one. ‘I’m up for that,’ I said.

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‘When we’re in England, can we have a Mr Whippy?’ … luckily we found one!

During the October holidays we went to England, and of course little French was spoken. Except for the day my husband and I sat at the dining table talking to his Swiss mother and he said ‘Shush a minute – listen to that!’ And our two girls, playing in the living room next door, were nattering away to each other – in French!!! We all sat, quietly, smiling.  It was lovely.

The girls cried when I put them to bed on our last night in England. I had thought that seeing friends and being back where they felt it was still home might be hard. But we had a cuddle, I was sympathetic and wee bit firm (it was my last night with my mum and dad, I pointed out) and it was done. Next day they didn’t make a fuss about leaving; the excitement of an adventure driving through the night was a good distraction – for them. Not so much for us – but our two-hours-on, two-hours-off routine worked.  We did stop for some extra shut eye for an hour or so in a quiet ‘aire’, and then we were home in our mountain beds by dawn.

Fast forward to November and the tricky return to school seems forgotten. Returning to Halloween was another helpful distraction, and the weekend before school went back it properly snowed, transporting us from autumn into winter overnight.

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Halloween face paint gratuit? Yes please!

The girls seem more settled so far this term (only two days in and crossing fingers). Snow arriving has been a blessing. Friends who left before the summer are back for the winter, and that seems good too. Our patisserie has re-opened. There are racers in town training on the glacier and today I saw one of the chair lifts being tested. Ski season is coming!

Soon there will be ski lessons in French to add to school and tutoring and our strict ‘French TV only’ rule. It’ll be chocolate Santa’s a go-go come December.

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Thriving on change…