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!

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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.

two girls enjoying 'Mr Whippy' style ice cream

‘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.

Two girls in halloween costume and face paint

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…

Haphazard Happy

So where was I with our ‘let’s just move to France’ tale?

We’d moved here.

Kids were in school and getting on ok.

After three months they weren’t speaking as much French as I’d imagined and I was trying to be patient about it. I realised I was expecting way too much.

If you just tuned in to our tale, the long plan is to move to Barcelona (we’ve done UK, NZ, UK, now in France) so at some point in the spring we had a long weekend in Barcelona to show it to our two girls, who are 9 and 7. We went to look at a beachy suburb a little out of the city I’d been reading about, where there was a French school and a friend-of-a-friend who happened to have a French husband and children in another French school in the city. We really liked it there and it didn’t take long to decide it was ‘our place’. A bit quieter but certainly not dull, hills at back, sea at front, nice cafés and amazing ice cream. What’s not to love?  It wasn’t the same as the lovely suburb we lived in in Auckland, but it had a similar feel – one that felt homely. In July we’d come and find a house here, get the kids into a school (not the French one, we’d have to wait for places there, but something decent and local in the mean time) and it would be hunky dory.

March-to-July passed so fast. Suddenly it was the end of the French school term, the end of our time living in France. Then we were packing everything into the car and heading across the south of France and down to Barcelona.

To do what? Chuck our kids in a Spanish school? Not even that – a Catalan one?! Were we potty? They’d only just started to get French. Was this even fair, this idea? What? Put them in a school where they didn’t speak the language. Again. Then pull them out of it and throw them into a French school, just as they’d forgotten all their French and started to get to grips with Catalan? That sounded like a silly idea. Like the worst of both worlds. Well, then, find a good local school and just leave them there and hope they’d be happy? Who knew, but we were going, and I’d just have to trust that things would work out.

Friends with a nice big flat in Barcelona city were heading elsewhere in Europe for the summer and kindly let us house sit and water their plants.

After our 29m2 apartment in France it’s nice to live in a place that has separate rooms. Where our children can play and make noise ‘at the other end of the house’. It feels luxurious. But I’m not 100% sure about Spain.

First off, I don’t speak Spanish. I did listen to some Spanish conversation podcasts when I was doing the washing up and what not back in Bristol, and I did a bit of Duolingo. But when we decided to go to France for a spell, I switched to brushing up my French.

Second off, Spain seemed so dry. I love forests. Deep, green ones with mulch. English ones even. New Zealand ones especially. The hillsides I was looking at in Barcelona were green, but somehow parched and scrappy looking. I wasn’t in love with them

Third off, the fruit shops were too plentiful, full of too much lovely fruit, and for too low a price, and I couldn’t work out how I’d ever eat enough of it.

Fourth off, the beach in the suburb we liked and wanted to live in was too long, with sea that was just too perfect a temperature, near an ice cream parlour with more ice cream flavours than different fruits in the fruit shop. ARGH!

I kept looking up at those hills with the forests, while I was sitting on the very long, warm-sea beach relaxing and mending from my mountain biking crash, thinking ‘there will be nice running trails up there,’ and ‘it would be nice to take a bike up there,’ and ‘those rocky crags must be hiding some climbing, you’d think,’ and other annoyingly positive things.

Because a big part of me wanted to yell “Take me back to France! I love France. I can kind of speak to people there. The food makes so much sense. My children are learning the language. There’s a school and it seems pretty good. I’ve just started to get to know a few people. I can DO France. Let’s GO.’

And with this starting-to-quite-like-Spain thing I was feeling a tad conflicted.

So in between eating ice cream and being on the beach we got stuck into apartment hunting. I soon found out that rent is a lot higher than I expected in an economy that isn’t so hot. In fact we needed to spend at least what we’d been spending in ‘rip-off Britain’ where the rent, in my opinion, was ridiculous. How did people afford it on Spanish wages? A house seemed pretty much out of the question – the rent was crazy. Most things seemed to come furnished  and there was just no way – we were paying a pretty penny on storage in Bristol and I wanted my shoes back, plus the Magimix and a few other things besides, then a lot of places were bang in the middle of town, where we didn’t want to be.

Eventually I started to hone in on some apartments worth looking at, but not much. Long story short…

We found one that seemed good. We visited the real estate agent’s office once or twice to discuss, we were told:

Ooh – very dodgy, not having a Spanish income.

No, we have incomes from a more stable, more vibrant economy where we can earn a decent wage. (I know, Brexit – let’s still not go there)

Yes, but when you trash the flat it will be hard for us to get the money from you.

Ah – but we are filling the flat with all our nice things that we bought with our hard-earned money. We don’t want to trash the flat. Also, moving house is hard work and expensive, when we move, we want to stay there. We don’t want to trash the flat.

Well, it happens all the time.

We will get references from the people we’ve rented from, so you can see that we treat other people’s property really well, like we treat our own.

Hmm. Well, you will have to pay two month’s rent in advance the whole time you live there, and two month’s deposit… and our fee, that’s a month’s rent as well.

That’s starting to feel like a lot of money. Like the amount we’d need to put a deposit on a place to buy.

Actually, the owner has decided they need a year’s rent in advance. Plus the deposit. Plus the fee.

Er, no.

We went to the town hall to ask about schools. Before we could talk to them about schools we needed an address. But we weren’t 100% sure we wanted an address unless we were happy about the school, even if anyone would rent us an apartment. We already had the girls’ names on the waiting list for the French schools but they had to go to school somewhere in the mean time. And we’re not hiding any riches and have you seen the cost of fees at those international schools?!? We are not in their league. Not this year, anyway.  And I did also think about home schooling, but it wasn’t clear how long the ‘waiting for a place’ thing might take…

Then we went to see another apartment. Totally lovely. Not huge, but a nice size and lovely. And this real estate agent seemed normal. None of that crazy conversation about trashing the place. But still, the school question.

I dared utter a out loud that I was feeling really unsure, and that returning to France was feeling really appealing, and that it might be more fair on the girls. I was a bit surprised at how easy it was. The husb agreed (like, immediately said ‘I’m thinking along the same lines’ – don’t you love it when that happens?!)  and thus a new seed was sown and watered.

We returned to France for a week’s long-planned holiday including parents visiting and my in-laws being around at their mountain place not far from ours. It was lovely. My rib was almost mended, my head a bit better – though I was still getting very tired and sometimes horribly grumpy. But we’d found we’d decided. We were coming back. And we felt good about it. I felt good. It felt right – to be in France, to stay a little longer.

 

 

 

We had to return to the Barcelona apartment to finish our plant watering duties, and pack up all our stuff again. But we were more relaxed. We still visited our neighbourhood-to-be, checked a few more ice cream flavours and beach access points. Still seemed good. Still felt right. But France felt more right for now.

So here we are again, in 29m2 of our very own space. There’s no ‘other side of the house’.  There isn’t even a bedroom. But it’s ours. With a balcony and a view of the mountains. And there’s a nice school down the road where they’ll take our children back.

We’re happy. A bit haphazard maybe. But there’s nothing wrong with haphazard happy.

Crash

The next thing I knew, there was a voice somewhere in the background saying something about having been unconscious for more than five minutes….

Girls on bikes

With The Fear firmly conquered, I was determined to go on the girls’ mountain biking day organised by a local bike shop. Having two under 10’s makes it tricky for the husb and me to get out doing stuff together as much as we’d like to. And while I love to run and hike solo, I kinda prefer some company when I’m out on my bike, and the girls’ day sounded like fun and a way to meet more like-biked females.

The husb was going to be away in the UK when the girls’ day was on, but it turned out that the summer Club Jeunes (Kids’ Club) hours just gave me time to drop the girls off in the morning, mountain bike all day with the ladies and be there to pick them up when it finished. Happy exhausted kids, happy exhausted mum. Whoopee!

The day arrived and all started perfectly. Without a car (the husb had had to take it to the UK for an MOT! Turns out you can’t get an MOT for your English car in France… hmmm), anyway, without the car and buses only running every half hour, I’d sorted a nice wee bit of logistics. The girls would go to the bus stop, I’d say ‘see you in a bit’ and ride my bike to the Club Jeunes rendezvous. They arrive on the bus, I hand them over and say ‘see you later’ and ride back home for a few bits and bobs and then on to where the bike day rendezvous is. It all went perfectly.

I decided I fit best with the the intermediate group, and was in good company. Some girls were a little more bold, some had more speed, but we all balanced out at about the same level with similar fears, concerns and curiosities. There was that moment when, given a choice of high or low detour on a trail, I went high without enough oomph, hit an unexpected dip, ground to an awful halt and crashed down onto the lower path kinda on my head. Ouch. But I was okay, these things happen and I’d probably only have a little bruise on my hip…

We did the same run twice, which was great for our training, and I didn’t make that mistake again! Plus the second time down I hit the wooden wall near the bottom way better, as we all did, and started feeling really pretty good about my riding.

Photo of a woman riding a mountain bike on a dirt trail with a beautiful backdrop of mountains and a lake

That’s me!

Slow lunch

Slow lunches during activity days make me a little edgy. Snow’s good? Let’s ski. No thanks, I don’t need to stop for elevenses, or beer, or chips, and a fat baguette sandwich from my pack is fine for lunch. Snow’s good. Let’s GO! The husb is worse than me – he’d just eat muesli bars on the chair lift and never stop.  So long lunches on activity days make me a tad edgy!  I should probably take more time and talk longer to more people in my life to be honest – it’s not my strong suit – but anyway, once we’d lunched I was raring to go, but most of the others looked like they’d sit chatting all day and I was getting itchy pedal feet!

Whats App - Too much lunching

I decided I’d ride over to the nearest loos and get ready, and I guess that had the desired effect of gently getting everyone moving, or maybe they were just ready to get going too, but  by the time I and a couple of others got back, the group was remounting.

For the afternoon we were going to ride together and put our new knowledge, tips and confidence to the test.  I felt so much more in control of my bike. I was cornering better than I ever had. The Fear was in my dim and distant past.

We took a blue and stopped now and again to regroup. Before I knew it we were nearly back at our village and I wondered whether everyone was up for another run down. The weather was threatening a bit, but I reckoned we could get at least one more in before it rained.

The next thing I knew…

There was a voice somewhere in the background saying something about having been unconscious for more than five minutes.

Then I was throwing up and someone was holding a bag under my mouth.

Then I felt the thing I was lying on being lifted and slid.

Then there was movement and sirens. And more sick. So much more sick.

I think I spoke occasionally. I suppose someone was talking to me. Presumably in French. I remember at one point, either in the ambulance or the hospital, feeling very pleased that I was still speaking in French, in spite of everything!!!

Of course I had no idea what ‘everything’ was.

I must have drifted in and out of consciousness. Maybe I was falling asleep. At one point I was slid, or lifted, or wheeled, into a tubey thing. They gave me a CT scan.

Nothing came up broken. But I didn’t feel fab.

Memories

I can’t remember any of the last part of the ride. Only odd bits from the ambulance and hospital. My What’s App is a revelation!  Someone called the husb  straight away to tell him I’d had a bad crash (remember, he was in the UK at the time). He got on the phone and sorted out the kids and What’s Apped me to reassure me all was well (while feeling pretty scared and worried and working out how the heck to get the heck back to the alps as quickly as possible).

An hour later I messaged him to tell him I’d fallen and was in hospital.

He messaged me back to tell me I’d fallen off my bike!  He also filled me in that he was my husband – he had no idea how bad things were, or weren’t.

Then I panicked about the children and messaged again.

What's App- In hosp again

He reassured me all was sorted and they were ok. And friends were coming to visit me. With clothes and things I needed.

I suppose I knew I’d somehow crashed my mountain bike. At some point someone explained it to me, and where I was – then the doctors and nurses would test me every time they came into my room to see if I could remember.

I was on drips, in a neck brace, thought I had facial stitches (it was cuts on my face scabbing over, no stitches) and looked a bit puffy – nice fat lips and a swollen face.

They kept me in overnight then a friend came for me and took me their flat, where another friend who’d had one daughter for the night swung by and picked me up.

So many kind people.

Later

In the hospital I realised that my side was hurting. There was a gouge out of it!

Then a few days later I realised my sternum was really painful. A bit of googling and it was clear I’d cracked a rib – something that apparently often doesn’t show up on x-rays. Every morning for the first fortnight I’d wake early, groan my way into a ‘more comfortable’ position, and after the third or fourth time of doing so, get up.

Here's where I decided not to post a photo montage of my
various cuts and bruises - just no need!

The scabs healed fast and brilliantly. I picked the bits of black grit out of my chin as they were uncovered.

The weirdest thing has been my head. Apparently when whoever found me found me, I was blue in the lips, gurgling and not really breathing, with a huge bump on my head. But in the hospital there was nothing. No bump, no graze, no bruise, no external tenderness. The husb has been reminding me that the brain has no sensory nerves – you just have to know it’s hurt, and be nice to it. I’m trying to remember that if my rib still hurts, my brain, which undoubtedly took the brunt of my tumble, is also still very much mending. I’m fortunate it was my first concussion, though apparently quite a bad one at grade 3.

The Hamster House test

A couple of days after the crash we needed to clean out the hamster. I always make him a new house from a box I’ve set aside from the recycling. Sometimes it’s not quite the right shape but it only takes a few minutes and a bit of glue to modify it into a nice cosy hamster house.

Not this time. It was SO weird. I stared at this cereal box and simply could not figure out where I needed to cut and fold and stick it. How could this be so confusing?

In the end I managed to cobble something rather lop-sided together for the mercifully unfussy hamster, but really!?  It was the first really tangible thing that showed me things inside my head were not as they should be – and it was good. It made me see that I needed to rest and be kind to myself. And I have been.

One month on

Everything’s a lot better. I still wake a bit stiff, but nothing like before. My rib is a little more sore after a busy day, but it’s getting there. My back can be the worst in the morning – I had a nasty fall down some stairs back in January so no doubt this crash made that injury flare up a bit…

I’ve ridden my bike round the lake on the flat.  It’s so tempting to just do one run down the mountain. Oh, so tempting. My head’s in gear enough, but I know a small tumble would really hurt those ribs, so I’m being super sensible.  So far….

I didn’t drive for ages but have now driven a bit on the motorway, but haven’t tackled a city. The other day I drove to a nearby small town I don’t know – major confusion. I mean, I would have been a bit muddled on a normal day, but it was like I was in a maze where someone had put up every sign under the sun so I could never find my way out again. Awful. Exhausting.

I’ve run about 1.6km in one go. 1.6km!  Pathetic! And my pace was shocking (I Strava’d it, of course). Next day my calves hurt and my rib was a teensy bit sore. Worst – I felt shattered. I pulled out of the 12km mountain run I signed up for that’s this coming weekend – aside from anything else I’m not fit enough after a month off running. Plus three weeks have been spent at sea level (a whole nother story) which hasn’t helped much either.

Ho hum. I’m here. I’m thankful that my good health and fitness has meant I’ve had such a good recovery.  I’ll keep running and slowly up the distance. I probably won’t get another downhill ride in before the lifts close for the season – so I’ll just have to get into some enduro riding up and down when I’m all better, won’t I!

On my bike again

On my bike again – strictly on the easy flat until my rib is properly healed.

 

 

 

 

If you’re never frightened…

You’re not living!

And if you let it get the better of you, well, then it’s 1-Fear, 0-You.  And by my age I’d be well into the negatives if I let fear get the better of me.

Fear can be a good thing – when it means we’re challenging ourselves, we’re out of our comfort zone, and we’re one bold move away from feeling that bit more awesome and that bit more fierce.

Although I’d ridden borrowed bikes as a younger child, I didn’t have one of my own until I was a teenager and until we moved to NZ I’d only ever used a bike on a road, as transport.

So we found that our home in New Zealand was right near an awesome mountain biking forest park called Woodhill, and we took it up. Turns out the riding in NZ is pretty technical as it goes, so whatever I thought about my riding, I wasn’t too shoddy by the time I’d spent a few years in those sandy woods, as well as a few bigger day rides here and there.

Having the children meant less time on my bike, but the skills were there. When we started coming out to Tignes in the French Alps it was a bit of a different game – pretty much all downhill riding where we are (at first glance anyway), lots of (dreaded) switch-backs and pretty rocky in parts, but every time we came I got a little better.

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A couple of years ago we also spent a week in a place in Italy called Finale Ligure where the riding is, in my opinion, insane. And I have the scar on my elbow to prove it. (Was alone. Fell. A lot. Sat on side of trail, cried, took a deep breath and an awkward hike, found a road – lovely, lovely road.  Ah, that road…).

This year I insisted on a new bike, so that my bones had a better chance of staying in my skin, cos it can be quite rocky in places up in the Alps and it’s nice if your eyeballs will sit still in their sockets so you can see where you’re going too. But the minute I got on my gorgeous shiny new bike with the enormous wheels and faced anything like a hill – even just the path down from our apartment – I panicked.  I was gripped with Fear. Everything in me tightened into one huge “You must be kidding. NO WAY!”

I put it down to a nasty fall down the stairs I had in January. I seriously put my back out and could literally barely move for a fortnight.  Osteo made it better, but from skiing I knew it wasn’t right. The idea of falling, hard, off my mountain bike onto uneven rocky ground terrified me. I couldn’t be incapacitated like that again.

The husb took his usual gung ho attitude of ‘Just come up that trail and ride down – you’ll be fine.’  NO, I insisted, I would not.  Baby steps were needed.

I rode around the lake and dared to ride up a smooth, grassy uppy bit, and down again.

Felt good.

I boldly rode to the top of the aforementioned path and set off.  Yelped. Whimpered. Swore.  Got off. Walked.

I tried another, similar path that looked a bit less steep. Yelped whimpered swore walked.

One Saturday we handed the girls one half of our new set of walkie-talkies and pointed at the side of the mountain facing town. ‘See the trail there, the one we walked up last week – daddy and I will be riding there. You can see us, and we can talk.’  All sorted, the husb zoomed off ahead, as he does, not waiting for the me and hit a steeper spot highish on the trail I wasn’t even vaguely ready to ride.

A few minutes of beckoning and a short sit down strike to make a visual point, and he arrived at my considerably lower point where the slope was a lot more gentle.

“Baby steps,” I reminded him, “This is where I’m ready to start.”

By then end of an hour, walking a little higher on the trail now and then to master the next challenge up the mountain, I was okay with bumpy, I’d successfully ridden a bermed ‘s’ bend, almost confidently, and after gazzillion tries I’d even managed a fairly tight right-hand switch back.  I wasn’t ready for the ‘rock garden’ bit, and definitely not smashing it, but I felt it was Mountain 1, Naomi 1.

A few days later I took a deep breath and whimpered my way down the trail outside the apartment building.

I took note of other folk’s riding and realised I was doing okay.

I took note of the number of women on the mountain, and their ages, and felt pretty fierce.

I took myself back up the training trail solo and didn’t do very well. On the other hand, I didn’t do very awfully either.

I was ready to visit some trails we’d ridden before, and to sign up for the ‘Dirty Girls’ Mountain Biking day’ in a couple of weeks time.

My company for a half day ride down into Val d’Isere had to bail after a personal crisis. Luckily I didn’t spot her text until I was waiting, all geared and and ready, at the chair lift. ‘May as well go anyway,’ I thought. The Mountain was already crumbling.

I loved it – a fab ride down. I was getting further up the berms and while not exactly whipping round the corners, I wasn’t wimping out either. A few hours  later and there was no way I was selling my bike.

Bring on those Dirty Girls! I was going to OWN these mountains.

 

 

 

Kermesse

Notification of the summer Kermesse came via the fantastically efficient ‘Cahier de Liaison’.  No lost ‘notes’ or overlooked emails or misdirected texts. One exercise book into which any communication home is pasted or written. And into which I occasionally write a note to the teacher. No idea if this is standard practice, but it makes sense to me!

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Kermesse, from the description, was clearly the summer fair – barbeque, games and some other stuff. It was scheduled for a Wednesday afternoon – as most of these extra do’s are. Lovely.  I put my name down to help for an hour – one of the only ways to break some ice with the French parents, and force myself to speak a bit more French too.  I’ve always tried to make time to help out at school things since the girls started preschool. The girls seem to love me doing it and if you’re not the best at socialising it gets you out there! There isn’t heaps to get involved with here, but I’ve offered for pretty much everything going.

Kermesse day arrived and I picked the girls up from school at 11.30 with a picnic.  I figured they would be hungry and could have a light lunch, topped up with something from the barbeque when Kermesse started at 12.30.  And I could have an early lunch to be ready to help with whatever I was meant to help with.

12.30 arrived and the various gathered families tucked into long French saucises in lengths of baguette.  We wandered over to see what was going on.  Not much.  Just the barbeque.  They had a system where you bought tickets from a single tent, and swapped them for things. We got some juice and the girls continued playing in the playpark next to the amphitheatre space that is used for most events.  There were trestle tables set up, with plastic boxes containing stuff for stalls. Under one gazebo was a paddling pool full of plastic ducks waiting to be hooked. But nothing happening. Just the barbeque.  The leaflet had definitely said that Kermesse started at 12.30.  But the tickets lady had told me I needed to return at 2pm to swap four tickets per child for a card that they then had to gather stamps on at the various activities.  Why 2pm?

Of course. It was lunch time.  And what you do at lunch time in France is… te da… have lunch.  You don’t have lunch in a hurry and then set up stalls.  You don’t compromise on important eating and chatting time to do work.  No no no.  You have lunch. Relaxedly. Pleasantly.  You take a real proper break from the day’s toil.  You help your country have an effective GDP by resting and refreshing your mind and body.  Lovely.  I was up for a bit of that.

Around 1.30 (official end of lunch break) there seemed to be some people gathering and starting to bustle about the stalls, so I identified the person in charge. was introduced to the person organising the games, and listened intently to our instructions (which I mostly understood – yay!).  There were six key activities, and the children had to complete all of them before they could get a prize. They carried their card to each, were given a stamp (different at each activity) when they completed it, and when they had all six stamps could go and choose a prize at the prize table.  It was great. No taking money, not too much tat, no chance of children hogging a favourite activity.  You had to have a go at each thing – no getting out of it if you wanted a prize.  The games weren’t overly clever or fiddly either, just fun activities – and everyone loved them. We had:

  • Hook 7 ducks out of the pond
  • Three throws to try to get all the cans down (plastic ‘cans’ containing a bit of sandy gravel to give them some weight, and some largish balls – larger ones for the smaller children. The really little ones could roll the ball, the bigger ones had to throw).
  • Tug of war – you had to wait for a few people to be there to make two teams, or rope in a friend who’d already done it, or a parent or two!
  • Sack race
  • Stilt walking – my stand. We had two sets of proper wooden stilts, some of those plastic pots with ropes attached that you step on and hold tight, then walk along, plus two space hoppers for the teenies (which were popular to a suprising age – I was strict about the older ones at least have a good go with some stilts though!)
  • ‘Café’ challenge. The children had to don some dressups, pick up a tray with four plastic cups of water, carry it single-handed around a simple ‘slalom’ obstacle course that included some hoops they had to step in with both feet, and back.

Simple and fun.

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My girls took a bit of encouraging to get going. Especially the older one who, I think, thought she was too cool. But when she realised all her classmates were joining in, having fun, and getting prizes, she got stuck in.

There were just two other activities, one of which was colouring – for smaller children who maybe really were too little for everything else (but there were some teenies going round with their parents, which was fab) , and a parent-child blindfold obstacle course (one blindfolded, one giving the instructions) which was run every hour.

I thought it was brilliant. Really quite straightforward, pretty low key, but everyone joining in and having lots of fun.  I’m sure our kids’ UK school needed to raise more money than their well-funded French one, but I reckon a few schools could take some inspiration from the simplicity factor. Plus fewer prizes.  I mean who needs a cheap plastic toy or sugary treat from every game they play?  Here they got to choose one kinda decent cheap toy and a keyring, or pot of bubbles or similar.  Less outlay for the organisers = higher profit. Less consumption & crappy plastic = better for the planet. More focus on joining in = more fun for everyone.

And of course it was just fine to go and grab yourself a beer while you minded your game. Well, I decided it was. I mean, there was beer on the drinks stand, and other grownups around the place were enjoying a cold one – including the lady handing out the beverages, so…

Then I found out that Kermesse was only the start of the festivities. It was segueing into an evening party, to which everyone was invited. A kind of end-of-interseason-start-of-summer celebration.  So around 5pm we hot-footed it home for some warmer clothes, stuffed some pasta in the kids and returned to eat ‘barbe e papa’ and chips, and enjoy a few more cold beers with folk as the sun went down.

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Summer is here. Officially. Now to tackle Fear of the Mountain (on my new mountain bike) and I’m good to go.

 

 

 

French

I’ve read, or heard, that when immersed in a new language children absorb it amazingly quickly. By the time the girls had been in school for a month I was expecting to hear the odd French word pop out.

Rien.

I cajoled them. Some of the French children were practicing their English on my girls, for heaven’s sake, but would my girls try a ‘salut’ or ‘ça va’? Heck no.

I felt frustrated and a bit cross.  And guilty. I should be helping them more, tutoring them, speaking nothing but French at home. No doubt I should. But then part of me felt for them, arriving home after a long day immersed in French they wanted a break – of course they did.

And it’s not as if I was fluent anyway…

The other matter was that long school day.  The got out at 4.30 and we often weren’t home before 5.30.  Then I’d walk through the door and start on dinner. I dunno, maybe some 7 and 9 year olds just put themselves to bed, but ours need, at the very least, a stream of constant reminders. Plus bed time is meant to be 7.30 and 8pm. If someone has a vaguely human routine whereby one can arrive home at 5.30 to 6pm, cook a dinner, eat a civilised family dinner, get said children clean and ready for bed, teethed & bedded by 7.30 AND fit in some study, I’d love to hear it.

Actually writing that it really sound like fitting in homework should be easy. Clearly I’m going wrong somewhere or I’m just a useless parent…

Soz – feeling a tad ranty about the evening routine and all the cooking…. Over.

Image of girl on laptop in front of a blackboard with Hello, Hola, Hallo, Bonjour and Olå written on it

As time went on, though, I started to feel somewhat ashamed of my kids for not piping up. Then I felt bad for feeling that way – it wasn’t as if they’d chosen to be chucked in a French school. Plus there was the annoying English faction making it way too easy for them to avoid speaking French. How those annoying English get about…

Less annoying was the reassuring talk, from some English adults, telling me how long it had taken their children to pipe up in French (generally a good deal more than my expected three months). I’d managed to start to make friends with a French mum who also counselled patience – how often does nagging make someone do something, she basically said!  I listened.  I tried to swap cajoling for encouraging, sitting down with bits of homework (when they were given any, which didn’t actually seem very often and I wondered whether the teachers weren’t bothering to give it, thinking the girls wouldn’t understand it…)  I prised the odd word out of them and praised them. When a spontaneous ‘oui’ popped out now and again I cheered.

After a couple of months Daisy admitted she could understand quite a bit. Isla insisted she understood nothing. The month wore on. Daisy was engaging more with her Duo Lingo and doing amazingly. Still not speaking unless asked to, but understanding – often bits that I didn’t get. She even started correcting my pronounciation. Cheeky monkey!

Fast forward to June (this blog probably isn’t going to be in exactly chronological order – my brain does chronology then flips into categorising by subjects. It’s like metric and imperial battling for the same ground…). The eldest is definitely understanding a lot. A huge lot in fact.  I caught her translating a film the girls were watching in French for her sister (“Stop that please- it might seem helpful but it’s not.”).  The other one casually admitted she did understand quite a bit at school… And started sometimes working on her French at home of her own volition.

Miss 9 has spent a week in Paris, which is enough to make anyone feel sophisticated. She apparently spoke more French than ever before while there. On her return I noted her chucking French about with her friends without seeming at all self-conscious.

And Miss 7 was doing the same.

Given a few more months in their French school I think they’d be sweetly fluent.

If only. Cos what are we doing?

Only moving them to Barcelona and chucking them in a Catalan school (albeit while we wait for places at the French schools…)

In case you’re wondering, that’s a bit like taking your child to the UK to learn English and putting them in a Welsh speaking school.

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Packing up & picking up languages as we move around the world!

Ho hum – they’ll pick everything up eventually.  At the moment my feeling is (so I don’t melt down, which I could, as it’s a bit mental, but that wouldn’t get me anywhere now, would it?  Where’s the wine….?), anyway, my feeling is that if they get put down a year in school because they don’t understand anything right now, and end up graduating from secondary a year later but with four or five languages under their belt – is that a bad, or a good thing?

I think we all know the answer to that!

 

 

 

 

 

The Wild

Suddenly it was May and very nearly the end of the ski season and it felt like we’d barely arrived. I hadn’t ski’d enough. Or eaten enough patisserie – the shop was going to shut soon…
Plus we were heading towards the start of our third month and the girls weren’t speaking French, much to my frustration. I felt we should be doing more to help and I bought paper and wrote up lists with little pictures to try to encourage them.

Photo of a father at a laptop in a dining table, a young girl at the other end facing away. On the panelled wall are papers with French words.

Our small apartment now also a school room!


I thought back to the Spanish children who’d arrived at the girls’ school back in the UK with barely any English.  They had seemed to be speaking English pretty quickly.  What was wrong with my girls?  Then I realised that as far as I knew no one in the UK school spoke Spanish to those children. Here in our resort town the English kids – a small minority but a significant one – gravitated towards each other. There were English teachers at the school, and others who spoke English willingly. My kids weren’t being forced to understand or speak French, and were getting away with it. If only we’d picked a remote village out of the way of these pesky Brits and their annoying language!

Meanwhile, with the approach of spring people started mentioning how they’d spent the day at a play park in a settlement a little down the mountain, which sounded like a lovely change of scenery.  The snow had started to melt more down there, apparently.  I discovered that to get there we needed to take two buses and then a chair lift down. Adventure!

So (slightly randomly moving into the present tense so you can properly join us on our sunny day out…) one Sunday when the husband is away we pack a picnic and venture down the mountain.

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Down to fully fledged Spring!


It’s glorious! The chair lift down is a lovely ride in itself, and we arrive in warm spring. From the chair we spy a couple gathering something-or-other on the hillside and the moment we ‘land’ Daisy is pestering me to go and find out what it is.

 

‘Dents de lion’ the lady tells me, and shows me the little shoots she’s collecting in a muslin bag. Daisy quickly becomes expert at spotting clumps of the small green shoots, and when I can eventually persuade her away toward the play park and picnic tables it’s with the promise that we’ll collect some for ourselves as soon as we’ve had lunch and emptied a container.  Thankfully I’m in French practical mode and am carrying my Swiss Army Knifeso I’m ready to forage (I know it should be an Opinel, but I don’t own one of my very own just yet – though as a family we do have a couple).

 

Daisy’s eagerness over the foraging is all part of her and Isla’s plans to live in ‘The Wild’. This is a plan that’s been around for a good year or two and is a regular feature in their conversations.  It’s all being gradually planned out. They will have clans, with strict hierarchy and rules and special names. Daisy’s in charge, obvs.  Discussions are usually around who will do what, the things they will need and how they will get them, plants they will grow and enterprises for getting money, power etc. I’m allowed to visit – as long as I help out!  At one point I suggested they might charge people to come and stay – so they can get money for other things they might need. The price seems to be going up each time it’s mentioned…   Since arriving in the Alps some scoping has been done for areas suitable to set up camp. And now skills are being gathered so they will be able to eat. It runs deep, I think, this plan…

 

After a long picnic and play, I draw them away towards a path on the other side of the babbling river to explore. Before setting off we look for dents-de-lion in a sunny meadow. There are lots. I promise we’ll gather some before catching the chairlift back up.

 

Such an easy way to occupy children – a walk. We just meander along at no great pace. They make up stuff about what we are seeing and take turns to be ‘the guide’. I get told off if I overtake the leader of the moment, so I keep my rank! There are little waterfalls, hidden icicles in still-cold nooks, birds and leaves and stones. We feel refreshed. The girls are in heaven. Any niggles about school and missing friends disappear and they are just in their element.

 


On our return we collect our dents-de-lion. We aren’t actually a hundred per cent sure what we’re doing and whether we’re aiming for the root or the leaves, or both. We go for shoots with a bit of root attached, which is what I think the French couple were doing. Then it’s a last play and up and away on the chair lift (which is fairly steep and a lovely way to travel –  quite exciting even, when you have the advantage of childhood).

The next day I cook the Dents-de-Lion after a bit of Googling.  Silly me  – of course, they are Dandelion shoots.  D’oh!  The lady had mentioned having them with eggs and there are all sorts of recipes on line. As I wash them I end up removing most of the earthy root and decide that next time I’ll go for more shoot than root.  For my recipe I go free range with a packet of lardons I find hiding in the ‘fridge, along with cream, butter and a squirt of fresh lemon juice. Bingo – it’s delicious!

Contrary to my expectations the girls enjoy them too. ‘When we live in The Wild,’ they say, ‘we will have dents-de-lion and….’
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Dents-de-lion. Our first French foraging mission