It if doesn’t smell…

Day 4, if you counted two days on the road.
Day 10, if you counted the days we lived out of our bags prior to getting here.
I was already at the ‘if it doesn’t smell, wear it’ stage of mountain living.
What stage will I be at in 6 months???


One of the good things about moving from a three-bedroomed detached house to a 29m2 apartment is that it doesn’t take long to settle in.  I mean, there’s only so much you can do.  And to be honest, we’d done most of the settling in required over the past year when we’d been doing up the flat and bringing all the bits and bobs we needed to be able to have the kind of stay there that made it a little home-from-home.

The girls were familiar enough with the village already to be able to run to the swings on their own, or head home from a café when they felt like it.  Not that there was going to be any swinging any time soon.

By Sunday morning the fresh snow, which had fallen on top of an already impressive amount, was shin deep and it just kept falling. When we passed by the swings we found them wound multiple times around the top beam and only inches from the snow that had drifted, and been pushed by the snow ploughs, around the frame.

I found our sledge and used it to ferry our things from the car park. Still snowing. We unpacked and relaxed and then took a practice trip to the school.  So. Much. Snow!  And still falling. It was great – it totally distracted the girls from thinking too hard about their first day in French school.

We had to get up at 6.45am every morning so that we could catch an 8am bus. The free ‘Navette’ runs between Val Claret and Tignes Le Lavachet about every 7 minutes between 8.30am and 9.30pm, but not as often when we needed it. And we didn’t want to be late. I was dreading getting them up that first Monday but something had them moving at a reasonable pace – perhaps the thought of the snow (still falling) maybe just because it was something new. Or had they just magically forgotten that they were a bit of a nightmare in the morning? I wasn’t complaining.

That first Monday the bus stop looked like this (ain’t that bus stop sign cute!):

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Waiting for the bus couldn’t have been more fun

We found we were early at the school gate – the bus only took five minutes or so, then a short walk up the hill through the snow to the school, and it wasn’t even 8.15am.  Shame we couldn’t wait for the 8.20 bus, but it was just cutting it a tad too fine. Not that the girls minded having time to throw themselves into fresh snowdrifts!

Someone was out front clearing a path to and through the playground. Other early arrivals were hurling themselves at the snow too – even the regular French kids were excited by the snowfall!

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First day at the new school. A bit of snow!

Then the girls and I were meeting their teachers with little time to dither, and then they were heading apprehensively into their new school for their first morning.

I’d agreed to to pick the girls up at 11.30 for the two hour lunch break that’s standard, I think, across the whole of France. I thought it was only fair for the first week or two to let them have a break with me at lunch time – being thrown into a new school, new language, new culture all at once was quite a big thing after all.

You simply can’t rush kids through fresh snow. It’s pretty difficult to go at anything other than a steady pace whoever you are, and children just keep damn well stopping to look at icicles, and wander perilously close to big drop-offs with no sense of the fact that snow hides and disguises things like edges – and isn’t always all that firm. Or deciding to explore huge snowdrifts alongside buildings, which might be resting lightly over big holes, or entire pathways, or wide open wheely bins full of waiting-to-slash-them broken glass. Who knew what was under all that snow.  Still falling. Getting the girls back home was exhausting.  And a little bit stressful. Then there was only just time to give them some lunch before we had to go back to the bus stop. Back up to school. Back down to the bus, back to the flat to do something constructive before I had to turn around and do it all again. In the snow. Which was still falling.

I swiftly hatched a plan to spend our lunch times in an indoor picnic area near the cable car close to the school. It saved us four bus trips and whole lot of time. I had a vague recollection of seeing microwaves in there, and there was definitely hot chocolate in the machine. A hot pasta lunch and a hot chocolate, then a play in the snow. That was going to be a lot more relaxing for all of us.


And so our early days’ routine settled in. The girls were ok at school. Daisy was her usual laid back self, totally disarming me with the way she just took it all in her stride. Isla made more of a drama of it. We’re all different… Daisy revelled in the mountains, being a bit wild and free and dressing in trackies and salopettes every day. Isla found a best friend on the Monday, lost the best friend by Friday and complained that she hated France. Bad start, I thought, til I heard her explanation as she gazed out of the bus window one morning:

“I hate France. I hate snow. It’s too mesmerising.”

She had a point. And we all had to live with it. In our 29m2 and the mountains for our garden. Lucky us.

(If you missed the last scintillating installment “Made It” – you can read it here.)


Do feel free to leave a comment. Are you snow mesmerised? In the middle of an ill-thought-out and rather vague plan to start a new life elsewhere? I’d love to hear about it!

Made it!

So we’d got as far as Dijon, found our hotel by hook and probably crook, and I was crossing my fingers that the car and everything in it would still be there in the morning.

Did I mention that Inky, the hamster, was travelling with us?  Well, he was. I hadn’t thought until rather late in my organisations about any restrictions as far as taking pets across Europe was concerned.  We’d shipped two cats from New Zealand to the UK, and naturally I’d looked into that, got rabies vaccinations and proper carrying boxes and what not.  I mean – they were going long haul so naturally there was a formal process to go through. But just driving across Europe was – well, Europe.  The UK hadn’t even triggered Article 50 (let’s not go there…) so we were all one happy family.  No?

I think I briefly mentioned the puss.  One of the NZ ones.  The other sadly passed away a year or more ago, but the brother was alive and well and about to stay with a friend. Long story short, I took him for a quick check up before taking him to his lodgings, vet looked concerned,  talked about kidney problems, I panicked, decided cat should come with us, vet said he couldn’t due to no current rabies vaccination and some kind of necessary time lag after such a vaccination – which we hadn’t time for.  Then vet did tests, cat not dying, just ageing, cat got rabies vaccination ready for future EU trip, went to stay with friend as planned.

But what of hamsters? Well, long story short again – it appeared, as far as I could tell, the vet could tell and DEFRA could tell, that you could drive into France with your hamster. So Inky was put in his carrying box, his cage kind of disguised, not because we were hiding him, but we didn’t want to draw attention either, and off we went.  As it turned out we were pulled over at Calais and I purposely made sure the hamster’s travelling box was visible just in case (didn’t want to be accused of smuggling anything), but no one batted any eyelids or anything else and on we went.

At the Ibis Budget we did, to be honest, smuggle him in.  They’d said they were pet friendly when I enquired about the cat, but just in case a rodent raised any issues we agreed he could stay under the radar.  He much enjoyed his exploration of our linoleoumed hotel room floor – safely in his ball.

So, after a comfy night together in the double bed because no one wanted to be Billy No Mates in the single bunk above it, we found the car and everything in is was still there, and off we set.

There was traffic.  Not something we were all that used to in France. We always revel in the empty roads, fewer people (way, way fewer) and avoiding the cities. But of course – it was the last weekend of French school holidays in the region and everyone was heading home.  I was really glad we’d driven as far as we had the day before. We had time to spare – mostly planned in case it was blizzarding and I had to stop and get the snow chains on.  I’d watched a video, made sure I had everything I needed – black heavy duty rubber gloves, an old mat to kneel on, dark coloured fleece and a warm jacket I didn’t care too much about (likely to get oily).  Then I’d practiced putting a couple of chains on outside my mother-in-law’s house, ensured I knew where the emergency triangle was and that the hi-vis vest didn’t get buried in the boot.  I was good to go for chains. But sending the universe all the vibes I could to not need them.

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In spite of traffic we were making good enough time for me to make a planned stop to buy ski boots and a new down jacket at a Decathlon right by the road. I’m not one to fuss too much about shopping, and luckily there were only really two options of boots and one was clearly better. Job done.  Likely sicky child was popped into the front seat ready for the windiest of windey drives up and up the upcoming incline, and off again. Then a quick petrol fill-up and dash round our familiar large supermarket at the bottom of the mountain for WINE, and a few bottles of wine, a frozen dinner, some pesto, a few tins to keep us going, some wine and a bottle of wine for me.  And we were off up the hill.  Okay, the mountain.  A really very big one actually.  And no snow visible falling from the sky. Phew.

Slowly slowly. I don’t need an up-until-now well child chucking up over the car do I?  Sod’s law we’d be needing the chains at the same time and one of those things would be quite enough, thanks.  It’s been a good trip and it would be nice if it finished that way.  I’m stuck behind a bus. Perfect. That means it’s not my fault there’s a trail of cars building up behind me.  And I’m leaving space for them to overtake me if they want to. I’m not that French yet…

Up, up. We rejoice at the first ‘paravalanche’ – it means we’re nearly there.  Here we are at the Lac de Chevril and driving across the dam. Yay!


Not my pic – this one is from Wikipedia, by user ‘Semnoz’ and reproduced under Creative Commons licensing.  It’s the barrage (the hydro-electric dam) across the Lac de Chevril.

CC BY-SA 3.0,

Up and more up.  There’s snow. Plenty of it.  So beautiful. No one’s been sick.  The window’s open and it’s a bit chilly but that’s ok – she’s breathing, she’s fine.

Oh shit – snow.  On the road. Not coming out of the sky.  But snow on the road.  Quite a bit A solid layer of it.  We’re so nearly there.  Chains?  What’s everyone else doing? Not stopping.  Do they have winter tyres? Nah – they look normal.  Really – what the hell would I know, but I’m not stopping, I’m just going to keep creeping along like this, like everyone else, and hope.

Damnit, I’d forgotten about that last hill up to our apartment building.  Carefully round the roundabout – do I go round again and stop to do the chains?  Nah – it looks okay – no one else is sliding backwards. I’ll just keep driving.  What is this stuff on the windscreen now?  Snow? Yes – big fat soft gorgeous snow.  Ploofing down.  Onto the road. Onto the car. Onto all these big piles of snow in the car park you’re not allowed to park in out front of our apartment building.  Onto those cars already covered in lots of snow.  Shit!  But also YAY!  We’re here – we made it!

I dash the girls and a couple of bags upstairs – it’s so good to be here, To be wh`know what I’m doing and where I’m going. Except for where to park the car, quickly, when there’s lots of snow falling on it. Thank goodness for the husband. He answers the phone, tells me where to go – I tell him I have to move the car. Now. Because there’s already the layer of snow I’ve been driving on, and it’s getting covered pretty fast with new fat snowflakes that aren’t messing about. At all.

Twenty minutes later and phew.  First French conversation of the adventure and I haven’t disgraced myself. Car’s under cover.  Essentials are in the flat.  We are safe and warm.  With easy dinner.  Thank heavens I bought that bottle of wine.

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At this point the pasta-pesto-peas and the wine were more exciting than the snow.  Sorry!

Girls only road trip

I drove down from Bristol to France with the girls over a Friday and Saturday. The husband needed to be in Wales for work at the start of the following week so a girls-only road trip was the go.

Naturally it was the day before that I finally thought about the sat nav. I mean, I’d had a lot on my mind, in my hands and generally way too much happening. The girls left school at February half term and I took fifteen children home to our place for a farewell party – on the bus. I didn’t lose anyone, the noise levels were bearable and, remarkably, few tears were shed.

Then half term – I was pretty organised for the move and had images of relaxed days over coffee with friends while the children played. Ha ha. I finally forced myself out of the house before me and the girls and endless moving chores drove each other mental. We visited the museum and the aquarium and I focussed on being there, with my girls, move be damned.

My hard work paid off and packing and moving days after half term went incredibly smoothly. By then the girls were safely deposited with my parents an hour away, and before we knew it the house was empty except for a lot of dust. It was a huge relief when I could finally join the girls and put my feet up for a cuppa with the folks – even if I did have to skip back to the house to meet the cleaners and attack that dust.

Thursday we arrived, a couple of hours closer to the Channel Tunnel, at my mother-in-law’s, and I raised the issue of the sat nav.  We use a very good App. Or at least, the husband does. My usually-small life takes me from one side of town to the other, for which I am happy with Google Maps. He’d found the App (Co-Pilot, if you’re interested), installed it and mastered it. So for any long trips, like down France, I left him to program the route and just followed the instructions when it was my turn to drive. I’m a very independent person, but family is for a reason. It’s just like a team at work – not everyone needs to have all the knowledge, right? And the App was a bit confusing, even he said so, so I was happy for him to sort it.

Now – panic – I needed to use it.  It’s utterly superior traffic information and lane instructions were going to be essential for me driving the route on my own. Thankfully the trip wasn’t all Greek – we’d driven down to our little apartment numerous times. But still, the App had a habit of deciding to send you via Paris, for example, and god knew I didn’t want to be on the Paris ring road thank you very much. Once round there was enough.

The husband stepped up, I’d say happily, but he’s not really the biggest fan of being my tech helpdesk, and who could blame him. Anyway, he took my phone and only huffed a little bit.  Job done, he handed it back, “I just deleted the whole route to the channel tunnel, we’ve done it so many times before,” he chimed.  WHAT?

“What? NO!” I gasped, “You always do that bit of the drive – I haven’t the first clue how to get there. I don’t even know which way to turn at the end of the road for heaven’s sake.”


“Um – YES!”

My eyesight isn’t the best in the dark and given we left before 5am for the Euro Tunnel, we always played it that he did the first leg of the drive – from his mum’s to the Folkestone, then we did two hours on, two hours off down France.  Five o’clock in the morning was no time to be mapless.

I aced the driving, if I do say so myself. Co-Pilot behaved, mostly, and with regular stops to stretch legs, find a loo and drink coffee there were lots of opportunities to do double check it wasn’t going whacko.

It was only as we approached Dijon that my confidence in it failed. The husb had programmed our overnight hotel as a ‘waypoint’ and I simply couldn’t figure out what time we were due to arrive.  Was the ETA the ETA to our way point, or the apartment at the end of the trip? And the route looked a bit off, to be honest.  And the travel time kept changing. Dramatically. Every few minutes we seemed to be going to be an hour later. I pulled up trusty Google Maps for a comparison. There wasn’t one.  Two totally different stories.  Did I follow Co-Pilot and possibly drive in some peculiar direction, for the next however long, hoping to arrive, maybe, at the hotel (we had struggled to find the address on Co-Pilot the night before….)? Or did I risk Google Mapsing it? To be honest Google Maps had a tendency to pick a funny route sometimes too, but at least the ETA looked reasonable.  I took a plunge.

I wish I’d stuck Strava on or something like that so I could have seen where we’d driven. I have a feeling it wasn’t all that direct. We left the motorway, which was a big relief, and at one point got sent down a gravel road, which I u-turned and got out of then later looked over a bridge and thought I possibly maybe saw people driving out of, if it was the same one…  But we made it to the hotel, and it wasn’t terribly late, and it had been nice to get out of the Dijon motorway traffic and see a bit of something different.

The Ibis budget was nothing to write home about, and we didn’t expect it to be. But it was clean, and comfy, and had a shower and enough room for the hamster to have a run around in his ball. (Did I mention the pets saga? I don’t think I did. Well, our beloved puss was lodging with a friend and Inky the hamster was having an adventure.)  And, bonus, even though we were on a kind of industrial estate there was a Court Paille restaurant a short walk away – perfect for lovers of grilled cow (unfortunately not me) and very child friendly.

So Day 1 was done. A success. We were safely a good deal of the way to the next phase of our lives.

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Not at our most glamorous after a 5am start, but rocking it nonetheless!



Already Awesome

In January my husband nipped off to our apartment, the same little one to which we were about to go and live in for six months, for a week’s skiing holiday. I know – crazy. But the holiday was with his old ski buddy from uni days, and had been booked for ages, plus we actually needed someone on the ground there to talk to the school, so… he got let off!  Not that I wasn’t a bit miffed, mind you.  Anyway, he did his duty, talking to the school and sorting out places for our two girls, and on the last day of the month I pick up a message from him  saying we need to decide if girls should go on school trips during the term. I’m wondering where the nearest zoo is, or what they might do – a mountaineering course maybe?  He calls… I say – yes, yes, trips, of course. Wait, he says, because you might want to think about it; Isla (7)’s class are going to Milan for three days, and Daisy (9)’s class are going to Paris for five days.

WHAT????!!!!! No! I think.  There’s just no way I’m throwing my children into a new home, a new school and a new language and then sending them away.  I mean ITALY? When she doesn’t even speak FRENCH? I’d be crazy. No no no. I imagine a few precious days with Isla on my own while the rest of her class are away, then a week with Daisy when her class go on their trip. Or would they have to go to school all by themselves and be a billy no mates for a week?  Or is there another class they’ll have to join, and would that be okay for them? Argh, so much to consider. So many ways for them to be afraid. For me to worry.

Then again…. a trip like that might be good for them.  Empower them. But… I don’t know…  I realise James is talking. I tune in,  “…school would prefer that they go… teaching… joining in…. Amy (an English teacher we’ve been put in touch with) says it might be too much for them….  they might feel left out or excluded if they don’t go… we can think about it.”  WHAT? My babies excluded?  Left out? I don’t THINK so.

My mind whirrs with all the stories I’ve heard from travellers at various points in my life. The other Naomi who was a single mum and took her five year old backpacking round the world with her.  The Rachel who was worried about how her young daughter was doing at school so removed her and packed her off to be home schooled with her sister on a yacht to wherever for the best part of a year – she’d said ‘it made her – she’s amazing’ or something along those lines.  I think about how awesome I want my girls to be. How much braver and bolder and more assertive than I was in my younger life.  James and I finish our conversation and say goodbye.

Isla is doing something crafty in the dining room, Daisy is reading in the living room.  I look at Isla.  I’d already mentioned that Daddy had said there were school trips coming up, so,

“Isla, would you like to know where your your new class in France are going for your school trip?”  Her face is eager and excited as she nods, “Italy!” I exclaim.

Her jaw drops, she grins and laughs, “Italy?!”

“Yes, Italy.”

“To sleep over?” she tentatively asks,

“Yes,” I say, “To sleep over. But it won’t be for a while. Do you think you’d like to go?”

She smiles, looks nervous, and says decisively “YES!”

I go to Daisy in the other room. At nine, and having been already away on school camp for a couple of nights I think she can take a bit more detail up front.

“Daisy, would you like to know where your your new class in France are going for your school trip?”  Another curious nod. “To Paris – for FIVE days!”

Her jaw drops, then she grins. Breathlessly says “Paris!!!!  Best. Chocolate. Crepes. Ever!”  And moments later her face is back in her book.

We took the girls to Paris a few years ago during a longer holiday in France. Daisy in particular loved it.  Something about it just captivated her.  She’d gushed “I want to live here when I’m older,”  and I’d responded with something like “Great idea – come to college here – I’ll visit you!”

Isla charges into the living room, “Daisy, my class are going to ITALY for a sleepover!”  I explain that they are going to Milan, world capital of fashion – Isla loves drawing and craft and is really interested in design and clothes. She goes wild.  I mention it might be a few days, but try not to make too much of it.  There are nerves and excitement – she’s frightened and desperate to go all at the same time.  Daisy tells her about Paris and the crepes – she can’t wait.  I explain that they will have been at school for a while before the trips happen – they will be settled in and have friends. (Well, a month for a seven year old is a long time, isn’t it?) They start dancing and racing about the house in a frenzy of excitement.  It’s great to see them so positive – I’m filled with pride and hope and love. And I realise they aren’t going to get to bed on time with this mood and start trying to calm them down.

So I guess my children are going on their school trips.  They are already awesome – what am I worrying about?


Move to France? May as well…

On the first day of December 2016 I got an email telling me we had to move out of our rented house by 31st January.  I burst into tears.

Not because I love the house. It’s a nice size, in a great place and we have fantastic neighbours, but I cried because of the stress I’d had finding the place. Landlords in Bristol hate cats. Or maybe it’s the agents, I don’t know. But if you have a cat and want to rent, you’d better be ready to live in a shit hole, or jump through a lot of hoops.

We’d begged and cajoled, written letters direct to landlords, argued and fought about how we were going to find a new place to live with two cats in the family. When the flat we’d previously rented was sold it had taken me the best part of three months – which we were fortunately granted – to find a decent house for us all. I couldn’t go through it again.

That night I lay in bed, tears dried, considering the new reality. I laughed to myself about the flippant comment I’d made back when we’d moved in, “I’m never doing that again in England,” I’d said, “If we got evicted from this house before we wanted to move I’d pull the kids from school and go to Barcelona and just work it out.”

And that, I realised, was exactly what I wanted to do.  Only… Barcelona? I wasn’t sure I was ready. So what were our options?

There was a house in Italy belonging to James’ late dad’s partner. It was on the market, but it didn’t look like selling in a hurry and I thought G would be happy for us to live there until it was. We’d visited twice and loved the village. Although James was the only one with any Italian. Hmmm. The village was pretty remote too. And the house didn’t have wifi, which we would need if we were going to work remotely. I dreaded to think how long it would take in a rather remote Italian village to get wifi installed…

Then there was our small studio high in the French Alps which we’d bought at Easter with some of James’ inheritance money. It was an investment – a holiday place for us we could rent out for some income – and so that our skiing holidays essentially paid for themselves. It was 29m2. Quite small. For a family of four.  With a cat and a hamster?  Hmmm.  For six months?  But on the plus side it was warm and cosy with a view of the mountains. We’d been to the village and surrounding area a few times before we’d bought the place for mountainbiking, and we’d been at least five times since, getting the flat rennovated and ready to rent out.  And going skiing! It had started to feel like our second home – we were all relaxed there – the girls would walk together through the village because it was small and safe and friendly. James and I both spoke French; the girls did a bit at school.  I felt my heart flutter. The idea sat well, something about it just felt good. I signed and knew that now I would sleep.  In the morning I would speak my idea out loud to James.  And then it would begin to happen.



leaf fall



i thought about us and the rain and wondered

when the leaves had fallen and if there was a tree somewhere still shedding

i could sit under and wait for you to fall leaf by leaf around me

in all the colours

© Naomi Madelin 2016



This is my favourite picture of me, by my youngest daughter. She’s done much fancier pictures, more detailed, more colourful – but I just love this.

I love that my girls associate me with running.  I love that they are growing up knowing that sometimes Mummy comes first, and running comes first. I love that they want to run too, and that we run together, and that it’s part of our shared joyfulness.

I was a kind-of-runner for years. On and off.  Here and there. Then during some tricky times a fabulous person pointed out that I was lost amidst the duties of family life – and that it wasn’t good for me, or anyone else. She told me that I had to put myself first sometimes, or I was no good to anyone. She made me make time for me, and along the way I discovered how much I really loved running.

So I run for me, but I run for my girls too. They see their dad support me by coming home in time for me to dash out and run with my group. They see me prioritise running by throwing myself out of the door some mornings before breakfast. And sometimes they say ‘Please stay home, please don’t go running today,’ and I say ‘It’s important to me to run, I love running.  I like to be fit – a fit mummy to run around with you!  I need to have time for me too – so I can be a good mummy, not a crazy one. It’s is my thing and it’s what I do.’

I want to give my children positive, hopeful, high expectations for their lives. By making time for ourselves, by asking for the support of our families and partners so that we can have that time, we’re presenting a whole package of goodness that feeds those expectations.

Take the time you need – no one will gift it to you. That’s the biggest lesson I learnt in the last decade!  That’s our best gift to ourselves, and our children. They learn from us how to be.

Be yourself.


Find support.

Be free.

Be firm.

Be strong.