I’m celebrating an anniversary this year that if somebody back in the 1990s had suggested would happen I would have laughed and told them not to be ridiculous.
This year Richard and I will have been living in France for twenty years. 20 years!! Still find it hard to believe.
It was not a conscious decision on our part to move to France - that is, we didn’t sit down and make plans for a new life in a foreign country back in 1999. We simply decided to take a longish break and cycle the western canal paths down through France taking our old collie, Holly, with us in a trailer behind Richard’s bike. By taking her (aged nearly 15) we knew we couldn’t return until the promised relaxation of the quarantine laws happened or Holly succumbed to old age.
So on May 28th 1999 our French adventure started on the Plymouth - Roscoff ferry and two months later, having cycled approximately 800 miles we were living in our tent in a new friend’s garden in Antibes. Nine months later found us living in the foothold of the mountains behind Nice looking after 6 dogs and a villa. Fast forward another 14 months, Holly had died, the quarantine laws had finally been abolished and Richard had a job as the guardien of a villa near Cannes. The time to return came and went almost without us noticing. When eight years later we managed to buy a small quirky cottage in Brittany, the like of which we could never afford in Devon, we slipped even further into a French life.
The above is a picture of the terrace outside our little cottage in a tiny hamlet taken a year or so ago. I think I was celebrating the publication of Summer at Coastguard Cottages when it was taken. I’ve certainly done more writing here in France than I ever did in Devon - 12 novels published, innumerable short stories published in the UK and internationally and a new novel currently out on submission.
Although I struggle with the French language and have to admit I’m ashamed that after all the years I’ve lived here, it is as poor as it is, I do find myself responding to certain situations in a typically French way these days. I certainly shrug a lot more than I ever did. I accept without question that shops, hairdressers, pharmacies, tabacs, will close for two hours at midday - even some of the larger supermarches do this on certain days - and I’ve learnt to time my day accordingly. I’ve also learnt that not all branches of the same supermarches keep the same range of goods - food shopping invariably entails visiting a couple of supermarches to buy everything we want. I always remember to say a bright ‘Bonjour‘ when I walk into a shop - or the doctor’s waiting room! The French are polite like that.
But now we are faced with the shambles that is Brexit - which has us living in a kind of limbo land and has raised several questions. Including: Will we have to return? Do we want to? The jury is out on the answers to both those questions.