42

Red faced, hands thrust in pockets, head bent forward, whatever the season, this same man walks round and round and round and round the town. The pace never alters … in fact (bar a jacket in winter) the only thing that does, is the length of his hair.

41

After four years we swapped country dreams for life in town, magnificent views for neighbours crowding in, the sound of owls and buzzards for motorbikes with noisy exhausts, car radios blaring and joy riders at 3am. We have no garden. I have to keep telling myself this is more practical.

40

My younger son drew a picture of me. I didn’t like what he drew but had to admit it was a fair likeness. Once small and perfectly formed, my ears in middle age have kept on growing. Is this nature’s way of coping with deafness as we grow old? And will they soon start to twitch or rotate independently to pick up sounds, like an owl’s?

39

Sensible expats usually decide not to set up business in France, though an immigrant’s instinct is often entrepreneurial. Jobs are hard to find and very low paid. Qualifications from abroad often not accepted. The system is designed to keep people relatively happy but in poverty, dependent on the state.

38

Nine women around a table, nine daughters birthed in far away lands. Strong, beautiful migratory birds, survivors, tellers of tales. Mother tongues set aside, we laugh and are moved to silence as we find new words to share stories of love and struggle, family and survival, our place in history, our lives in France…

37

A cold, bright winter day. Azure skies, oak leaves under foot. Dogs rush to greet and playfully dance. Panoramic views across farming land. The sun lights on a distant hill so green it looks photoshopped. A buzzard casts his shadow as he circles his prey. A moment of intense calm.…

36

“A blessed thing it is for any man or woman to have a friend, one human soul whom we can trust utterly, who knows the best and worst of us, and who loves us in spite of all our faults.” Charles Kingsley, I’m told.…

35

Generally too clear sighted for heroes, I nonetheless have a few and one of them died recently: Ronald Searle (1920-2011), greatest of cartoonists, illustrateur extraordinaire

34

France, where immigrants come seeking a new life or to pursue dreams … la Dolce Vita is here for the taking in a land proud of its mountains, lakes, beaches, vineyards, ocean and côte d’Azur… A struggle, often, my recent list of checks and balances nevertheless shows pros winning out handsomely over cons…

33

I’ve just come across a contract my younger son wrote when he was six for his parents when they were arguing. In the space above our signatures,, it reads “ Dada and Mama chall not chawte at i chuthr. Argride.” He’d also written one for his brother: “we chall live picfelie.” Hear Hear.

32

I love this, from a piece called “Screw You, I’m 52”: Your true love does not have to come with the perfect face. He or she only has to come with the perfect soul. And you won’t believe what a perfect soul will do for one’s perception of a face.

31

Some people are friendly, some aren’t. Mme C. is a hard-nosed business woman interested only in selling top of the range ride on lawn mowers. On hearing my budget, she sneered and looked down her nose. We still don’t have a mower.

30

The grass grows at such a furious rate, the boys and I went looking for the mowing equivalent of my older son: “big, sturdy and reliable”. ‘Not like his brother’, the shop owner sneered, looking at the younger son, who was doing a very good impersonation of a delicate Victorian child, with his arm in a sling.

29

It took my younger son a few years to admit he’d broken his left arm after cycling, eyes closed, into a ditch. Thinking it only a bad sprain, it was ten days before we went to the doctor. In the meantime, someone at school had grabbed him by the wrists and thrown him across the playground.

17

When a friend told me she’d set up shop as an estate agent, I couldn’t help wondering if an estate agent who lives in a mobile home is a bit like a hairdresser with a dodgy perm?

16

Savvy, I was, street wise – but France brought out a gullibility and naivety I didn’t know was there. When builders say “Yes, I can renovate your house within budget by Christmas”, smile sweetly and think “Yeah, right” because the builder who says he can perform miracles isn’t thinking about performing them with bricks and mortar…

15

My kids were so hideously behaved today that I told them I wasn’t going to cook supper. Overjoyed at having an evening off, I found myself hoping they’d reoffend the following day: possibly, in fact, for the next week, month and even year…

14

What can drive foreigners mad is also part of the charm and lure of France: long, lazy lunch hours, a society that’s not entirely money-driven, shopping in markets rather than supermarkets… It is still possible to capture something here that was lost decades ago in more materialistic societies….

13

The little boys I brought to France are suddenly on the brink of adulthood/adolescence: four years ago both were in primary school but already decisions are having to be made about career path options. As Dorothy Parker succinctly put it: “Tempus sure as hell does fugit”.

12

My teenage son is still asleep and soon today will be tomorrow. Medics reassure me that adolescents sometimes need as much sleep as new born babes. Who’d have thought in so short a time I’d go from being “Big” to “incredibly shrinking Mama”? Soon two sons will sleep through what to me is the best part of the day.