52

Rose in the dark, frost in the moonlight. Gangly boys huddle before dawn in subzero temperatures, great clouds of steaming breath billowing above their still tired but excited heads. A rugby tournament, far away. Mon fils, “une tour de contrôle écossaise, un 2e ligne technique, pur malt. » One proud mama!

51

Bright blue skies. Work going really well. Progress on every front: it doesn’t get much better than this!

50

Working from home, trying to meet deadlines, school holidays in full swing (again). Music blaring from wherever there are children. Firmly shut study door regularly flies open with urgent cries. The mess in the kitchen is indescribable: meals merge into one … how I’ll miss this when they’re grown…

49

Mothers’ dilemma: continue working, hire childcare, exercise the grey matter and live comfortably, or stash career on back burner, spend time with the kids, struggle financially, end up crabby, prematurely grey, surrounded by laundry, dirty dishes, mess, grocery bags..? Are we bound to fail whichever path we choose??

48

The (somewhat eccentric) allergy specialist asked “Vous avez un cheval à la maison?” Picturing a 15 hand chestnut stallion in the kitchen, I laughed and said yes, of course. Do you ride the horse? Yes! I replied. My son kept looking at me as though I were mad. I now know “à la maison” doesn’t mean literally in the house…

47

New love enters and a game is played out. Children jealously guard their places in my heart, breathe to see their mother happy, worry because the future is unknown. Divorce carves families; with meetings new ones form. Complicated tendrils mix with hope and desire as we set off on immense journeys, real and metaphorical.

46

Valentine’s Day dawns freshly sprinkled with snow. A welcome rise in temperatures allows me to type wrapped in far fewer layers than of late. I smile to think that on a rain soaked isle some thousand and more miles away, a loved one sips tea reading these same words…

45

A mere six weeks after the last one, my children are on yet another two week holiday from school. The younger one has become fanatical about baking: today, chocolate hazelnut muffins, yesterday cheese scones… Impossible to refuse, I’ve worked out by the time term resumes, I’ll have gained 70 kilos…

44

5 Things I’ve learned whilst living in France:
1. The countryside looks pretty but can be very lonely.
2. Bringing up kids is as much about housework/laundry as unconditional love.
3. Teenage boys really do have hollow legs and ever-empty stomachs
4. The French won both world wars single handed. “Les Anglais” joined in a little bit at the end because they had nothing better to do.
5. Cold winters are even colder if your house isn’t insulated and you’ve only got damp wood to burn…

43

My younger son says there’s a child at school whose surname is “de la Purification” and another called “Déshabillé” (undressed). We rather childishly collect surnames that amuse: a random selection, in translation, includes Strawberry, Ouch!, Anus, of the Fingers and Pretty…

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.