“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.…


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


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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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?


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…


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…


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….


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”.


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.


When my sons started school here, they spoke only English. At school it was a case of sink or swim. They swam and in just a matter of months went from being undyingly grateful that mama spoke French, to cringing with embarrassment at my mispronunciations and grammatical errors. Oh for their fluency!


My mental image of Farrow &Ball, a glowing Aga, children and labs gambolling over gleaming tiled floors faded into the cold reality of being often covered in cement and lime plaster. Friends in London meanwhile wrote that they pictured me sipping wine on a sun drenched terrace by a pool, “living the dream”.


I’d bought books on every conceivable subject, from straw bale building and Living in France, to DIY plumbing and self-sufficiency, but I was nevertheless ill-prepared for the reality of life as single parent in a foreign land. It’s not just the language that can be hard to understand but the very different approach to things.