Saturday, 19 November 2011

Social life in France

Our first soirée

When we moved to France almost 4 years ago (good grief - where does the time go?!) we wanted to make sure that we integrated into the life of the village. Too many people move to France and spend all their time with other ex-pats and we were determined to be different. We started off by going into the local bar 2 or 3 times a week and talking to anyone who was prepared to listen to our halting French.

At the end of our first month here we bought tickets to a soirée in the Salle des Fetes (village hall). The bar owner had told us that although the tickets said 8.00pm start, there was no point in getting there before 9.00pm, so we duly turned up just after 9.00 to find a brightly lit hall, with what seemed like dozens of children running about. There were many long tables set out at right angles to the walls and we noticed on the end of each table a list of names. We searched, but couldn't find our names on any of the lists. Unsure what to do next, we thought of going home again but instead we bought a drink and looked again at the lists and eventually noticed "Anglais - 2". This had to be us!

There were only 2 seats remaining at the table, one either side at the far end next to the wall. We squeezed past everyone - no easy task as the tables were set very close together. The French people next to us were very friendly and were very interested in the fact that we were "English" (Gerry of course is technically Welsh and I am Scottish but to the French we are English!).

We had a four course meal, which lasted until about 1.00am and then the band started playing and the dancing commenced. Lots of accordion music which the French dance to very enthusiastically! The band were excellent and played a complete mixture, even some Rock 'n' Roll - which got us to our feet to show off our jiving skills.

By 2.30am we were exhausted (and all the kids were still running around!) and got ready to leave. Our new French friends were also leaving and one couple asked us if we would like to go back to their house for a nightcap. We really had to get back for the dogs so we explained that we couldn't. However, I knew we had to make a determined effort to make friends so I asked the two couples if they would like to come to our house the following Friday evening for an aperitif.

And that was the start of our new social life! To be continued............

Friday, 11 November 2011

My Dad

Being an old soldier to the end, my Dad died on 11 November at 11.00am three years ago. However, this blog is not about that sad time but about all the many happy memories I have of him.

As children, we accept our lives as they are and assume that our lives are "normal" and that everyone's lives are the same. It's only as an adult that I've come to realise that my Dad was probably fairly unusual in the 50's and 60's by being so involved in the lives of his children.

Sundays, his only day off from work, were family days and we always went somewhere, no matter what the weather was doing. What child wouldn't be entranced by the suggestion - let's go on a hike to the Fairy Falls (or the Wolf Crags or the Covenanter's Grave etc). He had a terrific imagination and a special name for everywhere. We used to fight through jungles, cross shark-infested rivers, dam streams to create pools of water in the desert (and what fun we had afterwards kicking away the dam!). We played badminton and rounders on the beach, learned to swim and to paddle a canoe in rivers and the sea and at some point in the day there was always a fire built and lit to cook sausages on.

My Dad told us stories every night, but never from a book. There were tales of his childhood, one of 8 children in an army family, his youth hiking over the Pentland Hills with his pals, early days at work and, of course, the War.

Then came my teenage years and of course "Daddy's girl" wanted to go to dances and meet young men - we'll draw a veil over that time of strife! As the years went on, he became an adoring and adored Grandpa to my two children and then my brother's two.

He had a wonderful sense of humour and rarely took life seriously. My parents weren't well off financially but I had a childhood rich in love, humour and imagination. When my Dad died, everyone said "he used to make me laugh!" - not a bad epitaph!

Dad, you made me laugh too! 

Saturday, 5 November 2011

The joy of reading

Although I have a lot of very early memories of my childhood (eg going to the zoo at 15 months old) I can't actually remember learning to read. It seems odd that learning something which is as necessary to me as food and drink could leave absolutely no imprint on my memory! I could no more stop reading than I could voluntarily stop breathing. I am always puzzled by people who say they have no time to read because it's not something I have to set aside time for - it's just a normal part of my day. There have been times in my life when I have read less than at others but I can honestly say that there hasn't been a day in my adult life that I haven't read something.

As a child, I read everything I could get my hands on, particular favourites were Heidi, Little Women, Anne of Green Gables and the Narnia series but I also loved the Famous Five, Biggles and all the classics - Wind in the Willows, Treasure Island etc etc. I still regularly re-read the first 4 mentioned. I feel the mark of a great children's book is that it can still be enjoyed as an adult. I could write reams about books I have loved but don't want to bore the pants off anyone reading this!

My Mum introduced me to a lot of books and, in turn, I introduced those same books to my children and hope to do so to my granddaughters, although I expect my daughter will be making her own introductions. The thrill of getting book tokens for Christmas and birthdays was immense and I still have very many of my purchases to hand on to the girls when they are old enough.

I have to confess that the majority of my reading is fiction, with the odd biography/autobiography thrown in, and none of it very intellectual, but I read purely for entertainment - I don't want to be educated. I am happy to have my thoughts provoked by whatever I am reading but sometimes I just want to switch off and let it just wash over me.

One of my major concerns about moving to France was how I was going to support my reading habit. I used to go to the library every week and borrowed up to half a dozen books at a time, but I certainly couldn't afford to buy that many. I stocked up on books from charity shops before the move and once I'd read those I started to re-read many old favourites. I picked up odd books at car boot sales here and all visitors were obliged to bring a stack of books with them but I was constantly running out of things to read.

Two years ago, I solved the problem by starting a monthly English bookswap. I started with 20 books of my own and ended the first one with 65 books. This number gradually crept up until I had around 700 books stacked in boxes behind the sofa! It was getting out of hand so we bought a huge bookcase (see photo above), weeded out all the rubbish and now have a rule that everyone must take away at least as many books as they bring! I always have something to read now and I read many authors I had never previously tried. The bookswap is a great social occasion and I have made many friends through it.

Reading is one of the greatest pleasures of my life - it makes me laugh and cry, challenges my thinking, comforts me when I am down and, as a side benefit, has given me an excellent vocabulary - invaluable when learning another language!