Sunday, September 07, 2008

One year on

Well, I never intended there to be SUCH a long gap between posts (even for me, it’s a long gap!), but I reckoned without the lethal combination of the Gascon party season and an unusually heavy summer workload.

July & August seemed to consist of one huge hectic social whirl (I have to say our social lives have improved enormously since moving here!). July was fete season – every village seems to have their own fete, large or small – and we were kept busy visiting friends during their villages’ fetes, not to mention the Beaumarches fete which took place over the last weekend of July. Things kicked off with a treasure hunt on the Friday evening, which was great fun, and finished with a “Giant paella” on the Sunday night. It seemed as though for the whole weekend we were only home to occasionally bung some food at the cats and dogs, and provide water for the goats and sheep, plus the odd few hours’ kip.

Just ten minutes away from us, the Marciac Jazz festival takes place in the first two weeks of August, when the town (well, large village really) swells to accommodate up to 100,000 visitors. It’s a fantastic couple of weeks – bars and restaurants crop up all over the place, there is free live music day and night, and hundreds of stalls selling all kinds of weird, and not so weird, stuff.

Work being so busy was an even bigger shock to the system. Normally July and August are lovely quiet months with a nice steady workload – not too little to get bored, but not enough to cause stress. This summer though we decided to install a massive new client management system and I’m the lucky person who needed to deal with the customisation of it to our exact needs. Thank goodness for Skype (the software comes from the US) – I seem to have spent most of last month with a headset stuck on top of my head. It doesn’t look as though things will be quietening down this side of Christmas, but at least I’m starting to feel as though progress is being made.

It seems hard to believe it is now just over a year since THE HOUSE MOVE FROM HELL. In some ways the time has flown, in others it feels as though we have been here much longer. It’s been a time of taking stock and looking back on the past year. Do we regret it? Not in the slightest. We’ve had our ups and downs but not for one nano-second have we regretted the move.

I have been thinking about the pros and cons though, as of course life is not perfect here, and I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the good and the not so good. I asked Eddie what he missed about the UK. His first response was “Nothing”, but then I asked him to think again, but imagine I don’t make regular trips back to stock up on some of those things he can’t do without. So, here’s our list:


We are happier than we have been for a long, long time. When I say “happier” I really do mean that. I’m generally a “glass half full” kind of person so tend to be pretty positive about life, but when I look back now on the last 5 years or so I really wasn’t happy. I am now.

We are healthier. That is down to the climate, the outdoor lifestyle, the general lack of junk food, and – to be honest – the relative lack of choice here. It’s easier to eat healthily when you don’t have a Sainsbury’s close at hand. We have several great local markets, and a reasonably good supermarket but we have nothing like the choice available to UK food shoppers. I think on the whole this is a good thing. We eat more locally, and seasonally, and don’t stuff ourselves full of crap.

We have made good friends, both French and English. Much as I hope that I will one day be pretty fluent in French I have learned to accept that there are always going to be slight differences in the nuances of our language and culture. It’s brought home to me that you do NEED to be able to communicate in your own language too. It’s those little quirks of the English sense of humour (and no doubt the French) that are simply never going to translate. We have great English friends and I have lost count of the number of wonderful, laughter filled evenings we have had with them. I’m also pleased that we have some good French friends (mostly neighbouring farmers) who we are not only getting to know socially, as friends, but also who we know we can turn to if we need help. We already have, and their generosity with their time, advice (and machinery!) has been humbling.

We have a real sense of belonging to a community. We have been made so welcome, and included in so many things going on in the village. We feel very lucky to have found this wonderful little spot.

Work works. It might not have. Technology could have let us down. The commuting back and forth could have been problematic. So far, it’s all gone pretty smoothly. The evidence is that clients are perfectly relaxed with the arrangement and are happy that I can still provide the high level of service they expect. My partners are happy with the arrangement too, and have in fact been incredibly supportive.

The climate. I love the climate here. Spring was just beautiful (and started in about February!), summer was hot, autumn is warm and last winter was short, cold and sunny.

We can have cats again. We couldn’t have any for the last few years and I have missed having them. Tigger & Barney are turning into very, very lovely cats.

We got to have Cosmo in our lives. Who knows for how much longer, but I’m so glad we got to be his owners, even if it’s not likely to be for years and years.

The animals have all settled in well and seem very content.

Ok, I could go on, buts let’s have some of the cons:

Tea. French tea is awful (weak as water). You can buy English tea but it is VERY expensive (our supermarket sells bags of 40 PG Tips, which says on the box 89p, for €4). Luckily I can stock up on tea when I come back for work.

Shopping. I’m not a huge girlie shopper, which is just as well as there are NO clothes shops less than 50 minutes away and for anything decent it would be at least an hour and a half. Again, I can at least still buy my clothes in the UK. Even so, shopping for anything other than day to day stuff tends to involve quite a long journey. Still, that’s what you get when you choose to live in deepest rural France.

Being at the mercy of the currency markets. We moved over at a time when sterling was very strong against the Euro. Since January it’s lost almost 20%. That’s been like having a 20% pay cut. Tough, and whilst we factored in some currency fluctuation I have to say we didn’t factor in things being this bad. Maybe one day the UK will join the Euro....

The frustrations of not being able to speak French as well as I would like. I’ve improved a great deal over the last year, but I’d so love to be better. Still, I’ve started dreaming in French and I’m told that’s a good thing! Eddie has struggled too. Bearing in mind he started with nothing, he’s probably made greater progress than me relatively speaking, but learning a new language in your 50s is not easy. Still, he happily pootles off all over the place now, when 6 months ago I would have had to go everywhere with him. He’s willing to try (and we know quite a few English people here who don’t) and that’s the main thing.

Lack of knitting. The change in our lives has had perhaps the biggest detrimental effect on my knitting – something I have tried to address and I think / hope things are slowly improving.

It’s difficult to know if the cons list would be longer if I weren’t regularly travelling back to the UK. I don’t think I’d miss the country itself, but I might miss a few more of the conveniences we tend to take for granted in the UK.

On balance, I think the pros definitely outweigh the cons. Which is a relief!!

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