Thursday, 19 March 2020

I was that girl

Its big steel pockets were filled, and filled me, with joy, but time was of the essence so my selection was haphazard. Sitting on the floor, I would start at the bottom and work diligently at building up an effective and sustainable rhythm: take, devour, replace, repeat. An occasional slight sideways push kept the turnstile in the 'ready' position.

Somewhere else in the store, my father, an important Maths professor, would be doing....mmm, I'm not too sure. In my mind, he did what he did. I was proud of him and that was as far as it went. I guess, though, he was buying books or stationery.

I nearly made it to the top of the stand once. Every other time, conscious of, but not distracted by, the coolness of the big white floor tiles, a dozen or so books would fly into and out of my hands before time was up and I'd be called to head to the bookstore door.

I would never be allowed to buy a book but we did have books in the house. Christmas would generally offer up one each and birthdays had potential too, but these books were so special and so revered that I couldn't bring myself to read them...much like the Easter eggs that I refused to eat and that I would then proudly place on the communal table for my very-long-time-from-Easter class Christmas party.

Time passed and priorities changed. Work, study and all the usual growing-up distractions took over. And, then came France....and time...and the re-discovery of libraries and books and reading.

Today, for many of us, although the circumstances are not right, we have been given a gift of time. What if we embraced that gift and turned it into a magical turnstile of possibility?

What if we opened up and savoured a book?

  • a great gym for the mind
  • a remedy against anxiety
  • a support to help traverse a difficult time *
*Article, in French, here

Share, talk, send messages, jokes and love. We need to feel strong connections from all over the world right now, but I'm convinced that, like the little girl in the bookstore, escaping into books will help too. #tryabook

PS I'd be upset for you to think that this blog was a ploy for you to buy my book. It isn't, but if you don't know our story and would like to find out more, 'But you are in France, Madame' is available in print or Kindle here

Tuesday, 18 February 2020

Brushes with fame

Sightings of and brief conversations with: it has been a big week for celebrity in my family. Nothing too deep and meaningful, but they have kept our little family group chats animated.

By far my favourite encounter came about as a result of my husband travelling for work far, far west of the Eastern coast of Australia. In fact, in a monster of a day, he left for the airport at 4 am, took two planes, rented a car, drove 350 km, did some seriously onerous labouring, got back in the car and rang ahead to a hotel to let them know that he'd be there by midnight. He didn't make it and fortunately had enough good sense to pull over and sleep rather than trying. The only comfort was the knowledge that the cramped sleeping quarters in the car, not terribly dissimilar to the hotel room he had optimistically booked, cost nothing and were not booked out, plus the fact that he was not attempting to outrun a fierce storm, as he had been the week prior. Bringing his numb feet back to life after a couple of hours of roadside slumber, he raced to the airport to take a 6 am flight and was back in Sydney by early afternoon. Distance travelled: over 2600 way. Time away: 34 hours. Time slept: approx. 2 hours.

But, back to celebrity brushes:

"You've got a rather famous name."

"Yeah, but I'm better looking and can cook better."

Flash, real name Gordon Ramsey, was also a real outback character with a gloriously gravelly voice who, having lived in his remote patch of Australia for many decades, had more than a yarn or two to tell.

Truth, it appeared, was an unnecessary hindrance to many of his delightful anecdotes.

These are the stories and the people that excite me. I'm guilty of the occasional glance at the vacuous tabloid celebrity articles, based on nothing more than the sound of a good headline. I'm also guilty of skim reading whilst champing at the bit to get to my next task, spending far too long flicking through screen posts and neglecting both the pleasure of slow reading and the wonder of debate, conversation, disagreement and acknowledgement.

"Start an argument," I said to my daughter.

She looked at me quizzically.

"No," I laughed. "Not with me, right here, right now, but with your friends, over dinner. See what their opinions are, what they have to say and enjoy the thrust and parry."

Still, she looked bemused.

"Be French," I grinned. "Just, don't forget to close the conversation and leave as friends."

PS I didn't actually use the words 'thrust and parry' - that might just have produced its own, non-sought-after argument...but you get the drift.

I wrote about the contrasts between our French and Australian lives in a previous blog (wow, nearly four years ago). Click on through for some more beautiful photos taken by my husband (who can be found, if you are interested, on Instagram @rustymarmot)

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

That New Year Hump

It hasn't been an easy start to the year here in Australia. So much so, that the well-intentioned, somewhat compulsory sharing of 'Happy New Year' or 'Bonne Année' good wishes has stuck in my throat. It has somehow felt sacrilegious (which I inadvertently initially spelt scar..ilegious) splashing around smiling goodwill at a time when the world feels dark. I know that I should be mature about this and sensibly declare that that is exactly the reason why I should be emanating joy, but I'm here to declare that I'm a bit over doing what I'm supposed to be doing.

In a moment of clarity this morning, I also realised that one of the downsides to my restless need to keep moving cities/countries - and contributing to my mood - is that I miss my friends. I know. Melodramatic. Churlish. Childish. But there it is. The good old ones who have been with me... and stayed through my yellow tracksuit and permed hair phases. I do miss them, their closeness, their 'sureness'.

In my second revelation of the morning (see, life is looking up), it also occurred to me that friendship happens differently now. And, as if to put a boldly underlined 'point final' to that thought, a message has just popped up on my Instagram feed. 'Coucou ma belle' writes @frenchwithnicole in response to my message on @lostinarles post. I have never met either of these ladies, but I had just admitted that, when it comes to social media,  I am still hiding a little too far along the safe end of the ‘open and honest’ continuum.

Puzzlingly poignant.

Pertinently positive.

And a reminder to be forever grateful to every single person who has stopped by and set up a borderless chat, to all those who have shared their stories with me as if I were a trusted confidante, and to those who seem to, I don't know, care for me, despite having never met and having no shared history.

... just taking time to shake off those New Year blues, I guess.

... time to let go and see where the year takes me.

PS If you have just found your way here, to my blog, welcome. Another story with a similar theme 'Words and friends in a French life' and to read more about our French life, 'But you are in France, Madame' is available in print and Kindle by clicking here.

Wednesday, 1 January 2020

You're last

It was still morning and I had already shed a few tears. I had also answered my own question as to whether the airport would be busy not long after midnight on the first day of the year. The roads there, after all, had been quasi deserted.

We were standing in a circle at the international departure gate and my daughter was saying 'good-bye' to us all with hugs and kisses. I was third in line but she by-passed me.

"You're last."

Isn't it funny how an overlay of perspective can change a message.

On this first day of the year, I hope that to someone you are their last.

Bonne année. Happy New Year. And to one special girl newly arrived in Montréal - bienvenue. Have a ball.

PS Price reduction for Kindle versions of 'But you are in France, Madame' until Wednesday 8 Jan for UK and US readers. Link here

Friday, 13 December 2019

To have your heart in two places

Vacuuming isn't my most favourite thing to do, but at least it's not my least. I became a bit manic about keeping the floor clean when my children were babies, and mooching around on it, but fortunately I don't have the same daily urges any more. A little bit like my morning lap swimming, passing the aspirator (passer l'aspirateur) actually gives me a long period of time to think, and that's not a bad thing. For some reason, doing the bathrooms doesn't have the same effect.

I have the sneaking suspicion that I'm not the only one to do a self-twist and contort, manipulating the vacuum head with alacrity, in order to avoid at all costs the effort of moving chairs, coffee tables, discarded clothes...anything... out of the way. But, I'm not here to preach or be educated regarding the techniques of said household chore.

Bent over the machine this morning, my stream of consciousness led me around the dust piled up under the chair legs, around the gaffa taped and sagging seats, across the pock marked table top to the springless dunce in the corner and on to France. Of course, it did. Most things do. You see, we bought this table and chairs from an antique (read 'things old and unstable') store years before our departure from Australia. It was a big deal for my husband and me as it was an actual purchase and not just a scrounge off the side of the road during one of the Council clean-up weekends. It served us and our children exceptionally well and if I look carefully at the table, I can probably see where and when. But, its crowning glory is that it has two leaves and seats a large number all together, just like we like it.

We didn't like it much when we returned to Australia from France. Our tenants had used it for major smash and grab affairs - or perhaps, table top dancing. Either, perhaps both, is a possibility. Even the one ebayer who kindly agreed to take it off our hands, baulked when she actually saw it and went away sans table. Mmm, now I was a bit offended, and decided that this un-loved possession needed to be projected right into the family fold and take pride of place at dinner time. Is it comfortable? No. Do our guests wonder? Probably.

In addition to being the champion of the under-table, there may have been another reason for not heading straight to the trash heap towing dining furniture behind me. At the time, I could not buy anything. Any purchase, no matter how big or small, came to represent another physical barrier to our return to France. In my mind, if we bought anything, it was a sign that we were settling in and finding our place in a new place. It was tantamount to doing the unthinkable, conducting a blatant act of betrayal and ... letting France go. Our deck remained furniture-less and our linen, threadbare; our glassware, non-existant except for a growing collection of re-purposed Vegemite jars and our clothes, very fashionable items from the '80s.

All in the vain hope that nothing coming in meant that we could all go back. Back to France, from where my heart was refusing to budge.

Years have passed and not much has changed. I did eventually buy a second-hand couch for the deck, but not with the goal of providing comfortable seating, more with the thought that it would make selling up quicker and easier.

Ahh. The unforeseen consequences of choosing adventure and saying 'no thanks' to living 'normally': passion, awareness, love, joy, friendships, heartache...and the inability to sit for long.

If you would like to read more stories of our French-Australian life, Kindle and print versions of 'But you are in France, Madame' can be found by clicking here.