La Rentrée defines the beginning of September in France. After the frivolities of summer everything gets that little bit more serious once more – and it’s not just for school children that the routine begins again. Almost everyone is back from holiday, it’s a new season and for some a new beginning; offices which have been closed for the entire month of August are suddenly buzzing with life again. The coastal roads which were jam-packed a week ago are miraculously smooth flowing once more. In many restaurants the clientele subtly changes, with flirtatious summer clothing swapped for more serious attire, and tourists replaced by the lunchtime business crowd. No one talks about going back to work, or back to school, or back to a normal routine after the holidays, they simply talk of la rentrée.
The heady carefree days of summer seem so long ago already.
It all came around so quickly and our four youngest children are back at school and for the first time ever they are all in the same school; in two different sections, but the same school. Gigi has been bombarded with questions from the teachers; “I taught your sister, and then your brother and then another sister, and now I have you; are there any more to follow?”
Primary school is a thing of the past for our household; gone are the days when one teacher covered every subject, and this is the first time in sixteen years of our children’s education that we have not had at least one in elementary school. It’s quite a landmark for us!
And talking of our children, I just wanted to say a HUGE thank you to everyone who helped Izzi with her ‘Playground Project’ for one of her University assignments. It won several awards. You all contributed to a little part of her portfolio that has helped enormously with her CV and jump-started her whole transformation from full-time student to responsible working adult. She has landed her dream design job in London; we are so proud of her and so happy for her – thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts on playground markings.
So now we have only four in full time education. It takes some adjustment to cope with the change from having had a house overflowing with kids to the pin-drop silence there is now – as if by magic they’re gone, and it’s so quiet and still. I suppose I could be happy that the house remains tidy for several hours a day, but I’m not, for I’m one of those mothers who hate it when the children go back to school; plainly and simply, I miss them. Even the weather seems rather despondent at the thought, and heavy brooding skies have dominated the days this week.
The roads are once again busy with buses ferrying children to and fro in the mornings and evenings. We don’t have the defining yellow bus so famous in the USA, here the regular bus service is hired for schools as well, and the symbol in our area for our transport system is well known in the Charente Maritime, it’s the seagulls, Les Mouettes.
Of course, whilst everyone gets back to poring over their studies, the kitchen table becomes once again a place for homework. Text books are appearing each evening, all of which have to be covered with plastic by the students for protection. Millie is the expert in this family and they all look to her to do their’s for them!
All of this sudden studious activity has set me thinking, and I’ve looked at their handwriting, which is something that is taken very seriously here. We’ve had children in elementary education in three different continents and never have I known anywhere quite so earnest about this subject. They are taught cursive from a very young age and they write beautifully. Take a look at Gigi’s poetry book from when she was 9. I swear her writing is so much nicer than mine (in fact yes, I’m really envious); I wish I could write like that, mine seems almost babyish by comparison.
We were taught to write at school of course, but it was in big rounded letters, and always upright – any form of slant was frowned upon. However, my parents both have beautiful forward sloping writing, both a very similar style. This prompted me to look back even further. I have a letter from my great grandmother, written to my grandfather in 1924. Her script is far more in the style of my parents’ writing.
Going back even further I have a note written by a great-great-great-grandparent in a dated envelope from 1830. Again the style is sloping but slightly more formal than a century later.
Naturally everything back then was written with a ink, and until two years ago a fountain-pen was still compulsory for our children at school here; but it seems even this rule has now ceased, which to my mind means the end of another era in handwriting.
So whilst we can certainly date a letter by the style of the writing and there is much written about handwriting defining one’s character, I wonder if we can detect which country it is from? I’m sure I could spot French handwriting almost anywhere, but then perhaps I am wrong – maybe there are many other countries with a similar, beautifully artistic style. Whatever it is, I really want to know your thoughts on handwriting – how your write, and in what style, wherever and whoever you are.
Once the books have been removed during the day my kitchen table is currently covered with apples. We found a couple of unloved fruit trees, alone in a hedgerow beside a deserted field on one of our bike rides. This is not the orchard of last year but somewhere even more remote. We know the trees are totally unloved and unattended because of the sheer number of rotting windfalls and the knee high grass and weeds that surrounds them; in addition they have not been pruned for years and their branches droop to the ground with the weight of all the fruit. Being kind people we relieved the tree of some of the weight, quite liberally, too, I may add! There are three varieties of apples; two are for eating and one is definitely a cooker. But combined they make the best apple purée, another staple for the freezer for the coming months.
The children are eating them two at a time. They are crunchy and crisp, with that wonderful fresh new season taste and of course, I’ve made apple-pies!
And I am also still picking tomatoes on a daily basis and harvesting carrots non stop, not to mention the figs and the grapes!
Despite all this activity, I am struggling to keep my thoughts in one place this week because of Hurricane Irma, which is weighing very heavily on my mind. We used to live in the Caribbean in Anguilla a long time ago; the island appears to have been completely flattened overnight, no one knows the true extent of the damage yet as communications are down. We visited St Martin at least once a week also, and we still have a great many friends on both islands and also in Barbuda. Worse still (could it get worse, I ask myself?), poor old Florida waits open-eyed for the final track to become definitive, and I’ve been chatting with dear friends there as preparations are well under way to cope with the oncoming monster.
Natural disasters that we can do nothing about. When we lived in Anguilla we went through Hurricane Georges in September 1998, a category 4 which passed directly overhead, at the time Izzi was a toddler. I know what it’s like; we evacuated our house, as it was a rented home with a less than sturdy roof, and after boarding it up we went to stay with other close friends who also had a daughter of the same age. They had a house with a concrete roof and we would be much safer. After the storm moved on we had no power for weeks and the damage was immense. Irma is even bigger, and even more deadly. My thoughts are with everyone, not only those who have already suffered but also those in its path, and I also feel for everyone affected by Hurricane Harvey. To all of you, hugs, love and best wishes – you are constantly in our prayers.