I’ll be straight from the start. This is not a tear jerking love story which will have you reaching out for the tissues and leave you feeling all mushy inside. I haven’t caused a scandal and committed adultery and we haven’t suddenly felt the need to renew our wedding vows.
This is a different kind of love, one that involves bricks and mortar, open countryside and beaches. Fresh food, towns and villages and a language. Yes this is falling in love with a country.
This is a passion that goes back a few decades, which in itself stops me in its tracks because it makes me sound so old! It began long before my children were even thought of, to a time way before I met and married Roddy and to a time before digital photography! However, I am going to bring you in at the middle of this tale.
It was 2004. We had three children. We wanted to move to France as a family and a very large part of that plan was finding the right location. We had our wish list drawn up, we knew what we didn’t want and we thought we knew what we did want. The plan was to spend a month testing the water and to find somewhere we felt ‘at home’. Full of optimism we headed over the Channel for Brittany.
Close enough to the Channel Islands for visiting family; it seemed perfect. But nothing was quite right. It was early April and the weather was dismal. I wouldn’t normally be put off by this, you know I was brought up on a farm, a bit of rain I could take in my stride. But I was just over 8 weeks pregnant, feeling like crap, suffering not morning but afternoon sickness, (I’ve always been different and done this the wrong way round) and I just couldn’t see how we could ever settle where we were. Totally illogical, but that’s the way it was!
So we bundled up the children, stuffed our clothes and endless toys back into bags and set off for the south. We had rented a small house that looked great on paper but turned out to be on a modern estate. We were deep in the heart of wine country in the Languedoc. Big skies and beautiful sunsets. It was certainly much warmer. The neighbour, who we nick-named ‘Mrs Nosey’ seemed to spend every waking hour twitching her curtains to take a glimpse at what the English family staying opposite were up to. Whey we were a cause for such fascination I have no idea, we were only 3 children and a family of five, almost normal!
Roddy got a call from a previous employer and was asked to go and do some temporary work for him. We knew he would always have to leave to work if we moved here, it was part of the plan but these few weeks were meant to be a holiday. Things weren’t going quite as we hoped. He set off on a plane and I was left trying to work out where we would build our new life, in a strange place where I knew not a soul.
Needless to say, it didn’t work out. Roddy returned and we headed back up to Southern Brittany. The weather was amazing, we spent endless hours on the beach, the children played in the rock pools, it was divine. Had we found our forever place we wanted to settle? It seemed we had.
But then family events changed everything. Roddy’s mother became gravely ill and we returned to the Channel Islands. To cut a long story short, we did not return to France for two years.
By then we had four children and surprise surprise I was once again 8 weeks pregnant! We had settled in the South of France, in the Var. Just a few miles inland from the town of Bandol. The house was lovely, we had three acres of steeply terraced gardens scattered with ancient Olive trees. Even in February the ground was hard as a rock I remember. Several nights we had sharp frosts and our drive through the vineyards was magical. We explored all the nearby towns and villages, like Roddy’s Mother who had lived and painted here before, we fell in love with Provence.
But once again this was not to be. Work called Roddy away and we went with him as a family this time. A few months later we sold our house.
But our dream never went away, our torch had been lit and refused to be fully extinguished. When we returned a couple of years later, it was to the South West, yearning for the Atlantic Ocean rather than the Mediterranean. This time we thought we would stay forever, we now had five children and NO, there were no more on the way. Five was enough! We could rent a 7 seater car without any problem, but an 8 seater car in Europe is almost a non event. Life would have taken a turn from complicated to near impossible. Five it would remain! We were in the heart of the Bearn, the most beautiful hilly countryside anyone could wish for. Architecture was to die for, we had friends and a stunning home.
But the legendary stock market crash of 2008 affected our business enormously. Life was a huge struggle and after two years we had to make some tough decisions. There was no way we could continue to live in France and make ends meet.
But, like true love, it never goes away. There is the saying “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” and in this case it seems it was true. Although I hasten to add my Father always changed this to “Absence makes the heart go yonder”! Anyway, we worked hard and found a way to return five years ago and here we are. What’s more we are still here! I won’t pretend that it is always easy, there are things that a great many of us have to accept when we choose this French lifestyle and one of those, again not for everyone, but for many, is a large drop in income and potential earnings. But this is a real deep love, the enduring, everlasting kind and so where there is a will there is a way. I doubt it will ever be easy. There are all sorts of clichés, “the course of true love never does run smooth” being one of them. Again this is so true, it’s difficult, it’s often a struggle for us. It’s certainly not all a bed of roses. But it is perfection in its own, very simple way.
So in a nutshell, that’s our story! And as it is Valentine’s Day, perhaps you should go ahead and be kind to yourself. I’m not offering you champagne or chocolates, or a French Château sadly but instead I am giving everyone 15% off everything in our shop with the code OFLVALENTINE from now until Monday Morning. Here is the quick link https://www.etsy.com/shop/ourfrenchlifestyle?coupon=OFLVALENTINE
Go on, treat yourself for once. xx