17th December 2017
Comrades, this update comes to you from the post-party universe. We threw a big Christmas bash last night. We had, at peak-party, about 60 people navigating the staircase of our tall narrow house - shrieking children, school parents, friends from the Calade and from the village - all the community we have collected in our months here in Sommieres. It was wonderful madness. I cooked all day on Friday after sourcing advice from Dr Facebook and particularly from the ever-reliable Beth and Tori and I slung canapes like a boss - as in, they looked great early on, but started to get a bit burnt as the hostess got a bit more pissed. (Business as usual). But when you have a French chef hanging by the stove (thanks Julien!) you are in fine hands. Also I taught a group of French partygoers the fabulous Aussie phrase 'resting bitch face' and also laughed sadistically as I made a lot of them try Vegemite. #straya!
Keith is continuing to try and save my website. He's doing an amazing job; basically rebuilding the thing. I am hoping to have my content back soon, and he's currently trying to rescue my mailing list. I've been writing a little for the website Living In Laungedoc. Here's a piece I wrote for them this week:
We are coming to the end of the school term, our first Christmas in France is looming and I am starting to lose my mind a little. I am, as my favourite saying has it, all over the place like a madwomans shit. I know when my stress levels are rising because Keith starts to treat me carefully, like a package that might explode. He speaks slowly and gently, in the manner of an emergency clinician in the Community Outreach Team dealing with an unpredictable client. ‘Incoming patient’, I imagine he would radio into the hospital. ‘Possible schizophrenic break, ice-psychosis, or lady who can’t work out how she’s going to send the presents to Australia in time for Christmas Day and why everybody is INCAPABLE of PICKING UP their WET TOWELS for the LOVE OF CHRIST. Prepare all the Valium you have.’
‘Mental load’ is the phrase that describes the burden of thinking about the management of the house and family; the invisible work that keeps the machine running. We have three small children, and staying on top of life, work and house takes up all the oxygen in the room. Adding the busywork of the festive season can mean depleting more energy than is being added in.
The children are feeling the stress. One is scratching her head with ‘le poux’ (I am pretending I can’t see it) and another is complaining of constant tummy-aches. Anxiety? Theatricality? Looming appendicitis? Who knows? It’s another dot-point on the ‘mental load’.
Keith is tired too. He’s up at 5am for work calls in Australia and managing all his Dad-duties as well. I found him asleep at his desk last week, hands on keyboard, chin on chest. He woke in a panic. ‘What! Where am I supposed to be? Am I late for school!?!’
Despite the exhaustion we’re feeling, the social occasions of Christmas are wonderful problems to have. To have friends here, to have people opening their hearts and lives and homes to us: for this I am grateful beyond words. And I absolutely love the way this allows us to experience the real lives of the people we are meeting. Every lunch, dinner, or drinks party gives us a different insight into the heart of France.
Last week we had Christmas lunch with a friend’s large extended family. The flat upstairs was too small to accommodate us all so our host had turned her mediaeval cellar into a party den full of couches and tables covered with furs and cloth. Upstairs her mother Lilian, an Algerian ex-burlesque dancer, turned food out of her kitchen (a fantastical space full of plants and birds) at a cracking pace. I had, at one point, a glass of whiskey, a glass of champagne and a glass of rose flanking a plate of songlier (wild boar), duck and some sort of pigeon. Then the desserts arrived. ‘Le gouter!’ or ‘a taste!’ I begged hopelessly, to no avail, as enormous plate was passed down to me with a wink, followed by herbal ‘digestif’ cigars. Coffee followed, and after the lengthy goodbyes (three kisses each) we were presented at the door with a parting shot of a delicious liqueur with a kick like a songlier. We waddled home and collapsed on the couch. No chance I was going to manage the ‘Sunday night’ routines of preparing bags and clothes for school in the morning. So Sunday’s shenanigans set the scene for a chaotic Monday, which set the tone for the week ahead.
Tis the season! This weekend Keith and I are planning a party to bring together the friends we have made in our four months here: our friends from the village, the parents from school, my fellow students from my French language class. I don’t know who will turn up, but we will need to put on our finest party pants. At one stage I leaned to Keith across the table at our French Algerian soiree and said ‘We are going to have to lift our game on Saturday.’ He nodded, mouth full, a cloud of smoke swirling above his head as a wine-maker shouted across him, waving his pipe dangerously close. After our Christmas party, we roll into the final week of the school term, and I anticipate some serious work in getting the children dressed and out the door every morning. They are almost out of juice.
When school ends next Friday, we will leave for two weeks holiday, away from everybody we know in our new homeland; immersed only in our little gang of five. First, a few days in the Auvergne- the ‘green heart’ of central France - in a remote little mountain cottage. The children are thrilled at the idea of a White Christmas and I plan to spend a lot of time lazing in front of the fire like a cat. Then we have planned a road trip up to Brittany and back. We’ll return ready for la rentrée, and all the adventures of a new term. But before then, I must throw this party. Wish me luck! And to all of you: a very merry Christmas. May your soirées be successful, your mental load light, and your Christmas in France most beautifully white. (If you’re home in Australia; enjoy the prawns, the swim, and the classic yearly viewing of Tim Minchin’s work of staggering beauty ‘White Wine in the Sun’.)
White wine in the sun – Tim Minchin
The T-Bone Scrubs Up Nice
3rd December 2017
I had to drag young T-Bone into the land of respectability this week. It was a full-service job. He was a disgrace from nose to tail. T has always been a pants-optional sort of person, and clothes are an issue for us here, especially as the weather gets colder.
At home, where the kids wear a school uniform, it's a lot easier. Sure, sometimes I have to sew up a rip, the hats are constantly getting lost and the uniforms have generally been handed down through a series of ragamuffins before they get to mine, but it’s all good. Our beloved little beach school is full of kids dressed in the same style. You could call it ‘Petite Derelicte’.
At home on the weekends, when my kids bother wearing clothes, they usually pair some questionable combination of garments from the dress-up box, stay in what they wore to bed or grab the closest thing to hand. They don’t care. I do my best to keep everything clean, but shirts have holes, shorts fray and if an item appeals to the kids they will squeeze into it or tie it on no matter if it is eight sizes too big or too small.
When we have an event or something to go to and I have to put all three of them into a decent outfit, that usually involves a shopping trip for at least one, if not all.
Here in France, every day is ‘proper outfit’ day. It’s killing me. Also, winter has arrived (it snowed yesterday for a full half hour!) and so outfits now require puffy coats and lots of layers and beanies and gloves.
I’ve discovered the Red Cross (Croix Rouge) shop, which I love, and friends here have delivered hand-me-down mittens and hats. The girls are pretty easy to pull together, but small T-Pot is trickier. He has decided that he will only wear black, so that people won’t pay attention to him and interrupt his interior monologue about Monopoly strategy. Also, he hates to get his hair cut, so I usually let his thick blonde mop grow out as long as possible before getting it cut short. This week I said that if he let me cut his fringe he could probably get away with avoiding the hairdresser a bit longer.
He agreed, but the theatrical wriggling in the bathroom as the scissors approached meant that the first cut was a bit short, and then I had to even it out, and ….you know how that old story goes. I knew I needed to call in the professionals but it was a few days until the salon in town opened, so he had to to go to school with a short fringe and long mop, looking like Sharon from Payroll in 1987. Not that he noticed.
Also, his hands are freezing because he left his gloves at the cinema, and then he lost his school bag. This is the third time that one of the kids has lost their bag. How? I don’t know. I don’t think we ever lost a full bag and contents before, but in France, apparently, we are just that idiotic. At home, T-Bone loses things all the time. (He walks around with his head in an entirely different place than his body, so I understand how this happens.) But I can usually find his lost stuff in the school yard, or on his hook, or in the lost-property bin or in some bizarre place, like the vegetable garden, or the whale-watching platform. (I don’t bother asking questions.)
In France we are not allowed past the gates. The school is the teachers territory, and it’s the kids responsibility to manage life in there.
The directrice was not impressed by Ted’s lost bag.
‘Je suis desolee,’ I said. ‘Teddy ..er… perdu ils sac. His bag is lost.’
She looked annoyed.
‘Je ne sais pas porqoui!’ I said.
‘I don’t know why either’, she said. (The Directrice speaks English but I try to use my French with her because she doesn’t approve of my speaking English and she is terrifying.)
I looked to Teddy but he was halfway across the yard, golden mane bouncing like he just stepped out of a salon. He is also terrified of the Directrice and escapes at the first opportunity.
‘Also, ‘e needs new shoes,’ she said. Ted is in his boots because his runners completely disintegrated by the end of last term. ‘’E cannot run in these shoes.’
‘Oui,’ I said. ‘Oui, bien sur.’
I backed away, bowing from the waist, and set off on my mission to sort him out. I bought a new school bag, a new ‘agenda’ (diary), dragged him kicking and screaming to the salon to be sheared, dragged him to the shoe store to find a pair of runners (black, no writing or logo, no ‘funny feeling’, oh, not a difficult shopping mission at all!), and bought him some new trousers, gloves and a beanie.
Monday looms. Let's hope I can pull us all into shape! It doesn’t help too much that the washing machine has broken so I’m living the laundromat life (where a couple started having special cuddles in front of me last week, forcing me to pull my clothes out of the dryer early and awkwardly while saying the Rosary)
As we roll into what is shaping up to be a cold winter, my Instagram is full of pictures of summer at home. In a year, I’ll be back there, with a new appreciation for our barefoot Australian days, holey t-shirts and all. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the puffy-coat life, and getting ready for a white Christmas. Snow, rather than salt, in our hair on Christmas Day.
Wish me luck for the week ahead. May the T-Nuts keep his clothes clean and his backpack where it should be, the laundrette-lovers find a new kink, and the Croix Rouge get in a big stock of hoodies, thermals and tracksuit pants, black, no logo, size 9.
(No comments possible on this new blog yet, but visit me at Instagram or Facebook if you want to send a message.)
Postcards From The Edge
26th November 2017
Last time I updated you all on France-life, we were vomiting and coughing up fur-babies and cursing the Sky Daddy. It feels a long time ago – the school vacation could not have come any sooner.
That two weeks break restored us all. We had a fabulous few days in Barcelona – I took a cooking class with my big gal, which was so fun, and we loved the Picasso Museum and had a wonderful long lunch with our Catalan friend Juan who helped us understand the fight for independence. It was an amazing time to visit. Catalan flags hung everywhere and change – if not revolution – was in the air. On the drive home we detoured to the beautiful town Cadaques, home for thirty years to Salvador and Gala Dali. His house has been turned into a ‘house-museum’ (my absolute fave tourist trap). You have to buy tix online and in advance – they are sold in 10 minute slots and sell out months ahead. Of course, we barely made our timeslot due to a child throwing up along the windy mountain roads. (A theme is emerging. A terrible, terrible theme.)
But oh my hat, the house: so good. Such beautiful madness. So inspiring.
Home for ‘la rentree’: back to school. The kids trotted off with smiles, which made us so proud and so relieved. They are making friends and stepping up to the challenge, and the child I was most worried about is doing great, which is heartwarming.
I am settling in too. I have started French lessons at the Calade, which is a sort of neighbourhood centre staffed by volunteers who help new citizens settle into France. I am in love with the Calade. The teacher shakes hands with the class, person by person. People bring food to share, and we break at eleven for black coffee and super-sweet tea, which the Arabic women stir with little bunches of thyme that they unwrap from foil packages. The room feels thick with stories, like all of these humans collided in this classroom at a pivotal point of our lives. It is warm and supportive, quite formal yet very funny. I feel incredibly grateful to have landed here.
My fellow students are from Morocco, Albania, Iraq, Ecuador, Brazil, Bulgaria, Thailand, Chile…and I’m sure I’m forgetting a couple. The French is almost all above my head but I fumble through. We discussed the different words ‘seule’ (alone), sel (salt), saler (to salt) and salle de bains (shower) yesterday. I put them together: ‘Alone in the shower, I salted my chicken.’ The class laughed and then ‘No, no,’ my teacher said. ‘Oui!’ I said ‘C’est moi!’
Toujours le clown. To crack a joke in French is my dream, but that chicken is about as champagne as my comedy can get in this new language. This is the part that is hardest for me; the struggle to express myself. At the school gates I am either silent, trying to understand the mostly incomprehensible babble around me, or I am contributing dudley points to the conversation. My mum-friends here are so nice. They endure my limping efforts. ‘The sun today – yes! But no wind. Yesterday is big wind,’ I say. ‘Oui’, they nod kindly to their stupid Australian friend. That’s right! Yesterday was big wind! There is little so difficult, awkward or anxiety-inducing as standing in pained silence with another person, unable to temper the air with any talk, whether small or large.
It is, in fact, an amazing experience,to be made mute like this, and while I always thought that this aspect of France life would be character-building for the children, I didn’t realise it would be the same for me. It’s hard, and some days I really wish I didn't have to work so hard to speak to anybody. But it is wonderful.
There are technical issues. Most upsettingly, my blog has been infected with a horrible virus and I’ve had to shut the whole shitshow down. I have a lot of faith in Keith’s skills, but it’s a long-term fix trying to retrieve and scrub all my content, and rebuild a new and better website. The dishwasher isn’t worker, the electricity keeps shorting out, and now the washing machine has thrown in the (wet and stinky) towel. I actually fell off the French ‘detachable’ toilet seat, in a sophisticated display of poise and grace. And once down the stairs too, which hurt more, but at least I had pants on.
I’m still writing; working on my manuscript about motherhood, and making lots of notes on French life. I’ve sold a couple of pieces to Australian magazines. (I’ll tell you when they’re published. I think Nudist Lover runs quarterly but Dog Fancy publishes a lot more often).
We’re busy. Keith is up at 5am to talk to Australia, and in bed at nine, absolutely buggered. I’m up not long after him in the morning to try and get in a little writing time before the school runs begin, and in the evenings after dinner we pick our way through all the homework before watching Friends, our current family obsession (the girls do an excellent Janice: Oh. My. God, etc and we are all constantly saying Phoebe’s ‘Oh, no.’) My French classes at the Calade run over two days and fit in around the school schedule, and I run the house and fit writing and general fart-arsing about (you can take the girl out of Australia…) in around the alarms that go off on my phone every couple of hours to tell us to do the walk down Rue Taillade past the now-familiar shops and locals. You say ‘Bonjour!’ the first and ‘Rebonjour” when you see people for the second time. After that, it’s the usual slightly awkward menu of nods, shooting gun-fingers, tipping imaginary hats, etc. At the gates it is a frenzy of triple-cheek kissing.
Autumn arrived abruptly – one day we were in t-shirts, the next in puffy jackets and mittens. But ‘it’s not cold yet’ we’re told. I’m worried: how many more layers can we add? I have to remember to pack tissues for the constant streaming noses and now to ‘where are your shoes’ I must add ‘and your hats, beanies, gloves...’ The Mistral, a fierce wind that famously drives folk crazy, blows like the dickens. It nearly blew me off the bridge last week as I crossed it towing my Nana-trolley on the way to the Intermarche (which is either quite a French image or just a portrait of a dickhead. Wherever you go: there you are.)
I’m loving the Croix Rouge (Red Cross) shop, Katia’s almond croissants and a little bar called the Bar du Nord where old men play cards and drink wine first thing in the morning. In fact I am loving everything about Sommieres. We have been taken to the hearts of some beautiful people. They have embraced us and our children, invited us to their homes, delivered goods to the doorsteps and showed such kindness. Even though we are the Stupid Family, they love us anyway.
We are planning a holiday over Xmas in the Auvergne,the ‘green heart’ of France. I’m really looking forward to a few days of quiet puzzles, games by the fire, long baths and naps-with-added-dribbling. We have promised to try and find some snow for the children. Then a road trip up to Brittany and back, before term 2 and the real cold weather kicks in.
I feel far from home, I wish the washing machine would work, and I miss my Mum and Dad, but we are happy, growing some new brain-bits and thriving in the smells, sounds and constant wonderful confusion of this new home.
Love to you all. X
(No comments possible on this new blog yet, but visit me at Instagram or Facebook if you want to send a message.)
19th November 2017
My website has been infected with a virus from hell and I must shut it down while I try and save my content.
I have so much to tell you about life in France. Since my last update I fell off the toilet and down the stairs, sang drunken late-night Radiohead with new friends, was nearly blown off a Roman bridge by the Mistral and was boisterously bitten by bedbugs in Barcelona.
I’m studying now, the kids are doing great and every day my French improves a little, which is thrilling. It’s cold now; the mittens and beanies are on and the Christmas lights are being strung up around our lovely little town, which grows quieter every week as the summer becomes more of a distant memory.
Wish me luck dealing with this bastard malware.
This is to the donkey shaggers who infected my blog:
And this is for the rest of you:
I’ll be back, sooner rather than later, I hope.
In the meantime, you can email me at email@example.com if you need bad, inappropriate, mildly funny and largely forgettable anecdotes to help you pass five minutes of your day, or keep up on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/mogantosh/