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17th December 2017

Comrades, we’re in the last week of the school term here, preparing to go away this weekend for Christmas, and recovering from a big party we threw on the weekend.

At peak-party, there were 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 in my timeworn fashion - as in, they looked great early on, but went downhill 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. This new site he’s building has almost nothing on it but I am hoping to have my content back soon. I’ve been writing a little for the website Living In Laungedoc. Here’s a piece I wrote for them this week summing up the last few weeks.

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, which for the last months have included taking our biggest to physiotherapy in Montpellier twice a week. I found him asleep at his desk on Thursday, 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 stress of Christmas is a wonderful problem 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 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 an 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.

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’.

Joyeaux Noel!

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