The Bath In The Bedroom
19th September 2017
It was the bath in the bedroom that sold me on the house in Sommieres. I’m a bath aficionado (you might even say a crazy-eyed obsessive freak) and the tub is my happiest of happy places, second only to my bed. To have one within three steps of the other is this lazy gal’s greatest dream. And the fact that this particular bathtub is directly across the street from the former home of Lawrence Durrell in the centre of a medieval stone village…well, that’s getting a little greedy for romance. But sir, I’ll take it!
I had spent some fun hours searching the internet - the north of France, the mountains; but mainly the south, for a place to rent for a year. There were very few places that panned out, and none that captured my imagination like that bath in the bedroom. It wasn’t available. But then the landlady emailed us asking if we might be interested in the house next door. It had a shower in the bedroom instead of a bath ( not ideal; for a start, ones book gets terribly soggy) but retained all the stone-walled, higgledy-piggledy, history-soaked charm of the original.
Sold! To the lady reading memoirs with pruney fingers.
And now we are here. A year in the south of France is perhaps not the most original of ideas, but that’s OK with us. We’ll wash away the shame of being clichés with buttery pastries as big as our heads. Eaten in the shower.
Keith will run his small tech business from home, I will write and run the good ship Household and our children, who are ten, nine and six, will go to the village school for a year, although they don’t speak French. It’s called ‘immersion’ learning, and there is a knot in my chest at the anticipation of how tricky and painful their adjustment may be. I’ve been told that should take about four months for the babble of language surrounding them to coalesce into recognisable sentences. At that point, they should have ‘functional’ French, and from then on it will be a matter of vocabulary and nuance, and eventually, poo jokes. But at the start they will face an unfamiliar culture and language, a situation that will take all their courage and intestinal fortitude.
We joke about preparing ourselves to be the ‘dumbest family in town’ for a while. Keith and I comfort ourselves with the science that says that novel experiences spark neural pathways in the brain, and we hope that at the end of a year, the children will speak the language (at least conversationally), which will be a great gift to their adult selves.
I also hope that even the difficult and painful aspects of their adjustment will hold hidden gifts of resilience and compassion. And of course to be able to take such an adventure is an incredible privilege. Still, I feel sick at the thought that we are taking the trusting little hands of these people we love so much, dropping them into a terrifying ocean and shouting ‘Save yourselves!”
Can we withdraw routine, comfort and stability from the lives of these very small people in the hope of a future deposit of memories and skills? Is it a fair transaction? I hope so. If it’s not worth it, I’m sure they’ll let us know in an expensive therapist’s office in a couple of decades. What fun!
School will be challenging, but home life will run as always (lost hats, Captain Underpants, little arms and legs in strong, warm cuddles). I will be their soft place to fall when they have a rough day, and I will try to keep life as safe and as familiar as I can. But to be honest, our day-to-day life for the next year is hard to imagine.
Home is a beach town; down a dirt road in a house with a composting dunny and a rope swing. The frogs are noisy at night-time, fat possums jump across the roof, and wallabies visit the backyard. Down the hill is a beach called Sharkeys that booms with powerful, thundering Pacific surf, as well as the children’s familiar, beloved small school complete with whale-watching platform. In Sommiéres we live in a tall, narrow stone house built in 1973; underneath a castle, and near a Roman bridge ordered by Tiberius in 1AD. One feels a million miles from the other.
The future is bursting with possibility, which is part of the thrill, and part of the fear. It’s all possible: stress, worry, emotional cheese-eating; but also: travel, incredible new skills (is it really possible we could all be fluent in another language by next year?) and shared family memories.
On a good day, we will be living our dream adventure. On a bad day, I’ll break in next door and eat pastries in their bath. Win win!