From London to un petit patelin
I first visited France when I was 14 years old. It was a school exchange visit and I stayed with a family in a Paris suburb.
It was a long time ago but I can still remember the excitement of going to the boulangerie after school to collect a baguette – or a fabulous cake if Madame was feeling happy.
Nothing like going to our local baker in London, it was so much more exotic and glamorous in France!
I was born in London and spent all my working life there although I travelled around the world in my jobs, first as a sub-editor of a magazine and then in banking.
I was, I guess, a corporate person although when I was young I could be very act-first-think-later. I once lied to my boss that I could speak Italian so that I could go with him and a group of industrialists he was hosting to Rome (I’d never been and was very keen to visit!).
Despite enrolling in Italian language evening classes three weeks before the trip, I was an abject failure as a translator but this was only discovered after we landed in Rome where my first job was to rapidly hire a proper interpreter!
When my Mum died six months into her longed-for retirement, I started to re-evaluate my life. And when the chance came to relocate to France, I jumped at it.
I had huge misgivings about leaving a job I loved and a team I was very close to. It was also the start of a global recession and I worried about how we would manage financially. But my husband, who is much more feet-first than me, can be very persuasive and we departed England for France.
Soon after this, my love affair began – my husband doesn’t mind as he completely understands it.
My love affair with the French way of life has grown in strength each year, as my knowledge of the language, the people, the traditions and culture of northern France has grown.
My wonderful neighbour Remy has become my mentor and teaches me rude words in Patois, the local slang. I discovered the best cake shop in the world, I learned to garden, am now pretty much self-sufficient in vegetables and I acquired animals.
I’d never had an animal in London – no time, no room, and frankly no inclination although I had a son! However, shortly after I moved to France, stray animals started to come into our life – three cats and three dogs to be precise, followed by ten naughty chickens.
Living in a huge metropolis like London, with take-aways on every corner and working long hours, meant that I rarely, if ever, cooked. But here in France I am learning, with the use of a traditional French cookbook, and advice from French neighbours and the man who delivers our bread.
I am fascinated by the whole process of cooking, from growing food to shopping at the wonderful street markets and creating something that looks like a feature from a glossy magazine – okay, that doesn’t happen often, but enough to keep me enthusiastic and enthralled at the budding talent that I never knew I had.
Gardening, too, plays a huge part in my life. Something else I had never done before has become very important to me and I am creating an English cottage garden in France.
Remy, my garden mentor, is giving me lessons about lunar gardening, which I really don’t understand at all yet. But I can feel a new passion coming on with the full moon.All images courtesy of Janine Marsh.