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20 years in France!

Our story begins in May 2002 when my mother and I said goodbye to the friends we made working as Care Assistants in nursing homes around Fleet and Camberley.

People we used to work with
Melanie, Tracy, Linda, Toni, Mom, and Rachel.

I had another roll of film with photos of other people and some of the things we did, but that roll seems to have vanished into the mists of time.

On the 19th of May, we drove down to the ferry terminal at Portsmouth, and with our one-way tickets, boarded the ferry. For reasons I won't go into, we left where we were staying early in the morning, and waited at the ferry terminal for an overnight crossing. It was a lot of waiting.

It was a reasonably sunny day, but it turned into a crappy foggy evening. I didn't bother taking any photos of leaving the UK as it was just fuzzy murk.

We slid down a big pink arrow
We slid down a big pink arrow.

 

In the morning of the 20th of May, we arrived in France. I think we were on the "Normandie" arriving at Saint Malo (and not Ouistreham). I say this because we basically headed south towards Rennes, then a little bit further, and we had arrived. The Caen journey takes several hours due to its location.

We had a truck coming in a week or so with all our junk, but the important things (one Cockatiel, a computer, and "other stuff") came in the car with us. So we unloaded the car and headed to the supermarket. Well, mom did. She was depressed at the state of the place, the weeds had grown a lot since we were last there about eight months prior. So I said I'd work on the weeds if mom did the shopping.

Which was a mistake, as for some peculiar reason, mom got it into her head that France didn't sell fresh milk. So she bought lots of UHT. It took a couple of weeks until I was able to demonstrate that there was such a thing as fresh semi-skimmed milk. Which I think was called "Bob" back then.

I wasn't particularly worried about integrating, as I have never really felt that I belonged anywhere I have been, so this would just be "more of the same". A knowledge of French would have been useful, however. ☺

 

Mom loved to drive. So... yeah... we went everywhere.

Driving everywhere
Just a few of the places we went.

I wrote up a condensed version of what I am writing here, in French, for the people at work. One of the girls saw the above diagram and said "oh my God, I haven't left the département!". I should point out that we're not far from the corner of Brittany, so if you drive maybe ten or so miles you can be in a different region (never mind département), and do a journey of around 30 miles and you can pass through four different départements. But, yeah, some people don't get out much.

 

I primarily learned French by reading the local regional newspaper Ouest-France. That's probably part of why my pronunciation is terrible. I did the basics of French with no spoken part whatsoever, so I'm much better at reading than interacting with real people.... hell, that's not just French, that's me in general.

 

It was mom's fourth adventure (America, Scotland, England, now France). It was my second inning. Well, I spent a couple of years in America but I only have hazy memories of that. I was also up in Scotland, given I was born there, but I don't remember any of that. So France is my second rodeo. Well, I went to boarding school and stayed with a friend in Bridgwater for a year. Does that count? ☺

 

From around 2005 to early 2008 we both participated in a group called EnVol based in a nearby town. It was set up primarily to help Frenchies with difficulties to learn to integrate better and learn some basic life skills like cooking. For one of the girls, who suffered with crippling shyness, I got the impression this was the only time in the week she dared to step outside.
We Brits were able to participate because not speaking French was considered a difficulty, and they were able to apply for EU grants for including European citizens.
Unfortunately in late 2007, the person who used to run the show quit. She was one of these people who wanted to try to help everybody, and she was good at it. But as she was the most competent, she got saddled with endless paperwork, and it frustrated her that she wasn't able to do much of the helping when it was all form after form.

The replacement saw how much grant money they stood to gain from having EU people, and since at that time there was a large community of Brits in the area, everybody was invited. So they all turned up by the lure of free French lessons. The Frenchies ran away in horror. The poor shy girl was terrified to the point of incontinence. She never returned.
Some of their own teachers left over this, so mom got promoted to be a "formateur bénévole" (volunteer teacher), but mom and I were both quite unhappy with how the Frenchies had been treated. Part of why I liked it was the interaction with actual French people. And since everybody had some sort of issue, nobody had an ego or something to prove. People just got involved as much as they felt comfortable with. Really, the Brits who were not interested in actually integrating (as in, the class that spent most of the morning discussion EastEnders and where to get Sky cards) should have been pushed off to a different day.

 

In September 2008, I found employment in a local company. I was originally on the production line... for all of about half an hour, until I was put into "ménage" (fetching stuff for production), I talk about some of this in the early days of my blog. I did a stint at night shift cleaning, until I landed the position of being the chief toilet scrubber. I actually wrote that in the French text ("chef brosseur de toilettes") and knew when people got to that part because they'd start laughing.

When I was bringing in a wage, I was able to get a phone line. For broadband, in my case. So after about six years, I was reconnected to the world.

 

In 2016, the English broke everything. And that's all I'm going to say on that topic.

 

France has problems, like any country in the world. The fact that the two most popular politicians following Macron were the far right and the far left suggest that something is going badly wrong. However, my general impression of France is overwhelmingly positive. In fact, it's nice - as a foreigner - to gently mock the French predilication for endless paperwork and have the natives join in and utterly roast their beaurocracy. Which is a lot better than having to deal with racism and xenophobia.

I do not regret leaving the UK. I am quite saddened, actually, as I watch, read, or listen to the news and try to work out what the hell is going on in the UK. It's certainly not the country I remember. So, to put it in the words of a famous Frenchie - je ne regrette rien.

Plus, I can buy real tea on Amazon, so I'm sorted. ☺

 

Here, things have changed. Here is an APS photo from around 1999 or so.

Out front, circa 1999
Out front, circa 1999.

Here's the same shot taken last Sunday before my intestines exploded (if you did a doubletake reading that, read this).

Out front, now
Out front, now.

Back then, the weeping willow was a wisp of a tree that was being choked by a piece of barbed wire wrapped around it. We removed the barbed with and carefully removed it from the bark, and put repair paste all over the wound to protect the tree from infections.

Fifteen odd years later, it had grown into an impressive weeping willow. It would be a nice place to sit on a hot day, if it wasn't for the fact that willows are notorious for bits of dead wood falling out of the crown. It's sort of how they grow, now growth on the outside makes the previous outside now on the inside obsolete, so that withers away as the tree puts its efforts into the outside and the leaves.

 

Perhaps a more blatant idea is this, from the canicule summer of 2002 (and seemingly taken on the only grey morning, go figure). Actually, I think this was a Canon DSLR that we borrowed, so I will have taken photos when we had it. Anyway, this is the then...

How the driveway used to be
How the driveway used to be.

And here's the now. The trees would have been taller, but ErDF lopped the tops to allow the electricity line to pass. And I have cut some back to avoid damaging the phone line (as the parts on my land are my responsibility).

How the driveway is now
The driveway now.

This is, in part, our reaction to the local farmers tearing out every tree and hedgerow that they can see. There are plenty of oaks here (from mighty Acorns grow...), birds are welcome. Indeed, the land that used to be the "potager" (vegetable garden) now contains numerous trees and messy hedgerows. The grass is also cut less frequently so it can grow a bit more.
This is why.

LPO sign
LPO sign.

 

Ever since the Autumn of 2008, I have been writing a blog (nearly 14 years already), so you've been able to join me on some of the adventures. Which, granted, are more like a trek through the wilderness of the orchard down behind the cat than, say, doing a pilgrimage to Santiago like the rest of the world, or meeting elephants in India, or something like that.

 

So, because of my recent bout of food poisoning, I can't toast twenty years. But here's to twenty more (then I retire!).

 

Fun in the carpark

I was ambling in the supermarket car park with my headphones on trying to pick up Love '80s Manchester, but it wasn't working as I think the mobile tower had been hit by lightning. Again.

This car came up behind me and leaned on the horn, like "hooooonk!". I turned to look and he would down the window and said if I'm going to mess around with headphones, get the hell out of the way. He honked a few more times to make the point.

Given this guy looked like the sort of person who, in America, would live in his parent's basement guzzling endless sixpacks and day old pizza (I bet, I have, in a mere fifteen words, given you a good idea of what I was looking at) I was rather annoyed.

So I said, rather more loudly than I normally speak for the benefit of the onlookers who wanted to know what the fuss was, "Quel part de sens interdite que vous êtes trop stupide de comprendre, connard?", while pointing out all of the rather visible No Entry signs and the bloody big arrow painted on the ground.

"Anglais?", he asked.
"Brittanique", I replied. Normally these days I'd say I was Scottish, but I didn't want to give anybody a bad impression of Scots, and I couldn't quite bring myself to say that I was English.

He then complimented me on my French, then carefully drove around me and parked.

I don't normally speak to people like that, but it was a combination of him not looking like a threat and his obviously drawing attention to himself while doing something wrong. What, was he going to argue with a big red sign that has a white line in it?

And all I wanted was some bloody milk and baby food mix. What a palaver! <sigh>

 

 

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Gavin Wraith, 21st May 2022, 10:14
France's gain, Britain's loss. Thanks for the blog, and may your next 20 years be happy ones. 
 
About 20 years ago I happened to read "The Life of Apollonius of Tyana" by Flavius Philostratus (born around AD170). There is a phrase in it, put into the mouth of Apollonius, which always comes back to me, in the context of nationality: the earth is the mother of all.
J.G.Harston, 22nd May 2022, 14:10
*30* years ago I was working for Acorn Far East in Hong Kong. Crumbs!
Rob, 23rd May 2022, 23:21
40 years ago I was an apprentice at Ferranti Computer Systems (may they rest in peace..) and found that useful things such as solder and cable ties were free-issue from stores (i.e., you didn't need a signed requisition to ask for some..) I'm still using them...  
 
(8K RAM chips, handy for BBC Micro sideways RAM, were almost as freely available, but were hardly ever in stock...)
Rick, 25th May 2022, 19:06
Any takers for "50 years ago..."? 😂

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Last read at 22:59 on 2022/06/25.

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