My name is Fiona Sharp. Until Covid-19, I was working as a theatre producer. I was employed by Rugby School to open their school theatre up to the local community of Rugby. I programmed the foyer and theatre space and successfully ran regular performances in Rugby’s only professional theatre. I offered a range of events so there was something for everyone from contemporary cutting edge theatre, dance, family theatre, pizza and jazz nights with local and international musicians, singalong events followed by ‘Gin and Jive’, I even commissioned a new Christmas Show! I had a hoot, learned loads and met some incredible people, especially my front of house team who rocked!
At the same time, I also have a company called www.thewheelsondebussy.com that I run with a completely amazing woman Louise Knight. We started the company by running concerts for pre-schoolers and have ended up transforming towns with creative interventions such as pop-up art shops, transforming village halls for weeks of creativity, putting on art, theatre and music festivals and commissioning new theatre work.
Here’s a video I made for The Armistice Festival, a series of creative events that took place in Rugby, Warwickshire and Daventry, Northamptonshire, commissioned by Heritage Lottery Fund and Arts Council England in 2018 and produced by The Wheels on Debussy.
I am married to Matthew Sharp, cellist, baritone, actor, director and all-round artist extraordinaire, AKA “Virtuoso of the Arts” according to The Times www.matthewsharp.net . We have 3 fantastic children, twin boys, Finbar and Douglas, aged 7 and a daughter Roisin who is 10 years old.
Our lockdown started like most people. Family walks in the local area, drinking our wine and champagne stock @moetchandon @nakedwines @laithwaites.wine @majesticwine, watching Boris at 5pm @bbcnews and living in fear that we were all going to get Covid-19 #crick #northamptonshire #warwickshire #Iforgotmysilverplate #covid19 #lockdown
We spent days baking and hunting shops for flour and eggs. Yeast was out of the question so we grew our own sourdough yeast. The house stank of sick for a week but we persevered and it turned into a healthy culture. We made bread, pizzas, naan and fed our little sourdough baby every day (well the days that we remembered) . We were also sent Irish Soda Bread Flour all the way from Belfast @neillsflour thanks to @keavy7789 and made melt in the mouth #irishsodabread 🍀 crick #northamptonshire #warwickshire #Iforgotmysilverplate #covid19 #lockdown
Let me explain where #iforgotmysilverplate comes from.
My wonderful mum, in a desperate attempt to educate us used to play french tape cassettes when we were younger. The recording would say ‘ecoutez s’il vous plait’, My younger brother Fergal, then aged 3 with an Essex accent would attempt to repeat it which sounded like ‘affagama silvapla’ which of course to him translated as #iforgotmysilverplate . Fergal died in 2014 but his memory lives on. What I have learnt since he died is that time on earth is precious. To be born at all is a miracle and the only thing we can be certain of in life is that we will all die….so make the most of it! i#feelthefearanddoitanyway www.fergalfoundation.org.uk #crick #northamptonshire #warwickshire #Iforgotmysilverplate #covid19 #lockdown🍀 crick #northamptonshire #warwickshire #Iforgotmysilverplate #covid19 #lockdown
And then came the shocking news! My contract as #theatremanager@macreadytheatre was ended because of #covid19 . All of Matt’s work as #cellist#baritone#actor#director@mattdjsharp was cancelled overnight in the first few weeks of lockdown. Suddenly we were 2 incomes down with no prospect of work for a whole year! We needed a plan of action and fast.
Here’s a little snap shot of the incredible journey that Macready Theatre went on in the last 2 years.
Our reality....We suddenly realised we couldn’t afford our house anymore so we decided to put the house up for sale and move to Warwick. It all had to happen QUICK otherwise I wouldn’t be able to apply for a mortgage! #clearout #declutter #sellyourhome .
I went with @doorsteps.co.uk_midlands @doorsteps.co.uk who were fab! But as it was the peak of #lockdown we had no interest.
Job hunting...Faced with the prospect of no work, I would have sleepless nights worrying and then get up at 5am and write applications for jobs that I didn’t get. I tried Aldi, Lidl, Sainsburys, Asda, a local charity. I had one interview for an orchestra who were looking for a development manager . It was a brilliant interview and I loved the people on the panel but as I am not a conventional fundraiser, I didn’t get the job.
I got through the aptitude tests, application stage and to the video interview stage for Aldi. This photo below is me about to do a video assessment for @aldiuk to be a #storemanager. It was a disaster. You have to present to a pre-recorded video of someone asking questions and then a countdown timer of 1 minute appears per question for you to answer it. At one point the kids were playing on the road outside and I shouted out the window. No surprise that I didn’t get through this round. The recruitment company must have a laugh watching all the videos. @aldirecrutement1 @lidlgb @sainsburys @asda @tescofood #iforgotmysilverplate
My Prince 2 phase... I have been managing creative projects in #theatre#dance#communityprojects for many years @macreadytheatre@stopgapdance@farnhammaltings@batterseaartscentre@teteateteopera@mflidfraser so I thought it would be easy to transfer my skills and knowledge base to a different sector. I bought a #prince2foundation#prince2practitioner course from @ecareers_ltd . Special lockdown price!!!! I didn’t realise I would have to learn a different language. Definitely NOT English. Sadly it is still #workinprogress. Maybe after I’ve grappled with the move I will find time to do this….or if there’s anyone that could translate I’m all ears? #iforgotmysilverplate
Then we witnessed THIS!
#lockdown eased and people queued for hours in the blazing heat to get into @primark@sportsdirectuk. We asked ourselves why are we still living in a country that cares so little about culture, creativity and community? How can we get out? We watched in awe as other countries and inspiring #femaleleaders dealt with #covid19@jacindaardern@sannamarin and put our thinking caps on @mattdjsharp#iforgotmysilverplate
How can we escape from this country?…The protective parenting instinct kicked in big time and I was prepared to go ANYWHERE to keep the children’s spirits up and find a way to survive yet still have an adventure while the world was on pause. We would have to move out of our house in any case so why settle for Bognor Regis when we could move to a different country. I wanted to have something to look forward, something that would challenge us in a good way and might create new opportunities for Team Sharp to learn and grow as a family…so I started looking at jobs in #dubai #oman even #china…..then we narrowed it down to #france
My love of France…began when I was 16. My mum organised a stay with a French family in Paris and I attended a language school for 2 weeks. I had a complete ball, mostly spoke English with class mates and pigeon French with my host family but I had a sense of independence that I had never experienced. Of course it involved dancing in La Locomotive night club until 3am, getting the first metro home and snogging some random French rollar blading bloke with Galloises breath and bad teeth outside Notre Dame. My memories of that trip were filled with possibility. Having grown up as a teenager in Crewe, Cheshire, to Irish immigrant parents, I was suddenly given the taste of a possible different future.
3 years later…I was at Birmingham University studying French and Drama. My third year was spent abroad and I couldn’t believe I ended up in Montpellier. It may have had something to do with the fact that I wrote to the drama department and begged them to convince the French department to send me there because of all the amazing theatre, dance and music that I could see. I reluctantly returned to Birmingham for my final year but after graduating I managed to secure a job in Paris for #eurolondon a bilingual recruitment agency that was opening an office in France. Through this I found another job working for #RemyCointreau marketing alco pops to the Netherlands. 2.5 years later and with a crazy French boyfriend to escape from, I returned to the UK to pursue my passion for theatre. 6 months later I met my husband to be #matthewsharp @batterseaartscentre during an #operafestival and together as a family we find ourselves back in France and only 45 minutes away from Montpellier.
My Dream Home…THIS is what I envisaged our year in #france would be like, swimming, eating, drinking @moetchandon @veuveclicquot @cotedazuraddicted @_cotedazur @cannes_filmfestival @antibestourisme @juanlespinsbeach @mattdjsharp #iforgotmysilverplate
Let’s be realistic….Ok, maybe the last property was slightly out of the question….more this @rentinfrance @rent_infrance @explorelanguedoc #rentinfrance #escapetofrance
Of course I have them.
During #lockdown I’ve been listening to these #inspirational people @tonyrobbins@drchatterjee@michelleobama plus daily @calm sessions with @tamaralevitt to keep my mind and #motivation in tact.
At 5.30am these are my fears:
-The thought of my children starting a French school when they can’t communicate terrifies me #badmum. My daughter said “if I know how to ask for the toilet then I should be ok” .
-My daughter saying goodbye to friends, are we emotionally scarring her?
– What if the children hate it?
– What if the children hate us for taking them away from their home?
– What if we can’t find work?
– Am I too old to be doing this?
– We have never even been to this place.
– What if the French hate us!?
And so on….
I have always been inspired by my #irish mum who always says #feelthefearanddoitanyway or “we’re a long time pushing up daisies so you might as well go for it”.
Renting out our house…
The house did not sell and by now the possibility of getting another mortgage was a distant memory as I no longer had a work contract in date.
Next step was to rent. I went through @openrent_uk . Having rented and sold before I have never used a high street #estateagent . Openrent was #free to list the property for 3 days and then I bought a 4 month package for £49 which included the contracting and referencing stages.
So far so good….
4 weeks later and 4 viewings later, we had a visit from the most gorgeous couple with a little girl who was about the start school, they loved the house and wanted to move in. Immediately I could se them becoming friends with our neighbours and being part of the village life. The stars had aligned
Le Grand Plan…
I set to work on this bit of old wallpaper I use for #kids #crafting and put down everything and anything that would need to happen. Including a list of people we knew that might be able to help @heleninparis . Par hasard the wonderful #rachelwhibley @carrot_productions happened to #facetime and was subjected to me bursting into tears. She mentioned someone she knew in a place called…. oh now, what was it called again?….it began with P!? #iforgotmysilverplate
I googled places in the South of France beginning with ‘P’ and came across this town called Pezenas. However, it turned out not to the the ‘P’ I’d heard from @carrot_productions but it was too late, I was hooked.
I immediately fell in love. #artisan#pottery#soapmaking#hatmaking#glassblowing. With a #crafttastic 10 year old, we could be on to a winner.
Further research told us it where #moliere lived, often described as the French #shakespeare and there is even an annual Moliere Festival It seemed the perfect fit for our #music#theatre family.
I joined every Facebook group that I could find linked to this area and read posts, looked at events in the area and asked questions like “how do I get my children into school?”
Having lived in #montpellier as an #erasmusstudent at @univpaulvalery @birmingham_univer then worked in #paris @remycointreau @bols_party marketing @pisang_ambon @passoa @drinkgalliano over 20 years ago, I experienced the #frenchbureaucracy first hand so the fact that this information was readily available was incredible. Thank goodness for #facebook I#iforgotmysilverplate
#lockdown has taught me the importance of #mentalhealth in my #children. Yes of course I want my children to be successful but more importantly they need to be fulfilled. With so much news of #lockdown#suicide#depressedkids#childhoodobesity#classdivide#education, we focused on exploring and indulging interests. Of course if it was solely #minecraft then I wouldn’t have allowed it…I have actually been very strict about Minecraft and TV.
Roisin took to #knitting#sewing#junkmodelling. Douglas who would often get moody and frustrated in school has turned out to be an avid reader, I can’t keep up with the number of books he gets through! And Finbar is turning into a brilliant pianist.
This next year will be about doing more of the same #nopressure.
In any case their brains will be working overtime trying to process a new language.
There’s a saying “If you only knock long enough and loud enough at the gate, you are sure to wake up somebody”. @tonyrobbins
And strangely enough on one of the many Facebook groups with thousands of people, someone responded to my post, lived in the next village AND said we shared a mutual friend.
The stars were aligning. This wonderful human has gone above and beyond to help us, including visiting the gite, meeting the landlady and giving us a FaceTime tour of the accommodation and town we are moving to #caux#languedoc#forevergrateful#iforgotmysilverplate
“The first wealth is health.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
#covid19 has taken away our income and probably my career in the arts…but we still have our health.
We have realised that life is too short to wait until tomorrow….until the children are older…until we get more money….life is to be lived in the here and now.
We worked out that if we can rent our house in the UK and live frugally in France…we might make it work #iforgotmysilverplate
Renting in France…
My previous experience of finding an apartment to rent in France was a complete nightmare.
Paris, 2001, I spent weeks waking up at 5am to get hold of the local newspaper. One would quickly go through the property listing in a nearby cafe and then set off, dossier in hand, to spend the day queuing to look at places to rent. Of course if your dossier was intact it would go to the first person in the queue… Usually a rich student that had a cheque for the year’s rent upfront!
Renting in 2020, is a whole different world. I haven’t even had to open a French bank account yet….
I have come across loads of websites that cater for people renting for a year or less. The contracts are in English and French and you can pay through your UK bank account. I highly recommend Jane from @go.languedoc@golanguedoc@long_termrentalsfrance who has been so patient and helpful. With expert knowledge of the local area Jane was able to point us towards a village near @pezenasmaville called #caux . Caux is 5 km from #pezenas and about the same size as #Crick#northamptonshire with essential amenities #eglise#restaurant#ecole#pharmacie. It was less touristy than #pezenas which sold it for us. We want the children to learn French afterall.
We found a little gite in the centre of Caux with 3 bedrooms and 2 outdoor spaces and parking. The school was 600 metres away and the price was reasonable. We asked our new friend Raymond if he could go and visit it for us as photos can be misleading. The same day he popped over and did a tour of the gite, met the lovely landlady Karine and then Facetime toured us into the centre and showed us the bars , restaurant, cafe etc. Raymond said the gite would be perfect and even checked the outside walls were solid so we wouldn’t disturb neighbours with singing and cello playing. So, there we are, we rented a place based on a virtual tour!!!
This was NOT part of the plan.
3.5 weeks before our French departure, a trip to #dingleywood#marketharborough resulted in 2 broken wrists when Finbar did a #superman fall from a swing.
It was so traumatic for all involved especially Douglas who had to flag down the ambulance.
My previous back injury was triggered from the lifting and I was in agony for 2 weeks #carcrash with @jasnageric in #sardinia#carryingtwins that weighed 8lbs4 and 7lbs8 #pregnancy#cesareanbirth.
“Failure and setbacks are ingredients for a great success story” @tonyrobbins
Saying Goodbye...In the midst of Covid-19, with lockdown only being slightly eased, we were able to see local friends. This was the last night with our dear friends @anna_christinag @tom.gallagher.7902 . Anna and I go back over 30 years. Gorgeous friend who has supported all my crazy adventures at @alsager_school @unibirmingham @euro_london @remycointreau @veuveclicquot @batterseaartscentre @farnhammaltings @tonbridge_events @deal_music_arts @macreadytheatre. Can’t wait for them to come and visit and really looking forward to discovering new French wines ensemble. @languedocwinesuk @domainelanguedoc @chateaudesclans @thewhisperingangel @chateaudecaux @escape_to_the_chateau @explorelanguedoc @vinsdulanguedoc @mattdjsharp @masdedaumasgassac
One thing that kept our hearts and souls buoyant in #lockdown was the fun we had with #thegaragetheatre set up by my genius #husband @mattdjsharp #internationalmusician #cellist #actor #musician #culturalmandarin First we showed #tommyfoggosuperhero raising funds for @actionforchildrenuk by #stephendeazley and #martinriley previously toured to @wisewordsfestival @edfringe @macreadytheatre @theatreroyalbath1805 @theeggtheatrebath @festivalriverside @rugbyschool1567 @kingsplacelondon @dulwichfestival @dulwichmusicfestival @petworthfestival @thepleasance @tatalitlive @thegulbenkian and now it was being performed in our garage! We had great coverage by @bbcnews @bbcnorthampton @rugby_radio .
Then we started work on #thestrongone by #martinriley music by @mattdjsharp based on #thestrongman of #crick #carldane the first #rankfilms #gongman who lived and died in our village. Produced by me through @thewheelsondebussy #twod and working remotely with talented #gcse and #alevel students in #rugby #warwickshire #northamptonshire @rugbyhighschool @harrisschoolteachers @guilsboroughacademy @ayelsford_school @kingshighschoolwarwick
Today I’ve started packing #bareessentials for the #southoffrance#southoffrance🇫🇷. Where we are going, Caux @explorelanguedoc has 300 days of sunshine a year! I’m an absolute #clothesaddict#shoppingaddict so it’s been very hard to decide what to bring. I hope this will be enough for the first 2 weeks!!!??? @southoffrancesummer#frenchchic#frenchwardrobe#frenchsummer@aldo_shoes@clarksshoes@tastedulanguedoc
Writing to the Mayor... Apparently it’s the done thing to write to the mayor of the town you are moving to and introduce yourself beforehand. Here’s our attempt. It was sent by email last week and I got an out of office saying he’s on holiday until August 25th.
I’ve also said we want to start the school year ASAP and that as the children don’t speak any French they might be better off going into the year below.
In hindsight I’m not sure if this is a great idea for the boys as the school year age ranges from Jan-Dec which would make the boys almost 2 years older than their classmates which is no fun for playing football. So Roisin (age10) should going into CM2 and the boys (7) CE1. #iforgotmysilverplate@french_edu@duolingo@mattdjsharp@french_edu@explorelanguedoc#duolingo#duolingofrench#duolingofrançais#frenchschool#education#kidseducation#bilingualkids#bilingualeducation#lifeinfrance
Packing chaos...Feeling #overwhelmed #overwhelmedmom today. So much to do #packing #storage #tip #charityshop . Too much to take there’s no way it’s all going to fit in the #smax #tired #tiredmum #iforgotmysilverplate @mattdjsharp
School places for 2021...At the same time as #planning our #adventure #travel #movingtofrance #france because #covid19 has put an end to our #jobs , we have to think about a #year7 #schoolplace for #roisin for #september2021 . She has her #heart set of #kingshighwarwick @kingshighschoolwarwick . Following a visit and #tasterday she cut up the #prospectus and made #visionboards of all the things that she wanted to get involved in to help her #stayfocused and work hard towards the #scholarship #scholarshipopportunities . We are so #proud #inspired by her attitude towards this and the #11 + #warwickshire which has now been #postponed due to #covid19 . #iforgotmysilverplate . #applcation just submitted!
Celebrating our anniversary ….T Minus 7 days...12 year’s ago today we got #married @clandonparknt then #theduchess was filmed there #keiraknightley and then it #burntdown !!!! Luckily our marriage has survived #happyanniversarytous @mattdjsharp . There’s no one else I would be on this #lifejourney #adventure with #kindredspirits #12yearsinlove #12yearsandcounting #lifelifetothefullest #neveradullmoment #iforgotmysilverplate
La Rentree...The return to school in France, known as La Rentree, seems to me a huge marketing scam. Schools do not provide equipment for the children it is the responsibility of the parents to buy it all and the responsibility of the child to carry it to and from school everyday. You see tiny children carrying heavy ruck sacks the same size as them. There’s an extensive list of stationary required online. Yesterday I did #schoolshopping . #france is #nonuniformday #everyday Why the #7yearoldsboy need a compass and protractor is beyond me but I doubt there’ll be a #poundland in #france so might as well stock up. In any case I’m sure they’ll find a use for them #ninja #ninjafighting #starwars #kidsfighting #boysboysboys . Also have to provide #paintbrushes #paint #roundedscissors #folders. All essential part of the 29 items on the #list #iforgotmysilverplate @mattdjsharp @livinginfrance @explorelanguedoc #livinginfrance #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #goingonanadventure #frenchschool #frenchschooling #duolingofrench. What I didn’t realise is that the school class year also has a list that they stick on the entrance door with additional ‘stuff’ you need to buy. I must have spent £150 on ‘stuff’.
Deep Clean...T Minus 5…Embracing my #mrshinch @mrhinchhome today. #ovencleaning #cleaning with good old #cif . I’ve never tried @cleanwithpinkstuff @thepinkstuffarmenia and the miracle product that is @elbowgreaseuk #elbowgrease . In #preparation for our #tenants to move in. #contractsigned #depositpaid #rentpaid @openrent_uk #openrent #crick #northamptonshire . Not long now @mattdjsharp #iforgotmysilverplate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids @duolingo @duolingofrancais @duolingo_french
Joey The Budgie...We have a #budgie. He’s called #joey of course! I was hoping to find a #newhome for him but the #kids were having none of it. So the #landlady said we can bring him along. We’ve researched how to transport him and moved him into a #smallercage now so he can get used to it for the journey. He seems fine with his new home. #iforgotmysilverplate#frenchbudgies#joey#budgie#petsofinstagram#familypet@mattdjsharp
More goodbyes…T Minus 4...Much excitement over #kindereggs last night from the lovely @fry.vikki it’s been years since they have had one. Then the sudden #worry that they wouldn’t exist in #france. I actually thought they were #german but they are #italian made by #ferrero and yes of course you can get them in #france🇫🇷 . I think #choclate is part of the #french #5aday #5adaychallenge ! Guess what? They are #banned in #america as seen as a #dangerous …but you could #getagun instead which is much #safer ! . #iforgotmysilverplate @mattdjsharp #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
Becoming a TEFL Teacher...My mum is a retired #primaryschoolteacher and now a #celta #teachersofinstagram @englishinchester and loves it. #meetingnewpeople #multicultural #differentperspective . I’ve always wanted to do a tefl course but with #3children I’ve never been able to commit to 1month away @mattdjsharp #busydiary #performer #musician #musiciansofinstagram #cellist #baritone .
#covid19 has seen #amazing #business #reinvention and @teflorg #teflorg now offer #onlinecourses . Mostly #selfstudy #homelearning with 2 #weekends of #zoomclasses @zoom . I had a #fantasticteacher #simonfrench and 13 fellow student colleagues . We had to prepare and present #tefllessons . I am now a #teflteacher and hope to do #teachingonline #teachinginfrance #teflteacher #teflinfrance
Finbar’s arms…T Minus 4…Finbar’s #plastercast has come off . Just in time for our #adventure . Well done #amazingteam at #ketteringhospital #kettering #northampton . @mattdjsharp #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
Shopping for School Shoes...Got the kids #schoolshoes #newshoes for #frenchschool #nonuniform. These will be great for #sun and #sea. Perfect for #activeboys playing #football #redfish @mountainwarehouse #mountainwarehouse @mattdjsharp #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
Celebrating with a bottle of @champagnelaurentperrier thank you @anna_christinag @tom.gallagher.7902 with #freshraspberries @mattdjsharp #5daysandcounting until I head to #france. Probably the #endofanera in our #beautiful #crick #home #northamptonshire #champagne #happymemories #reminiscingmemories movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
The weather we will be leaving behind...Torrential rain and howling wind all night in #rugbywarwickshire #crick #northamptonshire . Beaming sun in #france🇫🇷 #caux #pezenas . 300days of sun a year! #sunshine #sunshinetherapy @mattdjsharp @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
French Bank Account...There’s even a possibility of being able to open a #frenchbank account online. http://www.britline.com #britline they are Part of the @creditagricole #creditagricole group offer an #online service in English. However, we have tried 3 attempts at uploading a utility bill but it appears to be not the full bill?! We are not having much luck at the moment. It’s also asking for #taxreturns that we haven’t yet submitted in the #uk . In order to open an account you have to transfer £2500 into it. I’ll keep you updated on any developments! @i_forgot_my_silver_plate @mattdjsharp #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
Personalised Labels...#personalisedlabels have arrived following #toptip from @heleninparis for every item of stationary including every #colouringpencil . I haven’t ordered enough. @mattdjsharp@i_forgot_my_silver_plate#movingtofrancewithkids#movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas
Final trip to Rugby... #rugbywarwickshire for essentials including last #haircut at #magicscissorsrugby #magicscissors for a #tintin look @tintin.world and #books #charityshopbookshopping. Loads of @_jacqueline_wilson_ books to keep Roisin going and @dwalliams for the boys. @i_forgot_my_silver_plate @mattdjsharp #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
Selling my UK Car…We will only take the @forduk#smax car to #france . It’s our second smax to date and is the only car to fit all 5 of us plus #cello#soundsystem#technicalequipment and a #theatresetdesign . Add a few of my #clothes and it’ll be full.
Today I sold my car back to @peugeotuk@wycliffe_peugeotrugby . John the #salesmanager was #amazing so easy going and straight talking. #peugeot208 is the best car I’ve ever had.
In France after you bring a foreign car over and you are resident in France, after six months you must change the registration to French.
This rule is widely ignored or misunderstood, but nevertheless it is the case and if you don’t comply with it it gives your insurance company a reason not to pay out if you have an accident.
Once the car is registered you will get the carte gris to make you the legal owner of the vehicle in France.
And of course you have to pay when you register new ownership. @mattdjsharp@i_forgot_my_silver_plate movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas
Embracing the English Weather...Last few days of embracing the #rain #englishweather #britishsummer whilst listening to #audiobooks #audible @audible_uk . Looking forward to #300daysofsunshine a year @i_forgot_my_silver_plate @mattdjsharp movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
Insurance for School...Having still had many #computersaysno replies from #britline @creditagricole we have managed to get the children’s #assurancescolaire through my #motherinlaw who has insurance with #mmavieassurances . Amazingly helpful lady in #albertville and it was all sorted in 10 mins over the phone. It costs 12 euro per child for a year. This confirms that the children are covered for damage caused by them to school property or other people. So that’s a relief! @i_forgot_my_silver_plate @mattdjsharp
Launch Date, T Minus 0…And we are off! #franceherewecome🇫🇷 Goodbye #fallowfields #crick #northamptonshire #uk . 4 years ago we made our home here and at the end of May 2020 in a #tsunami of #covid19 #unemployment #rosegarden #dominiccummings we made plans to leave. 3 months later, we are actually doing it. Who knows what the future will bring but we will embrace it wholeheartedly in a sea of #rose, #camembert and #franglais. #aurevoir #angleterre @i_forgot_my_silver_plate @mattdjsharp movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
On est arrive!! A handful of people on the plane and a very smooth flight and arrival into #montpellier . I realised it was roughly 19 years since I did that flight to live here for my #erasmus year out with @sarahfitzgeraldoconnor and @jetlagandmayhem . Supermarket trip which included live lobster and crab in tanks at the fish deli ( a first for me) then an evening chasing a lizard around a bedroom which ended up sans tail but the tail kept wriggling for a good few minutes!!!! Children now tucked up in bed and mummy sipping on a delicious vin de la region. @mattdjsharp @i_forgot_my_silver_plate }#movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
First Morning in Caux...The children didn’t wake up until 10am. We found the #boulangerie and bought the last #croissants of the day. The setting in #caux is like a #michaelmorpurgo book #waitingforanya completely #unspoilt and so quiet. And there’s a #pomegranate tree outside the gite. @i_forgot_my_silver_plate @mattdjsharp #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
We found the #french #school its opposite the #winetasting factory. Drop your kids at school then head to a wine tasting!? Then we took a walk up into the #vineyards . Saw wild #olivetrees , tried the vineyard #grapes which were delicious, sweet and warm in the late sun their branches are like the #whompingwillow or a #davemckean painting. We found #cactusplants 🌵 and #blackberries🍇 galore. Now time for an #aperitif in the late sun. Finishing off a delicious bottle of Rose from Caux grace a Ray Mon Do. @i_forgot_my_silver_plate @mattdjsharp #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas
Pulling Strings to help us out....Last night the landlady called to say that she had spoken to the #directrice of the #school (headteacher as she happens to know her) and that we should pop along to the school in the morning to present ourselves. So we popped along armed with birth certificates, passports, proof of vaccinations, school insurance and were greeted with…a locked and what looked like an empty building. 2 boys were scooting round and I asked if they knew how to get in. Turns out that one was the son of the headteacher. Maman was called and within seconds the building was unlocked and we were welcomed inside ( with masks.) I explained our situation “we arrived 2 days ago and we will be living here for a year and the children would like school places”. They asked what level French they had….( errr 0) and it was agreed they should definitely go into the year below. BUT we still didn’t have the approval from the mayor because the mayor has not returned from his vacances…. Then, a WONDERFUL lady ( have no idea who she is, some kind of connection between the mayor and the school ) happened to arrive on the scene and said “no problem, pop along to the town hall at 11.30 and I will be there”. At 11.30 we popped along to the town hall and waited our turn. The lady at the desk was very sour faced and was less compassionate about our predicament….but then the wonderful lady from the school came out of nowhere and told Madame sour face to process our application immediatement!
So within 2 hours of minimal effort, we are registered for school to start A La Rentree which is demain a 8h50!
Mes Amis, this French idea was born on May 25 and tomorrow is Sept 1st. If I can do it, anyone can!
Beautiful Pezenas...Alors, to celebrate today’s success we had a little trip to #pezenas for a delicious lunch and wander, bought more items for #larentrée then finished off at a #winetasting in #chartreusedemougères the home of the family of #stantoinedeexupery writer of #lepetitprince #thelittleprince. Children all now tucked up in bed and ready for ( pretty terrified about) their first day in a school, post covid, in a language they can’t understand and a country they have spent 3 weeks over their lifetime in! @mattdjsharp #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plate
First Morning at French School.. #covid19 The strangest one ever. A sea of #maskedfaces outside and all the teachers wearing #face masks inside. Our #intrepidexplorers have set off on their most challenging adventure yet and I am terrified for them. @mattdjsharp@i_forgot_my_silver_plate@mattdjsharp#movingtofrance#movingtofrancewithkids#movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas@i_forgot_my_silver_plate
The End of the First Day of School...A day of firsts. #firstdayofschool in#france . Roisin seemed to have a great day. There’s a girl who has an English parent in her class so translated games in the playground. Turns out the dad is from Stratford Upon Avon. Boys were pretty bemused by the whole thing. They are in the class below their age and tower above the other children and seem to have spent the day cutting and sticking. Lunch time at home Roisin completed the card game Patience then Gouter sur la Place de la République after school. Also discovered there is no school on Wednesdays at primary age so day off tomorrow! Aperitif time and a bit of light reading. Roisin has been given a Murder Mystery to tackle. Google translate here we come….
First Wednesday off...With much preparation on my part we were planning to go the beach today. I’d worked out there a bus at 10h40 then another at 12h40 to get to Pézenas where we could change for a bus to Meze (beach). We got to the stop 10mins early ( just in case) and as I had researched previously, the bus stop said exactly as it should. I even checked with a local who confirmed that yes this is the bus to Pezenas. 1 hour later le bus n’est pas arrive. It’s scorchio by this point and the children are fed up. I google Taxi in Caux and a lovely man answers but sadly is too busy to take us to la plage. I explain we are at the bus stop and the bus hasn’t come yet, it’s an hour late. He encourages me to ring the number on the bus stop. So I do…and I’m on hold for another 20mins and still pas de bus. Finalement, a voice on the other end answers. I explain my predicament, where I am and that le bus n’est pas arrive!!! To which she replies Madame, you must call us to ask the bus to stop at your stop.
Moi: Quoi? You mean I have to book the bus to stop and pick me up.
Elle: Mais oui.
Moi: Ok in that case please can I book the bus to stop at 12h40?
Elle: Ah non Madame, you have to book it at least a day in advance so today is trop tard!
When I explain to les enfants they are understandably devastated. With tear stained faces we head home in the blazing heat.
Just as we were opening the gates our wonderful neighbour popped over to give me details of the local pottery class in Caux. Hearing about our children’s unsuccessful beach outing he offers his pool as he is out horse riding today. Hooray! Thank you Jonathan.
Following that I’ve spent 2 hours translating and filling in school forms for 3 children. Most of which I have no idea what they are about. And I haven’t even started my ( Roisin’s) homework for demain.
Bring on the Cremant to Bourgogne! #noschoolwednesday@mattdjsharp@i_forgot_my_silver_plate#movingtofrance#movingtofrancewithkids#movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas@i_forgot_my_silver_plate
Day 2 at French School...A reluctant day 2 at #frenchschool . Roisin was fine the boys not good. noschoolwednesday @mattdjsharp @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plate
Packing again! Tomorrow we move out of this gite and into a beach appartment in #meze for 2 nights before moving somewhere else in #caux for the following week. @mattdjsharp @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plate
Faugeres Chez Raymond...Last night in #faugères chez Raymond. Best evening yet. Free range deluxe chickens roaming ( they lay multi colour eggs) cute kitten, water guns and a hose, land to explore, delicious food, wine and company and help with maths homework in French. I can’t believe this is only our 6th night here! #faugereswine #faugeresgrandsvinsdenature #faugèresrouge #faugeresbio @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
Homework...Ok so I hadn’t really thought about #homework and on day 2 it has been given in #abundance. Yesterday #maths #dictation in #french from #harrypotter #science all for the next day. Then more for #monday . Imagine trying to do this as a non speaker? Roisin was #amazing and was really up for having a go. I wonder how much she will remember in the class. According to her the pace is so much slower than in the #UK with care and time taken over getting the letters looking beautiful. She said writing in French is so relaxing. I guess it’s a bit like #mindfulcolouring. Also received this in the boys communication book. Have no idea what they are asking for. I’ve already given them my school insurance. Any ideas? @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
What do the boys make of it all?...According the them, they seem to spend the day drawing and colouring. Really hoping the #teachers don’t read into these pictures too much and get a #childpsychologist involved!? #dogman#captainunderpants@i_forgot_my_silver_plate#movingtofrance#movingtofrancewithkids#movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas@i_forgot_my_silver_plat@mattdjsharp
After the first week of #frenchschool we were invited for an #aperatif chez #thelandlady where the children could swim in their pool. Hooray! An incentive to keep the kids spirits up.
We were joined by our #englishneighbours who have lived in #caux for 20 years. The most amazing #tapanade made by my landlady I must get the recipe.
An early start on Saturday to check out of #caux and a #weekend#alaplage in #meze@i_forgot_my_silver_plate#movingtofrance#movingtofrancewithkids#movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas@i_forgot_my_silver_plat@mattdjsharp
Saturday was a blissful day in #meze . The excitement on their faces when they saw the sea. It has been so long! Met new friends who live in the next village and who are having the same adventure as us. 3 children going to #frenchschool with no french. It was so great to swop stories and #survivaltips and for the children to hear that they are not alone. #moulesfrites #squid #calamari #vinblanc #biere #beach #beachlife #bucketsandspades @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
Back to Caux…An early start for everyone. The landlady insisted on collecting us from #meze Monday morning. She really is so kind. Back in #caux for 8h30 #cematin. Passed a #cemex distributor on the way which made us think of home #cemexrugby #crick #northamptonshire #macreadytheatre and then the #tears started from Douglas. “Im not going in today” Erm, “you have to go in” ….”I’m not going in, I hate it, I have no friends, it’s boring” etc. I have to literally drag him along. With tears running down his face he eventually heads in to face #mondaymorning in #frenchschool . I have since spent the rest of the morning weeping into #moncafe #cheztrini . Feeling like a cruel mum! @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
Monday of Week 2 disaster...Morning #cafe #cheztrini . A sobbing Douglas had to be dragged into #frenchschool this morning #sadmummy #sadmummymoment @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
We have a small #petitmarché shop in #caux with a huge #winecellar . There’s so much choice. It has different wine racks with wine made by the local #vineyards plus one for the rest of France. I picked a bottle of Rose from #caux pour ce soir. @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
Picked up #lesenfants and checked in to #third #accommodation since we arrived last #saturday. Time for a #swim and #lunch before back to school this #afternoon. #unpacking pour moi and #makingupbeds. #covid19 means some #gites don’t provide sheets or towels. Fantastic view overlooking the town from here. @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
So pleased that the children will be given a personal tutor on a Monday and Friday to help with the language. I am not sure if this is usual although I did hear somewhere that if there are 3 non-native French speakers in a school then the school gets funding to provide this as a service? In which case it’s lucky there are 3 of them! Also means they can see each other in the day. Because of #covid19 they have separate playtimes. @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
THIS is a 6 page document listing EVERYTHING the boys will be doing in every subject, throughout the year. Can’t believe the detail. Plus a special mention for the boys “we will focus on learning English this year because we have 2 English pupils in the class.” here. @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
A perfect image of this idyllic place on the way to #laboulangerie ce matin. #oldlady #shopping in #caux #ruedeneffies . @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
My #stunning view last night from the #gite overlooking the town #caux with the #church on the hill. A perfect image of this idyllic place on the way to #laboulangerie ce matin. #oldlady #shopping in #caux #ruedeneffies . @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
#lesvendanges#spillage . That’s at least a bottle there! #carelessnesscosts . @i_forgot_my_silver_plate#movingtofrance#movingtofrancewithkids#movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas@i_forgot_my_silver_plat@mattdjsharp
The #gite I’m staying in this week is on #rue #georgesbrassens which is next to #impasse #edithpiaf and #avenue #yvesmontand . Je suis #ungrandfromage pour #lachansonfrançaise . Brings me back to my university days #birminghamuniversity @sarahfitzgeraldoconnor @wenderama22 @debs_gordon @jetlagandmayhem #jadore @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
Roisin “Wednesday is the worst day ever…but it has the most interesting diary entry “
So this Wednesday, given that last week was the no bus show, and being the upbeat, keeping spirits up, holding it all together, role that I am playing, we are invited to go for a walk and then a river swim at Gorge Heric. I set the alarm early to get croissants ( after all, Wednesday is our mini weekend ). The ominous clouds on the way to La boulangerie open up on the way home and I am drenched.. I get home and the kids we watching Alvin and the Chipmunks in French. I can’t even understand them in English alors en français….laisse tombé!
Alors, pas possible for our planned outing to la gorge so make a decision to head to Narbonne a town 40 mins away with a stunning Cathedral.
On y va!
We seem to escape the rain and arrive at 13h, the market is packing up and we have a quick wander around and see quails and chickens with heads on….glistening fish and smelly cheese that the kids politely fake vomit in front of.
We wander around the cathédrale, light candles and say a prayer for uncle Fergal. Today 9th September marks the 6th year of his death. We have lunch on the canal. The rain has held off.
Après lunch we buy tickets to the birth place of Charles Trenet, known as the father of La Chanspn Française, born in 1913, he paved the way for the stars that followed, Charles Aznavor, Georges Brassens, Edith Piaf. My French degree included French song so I am very excited about going.
In narbonne en ce moment , there are no toilets in cafes, museums, etc . When we arrive at la maison de Charles Trenet, the kids decide they all need the loo…and a wild wee is not a option! We’re led on a wild goose chase to find a toilet which includes knocking on a priests private quarters to beg forgiveness and use his loo, mais il ne répond pas!
Turns out the only places to use the loo are the Office du Tourisme and the Centre Sportif!
We find the sorts centre just in time and the kids are treated to a post crap crepe. Peace is restored.
2 hours later we are back at la maison de Charles Trenet.
Every Friday there is a #marché in #caux. It is announced in the morning via the #hautparleur at the top of the #church . This speaker goes off most days with announcements such as the funeral of someone in the village , the masque obligatoire for parents at la rentree to school and last night because the Aikido lessons were starting again. It’s a brilliant way of finding out what’s going on!
Today I have experimented with white aubergines, navets and an 18 euro bottle of olive oil. It better be good. I chose to stay away from the little trays of pigs brain 🧠 but I did ask how you cook it. Apparently you boil it in water and then slice it and add it to you andouillette or à la nature! 🤢
The children picked out the word Cheval in the announcement and got excited thinking it was for horse riding lessons….I had to point out they were talking about the meat.
Total stars! the boys have come out of #ecole#friends with the whole class. Finbar saw a boy look in awe at his #paperplanes so Douglas asked the teacher for more paper and they made them for every class member. #teamwork#twins#twinaction
Diary writing at the end of a long week. I was called into the school to have meeting a with The headmistress and Roisin’s teacher who told me that she doesn’t participate/ contribute/ say bonjour…‘Elle n’a pas dit un seul mot en français’. I listened and tried not to cry all the time thinking , she’s only had 7 days!!!! I was told that they don’t have the resources to get her up to speed with the language. I asked if I could have access to beginner reader books, the equivalent of Biff and Chip, but was told it was pas possible because of Covid and would need to buy them. It was recommended that we get our own tutor to get her up to speed and the school took the liberty of asking a parent (who has an English husband) to see if they would want to teach her…and she didn’t say no!??? Completely bonkers response. So its up to us to get her up to speed.
Roisin understandably devastated by the whole experience and doesn’t want to go back. She also feels that the initial novelty/ forced friendship has worn off and that the girls are now mocking her accent. Feel so sad fer her… @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
#chat#chien#fleurs de #pézénas. @i_forgot_my_silver_plate#movingtofrance#movingtofrancewithkids#movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas@i_forgot_my_silver_plat@mattdjsharp
When you accidentally come to the #nudistbeach #serignanplage #serignan @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
A wander around #serignan after a day at #serignanplage . Best quote of the day from #roisin “Mummy my eyes are burning from seeing so many bums and willies”
#gauffre#waffles#noisette . À noisette is a hazelnut. A noisette coffee has a dash of hot milk which turns the colour hazelnut hence the name. @i_forgot_my_silver_plate#movingtofrance#movingtofrancewithkids#movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas@i_forgot_my_silver_plat@mattdjsharp
We have met our wonderful neighbours The Millers. #JonathanMiller is ex Sunday Times journalist and wrote “France A Nation On The Verge of a Nervous Breakdown” he’s been here for 20 years and knows everyone! Check out the #hummingbirdhawkmoth . Looks and acts like a #hummingbird but smaller. Also #orangetrees in garden and #rosé from #caux just #fabulous.3d
#extraordinary day #visiting#lagrottedeclamouse#stalictites#stalicmites@i_forgot_my_silver_plate#movingtofrance#movingtofrancewithkids#movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas@i_forgot_my_silver_plat@mattdjsharp
No better way to spend a #sunday . Visit to the local church, amazing lunch followed by swimming and sand angels. Another beautiful beach. Can’t believe we live here! #lapergola #graudagde #beach @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plat @mattdjsharp
A post school drop walk in the vines this morning. It’s the last few days of The Vendanges. The tall blue beast picks the grapes without damaging the stalks and then each leg of the beast is emptied into the back of the trailer and driven to the domaine to be turned into wine. #vendange#vendanges2020 we live here! @i_forgot_my_silver_plate#movingtofrance#movingtofrancewithkids#movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas@i_forgot_my_silver_plat@mattdjsharp5h
Today’s walk. Found 2 dilapidated vignerons huts. The hut on the side of the road reminds me of a German soldier check point to stop cars in and out of the village during occupation. @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plate @mattdjsharp
Last night we actually went to #theatredepezenas to the opening of the theatre #saison. We even saw an actual piece of #solodance by #podeser. It was wonderful and I cried….They were tears of joy. 1) To be back in the theatre 2) to be watching a great piece of dance 3) to be in a city and country that is interested and supports art and culture and finally 4) to have not been responsible for the organising of it…. Bien sûr i introduced us to the maire and the cultural attaché saying I want to get involved….but for the moment I can revel in being an audience member . What a blissful evening it was and how lucky we are @mattdjsharp@i_forgot_my_silver_plate#movingtofrance#movingtofrancewithkids#movingtosouthoffrance#adventures#adventuresawait#livelifetothefullest#languedoc#caux#pezenas#pezenasmaville#pezenas@i_forgot_my_silver_plate
Returning to #montpellier #rue de l’aiguillerie #21years later. #revisiting the old haunts. #lefizz our weekly #boitedenuit is also still there. #lelondontavern is now #labriochedorée #cafejoseph still there though as well as #centrepolygone #librairiesauramps #lecorum #operacomediemontpellier . What fun we had @sarahfitzgeraldoconnor @debs_gordon @jetlagandmayhem . Some old memories… @alixscottmartin
We try to make the most of the weekends to visit other parts of France. This place was extraordinary. Les Demoiselles Coiffees found just outside the village of Bedoin at the foot of Mont Ventoux. The rocky hills were carved out thousands of years ago by wind, rain and erosion after the sea receded from this part of the land. The ochre pigment in the earth was once used for painting. Now it is a protected site.
Nimes, 1h30 away is known as the most Roman city outside Italy. The Arena one of the best preserved amphitheatres in the world, was built roughly 100AD a few years after the Colosseum in Rome. It is the most amazing site.
Only 30 minutes away is Beziers and our closest airport with regular flights to the UK. 20 years ago, I remember no-one from University wanted to be posted to Beziers. The old part of the town is still pretty run down, definitely shabby without the chic and I reckon it might feel a bit intimidating at night but I loved it. Also helped that there are some fab shops in the centre.
Roisin’s birthday present! #horseridinglessons She had to wait 6months as her birthday was the day before lockdown…and it wasn’t planned to take place in France…but I can’t imagine a more beautiful location nestled between the vineyards just outside #pezenas at Centre Equestre Pleine Nature, Tourbes. Thank you #nannypops
The boys made #cake today, apparemment the best cakes they have ever tasted. From the #ingredients I think it was a #frenchyoghurtcake #gateauxyaourt They are desperate to make it again and it seems that all french school children learn it. @mattdjsharp @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plate
A day discovering the local villages #pezenas #fos #gabian #neffies. #girolles and #freshfigs from the local market to make #risotto plus starter of #panfried #sèche with #garlicbutter and #parsley washed down with delicious bottle of local #rosé
I have been eyeballing these pomegranates every day since our arrival. They are outside my bedroom window and I wake up to them every morning. I have been waiting for them to turn red which I guessed would be end October. We always had pomegranate for halloween along with colcannon and sausages and then stuffed our faces with our ‘Trick or Treat swag bags’. Then today some passers by helped themselves, what a cheek!….so we quickly joined in. Needless to say, they are sweet, delicious and perfectly ripe.
Today we risked our lives taking a walk in the wilderness. It is the month of La Chasse ( the hunt) after all! We saw everyone gearing up for a big day this morning in the local bar, dressed in camouflage with high vis accessories and beer for breakfast. It’s no surprise that a number of people get seriously injured and are killed on La Chasse every year but fortunately these are usually the hunters. Today, however, we were nearly part of that statistic. Having scrambled to the top of a hilltop covered in brambles we hear flares and gun shots in the distance ( also found empty cartridges and evidence of a fire) followed by a chorus of dogs barking like crazy. CALMLY (“quick let’s get back to the car, no you can’t take your jacket off even if you’re roasting, you might be mistaken for a pig or worse still a RosBif’) we head back down the hill just as the hunters pull up in their assassin mobile. A lucky escape….this time! @mattdjsharp mattdjsharp @i_forgot_my_silver_plate #movingtofrance #movingtofrancewithkids #movingtosouthoffrance #adventures #adventuresawait #livelifetothefullest #languedoc #caux #pezenas #pezenasmaville #pezenas @i_forgot_my_silver_plate
We are at the start of our 6th week here in the Languedoc and so much has happened that I hardly know where to start.
Most importantly we are all very happy and everyday we feel so lucky to be living this adventure. The children have stopped complaining about school (most of the time) and don’t seem to miss the UK. Yesterday we did a compare and contrast. They like the UK because there’s no dog poo on the roads and fewer people smoke. I made the same comparison 20 years ago, funny how some things never change!
The mini weekend (no school Wednesdays) helps hugely. The boys have started playing U8 football for Fontes. The kids and educateur (coach) are very skilled. The role of a coach in France is actually a paid job and is taken VERY seriously, it’s no wonder that the French football team are so good! Roisin has started horse rising lessons in the most glorious location nestled between vineyards. http://www.centre-equestre-pleine-nature.com/ . They are making progress with the language having 121 lessons on a Monday and Friday at school and with a guy from Northern Ireland on a Tuesday. I was initially a bit reluctant to have an non-native teaching them but I actually think the NI male humour is such a refreshing break for them. He teaches everything as a game and they are always in fits of giggles, it’s wonderful to hear.
Because we are only planning on staying here a year, it means that my usual zealous nature has had to up itself a notch. Imagine a really annoying mosquito that keeps buzzing round your ears, no matter how many times you try to whack it, it comes back for more….yup, that’s me.
We have been spending our time between 9.30-11.30am Mon – Fri meeting people, seeing potential venues for performances and residentials, destinations for camping trips, domaines for wine tasting, horse riding schools, markets, looking through the occasional estate agent’s windows and cooking up plans! The rest of the time, Matthew is teaching on zoom and I am applying for online TEFL jobs in China. I have made various videos to teach 3 year old Chinese children English using guidelines sent over by agencies. Reading between the lines, I think they want an English-speaking barbie doll look-a-like on speed. I am still working on it…
The people in this area are so friendly and I can’t stop comparing my experience of living in Paris 20 years ago to life here in the Languedoc.
Our local Mayor is a particular gem. 2 weeks ago we booked an appointment to see him at Le Marie and turned up on a Saturday morning armed with a bottle of gin and a few of Matthew’s CD’s. We had a lovely chat, he took lots of notes about who we were and what we wanted to do (run some concerts), he took our contact details and said that various people would get in touch to help us. He explained that the town has an ‘Association Sportive et Culturelle’ and that we were best going through them. My experience of any association (UK or France) means meetings about meetings about meetings and we just don’t have time for this.
We also introduced ourselves to the Mayor of Pezenas, Armand Riviere, and his cultural entourage at the ‘Presentations de Spectacles’ end of September . I explained that I was here for a year, have worked as a theatre manager in the UK and would love to get involved in the cultural life in Pezenas in any way I could. In particular, with their Moliere Festival that they host every June. I suggested that perhaps I could help to open it up to the UK market. They enthusiastically handed out their business cards and said to get in touch for a RDV. I dutifully contacted them the next day….and the next week…and the week after…and have still heard nothing.
Along with the fabulous Raymond Prentice, our other knight in shining armour and our next door neighbour, is ex Times journalist Jonathan Miller, writer of ‘France a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown.’ Jonathan has been making connections, introducing us to important people, generally smoothing our path and probably apologising on our behalf before we barge in with our OTT enthusiasm. Thanks to Jonathan, we may have a very exciting reason to stay longer than we planned. As of today, we have permission to run an event in the most extraordinary venue down the road. It will be small, intimate, and low key. There is a lot to plan and Covid-safety measures will be top of the list. Having said that, I have to run it by the mayor of the town who may say ‘non’ but fingers crossed that the bottle of gin will have earned us a brownie point or two.
WATCH THIS SPACE….
Le Maire, il dit OUI!….Well…not quite BUT he didn’t say NON! In fact he said that as we were planning on putting on a performance in a private venue he can’t stop us. So, I am taking that as a positive thumbs up! He did say he couldn’t promote it for us via the ‘Haut Parleur’ (loud tannoy) which is a bit of a shame so we’ll have to leave that privilege to the Horse Butcher at the Friday market.
So, we are going to go ahead with our first concert on 7th November, it’s called Enchanted Cello/ Violoncelle Sorcellerie. https://fb.me/e/9RoRlbAMI that gives us 4 weeks to clear the venue from furniture (it’s currently being used as storage), clean it, make it covid-safe, make it pretty, work out where the bar will be, set up a stage area, do the marketing and get some audience. Take out the October half term (2 weeks) and that leaves us 2 weeks…
I’ve been researching online ticket platforms in France. In the UK I usually use Ticketsource, Eventbrite and Billetto. Turns out Billetto sells tickets in loads of other countries too so by logging in to my old account I can now use it in France. Completely brilliant and bonkers really.
There are 80 beautiful Phillip Stark chairs in the space, given Covid social distancing, I am only planning on using half of them. I’ll put an initial 20 tickets up for sale and see how they sell then work out the seating plan. Oh and we need a trip to Ikea to get a load of glasses.
All this is contrast to yesterday where we watched the 400 freelance musicians performing Mars from Holt’s planets at Parliament Square to state their case that they are viable and visible. We were deeply moved, saddened and so bloody relieved to not be there.
Here in France, people are able to put on performances, attend theatres, operas and concert halls. Everyone wears a mask in the same way that you do going into shops, walking around towns, on public transport etc. It is a completely different scenario where state funding for the arts means that the shows can and do go on. We feel so lucky to have go out of the UK while we had the chance and we are determined to make the most of every opportunity that comes our way.
The boys have started playing for Fontès which makes them an official member of Le Club ESC 34 (Entente Sportive Coeur Hérault). It seems to follow the same basic principles as the local team in the UK but it’s run by fit young men that are paid to be there. This means that they have great skills to pass on and have very high expectations of the team. It’s no wonder that the French national football team is so good, what hope is there with a bunch of keen dads doing their bit for the community that just so happened to be good on the pitch back in the day!?
On Tuesday I received a message from Coach Terence listing the players that have been selected for the Elite Team for a tournament this Saturday in St. Jean de Vedas (bloody miles away). BUT, no sign of Finbar’s name. Nightmare! As a mother of same sex twins, it’s one of your biggest challenges. What if one gets invited to a party and not the other? What if one gets selected for the Elite Team and the other doesn’t? What does it tell the child? Sorry son, they just don’t like you…Sorry son, you’re just a bit shit.
Quoi faire? Not tell Douglas and say neither were selected?….Or maybe I could bribe Coach Terence?
I read the list of names, Quentin, Pierre, Etienne, Marcel, Gaston, Douglas, Fendbarn.
Ok, Fendbarn, not sure if I’ve ever heard that name before. I asked the boys, “have you ever heard anyone call out Fendbarn on the pitch?” And then I wonder. Has his name become lost in translation? At school, they were calling him FlimFlam in the first week so maybe, just maybe…
MOI : “Bonjour Terence, J’ai bien reçu votre message. J’ai une question, Fendbarn, ça veut dire Finbar, le frere de Douglas?
TERENCE : Bah, mais oui Madame Sharp!
Next step, head to the doctors to get a certificate to say they are ‘fit to play’. Yes, that is actually an essential requirement for any team sport in France.
We googled le médecin généraliste in Caux and rocked up dossier in hand après l’école. We walk into what looks like an old school. No-one to be seen. No signage anywhere just two doors, one saying Privé and the other is shut. I say, “there must be another room with a receptionist and waiting room.” I can hear faint murmurings coming from the closed door and tell Roisin to peek through the key hole. “I can see a room,” she says “ Yes, it DEFINITELY looks like a waiting room” OK, let’s go! With much gusto, the 5 of us tumble through the door into the doctor’s surgery MID-CONSULTATION!!! There’s a lady on the bed (being examined) and a pale man looking like he doesn’t want to be there.
OMG!!! LA HONTE TOTALE…CRINGE!!!
We back out with lots of expletives and apologies from us, lots of questions from the children and stand sheepishly outside. Minutes later, three people emerge from the room. We apologise again but with social distancing and masks and a different language, I can’t think of a time when I have more desired the ground to open and swallow us all up.
With the couple safely off the premises, it was our turn. We enter into the consultation room. It looks like a bachelor’s pad. There are unpacked boxes, skeleton bones are poking out, along with dusty medical almanacs and what looks like ski boots!? I wonder if he’s a recent divorcé. The room is filthy and untidy. The examining bed that the lady was previously on, has a manky brown towel that looks like it doubles up as a lit de chien. The médecin is like a Harlequin character in a Commedia dell’arte sketch. Dressed in jeans and a jumper with full face visor, he sets about examining the boys to check they are fit to play le foot. The boys fall about laughing as he prods, pokes and gives them the occasional playful slap around the head. We are laughing too but it’s all a bit surreal. 5 minutes later, with two stamped forms, Monsieur le medican sits at his desk and jingles his money drawer. I don’t get the hint, so he does it again, louder. I hand over a 50 euro note and get NO CHANGE!
We leave giggling and now I can’t help feeling that the laugh was actually on us!
Le Monde de Merde (A dog poos life……)
The children’s vocabulary has increased hugely through our discussions about dog poo. Not a day goes by without one of us shouting the warning “watch out, don’t step in the poo!” all in French, bien sûr.
I can happily say they are very well versed around this subject with daily variations on the theme. Here are some of the highlights:
“Attention crottes de chien (watch out, dog droppings)
Caca de chien (dog poo poo)
Caca foncé (dark poo)
Caca clair (light poo)
Caca orange (orange poo)
Caca frais (fresh poo)
Caca liquide (needs no explanation!)
I am no stranger to dog poo in France but it is an ongoing frustration. I have skidded on huge poo parcels on the streets of Montpellier in 2000 where the rates of homelessness were up and every person on the street seemed to have an alsatian. Apparently, in 2016 there were 26,000 dogs in Montpellier producing 3 tonnes of the stuff every day. I have also found small crotte in Paris shop changing rooms, where designer handbag dogs are the accessory of every chic French lady. While Madame tries on la collection d’automne, petit froufrou leaves un cadeau for the next customer, Quelle horreur!
20 years later, it is still a problem. Day 2 of my arrival in Caux, I went to the Marie (town hall). On the walls were posters threatening fines of 35 euros for not scooping. In fact, it actually lists how many poos different types of dogs do in a year. According to this picture you will be doing less scooping with a Spaniel. Pay attention to the words at the bottom of the poster: “Les Sacs sont disponibles en Marie GRATUITEMENT” YES! The poo bags are FREE…AND STILL people don’t clean up after their dogs.
Last week, un histoire de crotte left me speechless. The weather was glorious so we took a trip to Grau D’Agde for an after school dip. I had taken the plunge first and was on the sand towelling off when a couple passed by walking their dog. The dog squatted and left a pile of shit. I stared hard and waited to see what they would do. I was ready to pounce if it wasn’t picked up, but the lady did! I felt smugly reassured that some people do take their civic duties seriously.
The couple walked further on, now closer to where the children were happily playing in the water and EMPTIED THE SHIT BAG INTO THE SEA!!!! Why? Why? Why? She was too far for me to run after and I didn’t fancy exposing myself to all and sundry (don’t forget I am still in my swimwear) so I said nothing…and now she will carry on emptying shit in the sea… Come on La Française ! Be a Citoyenne not a Shitoyenne!
I realise I haven’t posted for such a long time.
Christmas came and went. We celebrated by hiring a massive gite and saw family, drank fizz ate foie gras and even did a mini outdoor Christmas concert that was live streamed on Facebook. It was perfect.
In January, I began teaching English classes online with a company in China called Whales English. I love the new structure to my days. When the children are dropped off at school in the mornings, I set up my online classroom (ie. hide my bed with a screen) and logon. I have regular students that I see each week so I have built up a relationship with them and their families.
I am now in my 6th month working for them and I absolutely love it. Why? Because it is a job where I have found CONNECTION.
CONNECTION: to my children. I can take them to school, pick them up at lunch and at the end of the day. I don’t work on a Wednesday so I can take them to their football matches and horse-riding lessons. Evenings and weekends are free to have mini-breaks, weekends away or local adventures in the vines.
CONNECTION: to my husband. When he is not doing concerts somewhere in the world, we both work from home so we see actually see each other. Having previously both worked in the world of the arts, this has never happened before.
CONNECTION: to the rest of the world. Whales English employs teachers from anglophone countries that can live anywhere in the world. The Facebook group connects us all. Reading stories posted by fellow teachers from across the world gives me a sense of global adventure and connection to some places I have never even heard of. The support amongst the group is practical and nurturing. In the early days I was terrified about teaching. The group was reassuring, kind and gave so much advice. I was so grateful.
CONNECTION: to my community. With no commuting to and from an office, I can invest in our local village, Caux. Most days we can be found in the skate park. Friday is market day. Everyday is a fresh croissant for breakfast and now that cafes and restaurants are open, long lunches and strong coffees can be enjoyed all within a few minutes walk of chez moi. We have made friends with people in our village and my husband is even part of a local ‘pétanque’ team which also includes the drummer from the Gypsy Kings and a top chef. We have been welcomed my ALL including the Mayor, with open arms.
CONNECTION: to myself. Planning and teaching for me means personal growth. I enjoy the technical and creative challenge of teaching online. I am doing something I love and it has purpose and meaning. I can be creative and fun whilst being completely autonomous. I can feel the buzz of starting and ending a day and a Friday night STILL feels like a FRIDAY NIGHT… The only difference is that there is nothing to impact on my weekend.
Isn’t it strange that we have moved 950 miles, in the middle of a global pandemic, to a tiny village in the South of France… and yet, as a family, we feel more CONNECTION here than to any other place we have lived.
In a few weeks, the children will come to the end of a full school year which will be celebrated in true Sharp style. For now, though, it’s a Friday afternoon, my work is done and the weekend can commence. Time for a G and T!
Living (out of boxes) in the Languedoc
I have been quiet these last few months as life has been a roller coaster.
I have just returned from a family funeral in the UK. My cousin died, suddenly, 3 weeks ago leaving behind 4 young children. Once again, the plague of grief has descended on the family, wrapping itself around like a mycelium. On the surface, a brief and beautiful farewell; underneath, the tragedy of the loss of a dad, a son, a brother, and a friend means lives will change forever. The loss of Nicholas makes the 4th youngest son in my mum’s family to have died. Mum says, “My father always said there was a Banshee following the family”. No-one has yet seen a strange woman by the side of the road, combing her long hair, but it is a pretty weird coincidence.
This was my first trip back to England in 12 months. It was 14 months since I’d seen mum and 18 months since I’d seen my sister. Despite the tragic circumstances, I really felt the need for family connection. The weather was glorious and Chester looked beautiful. Covid life in France is still pretty strict. The Passe Sanitaire was introduced in August and mask-wearing is mandatory once again, including in schools from age 6. In contrast, England seems to have completely abandoned masks. The train from Manchester airport to Chester involved the guard announcing, “we advise all passengers staying on beyond Chester that masks are mandatory in Wales. Failure to comply will result in a fine”. I burst out laughing. The passengers sat next to me were obviously used to it and just shrugged. Nobody put a mask on at Chester.
Other interesting observations were not saying ‘bonjour’ a billion times a day to people in the street. Even the teenagers say ‘bonjour’ on their way to collège. By saying ‘bonjour’ you are acknowledging a stranger as an equal, a person deserving of respect. The English ‘silent shuffle past’ or even the crossing of the road to completely avoid contact made me feel so awkward.
‘Trout pouts’…they were everywhere in Chester. Young girls that glow like orange clones with lips like fish was quite a thing to behold. And jobs! They were advertised everywhere – shop windows, radio stations, over the tannoys in shops. I’ve always fancied a job in TKMaxx and nearly applied!
Moving house is apparently in the top 10 of the most stressful things to deal with in life and we have moved 3 times in the last 3 months. June was the end of our long-term gite rental. In May we started packing. It’s impossible to get a long-term rental to include the summer months as landlords can charge peak rates in July and August. With everything packed, we stored the majority of it in a mate’s wine cellar, then me and the children got the train to the alps to stay in a converted garage. Matt drove with a car load of musical gear and of course the budgie, Joey.
The children spent 2 months in the mountains, exploring woods, finding snakes, paddling in icey streams, picking wild blueberries, spotting marmots, playing football and riding horses bareback. This last activity was kept from us for a while. We later discovered that Douglas had been thrown off one of the horses but felt he didn’t need to tell us as it didn’t hurt very much! During this time we also took a trip to Cremona, Italy (the city of violin makers) and Venice. Streets, restaurants, museums, hotels had only a scattering of local visitors. Tourism was still on hold and it was blissful. In August we drove to Switzerland. Matt and ZRI were performing at the Alpentöne Festival in Altdorf. It was ZRI’s first time performing together in 18 months. The Swiss audience loved them. A 10 minute standing ovation was followed by radio and TV coverage.
On the 18th of August, the government in China decided that all online teaching was now banned in an attempt to encourage families to have more children. As a result, I lost my job (again). Previously, Chinese families have said they can’t afford to have more children because the state education system is so bad they need to pay for extra tuition outside of school. By banning access to any online teaching, the government believe that this will remove the tiger parents, dissolve competition and therefore solve the problem.
This coincided with news from friends at home announcing that my pre-Covid job was being advertised again. In May last year, my contract as Theatre Manager for one of the most prestigious independent schools in the world – Rugby School – was ended due to Covid-19. Despite the school’s huge assets (they own half of Bloomsbury, London, don’t you know?) they dismissed non-teaching staff members pretty swiftly when Covid struck. The reason given to me (via Microsoft Teams) was because I was “no longer able to bring in any money”. Until my employment, the theatre remained the privilege of the fee paying (£37,000-a-year) students. I spent 15 months programming, marketing, building bridges with the community of Rugby, even personally commissioning a Christmas show where 70% of the audience (local primary school children) were given the chance to see professional theatre, for the first time, ever. However, these activities were quickly dismissed by governors as non-essential. And so, the only professional theatre in Rugby, was once again, returned into the hands of ‘the few’. Following the appointment of the new ‘me’ this summer, I was then contacted to see if I could give them access to the social media platforms I’d set up, “as it would be such a shame to have done all that work for nothing”.
27th August – we loaded the car, deep-cleaned the Alpine garage and headed back down south to move into another long-term let, this time in Roujan. This place is double the size, has a pool, vines and a ping-pong table. It is also a village with a secondary school. After 2 days staying with a friend we began the unpacking. We got our 3 car loads of ’stuff’ from the wine cellar and began the job of creating (yet another) 10 month home for the family. We are 3 weeks in and many of the boxes have remained stacked and are now hidden away. My theory is, If we’ve lived for 2 months without it, it can stay where it is!
On 2nd September the children started back at school. The boys have gone into CE1. Douglas was told off for whistling and tapping rhythmically with his pens in the first week…great start! Roisin has started secondary school and it is really tough both academically and socially. Loads of new children from neighbouring villages, all trying to establish new friendships. This would be hard at the best of times. Add to the mix a different language, social distancing and mask wearing and Roisin’s self-possession seems all the more impressive. At the same time, activities have started back. The boys do football training twice a week, then have matches on Saturdays. The quality of the training means the boys have become passionate players. They are now insisting that they absolutely must have their French nationality so they can play for Paris Saint-Germain when they grow up. Roisin has started dancing twice a week and having successfully auditioned for the Montpellier Opera Junior Programme, she rehearses every Saturday from 9-1pm. Most school holidays will now be spent at Montpellier Opera house rehearsing and performing for the main stage productions – Tosca and The Fairy Queen are in the calendar. And we’re off to see Rigoletto next week followed by Cendrillon in December. Rehearsals are with the opera’s choir master and stage director. For this world-class, life changing opportunity, we are paying the meagre sum of 325 euros a year. However, waking up at 7am, 6 times a week as well as activities and school ending at 5pm, means we are all shattered.
Meanwhile, in the UK our tenants have now requested the use of our whole garage as a deal-breaker for staying on. The cheapest quote to keep stuff in storage is £240 a month. We’re in an impossible situation that leaves us no option other than flying over to sell the garage contents. So, another house move is on the cards this October half term. The thoughts of flying home with 3 children to clear out and sell items from our garage in a few days keeps me awake at night.
When the night demons come in, I wonder if the easiest thing to do is pack it all in and go home. Although home is no longer the place that our bank owns. We’ve had 2 homes since then and have made so many fantastic connections that moving back now would be harder than staying.
Then in the daytime I remember the things that we love here. Autumn has arrived. The days are warm but not unbearable and the evenings are clear and mild. It’s harvest time and we joined in with the grape-picking this year. It’s back-breaking and humbling work. Life here is lived through the seasons. As new crops are harvested, different fruits and vegetables appear in the markets. Our daily supper currently includes Padron peppers fried in olive oil until blistered and served with a sprinkling of salt. This Russian roulette side dish provides endless hilarity for the onlooker. Trips to empty beaches in September when the tourists have gone home are magical. The trees in our garden are smothered with camouflaged green fruit. In November it’ll be daily freshly squeezed orange juice and homemade marmalade as Christmas presents.
So, for now, I need to dig deep, remain grateful, keep positive and get through the next month before being able to relax into another year in the south of France….and then we’ll move… for the 5th time!
La Rentrée….NO WAY!
It’s La Rentrée here in France and our three children have skipped off to Cinquième (year 8) and CM1 (year 5) with a spring in their steps.
Long may it last.
Bon courage to all of you school teachers out there, I really don’t know how you do it.
This year, I had my initiation into the life of a French Lycée teacher…
…and I am still recovering!
Here’s the backstory.
January 6th, 2022 – I’m recruited as teacher cannon fodder to be sent over the top.
I know, I haven’t even got a PGCE or French equivalent (CAPES) but, apparently, it doesn’t matter.
Just before Christmas, someone suggested that I send my CV by snail mail to the head of a nearby school, so I did.
Early January, I was inundated with missed calls and messages from both the school and the local authority telling me to get in touch.
When I eventually got through to someone, I was told that they had received my CV and they needed me to start tomorrow. I was desperately trying to remember which job I had actually applied for as I’d sent quite a few applications at the same time: campsite receptionist; sales assistant in a vineyard; dog walker; life model etc…but I drew a complete blank and had to politely interrupt with an embarrassed,
‘…erm, sorry, what job is it again?’
Much to my surprise it was in a Lycée working with 16-18 year olds. At this point, I’m thinking, ‘Oh great, an assistant role, whoopee, what fun!’
I got my pen and paper at the ready to take down the details as they were read out:
18 hours per week
Class sizes of 37
Salary 1,976 euros per month
Lesson times 8am – 18pm
Me: ‘Ok, I’m interested. So when can I meet the teacher?’
‘Madame, you ARE the teacher! The teacher you are replacing has been sick for two years. These students have not had a teacher since November. You will teach them. We need you to start… NOW!’
Me: ‘…erm, Madame, but I’m not a teacher. You have my CV, you can see I have never taught in a school in England nor in France. I think there’s been a misunderstanding. Yes, I did work at Rugby School, the UK’s finest Independent School (questionable) with the most impressive school fees (guaranteed), but I was a theatre manager, NOT a teacher.’
‘Madame, you are English, yes? So you can teach them.’
Me: ‘But madam, are you sure this is not against the law? You do understand that I have no experience, I have never taught in a school before and I have no qualifications?’
‘Yes, that is fine. Can you start tomorrow?’
It’s 6.30am. The bus wheezes to a stop outside the town hall. The bowels open and the carcass is filled with suitcases. A handful of teenagers stagger aboard.
‘Jean Moulin?’ I ask.
’Oui,’ replies the driver.
We bounce along the narrow roads, through vineyards and villages, playing chicken with any traffic that comes our way.
Kylie Minogue’s I Should Be So Lucky plays full blast on Radio Nostalgie.
And I’m convinced it’s a sign. I AM so lucky.
It’s my first day as an English Teacher at Jean Moulin, Béziers, one of the largest Lycées in France with, I later discover, the country’s highest teacher suicide rate.
And so my Covid Adventure continues, this time on the hallowed ground of a French Lycée.
It’s two years since I was sacked from Rugby School via Microsoft Teams and six months since the Chinese Government made teaching online illegal. So, I’ve had time to fine-tune my adaptation skills. And, of course, if you have a family of five to feed, there’s not much you won’t try in exchange for a baguette.
The bus veers off the main road and enters what looks like something out of La Haine, billowing laundry masking a sea of high-rise flats. I pass a primary school, then a collège and then spot the immense lycée round the corner. Gangs of teenagers are hanging about outside on mopeds. It’s 8.30am and they are already on the coffee and Gauloise.
I gingerly walk past and see the sign ‘Acceuil’ (welcome) on a porta-cabin outside the security gates. I explain who I am and I’m given a map of the site, then I’m buzzed through security and enter the school grounds.
Teenagers are milling about and heading to different buildings. I pass a state of the art technology building and I follow my map to Building 3. Building 3 is a 1960’s monstrosity with soulless paint-peeling walls, endless corridors with no windows in sight – think The Shining meets Chernobyl – and find the room on the map.
I spend the day flitting between different classrooms observing teachers. There was a lesson on The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, King Lear, Romeo and Juliet and – my favourite of all – The Troubles in Northern Ireland. When you’ve spent 20 years travelling back and forth from the UK to Belfast – brought to a dramatic end by Covid – it’s pretty surreal seeing pictures of your second hometown being projected onto a school board in the heart of the South of France.
At lunch, I get to hang out with the English teachers and finally have the chance to go through my list of questions.
‘Right, so, where do I find the text books with the syllabus and when are the exams? And I guess the ‘Terminale’ (Upper Sixth) will have an oral pretty soon given that it’s their last year? And if I could have copies of past papers, that would be fab too?’
To my surprise, I discover that exam preparation is not necessary and that I can basically teach what I want within the broad range of topics specified.
At the end of the day, drained and still confused, I head to the office labelled ‘Gestion Ressources’ (HR), as instructed. I am greeted by a delightful woman who has been waiting for my arrival. She hands me a freshly printed contract as thick as the Thompson Local, and indicates where I should sign. And so, out of sheer bewilderment, I do just that…
But, of course, nothing bureaucratic in France is quite that simple. The contract involves proof of address, marriage certificate and even children’s birth certificates. I’ve got accustomed to this but still ask ‘why?’, nonetheless.
‘Madame, you have children, yes?’
‘Yes,’ I reply. ‘I have three…but why do I have to give their names and birth certificates?’
‘Madame, when you are a teacher, you are a fonctionnaire (civil servant). If you have one child you get 60 euros extra, two children 120 euros, three children 180 euros…’
‘Wow, that’s amazing,’ I add. ‘And is that at the beginning or end of the year?’
‘Madame, it is paid every month!’
By the time I leave the school, it’s dark. The adolescents on mopeds are racing up and down the boulevard – clearly helmets are for losers – and the only business in sight, a make shift snack bar, is pumping out hip-hop full-pelt and has moved on from serving lunchtime kebabs to lager. Gauloises, of course, are always on the menu.
Over the weekend, I make a few phone calls to teacher friends and watch a few Youtube clips in preparation for Week One.
On Monday, I give Mr Benn a run for his money, step into the fancy dress shop, and leave through the magic door at the back of the changing room into the life of a Lycée teacher.
I mean, how hard can it actually be?
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