A slow journey to France

Author

Coleridge118

Our journey

First school year in France

The end of the school year is always a big event for both children and parents.  For us the end of this school year is like reaching the end of a marathon.  By the time our daughter starts her Summer holidays she will have survived and flourished during her first year of French school.  She will be speaking French and correcting us (Mum you’re so embarrassing when you try to speak French is becoming a frequent refrain!) and we will have moved again from our rented apartment in Toulouse to our new home and business in the countryside.

What have we learned from our first experience of French school?  Firstly, none of us would have got this far without the amazing teachers and directrice of Ecole Benezet in Toulouse.  They have all been so supportive of our daughter and her fellow classmates in the ‘helping class’.  We will never be able to thank them enough for all of their efforts with both her and us.  They have encouraged the children from even the most challenged backgrounds to find their place at school.  We were told at our first parents evening that our children in the helping class ‘enrich’ the school with their different languages and cultures.  An attitude which stands out in the context of the ‘them and us’ view of immigration and difference which is so prevalent across our world at the moment.  I cannot explain how reassured I felt by those words; that our daughter was not seen as a burden to the school but an asset.  They obviously didn’t anticipate her giggles when they speak English with her!   We, in turn, have tried to support her as much as possible and have participated whenever we could in school events, undertaking training in how to be a parent assistant in the school swimming classes and baking many, many biscuits for fundraising events.

There has been another theme throughout the year which we have only recently understood, dance.  When we first arrived and met the teacher of the helping class she explained to us that there would be a dance show at the end of the year in which all of the children in her class would participate.  As a keen dance fan I was delighted but a bit perplexed as I hadn’t read anything about dance being a part of French school life.  Throughout the year since then our daughter has come home and when asked about her day explained that she was dancing in the hall or had met the choreographer for the dance show.  Neither of us made much of this as we assumed the dance show was a school event and the choreographer was one of the teachers we didn’t know.  We couldn’t have been more wrong.  It slowly dawned on us that there was more to this when our daughter explained that the choreographer was the nephew of one of the teachers in the school and was a professional dancer in New York.  Another time we learned that he had danced with the Merce Cunningham Company.  The calibre of the dance event became more and more apparent.  Once we learned that the performance would be held in the Jacobins, a thirteenth century monastery and church complex in the heart of the city which now opened its doors for artistic festivals we realised that this was bigger than the usual school show in the gym.  We were given a rehearsal timetable for the dance show which involved spending nearly two weeks rehearsing at the school and the Jacobins.  The children took packed lunches on some days in order to be able to stay all day for dress rehearsals.  We arranged for Granny and Grandpa to come over to see the big event and to babysit for us so that we could attend on both evenings. 

The show was absolutely wonderful, the pride we felt as we saw our shy daughter stride out confidently as part of the first group of dancers onto the performance space was immeasurable.  Every child had their part and worked together to produce a fluid piece of modern dance inspired by the works of Merce Cunningham.  The effort made by everyone involved to produce a piece of dance that required such a high level of concentration by the children was so impressive.  The cheers and applause at the end of the performance and the delighted but bashful smiles of the children were a joy to see.  At the end of the second performance we met the choreographer, Dylan Crossman, who fortunately speaks fluent English.  I was quite starstruck but managed to say how much we appreciated the opportunity for our daughter to learn about dance and how impressed I was that he and his uncle were working with the most challenged children in the school, for some of whom the experience of being applauded and congratulated was probably unknown until then.  My thanks were probably over the top but as a true star performer he took it in his stride.  I had remembered to thank the teachers as well but my vocabulary doesn’t extend much further than fantastique and incroyable.  By the end of the evening I had thanked nearly everyone present including other parents for producing such amazing children!

Our experience so far has only been of one school but I can say that that particular school has been the best that we could have hoped for.   Now on to the next one …

Our journey

VACANCES DE PÂQUES

Well that has been an interesting Easter break. We completed on our new home on Tuesday before the two week break. Thanks to baby sitters we managed to move the contents of two of our three storage units to the house, overnight we grew a forest of boxes in our living room. Let the unpacking begin!


It was a great experience picking the keys up with the children and driving up together for the first time, it was now ours we had really gone and done it!

We spent most of the two week Easter break there, including an Easter egg hunt, and Domaine La Castagne is great for this, however the Easter bunny was good and kept the eggs near the house rather than scattered in the big field.
We had lots of exploring to do:
• Making sure the pool had the right levels and getting the heating going so we could have a swim!
• Getting the Rayburn going and working out how to heat the house.
• Trying out the ‘little tractor’ or sit on mower to begin keeping the site in the condition in which we inherited it, which was fabulous.

Having a swim


We explored the local shops to stock up on everything as there were six of us for Easter. We warmed up one of the gites for its first (non-paying) guests. We got our heads round all the keys!
The children loved the outside space, free to roam and explore and most of all to have a trampoline once again, both complaining of sore tummy’s after the first day.
We decided to stock up on logs so that we would not run out. The weather did suffer a bit from school holiday syndrome and it was not the Lauragaise at its best, but there were a couple of days when we were in the pool.
Tracking down Monsieur for the logs was a challenge, as it often can be with French ‘entrepreneurs.’ The road was not on any map but we did track it down, by spotting the huge stacks of logs and driving in circles around it until we found the very small track leading to it. It was ‘open’ Friday afternoons and Saturday mornings… although no one was there both on occasions. We did eventually make contact and he was lovely and gave us a link for stoves as they work ‘ensemble’. France really is about the personal touch and who you know.

A load of logs


We spent time really getting to know the house, the gites and the field. Supported by string and bamboo canes we spent a lot of time working out the layout for the tents and the comfort block (the personal kitchen and shower rooms for the two tents). We also got a chance to work out what needs to be done and where our priorities are if we are to be up and running in July. The biggest element of this was confirming and getting the dates for the installation of a new ‘Micro station’. This a replacement for the existing ‘fosse septiques’ as we are not on mains drainage, like most part of France, it is a big country! A big (and expensive!!) project but necessary to get the additional capacity for the tents, conform to the regulations and it is also more environmentally friendly as it produces fresh water that will flow into the stream below. More on the works later no doubt.
It has been a manic and incredible few days, and we already love Domaine La Castagne. The most striking thing is the bird song, all day you can hear multiple tunes being played out, and spot the large birds of prey that are always around. Kind of like the fact there are a few little lizards and the sound of cicadas. Almost like a holiday!!

Our journey

You are brave…

As our leaving date hurtled towards us we both tried to see friends and family before we left. Inevitably the conversation involved some discussion of what we were doing. The usual comment was ‘oh, you are brave…’.
I have been thinking about this, I don’t think of myself as a brave person, I haven’t been in a situation where I have had to be brave in the sense of risking myself for others. I don’t know how I would react in that situation other than if my children were involved.


I know that there are millions of people who are leaving their homes, families and communities to escape violence, persecution or poverty. Are they brave? I think that they are braver than me. I have, with my husband made a choice to move to another country, to live another life. We have that luxury.


I can only think that we are all travelling with hope; our hope is that the new life we are dreaming about will enable us to spend more time with our children, building a life and a business which reflects at least some of our beliefs. For many, many others the hope is simply to live safely. That is not a luxury.


We are the outsiders who have moved to another country, are joining another community. We know that we must work hard to integrate, learn the language and join in where we can; contributing by establishing a business which can support us and contribute to the local economy in a sustainable way, contributing not consuming.


Real bravery is being afraid but carrying on despite that fear. So no, I don’t think I’m brave. We have done a lot of research, planned our move over the last couple of years, tried to get to the best position that we could before we moved. I was not afraid of making the move, foolhardy perhaps, almost certainly naïve, unrealistically optimistic, definitely anxious but not afraid.


However, since we have been here I think I have seen real bravery; in our daughter. She has had to leave a life that she loved, with family and lots of friends at school and in our wider community. It has been a very difficult move for her and like all of us she has found ways of expressing her anger and sadness, most of which have been quite challenging for us. Yes, she was afraid on her first day but she walked into her classroom. With help and encouragement from us and her new teacher she survived the first day and even smiled when we picked her up at lunchtime (it helped that Granny and Grandpa had come over for her first week and had promised to take her out for lunch). Her teachers at her new school have reassured us that she is progressing well and has even started to ‘help’ in their English lessons. She has overcome her fears, learning to live a life in a different language and make friends. Yes, like us she misses the people we have left behind but technology allows us to keep in touch. She continues to blame us for making her leave her family and friends but lives in hope of the dog that we promised her we would find once we had a permanent home here. This is one hope that we will do everything we can to fulfil although I am not sure about her plans for the dog to have a litter of puppies that she can keep as well …

Our journey

A slow French Christmas

Christmas in France

We are now in the depths of January, and yes it does get really cold here in Toulouse. It is a time to reflect on our first Christmas in France, not a French Christmas but our Christmas in France. We hope we had the best of both… and have begun to create some new family traditions.
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Guess what? The reindeer still know where we live, they still like carrots and they still left their trail of magic sparkles. It was decided that Papa Noel did not need any whisky, not sure I agree with that!

Like the rest of our life in France, there was a lot of ‘the same but different’. The build up was more low key, even at school. There was not quite the same continual ramping up of excitement to a fever pitch although the children were all tired at the end of term.

Our perception of low key, may be due to not getting out and about as much as we might have done because of the Gilet Jaune protests. These provided a strange counterpoint to the Christmas build up. Our conversations with the locals demonstrated a growing frustration at the violence and disruption despite some sympathy for some of the stated aims of the protestors. There was a strong feeling that those most affected were not those at whom the protests were aimed. Many small business and artisans were losing money through lost custom. For those at the main Marche de Noel, Christmas sales could be a significant part of their income. It is always the little people that get hit the hardest, even when people are trying to defend the little people!

It did feel like a lot of the anger was similar to the frustration that was behind the reasons that many people voted to leave in the Brexit referendum. We will see where it goes….

The decorations in shops and the quartiers across the city were also more understated than many in the UK but with added French style. Even the TV adverts did not seem quite as relentless, maybe that impression is due to my French still being very much a work in progress!

In France, as in other parts of Europe, the celebrations are on Christmas Eve, with a big family gathering to eat and exchange of presents. The focus seems to be on families enjoying time and food together, which really fits with us and our SLOW principles and ambitions for our business and our lives.

There is lots of seafood and particularly huitres (oysters). These, like many foods in France are taken very seriously with different ratings and prices. They are displayed live, not to all people’s tastes but with a drop of champagne can be amazing!

We became aware that presents really are exchanged on Christmas Eve when we heard the sound ‘weeeeeee!’ in the park opposite our apartment as someone tried out their new bike at about 11.00 pm !!!

Christmas eve seafood fest

Christmas Day felt very much like the day after the night before… It was very quiet

We had a busy morning, checking that ‘he had been’ and a range of skateboards, roller blades and some very nice crémant from Samaur with bacon sandwich’s. Yes, we have found a butcher who makes good bacon, a little different but definitely good.

After this we all needed some fresh air and an opportunity to try out all the new ways to break something. We were practically the only ones in the park, and certainly the only ones with reindeer antlers and other Christmas head gear! Les Anglais!… more crémant needed, the rosé from Bordeaux was particularly festive!

Slow sustainable symmetrical

More people had emerged by the time we had lunch, a lovely goose with all the trimmings, followed by a very significant cheese board with desserts. Yes, we did them together, please don’t tell anyone! No Christmas pudding this year but it is on our ‘to do’ list to make one for next year and do it properly with everybody stirring and a silver thrupenny bit ( or similar).

The 26th December is a normal working day here which made Christmas a shorter ‘event’. But this fits with our growing understanding of some of the cultural differences. The build up and Christmas itself showed a different approach to life. There is no direct French translation for ‘am excited’. I don’t think that French people don’t get excited but that there is a greater appreciation of living in the moment, not focusing on what is going to happen and building things up, but just savouring the now. It is more ‘etre’ than ‘avoir’!

We still managed to make it last and had a wonderful few days doing not much but savouring the moment, the food, the wine ( and the odd whisky!)

New Year in Toulouse was also different, the market and food shops were more busy than at Christmas. Again it appeared it was all about spending time with friends and family and enjoying food, lots of food. We didn’t see any fireworks and we couldn’t find a French Jules Holland on the TV. That maybe one tradition which doesn’t travel well.

The finale is 6th of January with 12th Night, which is another special night here. And yes, there are more food traditions, the Galette des Roi. This is a
frangepan puff pastry with a crown and a special gift inside , bringing good luck to the person who finds it in their slice ( or nearly a new tooth as I found out!). More traditions around what to drink with it, with cidre and champagne being the done thing. We were invited to a neighbour for a do, the first we had been to a French soirée! Hopefully more to come as it was the night I was flying back to the UK for work…ho hom!

We have also made progress with the property search but more on that to come …

Our journey

More than a visit!

As I sat on the plane on the way to Toulouse with our daughter it felt like the beginning of the adventure.  We were going to see our new home, strange to think that we had seen it for not much more than a couple of hours. This was real!  This could soon be my new commute.  There was also trepidation, would my Del-boy French be good enough to get us around, steer us through the school registration system and get us fed. Could I navigate the tram and the Toulouse underground? I had always had Liz to do the talking when we have been in France before.

It also felt right. That unexplainable feeling that this was ok, this was us. There will be a lot of challenges and it will be hard, but it feels right. Sometimes you just have to go with that!

….. until you get a message from Ryanair cancelling your return flight!!!

Oh well it’s amazing what you can sort out with an ipad but it did take the shine off what should have been the first and for our daughter, most important, part of the adventure; finding a pancake in Toulouse.

Our first encounter with the Toulouse Mairie was the Elèves Allophones Nouvellement Arrivés (E.A.N.A) to assess our daughter’s French.  She has had some lessons with Alliance Francaise but will need more support (a lot less than me though!).  After our crepes, we set off on the underground to find the office.  My one-legged pigeon French seemed ok and our daughter was fab. The assessor had taught at Alliance Francaise, which gave them something to talk about. He loved her folder of French work and before we knew it, I was looking at a map and deciding between two schools that were near the apartment and had the additional French support. Seemed like I was making a huge decision on the hoof and how did I know if it is ‘good’ or not. That was probably me thinking that it’s like the English system, so we just went with it and the nearest one it was… our daughter was allocated to a school.

However we then discovered that we needed to go to another department to get our fische d’admission. So that was our second challenge, but that would be for the next day.

This was another challenge that did test my French, we were working well as a team….we found the right office and managed to get the right ticket and saw somebody in a few minutes. It seemed that I had all of the right paperwork to hand…. Except that one crucial document to register her for school; the insurance for the apartment! Which could have been a minor disaster as without it we could not register her. But thanks to the having all our documents on a cloud I could access the right document and email it to them… another lesson learnt; make sure you know what documentation is going to be needed and can access any other documents as you probably will need them as well!

I was quite chuffed with our success; we now had a school! Time for the Natural History museum and the park!

Park near apartment

The other great part of our trip was seeing the apartment again and going for a swim!.. yay!  She has picked her room and agreed to look after the fish. It was also good for me to see our new home, as to date we had only had a 20 minute look round. It is amazing how we make these kind of decisions.

 

 

River Garonne opposite the apartment

So her first trip went really well, a few ups and downs and a bit of French bureaucracy… there’ll be a lot more of both of those to come!

However it did make it real and now there is more excitement than fear, but I am sure that may change as well! I did feel very alive, we were doing something to change our lives, this is it, we are on our way and it feels like the right thing… however it turns out.

Our journey

Bittersweet…symphony?

The idea of moving to France, starting a new life together as a family, spending more time with the children and each other running a business which we believed in, sounded wonderful when we discussed it over a glass of wine at the end of increasingly busy weeks juggling children and work; never feeling that we could fully do justice to everything we tried to squeeze in. The reality of actually setting off on that journey is not so wonderful. We have decided to put everything we’ve got into pursuing the dream; selling our house in the UK to fund a new home and business in France. The anxiety dreams have already started; I have a recurring one of losing my children in the supermarket and not being able to find help because no-one understands me.

The bittersweet berry

I worked in France many years ago on a campsite and accompanied customers to GPs, hospitals, police stations, several repair garages and even emergency dentists so why I think I wouldn’t be able to deal with that situation I don’t know. But it reflects the feeling of being on a countdown; we have accepted an offer on our house, provided that goes through we will be leaving our home where we have been very happy and to which we brought both our babies home from hospital (I can remember, in that new Mum haze, thinking as we stopped outside the house when we first brought our daughter home ‘I hope she likes it’). I am looking forward to starting our new life but am becoming increasingly aware of the many things I love about the one we have now. Are they enough to keep us here? No, but they are enough to make leaving a bittersweet experience.

Why Slow?

Why a Slow journey?

Our first exposure to the concept of ‘Slow’ was our first holiday together as a couple to Umbria in Italy. This was a centre for the Slow Food movement which aims to reinvigorate people’s interest in the food they eat and the understanding that food is a window to the culture and accrued knowledge.

Slow wins the race!

It promotes the true enjoyment of good food and food production that is clean and fair to those who produce it. It is an approach that promotes a greater understanding of what goes into the food and an appreciation of what we get out of it.

In short, it is about taking the time to understand, appreciate and respect the food you eat and its true worth. We really connected with this ethos and its principle as food has always been important from day one with our initial ‘nose-to-tail’ date at St John’s in Spitalfields to the beef and apple crumble menu and stories behind the wines at our wedding.

However, our new journey is trying to explore how this could apply more widely in a world where everything moves at such a pace, and we often value more material things at the expense of the fundamentals of life and well-being.

It is about being able to live in the moment and appreciate what is happening here and now in an ever increasing consumer led and online world.  How can we create the opportunity to really notice and appreciate the world we live in and the people with whom we live. Taking the slow approach to life understanding if we can find more mindful approach. We want to create somewhere that people can relax and enjoy engaging with these fundamental; food, nature, local culture and each other.

We want to make the most of the local environment for everything we offer including local producers of food wine, art, furniture, art and other all things local. We want to create something that gives people time to connect; to nature, to their food, to the local environment, to themselves, and to each other.

Time is so valuable but we often waste so much, how do we live more ‘slowly’.

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