Tag Archives: Family

A cute birthday tale

IMG_0107 LROkay, let me tell you a cute story:

One of my Mum’s best mates turned 60 recently.

Like most people who turn 60 (or me when I turned 30), she didn’t like the idea one bit. She refused to have a big party, and her husband had booked a table for two at their local restaurant.

When the actual day arrived, she felt pretty gloomy. (Which reminds me of the day my Mum turned 60 – although she’s usually the most upbeat person I know, she was pretty low. She half-joked she would go down to the market to “see if they sell some magic powder to make you look and feel younger”. I still laugh to imagine what powders she might have been offered…)

Anyway.

As every woman knows, just because you say “I don’t want any presents” doesn’t mean you actually meant it. For all the wanting not to make a fuss, my Mum’s friend felt a bit deflated and lonely. Especially as her husband had some business to attend that day, and my Mum had things to sort out in town, so no one was around for company; her only plan was to lunch with her elderly mother.

The dreaded day was turning out to be just another day.

I’m not sure if she felt a bit wronged by the entire universe, but she sure felt wronged by her husband. Self-pity can make the best of us a little bitchy sometimes, so she phoned my Mum to complain about him – had he cared a little more, he’d have arranged to make her day more special that going to the stupid local for dinner!

Meanwhile, said husband spent his day “away” smuggling food and drinks into my parents’ kitchen down the road, in order to cook a big party meal unnoticed.

He planned the whole stealth operation so well that she didn’t suspect any of it.

So when the evening came and she was ready for dinner at the local (coat, scarf, had and gloves, checking her watch as they were going to be late), she grew increasingly annoyed that he wasn’t ready yet. What too him so bloody long? “What shirt shall I wear? Does it go with this tie?” he asked, as if he usually even noticed.

Of course she didn’t know he was just playing for time, because the guests had been delayed.

It wasn’t until they were finally ready to lock the front door – by now in full grumpy mode – that she heard someone call out greetings from the garden.

She turned round to see familiar faces, a handful of loved ones inexplicably smiling to her, bearing bottles of wine and dishes in casseroles… including her children who looked like they had just dropped by for dinner, even though they live hours away.

 

 

Happy Easter!

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It’s my favourite time of the year in London: chocolate bunnies have been creeping up in shops for weeks (following from Valentine’s Day chocolate hearts, and soon to be replaced by Pimm’s and disposable barbecues), and the sudden influx of tourists from the Continent gives us a taste summer to come.

Spring is in full swing, days are getting longer, skirts are getting shorter, and the Londoners who aren’t flying out for the long weekend are in a great mood as they look forward to four lazy days of parties and (weather permitting) picnics.

I’m not a religious person and I don’t have children, so I have no particular reason to rejoice at Easter for either the resurrection of the Lord or the prospects of egg hunts. And sadly I will miss my eldest nephew’s first epic hunt, seeing that he’s 3 and I’m not sure last year he really knew what was going on.

But just  because I won’t be with my family doesn’t mean I won’t be thinking of them – in fact I probably will be, as I walk around Greenwich Park admiring the trees in bloom and, much to my boyfriend’s annoyment, cooing at the new “baby leaves”. 

As I see children looking for hidden eggs I will probably be thinking of the children I know, and by extension of the children of Europe and beyond, who will collectively at the same point in time be engaged in so many egg hunts with their respective families.

Because I like to daydream, this might lead me to think of the children of generations past, who might have celebrated in a similar fashion, back in the day when eggs were real eggs, and would have been hard-boiled or hollowed and decorated by hand… a tradition which I had no doubt endures in some parts, but not here where eggs are most commonly Cadbury’s.

This will probably take me back to the egg hunts of my own childhood, and the one time I decorated eggs at school, with limited success. And also back to our old Sunday school, when a poor lady of saintly patience tried to explain Easter to a group of kids set on making her life miserable (“Miss, if we have to forgive, how come God sends people to Hell?”), and the story of Jesus being crucified on the day of Jewish Easter (“Pâque Juive”) which is the French word for Passover.

As I contemplate over two millennia of history starting in Jerusalem and fast-forward to the millions (billions? trillions?) of families celebrating so many Easter and Passover holidays following traditions that have endured centuries all the way to today’s Cadbury’s eggs, and the cherry trees in pink blossom that remind me that Easter is also a feast of renewal and spring, I might begin to feel a little dizzy. 

Well it’ll either be that or the Pimm’s…

Cheers, and wherever you are, have a great weekend!

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You’re lucky!

P1040475 low resA month ago, I had the pleasure of being a witness at my friend’s civil wedding ceremony at her local town hall; after which, the bride and groom and their two children invited us (me, the other witness and a third friend) to lunch at their local pub.

The place was cosy as they come – wooden floors, comfy sofas and fireplaces, mouth-watering smells floating from the kitchen and the livery chatter of people having a good time. The sort of place where children are welcome to run around and hide under the tables as they please, and adults may conceivably spend an entire Sunday drifting lazily from coffee to lunch to afternoon pints, while reading the papers all along.

Like you do with good friends you don’t see very often, we made the most of the event and the celebration, although simple, felt truly special. We had a wonderful time relaxing, laughing and enjoying a gorgeous meal. It was in all respects a perfect day.

At the end of the afternoon, as we put our coats back on and prepared to leave – a little tired, nicely full and red-cheeked from the celebratory food and wine – I felt as though I was walking on clouds and the entire world was just made of pure love.

On the way to the exit, I noticed my friend’s baby looking attentively at a small, friendly-looking collie dog. I reached down to pat the dog’s head and heard a loud voice above my head: “You’re lucky, you know”. I looked up to see who had spoken and saw the dog’s master, an elderly, probably homeless gentleman, grinning a toothless smile.

I was surprised at the incongruity of the comment (and if I’m honest, at finding a homeless man in a nice pub), but he didn’t seem to notice. He repeated a second time: “You’re really lucky, you know. She doesn’t like everybody.”

I looked back down at the dog which by now was wagging its tail frantically at both the baby and me. I replied something about the dog being cute, but the man kept repeating the same thing several times over “You’re lucky, you know”, in a way that made me wonder if he perhaps wasn’t entirely there himself.  “You’re lucky you know!” he said one last time as I was turning away to leave, “You have a very lucky life.”

It wasn’t until we came out onto the street that it stroke me how right the man had been. The truth is, I am lucky – to be able to spend days like this with great friends and their healthy children, to eat delicious meals in fancy pubs, to live a comfortable life in a vibrant city, to be making friends with cute dogs… while it’s cold outside, and some people have no homes to go to. 

The whole scene had felt slightly surreal, like something out of a Hollywood film, where God would be speaking to me directly through a kindly homeless person, to remind me of the things that truly matter in life.

I returned home feeling half-shaken, half-amused. Later that day I recounted the story to my boyfriend, who joked that the only way to have known for sure if the man was indeed a divine messenger would have been to go back inside, and check whether he had vanished… 

Of course I never thought of that at the time, so I shall never know. But in a way it doesn’t matter, as magic or not, this was a powerful message. I am lucky, in fact much more so than I realise.

And I am not the only one, you may be lucky too. 

If you are ever reminded of it by a toothless man with a dog in strange circumstances, please get in touch… 

My Dad and the pear tree

Libourne 041_2005 cropLet me tell you a cute story:

When my parents bought what became our family home over 30 years ago, my Dad planted a pear tree in front of the house. Neither he nor my Mum being great gardeners, many plants have withered in their care since – but not the pear tree, which still grows strong outside their living room.

Every season over the years, the tree bore a great many fruit which for some reason were always juiceless, hard and bitter. Still my Dad cherished it and, out of some sense of pride, or perhaps loyalty towards the tree, we kept tasting the pears every year in the hope that they might finally turn out nice.

Last summer a neighbour came for dinner, and as we were enjoying dessert, the conversation turned towards the mysteriously bitter pears. The neighbour, who happens to be a farmer, had a good laugh and said no wonder the pears never tasted very good: they’re not an edible variety. In the old days, they would have been fed to the pigs, hence their common name of “pig pears”.

My father was a little offended, never having heard such a thing; but the simplest explanation often being the likeliest, we had to admit this sounded about right – for the past 30 years we had been placing impossible hopes on those pears to be something they weren’t.

Oh well.

Last Christmas I was staying with my parents again, and my Dad talked to me at length about his nearing retirement. Many of his friends have retired already, and much as he looks forward to slowing down (“you don’t have the same energy for work at 60 as you had at 30”), he sounded a little apprehensive about the passing of time.

“By the way”, he said as we were driving through the garden, “I almost took down the pear tree.”

“The one with the pig pears?”

“Yes, that. It’s never produced an edible pear, and it doesn’t look great anyway, so I thought we might use the space for something new.”

“So the other day”, he said, “I took a shovel and started digging the roots out. But then I thought about it – what has that tree ever done to me? I watered it for 30 years and now I take it down because it’s not productive enough?”

“It made no sense” he said, “so I planted it back in.”

And so I bet the tree will still be there in a few years time, when my parents sell the house to move to a smaller home for their retirement.

 

Moving on: New life in an old country

P1100155 low resA good friend of mine is moving back to the continent after almost 10 years in London, and I find myself strangely affected.

Not only because I will miss her – she’s one of those rare friends who never seems to find my crazy plans crazy – but also because of the possibilities the thought of going home opens up in my own life.

In the last 12 years I have lived away from France in various countries, I have found that being an expat is a bit like having two lives – there’s the cosmopolitan, stressed-out urban me, who works for a celebrity and does stuff like blogging and yoga. And the small town French me, a daughter/ grand-daughter of several generation of small-towners, who still enjoys spending days in the countryside in the middle of nowhere and the slow pace of everything.

I suspect we all feel a similar divide between where we came from and where we are now, whether we live far away from our families, or whether they are on the other side of town. But living in another country, albeit a neighbouring one, only makes it more obvious.

Just as we compare ourselves to others (even though we know we shouldn’t), it is also tempting to compare ourselves to our “other me”.

What if I had studied nearer my parents and settled to live locally? Would I still have been the same person? Would I have settled sooner, have had children earlier? Would I have somewhat become a copy of my parents?

What if I went back now ? Would I be going forwards, or going back in time?

This is what my friend and I pondered during our last dinner together. We both came to London years ago and embraced the city life as if our lives depended on it. Would we be somehow “giving up” the dream by going back home? Would we be judged as failures, or more importantly, would we see ourselves to have failed? Would we be settling down happily, or just settling?

As I think about it now, it strikes me that this is all part of growing up- letting go of the many roads we might have taken, and learning to embrace the one we are on. Realising that the different “me” are all me. There is no “other me”. Or rather, “other me” is still me.

It strikes me that learning to embrace the paradox is the way to live fully. It’s okay to love the excitement city life, and still dream of the calm countryside. To have a modern life and yet honour tradition. We can break the mould and still love the families we grew up in.

We all, as they say, have both roots and wings. 

And as I watch my friend go, it occurs to me that happiness is knowing just that. Whichever country we might go to, we will still be ourselves. Fully, and beautifully.

 

READ ON Other similar posts you might like:
Time travelling at no cost
Going round in circles
“Finding our own North Star” by Martha Beck

You don’t know what you have till it’s gone

P1040368 low resI was recently reminded of this simple but universal truth: we often fail to appreciate the good things in our lives, until it’s too late.

My family is about to sell the beach house our grandparents built in the 1960s as a holiday home. Back then it was on the outskirts of a provincial seaside town but, fifty years of gentrification later, it finds itself at the centre of a fashionable holiday resort. The place has changed beyond recognition – the forest is replaced by housing developments, the beaches that were once the preserve of local families are a playground for the Parisian well-to-do and celebrities. The restaurant next door now offers a chauffeured car service to drive patrons to their cars further down the road.

So, we have been priced out, and we have to sell. But my point is not to lament gentrification or the woes of the middle classes. My point is this: I knew the house would go at some point, but I never expected it to be so soon. I knew all of us were going less and less as us ‘children’ grew into adults who live far away. I knew holidays increasingly mean exotic places and the idea of a prolonged stay with four generations under one roof no longer appeals. I knew the house was sitting empty a lot of the time, and even my grandmother no longer enjoyed going there much. Still, I didn’t expect her to suddenly decide to put it on the market just before the summer.

I never imagined it would be gone before we all could go one last time. Before we could have one last family barbebue. One more breakfast looking at the sea. One more siesta under the pine trees. One more run down the sand dune and a last swim before lunch.  Those little things that were happy landmarks of my childhood and early adulthood and will now be gone forever.

If I could have gone one last time, I would have savoured every single second of every day. The simplest moments would have seemed so perfect. I wouldn’t have had as many petty complaints. I would have photographed the house under every angle. I would have really taken in the smell of the sea, listened out for its distant sound. I would have delighted in the company of every single family member.

One day, my grandmother will no longer be there. Neither will my parents nor others I know and love. One day, I will no longer be there. Do I really appreciate everything I have?

I came across something along those lines today, in Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project“I didn’t want to keep taking these days for granted. The words of the writer Colette had haunted me for years: ‘What a wonderful life I’ve had! I only wish I’d realised it sooner.’ I didn’t want to look back, at the end of my life or some great catastrophe, and think, ‘How happy I used to be then, if only I’d realised it’ “.

Are there things in your life that are so close to you that you fail to see their true value? Loved ones you wish you’d show more patience and kindness towards? Is there anything you could think of, that would show them how much you care?

If so, makes sure you do it now. And again tomorrow. Remind yourself how lucky you are to have such riches in your life, and celebrate them fully so that if one day if you came to lose them, you would find comfort in the fact that you have loved them to your heart’s content.