Tag Archives: France

Journey to a New Life – Part Five (Remembrance Day)

We have never been ones to make our way to Whitehall on Remembrance Sunday in order to watch the ceremony at the Cenotaph.? We would buy our poppies and remember in our own way.? When we moved to France, and having already visited the Wellington Tunnels in Arras, we are more aware of the price that France paid over the course of two world conflicts

Today we took our place by the side of many of the French – and some English – inhabitants of our village, in order to pay tribute to the French fallen of World War I.? A programme was provided which explained where and when each part of the morning’s proceeding would take place.? At 10.30 am, there was a short service in the church.? We are not religious and have never been Catholic, so we asked the maire (mayor) if we could just sit at the back, as we wouldn’t be taking part.; we were there as a sign of respect.? He seemed genuinely taken aback and showed us to a pew at the rear of the congregation.? He even offered to drive us to the cemetery afterwards for the next part of the ceremony.? There were only a handful of people there and he explained, with a rye grin, that it wouldn’t be ‘crowded’.? As it happened, a number of people arrived as the service continued and there was a respectable congregation by the end.? One of our near neighbours – a delightful eighty-six-year-young lady with a naughty twinkle in her eye – arrived not long after we did and, after greeting us, said? ‘you’ll come and sit with me?’ in a way that suggested that was exactly what we would be doing.? So much for sitting at the back; we ended up half way down the church on the left!

Inside the village church

The church service was not conducted by a priest, as there isn’t one permanently attached to this village and it must be assumed that every village around was having the same ceremony.? It was taken by a man and an elderly woman (no idea who they were!) both of whom, luckily, had beautifully clear voices.

From here, we drove with the maire to the cemetery, about a kilometre from the centre of the village.? Many people had already made their way there and had not attended the church service, most notably those who were quite advanced in years and needed to be driven from their homes.? The ceremony itself was very moving.? The maire asked a member of the village (presumably a dignitary – we don’t know him yet) to read a potted history of the four main battles of the Great War that were fought in the area.? It was interesting that, when numbers of troops killed or injured were mentioned, the German soldiers were included.? Some of the village children then laid cornflowers (the French equivalent of the British poppy) on each grave – there must have been about three dozen – and, as they finished the flowers they were carrying, said, ‘Mort pour la France.’ (Died for France).? This was followed by a beautiful flower arrangement being placed at the foot of the flagpole, where the French flag was flying.? We then had a minute’s silence.

At the cemetery. Credit: Dave Harris

The next part of the morning was a ceremony at the war memorial in the village square.? We walked back down from the cemetery and, when we arrived, the maire read a message from the French Secretary of State.? Children read the names of the dead from 1914-18 and pigeons were released.? Another flower arrangement from the French was placed on the flowerbed surrounding the memorial by one of the oldest inhabitants and a young girl, as well as a poppy wreath on behalf of the British.? We listened to the French equivalent of the Last Post and retired to the meeting room at the mairie for aperitifs and nibbles.? We met a number of other English residents and rubbed shoulders with a few more of our French neighbours; we are at the point where the people we now know are beginning to introduce us to others.

Laying flowers at the memorial. Credit: Dave Harris

It was one of those occasions when we felt very much at one with the French.? We know that England – and, particularly, many of the big, important cities – was bombed horrifically during WWII, but these people had the battle raging all about them on the ground.? The live on the edge of the Somme.? They had a vibrant partisan presence during the second world conflict, of which they are very proud.? They will never forget the debt they owe the the Commonwealth – mention was made of the British, the Canadian, the Australian and the New Zealand forces that fought on their behalf.? We are very glad that we attended and will probably do so every year.

Journey to a New Life – Part One

It has been a long time since the last blog post, as access to the server was patchy at best, non-existent at worst.? Thank Orange France – another story for another day.

There have been many changes to family life in the last five months.? We have found, negotiated, bought and moved into a house in France.? This wasn’t the original intention but looking for the right house, at the right price, in the right area had been nine months of fruitless searching.? First, the market just seemed flat.? We had looked in ever increasing circle until we were even considering the West Country.? This would, however, have been at least a five hour drive – six, if you add an hour’s break which, at our age would be required – from any family and this was not an attractive prospect.? Even so, anywhere we could afford was in an isolated position or so small that we would have been uncomfortable.? And we had sold our house, so the clock was ticking.

Map of the Pas de Calais

So we ended up in France.? Not a big city like Paris or Rheims.? Not a wine region (although that would have been cool) but a small village of less than seven hundred people, nestling in the Pas de Calais.? It is still, very much, a farming/rural community but that doesn’t mean we will be keeping cows.? Chickens, perhaps, and the odd duck, but nothing large and potentially dangerous.? Or that needs milking.

So when we decided that we would make this move, we started looking at one storey ex-farmhouses (fermettes) – thinking ahead to the years of our dotage.? We looked at lots online and then actually viewed some, but they were all in worse condition than they appeared in the photos.? On top of that, because they were constructed using a certain type and length of tree trunk for the roof beams, they were only ever ‘so’ wide, with one room running into another or a corridor running the length of the building.? The first option made the rooms less private and the second made them smaller.

Front of the house

Then we saw Our House.? To begin with, it is three storeys, the top one being a loft conversion up to a possible thirteen years old. It was offered with six bedrooms, two bathrooms and a downstairs cloakroom, kitchen, salon (posh lounge) and salle (day to day lounge)/dining room.? It also has cellar and a range of outbuildings, as well as a half acre (about 2200 sq.m.) of garden. When we first saw the details it was way out of our range but, within a month, it had come down to a reasonable (for us) price and we agreed a deal with the owners.? So, here we are.

The house was actually built as the mayor’s house, by the mayor, in 1908.? His granddaughter lives next door in the house he built for his mother.? The house has quite a history and there are tantalisingly interesting stories abut the property that will be uncovered, I hope in due course.? We shall all have to wait for that.


Auld Lang Syne

Spinning, once again, towards a new year makes you think.? Well, it does me, so I decided to review my 2015.? Boring, I hear you say.? Everyone does that.? Yes, they do, but I intend to focus on the positive – if I can.

Last January hove into view with my decision to retire firmly sealed in an envelope, ready to hand to my head teacher.? The next few months were a flurry of putting paperwork in order, reassigning jobs (which may not have always been strictly in my job spec but? I had been doing anyway) to other people and, of course, teaching.? Clearing my desk drawers was a challenge.? The most important question I had to ask myself was “Do I need this?”? My brain kept trying to substitute ‘want’ for ‘need’ but I won in the end.? I re-purposed some items by donating them to colleagues and simply disposed of most of the rest.? (There is one zip-top, plastic folder snuggling in a corner of the lounge that contains things I just had to bring home – mainly small items of stationery!)

There was ‘Poldark’, of course, about which I was in two minds, having seen the original, but enjoyed very much in the end.

In April we celebrated the 94th birthday of my crazy, wonderful dad.? Brilliant to still have him making those awful jokes and, sometimes, even more awful faces!? After a major operation and the addition of a pacemaker in the last few years, he is still going strong and is surprisingly independent for his age.

Dad proving that a splitting headache usually has a reason

Later, we had an election which, in my opinion, was a travesty.? No more on that – I was going to be positive!

On July 9th, 2015 (let it be recorded) I retired.? It was a smooth transition and I can honestly say that the only things I will miss are?? some great colleagues – who, I hope, will stay friends! – and imparting knowledge.? Two days after that I attending the wedding of my son and, in one, fell swoop, gained a daughter and a whole new family!

Start as you mean to go on

Now, ever since deciding that I would definitely retire people have been asking one question – what will you do?? My first answer has always been ‘Nothing’, followed by ‘take the opportunity to go on breaks in term time!’? Well, first I did a lot of not-planning and not-marking throughout what was still, for me, the summer holidays.? That was the only sign, at that point, that something was different.? In September, when I did not return to work, we visited friends in the East of England and the Midlands; in November, we took an overnight trip to France.

The view down into the lobby from the first floor of our lovely little hotel

This December we were lucky enough to share Christmas dinner with the best newly-married couple and had a wonderful, relaxing day with good food and good company.

So much for 2015.? Next year will prove to be a challenge, but more of that later.? May I wish all who have read any of my ramblings a very Happy, Healthy and Prosperous New Year.