This morning I go through my Facebook feed and read a post about a friend who lived close to where we used to live in London (Streatham) listing all the lovely things she will miss about her house, as she prepares to move to a new home, and all the things she wouldn’t miss. ‘Pollution and grime. Not feeling safe enough to walk to or from the station after dark. No sense of community.’
To which somebody posts a comment saying ‘There isn’t much sense of community anywhere.’
It makes me think of the conversation I’ve had with Alistair a few days ago when, reminiscing about our former life, we realised how quiet and predictable our life in London was. How we knew exactly how our weekends were going to pan out. A trip to Borough market for oysters and empanadas, a walk on the Southbank and a pint somewhere, a rare meet-up with friends that had been scheduled in months in advance, a very rare relationship with the neighbours downstairs who were also selling their flat to move to New Zealand, a morning in Brixton market for a bite to eat, a day in Crystal Palace perusing the antique shops, trying to get a Sunday roast without a reservation (always a fail), ending up with a glass of red at The Cambridge and an Uber home (because the buses were always late); an afternoon in front of the TV with a glass of wine.
There are times in our life in France when I miss a bit of that quiet and predictable life. Because here life is anything but. Whether it’s Sebastian coming up the stairs at 10pm when I’m ready to go to sleep to say he came to cut the grass or at least to chop up our wood pile; or the neighbours waving at us as they come past to look after their pony (said pony currently living with us and doing us a huge favour by mowing our neglected lawn); or the renovations team consisting of friends with whom, on a drunken night, we’ve agreed to organise a music festival on our land next year; or the neighbour bringing back our dog who’d escaped over to go play with their dog, and the list could go on forever.
To say that days are mirroring each other would not be true.
To say that there is a strong community in the area where we now live would be an understatement.
When we first arrived, I felt the need to pay the neighbours for their services, whether it was looking after the cat or putting the chickens to bed. I felt extremely bad to ask for favours. It’s something that would not even be mentioned in London, even amongst friends. In time, it became evident that, without the services of the community, we would not survive in the countryside. The most recent example being the transportation of an above-ground Zodiac swimming pool which we’ve purchased for a very good deal with the help of our neighbour from the former owner of Bar de la Mairie in Sauveterre de Bearn. The transportation of said pool required not only a very big trailer but also the help of at least 4-5 people. It took a few emails and a couple of phone call to gather a team of friends (one of whom owns a large trailer, attached to a Land Rover) to bring the monstrous structure over on Saturday morning. I still felt bad to ask for help when the effort required was so big. But I also realised that we will do exactly the same when the time came that they needed help.
Sunday finds me dressed in a blue tasselled dress sprayed with glitter. I am at the 64 Players annual picnic at the Golf Club in Salies de Bearn. I am part of an act. The grand finale to be more precise. I am going to do a dance routine on Proud Mary, Beyoncé’s version. Now that is something I would have never contemplated before. I love dancing, but doing a dance routine on stage is something I haven’t done since secondary school end of year celebrations. Nor did I intend to. And yet here I am. And I’m sweating buckets, but I’ve had such a laugh all day and I’m actually having great fun doing it. I even manage not to make mistakes in the routine and the crowd loves it.
As I pick-up my props from the grass, feeling elated by the experience, I realise that the quiet and predictable life belongs somewhere else. And that, actually, I don’t miss it all that much.