And how did you spend your summer?

Everyone seems to ask that question after the summer holidays when we take leave from our daily toils and worries, and maybe for a week or two, we can create our own little paradise on earth. Some make it to a hotel next to the ocean and enjoy the sun’s warmth on their skin, whereas others will find a boat and spend time in the ocean trying to stay cool. Others will drive all over making that Grand Tour that the Victorians made. Others will be at work keeping the country going. Others will be fighting fires in the Gironde because of somebody’s carelessness in this heat wave, which I wouldn’t really call a wave but rather a smack around the face, with the heat taking away our comfort, our sleep, our water, our rivers, and our gardens.

Whatever your summer, I hope you could find moments of cool, in the figurative and literal senses. What can I tell you about my summer? In four days, I go back to work to start the humdrum of my daily life, and in these remaining four days of freedom, I seem to look back over the previous three weeks wondering where it all went!

It went off to the UK, that’s where it went. I haven’t been back home since 2019 and it was about bloody time that I got back to my roots. Living without roots or being able to feel rooted somewhere that one calls home is an idea that only immigrants can really get their heads around. They left their homes, sometimes forced by evil and unfortunate circumstances, and for others, it was for love and freely entered into. I was lucky to be in the latter category. But it’s still amazing to get back home.

With modern technology, I can call my parents on the phone when I want to, and do so a few times a week. I can hear their voices, but it’s not the same as taking them in my arms and hugging them and really showing them how much I love them. Only when in their presence can I do that. And as none of us is getting any younger, one has the morbid thought, will this be the last time I see them? I tend not to dwell on this rather disturbing question, but one still asks it.

I found a country where everyone speaks the same language as me and where my wife and daughter seemed to cope with what I do every day (ie speaking a foreign language) and maybe it gave them the chance to walk around in my shoes for a while, as Atticus Finch once said in a book a long time ago.

I found a country that had gone through Brexit, Covid, and yet further Tory government and it looked more or less the same. Tired, pissed off, but still exquisite to my eyes. And most of all, it was home. The Germans talk about this concept of Heimat, home, but not quite. It’s more akin to a motherland, or a place where you are rooted. Some could argue that after nearly 30 years in France, France should be my Heimat, and although I am very grateful to have been “welcomed” to France, it certainly isn’t home, despite all the best intentions.

Anyway! I saw my parents in Alnmouth and surprisingly took some photos. They haven’t all been edited yet, as I have to sort and edit them, which will be a hefty job. We didn’t really go wandering like we have in the past, but just tried to relax in the comparative cool of Northumbria. I wandered around the village and even was as bold enough as to go into Alnwick and let my daughter discover Superdrug’s cosmetics counter! Ah well, it was going to happen one day.

I had some time with my father as we drove towards Otterburn to get some landscape photos. It was lovely just sharing with him how I take my photos and seeing this part of me that few people see. We ate with my parents and enjoyed curries, Chinese food, and the tastiest of Sunday roasts. My daughter, that intriguing and sometimes frightening creature, discovered more of her father’s country and just how special it is.

As some of you may know, I am adopted and have been since three weeks after my birth. The story of all that, Dear Reader, is understandably only for those concerned, and during our time in Alnmouth, I had the good fortune to see my birth mother and my half-sister for the day. Afternoon tea and we even had crumpets with salted butter and jam, and tea. Coffee is fine, but tea in the UK takes you to what heaven must feel like!

On our way back south towards France, we stopped off to see my birth mother again. It felt so intimate being able to visit her in her own home. My half-brother’s daughters were there to meet not only me but probably more Kate, their half-cousin who by definition is exotic because she is French! They have, of course, received an open invitation to come over whenever they like. We even saw my Aunty Margie, whom I hadn’t seen for over 5 years.

Then down to Hull to see my father’s side of the family. My cousin Nick and his wife, Maria, received us like kings and I will be ever grateful to him for organising the family reunion where 23 of us gathered in his immaculate back garden. A couple of beers were drunk that day. The following day it was off to see Aunty Mon, and Kate was delighted to see me being scolded as I answered a question for her. Nobody messes around with Aunty Mon! We met up with Nick and Maria in the next village for a pub lunch, with the traditional and nigh quasi obligatory roast dinner! Those two pints of Yorkshire bitter just helped wash down the meal in the most tasteful way.

Sadly, we had to continue our voyage down South and ended up in Dover, where the next day, we were to catch our ferry back to France. We met up with my wife’s cousin for dinner in our hotel, and they discussed everything about family, from gossip to scandal, to the next generation who will carry the family name.

We arrived home and found my newly single son at home and Molly, the dog who have both been sorely missed.

As I read the article, there is one word that seems to stand out, and that word is family. These holidays had nothing to do with visiting tourist sights. It did, however, have everything to do about renewing connections to those most important in our lives after Covid had separated us for so long. That is what the holidays meant to me. I became rooted in my country, my culture, and my family. That doesn’t mean that I didn’t want to see old friends, but everyone knows that family has to come first. It’s what gives us our sense of being and belonging. It is the visible form of our roots on God’s Earth, however warm that earth might feel during an exceptionally warm summer.

May God bless you and your families, bring you together, heal the eventual discords, and give you too a feeling of being grounded after so long.

It pays to be a winner

At school I wasn’t a winner.  Not really.  There was one time at prep school when I won the First form prize, which was a book about birds.  I still have it! I once entered a competition to win a first day cover of stamps featuring various fish native to British rivers, and won the first day cover as well as postcards of the stamps.  I wasn’t a great sportsman, something which seems to have followed me through my life and therefore didn’t have the chance to win a cap for my school.  Whilst I used to wear green for a living, I would often hear the phrase, “It pays to be a winner gentleman,” being yelled by certain junior NCO’s.  I was of course never that winner, so would have to repeat the exercise with all the other losers.

You get used to being a loser.  In certain respects, it’s great because you don’t have to bother yourself with that maternal ambition that was imposed on you.  It lowers your expectations and you get used to accepting your fate in life.   You ramble along, as you may have seen and read Dear Reader, I am a rambler.  I was fine with that.

Then of course I moved to France.  Try being English in France.  Then again maybe don’t.  It’s worse than being French in the UK.  They lost WW2, yet celebrate VE Day every 8th May.  Oh sweet Caroline, I mean irony!  But that’s fine.  It’s in their mind-set of being the inheritors of the Glory of France.  Then the bastards went and won the World Cup in 1998.  They are ghastly when victorious, and I remember saying to myself, they’re going to talk about this for 20 years…  20 years came and went, and they only went and won the bloody thing a second time!!!

Whenever they beat us at rugby, I am inundated with mentions of how great they are, and yet when we beat them, I am allowed to remain silent and hide in my office!  This losing does have a tendency to teach you about humility.

Now I will talk about the B word, yes, Brexit.  As I may have let slip, I am a remainer, and therefore “lost” the vote in 2016.  Since that time, my life here in France has been in suspended animation, suspended rather than animated.  My future was dependant on a “deal”.  Then Boris came along.  I was going to be buggered one more time, yet despite the odds, we “won” an agreement that would allow me to stay here.  But knowing the French, nothing was certain.  That uncertainty doesn’t help a guy’s mental health and Brexit has taken it’s toll on me.  But less of the grumbling. 

On the 22nd June, 2021, I receive an email from the prefecture telling me to come and see them on the 9th July, with this mail, my old carte de séjour, my residency card, which allowed me to remain in France, and will allow me to remain further.  I arrived here in France on the 9th of July 1994, to start the rest of my life.  I got that mail, read it, and had tears welling up.  For the first time in 5 years, I was turning into a winner.

That week I entered a competition on Instagram.  One of those things where you win a basket full of samples from a shop, and you have to like the post, post the names of two people on the comments, and they will announce the winner in a story.  This was for a shop that sold CBD products and I thought why the hell not.   Well when the story came out announcing the winner you’ll never guess who won.  Yes me!!!  So for a perpetual loser like me, this was amazing.  I was high on the positive vibes.  Things are calmer at home and at work, and I have less pain in my arthritic knee.  Maybe it does pay to be a winner after all. 

I am not a fan of Shadenfreude, except when France is the cause of it.  In the Euro 2020 competition, happening in 2021 because of Covid, no winners there really, France was knocked out of the tournament by Switzerland. I haven’t said a word about it at work.  Wouldn’t be cricket after all.  Oh and we beat Sri Lanka in the Cricket too!  On Tuesday night there was the fateful match, between Germany and England, and I don’t want to hear anything about two world wars and on world cup!!  Even though…. We beat them, for this first time in a tournament in the knock out stages since 1966 when we beat them in the world cup…  The English side of me was very happy, and yet I have been gracious in victory and not mentioned it at work to my French colleagues despite the desperate urge to do so.  Even if I were to mention it, it would be wasted on them and wouldn’t be cricket!  Damn you gracious VICTORY!