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.

The Father

I’m not going to talk about the new film with Anthony Hopkins, where we see the effects of Alzheimer’s on an elderly man.  No, I am going to talk a little bit about my own father, as everyone in the family knows, is destined for the Sainthood.  I have been made to swear by my mother not to talk about private lives of family members, so I will try not to give too much away.

I phoned my parents on Friday and everything was great at home, my mother going out to play golf, and my father going out to play bridge with the boys.  I said I would phone them later during the week. I hear people complaining that they haven’t seen their parents for x months over COVID.  I haven’t seen my parents since August 2019, so please, for the love of God, stop complaining and count your blessings!

On Tuesday night, after work, I called home.  My mother answered the saying how they had had a bit of an“eventful weekend”, and that my father had had a heart attack.  So having stolen my father’s thunder, she said she would pass him over; John do have the phone upstairs?  He did, and we started  talking.

As you may know, I live in France, and I don’t think I’m giving too much away saying that my parents live in the UK.  In some respects it could be on the other side of the world, seeing as how we can’t see each other.  But over lockdown we have “heard” each other.  But what about the now ubiquitous “Zoom” meeting I hear you saying.  You can “see” each other with that.  My mother, bless her, is a technophobe and zoom is something from the realm of science-fiction. 

So, I was allowed to talk to my now thunderless father, and asked, what did I just hear?  Have you been trying to be interesting again?  I was given the low-down and got all the medical details.  I still don’t get it.  He was a high level athlete as a young man, not a huge drinker, nor a total abstainer, we seem to mistrust them.  He is not what one could call a “big lad” as I am.  He eats very healthily.  It was just bad luck, and blocked arteries.

It’s the kind of situation that puts you right up against your own mortality, and I have friends of my age who have lost their parents, and not in the fishing aisle in the sports shop. I am constantly aware of how far I am and how helpless that makes me feel. I love both my parents with all my heart, and dread “that” phonecall and hoping that althought enevitable, I will never have to face it. I asked as politely as I could if he could possibly refrain from dying please, until I actually manage to get over to the UK for my next visit, next summer.  He said he would try and I hung up, knowing that everything was fine with him.  It was as if the weekend had been less eventful, verging on the boring.  But it does give you a bit of a scare.  It’s not always nice living so far away.

Post Scriptum

Our new Constitution is now established, and has an appearance that promises permanency; but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

A certain Ben Franklin

The envibility of death is ompnipresent in our world, some being closer to it than others. Do I want to die? Not really. Am I ready to die? As a Catholic I woud prefer to get to confession first. Some see death as a deliverence, and I think it was Voltaire who said, “The man who, in a fit of melancholy, kills himself today, would have wished to live had he waited a week.” I think he also said it was the only real way to say Merde, to God. Death is part of life and I think not to be feared. But I would prefer that certain people would hang around for a little longer so they can share even more of their wisdom, their sense of justice, and above all, their love!