The Lion with a Friendly Face.

Today, right this very second, as I sit here writing, I am moving house.

Only this is not moving house as you would know it.

My house is in the UK, and I am in France. Believe me moving house is hard work, even if several hundred miles away from the house in question and the in-laws, the in-law’s friends (who I have never met), my parents and sister are actually doing the hard graft. My wonderful neighbour is making the tea and my mother in law has already made a bob or two at the local salvage yard.

Have you ever tried deciding whether to keep, bin or sell items described over the phone, when the items in question have long since deleted themselves from memory, or suffered the guilt associated with not actually being there to help? After all, why should these guys hand over a couple of their days to move my belongings when I am sitting on my sofa updating my blog? My fingers are twitching with the nervous need to be lending a hand.

In the immediate term the answer is simple, ‘husband à l’etranger’ is 4000km further away from the house than I am. I am pinned to my house because it is the middle of term-time, my buyers wouldn’t shift the completion date by one week to coincide with the end of term, any minute now four hungry kids are going to pile through the door, and ‘Petit Lapin’ is having her siesta on her inflatable bed in my bedroom. And thank heavens she is…

You see, moving house is hugely emotional, and leaving  a home means saying goodbye to friends and shutting the door for a final time. All of these things I cannot do – well save for being emotional of course, and i’m really good at that! When we left three and a half years ago we never said goodbye; no leaving party; no great fanfare;  I suppose we never really thought that we weren’t coming back. We left for adventure, and an adventure we have had and as we have undergone our adventure we have also transformed and realised that life has led us somewhere else.

Nearly every home that we have had has handed us the gift of someone special – someone that hasn’t made up a part of our family, but who has become family through kindness, generosity and spirited good nature. My neighbour became one of these people and she represents the best of my old home. In fact my old home used to be hers, until she moved into a house in the garden. She is so closely interwoven into the fabric of our family, that we could and would never disentagle her.

If I think about our old home, I see her coming to the door in the evening when ‘husband à l’etranger’ was working in France (funny that – he did once work there!) and holding out a plate of delicious stew for my dinner; I see her in my sitting room baby-sitting my children and refusing to take a penny; I see her walking across the driveway to haul away my basket of ironing, and returning it to me later on beautifully pressed; and I see her arriving with a cup of beetroot soup when she spotted me wallpapering a ceiling (carefully using my upturned face at a paper prop) during what normal people would call lunch time. And with my face as a paper prop, and unable to either answer the door or call out thanks, she left the steaming soup on the window cill. When I think about my neighbour I realise how I was blessed by her presence and when I think about leaving that home, despite the fact that I am not actually personally moving the remnants of furniture, I feel hugely sad at my loss.

Which is why today of all days I am delighted that ‘Petit lapin’ is taking a siesta in my bedroom; because at 7am this morning her mother knocked on my door and asked if it would ‘derange’ me (put me out), if I looked after her for the day. Petit Lapin had conjunctivitis and her mother had to go to work. And maybe I have had the luck to know more than most mothers how unconditional aide is golden, how it enriches, how it enables and how it embellishes life. I can’t help the people helping me, but I can help someone else.

When we first moved into our house our neighbour left a small clay lion with a friendly face in the garden to watch over us, and if there is one thing I can’t now leave behind, it’s lion. He represents my neighbour who watched over us with her friendly face, her generous gestures and her bonhomie.

Of course we’ll be back to visit – but for the rest of the time I have lion to remind me of  what I am leaving behind.

And for all those that have given their time and energy to us – Thank you!

Egg Hunt at Miromesnil and a Souris of Lamb.

What to do with a couple of adolescents on a  damp Easter sunday afternoon? Offer plentiful chocolate  with a ‘catch’ of course.

I had been promising myself a trip out to the Chateau de Miromesnil, near Dieppe since I first came to France. Its potager is legendary; and what better opportunity than an Easter egg hunt to make the visit accessible  and appealing to adults and adolescents alike!

It was disappointing  to wake up to a Normand mist this morning after a week of glorious sunshine.  It was the kind of mist that seeps into every corner and dampens every last bit of undergrowth, plant and flower, and yet sparkles on spiders webs without a drop of rain actually falling.

The Chateau of Miromesnil, near Tourville sur Arques is famous as the birthplace of Guy de Maupassant in 1850. I have just put down ‘Pierre et Jean’, his novel written in 1887, wonderful for his depiction of the values and hardships of society, and his colourful descriptions of  the towns and villages of Normandy in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s.

The chateau was built in 1600 in the style of Louis XIII. The generosity of Armand Thomas Hue de Miromesnil, its owner during the 18th century, to the local population allowed the chateau to pass unscathed through the Revolution.

Plan in hand we headed off to decipher the first clue.

Enticed by the knowledge that 2kg of  cacao were used to create the prize draw chocolate egg, the adolescents of the party engaged internet access on their mobiles to determine the exact distance from the chapel to the chateau. ….400m.

The goats were protecting the pink eggs hidden in the undergrowth….and the next clue was hidden behind the woodpile.

The identity of the ‘recolte des tetes blanches en été’ (gathering of white heads in summer) gave us a few problems…. we narrowed it down to mushrooms. Another family asked us for the french translation for dandilion. (Aren’t dandilions yellow?) There was some foot shifting, no-one was quite sure whether to discuss the clues.  The prize egg was, after all, pretty enticing. We were inclined to give them the translation rather than share the mushroom theory.

Google translate and Wikipedia came in very handy in determining the vegetable under the plant genus ‘Alliacé’ ….. onion. We noticed another competitor reach for his mobile.

Over to the younger members of the family to count the  54 shutters on the rear face of the chateau which the butler had had to close daily. Though by the looks of the concentrated expressions, the adolescents were keen to check the numbers.

The spring garden was in full bloom.

and I caught my first glimpse of the potager…

and admired the view back to the park where we’d collected the moss, bark and feather.

We changed our mind about the mushrooms and decided on garlic, before impressing on the staff that we live just down the road and that collection of said egg would not be a problem…..

‘Were we really there two hours’, said the adolescents ‘ we thought it was only one!’

The beauty of a good day out is to arrive home damp but rosy cheeked to find dinner ready and waiting. What better than slow roast ‘Souris d’Agneau’, with tomato and avocado salsa, couscous and mint yoghurt, and a generous glass of wine.

As for pudding, we’re waiting for the phone to ring…

Happy Easter!