Life in rural France is about sharing – it requires one to be neighbourly.
It’s not like living in London as I did previously. I hardly ever spoke to my neighbours – looking back on it I don’t know why. It’s just the way it was. The lady who lived in the house next door to mine used to get the same train as me into central London each morning and we only ever nodded to each other. We did this for 12 years! I guess it’s generally the way life is for commuters and residents in big cities.
Living in the middle of nowhere in a village in rural France with a population of less than 150 is a very different experience. Everyone talks to everyone (generally about each other) and it is very much a community. We’re often given fruit and vegetables, sometimes a cake, a chicken, jam – people share here.
I have some neighbours who live in Belgium and come for weekends to spend time with their horses who remain here year round. Normally my neighbour JP helps them out by feeding the horses which are in the field next to his barn, but he’s in hospital having a knee op. The OH (other half) and me have been helping out by popping in each night to feed and water them (the horses that is, not our neighbours) and another neighbour does the morning visit.
This has been a bit difficult for me as I’m terrified of horses. These two horses are both male and enormous. They are also very curious and want to sniff and snuffle when they see me so I’m trying hard to overcome the fear.
There are two things that have made me afraid. When I was 11, I went riding on a quite small horse and thought I was pretty good at it. I tried to leap off, got my foot stuck in the stirrup, landed on my head and knocked myself out. Not the horse’s fault at all but it did put me off.
Years later I went to Tunisia and the Saharan Desert and attended a Bedouin Festival. It was quite a big event in an enormous tent with hundreds of tourists attending. The Bedouins are famous for their horsemanship skills and they rode the horses with great panache and speed round the tent.
And then… they called for volunteers.
I did not volunteer.
The person who was with me volunteered me.
I was wearing a strapless dress as we were going to a very posh restaurant afterwards.
I think we can all guess what happened next. A swarthy, moustachioed, leather booted Bedouin man came and plucked me from the audience. I was so stressed I could hardly breathe, my legs were shaking. He dragged me down to the sawdust floor of the tent, the audience were cheering wildly. He then swung me up into the saddle of the biggest horse I’ve ever seen, leapt on behind me and starting galloping like the demons were after us. The audience cheered even more wildly and laughed as my fragile, strapless dress reacted to the riding motion and they got an eyeful of more than we’d all bargained for before we arrived that evening.
I was eventually allowed to return to my seat, scarlet-faced, trembling and seething with hatred for the person who had volunteered me.
That was the last time I got close to a horse so this particular neighbourly duty is a bit kill or cure… but when in France!