So, today is my birthday.
I’ve been in France for five years exactly.
Five years ago today the OH (other half) and I packed all our worldly belongings into a trailer, hitched it to the back of our car, drove it on to a Eurotunnel train to France, got off the other end and drove to our holiday shed in Pas de Calais.
I was apprehensive to say the least. I’d left behind a job I love and where I earned a great salary, a team I adored, lots of friends, my family and my London life. I lived in the suburbs in a lovely Edwardian house which was perfectly decorated with all the mod cons. Every morning I got up at 06.00, took the 06.45 train to London Bridge, walked over the Bridge to my office overlooking the River Thames and worked until around 20.00, walked back to the station to take the train home.
I swapped it all for a hovel in the country surrounded by fields, no job and no friends.
It is without doubt one of the best life changing actions I have ever taken.
I have turned from a well-off, suit wearing, stressed out executive to a boot wearing, impoverished, chicken loving farm girl.
There is nothing wrong with my former life – I adored it and I know how lucky I was to have had it. I don’t come from a wealthy background but my parents were determined that I have the best education possible and I won a scholarship to a top school in London which enabled me to get great jobs. I was a journalist for ten years in London and then moved into banking because it was more secure and paid a better salary. I have travelled the world, eaten at the best restaurants, stayed in the best hotels – I’ve loved it.
My life now is now altered in so many ways but I feel incredibly lucky to have had this chance to have a very different way of living.
The first few years in France were not easy. A huge change like that is not something to be taken lightly. I went from being in charge of people to being in charge of chickens and making the tea for the OH who is a builder. It was his dream to renovate our house single-handedly (with my help of course!). It has taken years but it is almost done and it is beautiful.
We have had plenty of difficult times along the way but we’ve made it and it has forced me to be a more accepting, understanding and forgiving person.
I have learned to mix concrete, use a nail gun, tile a roof, stain and varnish wood, install a window, insulate a room and so many other jobs but overall I have learned to be a gofer (go fer this and go fer that). It’s a mixed bag of emotions when I look back on that one!
I’ve bounced back and forth between London and France a fair bit because of family demands – it is something I never considered enough before making the move and I expect a lot of expats discover that one. When my Dad got ill I needed to go back. For three years I shuttled between London and France – it was an emotional and difficult time but I would have been happy to have done it forever. Sadly my Dad succumbed to his illness and since then I’ve gone back to London less and less.
I’ve always loved writing and I’ve returned to it as editor of this website you’re reading, as a freelance journalist (let me know if you want to hire me!), and I’m writing three books currently – a guide book (about Nord-Pas de Calais), a novel and a children’s book.
My days now are busier than they ever were when I worked a 13 hour office day and I love it.
I am fitter and fatter (all that good food you know); I have three dogs, four cats, seven ducks, four geese and ten chickens – in London I never had an animal in my life; I do miss my family but the internet helps and I go back regularly to see them.
I wake up happy every morning and spend time in the garden with the animals, try to grow as much of my own food as I can, have learned to cook (to a degree), made new friends, write every day and am thankful for having the chance to be and do something different with my life.
When I look out of my window at the trees and fields, the view changing dramatically with the seasons but always beautiful; when I open the door and smell the fresh air; when I plant seeds to grow vegetables; pick apples and other fruit to make jams and pies; stack wood for the log fire; watch my duck Belle as she nests on eggs that will provide our first ducklings; take in yet another stray cat that would otherwise die; get an email from someone who likes something I wrote; visit somewhere new in France and be blown away by the tradition and heritage of the place… I know how very lucky I am – it’s almost like my birthday every day…