WHEN FRIENDS ARE FAR AWAY...
We've lived here for three months (and half of that was in a tent in some woodland out of the village) so I know rationally that it is fine not to have made friends yet. I know that just because I have not made friends so far, that it doesn't mean I will never make friends here. However, who considers these things rationally when they are missing their friends from home and life as a family of four needs some serious fresh air ? I am prone to emotional responses to most things in life, it's what led me sob whilst listening Nadya Hussein on Desert Island Discs a few weeks ago, as if I had forever forfeited the opportunity to bake cakes or reminisce about the Backstreet Boys with friends simply by moving to France. It was perhaps also the repetitive task of chipping plaster off a beam combined with a lunch of tinned mackerel that led to the emotional outburst but the bottom line is, if there's an opportunity for teary melodrama, I generally take it.
When we first arrived I threw myself into making friends so enthusiastically that I think most people I met were terrified. There were certainly very few positive receptions to my manically friendly 'Hellos' in the park or indeed anywhere where I came across someone: in shops, in the street, on foot paths...
Today, I think someone was about to say 'Hello' to us. Not the polite Bonjour to each other the-way-we-do-when-we-pass-in-the-street that everyone does here. He might have actually wanted to talk. He looked our age, had two young children, reminded me of friends from home and my imagination took off; someone to invite to dinner, someone to have a drink with, we were no longer that weird family conspicuous for their lack of friends, the possibilities seemed endless. And then Little L cried out 'I need a poo'. I hesitated. What was the probability that she would actually do a poo if I ignored her and started to chat and, if she did do a poo, what was the probability that the man would be put off from being our friend. Perhaps it would be a bonding moment. All parents can bond over their child shitting themselves when you really don't want them too. ('Shit yourself all you want inside my love, just never when I'm trying to make a friend and I've not got any wipes with me'). By the time I had thought all this through Little L had repeated herself four or five times, the volume increasing. I took a deep breath to stop the fury at the injustice of this from overflowing and headed back home. There'll be a next time...
Sometimes I think about some of the great people I know and how they inspire me and one thing that comes up is their open homes and their welcoming in of, for want of a better term, waifs and strays.
When I was born my parents were homeless (temporarily after a run of bad luck) and a friend of theirs welcomed them in, first the two of them, then the three of us. He even drove my Mum back to his home from hospital with me, all new, next to a collie dog and a spare car engine on the seat because my Dad was hay making. (English summers do not allow hay making to wait, even for new babies to be driven home). I have loved this story for as long as I have known it, in the way we all love these stories which frame our lives from before our own memories begin. Particularly I have loved how this friend of my parents so unhesitatingly welcomed so many into his home; the displaced, the unlucky, the unwell and that at the very beginning of my life I was one of these people and so lucky to be so.
I have always imagined that I would have one of these open homes and my children would learn wonderful things from this. Like other friends of mine, I would take hospitality to incredible lengths and welcome everyone through the door. I have been so humbled by other people's tales of their willingness to share their homes and time with strangers or friends in need I've been inspired to do the same. This openness seems to bring a richness to life, it's a small and peaceful revolution against the pervasive suspicion and mistrust around us.
Then, I realised that, right now, we are the waifs and the strays. So much for my lofty ambitions... I am the person feeling homesick, feeling lonely and, tragically, thinking every day, perhaps today is the day I'll make a friend. So each chat with the librarian or our neighbours means so much. Even each Bonjour that hints at something more than just a polite formality but suggests a genuine wish that I have a good day is sustenance.
A man who works in the village kindly offered to show us some walks we could try out that would be suitable for two small children. We met with him the next day in his office and he showed us a few circular routes along gentle forest paths. I explained that what I was really after was a walk with friends, or people who might become friends, 'I don't have any friends here, yet' I finished lamely. He looked uncomfortable but not unsympathetic. It's true that when somebody tells you they don't have friends it's really hard to know what to say. Loneliness is a great taboo but we should talk about it because it'll happen to a lot of us at some point or another and it's nothing to be ashamed of (so goes my new mantra). Then, he scribbled down his contact details and invited us out, along with his family on a walk they are doing this Sunday. I was embarrassed, there's no denying that, clearly he'd be explaining to his wife later that he'd had 'no choice', 'they look really desperate', that he 'felt sorry' for us.
We are the waifs and strays.
But, it would be silly to let pride get in the way of an opportunity to spend time with someone generous enough to offer... So we'll see. Perhaps we've made a friend.
Things are beginning to feel exciting. We have some bags of hemp and horse manure for insulation and plaster respectively and this feels like the turning point from demolition to construction. Little L spends a lot of time planning furniture layout, always unorthodox and always fun; sofa's on top of wood burners and a lot of purple paint. Sadly we're much too boring to concede to her instructions but the suggestions liven up the discussions about whether intact window panes or a safe staircase are the priority before the move in. Little I runs about the open floor spaces like she's found a cache of amphetamines, throwing herself to the floor as if she's playing rugby with imaginary friends and having a whale of a time. Ignorance is bliss.
Six weeks until we move in...