February is cabin fever with small children, craft, bake, craft, one clear day for four grey days, germinating seeds, elderly ladies telling me my children are cold*, armfuls of mimosa branches with bright yellow sprays of flowers sold on the market, days out in the snow, a burn out of meal ideas, a toilet that now flushes, piles of washing up, not done, the sound of rain drumming on the roof and anticipation for a four year old's Birthday.

Our small living space is cluttered. No amount of decluttering seems to make an impact. There are piles of washing amid train sets to trip over and trays of seeds balanced on the window sill, Little I stood on the table plucking out seedlings one by one and tape measures and head torches and a step ladder... Our solution is still to escape and ignore the mess. So we bundle outside and have been heading to the lake for some hair raising balance biking along the shore.

At the head of the lake where there was an empty river bed all summer now swirls a torrent. The flow is channelled through a small damn and we stood above it, on a small metal grill. The roar of water beneath our feet. The water pooled before squeezing through, the surface stayed calm hiding it's strong current. Every now and again small whirlpools would form snaking across the surface before disapearing again. Little L and I aimed ash seeds at these little holes and counted how many were swallowed down.


These moments refresh me enough to tackle the clutter on our return home and remember that we are very lucky to have a home, however dishevelled or lacking in comfort it may be.

Florent works inbetween spraying the local cats with his customised anti-cat devise. A massive spray bottle we last used for stripping wall paper. Our back yard is not a litter tray. One Tom in particular seems to provoke Florent into action with lightening speed. This cat's face is so wide it resembles a bulldog and it stares blankly at us as the arc of water falls, too short, every time. It seems to be stray cat breeding season and we sleep seranaded by cat yowls.

Before we leapt into this adventure I sought some advice on a few expat forums (places I have not ventured since) and was stunned by a barrage of nay sayers, cynics and the purely mean who responded to my question for advice with all the reasons under the sun as to why our plan was naive, presumptious and bound to fail. 'You won't even buy a shack with the money you have, stay at home, don't be another failed family' was one of the best responses that had me both near to tears and transfixed simaltaneously. For a few days it became a punishing ritual as I logged in to see what another contributor had added in what seemed like a conspiracy to keep us out of France.

A few months into the adventure, perhaps on a day when the children and I were cooking in the tent and Florent was in a phone box trying to get hold of EDF, I first considered the possibility that perhaps all these people were right. Sometimes I go back to this thought. Like when we're lying in bed at night, 8.30pm, because we have to go to bed at the same time as the children because we live in one room (in case anyone's forgotten...), having a hissed argument across their sleeping bodies: 'Florent, can you hear me? Why do you insist on taking my biros? I needed one this afternoon and I couldn't find one'. 'You are so ressentful' he replies 'you've always lost brios and now you blame me'. We pause to the sound of feline yowling from behind the house. 'Maybe we're one of those failed families'. But we laugh so it can't be true, yet.

*A note on elderly ladies telling me my children are cold. I have generally not written too much about the cultural differences I encounter. I don't want to fall into a trap of stereotyping and particularly not poking fun at people we meet. However, there is one local obsession that has baffled and overwhelmed me beyond belief. I've often only left the house for five minutes when I hear 'Oh la la la la, ils ont froids, ces petits' (nearly everyone also mistakes at least one of them for a boy) as a lady starts busying around my children, tutting and wagging her finger. Most of the time they are fine, rosy cheeked, red nosed, fine. However if they are cold it is quite simply because they are not well enough behaved to wear hats, gloves and scarfs when I ask them too. So sometimes I give up and hope they'll learn. While I am writing this I don't doubt that there are two ladies somewhere nearby talking about how English mothers don't dress their terribly behaved children adequately and refuse to heed their advice...

It's the month of the bathroom. The month which I think should have been November so that makes us only a little bit behind schedule. Four months. It's one of the most exciting jobs so far because we'll have a real finished room at the end of it. We'll have a shower and a sink! We can bathe with a door between us and the rest of the household. At the moment we're covering the wall (an external wall) with hemp and lime which is a material that regulates the humidity so will have a good effect in eliminating damp and/or mould. The house itself is not especially damp but with any bathroom, or indeed any living space, reducing the likelihood of damp is a good idea. Whilst we have compromised on some materials, not always buying the 'greenest' I like this idea of a 'breathable' house. For a more detailed explanation see this.


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