Saturday 31 May 2014

the evening I returned

The evening I returned, I walked with in the lanes of rural Normandy, our first time side by side for nearly six weeks.

The evening I returned, we walked quietly amongst the swaths of Old Maid's lace, running our fingers through the blooms, almost too shy to speak. He picked me occasional blooms, handing them to me with a smile in his wide greenish brown eyes.

The evening I returned, We watched the speckled cows grazing in the orchard. We listened to the song thrush singing into the summer sky. He held me in his arms and whispered "Welcome back" into my ear, over and over and over.

The evening I returned, he held me in the fields and I felt both the warmth of him enclosing me and a light breeze caressing my skin. I looked up at the near midsummer sky, and it was as if this evening would go on forever. 

Friday 30 May 2014

Normandie / La baie du Mont St Michel


Heavy sky. Shifting sands. Speckled cows. Biting wind. Hurried picnic with my sweetheart. 

Thursday 29 May 2014

Normandie / Villedieu les Poêles

Normandy, specifically the countryside around my Aunt's home in La Manche was my first taste of France. I've been coming here since I was a little girl, loosing myself in the country lanes and wild flower meadows of the bocage. 

It was a delight to stop by here on my way back to France. To walk along one of my favourite childhood paths. And to visit one of my favourite museums, loosing myself in the antique bobbins and lace for well over an hour.

Tuesday 27 May 2014


Just before nine, a misty morning in late May.
Like countless times before, I'm on a ferry bound for France. It's late May, and today the sun is hidden behind an impenetrable veil of cloud. 

As the ferry leaves the safety of Poole harbour, I pause for a moment. Looking south, the wide expanse of the channel stretches as far as the eye can see, broken only by the shimmering Isle of White to the east and the chalky edges of the Purbeck hills to the West. Only seventy miles away, lies the northern coast of France.

It's now nearly two years since I moved to France to live full time. Here on this ferry, amid the foam, I gaze back at this familiar shore-line. I can feel my two worlds colliding head on in this stretch of sea separating one home from another.

Why does an apple fall down from the tree? Why does steam rise? Because they are quite simply going to their natural home.

Sometimes I feel like I am both apple and steam, that I have a natural desire to both drift up and fall back to earth, that both the northern and southern coast of the Channel are my home-shore.

Sunday 25 May 2014

the mother tongue of our imagination

Eliot from The Mill on the Floss:

"These familiar flowers, these well-remembered bird notes, this sky with its fitful brightness, these furrowed and grassy fields, each with a sort of personality given to it by the capricious hedgerows — such things as these are the mother tongue of our imagination ..."

If mountains are my present, then the sea is surely my past
These past few weeks in Dorset, I've slipped quietly back into that past life. Now it is time to start preparing for the off, it feels almost impossible to leave the grey waters of the channel, the pebbly beaches and the comforting simplicity of their beach hut behind once more.  

Of course, I shan't be sorry to return to my little mountain life. I just know it won't be long before the siren song of the sea starts calling me again...

Friday 23 May 2014

the tourist

To walk the streets of your home-town, the beaches of your home-shore, the paths of your home-forest, is to see not just what is but what used to be.  It is to find yourself a tourist in your native land, to suddenly find yourself a stranger, a tourist seeing not just how it is but also how it used to be.

In the town, American coffee-shops and charity shops have sprung forth where greengrocer's and baker's once stood.

In the forest, new shoots pierce the earth beside pine trees that have toppled to the forest floor.

Beside the sea, the ebb and the flow of the tides, the winter storms have shifted the sands and shingle along the shore-line.

There is movement, new life and decline around every street corner, every bend in the path.

Everywhere is overlaid with the bustle of the past, with people and places that are no longer here but who linger on in my heart.

To walk as a tourist-local is to have double vision, and ability to see the past and the present simultaneously. It is a condition I possess here and only here.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

the meaning of trees

We embraced the glimpse of early summer last Friday, by going for a gentle walk in the New Forest. We spied secretive red deer, sleepy dormice, scrambling sand-lizards, vociferous cuckoos and carpets of bluebells. But I was most entranced by the sight and scent and sound of the trees that populate this ancient woodland.

Saturday 17 May 2014

slow skirt

Way back when the winter was still lingering, I took an old sheet, a borrowed pattern and started sewing a skirt.

It was almost finished before I came back to England. After two days travelling in my suitcase, I pulled it out, creased and crumpled, to show it proudly to my Mum.

"Look Ma, look at that waistband and invisible zip!", I proclaimed proudly.  "Box pleats, gathers AND French seams." 

She cast her critical eye over it, as I knew she would. And of course, she spied the botched job I had made of the zip, the uneven gathers et al. 

"Did you pin and tack before you machined it?" she enquired, knowingly. I didn't even need to reply.

And so my first rainy Sunday afternoon in Dorset, out came the seam ripper off came my beautiful French seam...hem...waistband, and that unruly zip.

One step forward, two steps back. 

Out came the pins and the tacking thread.

One step forward, two steps back. 

In and out went the needle as I tacked it all back together. And in went (an almost) perfect zip, under Mum's watchful eye.

This skirt was the perfect place to start dressmaking. Whilst probably a little on the ambitious side, it's my perfect style of skirt (hippy 1950's librarian!): billowing pieces of fabric gathered and pleated at a waistband, closing with an invisible (ahem!) zip on the side.

Tackling it under the patient eye of my dear sewing friend Jessie, I've learnt a heck of a lot of processes with this skirt: sewing side seams, waistbands and hems. Creating gathers and pleats and French seams. How to put in zips (ahem).

But perhaps the biggest lesson of all was the importance of proper preparation; it's better to go slow in the early stages, rather than rushing forward, to ensure that you don't end up having to go back and fix your mistakes...

Pattern: Mcalls 5631 , made here by Tilly (apparently she found it a bit tricky too!)

Location: Mudeford Quay (Dorset). Fish and chips (gluten-free!) at a favourite spot with my Ma and Pa was the perfect occasion to wear my skirt for the first time...

Wednesday 14 May 2014

making lace

It's been years since I properly made some lace. The last time would have been sometime in 2006, just before packing my bags and heading off to University. There was barely room in my broom-cupboard sized study bedroom for my knitting needles and yarn. Needless to say, my bulky lace-making equipment was packed away for another day.

In between the rain showers this week-end, I snatched some time out in my parent's garden to get out my pillow again and throw some bobbins around. 

Traditional bobbin lace uses fine threads wound around wooden bobbins and much repetitive labour to produce fabric of great intricacy.

Lace-making is truly a labour of love. To craft even the most simple length of trimming requires great doses of patience and concentration.

Progress is slow, sometimes less than a quarter of an inch per hour, depending on the intricacy of the design, the fineness of the threads. 

From the pricking to the winding of the bobbins and finally to actually making the lace, seeing a design slowly unfold on the pillow is always a source of great joy. Thread by thread, pin by pin, the beauty of the lace reveals itself little by little. 

On-going studies at the Harvard Medical Institute for Mind and Body Medecine indicate that repetitive activities such as lace-making elicit the "relaxation response" which alleviates stress and allows the brain to set aside intrusive thoughts.

In the same way knitting and spinning seem to magically calm me, I felt the beneficial effects as soon as I picked up my bobbins again. Working at my pillow, I could feel weeks and months of stresses and strains fall away as soon as I methodically worked through the design.

I do hope that this time, I'll be able to find space for my bobbins and pillow when I head back to France in a while...

Monday 12 May 2014

going slowly

Today marks the start of International ME/CFS and Fibromyalgia Awareness week. I've decided to share a few thoughts on the subject of "going slowly" during the next week...interwoven with craft of course!

Before this blog, I've kept other blogs. And in those spaces, I never talked directly about it. Partly because I was embarrassed and partly because I think, well why would anyone want to read about this? But now I realise that being open about it is vital for self-acceptance. Because although I've lived with this condition for now more than 15 years, coming to terms with the fact that I'm still ill has been proving really difficult just recently...

When I was eleven years old, I first fell ill. It has been quite a journey since then.

For many years, my life was at a standstill, passing me by as I watched on helplessly.

For many years, I wore nothing but pyjamas.

Somehow, against all the odds we soldiered on. There were times when the illness was all-consuming. But also brief periods of better health, when I was able to do things like my peers, all be it at a much slower pace: Study a French BA part-time at the University of Bristol. Spend 18 months abroad doing work experience as a part-time language teacher. Complete a language teacher training course. Meet and fall in love with a wonderful French man. Move back to France to live permanently.

In 2012, aged 25, I graduated from university with First Class Honours. The euphoria of that day, where I seemed to have overcome my difficulties and conquer my own personal Everest made me believe that anything was possible. That somehow, the mere fact that I had "done my time" with the illness and still managed to get a degree would mean that now was the time I would finally "grow out of it" as everyone had always expected me to...

Now at the age of 27, life seems to have ground once again to a standstill. The past six months in particular has been very tough, as increasingly poor health has forced me to stop working as a self-employed linguist for the time being.

This time two years ago, I was preparing to take my finals, graduate from University and then move permanently abroad, with no specific job prospects or family nearby. Emerging into adulthood is frightening enough at the best of times. But it's been even harder trying to do it in a foreign country with a chronic illness that no one seems to understand.

There are no longer my parents to buffer the unhelpful comments and incomprehension of people. I've had to learn to stand on my own two feet. And sometimes that takes a lot of my precious energy.

The worst of it, is once again having to re-adjust my horizons, learn to accept my limits.

The past year or so, I've really struggled to accept the fact that I've got this illness for life. Without realising it, I was convinced that once I had a University degree under my belt, this illness would somehow magically disappear and I'd finally be free from it's shadow to get on with the rest of my life. No such luck... 

For months and months I've been feeling particularly under par and that seems to have plummeted me into a rather blue frame of mind. 

But coming away from the valley for a few weeks rest and recuperation with my family is offering me a fresh perspective on things.

The thing that has been getting me so very down these past months is that I felt I was being dealt a raw deal from the Universe by having no choice in whether I was ill or healthy. Now I can see that I do have a choice where before there seemed to be none. If this illness is indeed to be long-term, I can choose the way that I deal with that information.

Either I can go with the perspective that it is utterly limiting to have to live so slowly.

Or I can embrace this slower pace as an opportunity to live a simpler, more sustainable and more deliberate life, one which offers infinite wonderful possibilities, rather than a whole heap of limitations.

I haven’t quite made my mind up yet.