Life in France has turned out to be very dif­fer­ent from how she thought it might be, but for mum-of-five Gil­lian Har­vey, liv­ing in the ru­ral heart­land of Li­mousin has a lot go­ing for it

Living France - - Contents - Gil­lian Har­vey is a free­lance writer who has lived in Li­mousin for six years, together with hus­band Ray and their five young chil­dren

Colum­nist Gil­lian Har­vey ex­plains why life in a ru­ral part of France has a lot go­ing for it

In our area of France, Fe­bru­ary can be an in­ter­est­ing month. With the weather veer­ing wildly from chilly to bak­ing within the course of a few days, it’s hard to know what to pack when go­ing for a day out; and despite the fact we leave the house laden with coats, spare T-shirts, scarves and hats, you can guar­an­tee we’ll for­get some­thing.

Still, we’ve learned since mov­ing here in 2009 to adapt to the sit­u­a­tion we’re pre­sented with, in more than one way. Seven years ago, if you’d asked me what my vie en France would be like, I’d have de­scribed brows­ing au­then­tic mar­kets with a bas­ket over my arm, dig­ging over my veg­etable-rich al­lot­ment – com­plete with poly­tun­nel – and con­vers­ing flu­ently with my French neigh­bours over apéri­tifs.

In re­al­ity, we’re more likely to be fill­ing our trol­ley at the lo­cal su­per­mar­ket, sigh­ing over the few measly toma­toes we’ve man­aged to cultivate af­ter for­get­ting to wa­ter and weed (the poly­tun­nel was crushed dur­ing the first snow of 2010), and stum­bling through French con­ver­sa­tion in a haze of semi-com­pre­hen­sion and ea­ger ‘ ouis’.

Af­ter ini­tial ea­ger­ness, I’ve hit a bit of a plateau, lan­guage-wise. And while I can get by in most sit­u­a­tions, when con­ver­sa­tion veers off-piste, it can be brain-achingly dif­fi­cult to stay on track.

Other re­al­i­ties of life in France have re­quired adap­ta­tion too. The low pop­u­la­tion in my area can mean rather than heav­ing with life, vil­lages, parks and even the beach can seem rather bar­ren. At this time of year, the lo­cal lake at Vas­sivière also gets drained, with the wa­ter used to cool dis­tant nu­clear power plants or to gen­er­ate hy­dro­elec­tric­ity.

But, as they say, ne­ces­sity is the mother of in­ven­tion. And, as my mum al­ways used to ad­vise me in the end­less sum­mer hol­i­days of my youth, I have learned to “make my own fun”. Win­ters are filled with long lunches in friends’ homes; away from con­stant stim­uli, I’ve found more in­ter­est­ing ways to spend my time, and on wet week­ends we’ve learned to kit our­selves up and get out­side any­way.

The chil­dren, too, have de­vel­oped a re­source­ful­ness that they might not have had if we lived else­where. Un­leashed into a wide-open space, they run, ex­plore, find in­ter­est­ing rocks and sticks or in­vent imag­i­na­tive games.

And in these mo­ments, the fact that we’re guar­an­teed to have parks and lake­sides al­most to our­selves can add to the ad­ven­ture. With all my chil­dren un­der eight, they need close su­per­vi­sion when let loose on the sandy, dried-out bed of a half-drained lake. But if no one is there to pose a threat or block my view, I can let my chil­dren have a free­dom they’d not have ac­cess to else­where and watch their colour­ful coats from a lazy dis­tance.

When we de­cided to visit the lake with some friends this weekend, the kids raced off to pad­dle in dis­tant pools, played tug of war with an­cient rope and dis­cov­ered trea­sures in small pine cones, wa­ter-worn pieces of drift­wood and the sparkling sur­face of faux-jew­elled rocks (sev­eral of which I found the next day un­der my daugh­ter’s pil­low). It was won­der­ful to watch them run­ning in the fresh air, pad­dling in their wellies (or, less­pleas­ingly, in the case of Joe, four, slosh­ing along in his train­ers as if it was the most nat­u­ral thing in the world).

Be­cause, once again, despite the brain-bust­ing, headache-caus­ing pain of per­fect­ing my con­ju­ga­tion, or the fact that I of­ten for­get the mar­ket is in town, let alone stroll down with a bas­ket, I re­mem­ber to say to my­self: This. This is why I’m here.

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