FIDELMA COOK

The Herald Magazine - - CONTENTS - FIDELMA COOK cook­fi­delma@hot­mail.com Twitter: @fi­del­ma­cook

WORK­ING at the end of my ta­ble, look­ing to­wards the shut­tered glass doors, I could see the light­ning as it flashed in the nar­row head­band. The kitchen/din­ing room heart of the house is the only room where the re­worked, re­placed shut­ters al­low light to pen­e­trate.

Plus, there are two barred win­dows, left un­shut­tered. One looks out into the in­ner court­yard, through the trees and north.

From the side of my eye the bril­liant white strikes played out a merry dance and I prayed the flick­er­ing lights would not fi­nally give up. The thun­der pulsed its men­ace and even the dog, who usu­ally ig­nores such sounds but howls at the rum­ble of my stom­ach, joined in the tu­mult, tail un­der his body, fear in his rigid stance.

I will never get used to the sud­den, vi­o­lent storms that arise here.

I used to ac­cept that Au­gust was in­deed a wicked month and lived with the al­most trop­i­cal vis­i­ta­tions. But, in the last cou­ple of years, there is no longer a rhyme, rea­son or pat­tern to their ar­rival.

These are the times when I re­alise I live in a for­eign coun­try and feel, de­spite the years here, out of my depth; edgy, ner­vous, vul­ner­a­ble in my field.

And yet I look on­line and see Scot­land cov­ered in snow one week and taps aff the next. So I am not alone in this odd­ness.

I no longer get a fris­son of for­eign­ness on driv­ing around. As I was once in Glas­gow and Lon­don, I’m on au­topi­lot, ca­su­ally nav­i­gat­ing the “rond-points” that ini­tially filled me with dither­ing fear. I speak French, usu­ally with­out think­ing what I’m say­ing, as I rarely need to men­tally trans­late any more. It just is.

If lizards drop into my room when I don’t give warn­ing that I’m open­ing the win­dow where they’ve been slum­ber­ing, I no longer sit up­right all night fear­ing they will crawl down my open mouth as I sleep. They will slip out through the tiny cracks and blown stone of my walls or tuck them­selves into cor­ners to feast on the spi­ders I can now deal with too.

The odd, very rare, snake re­minds me I live “else­where”, as do the fig, sweet chest­nut and al­mond trees out­side my walls.

All in all, I’ve en­joyed both the strange­ness and the in­creas­ing fa­mil­iar­ity of my life.

But this week the UK of­fi­cially ceded from the Euro­pean Union and all I’ve held dear in my life: my many lives in dif­fer­ent coun­tries.

Out­side of my old farm­house, though, noth­ing moved, noth­ing changed, and life con­tin­ues as it has for gen­er­a­tions in La France Pro­fonde. Al­though, of course, it changes con­stantly in flick­er­ing in­cre­ments.

We are more con­cerned about our own com­ing elec­tions, and a big part of me is grate­ful that Brexit has made re­nounc­ing Europe a grotesque idea.

When the ref­er­en­dum went for it, as I’ve writ­ten here, there was a ma­jor tilt in my world and a nau­seous, truly tear-stained recog­ni­tion on many lev­els that my Euro­pean life was no more.

I couldn’t un­der­stand how any­one with half a brain could vote to leave the Euro­pean Union. I still can’t and have given up try­ing to un­der­stand the dull, solid thoughts of the Brex­i­teers among the im­mi­grants here.

Yes, im­mi­grants, not ex­pats; eco­nomic im­mi­grants who have voted against their rights in their pas­tiches of Cotswolds cot­tages in the Gers.

At a drinks do re­cently, an up­right former mil­i­tary man al­most shouted down my ar­gu­ments with: “We will be great again. We’ve been there be­fore and we won.”

He meant the Sec­ond World War. I pointed out to this staunch son of Al­bion that the UK could be lost. Scot­land could go. (For var­i­ous rea­sons I didn’t go down the united Ir­ish line.)

“Let them go, bloody Scots,” he said. “Who needs them? Trou­ble­some shower.”

Be­cause I ac­tu­ally like this man I changed the sub­ject with­out go­ing for the jugu­lar of his rea­son­ing.

I came away that night, sad­dened and shocked. It seems many but by no means all UK im­mi­grants who come here come for “the cul­ture, the food, the life­style, the sun”. And haven’t a clue what that means.

There are, thank­fully, many oth­ers who came here be­cause of a be­lief in the ethos of a union of peo­ples who would never again fight each other in wars or trade. The ones who, like me, are des­per­ately ap­palled at where we’re all head­ing.

Out­side there are no more thun­der­storms, for the mo­ment.

All the “for­eign” trees are bloom­ing. The odd trac­tor goes up and back down spread­ing the banned ma­nure.

But every­thing has changed. For ever.

And I will watch all the news pro­grammes, both Bri­tish and French, and feel a lit­tle less part of ei­ther.

I will sit at my ta­ble in La France Pro­fonde and be nei­ther fish nor fowl.

And I will get an­grier and an­grier at the cyn­i­cal games played by cer­tain politi­cians who have ma­rooned me here.

Then I will sign off my Ir­ish pass­port.

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