In my last column I argued that the only way to save France was to get some Brits in charge. This produced an extraordinary mailbag. “Why don’t you go home to that wonderful Utopia called England and leave the French to organize things their way,” said Graham Harris who lives in Switzerland. “The June 3rd issue where you suggest that Brits should be employed by Sarkozy made us and other French friends laugh! You’re not in India in the old days anymore!” said Jean, a Frenchman who has lived in London for over 20 years. “Why don’t you just come back to the sunny prosperous and friendly UK?”
I admit it was never my idea to come to France, it was my husband’s. He came home one day and said “let’s move to the Languedoc.” Obviously I ignored him, but now, seven years later, I am still here, struggling on. You’ve no idea the trials and tribulations I’ve had to suffer.
My days are tough. They begin early as I woken by the sound of some swallows who have built a nest in our house. I drag myself from my bed into the garden to the nearest fig tree (via a quick swim in the pool, obviously) where I pick my breakfast. I don’t always have figs; sometimes I have peaches or apricots, or even a mixture of all three. The stress of which tree to go for first is excruciating.
After breakfast there is the school run. Oh how I miss dodging all those four-wheel drives driven by blonde women wearing designer jeans. As I freewheel down the hill on my bicycle with my son on the back and my daughters pedalling away in front, I think fondly of the double parking, the road rage, parking tickets and the traffic jams going on without me.
The school here is fine and the children seem happy, but what I find is missing is that letter at the beginning of terms demanding around £4,000 per child. Most odd that we’ve never had one. Perhaps foreigners are exempt?
No longer am I allowed to have a cheese and pickle sandwich at my desk for lunch. Now I have to stop whatever I’m doing at midday and sit down to a proper meal. Regulations state that it must be three courses but sometimes I get away with two. Of course all this eating begins with shopping, so at least three days a week I haul myself into my local medieval town and trawl around the shops.
First up is the local deli, the Cremerie Clerc. There I have to choose between any number of fresh fruit and vegetables, as well as at least 40 cheeses, hams and pates. Sometimes I get so confused I just have to stand and eat some juicy green olives from M. Clerc’s olive jar while I steady my nerves.
After M. Clerc’s I go to the baker and pick up some warm bread, possibly two or three loaves, maybe one with figs in or nuts and raisons. Then I move on to the fishmonger who on a Friday often has turbot freshly fished that morning from the sea half an hour away. If we’re planning to eat meat I go to the butcher, who makes hamburgers for the children in front of me from prime beef.
But how I miss the convenience of a Tesco superstore with its vast car park, well-dressed staff and trolleys with their own sense of direction.
After all that shopping and a three-course lunch I am forced to have a siesta. Thankfully this is only obligatory in the summer months when the heat makes work almost impossible. So I lie there fuming, imagining what fun it must be to be in a London office instead of relaxing on my bed with the fan going round above me and the cicadas chirping away outside.
Of course I dread getting ill in France. I have had two babies here and each time was put in solitary confinement with attentive and cheerful staff popping in once every few hours. There was even a woman that came by every morning to take my food order for the day. Would I prefer the fish or the chicken for lunch, she would ask. And what about pudding? How irritating can you get? I would have thought it’s perfectly obvious I never eat pudding.
The other really bugging thing here is the public transport system. What is the point of a train being on time and going where it says it is going to go? Where’s the fun in that? In England when you get on a train there’s at least a bit of suspense. And as for that old ‘sorry I’m late darling I got stuck in traffic’ excuse; there’s no chance of using that one here. I must have been to the airport about 150 times and every time it’s taken me pretty much exactly 60 minutes.
And let’s not even mention the weather; it’s so bloody good there’s nothing to talk about or write about. Why can’t we have floods so I can appear on television in a canoe looking heroic and slightly dishevelled?
But back to the mailbag. At least one reader appears to be paying attention. Since my column appeared, President Nicolas Sarkozy has announced an end to the 35-hour week, wants to abolish inheritance tax and cap income tax. My programme is well on the way to being adopted. With my influence at an all-time high I see no reason leave.
Helena Frith Powell was born in Sweden to a Swedish mother and Italian father, but grew up mainly in England. She is the author of eleven books, translated into several languages including Chinese and Russian. She wrote the French Mistress column The Sunday Times about life in France for several years. She is a regular contributor to the Daily Mail, Mail on Sunday, The Times, Daily Telegraph, Tatler Magazine and Harper’s Bazaar.
Helena has been the editor of four magazines, including M Magazine, a supplement for the Abu Dhabi based National Newspaper and FIVE, a high-end fashion glossy, also published in Abu Dhabi. Helena was also editor in chief of 360 Life, a quarterly glossy magazine published with the Sports 360 Newspaper in Dubai, part of the Chalhoub Group.
Helena contributes regularly to UK-based newspapers and magazines and holds a Masters in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge. Helena is also working on a thriller called Thin Ice that will be published in spring 2021 as well as a novel about the relationship between Virginia Woolf and Katherine Mansfield called Sense of an Echo.
Her latest non-fiction work Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles came out in hardback in 2016 and in paperback in April 2018.
Helena, who was educated at Durham University, lives in the Languedoc region of France with her husband Rupert and their three children.
More France Please, we’re British; Gibson Square 2004
Two Lipsticks and a Lover 2005; Gibson Square (hardback)
All You Need to be Impossibly French; (US version of above) Penguin 2006
Two Lipsticks and a Lover; Arrow Books (paperback) 2007
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (hardback) 2006
Ciao Bella Gibson Square; (paperback) 2007
So Chic! (French version of Two Lipsticks) Leduc Editions 2008 (also translated into Chinese, Russian and Thai)
More, More France; Gibson Square 2009
To Hell in High Heels; Arrow Books 2009 (also translated into Polish)
The Viva Mayr Diet; Harper Collins 2009
Love in a Warm Climate; Gibson Square 2011
The Ex-Factor; Gibson Square 2013
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles; Gibson Square 2016
The Arnolfini Marriage; Amazon Kindle December 2016
Smart Women Don’t Get Wrinkles (paperback); Gibson Square spring 2018
The Longest Night; Gibson Square spring 2019