Returning to France on Wednesday was a bit of a shock to the system. Six weeks speaking English every time we opened our mouths, and then…..French again. It was there somewhere, deep inside the recesses of our skulls. But it was hidden right away at the back, covered in fluff, layers of dust and paint splashes, and scarcely fit for purpose.
Opening our mouths to make simple comments to the receptionist at our overnight hotel stop in Blois that first night back seemed strange. Standard phrases escaped our lips, sounding odd, like some once familiar lesson learned at school, since long-forgotten.
Two days on, things are returning to normal: the language machine has been oiled and serviced, and is creaking back to business as usual, as we resume our daily round.
But in those 6 weeks in England, we scarcely engaged our brains at all. We painted the house ready to be put in the hands of a letting agent. We packed. We discarded years of family life. We sorted out bags and bags of stuff for the local charity shop: we called there so often that we fully expected them to open a new branch named after us, and were convinced that the one day we didn’t go, disgorging huge plastic bags of donations from the car, they’d put out a Missing Persons enquiry. Things that neither family members nor the charity shop wanted got advertised on Freecycle, and we had fun helping those who responded to cram large bookcases or cumbersome chairs into rather small cars. ‘Freecycle groups match people who have things they want to get rid of with people who can use them. Our goal is to keep usable items out of landfills’.
Furniture and books – 9 cubic metres – were collected by a removal firm who’ll deliver it all to us here in about 10 days, after they’ve collected and delivered other consignments all over England and France.
What would we have done without all the friends who fed and entertained us in the evenings after our 10 hour-long-days labouring in the house? They made it possible for us to pack up virtually every cooking pot and plate days before the end of our stay.
And what would we have done without our friends in LETS? Some of you have asked what LETS (SEL in France) is:
LETS – Local Exchange Trading Systems or Schemes – are local community-based mutual aid networks in which people exchange all kinds of goods and services with one another, without the need for money.
Nidderdale LETS is the group in the Harrogate area. With about 50 members, many of us have worked and socialised together over the years, helping each other revitalise overgrown gardens or have a big spring clean. People offer massages, Alexander technique, translation services, animal care, teaching and practical skills: all sorts of things. This time, LETS members turned out in force to help us paint and clean the house from top to bottom. We couldn’t have done without them, and working together was fun and gave us all a feeling of real achievement as we shared lunch and conversation after a hard morning’s work.
After all that, though, our bodies were exhausted, and our brains non-existent. No wonder speaking French again seemed a bit of a challenge.