So, after two years living between Devon and France there is so much I want to share with you about this little corner of the Charente region that we now call home. To be honest, my heart has always called France home, ever since I was a small child spending endless summers running wild in the Dordogne. Memories of swimming naked in rivers; going to sleep at dusk listening to crickets and the smell of the sun-baked earth through the bedroom window; early morning trips to the boulangerie with my sister, arguing all the way as to who was going to say ‘deux grands pains s’il vous plaît’ and the never-ending lunches, the table heaving with food and friends… as a country, it just makes me properly happy.
I love that we have put down our own roots here and now have a proper home – and what a home she is! Living somewhere, even if it is part-time, is so very different to holidaying there. We have made real friends, not just with other expats but with our neighbours, the stall-holders at the local market, the lady in the pharmacy who is as skincare obsessed as I am…
So, I thought I’d create a dedicated section of Countryfille for all things French. Reviews, recommendations, great places to visit, city guides, interiors inspo and my favourite flea markets to visit… the works. I’ll also be interviewing interesting women who have also made the move across the channel and carved a new life for themselves in the South West of France.
I think I’ve reached the age, and stage in my marriage, where lingerie is not all about push-up bras, chaffing undercarriages and bells and whistles (was it ever?!). Whilst I’m not ready to give in to the sensible belly button warmers quite yet, I now yearn for comfy, everyday staples offering enough support for my post-baby bazookers, with just a hint of sexy mama.
Especially for summer, I like soft, sheer fabrics in pastel shades from the likes of…
Intimissimi When in Italy, I can’t resist buying Intimissimi lingerie. I love their lacy bralettes, peeping out from a linen or chambray shirt. I think this set from their ‘Summer in Sicily’ collection (above) is so, so pretty. Their swimwear is fab, too. Floral embroidery triangle bra, £47, Intimissimi
I’ve been writing about Bodas for over a decade – in fact my first ever shopping feature was for Grove magazine, a luxury lifestyle magazine for Notting Hill, home to Bodas’ flagship store. I extolled the virtues of their cashmere soft, comfy, pretty lingerie then – and my opinion hasn’t changed. I love this blush pink for summer. I know it doesn’t look that ‘wow’, but trust me – it has underwiring but no padding, giving a really flattering, natural shape. It’s beautifully made and oh-so soft. A proper underwear staple that still feels special. Smooth Tactel Underwire Bra, £45, Bodas
La Perla Okay, how beautiful is La Perla lingerie? Sigh. It’s like candyfloss, frothy and sweet… shame it’s ruinously expensive. Maybe I need to find a Parisian lover who will keep me in luxury lingerie…. Or, perhaps more practically….
It struck me recently, after the topic came up on several coffee dates, school pick ups and Facetime chats that 2/3rds of my girlfriends do, or have at some time, suffered with mental health issues. That coupled with the current media storm around ‘Mental Health’, driven by the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry with their ‘Heads Together’ campaign, it seemed like a good enough time to share my story… it’s not about grabbing a slice of the zeitgeist, but when something is so part of your day-to-day life, when it becomes a common talking point, it feels ‘okay’ to share your experiences too, so here goes…
Having sailed through my teens and early 20s without any major mental health issues (the usual exam stress and puberty body image hang-ups and heartbreaks aside), I was knocked sideways after a car crash aged 26. Whilst my physical injuries healed over 18 months of treatment, my newly acquired anxiety, crushing exhaustion, insomnia, panic attacks and low-level constant fear didn’t want to budge. I got some amazing CBT help, and meds, and slowly I learnt enough coping strategies to get back to ‘normal’. That said, it was definitely something I had to work at and ‘manage’, to stay functioning in my life and career (I was a magazine editor in London at the time).
Fast-forward 3 years and my Dad’s sudden death, followed by my mum’s terminal cancer diagnosis and I was back at square one. There was no ‘coping’. This time round I didn’t want to go down the meds route to manage my overwhelming grief and anxiety, I didn’t want to mute it, I wanted to face it head on. So, on a whim I downloaded a ‘Couch to 5k’ app and bought some cheap trainers, grabbed one of my hubby’s t shirts and started running. Forrest Gump style.
As tactics go, for someone who used to fake sick notes to get out of cross country, it wasn’t the obvious solution. But it worked, primarily because for every second I was running, my mind was occupied. It couldn’t overthink, worry or grieve. I gradually progressed from couch to 5k, running a 5k race in my dad’s memory three months later. Those few months sowed the seed. I found I was sleeping better, felt calmer and was having fewer panic attacks.
I always ran by myself, not confident enough in my body or my ability to seek other ‘real runners’. I would plug in my loudest, happiest music and head out… some runs I’d pound the tarmac hard, channelling my anger into every stride. Others I would end a lung-bursting sprint and scream into the wind and rain at the sheer horror of the grief I felt. It was cathartic and exactly what I needed.
When I got pregnant again I worried I wouldn’t be able to turn to running to manage my anxiety, and then my mum died of the terminal cancer she had been fighting, and before I noticed a year past by without my tying my trainers once. I was too plain exhausted.
18 months on, and as per my post last week on grief, I felt like I’d been spat out the other side and something clicked. I wanted to run. But with over a year off the track, I was pretty much back to square one.
Rather than panic about it, I just started again slowly and within 3 months I was back to comfortably clocking up 5k, 2-3 times a week. It was time alone, away from being a mummy, wife and grieving daughter. It gave me that kick of endorphins that runners rave about, it melted away the baby weight and gave me something that was ‘just mine’. Soon I began chasing bigger highs and the next challenge. The 10k. So I decided to join a running club. With real runners. EEK.
You know when music can immediately zip you back to an exact moment in time – or can conjure up a feeling, period in your life or milestone in the first few bars?
This album by French chanteur, Christophe Maé is already going to be exactly that for me, this summer. It’s pop-y and beaty and catchy (yes it’s in French and I only understand 30% of what he’s singing, but it’s still catchy – okay?). Christophe Maé’s voice is Gauloise-smokingly gravelly (ding-dong) and the acoustic versions are dreamy. I appreciate Christophe is an award-winning, HUGELY famous singer in France but hey, he’s a discovery to me, okay?
Erm, I don’t know, how do you review music? I heard one of his tracks on the radio (I love listening to French radio, it’s like non-stop Eurovision) and immediately googled it as I couldn’t get the chorus out my head all day, then hey presto, I bought the album. That’s a pretty ringing endorsement, right?
Aged 19, I downed a triple Jack Daniels and walked into the first tattoo parlour I came across in Camden Market one busy Saturday afternoon. It wasn’t as much of a whim as it may appear; I had been doodling tattoos on my jotter since the tender age of 12, but waited until I was 200 miles or so away from my parents to pluck up the courage to have it inked on my body. Needless to say they were horrified (my father in fact rang a lazer removal company for a quote).
So as I lay on the tattoo bench for the second time earlier this month, I couldn’t help wondering what my daddy would think of his baby daughter’s latest etching…
Not least because it’s a tribute to him. My daddy was born and died on the 24th. The heartbreaking symmetry immediately struck a chord with me and planted the seed for this latest inking almost immediate after his death in 2013.
It took me a while to find the right font, I wanted something reminiscent of his own handwriting, and finally settled for this relaxed, loopy script.
It’s on my left ribs (he was left handed and it’s near my heart) and let me tell you readers. IT BLOODY HURT. This from a woman who lives with chronic back pain (I have mild spina bifida), has endured two 36-hour labours and two emergency c-sections… it BURNED. More than that, as the needle jack-hammered against my rib bones it made me feel sick. Luckily, it isn’t massive (props to my husband who sits for 4-5 hour sessions on his full back-piece and sleeve designs), so took 25-mins, max. More than that and I might have had to stop at ‘twenty’.
Much like childbirth, the second it was done the pain was forgotten and I was already planning my next tat… suffice to say, I’m hooked. Sorry Daddy.
So, tonight I am off to my first book club. I’ve always wanted to join one and as the OH bought me the Kobo above for Christmas (I had one to review over the summer and LOVED it), I thought the two would go hand-in-hand. It is a childhood friend’s group, basically her and a gaggle of friends, school mums, friends of friends etc. She assures me it’s less A-Level English Lit exam and more a ratio of 10% book chat, 90% husband/children gossip. Perfect.
There is still that mild anxiety of finding something intelligent to say and of course, finding the time to read it. As I’ve only had a week I’ve been let off this month’s tome, but I’ll let you know which book we pick next!
Are you in a book club? How do your meetings usually pan out and how do you choose your books?
As per my previous post, I am trying to squeeze a 20-30min walk into my daily routine. To have any chance of making it a part of my schedule past February I need to find that window in my day where it’s do-able, not a chore. I know that once I’m home after a day at work there is no chance of extracting me from the sofa, so evenings are out (for the winter at least), so I’ve plumped for first thing. Between dropping Country Bebe off at nursery and starting work I have a magic 45 minute window. Yesterday I spent it here:
There was a really hard frost here over night but by 8.30am the low winter sun was beginning to thaw it. Those woods in the distance are the ones I wrote about back in the autumn. They hold my favourite ‘daddy memory’ of long Sunday walks together, so will forever be a very special place for me.
I’m all about integrated fitness – I find it truly bizarre that I used to get the bus everywhere in London, then pay a fortune to spend an hour in a sweaty gym, fighting it out for the last treadmill. Half an hour wading through the mud up this hill was the best leg/glute workout I’ve had in quite a while.
You don’t get this view from the rowing machine either:
Across the frosty fields down to the sea. With only the honk of the odd pheasant for company:
Then there was just enough time for a stop off at the welly wash:
Before heading home for a BUCKET of porridge, and settling down at my desk for 9am. *That* is why we moved to the sticks.
I wanted to wait a month before I posted about my latest gadget, as I really wanted to put it through its paces. In Mid December I was kindly given a Fitbit Flex by my boss, after coveting hers all year. In my role as Creative Director for a new health and wellness brand, a lot of self tracking devices have crossed my desk in the last 12 months and I do think this is the best of the crop.
Okay, so it’s not the most attractive of bangles, but it’s pretty inconspicuous. You wear it day and night (you can even shower in it, but not bathe) and it tracks the steps you take, calories you burn and distance travelled. It also monitors your sleep patterns and tells you how ‘efficiently’ you’ve slept (determined by your restless and awake periods).
Perhaps a bit ‘Big Brother’ for some, but studies have proved that by measuring your activity levels not only gives you finite goals (you can set yourself challenges to walk X number of steps a day, or so many miles) to work towards, but simply by wearing it and being aware of how active you are in itself increases your fitness and interestingly, keeps you motivated.
I can agree with this, I am now fanatical about hitting my ‘10,000 steps a day’, making sure I factor in one 20-30 minute walk each day to ensure I reach my goal. By tapping the display on the Flex 5 flashing dots denote your progress in 20% increments. 5 dots and you’ve reach 100% of your target. You then simply sync the wireless Flex with your laptop or phone to see the facts and figures (for geeks like me there are lots of comparable charts and graphs which is very pleasing). The dashboard also has the facility for you to track your food intake and water consumption, too. However, I already use My FitnessPal app on my phone to track my food as I’ve found it has the most comprehensive database of food brands/items, so makes for accurate calculations.
So, faddy or useful for a health kick? Because it is so effortless to capture the data (you really do forget you’re wearing it) and the quantitative goal-setting really means you have something tangible to work towards, I think it’s a really clever bit of kit that goes beyond the ‘novelty’ factor to actually be a really useful motivation tool. I’m not looking to run a marathon, but simply increase my day-to-day activity levels to become healthier and fitter and the Fitbit Flex is keeping me on track!