Saturday, March 31, 2018

Once a bookworm, always a bookworm

French Village Diaries bookworm library work
Once a bookworm now a librarian

When I was a little girl I was a bookworm and now I have news to share, news that would make any bookworm glow. My childhood bedroom was filled with shelves and each shelf was carefully filled with books, all arranged in alphabetical order and I may even have had little stickers on the spines too. I would have loved to be a real librarian, especially after helping out in our local library every Saturday morning for a six-week community service project when in the Guides.

However, in life, things crop up, paths change and somehow I swapped wanting to be a librarian for setting off to teacher training college instead. It didn’t take me long to realise university life wasn’t for me and so began my numbers phase. A part-time holiday job as a bookkeeper led to many years working in accounts, studying and taking exams, and by the time I went on maternity leave in 2000, I was a management accountant commuting daily to the City of London. Not bad for someone who scraped a grade C in GCSE maths.

My other weak subject at school was French, so again I’m kind of bemused to find myself living in France and speaking French well enough to be actively involved in French village life. I’m even called upon to help my English-speaking neighbours when they find themselves in tricky language situations. I put my language success down to getting involved and one of the things I’ve been involved in, since 2007, is volunteering to help run the village library. It might only be one afternoon every few months, but it’s something that takes me back to my childhood dream of being a librarian. It has also now opened a door to a really exciting new chapter in my life in France.

At the end of January, I received a surprise phone call from the library in our local town of Chef Boutonne, asking if I would be interested in a four-month, 22 hour a week contract to cover the maternity leave of one of the librarians. The phone call being in French meant a time lag of a few seconds to ensure my brain really had understood her, but by the time I put the phone down a little flame of excitement was already burning within and I’d agreed to go for an interview.

The interview, with the librarian who’d called and a member of the local council, lasted an hour and seemed to go well. I’d taken the trouble to update my CV, in French (with the help of a friend) and although they hadn’t asked for one, appreciated my effort. I might not have any work experience since 2004, but I certainly had a comprehensive list of volunteering experience. The Maire, following his briefing with the councillor, made the final decision and he said yes!

I am over the moon and can’t believe I am going to be paid to spend my days in a library, surrounded by books. I’m also a little anxious about managing my time as a wife, mother, gardener and librarian, plus being in a public-facing role, necessitating speaking French every day and ‘performing’ in front of primary school children at their animated story-time sessions. However, I am a great believer of the benefits of stepping out of your comfort zone every once in a while.

I may be 46, but on Tuesday of next week, my dream of being a real librarian is about to come true, so never give up on your dreams.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Purple Day 2018 Talking About Epilepsy

Purple Day 2018 French Village Diaries talking about Epilepsy
Purple Day 2018 French Village Diaries talking about Epilepsy
Today, 26th March, is Purple Day 2018, a day to talk about epilepsy to raise awareness and understanding of the struggles people living with epilepsy go through.

Four years ago, almost to the day, I was elected onto our local council. This was a big thing for me, it gave me a feeling of being accepted into the community that I now call home, it would be a big step in terms of developing my French language and opened up the possibilities of new experiences for the future. I searched back through the blog, to remind myself what I’d written about it, but there was nothing there. Four years ago, I wasn’t in a particularly good place.

In February 2014, epilepsy gate-crashed my life once again, after an absence of over twenty years, leaving my confidence levels at rock bottom. The future felt dark and bleak, and the excitement I should have been feeling for my new role was replaced with anxiety. I retreated within, not able to share what I was feeling inside. Time is a good healer and in 2016 I shared my epilepsy story on the blog and I know I am lucky, aside from a few wobbles, epilepsy has left me alone since then, but I now know it is not, and never will be, something I can ever put out of my mind.

I am once again on the brink of change and looking forward to the challenge of working in a fully French environment for 22 hours a week. It should not be a particularly stressful role and it won’t be too demanding physically, but I can’t pretend I’m not a little anxious of the challenge ahead. I am a worrier and having the shadow of epilepsy hanging over me doesn’t help when the what-ifs build inside my head. However, I’m also stubborn and refuse to sit at home and do nothing. Saying no to a dream job that found me, just in case I may have a problem is as daft as not ever getting out on my bike again. As with cycling, I won’t take any unnecessary risks and as it probably will be tiring, although more mentally than physically, I will make sure I don’t overdo things. I am slowly learning to channel the positivity of the what-if worries, without letting them take over – as long as they are there it does at least mean I will never drop my guard, take any risks or forget that epilepsy is there.

I am also very lucky to have a lot of support from my family and some good friends in the village. Chatting to my exercise buddy about epilepsy this morning, she thought talking about what to do if you are confronted by a seizure would be something worth mentioning today, so here is a handy guide, from the Epilepsy Action website.

Protect the person from injury - (remove harmful objects from nearby)
Cushion their head
Look for an epilepsy identity card or identity jewellery
Aid breathing by gently placing them in the recovery position once the seizure has finished
Stay with the person until recovery is complete
Be calmly reassuring

Restrain the person’s movements
Put anything in the person’s mouth
Try to move them unless they are in danger
Give them anything to eat or drink until they are fully recovered
Attempt to bring them round

Call for an ambulance if...
You know it is the person’s first seizure, or
The seizure continues for more than five minutes, or
One tonic-clonic seizure follows another without the person regaining consciousness between seizures, or
The person is injured during the seizure, or
You believe the person needs urgent medical attention

Please feel free to share this post with your friends. The more people who are aware of what to do and what not to do when someone is having a seizure, the better.

You can read my full epilepsy story here.

Purple Day 2018 French Village Diaries talking about Epilepsy
Purple Day 2018 French Village Diaries talking about Epilepsy

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France, la Cornuelle

French Village Diaries Rameaux la Cornuelle Palm Sunday
La Cornuelle, a Charentais tradition for Palm Sunday (Rameaux)

Welcome to another Lazy Sundayin France, where today I have a tasty treat lined up for you.

I lost an hour of my precious sleep last night, and even if the reason does now mean we are on Central European Summer Time, something sweet from the village boulangerie was just what I needed today, to keep my energy levels up. As luck would have it, today is Palm Sunday, or Rameaux in French, the last Sunday in Lent and in our area that means la cornuelle, a Charentais speciality made by boulangers, just for today. In terms of food, fun and French culture, it has to be one of my favourite days and I still can’t believe it took me 11 years to discover it.

La cornuelle is a triangle shaped buttery biscuit, with fluted edges and a hole in the middle, that is decorated with aniseed sweets. The triangular shape represents The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit and traditionally it was sold at the entrance to church on Palm Sunday, where a sprig of box (another traditional French symbol of Palm Sunday) would have been placed in the hole. However, a few years ago a puff pastry version appeared at our boulangerie, deliciously filled with strawberries and whipped cream, so I couldn’t wait to see what would be on offer this year.

It was with much excitement that Pierrette, my French neighbour, and I made our Sunday morning pilgrimage to the boulangerie and I spied the tray of decorated biscuits with relief. We chatted with Bernadette (madame la boulangère) about the French Palm Sunday and Easter traditions and then the other story behind this Easter treat, dating back to the Middle Ages, came up. For those whose beliefs are more Pagan than Christian, and with spring signifying new life, la cornuelle is believed to be triangle shaped to represent the female reproductive organs and is a sign of fertility. This tickled the three of us, two middle-aged mothers and a sprightly just-turned 78-year-old, no end, before Pierrette and I pretty much cleared her out of cornuelles. I do hope she had another tray out back as there is no way Pierrette or I can do much to increase the population of the village at our ages.

On that, I shall leave you to enjoy your Sunday while I pour myself a coffee and enjoy my lady-garden biscuit cornuelle. If you would like to be involved in a future #LazySundayinFrance post, maybe you are a writer, a blogger or run an independent business in France and have something you think would be ideal to be included, please do get in touch.