Geraldine begins this week’s instalment of ‘Midsummer madness’ with a humorous account on her husband’s conviction that they live in France, before she veers into a poignant reflection on his understanding of “home”…
You can find the previous instalment of Geraldine’s column here.
Brexit, which caused so much anguish on both sides of the Channel, is now a long-done deal and even the most die-hard Remainers have had to accept that although the entente is perhaps a shade less cordiale than it once was, we’ve all just had to get on with our lives.
Except Patrick, who remained convinced we lived in France and was astonished daily by both the number of British cars to be seen parked around our Sussex home and the English fluency of our “French” neighbours.
So a visit to see our eldest son, who lives just a mile away, caused him endless anxiety about potential ferry delays, the misplacement of tickets and the exact whereabouts of our passports.
It is true we had once owned a pretty 200-year-old stone house in a quiet Breton village where we, and a great many of our friends, regularly enjoyed la vie francaise.
But, although we had sold it a decade previously, Patrick believed we were still living there – and all he wanted was to come home to the UK.
In a bid to persuade him we were already here, I showed him the water colour a talented friend had painted of Ker Lys with its Breton blue shutters, standing next to La Poste and opposite a 700-year-old church.
But although we took the painting outside and compared it with the exterior of our brick-built eighties English home, he remained obstinately unconvinced of la difference.
“See,” I said, waving in the direction of our not-at-all-French neighbours’ houses.
“No post office next door, no church over there – because we are not in France…”
Patrick was having none of it.
“Don’t start that old nonsense again,” he said wearily.
“Things change – they have obviously just knocked the church down…”
But even on those increasingly rare occasions when he grudgingly admitted that perhaps we were in the UK after all, he was unable to recognise our home of the past 40 years.
“I am an old man,” he would say pleadingly, “and I am begging you – just put me in a car and take me home…”
One afternoon, quite undistractable and unplacatable, he had kept the debate going for two hours before coming up with a working deal to guide the on-going debate towards an acceptable compromise.
“If we can agree on nothing else,” he said, with the air of a man generously conceding minor ground with a view to a greater victory, “can we AT LEAST agree we are in France…”
It was heart-breaking.
But by then our imagined “real” home existed only as a place of safety in Patrick’s muddled mind: and like Housman’s Blue Remembered Hills it was forever lost to him.
Into my heart an air that kills
From yon far country blows:
What are those blue remembered hills,
What spires, what farms are those?
That is the land of lost content,
I see it shining plain,
The happy highways where I went
And cannot come again.
Geraldine Durrant is a retired journalist, feature writer and children’s author who – since her husband was diagnosed with dementia a year ago – has kept a diary about her experiences as his carer. We have the privilege of publishing Geraldine’s incredibly personal story on our blog every Saturday, so keep your eye out for more on this series next Saturday.
If Geraldine’s writing resonates with you in some way, please do leave a comment to let her know.