How does living in rural France impact on me as a Woman? Well: I recognise that I am slightly cut off from exposure to the bigger political issues effecting women in France and the rest of the world. I live in a beautiful, peaceful spot - fields stretch for as far as the eye can see in all directions and the nearest large town is forty kilometres away. I live in an ex-coach-garage: furniture placed either side of the eleven-metre-long boarded-over inspection pit, which people say, when they visit, ‘Isn’t it lovely! This would be worth a fortune if it was a New York loft apartment’. Well it isn’t, and renovating the barn next-door is taking way too long: the dust from the breeze-block walls and concrete floor is getting on my nerves.
I run my own gardening business here, and what impacts on me in my little patch, (apart from the afore-mentioned living arrangements) are a few simple things:
- The challenge of new clients doubting whether I will be able to carry out heavy garden-work because I am a woman. ‘Of course I will, I love it.’ I tell them. It’s true: I love clambering up and down a scaffold to trim a thirty-metre-long conifer hedge, or wheel 400kgs of compost around the flower-beds. I am never happier than when I’m sweating.
- Finding tools and equipment to buy that don’t weigh a tonne or are difficult to start because they have been designed with a male operator in mind.
- Finding steel-toe work boots small enough (in the UK this may be easy – in rural France it’s almost impossible). Or gloves that aren’t flimsy leather with embroidered ladybirds and flowers on them costing twice as much as a good heavy-duty pair of leather gloves made for men, which are always two sizes too big! Hold on – is there a business opportunity for myself here as women’s work-wear and tool designer?
So personally, I think it’s the rural environment and mentality that can create the impact on me as a woman. As I move into 2019 I have unpacked my new, size 39 work-boots that I brought back from the UK with me, along with the three pairs of leather work-gloves that were on sale in B&Q and am thankful that such simple issues are my main concern.
One of my gardening clients had a different problem as a result of living rurally: Madame Chaumy is a 92-year-old French lady who, with her husband, had been part of Parisien ‘high-society’ before moving here with his job. She is sadly now a widow, living on her own in the middle of nowhere, but who is always immaculately dressed, with perfect make-up and hair, even if I arrive at 8.30am. No need for standards to slip just because she is in the countryside! This particular morning, I rang on the door-bell and she appeared, in her nightgown, looking more than a little dishevelled. ‘Are you okay, Madame Chaumy?’ I’d asked, fearing that she may have had a fall. She said she was feeling groggy and had a terrible head-ache. Did she want me to call a Dr? No, it was nothing serious: she had been unable to open a bottle of red wine the evening before because her wrists and fingers are now too weak to operate the cork-screw. Her evening tipple had been ruined. ‘You should have called Yvette, (who lives a km away), she would have driven over and opened it for you,’ I’d said. With a glint in her eye she said that she had been rather more resourceful than that, and had popped open a bottle of champagne instead. She was now, however, and with a thumping head-ache, regretting it because obviously she had had to drink the whole thing so as not to waste the bubbles!
I am sure Theresa May wishes that decent gardening gloves and opening a bottle of wine were all she had to worry about! We may not all agree with her chosen political path, but the sheer fact that she hasn’t had a nervous breakdown yet gets my total respect. 2019 wishes and thoughts go to all the women who are fighting their corner, wherever that may be.
One aspiration for 2019, during these uncertain times for humanity, and especially women, is that we can all support one another with love and confidence. I have recently been shat on by a woman who I can only conclude is jealous of my life with my partner (she obviously hasn’t ever lived in a grey, dusty coach-garage!), and I can only wonder how the world would be if we could wipe out jealousy and competition and replace those emotions with trust and compassion. I believe that only when we all stick together will we be strong enough to overcome so much prejudice and fear that is present in our world.
So a big thank-you goes from me to rural France for giving us so little to worry about on a daily basis – and here’s to all of us women out there on our journeys: may we all be well enough to be drinking a bottle of champagne when we’re ninety-two.
By Sarah Tyley