It was never my intention to have children. The world was already overpopulated so why add to it? But when our first daughter was born in 1997 I was determined that I was going to take an active part in her life and not be an absent father like so many people I knew. Moving from London to Cornwall in southwest England was the first step towards this end, but Cornwall was still too expensive so Sandrine and I decided to come to France. In France you could get “more bricks for your bucks” than in England, and we were now 4 in the family – soon to be 5 – so this was a not-unimportant consideration. But this was not the only reason for moving to France – or to the Ariege.
Like many people, settling here was something of an accident. Before we came to the region we’d already communicated on the internet with a few residents in the region and they all said great things about it. Once we arrived we met many friendly people, and then we found a house to buy. After surviving the challenges of renovating this house into a liveable home, we could enjoy the delights that life had to offer in the Ariege: a safe and healthy environment for the girls to grow up in, fellow residents - many of them “outsiders” – who made us really welcome, a better quality of life (and a better climate!), and time enough for each of us to discover and begin pursuing our own developmental paths.
But there were, and still are, considerable challenges to living in a remote countryside location: the need for considerable self-sufficiency, assuming the role of an unpaid taxi driver, and finding ways of earning a living (to name but a few). True, the extraordinary natural beauty of where we live does contribute financially - we now have 2 gites - but this was, and still is, not enough. So Sandrine and I also began the slow and haphazard process of realising other professional activities, work being more ‘invented’ than ‘found’ in this part of the Ariege. In my case I began to travel elsewhere in my capacity as a part-time teacher-trainer, initially to other locations in the Ariege, and then all around France. In so doing I was - and still am - following in the footsteps of those 18th and 19th century Ariege inhabitants who travelled around Europe as itinerant peddlers (the colporteurs) in order to supplement their others sources of income.
Travelling – and teaching - has also enabled me to address another challenge of mine: being a non-French person living and working in France. My experiences provide me with many stories with which to recount in my training sessions about ‘how to work with ‘foreigners” or ‘how to live in ‘foreign’ countries’). But the downside of my ‘professional ‘work is that it has taken me outside the Ariege a lot, with the unfortunate result that my ties here are not as close as they could be.
Seventeen years have passed now and Sandrine and I have the satisfaction of seeing how raising a family in the Ariege has provided our daughters with very particular roots and wings with which to prepare them for their future lives. But 17 years has also made me realize that growing older brings further challenges. No longer can I spend entire days in the woods making winter firewood or clearing the land. It’s a younger person’s environment here and time and energy are not on my side. Besides, I no longer experience the same excitement I once did learning the skills necessary to achieve greater self-sufficiency and to live a more ecologically sustainable existence. While I still greatly admire those people who do these things, I now want to do other things as well.
So with the girls leaving the house - or soon to do so – I’m now confronting the challenge of having to reinvent myself once again. So will I still be here 10 or 15 years from now? It’s difficult to say. Only time, and an environment that’s unique to the Ariege might determine what happens.