Not for nothing is this blog is called The Other Side of Eden. The prospect of gloomy winter days is matched in awfulness only by the reality. So, take heed all you folks seeking to 'live the dream'. Winter, in the heart of the Normandy countryside, can make you wonder whether you selected the wrong button on the dream machine.
Preparation is key if you hope to beat the winter blues. In my case this does not mean stocking up with tasty treats to see me through the dark days. Like the neighbourhood squirrel, which has been dashing to and fro between it's nest and it's food store at frequent intervals since September, I would very quickly be surrounded by abandoned packaging and an empty larder before the clocks even changed for the winter.
No. The answer is to take up a new hobby ( hence my brief thespian phase when I first moved to France). This winter, ready for a new challenge and filled with the inexplicable desire to emulate Lara Croft, I enrolled on a Martial Arts class at our local leisure centre. The Vietnamese discipline called Viet Vo Dao looks easy when somebody else is doing it. Unfortunately, like all the other apparently effortless activities I have participated in, (Scottish dancing and Step among them) a degree of co-ordination is required if you want to avoid embarrassing yourself.
The studio, where the class is held, has large windows which overlook the road and I have sometimes wondered whether passing motorists ever glance up into the illuminated room and marvel if they happen catch a glimpse of my nimble manoeuvres. The answer would have to be no. They might catch sight of my head as I am much taller than some of my opponents; Dorain who is 6 and Océan who is about 11. What they wouldn't realise, is that the rest of me is moving in the opposite direction to the rest of the class.
Despairing at my inability to master the necessary steps my teacher, the ever patient Sondrine, tries out her English, 'left Alison, left!!' Unfortunately, the problem is not that I can't distinguish between 'gauche' and 'droite' but that I just can't memorize the sequences of moves. Practice makes perfect, so when the dog and I go out for a walk I take the opportunity to try out my kicks (which has incidentally, the added benefit of firming up muscles which might otherwise have given up in the fight against gravity.)
The other evening we were making our way down the lane towards home in the damp, grey twilight. I had forgotten the dog as I was engaged in defeating imaginary assailants with a series of deft kicks and punches. Then I heard the beep of a horn behind me. Turning, I saw Fudge caught in a car's headlights. She was ambling along the middle of the lane. With failing eyesight and equally poor hearing she was unaware that she was holding up the traffic. Just as I had been unaware that the driver had also been treated to the vision of a lunatic woman attacking invisible demons. Turning to retrieve Fudge I smiled weakly at the driver but he he didn't smile back. Hopefully he was scared!
If I could only get the hang of it all, I would be so happy. I wonder whether a key element to success is getting kitted out in the correct attire. The rest of the class have now bought themselves the necessary black pajamas and they all look as if they mean business. I am on the brink of investing in a pair but have just discovered the Bolivian Cholitas. These fearsome, South American, wrestling women are decked out in colourful skirts with frilly petticoats, How much more interesting it would be to dress up in a flouncy skirt and bright blouse, safe in the knowledge that beneath my deceptively feminine appearance there lurks an intrepid ninja warrior.