Christmas Day in Culan, All Is Calm
This Christmas, our first in Culan, turned out to be a stress-free and enjoyable affair. For the first time in recent memory, I was not particularly worried about money or feeling guilty about not being with my own children, since I separated from their mother 12 years ago.
Because of our change in circumstance and being mortgage and rent-free we also had enough for a modest Christmas to buy presents and food.
Memories of my own childhood Christmases are still raw, however, with my father being drunk most of the time and showing little love and interest in his family.
Thalia, Sadie’s daughter, had joined us for 10 days from university in the UK, and it was a good feeling to be able to offer a comfortable home for our children. Mine are both adults and have their own lives and I hope they will come and stay with us next Christmas.
As a bonus we had managed to get the conversion of the out-building almost finished, in the sense that Diamond Dave, our builder, had returned the week before Christmas with a beautiful oak door and installed a wood-burning stove, sealing the building and making it completely insulated.
The realisation that we had created a second home that was warm and peaceful prompted us to install basic furniture and spend Christmas Eve around the fire with a bottle of Champagne, not quite believing all we had achieved in the past year.
We also had an unexpected guest turn up, a real-life Father Christmas, in the form of our wonderful neighbour Phillipe, who had been visiting children in the town in a Santa disguise.
The next morning, after opening our presents, we prepared Christmas Day lunch with more Champagne and wine, listening to Dean Martin’s Christmas album.
For a Christmas movie, Thalia chose The Holiday, a cheesy rom-com, starring Jude Law and Cameron Diaz, that seemed to go on for hours, milking every festive cliche under the winter sun.
I read my book by the log fire and snoozed, in classic dad-mode.
We ended the day playing Cards Against Humanity and watching an old Morecambe & Wise Christmas special, from 1971.
All that was lacking was a Christmas edition of Top of the Pops and the Queen’s speech to remind us of home and a life we had chosen to leave behind.
In front of the burning embers of the fire before bed, we reflected on last Christmas when we were preparing to embark on our new life in France, frantically trying to pack the car with basic essentials to beat the Brexit 1 January 2021 deadline.
The keys to our new home were with our estate agent Dave, and we were relieved that we could claim to be permanent residents in France, making it easier to live in Europe after Brexit.
All we needed to do was get across the channel, which was going to be a problem. Days before Christmas, France had closed its border to travellers from the UK because of Covid — and, if you believed the right-wing press in the UK, political motivation in retaliation for Brexit — resulting in queues of stranded lorry drivers trying to get back home to Eastern Europe for Christmas.
We knew we had to have a negative PCR test to stand any chance of crossing, and we had spent £250 on private tests, which stupidly we had posted to the lab in London on Christmas Eve, making it immediately invalid for our travel plans on 29 December, as the results, even if we did get them back in time, would be invalid.
Instead, we went to an NHS test centre in Sevenoaks, Kent, the day before our crossing, not sure if the border guards would accept the test, but it was our only chance.
Having said a tearful goodbye to friends and family we set off for the Tunnel, with all our paperwork for the house and a negative test result, praying we would get across and into Europe.
In the end, we sailed through the checks, much to our relief, and we were free of the UK to start this new life, the first year of which, has been full of wonderful memories and a few surprises.