The visit of a friend has made me realise that I no longer go shopping just for the fun of it.
When you have visitors, it does throw your own life into perspective rather.
I didn’t realise how much ours had changed until the day I was alone with my houseguest S a couple of weeks ago.
S was my bridesmaid when we got married, and she made our wedding rings (she’s a fantastic jeweller), and while her DH was off with my DH, sketching gun emplacements on the Normandy beaches, as boys will do when left to their own devices, she and I had a girly day together.
After lunch at a friend’s restaurant (home-made pate, guineafowl in cider sauce and hand-made ice-cream…), she suddenly said: "Let’s go shopping!"
And my mind went blank.
Where on earth would one do that, I thought.
The thing is, the DH and I live a bit in the arse-end of nowhere. Although not exactly desert like the Creuse, say, the Orne departement is very much what you’d call rural. Rural like Scotland or Wales, not rural like England. The nearest village is 2km away, the nearest shop 10km. If I wanted clothes, I’d have to go 23km and the choice even then wouldn’t be wide. But ‘shopping’ as such, S made me realise, is simply something I don’t do any more.
Partly it’s because to do so would entail a trip to Rennes, 90km away, but it’s also true that I can’t remember the last time I went into a shop simply to look around. These days I only go into shops when I’m looking for something specific: a coat, a lightbulb, a new washing machine or whatever.
Since we downshifted to France, there just hasn’t been the money to buy things we don’t need, and I don’t believe in tempting myself needlessly. Rule number one: don’t look at adverts (my fingers is permanently hovering over the ‘mute’ button), rule number two – don’t go into shops.
I took a very different approach when I lived in London. There, I routinely went into clothes and interiors shops that I couldn’t afford, in order to get my eye in for what constitutes quality and to try out fashion trends, which I would then buy at a lower price point. But I guess I’m also more confident of my taste these days. I know what I like in both interiors and clothing, and I also know what’s practical for my life. There is just no point in going into, for instance, the expensive boutique my sister, her friend and I visited last week in Fougeres. Not only do I not have 325 euros for a knitted top, even if I did I couldn’t wear it to get the wood in or walk the dog. It was a beautiful thing, in multicoloured flame stitch, but in my life, it would be completely pointless. I’d rather buy a piece of raku or a painting.
In lieu of shopping, then, on this day S and I settled for a walk round the beautiful local plan d’eau with the dog, talking about the crappy state of English literature and stealing Joe Pye Weed seeds for my garden, and then a trip through the forest to the spa town of Bagnoles, where S bought half a ton of chocolate from Casati du Lac.
She also got a box of Lenoir macaroons, the best macaroons in the world. I never knew what all the fuss was about macaroons until I tasted these things, as what are customarily passed off as macaroons are really usually biscotti, all dry and crispy, whereas a real macaroon should cave in gently at the top, then give way to a soft, melting interior of almond paste (with no cream). We only eat them a couple of times a year, but oh what luxury – they are pure sin on a plate. Last year, when my sister visited, we had the pleasure of having them hot from the ovens at the Lenoir factory, which is just down the road from me, though most of the daily bake heads straight for the posh restaurants and gelatiers of Paris.
Oh la. I see I still have the desire for some things. Maybe we’ll buy a box for Christmas…