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So I’ve been back a week from my epic voyage to the South of France for The 70273 Project. I made my very first outfit – a pair of trousers and a top (sleeves are HARD!!), specifically for the trip, finished the day before I left; I drove 1000 miles in two days, there and back, spent around €500 we couldn’t really afford, met some amazing people, saw the most stunning scenery and it’s all over, quicker than a blink.

I’m filled with gratitude for being able to make this adventure. I am grateful that we had enough money to be able to fix the car in the first place so that I could do it at all; that Jude was willing to lose a day’s work to look after the girls; that he encouraged and supported me in making the decision to go at all: I’m not good with crowds or doing things on my own these days. I am grateful to the lovely people I met: Lucy and Sharon were the most enjoyable company and we made deep and meaningful connections.

The glorious French countryside on my return journey was stunning. I was sorely tempted to stop and photograph each place I came to: the prettiest little hill-top villages and then a Monday-morning market in Cathars, a wonderful, golden stone-built town with shutters of faded blues and greens at every window, bedecked in every possible corner with colourful flowers and beautiful flowering trees. I stopped off along the way on both journeys to spend time with my lovely Etsy friend, Birdycoconut and her wonderful mum, who fed and watered me. Mille mercis à vous deux! xo

But I couldn’t stop: I had to get back; I couldn’t spend more money on another night’s accommodation, and as much as I seriously considered just sleeping in the car, it felt imperative for Jude to get back to work. I was in race-mode: overtaking everything and hurling myself around the bends of these pretty little backroads that were largely, thrillingly empty. Plus I had promised the girls that I would be back on Monday, and I try my hardest to keep my word to them.

But I deeply regret not making more of this time, alone and free. Taking photos is such an essential part of my life that it feels wrong not to have recorded the beauty I witnessed everywhere I looked. There is such a casual and thrilling abundance to the France of the south, so very different to the much more formal North with so much of it having been destroyed in the war and hastily rebuilt in ugly concrete, losing both it’s heart and character in the process. It is as distinct as entering an entirely different country.

Returning to these grey stone buildings with grey slate roofs and neatly ordered tidily uniform hedgerows triggered an instant ache of loss for the bold generosity of those southern towns with their golden light and sparkling air. Thrilled as I am to be back with my brood and my wonderful man in this place we have made our home, a part of me still wants to jump straight back in the car.

I am back to work on my various tasks: I have clothing to figure out how to deconstruct and remake; the house is in chaos and we are working on tidying up the plot of land to sell. There is much to do in the garden: cuttings are rooting – roses growing from the scraps I gathered weeks ago! – seedlings shooting up, and my border is starting to look quite wonderful now I have transplanted nearly all of the baby plants from their previous home over at the caravans. I recently bought a section of fencing to shield my heart from the sight of next-door’s desolate, poisoned backyard (he is selling the house so to save time maintaining it, he has covered all green areas with glyphosphate) and even though it’ll be a while before I have the money to buy more sections to complete it, it already makes a difference. Most of all, we need to get our finances back on track after these two huge expenses, car and trip.

And the great meeting with Jeanne? The long-anticipated long-held idea of actually being in the same room with the woman who has held my hand and my heart through some pretty tough times over the last year and who I felt a true and deep connection with? For whom I have worked so tirelessly and enthusiastically to help bring her vision to life over this past year, actively participating in and managing the two Facebook project groups, supporting her through her long weeks of illness as well as photographing and recording countless blocks sent to me from makers in France to commemorate the lost lives of The 70273 Project? I’m not sure how to put my feelings into words on that. It was unexpectedly less than expected. And clearly mutually so: another close French project collaborator simply alluded to me on her blog post about the exhibition as the “AngloNormande” of the group and whilst Jeanne’s Facebook message tagged a number of people whose friendship she would miss on her return to the States, it did not include me. She mentioned me once by name in her talk to the crowd at Lacaze, but said nothing of my role in the project except for people to send me their blocks.

I can’t help but feel disappointed and hurt that my contribution to this project has ended up as me simply being that of an administrator, unworthy of thanks or mention. And I am insulted that I made this huge journey, which was way out of my personal comfort zone and had not a single moment alone with Jeanne or a chance to communicate with her on a personal level. She took the blocks I’d brought along with me but she gave nothing in return of her heart, which, judging from the entire lack of personal communication between us lately, has been firmly locked and bolted. She made no mention whatsoever of the notes and little gifts I’d included in the huge box of donated blocks I posted to her a few months ago.

This is hard for a number of reasons: Jeanne had become someone I trusted completely, she was a surrogate mother figure, mentor, champion and tireless encourager of my artistic and literary adventures, someone I spoke to nearly daily, to whom I sent poetry at 3am when the words flew into my head. Trust me, there aren’t many who have this slightly dubious honour.

The breakdown in our friendship occurred when I asked her if she could stop by the Facebook group after her long absence. During that time I had monitored and managed both the English and French-language group pages, answering questions, introducing new members, sending encouragement and support to all. Not only did she ignore my words, she admitted afterwards that she’d felt scolded. That was certainly not my intention. I just had been doing too much and was feeling overwhelmed and needed her help. About my request at the same time for her to provide some written material for a fabric book we had discussed me making for the Project, she said nothing at all. So hurt was I by this at the time that I unplugged myself from both groups and withdrew into my real life for a while.

When I talked of my difficulties with Jeanne with someone recently, they suggested that I try to remove myself from the picture a little: wise advice I’m sure, but it’s just not how I function. You get me, the whole of me; my head and my heart, in whatever I do. I do not do shades of grey. Yet, it was my choice to be involved: no-one owes me anything, and whilst I ask for nothing in return, I do in fact need very much to be accepted as the odd, loving and passionate being that I am. I don’t give my heart away easily, and this is a reminder why.

So I have a big pile of fabric ‘pages’ sitting gathering dust; I have several boxes of baking paper which I had intended to use to transfer ink images and text as well as regular fabric transfer paper bought for the purpose, and now have to find a new use for them. My own usefulness to the Project and to Jeanne has evidently run its’ course and I need to move on to challenges of my own making.

In this year of intense online activity I have discovered new friends and rediscovered a purpose to my life outside of the narrow confines of being a housewife and housebound mother with few real-life connections of meaning. Whilst being deeply rewarding in itself, being a stay-at-home mother can also be emotionally and mentally draining in the extreme. In the time we have been friends, Jeanne gave me firm ground to walk on by providing me with an ear and a presence I valued all the more for having a do-able practicality to it. Without her I would not have had the courage to walk into that crowded room at Lacaze and hold my head high without shaking in fear even if I did spend that time hiding behind my camera: such is my terror of crowded spaces. In my dazed state I forgot even to put my bags down at any point. More importantly though, I deeply regret not having the opportunity to stand in that chapel by Jeanne’s side before the crowds arrived and witness those quilted voices singing in that beautiful, sacred space: all of those red crosses filling the air with kisses. I sense that I would have felt a forcefield of love emanating from those cloths.

I am proud of having been a part of this Project born of love and compassion: that so many hands and hearts have met and held each other through it and into the future.

I am intensely proud of myself for making this crazy trip: a year ago I didn’t even have the courage to go more than ten miles from my home. Just doing the supermarket run is more than I can cope with some weeks.

And I am proud of the fact that I can care enough for myself to choose to walk away from situations and friends that do not make me feel supported or cherished. People are strange and ineffable: some friendships just filter out without us really ever understanding why. The trick is to let go without rumination or regret. I’m still working on that one. Onward.

 

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