When preparing for this journey I had certain expectations about our style of life in Quillan. I thought that many days would follow a neat pattern: an hour of running and an hour of writing in the morning, a long family lunch, another hour of writing or reading in the afternoon, an hour of meandering around shops and stopping at a cafe, and an hour or more of playing with the kids after they finished school. How did it pan out? During May I did the running most mornings, but preparing for a marathon meant that an hour was often not enough. After the marathon on 1 June I deliberately slackened off, running just every-so-often, and only for half an hour or less. The writing never became a regular part of my days, nor did wandering the local shops. Quillan does not have enough shops to warrant much time. We did often stop at a cafe in the morning or afternoon. And we certainly enjoyed a lot of long family lunches – those two-hour lunch breaks from school were great.
One activity that we did more than I had anticipated was exploring the region. Nearly every day we drove to towns and villages in the region, and those outings gave most shape to our days. On Wednesdays, Saturdays, and Sundays we all went; on school days just Jennie, Nicholas, and I went.
Towards the end of our time in Quillan, I noticed that we were getting better at living our life there. I managed to offend fewer local people than I probably did early on with my critical observations and comparisons with New Zealand. We argued less about how to fill in our days. We knew better what to expect from each other. Tomos would want to visit the pool; Ollie would want to stay up late; Jennie would want us to drive to a village not yet visited; I would want to go walking or running; and together we would settle on a compromise. We all loved different things about our life in Quillan.
We formed habits like pulling certain window shutters to keep out the hot sun in the morning then other shutters in the afternoon, like one parent getting up with Nicholas at 6.30 while the other slept in till 7.30 or 8, and like Ollie buying bread and pastries before breakfast.
But what gives greatest sense of belonging is connections with people, and that is what we were only just on the cusp of when we left. Three months was not quite enough for me to feel that I fitted in. A few days before leaving we were privileged to attend an evening party in an allotment beside the river, and I noticed that although many of the people there were temporary residents of Quillan, they were all there for much longer than us. Our three months seemed shamefully short. At the end of the night our farewells were mostly of the final-and-permanent kind. On our final full day in Quillan I went on a long run with Robert from Australia. It was lovely – up to Ginoles and Coudons then the road back down to Quillan. I wished I had more opportunities to run with him.