My dear colleagues, my dear friends,
Thank you all for coming. You know I hate speeches, but I want to say how grateful I am to you all, let’s just hope it won’t be too boring! Here we go, then!
When I arrived in Normandy at the age of fifty-two I was at a loss with what to do with my life. I got out of the ferry thinking I would just stay in France for a holiday and then go back to England. I was fed up with my job in which I felt stuck. Was there anything in store for me? I doubted it. Not that I lacked inspiration, but all I liked was out of reach. I loved writing, I dreamt of translating novels, but who would be interested in an ageing amateur? I knew I would never be one of the happy few…Well, on 30 June 2000 I got out of the ferry in Ouistreham with no precise destination in mind; all I needed was a careless holiday. As I was walking down Rue de la Mer I caught sight of a notice in a window. It read: “Chambre libre”. I immediately felt at ease in this place, and the landlady soon took me to my room. Little did I know then that this encounter was to change my life!
For a few weeks I just slept an incredible amount of time and went for long walks on the beach. When I came back Dominique would wait for me with a good cuppa and a few biscuits. I was not very talkative, but I found her warm presence soothing. I soon met a few friends of hers and started to be a bit more sociable. At the end of August I was facing a dilemma. I did not feel like returning to Britain, having not felt so well for ages, moreover my children and ex-wife had good positions and did not depend on me anymore, but how would I support myself without a job?
Conversely, would I lose much if I resigned from my job as a history teacher? I knew I would miss some of the pupils, but certainly not FC. Fat Cow was the nickname the kids had given one of our colleagues and without openly admitting it we thought she was getting what she deserved. It was the only thing we agreed about, though, as this two-faced nightmare had managed to install an atmosphere of suspicion which made all team work impossible. Just thinking of her made me sick and I developed a rash which got worse and worse until my decision was final. One morning I got up and knew: I would not go back there. Never again.
We had a wonderful weather that autumn. I still went for long walks, taking my camera with me. The light is so unique on Normandy beaches. Dominique often joined me, collecting drift wood that she used in many amazing ways to decorate her house or to frame photographs of her new-born grand-child. I soon joined a club. Taking photos was a fantastic hobby, but I can tell you now that it was more than that, forcing me to focus on something new, to see life through a different lens. After a while I felt ready to go back to “normal” life and work. Dominique had heard that the museum needed a part-time bilingual guide. There were few applicants, and I was given the job. As a former teacher I loved talking of WWII to the kids who came here on school trips, and I was happy to have some spare time. As I read somewhere the other day, “once you are used to your freedom…”
Jean, from the club, urged me to exhibit my photographs. I was quite reluctant first, but I finally submitted to his friendly pressure. To my surprise my work interested a few people, and I got a couple of good reviews in the local press, as well as a few photos published in national magazines. Last year as you know, I opened my gallery in Caen. As you all know it is keeping me extremely busy and I have decided to retire from the museum.
I will miss working with you, but the good news is that Dominique and I are moving into the house next door and you are welcome to pop in whenever you like. In the meantime, I’ll just drink to you!
Cheers everyone! Thank you for coming!