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1994: Like a Hurricane!

We moved in together in August 1994, and all hell broke loose!

We’re not sure what exactly is happening here, but you can get an idea of the energy level. Tom’s right leg is laying on Alban’s right arm – Marie-Hélène is looking in a worried manner at Tom, as is Daphné – Nick and Daphné have their thumbs up and Tom his finger up – and we can’t remember what Alban was doing or why his mother is holding his wrist. We were “like a hurricane!”

But maybe it would be more accurate to say that all hell was breaking lose when we moved in together.

Daphné slipped into sadness easily during the later part of 1994, after her parents separated. You can see that here, and on the Young Daphné page.

Marie-Hélène had just broken up with Pierre, Daphné and Alban‘s father, literally the week before she moved in to Le Tahu. Ian and Sunshine, Nick and Tom‘s mother, were still divorcing even though they had physically separated for the second and final time months before.

As you can imagine, neither Pierre nor Sunshine was entirely thrilled with the direction that Marie-Hélène and I were taking. Neither hesitated to make known their respective points of view, to the children as much as to Marie-Hélène and me.

The poor children! The young Daphné page, the young Tom page and the young Alban page each give a different flavor of what they went through after their parents separated. Marie-Hélène was more tuned into their sadness than I was at the time. I didn’t want to feel that I was hurting any of them.

Needless to say, there were happy times too as we all settled in together. Here is Alban feeling pleased with himself for waking up the parents. Hey, what were we sleeping for anyway?!

A sad part of this family’s beginnings is visible here, in the stories of each of our older children. On some level each lost a parent, and the unhappiness and anger of each lost parent was brought to bear on his or her child. In an ideal world, that may be avoidable. In a real world where there had been real love and terrible disappointment, for whatever reason, that unhappiness and anger is going to rear its ugly head.

Fortunately, our childrens’ sadness was far from what they principally expressed. They were children, after all. Other feelings predominated. The first day that they were together in their first joint home, Le Tahu, Alban and Tom found some panes of glass leaning up against a stone wall in one of the outbuildings, and promptly and gleefully picked up the rocks that just happened to be lying around and smashed all the panes of glass to bits. We only left them alone and fending for themselves for ten minutes!

Boys will be boys! There was a whole lot of that as well, from day one. We had bought these lovely cushions from an artisan in Le Gacilly, near La Grée in Brittany. Their delicate finish and worthy origins did not deter the boys from thwacking them with a stick. We do not know why, exactly, but there you have it!

There are quite a few pictures of that energy, the way it was much of the time. Most of the time, there was too much going on to keep track of. There’s another photo from the same period, conveying the same energy and craziness, on the History page about Blending the Family.

It was a hurricane that lasted for the rest of the year, and the next year, and the next year . . . ! Blending families is a poorly understood art: no guidebooks, no do-it-yourself references. The children effortlessly amplify whatever is going on around them, and separations and divorces are not very good things to amplify!

This was taken just before Christmas, maybe Christmas Eve. I’m not sure what Daphné was doing with my face, but I’m sure that she had good reason to do it!

No annual update was sent to friends and family at year end: in fact, no Christmas or New Year’s cards from that year are to be found. Some perhaps came and went, but no trace remains. It was that sort of year. Needless to say, there were Christmas presents, even in 1994, and a few can be seen here.

The better moments stand out. There were visits to Chartres and its heart-warming Cathedral, not 45 minutes away from Le Tahu. We have a video of one of those visits, with the children taking turns to roll down the grassy hill below the Cathedral and in its garden. Yes, children, that is exactly what one of the most beautiful and unspoiled cathedrals in the world is for!

There was the August holiday that Marie-Hélène and I took with Daphné and Alban while Nick and Tom were in California with their mom.

The first time that grandma met the new arrivals, we all had a real English tea together at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford. Grandma could not communicate properly with any of her visitors, they each had to struggle to communicate with her, and yet everyone was as happy as a clam.

That holiday featured the first meeting between Ian’s mother and Marie-Hélène, Daphné and Alban, and a very successful meeting it was.

What made that success so surprising is that Grandma was a true English woman (in her head, that is: she was Irish by descent!), and was thus out of principle not particularly partial to the French. Here is an extract from a 1994 letter that Ian sent to a friend, commenting on Anglo-French relations and other aspects of life in that year:

We stayed at a lovely hotel referred by Margaret and Arthur Day, friends of granddad Stock’s who lived nearby, and spent a day at the seaside in Paignton. Here are the two hardy souls who braved the water! (Riviera, it ain’t!)

How hard it is for a “bloke” to live in France, with all those French people! Of course, I am not personally responsible for this senseless and unfair prejudice. My mother is. Her obsession about the Channel Tunnel is that it will permit French rats to crawl through it into England’s green and pleasant fields, where they will promptly infect every mammal, and probably a few trees, with rabies. The psychoanalytic underpinnings of this kind of concern would appear obvious (rats penetrating tunnels – need I say more?), except that the concern is sufficiently general that the Tunnel builders have installed electric fencing to impede (get it?!) the rats’ passage. No, it’s not psychology, rather a thousand years of similarity and mutual contempt.

Here they all are at that “happy place,” to quote its founder, eagerly seeking an audience with an amiable mouse who resides there. M I C K E Y!! Writing this in 2010, I can still hear Daphné saying his name in that adorable French accent of hers.

So I can hold England and History responsible for my prejudice, absolve my mother and sleep well tonight.

It was thanks to Grandma that we began our visits to Disneyland in Paris. If the traffic cooperated, it was only about an hour away from Le Tahu, and we could fit in a visit on Wednesday afternoons, when there was no school, or on weekends. We celebrated Tom’s birthday there in October 1994, thanks to Grandma. Unfortunately, she somehow managed to lose her own passport, and so didn’t come herself on that particular occasion. We made up for that in January 1995, when she celebrated her 68th birthday with us there. Our Disney days were some of the high points of 1994.

Right, this is France, remember, and so everyone is entitled to his or her flute of champagne. Her cousin Cedric is toasting Daphné. If you look carefully, you can see Alban’s flute balanced on the head of his little cousin Bertil!

As was Christmas. Our first Christmas together played out warmly and with very happy children

There was the usual juggling, making sure that all of the children had time with their other parent. Nick and Tom were at their mom’s apartment in Paris until Christmas Day, and Daphné and Alban were staying with their father in Paris after Christmas. So we had to open the presents during the window of opportunity, a couple of hours on Christmas morning, which we duly did. Everyone was happy!

All together for that key moment, opening the presents.

The children barely noticed anything out of the ordinary, as you can see in these photos and in others on the Christmas 1994 to 2001 page, in the Special Days category. It was Christmas!

The other annual diaries are here: 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009