It is ten and a half years ago since Martin and I changed our lives to leave our lovely part of the UK for a long term adventure in France. Three years later, once the worst of the rebuilding work was behind us, we dug out some less tatty clothes than our normal attire and we married here in the Mairie in the village. President Hollande’s slightly crinkled photo looked down off the wall at us and the kind elderly mayor stumbled over our names. Over his 40 plus years as mayor we may have been the first British couple he had joined into matrimony. Christian nudged Martin, whose French was minimal at that point, whenever he was required to give a response, and I tried not to giggle as Philippe’s phone played out a tinny version of the Wedding March. We celebrated with a jolly crowd of our new neighbours and friends in our very unfinished house decorated with bamboo branches to hide the electric cables hanging loosely down the unplastered walls.
And so I entered the Appel family and took on this surname to use for my life in France. However there is an unexpected problem. There is a French word ‘appel’ and using it as a surname is very uncommon in this part of France. There are several families around us who have surnames like “attic’ or “from the tomb”, and our baker’s surname is Rat. All these are considered perfectly normal round here, yet Appel, pronounced APP-PELL whether in the UK or France, is a show stopper. I have to repeat it, spell it out, spell it again, repeat it again, and still it comes back as apple.
I blame Apple computers, and the assumption from the French around us that as we are English then our surname has to be anglicized. Now I am told that in Dutch the word appel means apple, just to confuse the issue.
Coincidentally we have about 40 fruit and nut trees on our land here. The place needed a name so that we could use it to market our holiday cottages. After checking that the neighbours were OK with the idea we settled on the name Le Clos du Verger. It is a lovely name in French, evoking a country life and which roughly translates as a group of farm buildings in an orchard. Everybody agreed that it is a very appropriate name for this property.
At this point we had made no connection between our name and apples. Our graphic designer for our cards and letter heads and roadside sign was way ahead of us though.
So here we are, the Appel couple well entrenched in our Clos du Verger! It really wasn’t intentional. We didn’t even mean to move to France, but that is a story for another day.