Swimming the Channel is without doubt one of the greatest challenges on the planet both mentally and physically. But you learn that very ordinary people can allow themselves to have the most incredible and unbelievable dreams and make them come true. Nothing great is easy, but very often it is possible. It is achievable and sport is a wonderful passport to friendships.
I have lots of fond memories of France, which started with my parents bringing me to Paris for my 10th birthday. I remember being stunned by the beauty of the country. We came back every summer after that: fantastic memories of baguettes, pain au chocolat and sunny, sandy beaches!
I moved here just before the 2012 elections with my French boyfriend (now husband). We were at Solférino for the announcement of Hollande's win - I watched in amazement like an outsider looking in from the sidelines. 5 years, one wedding, 3 house moves, two children and another general election later, I feel like part of the gang!
I still don't understand why they drink tea with milk, but British are always happy to live life! Don't be afraid to meet all your team at 5pm in a pub.
To be given the opportunity to move to the south of France and to work within an incredible ITER project in the field of fusion science was a dream come true for a young researcher like me . Living in Aix-en-Provence has been really exciting, and the fact that a cemetery from the 15-17th centuries was recently discovered outside my apartment, turning it into an archaeological site, is something that I am sure I will never forget.
In the early 80s, after I started work, I visited a friend in Paris for a week. Every day I took the bus along a beautiful tree-lined avenue with buildings built from stone. I imagined what it would be like to live there, never thinking it would ever be possible. Today, I live on that same avenue!
This is the third time I have moved back to Paris now. I may say it in jest to friends and family, but Paris seems to draw me back each time I leave. You can have days where everything seems grey, gloomy and you yourself play the role of a grumpy parisian, you "râle" it's raining, you're late, people are in your way, the metro is busy....but then you catch a little glimpse of Sacre Cœur in the distance, you turn a corner, forgetting you're near the Eiffel Tower and then get goosebumps when you see her.
I moved to London for the amazing energy the city has. You can feel it at every moment - the city literally resonates.
My most memorable experience in France has to be a 1000-mile road trip my wife (then girlfriend) and I took after we graduated. We surfed, camped and ate our way around Brittany, driving a 40-year old British Reliant Scimitar that could not have been less suitable. The heating permanently on, the car would only do 50mph on the autoroutes and we spent half our budget on fuel. But it was definitely worth it because everywhere we went, the French were eager to speak to us crazy Brits in our ridiculous car.
Being a Brit in France one has the best of both worlds. My children, having been born here, love living in the French countryside and then hopping on the Eurostar to visit family back in London. Having gone through the excellent French schooling system up to the Bac, they will study at University in the U.K. Now that really is the best of both worlds.
It is my late father's experience that stays with me most. He was in hospital with a French man (Pierre). Neither of them spoke each other’s language but somehow they got along wonderfully and had a lot of laughs using a dictionary. When they both left the hospital they met every week and became very close. Pierre would bring gifts for my mum and when he became so ill that he couldn't leave his house he used catalogues to continue to send presents for us all. My father went to see him every week until Pierre passed away. Language and nationality separated them, but could not keep them apart.
I moved to London after I graduated. I was then petrified to have to look for a job and start the 'serious', 'boring' part of my life. London provided the adventure playground I was looking for. A incredible, vibrant, tolerant, creative city. I initially set-off for two months with the aim to brush up on my English, and 20 years later, still haven't made it back.
I moved because I fell in love with France, in the way that I'm in love with my home country of Wales. I moved because I couldn't stand a life that wouldn't be straddled between the two. Because when I travel across the Channel, either way, I'm going home.
When I left the UK at the age of 30, I could arguably have gone to the USA, Italy or the Middle East but chose Paris. I found myself on the steepest of learning curves but managed to survive, a feat of which I am proud. Integrating into a foreign culture is a process of self discovery. As for me, I have my Parisian wife, 4 children, my law practice, good friends and I am a truly settled. But I do admittedly miss great and inimitable English telly.
Coming out of the Pont de Neuilly metro station in 1992 when I first moved here and realising that I was in a city of 10 million people and I knew no-one and that I was going to have to do something about it.
Before I moved here I was incredibly nervous... I thought everyone would be proud and unhelpful. I couldn't have been more wrong. All the local people I've met have been kind and patient with me, coaching my terrible French. I realised I was basing my worries on stereotypes. I've made some wonderful friends – it doesn’t matter that some conversations are still basic...all you need is to share a laugh and a smile.
My best memory in France was my first-ever invitation from a friend to his family's country house. It was the first time I spent a weekend away with just French people. And no phone signal – instead we just ate, drank, laughed, talked, played games - and had a great time.
One of my best memories of my life in France is when, a few years ago, I was at dinner with some French friends. Half way through, I realised that I was no longer translating from French to English in my head. It dawned on me that I was thinking in French – it was the most incredible moment! I wanted to cry I was so happy! It felt like one door had closed and a hundred more had opened. It just clicked, then and there and I felt as though I was finally becoming a true Parisienne.
My most influential experience about UK is music I have discovered, very young; with David Bowie for example and many others: this has guided me in my life and given me happiness, creativity and freedom, not to mention historical and artistic events – the UK is a kind of lighthouse!
There is a huge emphasis on work/ life balance in France and the family is always priority, which appealed to us both. Oh and the food - did I mention the food?
It’s hard to look past the big moments that have moved the country. I arrived a few months before Hollande’s victory and I was there at Place de la Bastille that night. The optimism and exuberance was incredible! I was also here for the march after the Hebdo attacks. The solemn defiance of that day was awe-inspiring. It showed me that the French spirit of unity and freedom is as strong now as it’s ever been.
I’ve spent delightful springtime weeks exploring the rugged coast of Brittany, the rolling colza fields north of Paris, the Pyrenean mountainsides and the vineyards of Bordeaux, which is where I now live. Perched on the saddle of a bicycle is arguably the best way to visit France and to enjoy not only its wide open spaces, but also the countless small towns and villages that have managed to retain their own timeless heart and soul.
The French love the Brits: they enjoy our culture, our Queen, our humour - and even sometimes, our food!
I've learned that the French do have some misconceptions, especially about English food - but after they've tasted my cooking and baking, they soon change their minds.
When I started French lessons at the age of 11 in secondary school I was totally and utterly clueless. My parents were so desperate to help me scrape through my French O-level that they sent me on a French exchange. My French correspondent, Sophie, lived near Angers and we got on really well. Everything about France was so different and exotic - from the sign posts to the TV ads, from the pillow on the bed to the "carottes rapées" on my plate, from the socks people wore to the Orangina they drank. Needless to say, my French improved dramatically. As a result I got an “A” in my French O-level, continued to a degree in French, and ended up marrying a Frenchman and living in France - something my 11 year old self could never have imagined, and all thanks to that exchange.