Adventures Before Dementia: Life in the Slow Lane


What happens to a committed clothes girl when she moves away from fashion’s fast lane? We’re back with Bebe in France to find out…

It’s hard to believe that it’s exactly a year since I swapped the frantic world of fashion and the grind of the daily commute for a slower pace of life. But after 40 years at the fashion-face, I was more than ready to stop and smell the coffee. Especially when that grande café creme is here in France.

Living life in the slow lane, means time is no longer measured by deadlines or the meetings in my diary but by the church clock chiming the hour, while the hectic hustle and bustle of working in Piccadilly has been replaced by the soothing ebb and flow of the river outside the kitchen window. I might miss the office camaraderie on occasion but I love the fact that I no longer have that familiar Sunday night dread that tomorrow is Monday and that was the weekend, gone. Life in the slow lane means Mondays are the new Saturdays.

Our new change of pace has been a steep learning curve. T.O.M. and I are natural urban-ites and other than London, our natural habitat has always been the grittier side of New York or Paris’s left bank, so landing up in a small provincial French town could have come as something of a culture shock. However we struck lucky because Montmorillon itself has a long literary history of writers and printing, and the medieval Old Town is liberally peppered with secondhand bookshops, each coming with their own roll-call of interesting characters.

But as a committed shopaholic of many years standing, one of the biggest adjustments I have had to make to life in the slow lane is the lack of any Bebe-style retail opportunities (not to mention having to get used to the way shops close on the dot of noon for a 2 hour lunch), there are no Zaras in this neck of the woods, unless I want to make the 40K journey into our nearest big city, Poitiers. The lack of shops does have a plus side. It means no Starbucks and no mobile phone shops blighting the landscape, as they do everywhere in the UK.

sue-slow-03The lack of meaningful shopping has been met in part by my local supermarche, Leclerq, where I can happily browse everything from homewares to supermarket fashion finds. Like their rainbow coloured striped Breton tees which at 4euros 50 have quickly become my must-have purchase. Not to mention their spotted espadrilles and a pair of metallic pink fake Doc Martens, ensuring I still have some sparkle in my life.

sue-slow-06I’ve also become an adept online-shopper – a necessity at Christmas when the kitchen resembled a mail-order depot there were so many packages arriving every day. Online retailing may deliver the goods but it will never deliver the thrill of browsing in person, and I DO miss that, especially in the kind of specialist niche shops featured in TWR on a regular basis.

Despite my years of breaking every rule in the fashion bible, life in Montmorillon’s slow lane has rendered much of my former fashionista’s wardrobe meaningless and the sequins and tutus have remained firmly behind the wardrobe door for the last 9 months, like an addict’s secret stash. Who knew I would finally become an unlikely convert to Uniqlo’s legging-jeans (4 pairs at the last tally). Did I mention the Ugg boots ? My saviours in a long cold winter. And forget sparkly cardies, these days I am more likely to be sporting a practical fleece hoodie. It may not be the hottest fashion look but thankfully, that legendary Gallic chic doesn’t seem to have travelled as far as our little town. In fact there is still a shop selling granny-style Winceyette nighties ……..

sue-slow-04However there’s more to life than shopping, and with a wardrobe already suffering a serious case of stuffication, I now have time to explore the region’s beautiful Romanesque churches, browse the weekly food markets and make friends with the local booksellers and the enterprising couple who have opened a small gallery pop-up in the Old Town.

I may on occasion miss the frenetic buzz of London, but I am slowly adjusting to our simpler way of life. And while my colleagues will be manically coordinating their festival-going and Glastonbury-appropriate outfits this summer, I’ll be busy getting inspired by the weird and wonderful costumes at our regional folk-dancing competition, or the floral decorated fishing rods and beating drums which herald the start of the open fishing season.

sue-slow-05My diary may be empty but I am finally starting to smell that coffee. And it’s smelling good. I may not have ventured out on my new Bobbin bike yet but when I do I’ll be thankful I won’t have to deal with double decker buses chasing my tail light. French chic and fashion trends may be hard to find in these parts, but I’ve rediscovered my sewing machine and have a stack of fabrics just waiting for a loving touch. But most importantly, I have time to enjoy things and if that sewing doesn’t get done today, well, there’s always tomorrow. Or the day after that.



  • Rebecca says:

    Looks wonderful Bebe! It sounds like you are having a great time. I love those baskets and fishing rods!

  • Emily says:

    Now everyone will want one of your hand crafted Rudy Dudie frocks Bebe! x

  • sue evans says:

    Taking orders !!

  • Monix says:

    This series has to stop! Whenever I read a post it makes me think that maybe, just maybe, there might be valuable life outside inner London.
    Seriously, whenever I give the slightest intimation that we may leave to spend the next period of our life ( isn’t that what we call ” retirement ” now?) outside the capital I get cries of anguish and derision- almost as though we are giving up on life itself. These beautifully written posts gives me hope that perhaps we should follow our instincts and just do it. Thank you Bebe.

  • sue evans says:

    Come on in Monix, the water is lovely !! Not to mention the wine ! And there are so many places in the UK where life is still full but you can live at a quieter pace but get to the metropolis should the mood take you.
    Follow your heart ! We did !

  • Janet says:

    As`a person who has had a holiday home in the Val du Mars in the Cantal, for several years, I know what you mean about French fashion not penetrating to la France profonde. Round here , fleece and jeans are the most usual garb, although things look up a bit in August, when relatives from Paris arrive and a fete is held. Other than that people dress for warmth and practicality, as most are farmers or married to one. The village in which our house is only has a population of about 80 people, there are no shops apart from travelling vans for bread, meat and vegetables. There is a small shop in a village nearby which only sells food, and the nearest town, Mauriac, (13 miles away) has 2 supermarkets which have very small selections of clothes. There are other shoe and dress shops as well – but the shop which sold wincyette nighties ( at a price) has closed this year…

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