Sunday, February 11, 2018

Things I Wish I’d Learned Sooner

Zoë Sharp

As I write this I’m in France, in Barcelonnette in the French Alps, not far from Nice, doing research for parts of two books I hope to be working on later this year. I’m also finishing writing another while I’m here, which is the kind of multi-tasking I like best.

 We drove down from the UK via the Dover to Calais ferry and then the autoroutes through France, on notably smooth roads that were almost devoid of other traffic, stopping in Beaune in the Burgundy region for lunch, and then an overnight in Épernay in the heart of Champagne country. Do you think there’s a pattern forming here?

leaving Dover ...
... and arriving in - ah, you work it out.
I have visited Beaune before, for the launch of the French edition of one of fellow crime author R.M. Cartmel’s wine and crime trilogy, set in and around nearby Nuits-Saint-Georges. This time involved less wine and more driving.

the beautiful town of Beaune
The mountain roads are twisting and tortuous, but the number of Napoleonic fortifications in this area is quite breath-taking, as is the wildlife. Already I’ve seen deer and a wild boar, and the last visit included ibex and marmots. I’m still hoping for chamois.
the elusive chamois
The scenery in the nearby mountains is stunning, as is the skiing, although it has brought it home to me just how much worse my fitness levels are since the last time I attempted sliding down a steep snow and ice-covered mountain with two short planks strapped to my feet. My legs give out long before the rest of me is ready to quit, sadly.

It all makes me wish I’d learned to ski as a child. The sight of small-fry whizzing down the slopes at warp speed, leaning back, no fear, is quite remarkable. I learned as an adult, and although it’s a little like riding a bicycle in that the basic skills never quite leave you, I’m not exactly a polished and stylish skier. I can make my way down the runs of medium difficulty, but each successful descent always comes with a certain feeling of relief that I’ve made it in one piece.

That got me thinking about other things I might have wished to learn earlier in life, particularly relating to music. I learned to play the guitar, dabbling in classical, but although I can translate music, I can’t read it fluently. Is it too late to acquire that skill, I wonder?

And although I haven’t picked up a guitar in years, I wonder if it’s too late to start learning to play the piano?

Languages are another regret. The school I attended from the age of five did not teach children another tongue until at least the age of twelve, by which time I can’t help believing that your facility to learn a language is already waning. It would have been so wonderful to grow up bilingual in French, Spanish, Italian, or German. At present, I can mutter a few phrases in these languages, but as soon as someone responds at any speed, I’m slightly lost.

I learned to scuba dive before I could swim, which had the effect of making me a bit of a poor swimmer when I don’t have a wetsuit to aid buoyancy, and a pair of fins for added propulsion. It’s only recently, too, that I learned to dive as in to dive into the water off the side of a boat.

I’ve never been a mover and shaker on the dance floor, even as a teenager, but more recently I’ve really got the urge to learn to tango. Watching videos like the sublime trailer for Annamaria Alfieri’s BLOOD TANGO only enhances the yen. (And it’s nothing to do with ‘Strictly Come Dancing’, I hasten to add. I’ve never watched it.)

I’ve also never had much of a singing voice. I love to sing but other people would probably rather I did not. I don’t know if someone with little or no aptitude can even be taught to carry a tune without the aid of a bucket, but perhaps now is the time to try?

So, what would you have learned at an earlier age, if you knew then what you know now? What skills do you wish you’d acquired while your capacity for absorbing knowledge had that little bit more elasticity about it?

This week’s Words of the Week are flotsam and jetsam. Although often lumped together, they are very different in maritime law. Jetsam is stuff thrown or jettisoned from a ship in trouble in order to lighten the load. If you find it, it's yours. Flotsam, on the other hand, is cargo or wreckage that has floated from a ship as it sank, and is legally the property of the vessel's owner.


Coming up, I'll be speaking at the Kirk Ireton Women's Institute next week, February 14th at 7:30pm.

February 15th, I'm appearing at Adlington Library, Railway Road, Adlington, at 7pm.

And March 8th-10th I'll be teaching all about writing action and fight scenes at this year's Crime & Publishment at The Mill Forge in Gretna. PS: Oops, not until next year!


  1. With work commitments, the acting stuff and writing the odd novel, I decided I must get back to my painting. So last Sunday, three watercolour landscapes in twenty minutes. Is there such a thing as comedy painting? If not, I have just invented it..

    1. Hi Caro. These watercolours we have to see!

      I did a watercolour a few years ago (well, Dulux vinyl matt is water-based, isn't it?) of a stylised Christmas tree, which has been standing in for a real one ever since!

  2. With you on the swimming and tango. I am hoping it's not too late now. I was lucky enough to have languages and skiing as part of my upbringing, and I regret abandoning music. Piano - perhaps if it had been something more portable, who knows?

    1. Hi Marina. I envy you the languages, which I attempt even more clumsily than I do skiing. Let's make 2018 the year of the tango!

  3. Zoe, I love this question. I am in the “I wish I had kept up with it” stage of life. I wish I could still speak French as well as I did at age 22. I wish I could drive a manual shift car as well as I did at age 19. The thing I never learned that I would like to have done is ride a bicycle. I also wish I had a talent for playing or singing music and juggling. Three balls is as far as I ever progressed.

    1. Hey, next time you're in the UK, Annamaria, you can take my six-speed Merc out for a blast! You'll love it.

      I too wish I'd kept up French, and I learned to ride a bicycle when falling off didn't seem to hurt quite as much as it would do if I crashed now. I seem to remember as a small child hoping a cherry tree might get out of my way as I wobbled towards it. Needless to day, it did not. Can't juggle at all, so I'm in awe of your ability with three balls.

  4. Oh, and THANK YOU FOR THE PLUG OF BLOOD TANGO!! My daughter produced the trailer, and the man on the bench at the beginning of it is David. Two of the dancers are my curly-haired daughter in a flower print dress and her handsome husband .

    1. For some reason, I couldn't find the link to the trailer. Can you post the link? I remember watching it and being enthralled!

  5. I must say, Zoë, that remarkably you covered virtually all the subjects I, too, wish I'd learned sooner--with one significant omission that I shall prudently keep to myself.

    1. Oh, go on go on go on go on. You know you want to say what it is!

      Another one I forgot -- being able to whistle by putting two fingers in my mouth. Perhaps it's not to late to learn, though ...