Clearly I’m not in the mood, this year, to write a dull old tale in chronological order. I’ve plunged here and I’ve plunged there and I’m blaming my summer bump on the head for an inconsistent rush of odd memories I’ve had a sudden urge to document.
My current subject here on Jumping Off Books is our somewhat haphazard life plan, or lack thereoff, to live somewhere lovely (lovely = warm with beach…) that’s not as far from our ageing relatives as our beloved New Zealand.
But I feel the need for a recap. I mean, how did we end up here, up in the French Alps? We have more sun, to be sure, but sea? Hmmmm.
Run Away to Paris
I always wanted to live overseas. Anywhere really. Once in a while my parents (who are English but met in Africa) would mutter hints about overseas opportunities. As I recall it my sister and I would utter approving ‘yes’-es, but somehow we stayed put in jolly old England.
Then as a teen, when French started to seem like it might possibly be within my grasp, and family life wasn’t so hot, the idea of running away to Paris and re-inventing myself appealed. But I never really had the guts to do it. I guess things can’t have been so bad after all!
In my pre-Uni gap year I travelled with a friend, mostly in France. I was better at French than I thought. And pretty good at travelling, for a novice, I reckoned. Nonetheless I was 27 years old before I left my home country for a proper trip. I ran, solo, from my then life to Thailand, Australia, New Zealand, USA west, Italy. It was the best year ever. My solitude was rarely an issue – I loved living life to my own beat. A year later, heading back to the UK, I was stuck with a need to live in New Zealand – I’d left a little bit of my heart in the bush there somewhere.
Long story short:
Met a guy late 1999 in London.
Things got serious-ish and I told him I was moving to NZ.
After some months of misunderstanding, he grasped that I was moving to NZ, not just ‘somewhere else on the planet’. Turned out he had a sister there. Turned out that though he was English he didn’t really grow up in the UK and wasn’t keen on the place. He went to NZ for a couple of weeks and liked it.
2002, having quit our careers and sold my London flat we moved to NZ.
We bought a house on the sometimes-soggy river flats outside a rural town north of Auckland (which didn’t look like Milford Sound, pictured above). We did odd jobs and enjoyed life. Husb worked his way into professional photography. After a spell of city temping I used my Home Economics ‘O’ level (!!) and worked in a local café (loved it), put my English ‘A’ Level and accumulated-over-the-years writing skills to work and did some freelance writing, and my years of acting training and Drama/Theatre Studies degree into action and did some odd bits of TV acting (fun).
Then husb invented a photography thing in our garage, we agreed it needed to be commercialised, started a business and became entrepreneurs. In the middle of all that we got pregnant and I had our first child about the same time as we launched our first product. Stressful. Exciting.
By 2011 we had two children, a business, and a marriage in tatters. (Husb overseas for up to 1/3 of the year and me holding it together solo in the countryside with babies wasn’t working so well…)
We sold our house, moved into a rented home in the city, worked on ourselves, our marriage and on a move back to the UK.
Just Don’t Talk About It
The husb made it clear that he thought we should go back the UK (that country he said he hated… but you can’t choose where your family live) he equally felt very strongly that he wouldn’t stay there, suggesting we move to Barcelona in a year or two. I said ‘maybe’ but banned talking about it for a spell, wanting to feel it was worth making friends and give myself a chance to feel settled in the UK. And maybe save our marriage. But the weather took me by surprise – was England always so dark? So wet? So cold? So generally miserable? We’d moved to the town of my birth, Bristol, and I loved it. But the weather… the cold… the damp… the mould…
… the autumn, my running club and drama group, friends, a great school, family closer by. For me there was lots that was positive about being back in England. But the damp, dark, expensive rental homes not so much. And somehow I couldn’t feel inspired to invest in overpriced British property either. And every time we drove to France the roads were so empty and we were reminded what it’s like to live somewhere less BUSY. And when the sun came out, once in a while, we also remembered what it was like to be warm.
I did, and do love, English autumn…
A year or two into our UK stay, marriage dragged from the brink, Barcelona started to slip into our conversations.
One day I suggested it was time I actually went there, since we were talking about moving to the place! Went for a few days, liked it. Agreed.
After a few happy years in a slightly dark basement flat, but which enjoyed a lovely location and all of the property’s garden, the owners decided to sell, and we had to move. Long story short, it took about three months and a whole lotta stress to find a new place to live. A year later we were given notice to move out of UK house number two. It was early December and we were told we had to move out of that house in the new year.
After the stress of finding this house I’d declared one day that I wasn’t prepared to go through it again, “If we got chucked out of this place, I think I’d just pull the girls from school and go straight to Barcelona,” I’d said.
Now I lay in bed and thought about that. I realised I pretty much meant it.
Where Can We Go?
I thought about New Zealand. Too far from family still. Too expensive to move there without considerable thought. No time.
I thought about my husband’s late father’s house in Italy. Not ours. On the market. Pretty remote. Questionable wi-fi – and we did need to work, for which we would need decent internet.
I thought about the little studio flat we’d bought with inheritance money the year before. It was high in the French Alps in a ski resort. It was rather little, to say the least. But it was somewhere we knew. It was our family holiday home. It was ours in total… I felt a little seed sprouting within me. It was a seed a travelling acquaintance had sown when she said to me one day ‘now that we’ve spent a year in England, I’m wondering whether to go home to Spain, or spend a year in France now.’ As I fell asleep, the seed grew.
And all that remained was to suggest it in the morning…