The Saga of Starting Afresh in the Old Country

I’ve moaned about it whenever I had a fasciculi(?) of internet connection. I’ve gone all dark and dramatic, hinting at technological conspiracies and unfinished business involving trained assassins sent by the French tax authorities. I’ve suffered the slings and arrows of utility companies, local councils, applications for local schools and goods damaged in transit.

So yes, I think you might have gathered that I’ve moved between countries and that I’ve not gone quietly or elegantly.

The carnival of moving...
The carnival of moving…

After 12 international moves and having lived in 20-30 different houses or flats over the years (I’m not counting the places I have lived in for 2 months or less), I have the feeling I never want to move again. Nomadism is for young people, I tell myself. So much easier to do with a couple of suitcases (filled with books and shoes, naturally) than with children, furniture, kitchen ware and everything else.

I know other people’s house moves are deadly boring, but bear with me for one last whinge and I promise afterwards to turn forevermore to reading and other, more interesting and intellectual occupations.

Low points:

  • Leaving a very beautiful location before I was quite ready to let go
  • Moving to an older, more decrepit house which requires quite a bit of renovation (for which I don’t have the money). The first time I touched the kitchen drawer, the front came apart in my hands. Finding all sorts of little things wrong with the house after 3 sets of tenants in 5 years.
  • Not having phone or internet for 2 weeks or more – and realising that you can’t apply for or order things if you don’t have a phone number
  • Not being able to find the most important stuff, while finding pretty much all the useless stuff which you should have thrown out before moving
  • Not having enough UK plugs or adaptors. Remembering they are up in the loft somewhere but being unable to find them in the forest of boxes quietly crumbling away up there. Learning to live once more with unmixed taps.

unmixed

  • No storage space to unpack all the boxes and therefore no easy access to clothes and other items. (Those built-in wardrobes in France covered a multitude of sins).
  • The first time I plugged in my laptop in the UK, it died. Same thing with my tablet. I also had to get a new phone. So that meant no writing, reading, tweeting or administrating … because yes, I couldn’t remember my passwords and I had to log on from other people’s devices and I must have been driving everyone (including myself) crazy with finding quirky new ways to prove my identity.
  • Starting to look for permanent positions in my field and realising that I will be sacrificing either my time and soul or else money (and my children’s welfare) doing work I no longer quite believe in.
  • Being really tired all the time and anxious about losing track of something important

But it’s not all noir (despite my fondness for the dark side). There have been some highlights too:

  • Our friends in the local area are very excited to have us back and have made us feel very welcome. There are advantages to moving back to a familiar place rather than somewhere completely new.
  • We are close to London and I’ve already had a wonderful day there, watching ‘The Threepenny Opera’ at the National Theatre, and mooching around on the South Bank. After years of living in a rural backwater, you can’t help but be energised by London’s cultural life and metropolitan vibe (as long as you avoid rush hour, of course).

London

  • The countryside is close by if you do get tired of the city, and we are fortunate enough to live in quite a pretty area, reminiscent of The Wind in the Willows. Best of both worlds!
Finding Mr. Toad and his motor again at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley.
Finding Mr. Toad and his motor again at the River and Rowing Museum in Henley.
  • It’s so easy to set up services, complain about things and do all the administrative twaddle in English rather than French. I feel I actually know what I’m talking about!
  • Being reunited with old possessions (I am referring, of course, mainly to books, but also my elephant collection or my children’s early artworks and photographs).
  • Closer to publishers, literary events, English language bookshops and libraries. My children nearly fainted with excitement at seeing a whole library full of books in English, instead of just the 1-2 shelves they would see in the local libraries in France.

Still, for the time being, this is how I feel most evenings…

After her long road trip, our cat collapsed in her new home, in the conservatory.
After her long road trip, our cat collapsed in her new home, in the conservatory.

Poems to Celebrate New Beginnings

Here are a few quotes which describe my start in the New Year, courtesy of The Poetry Foundation, The Poetry Archive and my own bookshelves.

So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.    (Naomi Shihab Nye)
The problem
of time.          Of there not being
enough of it.
My girl came to the study
and said Help me;
I told her I had a time problem
which meant:
I would die for you but I don’t have ten minutes.
Hawking says
there are little folds in time
(actually he calls them wormholes)
but I say:
there’s a universe beyond
where they’re hammering the brass cut-outs .. .
Push us out in the boat and leave time here—
(because: where in the plan was it written,
You’ll be too busy to close parentheses,
the snapdragon’s bunchy mouth needs water,
even the caterpillar will hurry past you?   (Brenda Hillman)
How far is far?
And how many ways to get there?
We walk
and walk towards meaning
and don’t arrive    (Mahmoud Darwish)
The trees are coming into leaf,
like something almost being said. […]
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.   (Philip Larkin)

much against everyone’s advice

I have decided to live the life

I want to read about and write it

not by visiting the graves of authors    (Sam Riviere)