why we left our perfect London life for a French dream


We phoned the real estate agent. We have WhatsApped. We sent an email. We kicked our ass. We went into overdrive to sell our house. We painted, declutter and cleaned. Bright young couples have crept up our stairs and into our closets. We found and lost a lot of buyers and then quickly found another pair. It was as if it was intended when we realized the young woman had the exact same unusual name as my husband’s sister. I got a good sign for a sign, and it looked like a sign – although potentially a sign that it would seriously mess up any kind of forwarding mail service. When they came after we had accepted their offer, they brought champagne. We drank this, then a few more. I don’t know who was more relieved or happy.

Packing up the house was horrible. It wasn’t hard work; we asked our moving company to take care of it. What was almost unbearable to me was the feeling that the house we had created was taken apart, dispassionately, wrapped and folded and placed in cardboard boxes, labeled, transported in a van. I had worked so hard to create a welcoming and beautiful place; our London home was like an extension of myself. Feeling how impermanent it was underscored how impermanent everything is. Nothing lasts. Everything is taken apart at the end.

I was bathed in sentimentality, I abandoned myself to it. We had a lot of last suppers organized by us and for us. I drove my husband crazy by checking the last walk in Clissold Park, the last trip to Columbia Road Flower Market, the last meal at our favorite restaurant. One day I was struck by the most horrible thought of who I was even though I was not a Londoner? It is the city that shaped me for 30 years, the city that I have always loved. Then I packed another box for the charity shop and reminded myself that I was not fleeing London, but to something else.

On the last day I walked through the house and kissed every doorframe and thanked the house for loving us (I told you I was sentimental). My best friend came over to soften it up, and when we got a parking ticket (goodbye, Hackney), she scolded the traffic manager so I didn’t have to. True love.

My biggest fear was how much I would miss our friends and family, even though once again the tough Covid school – besides giving me the courage to seize the moment – had shown me what it was like. possible to stay in touch with people, to nurture intimacy and friendships, without the physical presence of our best loved ones. I didn’t feel any less close to the people I cared about, or less involved in their lives, because I wasn’t in the same room with them.

So finally, at the end of September, it’s gone; two dogs, a cat, a roof box, a trailer and us, towards this new adventure that we had barely planned and that we hardly thought would happen until it came true. We traveled all over France in one grueling day because, to mistakenly quote When Harry Met Sally, when you realize you want to spend the rest of your life in a house, you want the rest of your life to start sooner. possible. We arrived just before midnight. I took the dogs for a walk along the harbor, the full moon reflected, like a mirror, in the calm water. As I walked back to the house, the bells of John the Baptist Church began to ring. Our first day. Our first day. Our first day.

That night we slept on an air mattress – our furniture didn’t arrive for a few weeks, to give us a chance to clean up decades of dust and cobwebs and sort out minor issues like water hot and electricity. I am not a fan of air mattresses. I am a person with threads and feather pillows. But camping outside seemed like fun, for a few days at least, until I realized that it wasn’t so much sleeping on an air mattress that was the challenge, but getting my carcass out of fifty. years of an air mattress without having to call an emergency chiropractor. So we went to Montpellier Ikea to buy a bed. We didn’t even have an argument. Was it the promise of our courageous new life manifesting itself?

A few weeks ago our furniture arrived in a huge double wagon which, when the driver reversed it on the tight bend in our narrow road, seemed almost as big as the village itself. We put sofas and tables, made beds, and put pots and pans on shelves. We unpacked the boxes. We always unpack the boxes. Our lives seem both faster and slower. There is so much to do every day that it is impossible to carry the weight. Bringing life to a house that has been more or less empty for a decade is a vast, sprawling, amorphous task. While in London it was hard to shake off the oppression of the to-do list, here we often skip school, walking to the corner bar for a coffee or drink, or having lunch. in one of the oyster huts by the water. Cutting the bamboo or washing the walls can wait. They will still be here tomorrow. Or the next day.