Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Day Three.

I have moved to France, alone with my children, to live with my inlaws. My husband will follow in time, but for now he still lives in South London, fixing up the house that we thought we'd live in for a decade but which we actually outgrew emotionally within two years. Times are strange.

The girls and I flew to Languedoc on Saturday after 24 hours spend mostly crying about the impending move. I'd been so excited about getting out of fucking south London that I forgot I was leaving Nye behind for 18 days, that in nine years the longest we've been apart for was nine days and that the girls won't see him for a further week, having spending most of their waking hours with him for four and a half years. The reasons I had for thinking that this wouldn't be a big deal escape me right now. It's a big deal.

We are settling. It's now (...counts it out on my fingers...) Tuesday. We've done three days and three nights. The girls start l'ecole maternelle (nursery) tomorrow and although I have no idea what that will comprise of (because I still don't speak a damn word of French*) we are all excited and looking forward to this next, huge, milestone. We visited the nursery on Monday and it seemed very sweet, smaller and more structured that our nursery in London, which was what I think is described as 'child-led' (the French are not led by children.) There were tiny desks in rows and hand-writing exercises on the walls. I can't help but recoil at the shock my children will get when they realise that 'nursery' is not a standardised thing, that it will not be simply what they already know but with new children. But then again perhaps they won't recoil, I hear that children are more adaptable than adults, less thrown by things being different. Here's hoping.

Other things that are happening; I am being kept awake every night by a god damn frog that lives in the pond outside my bedroom door. It is raining in biblical proportions. I have no idea which of the six types of flour is the right one for making cakes. French toothpaste tastes funny. We have yet to catch a wild boar. And to learn the French for 'where is the lightsaber shop so we can buy one to kill the wild boar which we are going to catch and make into dinner because wild boar is just hairy pig and pigs make bacon, did you know?'

*not true. I can invite someone to dine with me and then tell them 'I'm sorry but it's not very comfortable for me like that.' The language course I've been using is clearly catering to a more sociable traveller than me.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Time is gonna take so much away.

Time is gonna take so much away
but there's a way that time can offer you a trade.
Time is gonna take so much away
but there's a way that time can offer you a trade.
You gotta do something that you can get nicer at.
You gotta do something that you can get wiser at.
You better do something that you can get better at
'cause that's the only thing that time will leave you with.
'Cause time is gonna take so much away
but there's a way that time can offer you a trade. 

It might be cabaret.
it could be poetry.
It might be trying to make a new happy family.
It could be violin repair or chemistry.
But if it's something that takes a lot of time that's good.
'Cause time is gonna take so much away
but there's a way that time can offer you a trade.
Because your looks are gonna leave you.
And your cities gonna change too.
And your shoes are gonna wear through.
Yeah, time is gonna take so much away
but there's a way that you can offer time a trade. 

You gotta do something that you can get smarter at.
You gotta do something that you might just be a starter at.
You better do something that you can get better at.
'Cause that's the thing that time will leave you with.
And maybe that's why they call a trade a trade,
like when they say that you should go and learn a trade.
The thing you do don't have to be to learn a trade
just get something back from time for all it takes away. 

It could be many things.
It could be anything.
It could be expertise in Middle-Eastern travelling.
Something to slowly sure to balance life's unravelling. 
You have no choice you have to pay times price,
but you can use the price to buy you something nice.
Something you can only buy with lots of time
so when you're old, which you will, some whippersnapper's mind. 

It might be researching a book that takes you seven years.
A book that helps to make the path we take to freedom clear.
and when you're done you see it started with a good idea.
One good idea could cost you thousands of your days,
but it's just time you'd be spending anyways.
You have no choice, you have to pay times price
but you can use the price to buy you something nice. 

So I've decided recently,
too try to trade more decently. 

Thursday, March 05, 2015


Things are getting real around here and we're getting so close to being able to blow this joint. The girls and I are flying out to France together in two weeks, TWO WEEKS. I am going to stay there with them for three weeks and then fly back to London to shoot a wedding with Nye, who will (who will) by that point have finished redecorating the house and putting in a new bathroom and finding a tenant and cancelling our contracts with various service providers - which I have no doubt will take up at least two of those three weeks. After we've done the wedding we will drive back together, our car laden with the crap that we just can't live without. 

While we're in France I will get getting drunk the girls settled into pre-school where we have a meeting with the head teacher a couple of days after we arrive. Pre-school (l'├ęcole maternelle) is provided four and a half days a week from 8.45-3.45, totally, completely free of charge. FREE. When I say I love France I'm not - 
 like 98% of bloggers who 'looooooooove France' - talking about cheese, wine with lunch and girls in striped shirts and messy up-dos on bicycles, I'm talking about this; social provision, for everyone. (I do also like wine and cheese, it has to be said.)

The village is small and there are fifteen kids at l'├ęcole maternelle, W&P will make seventeen. Twelve of those fifteen kids are boys which pretty much guarantees that at least one of our girls will love it immediately. The pre-school is attached to the primary school which, as part of its learning garden, has it's own row of vines. It's important in France that children now how to grow grapes from the age of five.

It's the thought of this, of taking the girls down the hill to school and then spending the day in the peace of the mountains and the forest, that is getting me through this hell of packing and donating and jettisoning what we own. We're taking with us what we can fit in the car (plus the three suitcases W&P and I will drag across London to the airport). We're leaving about ten boxes of books and toys in the attic, selling or donating all of our furniture and creating an epic pile of landfill with the shit that is of no use to anyone. Aside from one epic meltdown from Puke when she realised that we were donating all of the clothes that she had outgrown ('I WANT TO KEEP EVERYSHING FOR EVER AND EVER.') it has been a fairly peaceful process. 

Nye and I worked through our hoarding tendencies a few house-moves ago and are now more or less on the same page about what we get to keep and what goes. More importantly than being on the same page though, we are more or less capable of turning a blind eye to each other's weaknesses (his; speakers, cables, bits of bike, mine; books, art supplies, 'sentimental things'.) His mutterings that if it weren't for me and the girls there would be no clutter in his life and that he would live in an empty room with just a stereo and a bicycle (doesn't that sound pleasant?) have decreased in frequency and my ability to respond with hysterical laughter and a knowing eye roll instead of screaming YOU'RE SO FULL OF SHIT before making an itemised list of every single piece of crap that he owns and pointing out how much bigger his crap is than mine, has blessedly strengthened. Dudes, we have grown

Friday, February 13, 2015

Country of Solid Worth

A Map of the Open Country of a Womans' Heart, c. 1833–1842 Source: http://visualoop.com

(Alternatively Titled: Things I Might Want To Do Or Be When I Grow Up.)

When I in school I wanted to be either a lawyer or an artist. A lawyer because I was clever and I liked using that to prove that other people were not, or an artist because art made me happy. I chose art. I only regret that decision maybe two days a week. It's not that I wish I was a lawyer exactly, but it would be nice to have a salary, and for the part of my brain that was once clever to still work. And to have a salary.

So, Be An Artist; that was my dream. I didn't get very far with that, there's nothing like art school to kill your dreams, and your tolerance for artists. I left art school a year early; sad and angry and betrayed by the neglectful - borderline abusive - tutors I had been trusted to and completely, utterly unemployable. Someone asked us to photograph their wedding so we did that and it turned out that a) we were good at it, b) it was quite fun and c) people would PAY us! We were sold.

Eight years in and we've had enough though, the moments of fun are outweighed by the pressure, the responsibility, the logistics, the desk work, the back ache and the speeches. We've known since the beginning that it wasn't going to be our forever careers and we've been having the exact same conversation for as long as I can remember;

'I don't want to be a wedding photographer forever.'

'Me neither. What else could we do?'

Nothing has changed except that we can't, just can't, keep doing it. I've spent a lot of the last 6 months wailing at Nye 'But I don't know what I want to do, I don't have a dream.' Every time I say it I hear Ross from Friends; 'Ahhh, the lesser-known 'I don't have a dream' speech' (I keep this to myself, chuckling inwardly as the husband does not appreciate Friends references. I know, the things I suffer in my marriage.)

There still isn't a next plan. There are lots of things that I sometimes think I would like to do/be and I've been keeping a list. Let's imagine for a minute that any of these is even slightly possible, that education in England doesn't cost £9000 a year (NINE THOUSAND FUCKING POUNDS. Yes, yes, yes, I know that in America it costs like, Fifty thousand, but your country is absurd.) and that I have the time / energy / mental capacity to retrain as anything; these are The Things I Would Maybe Like To Be or Do (in no particular order);

Forensic Science. I have watched nine seasons of Bones and it looks fun. When I watch Bones I can think of nothing but splatter patterns and decomposition rates and bone markers and how much I really want to learn about that. Also, having watched nine seasons of Bones, I'm surely at least half qualified now.

Teaching. I have flirted with the idea of teacher training for years, initially because teaching is a qualification that I could use anywhere we decided to live and then gradually because I actually liked the idea of teaching. The thing is I hate noise, crowds and parents so I would need to teach only quiet kids and have nothing to do with the people who spawned them. Which I'm sure is an option they offer you when you're looking for placements.

Writing. I love to write, which you might have noticed and after doing a really excellent writing class at City University last year I even feel a little bit like I could do it in a more focused way, if only I knew what I would like to write about. That only takes me so far though, as far as a way to spend all my time but not a way to make an actual pay-for-food-and-raise-my-family living. No one makes money from writing. Even real, published, experienced writers with actual books have to get other jobs, like serving coffee or turning tricks.

Publishing. in lieu of being able to write my own work I would enjoy correcting other people's mistakes and I believe that books will save the world. Unfortunately I hear print is dying. Also it's a fairly London-centric industry and I think you need to start out with a) a degree in English and b) a willingness to work 50 hours a week without pay. I have neither of those things.

B&B Proprietor in the South of France. Basically I want to own this place, to drink wine and eat cheese and grow food and probably learn to speak French at some point and send my kids to school in a country that still values state education and healthcare for all. (I know France is no utopia, you don't need to tell me that, but it's not England. And it's warmer that Scotland. Which is currently being fucked by England. So there you go.)

Counselling. Friends of mine work in counselling and psychotherapy and they are full of interesting thoughts and conversations and opinions. Their training sounds like training I would like to have, the studying like study I would thoroughly enjoy. I've been to therapy, I've seen a couple of counsellors and it's no exaggeration to say that they changed my life. I'd like to do that for people. Sadly, I can only talk/listen to people talk for an hour a day before I start biting the inside of my face to stop me from closing my eyes and rocking back and forward with my fingers in my ears. That could be a problem.

Zoologist. I was standing in a bus queue a few weeks ago when the man waiting next to me admired my purse (leopard print) and my scarf (leopard print) and my tights (leopard print). He told me that he was a zoologist based in Paris who works with South African wildlife reserves finding ways for the wildlife and the local people to live harmoniously together. His wife was a wildlife photographer (also fond of leopard print although I'm sure she approached it in a more restrained fashion, most grown up people do.) Anyway, we were just standing chatting about life, leopards and the ridiculously small print on the Oxford bus timetable when I felt a lump rising in my throat and my eyes burning, envy and a sense of pointlessness washed over me, that is what I want to do, I thought, I want to work with animals and the environment and cuddle baby leopards.

Rare Breeds Farmer. I like animals (see above), both looking after them and more recently, eating them. Raising them myself seems like the best way to make me feel less bad about eating them. Also they don't talk. I do hear that farming is quite hard work though. And that land is expensive. And I find mud to be a bit of a drag.

Micro-distiller. This is one that Nye and I have talked about quite seriously, to the point where he has researched stills and the laws preventing us from having one. We have talked a lot about moving to an island where the only things that grow are sheep (see above), potatoes and insanity. There's no money to be made in sheep or potatoes (possibly in insanity, if I pursued that counselling qualification first) but there is money to be made in single estate British potato vodka... Sadly the rules in the UK to make it very tough to set up a micro distillery, not impossible but rather a ball-ache. I also worry about the state of our livers and general ability to function if we had liquor quite literally on tap. 

Artisanal Toy Maker. Plan; move to island, (see above) buy sheep, name sheep, shear sheep, spin fleece into wool, knit toys, label them with their sheep's name and photo, price at £100 each, sell them to Londoners as Single Estate Island Teddies, live in perpetual state of shame at calling myself an 'artisanal' anything, repeat. 

Photographer. I wanted to be a photographer from the second week of art school, when I used the dark room for the first time and from that rancid smelling liquid a fleeting moment I had thought interesting the week before appeared in a mixture of magic and alchemy and the teaching assistant told me I had 'an eye'. The problem is I don't know how to make a living from it, I don't have any experience and I'm not very good. Joke! I do! I have! I am! The real problem is that I'm burned out. That I've been making a living from it for 8 years and I'm exhausted. I don't want to keep photographing weddings (which I'll write about one day) but I don't have the energy to try and break into other areas. I am a tired photographer.

So there you have it; my career plans. Thank god our plan for the immediate future is to eat, sleep and milk Nye's parents for both childcare and accommodation because our longer term ideas are, um, questionable to say the least. I am living in a state of faith at the moment, faith that our immediate plan won't drive us crazy and that our longer term plan will become clear, and that that longer term plan is not deeply unrealistic, unaffordable and unsustainable. Living in a state of faith isn't a bad place to be.  

Monday, February 09, 2015

Miniature prints, a clearance sale.

Remember these? If you've been hanging around here a while, and it seems that a lot of you have been, then you might remember my etsy phase. I gave up on it because it was a total pain in the tits but while we've been clearing the house and packing up I found a box of these sets of miniatures under the bed. These particular boxes have been on a hell of a journey, to Los Alamos and back but it's a long story and I'm not entirely solid on the details. I have twelve of them left and rather than throw them in the increasingly large pile of crap in front of the house I thought I'd relist them on etsy.

They're marked at $25 from their time in the store in California but I'm listing them at $18. Which actually makes them pretty much the the same price to me, in pounds; something crazy about exchange rates and the global economy that I don't quite understand. 

Anyway, here they are, for a couple of months only: Peonies and Polaroids Miniature Print Boxes. 

Thursday, January 29, 2015

A Storm Cloud in My Backpack.

boys gutting fish in Essaouira surrounded by birds

The day that I turned twenty we had been in Morocco for almost a month.

After three weeks in frenzy of Marrakesh we had taken a bus to the coast and were staying in the most uncomfortable, most revolting self-catering apartment that we could ever have imagined. We acquired it through a Helpful English Stranger (wheeler and dealer) who lived in the town and whom we'd met in the queue in the pastry shop. We were tired of hostels, of sharing a bathroom with eleven other people and a cockroach, and we were desperate to cook our own meal after three weeks of eating bread and oranges (a diet which, incidentally, almost entirely removes the need to use the shared toilets). We paid a week's rent upfront and heaved our backpacks onto our skinny shoulders. We moved in and I feel asleep instantly on the misshapen shape, draped with a polyester faux fur blanket emblazoned with a lion's head surrounded by leopard print, the kind of which is inexplicably popular in Morocco. Nye bought a bottle of bleach and started scrubbing, desperate to rid the bathroom of the smell of fermenting human waste, a smell so strong that it was impossible to go into the room without gagging and which insisted that we block the crack under the bathroom door with towels in an attempt to stop it escaping into the rest of the apartment. It didn't work.

Looking back it's easy to wonder why on earth we stayed, why we gave our meagre resources to sleep in this stinking pit where no, we didn't have to share the bathroom but where we couldn't actually use the bathroom without tying a wet cloth over our faces. It certainly wasn't the 'cooking facilities' which were a plastic washing up bowl and a gas camping stove which leaked so badly we had to take it onto the roof to use. It was actually just a simple combination of youth and exhaustion. We were young, broke and Having an Adventure, therefore fairly willing to endure squalor (and oh the squalor) but more crucially, we were exhausted. Broken. I was wrung out, I was anxious, I was suffering with chronic fatigue and increasingly relentless abdominal pain. During the week of my period I collapsed to the ground all over Marrakesh, needing help to stumble to a quiet alley and then on to our hostel and bed. It was a small mercy that the painkillers available over the counter were twice as strong as at home. A black cloud had attached itself to me a few months before and while I had tried to shake it off, it was getting darker and more ominous. I cried a lot in Morocco. I fought with Nye and I spent a lot of time in bed, not sleeping. When I did sleep I was rocked by nightmares that I can still see now, as clearly as if I had them last night. I was 19 and I was trying so hard to have an adventure, to Travel.

I'd been saving money all summer, working to fund a solo round the world gap year that I had become too ill to go on. Morocco, until our money ran out, was what it had boiled down to. It was before cheap flights to North Africa were a thing so we had flown to Malaga in Spain, stayed in a creepy hotel opposite a sex shop and then got the bus to Algeciras on the south coast. I thought Algeciras was the saddest, most depressing place in the whole world, but that was before we had made it to Casablanca, a city that tore right into my soul. A town of shipping containers and desperation, Algeciras is Spain's gateway into Europe, its defences against Africa and those who would flee it. We boarded a ferry from which a number of passengers had been removed in handcuffs and crossed the straights of Gibraltar, churning past that weird, unlikely rock beloved of sea birds and tax dodgers. We lurched into Africa at sunset, the lights of Tangier twinkling in the fading orange and navy sky and the smell of hot dust drifting out into the sea. It was magic. It took us two days to get to Morocco and another twelve hours by train to reach Marrakesh. And when we got there it was another world, we had Travelled. And despite my pain and the storm cloud I was lugging around in my backpack it was the most wonderful, the most beautiful adventure.

I turned twenty in the coastal town of Essaouira. I opened the small gifts that had been wrestling with my cloud for space in my backpack on a rooftop overlooking the maze of streets. I ate a lunch of two pence breads stuffed with canned sardines sitting on an ancient seawall, watching the fishing boats come and go and tiny Moroccan children play in the square. We went out for dinner to an actual vegetarian restaurant, an establishment where the vegetable tagine didn't come with a chicken foot or a goat knuckle lurking beneath the squash, and we walked back to our vile apartment through the winding, cobbled streets that whistled with sea air. Those are my three memories of my 20th birthday; the rooftop, the seawall, the restaurant. The next day we left the apartment, a few days before the week we had paid for was up. Nye engaged in a fight with the owner, a puffed up business man in a shiny suit, and attempted to get the rest of our money back. I don't remember if he managed it or not.

We moved a few streets away, to the prettiest hotel that £3 a night can buy, where we were woken in the mornings by the sounds of the orange juice carts rattling down the street and the squawking of seagulls over the town's ancient fortress walls. When Nye went out for bread that day he bumped into the English guy who had brought us to that horrible apartment. He asked how we were getting on and when Nye told him that we had left the apartment early his friend laughed; “I can't believe you took them there,” he said, “that place is a shit hole.” The Englishman had the decency to look embarrassed. He offered to find us somewhere else but we were done with the help of charming strangers. Besides, we were planning to leave Essaouria and travel further down the coast over the next day or two. We'd had a tip from a surfer who worked in the chessboard shop and were planning to head to a village on the sea, one that had been forgotten by both electricity and plumbing and relied on generators and the water lorry that came to fill up the tanks every couple of days. Two days later Nye helped me to lift my backpack onto my shoulders, to settle its weight there on my back where I would carry it with me, 150km down the coast.

That is where I began my twenties, carrying my weight with me on my back. Now, almost exactly ten years later, my weight is spread all around, the dark cloud that I carried so close then has drifted off and is but a tiny smudge on the horizon. I turn thirty tomorrow, something that I've been looking forward to for the longest time. I'm ready to shed my twenties, to say that this decade of struggling, of striving, of being broken down and built back up over and over and over again is done. I know that it's arbitrary, that life on Saturday won't tangibly be any different from life on Thursday and yet when did I care about the tangible? Hardly ever, that's when.  

boys gutting fish in Essaouira surrounded by birds

Photos of young boys gutting fish,  Essaouira, Morocco. Taken in 2004, on a Pentax K1000, with Ilford film.