This week it will be four whole months since we arrived in France. I haven’t decided if that’s a lot or a little. With lockdown making time far more stretchy than it usually is (has all of this only just started or have we in fact been doing this forever?) my senses are all out of whack.
However long it’s been, there’s something certain – it’s pretty different here. From the abundance of green just up the road, the sight of mountains in the distance and the space in my house, I am quite definitely not in London anymore.
Some of it is great. Having all of this space means I can spread out in my workplace. My daughter can get out most of her toys and it doesn’t have to impact on the entire house. If I’m feeling scratchy I don’t have to go far to be able to walk in some greenery with great views. There’s the good wine, the cheese, the infinite choices of yoghurt and the promise of paprika crisps. But, of course, it has its drawbacks.
There were some things I knew I’d miss. Friends and family, obviously. I had enough foresight to bring along my own teabags and Marmite, although I’m sad to say my supply of Cadbury’s chocolate and cheddar has run out. Last week I found a sliced loaf that was almost as good as back home for toast (yes, French people, I know you think it’s disgusting) and at the weekend we found a decent pizza place just up the road.
But there are other things that I really didn’t expect to have a hankering after. Here, in no particular order, is my list of the things I thought I really wouldn’t miss.
Not just the ones I actually like. There’s been a couple of occasions when I’ve walked around the village and felt spooked that no-one was there. Taking my daughter to the park and she’s the only one on the slide. Having been surrounded by people for so long, I feel like I’m in some apocalypse film rather than in a quiet place. There’s something about the constant hum of other people’s random conversation while you’re walking in the street or going on the bus. Which brings me to…
2. Public Transport
All the years I spent rattling along on the 259, you’d think I would be done with all that. But there was always something wonderful to me about London transport. It probably helped that I’d spent most of my life living elsewhere, so the idea that you only had to wait two or three minutes for a bus or a train was an unexpected delight.
The beep of the card reader, the swaying of the bus, the simple fact of being able to sit and just look out the window for the duration of your journey (it was also my rare alone time), it was great. Add that to the fact that you never had to have a designated driver on nights out (if I’m ever allowed to have those again) and I get all nostalgic for the glories of TFL.
Yes, I know that mountains and fields are pretty. Yes, I love seeing black kites flying overhead when I’m walking my daughter to school. But sometimes I just feel isolated. There’s something about knowing that there are all these other people living close to you that I just found comforting.
Not that I went and visited them that often, but it was also gratifying to know that, if I’d wanted to, I could have visited any amount of theatres, museums and art galleries. When I first moved to London I used to go and hang out on the South Bank and look at the skyline over the Thames and think how lucky I was to live there.
4. Ignoring Everyone
I’m fairly certain the locals think I’m rude. When I walk past someone, it doesn’t even occur to me that I should acknowledge their existence. This is another thing I found quite freeing in London. With so many people living there, you didn’t have to try and be nice to everyone. It was almost guaranteed you would never see them again in your life (I have never spontaneously bumped into someone I know there) so it didn’t matter.
Not that I liked to be rude, but I could just carry on reading my book/listening to my podcast/walking where I wanted to go/talking to a friend, without thinking about anyone else around me. Now I feel as though I am assailed by a chorus of ‘bonjour’ on the occasion that I do see people. I have to rattle around in my grammar cupboard to remember the ‘vous’ form of verbs if they make the horrendous step of actually talking to me. Sometimes I would just like to be left in my head, and not make polite small talk with people I know are very unlikely to become future friends.
Yes, I know this is weird. I think this might have something to do with the whole people/apocalypse thing. Of course I don’t miss the occasional drunk shouter at 3am, or the annoying presence of helicopters hovering over Tottenham, but sometimes it is just too damn quiet here.
I’m sure the pandemic doesn’t help (does it ever?). I spend so much of my time isolated these days, I want to feel as though there is actually someone else out there. A little bit more in the way of ambient noise would at least convince me I wasn’t a complete loner.
I suspect this post makes me sound like a grumpy city-dweller. Maybe I am, at heart. One day I will return to the lovely streets of London and ignore everyone and bask in its noisy chaos. For now, I will brush up on my smiles (at least they can only see my eyes) and cheeriest ‘bonjour’ to dole out to the locals, in case they do fancy making friends with one of the local foreigners.
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