Sunday, 26 September 2010

above and below the clouds.


I KNOW. I know.

I said I would write to record these times. But I haven’t yet. Simply because I have been far, far too scared. Any attempt at writing would have almost certainly manifested itself in a gibbering rant of things I am scared of. Which is practically everything. Even getting here was scary:

I discovered, as the plane hurtled down the runway towards Lyon, that I was definitely and unavoidably scared of flying. So, I spent the first half of the flight clinging to my seat and mentally willing the plane to stay in the air, as I was sure it wouldn’t. My main problem was that once I had grown accustomed to the shrinking countryside below me ‘pretend its normal, pretend its normal’ we hit the clouds. I could not deal with that. My head just kept repeating, ‘we should not be next to clouds, we should not be next to clouds’. Then, ‘we should not be IN THE CLOUDS, definitely not IN THEM.’ Then finally, ‘OH GOD, NOT ABOVE THE CLOUDS. AT NO POINT SHOULD I BE ABOVE CLOUDS.’

At this point however, they handed out croissants and coffee, which at least distracted me from the temporary absence of ground. Supplementing my free food and drink (AND SWEETS) with music made me suddenly feel like king of all I surveyed. Here was the beginning of ‘the new life’; treated like a nobility, soaring above the ground and with a hotel booking on the other side.

The rest of the day passed in the same on-top-of-the-world kind of way: I booked into my hotel, using French I’d only practised three hundred times in my head ‘Bonjour, j’ai un réservation sou le nom de Ready…’ And proceeded to strip down to my boxers, lay on my bed, and watch French cops. YES. Then, I called my friend Chloe and made plans to meet in Lyon later – I had a few hours to kill, so I asked a couple of people, and explored the city in a straight line so as not to get lost.

The afternoon soon passed and I quickly found myself in a French apartment, sipping red wine, whilst surveying the dark street below me. This paired with a glass of cassis, catching up with Chloe (in French bien sur) in a bar in town left me with a good impression of the Lyonnais life.

I felt sure that my luck had to break soon. As I joined the early morning queue in Lyon station the next morning, I felt it might be then. I had woken up at 6:30am, giving myself plenty of time, but had squandered most of my time leisurely breakfasting in the hotel. My luck held though, and I eventually bought a ticket for GAP (EEE!) with the nice lady reassuring me I’d have no problem.

The train to Grenoble struck me as almost identical to my interail summer- on the way to a strange place, with only my bag and my passport to my name. At Grenoble though, my luck did break, and I was faced with something far worse than anything we’d encountered on the Europe trip:

Me: ‘is the Chamberly train going to Gap?’
Man-in-box: ‘non’
Me: ‘which train is going to Gap?’
Man-in-box: ‘it has been cancelled’
Me: ‘Oh! Well, when is the next one?’
Man-in-box: ‘18h15 ce soir’
Me: ‘WHAT?’
Man-in-box: ‘18h15 ce soir’
Me: ‘WHAT?’
etc. etc.

I was stranded in Grenoble with nothing to do until ‘18h15 ce soir’. The current time was 8:30am. With plans to meet my supervisor at Gap station at 12:30 I got my phone out to tell her I wouldn’t be arriving until nearly nine that evening. My phone refused to call her. Feeling hard done to, I tried to ring my Mum instead to tell her how unfair it all was. My phone instead died.

With no left-luggage, I then set off in the rain to find a café with wi-fi. I found a shitty fake McDonald’s, where I stayed most of the day, drinking coke and trying to pass the time, even resorting to verse:

I’ve killed so much time it’s a massacre,
and the seconds are begging to be spared,
and the minutes are dragging themselves
across the floor, asking at what time this will end?

I riled myself an hour before my departure time to go and see how the station was faring. It was chaos – most trains now seemed to be cancelled, only some of which had been turned into coaches and buses. I was one of those which now had a coach to catch. I faced the rain and joined a group of other people under a sign which read ‘18h15 Gap’. The coach appeared and the crowd began to surge forward. I had already waited for eight hours, and wasn’t about to miss the only way out of Grenoble, so I forced my way on, flopped into a seat, and gazed back out at the forlorn, damp looking crowd, most of which I could see were not going to get a seat.

Here things hit rock bottom. People tried to physically force their way onto the coach. Conductors were swamped by swathes of panicking people, demanding another coach into the Alps. There wasn’t one. The driver then stood at the front and then beseeched the seated to give up their seats for ‘minors and women’. Not many did, and I hid under the anonymity of the seated’s awful behaviour.

The coach into Gap was at least as scary as the plane. Fog descended so the driver could not have seen more than a few feet in front of him, rain lashed the side of the coach and flooded the winding path, and darkness fell. I found myself once again gripping the seat and trying to take refuge in music. This time, I did not feel like a king. I felt very alone, and very tired.

The bus did finally start winding its way down into what was evidently Gap from the palpable feeling of relief on the coach. Two assistants in Gap, one my future flatmate, had kindly agreed to meet me at the station, and despite me being approximately nine and a half hours late, they did so. My triumphant arrival in Gap had turned into a drag, but nonetheless I was unbelievably relieved to peer through the darkness at the building I was to call my home. Here, supplied with pizza and a beer, they broke the news to me that they had already decided to get an apartment together – this meant that Nathan would move out of this flat, into one with Lauren. Soon after this, I climbed uncertainly into my white, empty bed, in the corner of my white, empty room and fell asleep too exhausted even to panic.


Saturday, 4 September 2010


I have reason to believe, that I have victories to taste,
I can feel them on my teeth, upon my lips and in my chest,
I can roll them on my tongue, they are more supple than defeat
I feel the tension in my lungs and every move is filled with my resolve to…


Yesterday I received an email which began: ‘j'ai le plaisir de vous annoncer que le lycée pourra vous loger tous les deux dans un appartement de trois pièces’


I feel like I have landed on my feet without having set off yet: not just a great job in a cool place but the all important accomodation fix too! The relief cannot be described: There are a thousand horror stories I have written in my head in which I fail to find anywhere to live and end up paying 1,0000000 euros a month to stay in a ski hut, or end up staying the year in some terrible fucking bedsit.

Breathe. Maybe I can do this after all.

ALP. xxx

Thursday, 2 September 2010


Dear Ether,

I have a new laptop. It is beautiful. Too much time has already been spent getting to know it, learning its intricacies and complexities, holding one way conversations late into the night.

It is both for ‘THE NEW LIFE’ (as I refer to my year abroad internally as) and as an avoidance tactic against thinking about it.

As my Dad said ‘you might spend a lot of time looking at that screen where you're going'.

Aside from this all I want to do is spout clichés about moving on, being lucky and staying happy.

P.S I’ve just decided I’m going to quit my course and try my hand at shepherding. That can’t be that taxing now there aren’t any wolves around.

A la prochaine.