I’m back in Bristol, waiting out my two-week quarantine after arriving back from France. Jeanne is still in France for now; she’ll arrive here in a few days’ time. Then, in just over two weeks, we will leave our lovely little room in Bristol for the last time. Jeanne will fly back to France with her suitcases, and I will head to Leeds to move my worldly belongings (a broken guitar and about eight books) back to my mum’s house. Then I too will fly, on to Strasbourg and a new life in France.
The week I spent in Strasbourg was blissful – a week of cathedrals and patisseries, of dangling feet over riverbanks, of windy bicycle lanes and fluffy clouds. I can’t believe it’ll be my home soon. Jeanne’s been flat hunting already, and it looks promising – dozens of 50 and 60 square metre apartments to choose from, each with a living room, bedroom, bathroom, kitchen and some with a balcony, all costing 700 euros a month or less. We’re paying more for our room in Bristol right now, which is just that – one room, in a sharehouse, with three other people. I can hardly imagine what it’ll be like to be able to inhabit and shape our very own space.
We’ve got a fat to-do list when we make the move. Joining a gym, improving my French to fluency, finding work, buying bicycles, and making friends: there’s a huge amount to be getting on with, and I’m looking forward to the challenge. My friend Seth – I met him on the blueberry farm in Australia 2018 – has been living in Avignon with his girlfriend, Blanche, for a year now. We chat on the phone once every few weeks, and he updates me on how he’s adapting to life in France. He’s working in a bar-restaurant now, after several frustrating months of unemployment, and he spends his working day speaking French and serving drinks to an eclectic mix of locals, all of whom have stories to tell. That could be me in a few months. It seems unreal.
Owning a bicycle is an insanely attractive option to me. I never fancied it before, but having wheeled around the city for a few days, I’ve fallen in love. In Bristol it wouldn’t have been practical – too hilly – and in Berlin it never felt safe – too many lunatics – but Strasbourg is flat and quiet, and I feel it’ll be a huge boost to my mood, my health, and my social life. I close my eyes and picture myself on a chilly Friday evening in November or December, pulling on my coat and kissing Jeanne goodbye, jogging downstairs to the street, unlocking my bike and zipping away to meet some friends in a cosy bar.
I know I’m a tad romantic about all of this, but ah – to hell with it. It’s nice to dream, and it’s hard not to get carried away. In the quiet suburbs of Strasbourg last week, Jeanne and I were cycling towards the city centre to meet her dad, Jean-Luc, for lunch at his office. He works for the city council in a large building with dozens of great flags flapping in the breeze outside. On the way there, Jeanne called back over her shoulder to ask if I was okay on the rickety bicycle I’d borrowed – her sister’s old one. I fibbed that I was feeling just fine, glossing over the fact that the seat was jammed at the wrong height and wedged angrily into the crack of my arse.
“Wanna see how quickly I drive?” she called out. Before I could correct her English, she had cycled smoothly into the distance with seemingly far less effort than it was taking me to simply stay atop my bike. As I watched her shrinking figure whiz away from me, her hair tucked up into a bicycle helmet, the sun on her tanned shoulders, green trees whipping past, I thought: yeah. Yeah, I could get used to this. I mean, I’d have to remember how to ride a bike and whatnot, but then – yeah. Yeah.