France | Pickles

I turned 30 on Sunday. Wasn’t that big of a deal in the end. It’s sort of mad to think that I worried so grandly about it for like, ten years – and regularly made a right mess of things because of this mad looming fear of being Too Old for Stuff – and then it just happened regardless and it’s basically fine.

On the Saturday I had my birthday party, which was only small because I don’t know many people in Leeds these days: my brothers Charlie and Jack, Charlie’s boyfriend Christian, and my old friends Alex, Sam and Rob. We spent the day drinking in the sunshine in my garden, and then we dressed up as goths and went bowling. I wore white make-up, a top hat and a cloak, and I carried a cane. I had expected it to be very very funny, and in the end it was a bit funny but mostly weird. Just lots of kids in tracksuits staring at me as I glided past in my black gown and blitzed a hot run of strikes.

I’d wanted to go to karaoke after, but by midnight everybody was falling asleep except me (birthday energy). We got food and took a taxi home. I jumped out at Alex’s house to make the taxi fare lower, and walked about a mile home in the dark, along an empty road. Any cars driving past will have witnessed a white-faced man in a top hat and billowing coat shambling down an empty midnight road with a little cane. With any luck I’ll have started a new urban legend. Sublime.


Next day I woke up all withered and wheezy and opened cards and hugged my family and somehow packed a bag while discombobulatingly hungover. I said goodbye to my mum and Andy and Jack, then drove up to meet my dad and say goodbye to him as well. Then Charlie and Christian drove me to Manchester, where I spent most of my actual birthday sitting in a departure lounge listening to Spotify and staring hatefully at all the noisy idiot families going on holiday and being all manic and uncouth. I’ve got BA dreams and a Ryanair budget.

I landed in Marseille at 8pm. Seth was waiting for me outside the arrival doors. I don’t remember the last time I’ve walked out of an airport and seen somebody waiting for me. I think, genuinely, the last time might have been when I arrived in Tasmania in 2019: it was Seth then, too.

And just like last time, Seth had a couple of beers waiting for me in the car. We caught up as we drove to Avignon, Provence, where Seth lives with his now-wife Blanche. It was very good to see them both again. Blanche made us dinner and they gave me a cake with candles in it. I spoke a little French with Blanche but I’m always scared until I get going.

My plan, basically, is to live in Avignon for a few weeks or months while I continue to build my teaching empire, then go back to England or wherever and try to find a flat and, at long last, a base. I’m still earning well below the minimum wage for now, so it made sense to go somewhere my meagre pay would stretch further while I’m building it all up. I’m staying for the first two weeks at Clara’s apartment – she’s one of Blanche’s best friends, and I know her myself from the blueberry farm in Australia. Clara has a spare room in her apartment which she rents out, and she’s letting me stay for super cheap.

After a day of wandering aimlessly around the city with Seth – hurt a bit, memories – we went back to his flat and he cooked a steak for me. He told me about the parrot he’s been pet-sitting for our old blueberry-farm friend Tristan. The parrot is called Lume and whistles the Adam’s Family theme tune, clicks included. Tristan has had the parrot since high school, when it flew in through an open classroom window one day and he caught it and took it home. Last year Tristan woke up from a nap to discover Lume had drowned in the toilet, but he brought the bird back to life by giving it single-finger CPR compressions and mouth-to-beak.

Clara came over around 8pm, and I was surprised to see she has long black braids now. Last time I saw her she had a sort of bob-cut (don’t take my word on that: I don’t know much about hairstyle names). I said bye and thank you for dinner, and arranged to meet Seth again in the coming days. I walked back to Clara’s place with her and we spoke maybe 80% in French, which I was very proud of even though I made a fuck-ton of mistakes and regularly verbed myself into a corner, requiring Clara’s help to free myself.

We sat on her balcony and had a glass of wine and talked about our lives until when the wine went to my head and I could no longer understand a word of what she was saying and had to excuse myself and go apologetically for bed.

This morning I woke up in the flat alone, because Clara has gone to see her boyfriend in Lyon for a week. I’ve got the run of the place until Sunday, when she returns. In the meantime I’m looking after her cat, who is called Dunya and insists on sitting on me at all times. I like cats generally. My only real gripe is how often they climb on you then nonchalantly turn around and bam you have an eyeful of arsehole. No manners.

So today was my first full day and it was a bit weird: Avignon is getting ragged about by a swirling invisible twister at the moment, with 40mph winds waggling trees about and slamming shutters. I had to walk into town this morning to try and buy a sim card, and the wind was in my face the whole way, ruffling my hair like the knuckles of a school bully. By the time I got to the phone shop I was a gust-beaten fuzzball, and quite exhausted.

The shop wasn’t open for another 30 minutes, so I bought a chicken burger (10am, I don’t know what I was thinking), helped an old lady who went flying down some steps, and gave 3 euros to a forlorn man who spoke to me in French I didn’t understand except for the word ‘money’ and ‘bad’.

I couldn’t buy a sim card in the end because you need a bank card, and I don’t have one because I lost it last week while out on a countryside walk by myself. No idea how it hopped out of my pocket, but I couldn’t find it even after my mum drove us back along the route with me hanging out of the car window like a safari tour guide trying to spot zebras.

I need a sim card because of my teaching: it was all fine when I was at home with unlimited wifi, but Clara doesn’t have wifi, so I need to hotspot myself with my mobile. However, my 10GB of data per month will be all eaten up in maybe two days or so of constant video-calling, so I need to upgrade to something meatier. I found one in the end, which I bought for cash, in a little vape shop just down the street from Clara’s.

And then I just passed the day teaching, and finished at 9pm when it was too late to really do anything cool. I’m working 10am-9pm most nights this week, which is a bit silly. I’m in Avignon and I want to be able to actually do stuff. Need to try rearrange some lessons. Need to figure out how to activate my new sim. Need to find a flat for when I have to leave Clara’s on the 30th of May. There is much to do.

Much to do, yeah, but I can get it sorted. I keep getting stressed, but I’ve found a nice new refrain to say to myself: it’s not insurmountable. I’m incredibly unsure how all this will pan out – if I balls it up I’ll be back to England quicker than you can say ‘c’est dommage’ – but eh, I’ve been in pickles before. Loads of them. I’m basically always in pickles.

Anyway, it’s late and that’s all I have to say for now. Sweet dreams x

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