Yes it’s true – I am in France now. My new life has begun, and I’m finding I have the same odd sensation I had in Newcastle nine years ago (nine years ago!!!!!!), when I moved up there from Leeds for the beginning of university. I still remember the drive up there in my parents’ car, me sitting giddily in the backseat surrounded by my worldly possessions: a laptop, a guitar, a CD player, a couple of books and several t-shirts adorned with images of beer bottles and Johnny Cash’s middle finger. The drive was a couple of hours, after which we crossed the enormous steel bridge into the city that was to be my new home, our silver car rumbling a hundred metres above the Tyne river. We explored my new campus, and lugged my belongings into my new halls. Then, finally, my parents hugged me and left, and in the silence that followed I stood up purposefully, clapped my hands, and said aloud to myself ‘Right, Danny Boy! Time to start your new life!’
After a vacant fifteen minutes spent twirling around on my computer chair, it dawned on me that I had absolutely no idea of what starting a new life was supposed to encompass. The clamour, the rush, then the extended period of quiet, guilt-flavoured confusion: it’s the same after every big move, after every long-awaited journey is made at last. ‘Now what?’ asks the pitchfork-toting mini-Dan on my left shoulder. ‘Now we start living,’ replies the halo-clad chap opposite. But living, it turns out, is quite a passive activity.
When you go on holiday to France or Spain or wherever, you’re on a time limit. You’ve only got a week or two before its back to normality, and so you arrive at your hotel and drop your bags and plough on with holidaying. Time is precious. Moving country, however – all you’ve got is time. Time is in abundance. But then of course, a lot of time means a lot of choice. And too much choice is – for me, at least – petrifying. I see the lovely golden plains of a new life stretching out ahead of me, and I just… sit there, agape.
So that’s what I’ve spent my first two days in France doing: sprawling on the sofa, pondering the monstrous volume of tasks I really ought to be getting on with, feeling bad about it, then firing up Sherlock on Netflix and spending the next few hours idly wondering whether I’d make a good detective and how one knows if one is a genius.
Should I just go about my usual routine then? It feels a little impertinent of me to arrive in this beautiful new country and continue doing whatever I was doing in Leeds two days ago*. Perhaps I should begin my first week in France with a suitably continental undertaking. Maybe I could wear a sun dress and ride a bicycle through the cobbled streets dinging my bell at people, or slouch on a shuttered windowsill smoking endless cigarettes and writing poems about death and shagging.
*alternating between eating Jaffa cakes and gloomily examining my hairline in the bathroom mirror.
I’m writing this from a wooden table in a bar called ‘Abattoir Café’ on the corner of Rue Sainte-Marguerite and Quai Charles Altorffer; the street names here are so pretty it makes me sick. It’s thirty-something degrees outside, and I’m clad in a pair of denim cut-off shorts which I made myself and was initially proud of but in retrospect are far, far too skimpy. On the other side of the window I’m sitting in, people are zipping past on bicycles, and I can see no less than four French flags billowing from buildings outside, across the river and the bridge lined with boxes of red flowers.
This’ll do nicely, I reckon.