I was in London last week. This is where my family lives and it’s always good to change environment every once in a while but London isn’t my home town. I grew up in the home counties so going up to London was reserved for shows, exhibitions or school trips. These days it’s Christmas, elections and the film festival that seem to call me back most often, so every visit to London feels like I’m walking around in the space between the end of one chapter and the heading of the next. Some strange mix of the political atmosphere, my family being together and my internal state sets the mood for the months to come until I board another Eurostar.
Every time I go to London they change something. I feel like I can never get my bearings. Leicester Square, like Les Halles, has been under construction for as far back as I’ve known it. This time I noticed that what used to be my favourite ice cream place to go between film showings had gone out of business, but on closer inspection it wasn’t even an ice cream place. I’d missed an entire iteration of that small piece of real estate without ever noticing. When I went in February I saw a new £5 note for the first time. These notes are now the only ones in circulation and the pound coin I grew up with is gone. I used to collect every unique design of coins and I remember the public outcry that the bimetallic £2 coin was garish and too like the euro. Well, if you wanted garish the new pound coins are dodecagonal and bimetallic. So now our currency looks even more like the euro. I never collected euro coins, even when I used to leap on any foreign currency my Dad would bring back from travels. They just seemed dull and brassy. The new pound coins are based on thrupenny bits, which was the first ever coin I ever had in my collection but lost one day at primary school and have never seen another since. It’s one of those things that I lost so long ago but secretly hope will turn up one day despite being about five house moves and eight schools away from reality, like my old blue mp3 player or my Prisoner of Azkaban Top Trumps set. They’re not particularly valuable things and I wouldn’t have a use for them if I did find them but I miss them anyway.
Sometimes I don’t know if it’s London that changes or me. I could post photos from previous trips back and I doubt anyone would really notice the difference. The overall London spirit has been going since time immemorial and doesn’t show any sign of slowing down. Yet for me each visit is inexorably linked to very specific times and specific people. When I look at my friends each time I go back I notice the haircuts we have or haven’t had and how much further and further out of touch I’m becoming from their reality and the reality we shared. The updates are short but significant. I wonder how quickly I’d get left behind entirely if I somehow couldn’t make it back one year or how different our relationships would be if I’d stayed.
There we go, another year that we can all cross off our calendars then try to describe as a whole as if there were any relevance to calendar years apart from the psychological idea of a new start.
But that’s what I too am doing on this cold January morning. For me 2016 seemed to rush by in a never-ending sequence of train windows and changes but somehow I appear to have landed in 2017 on my feet with signs pointing up (although we wouldn’t want to jinx anything so let’s say signs pointing at like 45 degrees from the horizontal just to be safe).
This is not to say that 2016 didn’t try to finish me off. Beady eyed observers will notice the flagrant absence of blog posts for most of November and December. This is linked to a farcically long series of events and circumstances that have sapped my energy and start with delays on a parquet floor that prompted two months of not being in my actual apartment.
It all started when I wanted to experiment with gluten-free flour and made myself a cake. The cake cooked slower than one would expect and so I had to check on it every few minutes. This involved the unreasonable act of walking across my floor. Now, I live in an old building. The floor was old and it made noise. We’d put rugs down but the noise was still very very annoying. This day I discovered that it was not only us that found this noise annoying. My downstairs neighbour appeared just as my cake was actually cooked to tell me to stop making noise. I explained that I was just walking but this seemed to be to no avail. I promised to be softer on my feet and I truly did make an effort.
Cut to a few weeks later and I have overslept my alarm for an 8AM class. I will freely admit that taking an 8AM class was a mistake in itself and I plan to never do it again. However, the situation was still that I had an 8AM class and it was 7:35. I live 15-20 minutes away from Uni depending on transport. I therefore was not paying a lot of attention to my footfall as I raced around trying desperately to find clothes and books in minutes I did not have. My neighbour did not appreciate this at all and appeared at my door banging and shouting, arguably making more noise than I considered any floor/ceiling could ever make.
After some soul-searching it was decided that the floor would have to be replaced. “It will just be four weeks and we’ll stay nearby so nothing changes”, said my mother. “ok”, said I. “Can’t believe she bought that pack of lies”, said the floor fitters to each other.
“We don’t have the wood. There is a shortage of French pine at the moment.”
“We’ll have the wood by Tuesday then it’ll be done by the end of the week”
“Oh did we say it was a delivery problem? We meant supply problem. The wood has not been sourced yet.”
“It’ll be done by next Thursday/Wednesday/Saturday”
Four weeks quickly became five, which extended itself almost instantly to nine weeks. At one point they sent a workman over who did nothing but eat lunch then leave so they could say they’d had someone on the job. This meant that I moved into a hotel for the last two weeks of term. One of which was my finals week. I don’t know if I blocked all of this out of my memory or if my mind just stopped recording due to stress and lack of sleep. It’s about 50/50. (oh yeah, did I forget to mention the thing where I moved countries on my own at age 19 but also hate change. Yeah. Stay tuned it gets less self-aware later.)
During my exam week a pipe burst in the ceiling of the apartment where there was no floor and flooded half the building as well as knocking the lift out of action. Ok.
Once I had finished my finals I (less than twelve hours later) went on a break to Berlin with a friend. This trip had been planned for a good while and although it fell at a time when I didn’t really feel like travelling I was glad as soon as I got there to be doing something new and different. There were two missions in our heads for this trip – bars and Christmas markets (both of us had previously been to Berlin and checked off the rather more worthy and sombre attractions). We did both, fortunately for us, we picked the evening when the Christmas market got attacked by a terrorist in a truck as the only evening we didn’t spend in said Christmas market. I think the moral of the story is not to travel with me I am clearly a bad omen.
My next stop was to head to London for Christmas. Upon my first morning in my family home I awoke in a panic with no idea where I was. I put this down to the fact that this was the fourth or maybe fifth bed I had woken up in in the last month, none of which had been my actual bed. All official sources say I spent eight days in London. I do not believe them. Quite apart from three of those days being Christmas and therefore feeling like they were beamed from another dimension I just simply do not remember that time containing five normal days. As I packed myself off to return to Paris on the 30th of December I still did not feel like my feet had touched the ground since October.
I opened my apartment front door, having taken the lift (now repaired, but still flashes up that it’s passing floor 96 in between floors 1 and 2) half expecting it to vanish into thin air as soon as I opened it. It did not. I breathed, I sat down. I slowly felt myself relax and actually be able to see and appreciate the things around me. I even did some walking around. It was the most chilled hour of my life. Then I heard a knock on the door. I ignored it, not wishing to restart the cycle of wishing I could have a flying carpet just to become less acquainted with my neighbour. The knocking came back much louder accompanied by the shout “It’s the firemen”.
You can’t really ignore firemen. If you don’t answer they break your door down and having locked myself out once I know how much those doors cost and it’s not pretty. “Do you know your downstairs neighbour? He’s not been heard from.” (we very quickly established that they were talking about my other downstairs neighbour, not the one who disliked the floor) “can we use your balcony to see how we can get into his apartment?” The firemen looked from my balcony, wished me a good evening and ten minutes later a firetruck with one of those huge ladders like you see on TV appeared in my road. The firemen kicked in the window just below me and then left without telling me anything of what happened. The next day I heard the piano music that neighbour always listens to floating up to my apartment. I really don’t know what to make of the whole scenario.
That’s it. There’s no real conclusion to this. It was bizarre. Life’s looking less bizarre and stressful but who knows really? See you around more often in 2017 blog readers!
This week when I looked in my post box there was an envelope.
But this, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, was not just any envelope.
This envelope had the little green words “carte vitale” printed on it.
I opened it, awaiting another hurdle, another form to fill, or the declaration that my application had been refused because the wind had blown over a gnome on a tuesday in march and the circumstances were as such not conducive to my receiving a card.
I have a Carte Vitale.
I HAVE HEALTH INSURANCE.
I feel like a hacker that has finally broken into the pentagon.
This means that next time i get myself into an improbable situation like being mugged or getting concussed I can let France pay for my stupidity instead of me. This also means that I can complete the inscription process for the association I have been part of since last October (the official inscription form for me at the moment reads ‘no social security number’ as if I didn’t exist. But all that has changed now. I am counted as an actual physical human being living in France who can get payback on medical costs! (said like that it doesn’t sound so great). This battle is over.
However in a cruel reversal of fate I still don’t have a student card. I was going to write a whole post about adjusting to my new university but I looked at the draft I had saved and frankly I feel like it sums up the state of bewilderment when confronted with a new environment better than anything else I could write: