Wednesday, 8 February 2012


Twaaa, Catt, Sank...Did I mention I speak not a lick of French? 

While not an entirely accurate statement (I would number my French vocabulary at approximately 25 words...a dozen of which are the numbers one to twelve), it is nevertheless one which accurately summarises the pitiful lingual baggage I will be clutching on arrival. I am, 'ow you sayyyy: buggered. How much French can a girl learn in eight weeks? 
Luckily, I have a disgustingly gifted friend who not only speaks fluent Spanish, writes his own plays, acts AND works full time, but also spends the duration of his working days on the telephone speaking in French. Some people are just plain useful. On Monday, which I now know to be lundi (hurrah!) I had my very first French lesson.
My dedicated tutor, who we'll Chris becaue that's his name, prefaced the hour's lesson with the words "This is the last thing you're going to hear me say in English" and, following that rather perturbing statement, we vanished down the French Rabbit Hole while La Marseillaise played somewhere in the back of my mind. This was it! first step on the road to gobsmacking fluency, the beginning of a beautiful inevitability that lead straight to the new Chic Me, du-dun-dun-de-dun-dunnn....rattling out French idioms like a native to the rapt attention of a beautiful dark-haired Marquise. I didn't even stop to address the inkling that 'Marquise' was feminine, I was far too busy anticipating my rapidly approaching bi-lingualism.
Smiling at these sunlit imaginings it took me a moment to realise that Chris' torrent of incomprehensible French was no longer providing a suitable soundtrack. Raised from my reverie I tore my gaze from Chic-Me on a bike in a beret and re-focused my eyes to find him looking at me expectantly while holding a laminated orange card with a large black question mark on it. The reality is, I cannot even be trusted to know when a question has been asked, let alone its sodding meaning. Chic-Me fell off her bike and clattered to the Chic-Pavement.
I played for time. "Oui." Admittedly, this did not delay matters for long. The weapons at my disposal are lamentably few, and it was between that and "c'est la vie" which just would've been plain facetious.  
A series of reactions chased each other around Chris' eyes as he processed this (evidently very worrying) response. With an accompanying sensation of gastric-free-fall I was all at once up to my neck in long-forgotten high school recollections of heart-stopping bafflement. I was going to have to concentrate. A lot. And hard. For a long, long, very bloody long time.
Chris, god bless him, started at the beginning. I caught perhaps every fourteenth word (via huge leaps of desperate intuition) and hung on to the thinnest threads of comprehension - however tenuous, fleeting or downright incorrect. We muddled through. Numbers (with a slight pause to accommodate my bewilderment at the nineties), days of the week, months of the year and finally, 'telling the time', which in retrospect causes me no small amount of nervousness, essentially suggesting I neither understood nor recall the essentials of the subject.
But learning again is a surprising joy. I have homework. I'm being taught something totally new and scarily difficult. I'm concentrating again; brain-muscles are yawning and stretching and coming back to life. I have begun to learn French. Mon dieu.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

The Decision

I've been meaning to move to Paris for years, in pretty much the same way I've been meaning to visit my aunt more often, have piano lessons, read more books, use my gym subscription and eat more fruit (or any fruit, for that matter). By Christmas 2011 I'd yet to achieve a single one of these additional (and really rather modest) ideals.  So it surprised me when, slumped in an armchair on Christmas Day focusing only on the challenge of finding a way to breathe around all the food I'd eaten, I realised that some time between arriving home on Christmas Eve and reaching digestive capacity, I'd decided to do the one thing on the list that was the most unlikely. I mean, rationally speaking, if a person can't make themselves walk through the doors of a gym they have to pass to get home, while carrying their gym bag, having already changed into their gym gear - what hope does that same person have of moving to France? But there you have it - it wasn't a case of wondering about it, worrying about it; the decision had somehow already been made. I was moving to Paris. The matter was not, apparently, up for discussion.

Two weeks later I'd digested the final roast potato and could breathe normally enough to inform my flatmate, Kate, of the plan. And yes, perhaps the word 'plan' is a bit optimistic. But consider this. Kate's leaving her job to move onto a canal boat with her boyfriend with whom she will traverse the country at a rate of 4mph singing reggae versions of "Delilah" for her supper in canal-side pubs. You see? Suddenly moving to Paris sans French seems positively mundane doesn't it? Am I not rendered wholly and unquestionably sane by that comparison? So you could say (and I will say, should it all go horribly wrong) that this whole hair-brained scheme is entirely Kate's fault. Had she not been so determinedly Why Not about her life and where it was headed, had she just stood still and settled into some kind of mediocrity, had she not spent two and a half years educating me thoroughly in the subtle art of belief, this never would've happened. I would've been off the hook.
For that I am already more grateful than I could ever say.
So. The conversation went something like this, amidst the packing boxes and the chaos that called time on our technicolour life in Manchester:
"I'm going to move to Paris, afterall."
A squeal, first, and then "Mate! Finally! When?"
"Spring?" Full of conviction, as ever.
"Amazing! Where are you going to live until then?"
"Not sure."
"Where are you going to live when you get there?"
"No idea."
"Right. So the plan needs a bit of work yet."
"A bit."

The relief I felt at having made the decision, or at least finding that by some miracle the decision had been made, after months of dissatisfaction and indecision in a job I didn't enjoy and a city I was growing somehow so tired of, was like releasing a breath I hadn't known I was holding. Much as you wonder about doing the drastic thing - quitting work, moving away, travelling, whatever it may be - it is only when the decision becomes unquestionable, indissolvable, indisputable, that you realise there's no other possible course to take. There are no options left. You do it because suddenly it isn't doing something that seems impossible, it's doing nothing. I had been meaning to move to Paris for years. But this year? This year, on 12 April, I am moving to Paris.