Long Read: Beginnings

The light was different in France. That was something I’d forgotten from my time in Paris: that it got light and dark at different times to what I’d been used to throughout my life in the UK. In the south of France in September, it didn’t get light in the morning until well after 7.30 am. All summer, we had been used to the light flowing into our north-facing bedroom in Oxford and waking us up, sometimes before six but always before seven. The sunlight in the south of France in September didn’t wake us up. Instead, it was whistling, a cheery ‘good morning’, and then the words ‘cuppa tea’ in a Lancashire accent.

One month ago, we become location independent and I didn’t blog about it. I was meant to draft something on the five-hour train journey from Oxford to Newcastle. But after a week of selling the last of our belongings and packing up the books and clothes we were keeping, after a morning of helping to load up the moving van and frantic last-minute cleaning just to make sure we got that deposit back, we were exhausted. It had been hectic at the station too. Our genius plan of ticket splitting* to half the cost of the fare had backfired when we found ourselves missing three of our seventeen (yes, 17!) coupons. The staff were less than helpful: one almost gleefully told us he couldn’t do anything since his screen said all of the tickets had been printed, another patronisingly asked us whether we had checked the machine properly and had retraced our steps. The solution: see if the guard on the gate would let us through (he did) and then speak to the train manager(s) (they were very sympathetic). Yet, even after we knew we could travel without incurring any extra costs for the missing tickets, four (4!) seat reservation changes (remember, we did save over £80) did not make for the most relaxing of journeys, nor the right circumstances in which to reflect upon our becoming location independent. It was only after York, into the last hour of the journey and settled in our final seats, that we felt relaxed enough to open our portable bar. In short, we were exhausted.

The days that followed were no less hectic: sorting out boxes, untouched since I had returned from my undergraduate degree eight (yes, 8) years earlier; scanning the final batch of my academic notes; a visit to the dentist; picking up last-minute travelling supplies; and saying goodbye to family and friends in two cities. When we eventually boarded the flight to Bordeaux, we were excited about what new experiences might lie ahead. For us, September, the start of the academic year, will always be associated with learning. This September was no different, though the learning was of a less scholarly variety: we are learning a new way of living and building our home on the road, our maison péripatétique.

This process will take time and the learning very much takes place on the job — a bit of a change for two PhD holders. It will require us to take on new skills (often physical/manual!), expand our communication toolkit, and adapt to living at different rhythms. It would have been great to start this adventure with a completed website, a blogpost detailing our hopes and dreams for the journey ahead, and the insider knowledge of how to build up a following. But we’re learning the ropes as we go and steadily increasing our presence on Instagram. Similarly, it would be great if we’d gotten our editing/proofreading/translation business properly set up before we’d left, if I’d looked more seriously into our back-up plan of teaching English online, and if we knew how much we need to earn each month to sustain us in the long term. But we have enough savings to get us through the next six months and my current workload means that we’re putting away more than we’re spending.

Perhaps, this ‘working-it-out-as-we-go-along’, embracing the unknown, is inherent to our new way of living. In becoming location independent, we chose the ever-changing horizon of mobility over having a fixed abode. We chose a life where we need to draw our own blueprint. Our tools are at the ready, but, like some parts of this website, our new life is very much under construction.

Our September highlights (experiences of learning and pleasure):

  1. Adapting to driving a right-hand drive car on the right side of the road;
  2. Adapting to driving a left-hand drive car on the right side of the road;
  3. Memorising how to offer our handyman a coffee in German;
  4. Successfully building a fire (or two);
  5. (Almost) Finishing a 1000-piece jigsaw of Renoir’s Bal du Moulin de la Galette;
  6. Bonding with two cats, two kittens, and a parrot;
  7. Going on our first real cycle together after commuting for years by bike. Twenty miles, if you’re asking;
  8. Gawking at the huge meringues in a salon de thé window on a laid-back Tuesday afternoon in Jonzac;
  9. Rediscovering the pleasure of reading (and the pleasure of having time to read!) courtesy of our hosts’ extensive library here in Rheinsberg;
  10. Discovered the hidden gems of small towns (we are, or at least we were, big city people).

*Ticket splitting is a way of reducing train fare by buying multiple shorter journeys along the route as opposed to one ticket covering the route. Websites do this for you for a small fee.

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