09 May A Brief History of me. Chapter 14. France, seville, wales.
‘You’ve all created some kind of utopia here, haven’t you?’ said one particularly memorable friend who passed through Les Seilhols that summer. I remember feeling torn in how to answer. She lived in London and was experiencing many thing I desperately missed: theatre, a social life, urban architecture. We were deeply happy in our chicken cottage, working on the land and with Scott hosting the Wild Weekends. Scott felt passionately about the right way to boil an egg, the perfect way to chop an onion and the repugnancy he felt towards fabric conditioner, Jon felt strongly about an endless flow of wine, and I felt obsessive about how each meal was arranged. Between the three of us we cooked, cleaned, styled, drove and enjoyed every single moment. Alongside this I had opened an Etsy shop Tin Cup Vintage selling French clothing and vintage pieces I found in the junk shop or at market. I enjoyed the styling and photography elements and in a way it was probably the beginning of me understanding the work of online shopping and blogging., which would eventually lead me to instagram.
As the summer began to wane, Jon and I borrowed the black London cab Scott and Saira had brought to France, partly for the charm and partly for the practicality with Ailsa’s wheelchair. We decided to attempt the same route my parents and I had taken in 1992 via my nursery school in Lupiac, Le Gers, then down through the Pyrenees, the centre of Spain, eventually arriving in Seville. For two weeks we drove through villages and along dusty, winding roads, sleeping in the car or our one man tent. We stopped off outside the nursery I had attended in Lupiac. I stood at the gates and peeked into the playground, expecting something to happen, possibly to see my three year old self running past the gate clutching a boiled egg. We continued onto Spain, stopping off in villages for the last few fiestas being celebrated in early September. One afternoon as we sped along a dirt road listening to Metallica and smoking Pueblo rollups, a police car beeped at us and pulled us over. We had a flat tyre and everyone felt a bit overheated and bemused. We were towed to the nearest village where we exchange a new tyre for cash and jars of cherry jam. As a final exchange the mechanic ran up to the floor above his garage and brought down a hoop of wild boar chorizo. Jon and I drove to the nearest camping site, dove into the cool, clean water of the swimming pool and watched eagles fly overhead. Later that evening our vegetarian souls summoned up the courage to try the chorizo. It tasted of smoke and forests and the otherness of flesh.
We arrived in Seville on my 29th birthday, booked into a hotel with ornate tiles lining the walls and floors, showered and went straight out to roam the city. We stopped off in bars to drink tumblers of wine and snack on altramuces, enjoyed how one bar made chalk marks on the bar to keep tally of how many drinks we had, were handed a small book of poems from a passerby and as we finally made out way home at midnight, chanced upon a square lit up with fairy lights, filled with couples dancing beneath the hanging branches of the trees. It was the most perfect birthday, and quite possibly one of the happiest times of my life. I remember little of the journey back up to Les Seilhols other than stop offs to see beautiful friends along the way and a sense of peace and contentment.
While we were away we had started to discus the possibility of moving on from Les Seilhols. We loved Scott, Saira, Ailsa and our life there, but we felt restless and keen to create something of our own. We had a friend near Lyon with a small organic vineyard that had been in his family for generations. We had spent a few days there in the summer grape picking for a friend of his and we enjoyed the area, so when Vincent offered us to come and build a home for ourselves and help out on the vineyard if we ever wanted to, it felt like an interesting idea. That December we returned to the UK, packed up more of our belongings, including furniture and my beloved blue vintage cabinet and drove from Manchester to Lyon, arriving just in time for Christmas.
We lived in a room off the kitchen with a door onto the cave filled with wine. In the new year we began pruning vines and, wrapped up in layers of thermals, woollen jumpers and lined German tank suits. Our hands became blistered and cramped from the work and my cheeks were permanently burnt from the snowy winds across the flat fields, yet it was satisfying and an interesting education in how to shape a vine. Our plan was to convert the barn above the house into our living area, but as time went on we realised it could be more complicated than we had first anticipated due to building regulations. We were also starting to feel, for various personal reasons, that maybe this wasn’t where we needed to be. So when I was called to arrange some issues with our old flat in Barcelona in March, we took it as a sign to leave, packed up the van with all our furniture again and drove to Spain. We considered Barcelona as our new home, we even tried Seville, but it didn’t stick. So we finally came to the hard decision that it was time for us to return to the UK. We felt heartbroken, defeated. Somehow we had lost the dream because of our restless feet.
By the end of March, we were on our way back to the UK, destination South Wales. My dad had returned to live in the house he had grown up in and had plenty of space for us to stay and store our van and furniture. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my dad and I didn’t know each other very well and this resulted in a tense living situation. As a natural loner, he found it difficult to have us in his space and we felt confused as to what our next steps were. I continued to run my Etsy shop, but it wasn’t enough to sustain us and we had run out of money. Our dear friends had their wedding in Wales but we didn’t even have the money for the petrol to get there and missed the celebration. We both spiralled rapidly. It was a struggle to get out of bed in the mornings, making a cup of tea felt like a gargantuan task and I couldn’t see a way out. Two friends came to visit us and were alarmed by our mental state, compared to when they had seen us at Les Seilhols in the summer. Their presence was healing and made us realise that we needed to see our people, so Jon encouraged me to take the train to Manchester to see friends while he went to visit his parents. My body trembled the entire journey, I had never felt anxiety like this. But it did what we needed. It saved me from the frozen state I had sunken into, the city welcomed me back and I knew it was time to return. We packed up the van again, drove to Manchester to stay with friends and within weeks we both had interviews for jobs and a new flat. Two years after leaving, we had come full circle.
Until next week, Java x