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It happened. James said it would sooner or later. I was always more optimistic but now the shine has come come off and I’m awake to it.
It started because I tried to buy a secondhand bike. DD is now well into her third year and I’m wracking my brains trying to think up interesting projects we can work on together over the summer holiday. The obvious one, given she’s not really old enough to sustain interest in the kinds of projects older kids could perhaps be persuaded to engage with, is learning to ride a bike with pedals. She’ll love that and I think in the 8 weeks we can get her really going strong. But first I have to find a bike.
I’ve been using the minutes I grab at the computer to scour LeBonCoin for bikes. I’d really like to get her a nice, shiny one but we can’t justify that financially right now and since it’s not her birthday (or Christmas anytime soon) it’s not really the time to give her an expensive, shiny present, and a good secondhand steed will do perfectly well. I searched eBay.co.uk and there are tonnes of great bikes being sold in the UK but it’s harder to find one around here.
And then I found one. Two, actually, but the newer and slightly more expensive one has already been reserved so I continued my search and found another one, closer to home too; older but also a better make (Orbea).
We were heading that way the next day and, as it was the first chance I’d had, I dug out my phone and sent a text message. The owner had said no e-mail, which was a pain, but I can’t manage the phone without James’s ears as backup and James can’t manage it while driving – and he was driving. Text was the next best thing. A few minutes later I checked my messages and was happy to see that I’d just had a call from the owner. I’d missed the ring because my phone is often on silent but we were in the car so I wasn’t going to be able to manage a conversation and I couldn’t call back until we’d stopped. So I sent another text.
My French is now at a level where I can as least figure out what I want to say in French then put the English into a translate programme to see whether I’m anywhere near close. Sometimes I am, sometimes I’m not, but I’m learning all the time and it works. Of course translate programmes don’t deliver perfect French and sometimes they get it quite wrong but as we were really close to the owner’s location I didn’t want to put off the conversation until I got home and then have to go out again. So I used the translate app on my phone and embarked on a conversation that went like this:
It all goes wrong fairly early on when I accidentally copy the English from the translate app instead of the French. I was in a rush, on the phone (small screen, stupidly small keyboard) and I didn’t notice until – after the question, “are you English?” and my answer “yes!” – he came back with this:
“Yes, and well go elsewhere, because once you spoke french and one other time English, so you don’t care about me.”
Er, WTF? Then I saw it – drat! But hey, it was an honest mistake! Foolishly I’d hoped that the question, are you English, would lead to a “hey, me too” – not this madness. One the first thoughts I had was, of course I don’t care about him – I just want to buy his old bike, not marry one of his children. Anyway, I really don’t have enough French for an argument and really, I just wanted to buy his stupid bike, so I tried to fix it. “I’m learning French, sorry”, I said, but it was too late. Monsieur Front National – as I’m calling him – was flying into one.
“Yes, and when I call I get you no.”
Which I think means I didn’t answer when he called. Just to clarify, he goes on…
“I don’t time to write SMS all day – it irritates me, bye.”
At least I’m assuming that last bit was bye. It came through as baye, which I can’t find a translation for, so either he was so pissed that he could no longer be bothered to text properly or it’s some traditional insult that can’t easily be translated. If the latter, I’m happy not to know!
Honestly, it upset me. I’m nice! I’m here with my family to work, to pay tax, to start a new life! I don’t deserve shit from a nasty angry person who says the has an old kids bike to sell for 20 euros! So I block the caller and that’s that. I hope he spent the next 20 minutes writing a really long and insulting message that will never get to me. Hah.
And there it is. Just like the Polish, the Romanians, the Germans and many other EU citizens making the most of their right to free movement, travelling or working in the UK, or indeed anyone making a new life in a foreign land, I have felt the wrath of a bigoted fool. I guess it was my turn. At least it wasn’t a brick through the window or worse because there are always people capable of worse. It’s sad though because my parents – like many other Leave voters – don’t want all those other people coming to Britain and taking “our” jobs (never mind they’re retired etc.) so I wonder what they’ll make of their French equivalents having a dig at me for, assumedly, similar reason. I look forward to telling them to see what they make of it, how they’ll excuse their casual racism towards others but sympathise with my experience. Seriously.
As it happens, today I’m over it – and I still don’t have a bike for DD, which is a shame. Hopefully the other one I was interested in will become available again. I wouldn’t want my beautiful, innocent DD riding his racist old bike anyway.
It’s been a busy two weeks. I was hoping to post sooner but, you might guess, when we moved we were without broadband. That looked to be a total catastrophe for a short while because the woman who owns the house had her knickers in a twist about who pays for it (we agreed she would but it turns out we are) so while we’re still trying to resolve the payment issue at least we’re connected again – and we’re now in a much bigger house with room for our boxes, our beds, etc. We have a bedroom again! There’s even a room for the cats. Okay, it would more formally be known as the “spare room” but that cats have taken it over and they’re happy with the arrangement.
Another milestone that passed was that DS was one! Yes, on Sunday he celebrated his first birthday. Okay, “celebrated” may be overstating it: we were still busy moving in, sorting out the Internet, and cleaning – which I’ll come to. Really we just sang happy birthday to him and unpacked about four boxes that contained all DD’s toys, which came from our old house in the UK. She has been without them for the last six months and very definitely has a mental inventory of every item that was packed away. She was delighted to be reunited with some of her old favourites. DS on the other hand now has more toys than he can imagine as we kept a good number of DD’s early toys, which are now just right for him. We are aware that some sort of party is needed, if only to enable him to feel complete when he’s older and contemplating therapy, so this coming weekend we’ll bake a cake and throw a very low-key birthday party for him, just the four of us and a couple of small things for him to unwrap. I can’t believe he’s one already. It’s gone so fast! As busy as we’ve been it’s been wonderful to spend the whole of his first year together, all thanks to losing my job, and I’m grateful now that I don’t have to rush back to work and can enjoy more of these early years with both of them.
Then there’s Brexit. I mean what the actual fuck happened on Wednesday!? I’m on a self-imposed news ban after spending a good few hours moping after reading the news that our unelected prime minister went and invoked Article 50. As if that wasn’t bad enough, her comments about how we should all unite as good as rubbed salt into the wound. No, Theresa, this does not happen in my name. One minute I has happily living my life and the next I was hit by the same feelings of sadness and grief that I experienced last year when the referendum results were announced. Why, oh why!?!
Living over here, as we are, one of the issues that bothers me a lot is freedom of movement and how that’s going to work when this is all done with and the sh1t is being scraped off what’s left of what was once a UK-shaped fan. How is that going to work exactly? If the UK gets all tough on immigration and stops pretty much everyone coming in, where are we brits going to be able to go? Post-Brexit we will have the freedom to move where? She’s forgetting that not everyone wants to spend the whole of their lives staring dismally into the grey waters of the Thames. The freedom to move to Scotland looks unlikely, if they casts us adrift too, so that leaves… Cornwall? Jersey? Unless there’s some plan afoot within commonwealth countries, but doesn’t that just put us back where we started? And are places like Australia and Canada, with fairly stringent immigration policies, going to just nod such a dramatic policy shift along because it’s the UK? I doubt it! And how does that help families? Forcing those who have had enough of Britain to move 5, 6, 7 hours and more further away when once – in those heady days when we were in the EU – could move just a short drive away? It’s insulting that anyone thinks any of this is a good idea.
Silver linings though: it was 24 degrees here today. In March. Yes, that’s pretty much as good as it gets in the UK in the height of summer. Did I mention it’s only March? Here’s a picture of some daisies to cheer us all up.
I’ve got a bad case of the blues today. Why? Well, this whole property search seems to be all highs and lows and sometimes it’s hard to maintain any optimism. Then something new comes up, something we like, somewhere we can envisage making our home, and that is usually the point where we find a spanner in the works. Yesterday James went out with a friend who showed us a plot that had been for sale and the number to call to enquire about it. He came back excited saying I had to see it so we went down there after lunch, taking DD and DS with us, and had a look around. What did I think? Er, perfect! I loved it. Next steps then: call the owner to ask whether it’s still for sale, check with the Mairie that it’s building land, and job’s a goodun. On the one hand I’m thinking there’s no way this is going to happen, worst case it’s already been sold, so try not to get too excited, but another part of me is thinking, reliable source, should be okay, and I’m already planting up a veggie patch and putting up a swing for the kids. I need to put down some roots, to settle. So we call the owner up today and ask about it and boom, dream over – just like that. No, sorry, not for sale, not now, not in the future. End of. Sob.
Then I catch up with some news this morning and read this on the Guardian website:
“EU nationals living in Britain should make a file of documents that prove they have lived in the country since before the June referendum, according to the chair of a House of Lords committee.
Helena Kennedy QC suggested collecting together bills, rental or home ownership documents, employment paperwork, or evidence of appointments for those who do not have jobs.
“Make a file now with proof of your presence [and] supporting letters from people who’ve known you, you have taught you or who you have had business dealings with,” said Lady Kennedy in an interview with the Guardian.
The peer chairs a Lords EU subcommittee that has just completed an investigation into the “acquired rights” of Europeans in the UK and Britons living in continental Europe. She warned of deep anxiety among EU citizens in the UK but also British nationals living on the continent.
After hearing from a series of experts, ambassadors from across Europe and Britons living overseas, the group will on Wednesday call for a unilateral undertaking to immediately guarantee to safeguard the rights of all EU nationals in the UK.”
And now I’m afraid that the future we dream of building is not worth anything anyway. We came after the referendum and, on more than one occasion, I’ve read article suggesting that those arriving before that fateful day can expect different treatment than those arriving after. I fear that our time here will all be for nothing on the day Article 50 is ratified. I fear that we will lose our home (assuming we have one by then), that we will be uprooted, that – if we haven’t had time to set up a business – we will be denied this right. I feel so overwhelmed.
Reading these articles in the news, it all seems so abstract: it’s all talk of trade treaties, economic impacts, geopolitical consequences. And while that might be what our politicians are worried about, it’s really not about that at all because this is all just about people and the lives it affects. People didn’t vote to leave the EU because they are happy with their lives: they voted for change because they lost hope in a future based on business as usual. They didn’t vote to change this or that trade treaty: they voted for a better life than they face today. It does all come down to economics in the end but not at the level our politicians are concerned about because, one thing that is certain, is that the best deal for business is not necessarily the best deal for people unless something is done to address the inequalities that caused this to whole mess in the first place. Without change on that level, at a much deeper level than anyone is talking about right now, the rich will still get richer, while the poor get poorer and many millions who are just about holding it together, in credit up to their eyeballs, are pushed into poverty. Leave voters bought lies peddled by the media, owned by the powerful elites they think their vote is sticking it to, who told them that dangerous immigrants are taking the money for schools, hospitals, and the rest of it, and that’s the reason why their communities are failing. Of course there’s no mention of inequality because capitalists – the rich elites controlling the media, for example, – don’t make the kind of money they think they deserve from a political system that puts distributing wealth and the happiness of all people at it’s heart, when that’s exactly what’s needed to make things better for the majority of the population – and not just in the UK. It’s so sad and frustrating.
James is trying to reassure me: “We’re protected by the Vienna Convention,” he says.” Of course they won’t thrown us out,” he says. Maybe, maybe not, I say. I guess we’ll find out. There’s a campaign, Fair Deal for Expats, which I need to look into. Maybe there are other groups too. It would help if there were an MP we could turn to but it seems you lose your right to representation in parliament the minute you leave. I do plan to write to my old MP just to see what happens. I’ll report back when I get a reply.
In the meantime all we can do is wait and carry on as though everything will be fine because the alternative is to put life on hold, to have no hope. I don’t usually stay miserable for long once I’ve managed to get it out of my system. A bike ride is on the cards and long overdue. I need to get out there and turn the pedals, pushing on up some hills and freewheeling down. Whatever happens Theresa May and her minions can’t take this beautiful December weather away from me – not until 2019 anyway.
Yes, we still have a tonne of things to do. Our days are spent juggling childcare duties with packing boxes, trips to the tip, packaging and posting eBay sales, trips to the charity shop (the local Barnados looks more like our house every day!) and watching movies – lots of U-rated, child-friendly movies late in the afternoon when we’re all burnt out and need some downtime before dinner. It’s quite a long way from the relaxing mat leave I had last time around when my days were filled with baby-oriented classes, leisurely lunches and trips to local towns punctuated with coffee and cake.
Then there’s the sleepless night fog. Not every day; baby #2 turns out to be a sleeper – yay! But that doesn’t mean we’re not knackered most days, which has led to some short-temperedness all round.
Then there’s the worry and stress of moving, made considerably by worse by the uncertainties posed post-Brexit (assuming it happens, at some point). On this front we’re winding each other up with our different attitudes. On my side, I can’t face any of the worry and haven’t got the energy to worry about ifs, buts, and maybes, so I’m focussing on the positives. James, on the other hand, is seeing darkness and danger wherever he looks, which makes for some tricky discussions. Typically, he shares his pessimistic vision with me and I respond by firing up my optimism shield. The result being that he goes away from our conversations in a grump because I don’t want to listen/talk/take on board his concerns and I go away feeling really miserable and pretty drained because he’s bringing me down. Then we had a talk so now James has agreed to let it go and relax a little. This is supposed to be a big adventure and focussing on everything that can go wrong is making me want to sack it all off and get a boring corporate job again. Except that’s the total opposite of what I want to do and what he wants for us all.
What’s bonkers about this is that he was the one who sowed the seed of this dream, this change, and I was always the one who thought it was a big risk and was uncertain about it. Then, as far as I’m concerned, the planets aligned. I was faced with losing my very steady corporate job at the same time as baby #2 was due to arrive. Now feels like the right time and it really seems to me that everything is falling into place. Sure, we may have to make compromises and be open to new ideas and opportunities but that’s part of the fun of making such a huge change, otherwise, why bother? Let’s just stay here and keep everything the same? Or we can just get out there, embrace all the uncertainty, and do it. Looking on the bright side, we’re incredibly lucky to have this opportunity at all and that’s what I keep reminding him. Every day we speak to people who say they would love to do what we’re doing and, for all the different reasons in the world, aren’t and/or can’t. But we are – so I think we owe it to everyone who’s ever thought of throwing it all in and starting up somewhere new and unknown to do it as joyfully as we can. Of course it’s risky, of course Brexit has made it all the more risky (thanks Mum), but we’re doing it anyway. Worst case we get a few years somewhere sunny, learn another language, make some new friends, then are forced back to the grind. Worth a punt, I say!
The last few days have been hard. For most of the last few weeks we’ve been focusing entirely on the logistics of our move and with those sorted we’ve had time to turn our attention to cash flow and in the post-Brexit economy it’s not pretty, not at all.
Basically we’re chasing a dream, taking an opportunity – post-redundancy – to take our savings, having taken the strategic decision a while ago to save rather than go down the home “owner” route, and make a new life for ourselves. This means everything we have is earmarked to fund our future. Everything. Right now we have no income; no jobs, just dreams and ideas to take us forward. We want to build something together and give our kids a better future than we feel they can have here in the UK. That was our plan, even before Brexit. But now Brexit has happened, taking a huge chunk of our hopes and dreams with it.
The Remain camp talked about the economic impact of Brexit during their campaign but Gove and his cronies dismissed it as doom mongering, labelling such talk as “Project Fear”, brushing off analysis supporting this claim, which came from the Bank of England, the IMF, and others, because we’re all just so sick of these so-called “experts” and their expert opinions, right? Well wouldn’t you know, these experts were right!
I think one of the reasons James and are have been hit so hard emotionally by Brexit (if you could see our Facebook feeds you’d know this) is because James can read the foreign exchange charts and right now they’re not pretty. The pound is plumetting against the euro, the dollar, and the yen. What this means is that life in Britain just got more expensive because where on 23rd June £10 bought, say, five packs of antidepressants, today it only buys four. That’s really not good news if you’re feeling as miserable as I am but even worse news when considered as part of the bigger picture. UK Plc has been making a slow and steady recovery since the banking crash in 2008, in part due to the horrendous “austerity” budgeting imposed on us all but having the greatest impact on poorest and most in need. Tragically, the decision of many to vote Leave – whether voting in protest, longing for the good old days, wanting to “restore” sovereignty, or purely because they have been suckered into blaming immigrants for many of their woes (and blame the EU for just about everything else, as politicians would have them believe) – has effectively caused as much financial damage as the banking sector did with their mishandling of just about everything back in 2008. The main difference now is there’s no Fred Goodwin or any other highly paid executive to take the fall or the blame for it as we are all going to pay for this. The Leave voters, along with everyone else who saw this coming and tried to warn them, are about to pay what amounts to collective punishment as the weak pound, which will take who knows how long to recover, erodes all our quality of life.
In short, anyone planning to escape the UK, as we are, had better do it fast. Not just because our EU citizenship is under threat, meaning we can no longer take freedom of movement for granted, but also because as each day passes we become that little bit poorer because the value of the pound is falling and falling. Can you imagine a reality where you get <1 euro to the pound? Well it could happen.
Happy days? Not even close. And if, like us, you were planning to depart for the continent any time soon, the repercussions are up close and personal.
And I still haven’t talked to my parents. Guess which way they voted?
Okay so we were planning to leave anyway but with things as they stand, which is in a cesspool of uncertainty, we’re going sooner than we originally planned. While I could quite easily freak out at going before I’ve had chance to say goodbye to many of my friends, which I was hoping to on a more leisurely timetable, it will be nice to be able to enjoy some warmer days and not just be there for late autumn and winter. We’re going to take a few week to recuperate after the busy and stressful weeks and months leading up to the move. We can go to the beach, swim in the lake, chill on the terrace. Actually, I can’t wait. I’m sure many of our friends could be persuaded to come out and visit!
The dark side of all this though is that our planned move will now all take place in the shadow of uncertainty. If Article 50 is triggered what will come out the other side? Will we have access to healthcare and schooling for the kids, can we set up a business, how will we be taxed? These and a zillion other questions have kept us awake for a few nights now and at one point we considered that maybe we shouldn’t go until we know the answers. Then we pulled ourselves together and thought, sod it, let’s go! Worst case we spend a couple of years living in a new country, learning the language and soaking up the culture. At the end of that time we’ll have enriched our lives and spent two wonderful, carefree years with our young children at the time when they need us most. Worst case we move on in a couple of years and go where the wind blows. If we can get somewhere with our French language skills – given I’d need to return to having a “proper” job – maybe Canada, maybe somewhere else in Europe. The worst that could happen is that we end up back in the UK, in which case there’s always Scotland! So yes, we could stay here, live as we are now, put up with the rain, the collapsing economy, and wallow in the mess that the UK has become, or we can take a leap into the void. When I put it like that, we’d be crazy to stay.
Reality check: we are planning to move to France in October, which means we have roughly 16 weeks to do everything we need to do to make that happen. This last week James has been incredibly busy trying to find a place for us to move to, as our plan is first to rent then to buy as that will enable us to check out nurseries, schools, etc. However, it turns out that finding what is termed a long-term furnished let that allows pets (we have cats), is safe for both children and said pets, and has some form of heating is complicated.
Then there’s the logistics of getting there. Is that complicated or what!? Cats are the critical factor in all moving scenarios, making the whole darned process pretty darned complicated! It’s a good job we think of them as family or they’d be out in their soft pointy ears.
Then there’s the troublesome problem of only one of us really having the time and headspace or having the use of both arms simultaneously to do much if this. Clue: that person is not me. Complicated further by the fact that my brain is so smashed from 1, 2, 3am wake ups (and the rest) that everything J tells me he’s done goes in one ear and out if the other. What I need is for him to write things down but that’s not his style. Oh boy. Complicated!
Finally, there’s this Brexit referendum nightmare to take into account. The potential implications of the Leave lot getting their way are not worth thinking about. The vote is later this month. It’s a pretty complicated question to put to the general public, in my view; far, far too complicated!
So here we are. 16 weeks and counting. And its all a bit complicated.