Two years ago, I moved to a town I have grown to hate.
It was the middle of the pandemic and I’d spent months locked down in my flat in the formerly vibrant city of Brighton on the UK coast. Like most people during lockdown I was itching for a change of scene, and although UK citizens weren’t allowed to go anywhere other than food shopping, we were, bizarrely, allowed to move house.
At the time I was in a relationship with a guy who lived in another town, a little further along the coast, so I came up with the idea of moving there. Not only would it make it easier to see each other but I’d get more for my money and, most importantly, I’d get to see somewhere new!
So I did a virtual flat tour, which was hilarious because the estate agent had to get the previous tenant to film the video due to the covid restrictions. Let’s just say there was no ‘staging’ of the property and I was treated to a virtual tour that featured half drunk bottles of vodka on the window sill, piles of pizza boxes on the oven and dirty underpants on the floor.
The thought that an estate agent had to send this video out to prospective tenants cracked me up and once I was able to look beneath the carnage I could see that the flat was actually in very good condition and it was a five minute walk from the beach. So, to the estate agent’s delighted surprise, I told her I wanted it and within a month I’d moved in.
I’ve regretted it almost ever since.
In a nutshell, I’ve never lived in a location that is so resolutely unfriendly. This didn’t matter so much when my boyfriend and I were still together but we broke up over a year ago and I’ve been doing this town on my own ever since.
If this town were a colour it would be the blandest shade of beige. If it were a piece of music it would be a drunken version of the funeral march - with some shit wannabe gangsta rap overlaid.
Thankfully I still have a lot of friends a train ride away but still… Last year was one of the hardest of my life as a horrendously huge workload kept me pinned to this place where people prefer to scowl rather than smile when they pass each other by.
And in a moment so perfect I couldn’t have scripted it, as I type this to you now from my bedroom I can hear a woman screaming an endless stream of obscenities from the end of the street. Hearing random people screaming obscenities has become the soundtrack to my days.
My son came to visit recently and when we popped out to the shops one night he asked me why I didn’t like it here. Literally as soon as he asked the question a beery-faced man came barrelling towards us. ‘You’re a filthy, dirty c**t!’ he yelled to the woman he was with just as he drew level with my son. ‘I rest my case,’ I said smugly.
To be honest, I’d become so used to it that it was only when I recently spent a month in a lovely friendly town in America that I realised what a toll this place has been taking upon me. As soon as I landed in Eureka Springs I was blown away by the way people would smile and say hello to me in the street and how store and hospitality staff would engage me in heartfelt conversation. I felt myself unfurling like a flower in the warmth of the sun in response. Within two weeks I’d made more friends there than I’ve made in two years in this town.
However, it has come to my attention that sometimes hating your life - or where you live at least - can be a very good thing.
It can be a very good thing because it can help counter any fear you might feel about making a change.
It’s far easier to coast along if things in your life / home / workplace are pretty average, even if boredom sometimes threatens to shrivel your soul.
But if something is making you truly unhappy, and you learn how to channel that unhappiness constructively, ie not turning it in on yourself, it can be just the fuel you need to lift you from your rock bottom and set you off on a new course in pursuit of a bolder adventure.
Last week I went on a research trip to Paris - partly to research for a novel I’m writing, and partly to research if I still love it as much as I used to.
I started going to Paris fairly regularly about ten years ago, when I got my first French book deal, and it was love at first sight - and bite. Finally, I’d found a country that centred their diet around my three favourite food groups - freshly baked bread, red wine and cheese. I vowed to myself that one day, when my son had grown, I would move to Paris.
To inspire myself to hold on to that dream I stuck a Metro ticket and a picture of a dreamy Parisian apartment to my noticeboard so I’d be reminded every day.
But then the pandemic happened and I moved to Miseryville and the only way I could go to Paris was via my imagination - so I wrote two novels set there!
Recently it occurred to me that I could now go back again - and for a lot longer if I wanted to - so I booked my mini break.
As I sat on the Eurostar last week, whizzing through the French countryside en route to Paris, I felt nervous. What if I didn’t feel the same about the city? What if my feelings had faded?
But as soon as I arrived in Gare du Nord and made my way down into the Metro I felt that old excitement bubbling in the pit of my stomach.
And as soon as I arrived at my lovely Parisian friend’s apartment I knew my worries had been unfounded.
Returning to Paris was like meeting a former lover and realising that the spark is still there and burning brightly even after all these years.
The next three days were a blur of delicious food, World War 2 research, art exhibitions, museum visits, and pounding the streets for miles and miles, drinking in the beautiful architecture.
I sat on the Eurostar on the way home munching on the world’s butteriest, flakiest croissant and feeling happy to the very core of my being.
My mind was made up - I was moving to Paris later this year - for three months at least.
And now as I walk past the scowling inhabitants of Miseryville I no longer feel sad or alone. The hatred I feel for the place and the unhappiness it has caused me has been transformed into rocket fuel.
And when I have moments of fear at the prospect of giving up my UK base and getting rid of most of my belongings I think of staying here for a second more than is necessary and it’s all the motivation I need.
A police car has now arrived to take away the screeching woman at the end of the road and I’m playing the beautiful song, Le vie en Rose. I still feel apprehensive about the enormity of getting rid of everything I have here, but mostly I feel hope at the promise of a bright new beginning - and one that involves copious amounts of cheese!
Let me end this by sharing the last stanza of the beautiful poem, For a New Beginning by John O’Donohue with you:
Awaken your spirit to adventure
Hold nothing back, learn to find ease in risk:
Soon you will be home in a new rhythm,
For your soul senses the world that awaits you.
If you’ve been feeling at a bit of a rock bottom lately I’m so sorry and I deeply empathise. Here’s to turning unhappiness and frustration into fuel that awakens our spirit to adventure and helps us find ease in risk.
Thank you for sharing this journey with me.
As usual Siobhan your post has shown that in any situation, no matter how bad, there is always a way to deal with it.
The fact that as much as you hate the place you live in, the people and the environment you were able to dip into that amazing imagination pool of yours and craft two amazing books.
Your unbreakable spirit and work ethic is an inspiration to all, I hope that maybe one day a Parisian lifestyle will no longer be a dream.
Everyone should find their happy place and work hard to make that happy place a reality.
Thank you for taking me to Paris through your imagination and the talent to put those images, words and emotions out there for us to read.
Love this Siobhan, honest, funny and relatable. X