Crazy? Probably…

So… I’m considering buying an apartment in Paris. I’ve tried to talk about this with a couple of friends, and when I do I frame it as… a joke, or a mental exercise. A pie-in-the-sky game that’s just fun to consider.

Except, I’m seriously considering buying an apartment in Paris.

If I trace the idea back to its root, my dad is to blame. We’ve played pie-in-the-sky all my life. I learned the game from him. And then a couple of weeks ago, my 76-year-old father, who had in the recent past talked about down-sizing to a small apartment or even a retirement home, impulse-bought a 15-acre property in the countryside.

When he first brought up the idea, I thought we were playing the game again.

“Well, in that case,” I said, “I’d like an apartment in Paris, please.” Paris got into my bones when I was there this past October, and I’m planning to go back again this fall.

And then my mother called me back two hours later to tell me my dad had bought the place. He’s selling up in the city and moving out there at the end of the summer. All by himself. I have a whole separate spate of concerns about that.

Inspired – sort of – by his lunacy, I spent a couple of hours poking at my own insane idea. And it’s not quite as crazy as it sounds.

As part of my where-do-I-want-to-be-in-five-years navel gazing, I’ve been thinking it’s time to consider buying a house. The problem with that is, due to my job, I move twice a year. In the summer I work at a large theatre in a small town, in the winter I work in television in the big city. I can’t afford to buy anything in the city – and even if I could, I’d need to sublet it for eight months of the year, which is an enormous pain in the ass. If I buy in the small town, I either have to commute two hours each way to work in the city in the winter, or I find a part-time retail job in the small town and all my travel money goes towards the mortgage.

But if I buy an apartment in Paris, I can have an agency rent it out to travellers during the high tourist season and then have a base in Europe for my travels in the winter. There are certain problems this plan doesn’t solve, but I like it the best out of all my current options.

I’m going to do some research and some math, and see if rental income would realistically cover the mortgage. I want to talk to the agency I found online and get a serious idea of the costs involved and what they charge for their services. But this might just be the five-year project I’ve been looking for.

Circus Life – all I want is a job for Christmas

I arrived in London on October 28th, and at Christmastime I was still unemployed, still sharing a bunk bed in my cousin’s house. So I was happy enough to abandon my ongoing failure and head north with my cousin to my aunt’s house for the holidays.

I always felt closest to my mother’s family, even though they lived in the UK and we lived in Canada. We visited several times through my childhood, and they came to visit us. I bonded with the aunt in question – my mother’s sister – during one particular visit late in my high school years. My family was living out in the countryside at the time, and I was deeply unhappy. My mom, my aunt, my sister and I all went for a wander down in the valley behind the house. We found a tree that had fallen, and climbed up to sit on its branches in the autumn sun. And we talked. And in that conversation I felt like a grown-up too. It was the first time I felt comfortable articulating in front of my mother how miserable, how excluded I felt around my stepfather. There was an honesty that was unlocked in those hours, just women together, with the sun and the wind and the tree. I loved that tree – always thought of it as ‘the girls’ tree’ – until it decomposed to mulch and moss and we eventually moved away. Sans stepfather.

The town in the north of England where my aunt lives is, it turns out, a wonderful place to spend Christmas. I hadn’t ever been there before – she lived in a tiny village in Cheshire the previous times I’d visited her, in a 200-year-old cottage that still had meat hooks in the kitchen and slots in the wall to hold a bar across the front door. The cottage had once been a part of the nearby estate, and we used to go for walks on its grounds to see the deer if the weather was nice. Some of my earliest memories are of visiting that little cottage – being bathed in the sink, because the bathroom was an extension on the back and only had a shower, no tub; walking to a nearby park to play, even thought the air was thick with the stink of tar being laid on the road.

My aunt’s new house was in what had once been a Victorian spa town, full of stone-built buildings and wrought iron gazebos. Up in the hills of the peak district in Derbyshire, the town reliably got a dusting of snow for Christmas, and the air smelled of coal fires in the evening. My romantic heart loved it instantly.

There were enough bedrooms in my aunt’s new house that we could each have our own. Mine was up on the third floor under the eaves and contained the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept in. Something about the way my aunt tucks wool blankets under the fitted sheets creates a little slice of heaven.

I missed being at home for the holidays, missed my family and our particular traditions, but I was grateful not to be alone at Christmas. Even if I did feel a bit like a fifth wheel at someone else’s celebrations. We called Canada in the evening on Christmas day, so I could talk to my mom and dad. I tried to enjoy myself and not stress too much about my continuing unemployment.

In the lazy days after Christmas, my cousin picked up a newspaper while she was at the co-op to buy milk. She wanted the television listings to see if there were any good movies on for her daughter. Later that evening, tucked in my aunt’s living room, cozy in the combined glow of Christmas-tree lights, a coal fire, and the movie playing on television, I picked up the newspaper and flipped to the job listings almost out of habit. Because that’s what you do with a newspaper, you look for work.

The paper was a slim evening edition and the employment section was tiny, maybe half a page. And down in the bottom right-hand corner was a small ad that changed my life. I wish I had clipped it to keep forever, but I didn’t know it was significant at the time.

The circus was hiring in a number of different departments – everything from sous-chefs to school teachers. They provided a website address for further information and applications. That ad hit me like a cattle prod. My whole body burned with it. A job with the circus? Yes, please. A million times yes.

The only thing standing between me and that dream was a complete lack of internet. My aunt didn’t have internet in the house, the small Victorian spa town didn’t have an internet cafe, wifi and smartphones didn’t exist yet, and the library was closed for the holidays. I bounced on my impatience for the rest of the visit, terrified all the positions would be filled, that they would disappear before I could apply for them.

We drove back to London – in my cousin’s bright orange VW camper van[1] – on New Year’s Eve. The previous night had been so cold the water in the windshield washer tank froze solid, and the van didn’t have working heat. It was a long, cold, five-hour drive, and we arrived home to a house where the heat hadn’t been on in two weeks. My cousin went out to celebrate the night with friends. I spent New Year’s Eve wrapped in blankets and pressed against the radiator.

I hit the local internet cafe in our suburb of London bright and early on January 2nd, when it finally re-opened after the holidays. I found the circus website and the jobs were all still there. And there was even an admin position available – assistant to the tour manager. I spruced up my resume and sent off my application and tried not to get my hopes up.

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1. My cousin, who is a dozen years older than I am, was a punk when she lived with us in the early ’80s. I remember sitting on the back deck of the house I grew up in, watching her earrings swing as she chatted with my mom. The earrings were so long the bright silver bobbles on the dangly ends brushed her collarbones. She was the coolest thing in the world when I was four. Her hair changed shape and colour regularly – first long, then short and spiky, scarlet red, half black/half white.

When I moved in with her that fall, decades later, her hair had been its natural colour for many years, she was a mother, she was putting herself through university, but her wild streak still showed through in her choice of vehicle. I kind of loved that van. (BACK TO POST)

The Corner in Torrin

The Corner in Torrin

The road to Elgol, the small village where my family lived going as far back as there are records to show it, has only one lane, winding and twisting with lochs on one side and steep hills on the other. … Continue reading

Stirring Old Ghosts

For the bulk of this week, I have been setting myself a schedule for my writing. Between 1pm and 4pm I take myself out of the house – away from the television and the internet – to sit in a cafe and write.

I’ve had some success with this, and on days when I haven’t managed it – due to my travel to Stratford to soak myself in theatre – I found I missed it. I was glad to get back to my schedule today.

I’m working on two different pieces right now. I was hesitant to split my focus at first, but I’ve found that having the variety is actually helpful. When I’m stuck on one, I have something else to work on, while ideas about the first one have a chance to percolate without being forced.

Today, I spent the first hour reading through the diary I kept when I was about fourteen. That… was not an easy thing. I have to remember to be gentle with my younger self. Everyone is unbearable at that age, and things were complicated at home. I dug out the box of my old writings several weeks ago (and should I suddenly die, someone needs to promise they’ll set a torch to the lot of it) and I read through some of that same diary then. My conscious mind didn’t find anything in there to dwell on, and I thought I put it aside with equanimity. But my subconscious was so rumpled by the experience I ended up with the worst insomnia of my life. I didn’t get a proper night’s sleep for two or three days.

I’ve been hesitant to try again, but the piece that I’m writing was stuck until I did. I’ll let you know tomorrow whether the diary had the same effect again. I’m hoping that writing about what I read in there, as I did manage to do today, will help.

The Things You Learn in Driveways

I found out this afternoon that my dad’s surgery went well. I found this out because I arrived at my father’s house to do a few errands for him as he was finishing up a conversation with his neighbour in the driveway.

“Well, I’m glad to hear you’re doing well,” Neighbour said. “Call me if you need anything.”

So, prospective tenants and neighbours get to know. Daughters, not so much.

I may sound it, but I’m not actually bitter. Or even surprised. This has been SOP in my family for a long time.

In other news, Neighbour had to call the OSPCA to come in and retrieve a sick raccoon from under his porch. My dad thinks it may have eaten the rat poison that the restaurant up the street puts out near its garbage.

Thirty-five years old and still sheltered

My dad had surgery yesterday.

He still hasn’t told me that he had surgery yesterday – I’m 35 years old, but he still feels I should be sheltered from unpleasant truths. There were clues, though. Health-related articles on his desk, reminders for doctor’s appointments on post-it notes in the kitchen, ‘what to do on the day’ information sheets forgotten on the counter, email subject lines, and a notation on my mother’s kitchen calendar for Saturday, September 14th, under the printed caption for Yom Kippur – Micheal, 6am.

I know it sounds like I’ve been snooping, but I do my father’s admin work, so I stumbled upon each clue in the course of doing something else. He lives alone, so he’s not used to hiding ‘incriminating’ information.

On Thursday, he asked me to show an apartment he is trying to rent out. The potential tenant was coming at 2pm on Saturday, while the current tenants were out. “I’m going to be busy all day on Saturday,” he said.

I played along. He doesn’t like to discuss personal subjects. And the surgery was in a sensitive area, so I let him keep his privacy.

On Saturday, I trailed around the apartment after the prospective tenant as she rearranged furniture in her head and picked out paint colours. She did most of her thinking out loud and I did my best to make encouraging noises.

“So your dad’s having surgery today?”

It felt strange to get the confirmation from a stranger.

We were in the bathroom. I was leaning against the white-painted wooden doorframe. She was silhouetted against the black marbled tiles, bent over to inspect the under-sink storage.

“I don’t know,” I said. I watched her face, trying to gauge just how awful a thing it was to admit. “He doesn’t tell me these things.” She paused in her searching to look up at me. “He doesn’t want me to worry.”

“Awww,” she said. “That’s so sweet.”

“Yeah,” I said. I didn’t believe it, but it made the truth more acceptable.