As I sit here in my new flat at my desk propped up against a window with, finally, a view out into the world, the first thought that comes to mind is a nostalgic one that I’ve had since I visited Calais with my folks back when I was 20. This strange nostalgic yearning has crept up on me now and then over the past decade. It’s not a particularly glamorous memory, in fact, it’s rather simple, but finally I feel as if I’ve arrived.
“Where the bloody ‘ell is that beach?” said my Dad as we pulled over just outside the centre of Calais. I peered out of the window and grinned at a couple of French ladies sat outside a cafe sipping on coffee. They both smiled at me and giggled. I sat up, surprised that they’d responded.
“Let’s have a drink in there,” I said to my parents, waving as the chirpy mademoiselles continued to smile.
“I think we should have turned right back there,” said my Mum, holding the map the wrong way round.
“Damn it,” said my Dad, putting his foot down. I glanced back as the French ladies slowly drifted away. I smiled to myself, happy that I’d partially interacted with the locals.
Within an hour, or so, we were walking along the beach front, not bad considering it was only ten minutes from the harbour.
“Lovely here, isn’t it?” said my Mum as she put her arm round me.
“Yeah, not bad,” I said, looking over towards some chalets with families gathered around. That’s when the feeling came, the curiosity of what it would be like to live in another country. I pictured myself in one of the chalets, chilling in a blue striped deckchair alongside the two French ladies, all giggling while sipping on French wine. Why not? I remember thinking to myself, why not live abroad?
“You there Baz?” said my Mum.
“Eh? Oh sorry, what was that?”
“Dad says are you going in for a dip?”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied.
We had a great morning on the beach: messing about in the sea, soaking up the sun, and chomping on ham and cheese sandwiches.
“Amazing the difference just a few miles away, eh?” said my Mum.
“Yeah, lovely weather,” said my Dad, closing his eyes as he lay back on his towel.
“Yeah, it is,” I said, wondering what life would be like away from England.
“Shall we go for a walk round the city before we get our booze?” said Mum.
“Great idea,” I said, curious to see what the city was like, and check out the sights, if you know what I mean.
Calais was a charming little city. There wasn’t much to it, just a couple of main streets with bars, restaurants, and shops.
“I’m just popping in here,” said my Mum, ducking into her third shop in the last twenty minutes.
“What again?” said my Dad. “We’ll be over there,” he added, pointing to a bar on the corner. We got a table outside and ordered a couple of beers.
As we sat waiting for our drinks I scanned the area. Everything seemed so different from back home. I was fascinated with the fact that everything was written in a different language. Sure, I’d studied a bit of French at school, but never really appreciated it until then. The local French people were so well dressed. Even the different currency was fascinating.
“Have you ever wanted to live abroad?” I asked my Dad.
“What me? Nah, I love England too much. It’s nice to go on holiday now and then, get a bit of sun, but I’m quite happy. Why do you ask?”
“I dunno, it just seems so different over here: the atmosphere, the weather, even the beer.”
“Yeah, these glasses are a bit soppy, aren’t they?” he said, holding up the half pint glass and knocking it back. “Uh-oh, here comes trouble,” he added, nodding over towards my Mum as she skipped over the road carrying a few extra bags.
As my parents squabbled about how much my Mum had spent, I glanced up at the flats overlooking the main street. There was a couple sitting on a sun-lit balcony. The guy was reading a newspaper, resting his feet on the railings, while his girlfriend was by his side with her head stuck in a book. A small white dog poked his head through the railings, looking straight at me.
That’s when another strange yearning feeling hit me, a sort of calling, telling me that there was a world out there to explore, to find the perfect place to live.
As we drove off to find the massive supermarkets to end our booze cruise, I pictured myself living in one of those foreign flats, coming down in the morning and buying a newspaper and some fresh bread, and chatting with a few locals on the way. I imagined going back up to my balcony and reading while sunbathing and glancing down occasionally to a lively street.
I guess, without knowing, that was when I set myself a challenge: one that involved travelling round the world to find my place here in Sevilla (I was never going to live in France really, was I?).
And now, as I sit at my desk, with a new view out the window onto a busy street, the sun pouring in and lighting up my keyboard, an empty plate next to me with crumbs of fresh bread from the local bakers, my small Westie looking up from her basket, French music playing on my laptop, and my wife playing with our son in the next room, I know that I’ve finally quenched that nostalgic yearning, and that it was well worth the wait.
When did you first realise that you wanted to live abroad?