Aged 32, my older sister, Joanne, gave me a proposition. She and her newly wedded husband, John, were moving to the French Alps to set up a deli selling French wine (obviously) and Cornish yarg (less obviously) to the winter ski crowd of Morzine and did I want to go with them? They would be staying in a luxury alpine house owned by John’s sister, I’d have my own giant room with a balcony, plus I wouldn’t have to pay rent.
I looked at where my life was at: trying to meet the monthly bills with a limpet flatmate and a recent disastrous fledgling relationship that had come to naught (make that four in a row). Plus, I was working a maternity cover that was making me so stressed I would wake up at 3.12am on a nightly basis.
So I dumped the flat, the limpet and the job and climbed onto a Geneva-bound easyJet (the closest airport to Morzine). Arriving to blue skies and a rising sense of elation, I was met at the airport by my sister and brother-in-law who took me to Chez Ma Cousine – Switzerland’s greatest invention – a restaurant that solely serves chicken and roast potatoes. We drank gulps of red wine toasting our escape from the rat race.
But then the real work began, setting up a successful delicatessen in France, the country that invented them. There was only one rub… it was May. The population of Morzine at the height of ski season is 20,000; in pre-summer, it’s 2,893. Once we’d learned how to make flat whites and not lose a finger on the meat slicer, arranged seven types of chutney on the shelves and pulled down the awning, our day was essentially done. Because after the first week of curious locals coming in to try free coffee, the place was deserted.
Undeterred, I seized upon the opportunity to become the person I’d always wanted to be. Winter would bring a flow of new faces and black runs, but summer was going to be all mine. I made plans to write my bestselling novel and planted my laptop next to a window overlooking a wild flower meadow. I hooked up with friends of friends who loved Morzine’s expat escape and took me on walking trips through green forests and around still lakes formed by prehistoric glaciers. I went swimming in the town’s Olympic-sized open-air pool every lunchtime packing coffee, fresh baguette rolls and goat’s cheese. And… I totally lost my mind.
Not only did I not write anything towards the bestselling novel, but I became addicted to the horror show of Facebook, frantically looking at photos of really good times in London overcome with homesickness. The indie night I’d set up with a friend was happily powering on without me; old work colleagues were setting up ground-breaking new magazines; friends were going to parks, the cinema and art galleries, they were living their lives for god’s sake.
And, Morzine being a mountain town meant there was one road in and one road out. Every. Single. Day. Twice. A. Day. Claustrophobic mountain sickness set in. Always a keen city walker, I’d loved sticking on a playlist and walking from Stoke Newington into central London, passing centuries of jostling architecture, watching the world on its way to work. Walking the length of Morzine took 12 minutes while getting anywhere else required a car. Having failed my test three times, I was totally reliant on Joanne and John who were becoming increasingly fed up with a 32-year-old teenager moping about their home and business (and car).
But what I really missed about London was the diversity. The jostling, heaving masses of individuals who dress for impracticality and themselves, who weren’t forced into fleeces and walking boots out of sheer necessity. Restaurants that didn’t serve goddamn tartiflette. Old man’s pubs that had cats and excellent jukeboxes. Dirty, rotten, expensive, hard work, stinking London – I missed it with all my heart.
So, one early July evening, as two visiting soldiers from a Surrey regiment prepared to drive their van to Calais, I threw myself on their mercy and begged them to take me with them. John and Joanne rolled their eyes and gratefully bid farewell to their emo employee and, 18 hours later, I was deposited back in London. Sitting on a 394 bus on the way to my best friend’s flat where there was a bed/couch waiting, the man in front of me urinated down himself. I happily smiled to myself thinking, “You don’t get that in Morzine.”