Year Abroad Diaries: 17 February 2013

Friday 15 February

Another week crossed off the list. Between my four classes on Friday, the hour gaps stretch like mocking mouths, telling me to count the days until I’m home (twelve). I sit and reflect in a classroom, flicking blankly through my diary, feeling unproductive.

My lessons today went fine really. Sometimes it’s impossible to incite some enthusiasm from the older pupils, especially when it’s nearly the weekend and all anyone wants to do is escape the establishment. I spoke to the older kids about Valentine’s again, avoiding all allusion to my current status.

At the end of the lesson, the teacher came into my small classroom. ‘So I’m going to see Lincoln at the cinema with the students next week.’ No invite was forthcoming. What was his point? Did he want me to be there? ‘I would take you, you see, but with regulations and numbers and things, I’m afraid I can’t.’ I felt rejected: the foreign girl, the awkward butterfly trying to climb back into the cocoon, too afraid to test her wings, the others staring at her strange colouring.

I strode into the sun. This weekend shall be quiet, just K and I, as Y is in the city. I’m looking forward to sleep and relaxation. Teaching is exasperating sometimes.

Saturday 17 February

To make a dull generalisation, it was a ‘good day’. Though I hadn’t slept well, I spent the morning lazing around, and by 1pm, K and I were dressed and en route to the shops. We flipped a coin on the shorter route, through the small town’s ‘ghetto’ area. A pack of young men sized us up from near an immeuble. ‘Hello girls!’ We ignored the English and marched faster.

That aside, the shopping trip was an undeniable success. First stop was the ‘thrift shop’ (even the French are mad for Macklemore and his ethics) where I seized steals like a ‘bonheur’ bowl, salt and pepper pots, cheap nougat and most importantly a Pyrex dish in which to bake flapjacks. I stocked up on ingredients in L’Eclerc whilst K bought over 2 kilos of BN biscuits for her friends in England. We returned safely to our flat, bags laden with bargains. Parfait!

By this time, it was 4pm and I spent the remainder of the afternoon attempting to cook flapjacks with only a stupid microwave oven for assistance. I chucked banana, honey, raisins and oats in the rattly yellow appliance, and to my surprise (and delight) I was holding flapjacks 30 minutes later.

That evening, K had been keen to head to the only decent bar in town for drinks, so I told her I’d quickly Skype C before we left. I placed the pillow against the radiator, a makeshift seat, then set up my laptop. But as soon as I pressed ‘video call’, I was hit by a wave of annoyance and melancholy. I hated Skype, I hated the monotony of it, the impossibility of having a proper conversation – and I was tired. That never helps.

I tried to explain to C how I was feeling. Lost. Apart from the obvious fact that I am surrounded by francophones, there is nothing I can do here that I couldn’t be doing in Glasgow. And that’s frustrating. It doesn’t help that I’m running out of things to talk about, because in this corner of provincial Normandy, I’m barely ever doing anything. How are you getting on in France? That’s the question I’m forever asked on my return to Scotland. I’m never sure how to respond. Fine? Great? Truth be told, it’s a lovely region, but I feel cut off, external.

In the living room, K hugged me and I blinked copiously. I insisted I still wanted to go to the bar: getting out the flat was the answer. We ordered a cocktail each (far too strong) and chatted before a musical duo began playing. Sometimes it’s difficult not to let situations get to you, especially when home is so close, you can feel spring coming and you want to pass the days next to those you love.

Sunday 17 February

Lazy Sundays. K and I had a companionable day together. We ventured out the four walls to see Les Miserables at the town cinema (in English, bien sûr). I’m not usually a huge fan of musicals, and was skeptical as the opening credits rolled – but by the end, we were both sobbing. It was fantastic. We emerged from the dark rooms drying our cheeks, and ended the afternoon with a walk towards the jardin. The sun perched atop the spire of Mont St Michel, a golden halo.


That evening, I had another Skype collapse, this time with Mum and Dad. The video loaded, talk began, and I froze. I heard them all speak the same words. ‘Come on. You’ve come so far. You’ve only got six weeks to go after this holiday.’ I couldn’t listen to the truth. I am separate. Home seems an eternity from my reality. It’s vanished… No, in fact, it’s been replaced by a horrendous, virtual version which lags.

The thought of returning to Scotland worries me. I’m not sure how to act ‘normally’, how to readopt the ‘past’ me. That would involve effacing all continental experiences, forgetting the isolation, banishing the pixellated images of my family, pretending there is nothing wrong. But these blessings – C, my family, friends – are what keeps me strong when I feel alone, close to surrender. I think of them and I know I’m lucky.

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