Fidelma Cook passed away in late June. We are running a selection of her columns as a tribute. This one is from January 2012. We hope you enjoy it.
Lying in my bedroom before dawn had broken I listened to a sort of gentle whooshing, a sound almost of waves breaking somewhere not too far away.
Although it was strangely familiar and pleasantly comforting, it took me a while to work out what I was hearing.
Traffic. Beautiful, fume-emitting traffic, even at whatever early hour it was, throbbing through and into the heart of London.
And to my ears, more used to the silent nothingness outside Las Molieres, it was a sweet sound indeed.
It didn’t matter that I was in Battersea, where virtually every property is protected by window grilles, CCTV cameras and a host of light sensors.
It didn’t matter that popping outside the front door for a cigarette meant removing chain, turning key, and undoing clasps and deadbolts.
For I felt more secure there than, to be honest, I ever have here, where doors are left unlocked for hours and the police pick on motorists because of the lack of crime.
So I didn’t return, as hoped, loving LM more, having missed its sweet, smoke-scented serenity.
Sadly, and genuinely sadly, I didn’t turn into my drive under yet another blue sky and think: “Thank God I’m home.”
I thought instead of what I’d left behind – life.
Dirty, pushy, fevered, unstable, irritable, irritating, unpredictable, threatening, wonderful city LIFE.
Forty-eight hours after I’d landed in London to spend Christmas with my son, we sat in a Mexican restaurant owned by Turks, being given the rundown on Battersea in the “old” days by a fortysomething “heavy” who still commanded fear judging by the reaction of the staff.
Back in the flat, Pierce looked at me, smiled and said: “You’ve become you again. You had me worried. You came off that plane looking as if you’d come from a war zone – stressed, twitchy, nervous.
“Actually, you looked fragile to me for the first time. I’ve never seen you like that. You didn’t have your usual edge, but now I can see it’s still there.Thank God.”
I was aware of it. Still cautious with the legs I no longer trust when approaching stairs or unfamiliar gradients, I know I adopt a tentative, bent, shuffling pace at odds with my age.
Navigating two airports had me sweating at times when I couldn’t find a lift instead of steps, or worse, escalators – the down ones now filling me with a shameful, hand-trembling fear.
Even accounting for the accidents fall-out, surely coming from south-west France and a gentle pace of life should mean I should look carefree?
Should I not finally be well in my skin, as the French say? Or at least less bloody creased?
On paper, of course I should, and I have, I really have tried to be, scolding myself constantly for my inability to just “be”.
Oh, to hell. I’ve had enough. I don’t want to garden, paint watercolours, join book clubs, go on mass walks, learn golf, play bridge or live in a constant round of lunches, aperos and dinners watching what I say and to whom.
I need choice, variety, multiple faces around me, and the sharp black wit of my journalist friends and the riffs of madness that I term conversation.
I need passionate arguments and good gossip about books, films, people, anything except the bloody euro, David Cameron and the alleged horror that is Britain today.
I need M&S food halls, the glorious indifference of city crowds, the jagged glass outlines of aggressive office buildings, the melange of tongues and races hurtling past
I need simply to know it’s all there – and then I can relax.
If that makes me shallow and superficial, so be it. I’ve gone so deep into myself here that it will be a delight to resurface in the shallows and have other things to think about.
So, the decision has been made. Come spring I will put Las Molieres on the market.
I can’t afford to give her away for a quick exit. Houses here can take two years to sell. But that’s OK.
I want Portia, who will be 10 this year, to end her days in these fields where she, at least, is truly happy and free.
I feel a sense of relief in having written this. I have a focus, a purpose, a plan again, instead of the sense of increasingly unhappy drifting.
A city in France may well still be my future as I cannot afford to be where I’d want to be back home, and France isn’t the problem, only where I am.
I won’t return to Glasgow – I never retrace my steps.
I want my edge back. I want, stupid as it may seem to those who, rightly, would swap my life for theirs in a second, to get that daily thrill of uncertainty and, above all, possibility.
I want to get up and have somewhere to go.