Friday, August 22, 2008


" Friday. Um, sorry it's not with more notice, but... I'm leaving."

The manager looked at me with her bovine eyes, staring but not seeming to see much at all.

"Next Friday? You're leaving?"

I nodded, affirmative.


On Tuesday night I arrived back to the night-glittering arches of St Pancras station, having left it the previous week. Paris had been warm and humid with occasional hammering rains. Sophie had met me from the Gare du Nord, a little blonde head bobbing around in the gaps between other people's shoulders. A bendy bus took us, snake-like, to her tiny studio flat near Montmatre, currently occupied by four people. I was to make a fifth.

That evening her friends came over for a drink, which turned into a tiny apartment party. The balcony looks over what seems like thousands of windows, behind which thousands of lives unfold. At some point during the evening some of Sophie's neighbours decided to put a light show on the opposite wall. From four tiny spots on their balcony bursts of colour wheeled around a whole building face, picking out patterns and pictures as we watched in wonder, glasses in hand.

The following day Soph and I headed off to meet some of her friends who were to give us a lift to La Route du Rock festival in St. Malo, Brittany. Five hours later we were unloading, cut corn sticking like broken spokes under our feet. We set up the tents with only minimal bloodshed and recrimination, and, under darkening skies, made our way down the tree-edged path to the main festival.

There was one stage on site, but in the fort town of St Malo there was a beach stage and an indoor stage as well. Over the next few days we listened to music in a field (mostly), on a beach and in a hall. The music was not always to my taste. I spent quite a few hours staring forlornly at some men with shiny guitars trying to work out what made them different from the earlier men, who had identical haircuts, confused profundity and shiny, shiny guitars. Whilst Sophie and her friends enthusiastically discussed the different bands, I was forced to stay silent and wonder how I could once again say "I didn't love it" for the eighth time that day without sounding like Sophie's over-negative, boring sister. Sigur Ros, though, were incredible. Their music poured out from the stage, eerie and wonderful. I wondered whether they perhaps were from another world, with their peculiar words and air-infused tones. The rain sliced down while they played, capturing the bright sweeping lights and upturned faces of the crowd.

We went in the sea and walked along the ferocious-looking stones of France's northern coast. Sophie and her friend Zoe stood by the water's edge picking out shells from the sticky wet. I sat quietly and dug both hands deeper into the sand, pushing and watching the grains clamber up my arms.

A few days passed, and soon enough it was time to go home to Paris. We had drunk and danced, eaten meals of crepes and cider and listened to more guitar bands than I knew existed. As well as Sigur Ros I liked Notwist and a DJ set in the middle that involved some hip hop and a bit of drum n bass. Truly, I am street.

I was relieved to arrive back at Sophie's little flat (adorably named "The Pocket"). I had seen too many chemical toilets in the last few weeks and was craving a bed and a clean shower. Food that hadn't been rained on and clothes that didn't all reek with the death smell of the inside of a dirty rucksack.

The next few days were lovely. Perfect. Sophie, her friend Evie and I sat around drinking coffee, and I basked in some much-needed quiet time. Evie and I read books while Sophie worked on her new project. (It is a very exciting project! All sorts of cool things going on. I urge you to go and read, and help if you possibly can.) On Monday Soph went to her teaching job for a few hours, and Evie and I took our time getting dressed to saunter out into sunny Paris. With leisurely ease we browsed some book shops before heading to the Marais area, where we sat down outside a little café and chattered over some espressos. People wandered by frenchly and the air was warm. All that was missing was a rendition of "The Sun Has Got His Beret On" played on an accordion by a nonchalant passing Jean-Paul. Sophie came to meet us and we spent the rest of the afternoon rifling through vintage shops for bargains. In one shop that seemed like it might burst with musty clothes and fading baubles I bought two dresses and a red belt. We had a cocktail and headed back to the flat.

The rest of the time was lovely. On the Eurostar on the way back my smile was hardly even wilted by the noises of the raucous hen party discussing how best to get the cork out of a bottle of rosé with just a lipstick and a stiletto shoe, or the awfully well-spoken chap who insisted on reading, in his best Radio Four voice, large chunks of the Paris guidebook to his rather vacant-looking wife. (I am not sure quite why he would want to do this on the way back home, but I assumed it was perhaps some kind of family ritual. One of those family rituals that lead to divorce and/or murder.)

I arrived home to Brixton with a renewed sense of perspective and possibly even purpose.

The next day I handed in my notice at work.


"...I know it's a bit short notice, and I am sorry for that, but. Well. That's just the way it is."

She continued to stare before swivelling her head back to face her screen. Manager and screen blinked together in dull rhythm.

"Right. OK, well, I suppose, you're a temp, so. OK, Leeeohneee."

(Some people just don't know how to pronounce my name properly. It's only the people who don't care who really bother me.)

Now I watch as people pass my desk and I don't care. The memory of the panic seems like a frozen film picture - I remember the image but I can no longer feel the earcrash lungcrush squeeze. In two months I am moving up North, but that is no reason to live out those months hating and hating, waiting for change. The change starts next week, but in me it has already started. I feel different, and am going to act on it.

P.S. Go to Sophie's site and look! Also help, if you can.


Blogger Badass Geek said...

Sounds like you had a life-changing week.

Quitting one's job can be very empowering.

1:00 pm

Blogger Anna Pickard said...


I've done that. The notice thing I mean. Without quite knowing why or what was coming next, just because I hated so very much the job I was sleepwalking through.

So hurrah. And yay. And yay to moving too.

2:09 pm

Blogger Peach said...

paris has a wonderful ability to make you revalue your life and yourself, sounds like the most perfect few days...

and I'm v envious of you seeing sigur ros live - I haven't seen them for a few years. Staral Fur is what I play the dude (the unborn dude) a few nights a week as the beginning of his musical education

well done on the notice - temping sucks.

2:29 pm

Blogger Ys said...

It sounds like a wonderful week :) I'm glad the change in life has started immediately for you :)

8:41 pm

Blogger Clarissa said...

Are you the best button pusher in the whole world? Will the button pushing community mourn your departure? xx, c

8:53 pm

Blogger Léonie said...

BG - Yes. I wish I had done it with more bells and whistles, but I am not that kind of girl.

Anna - Hurrah indeed! Sleepwalking is worse than fear of the unknown (I am going to keep telling myself that...)

Your move is a bit more exciting than mine (you move towards sunnier climes and I, well I am going rain-chasing) but still. Changes are ace.

Peach - If you play Sigur Ros to Baby Peach he will certainly grow up with an appreciation for the more ethereal side of life - wonderful! They were incredible live.

Temping does suck, but leaving it feels so good...

Ys - Yeah, now if I can only hold on to the optimism...

Clarissa - A better button pusher the world has never seen! I am truly a loss to the button community. I believe they are having a week of mourning...

10:06 am

Blogger Jonathan said...

I've always had a bit of a hangup about making sure I learn how to say unusual names properly - and flat out ask them when I meet them.

It's probably a respect thing. I don't know...

5:25 pm

Blogger Blewyn said...

You're a cracking writer. Do you read the Sunday Times ? All those columnists get paid $$$$$$ for that stuff they write. Just saying....

9:19 am

Blogger Hải Nguyễn said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:19 am


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