April 9: How to make life-changing decisions

Sylvie on the beach


Last week I went to London and put our house, which, as any one of you who’s been paying attention to my blog-waffle will know is a truly beloved place, up for sale. The week before that, Sylvie came for a visit. She’s a bit like Joel in that she’s a Londoner with a French accent, and it was refreshing and reassuring to have her here with us. We went together to one of my favourite places in France, the Fondation Maeght in Vence. Have you ever played that dinner party game where you choose what you would be if you were, for example, a dog, or a brand? Someone once told me I’d be a labrador if I were a dog. I was hugely insulted, as if my brand were Marks & Spencer – boring, predictable, high-street. I think the labrador metaphor was meant kindly, however, with suggestions of friendliness, equanimity, dependability etc yawn etc yawn. If I were a gallery, I would definitely be the Fondation Maeght, perhaps with a labrador lolloping among the Miro sculptures.

A corner of the roof at the Fondation Maeght

It’s not a “gallery” in the London or New York way. The main buildings are set amid parasol pines through which you can see all the way to the blue blue sea, but you could avoid being inside altogether if you want. Instead you could wander among the sculptures outdoors in the Miro labyrinth, listen to water falling into pools lined with Braque mosaics, or blow on the huge Alexander Calder mobile on a terrace under the roof, which looks like a starched white sheet that has just blown off the line and is being carried away by the wind over your head. It’s the most peaceful and beautiful place within hours of Nice. The fact that Aimee Maeght, who got it all going in the 1960s, was a printer and lithographer as well as an art dealer means there’s a terrific library, which doubles as a Friends’ Room. And Sylvie gave me the gift of a friends’ membership! When you go into the library, you have to walk beneath a huge avocado tree, and then into a room that’s so well-proportioned, bright and serene I think I might just bring the blow-up bed Sylvie was sleeping on in our flat here and pump it up right there. (I didn’t notice a cat-flap, but perhaps we can sort that out…)

Sylvie at the Fondation Maeght book shop

Sylvie was only gone a day before I left Joel and Ted on their own. Lori and Sunil have had to move out of the house in Chiswick. I think of them as having been physically squeezed out by the building works going on on both sides of the house. It’s all great for the neighbourhood, a parade of estate agents told me as I showed them round the house, but it’s true, the noise is a bugger. They’re nice, the builder-boys. They trimmed the hedge for me, carried stuff to the skip (or dumpster, in American), tied up the ceanothus, offered to paint the house in case we decided to rent it out.

London, fallen cherry blossom petals on the pavement in the rain

But unfortunately we haven’t got enough dosh to buy a proper home in Nice unless we sell our proper home in London. Cut ourselves adrift? Compromise in both London and Nice? Give up on blue and head back to grey, for love of a solid oak floor and three loos (not to mention thirty years’ worth of friends and familiarity)? I asked everyone I saw at home, and was prepared to believe them all. Joel and I conferred almost hourly. Sell! Rent! Sell! Rent! Sell! Rent! Only Ted didn’t voice an opinion.

When the scales are weighted evenly on both sides, changing your life is just a choice you make and decide to stick by. There are as many pros as cons to each option. So, flip a coin. You can flip it once, three times, or, like me, you can change currencies and flip it again and again until it confirms the choice that you can accept, the one that deep down you had already made. Then I waited for Joel to call, and decided that if his heart was telling him the same, that would be that.

So that’s that, then.

If you want to buy a house in Chiswick, three beds, south-facing garden, loft, charmed by fate and with ginger-cat-sized catflap, let us know.

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About Suellen Grealy

In 2011, a series of coincidences led my husband Joel, our cat Ted and me away from London, where we lived quite happily for 30 years, to Nice, where Joel grew up. While he and his sister ran their restaurant, I wrote a novel. Family being family, Joel and his sister no longer work together. Writing being writing, the novel lingers on... Meanwhile, we've found ways of living a completely different life from the one we had in London, including running our own restaurant together, 7 Villermont. The only constants are our Ted, our now-battered Peugeot, and each other. Everything else is a complete surprise
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