Until I was about 12, my parents had a cottage in Northern France. It was so tiny and remote that it didn’t even have a proper address – the post would come to the farm up the lane. My parents bought it on a credit card.
It was my favourite place in the world. Ramshackle and tiny and whitewashed, it felt as if you were outdoors even when you were inside. The bedroom that my sister and I shared had a round porthole window, flowers that my mum had painted on the walls. My dad built a patio at the back himself out of stone from the garden, with an old millwheel in the middle.
It was surrounded by overgrown trees. At the back was the river where I nearly died, a tiny bridge over it. My dad and I would walk to the bakery. We would all drive to the beach, where it always seemed to be windy and there was a great restaurant.
All year, I would live for the day when I would be woken up when it was still dark, bundled into the back of the car with my sister and a pile of duvets. We would have breakfast on the ferry to Calais and by the afternoon we would be at the cottage.
When my parents got divorced and put the place up for sale, my one request was that I could go back there one last time. No-one else wanted to, so my mum and I embarked on the journey together. My memories of it are hazy but I remember that it was special. I was too young to think much about how my mum must have felt. I know she hates driving even at the best of times, so embarking on the cross-channel journey alone with a child, there and back in a day, was a huge concession. I don’t remember what we talked about. As always, I just wanted something solid: I took one of the brown and white cushions from the sofa, which I still have on my bed, and (weirdly) the cutlery, which I still use.
Sometimes I think about going back there. I don’t really think it’s a good idea.
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