One morning in my 20s, I woke up with a hankering for my own space. So, I said goodbye to my band of merry men with whom I was sharing a flat and found my own place on the top floor of a building which had a pizzeria in it.
The picture above is of that place. I lived alone and alongside studying for my PhD and doing projects shadowing my users and writing software for them, I think I was super keen on shadowing me, connecting to myself and being there for me.
I want to say that it was autumn when I moved in, but I don’t really remember to be honest, though I do remember standing on the little balcony at midnight which was cut out of the roof so that if felt very private, under a harvest moon which shone on the rooftops of Lausanne all the way down to lac leman, Evian and the Alps.
I remember the crisp night air and the rush of total happiness and excitement at being alive, utterly and blissfully alone, without anyone to bother me.
I remember how the sun moved around the flat during the day at different times during different seasons, and how good it felt on my skin in summer. In winter, I remember how the snow piled up on the balcony turning it into a huge white fridge so that when my pals and I made beer it was perfect to keep all our bottles chilled.
Living alone, I realised that I didn’t have to spend time with people inside my flat or outside who didn’t fill up my well. This revelation came to me in an instant one night when I was standing in the pub with a crowd of very nice people. I felt lonely and I wanted comfort. So, I put down my pint, said my farewells, and I ran all the way home, to greet myself, at my own door and I welcomed myself home. I think I probably took a bath too, by candlelight, as I gazed at the stars through the skylight in the bathroom roof.
It’s hard to see on the picture above but the roof sloped right down into the corner which the TV is facing. In that corner, I had made a nest of cushions to lie in, to think, to watch TV, tap on my laptop and be at home with myself. I should think, that night, I went and lay there.
It was a time before mobile phones and the Internet were used widely. If I was working at home which I did a lot, at night and at weekends, I would take what papers or software I needed home. I read them there and ran tests on my laptop.
I could leave all my notes out and no one wanted them tidying up ever because there was only me. And, even though it was full on studying and thinking and quite a few unreasonable deadlines, I remember it as a time of leisure and space and deep thought and lots of reading.
On weekends I would lie around eating shortbread biscuits and drinking tea with the occasional slice of cenovis on toast whilst reading books from the local library which was at the end of the street.
The library had an eclectic English section, probably aimed at itinerant people like me and I read the whole section over the time I was there. After a full day of study, coding, and communicating in French and civil engineering (which is a whole language in and of itself), it was a bit of a relief to relax with a book from the English section, books I never would have read if they hadn’t been there on the shelves, like the Gnomes of Zurich and Susan Howatch novels. One day, a Venezuelan woman came over and asked me if I would teach her girls to speak English and in return she would teach me Spanish. When I asked her how she knew that I was English, she told me that I looked like a porcelain doll holding a book written in English, and we did for a time exchange languages over dinner at her house with her family. It was nice. In turn I would cook dinner at my place, over a gin and tonic, for a Swiss lady who wanted to practice her English with me.
The day I left Lausanne, I ceremoniously took all the books I had bought during my time there and donated them to say thank you for all that the library had given me and to leave something for the section to remember me by.
The flat was great for parties and entertaining. The first dinner party I had, I made soup as a starter and was just turning round to serve it up when I realised I didn’t have any soup bowls. We had to make do with what was in the flat: a big cup, a deep plate, a pan, and so on. One friend who got the salad bowl said that she was just glad she didn’t get the dog bowl, horrified by my lack of organisation. I don’t know where that bowl had come from but it held soup just fine.
Sometimes, I would cook myself very elaborate dinners and open a really good bottle of red wine, a party for one. Other times I would stay up all night reading or writing or sitting under the stars on the balcony, or lie in the middle of the floor and talk to friends on the phone. My phone had a great big long wire so I could carry it right around the flat to talk and alternatively, I could not answer it or the door, if I didn’t want to, especially that time I had a stalker. Bless his lonely heart.
I was busy getting to know myself in the time honoured female rite of passage.
A lovely friend who helped me move told me over the beers we cracked open to celebrate my new pad (we did a special beer run and got a huge crate, and I think I had a flat warming party too) to relish every second as she hadn’t had long enough being alone. I didn’t believe her. I even read a book on living alone along with Women who run with the wolves ordered from that quaint new bookshop online called Amazon. She was right, though. I met the man who became my husband about six months later, and I’ve never really been alone since.
I love my family, I do, but I have occasional fantasies of being alone and living alone. In my dreams, especially when my subconscious is telling me something, I’m back in my flat sometimes alone, but mainly I am with other people. A couple of years ago, I dreamt that the flat was full of loads of people bothering me and an acquaintance handed me a key so that I could lock them out and regain my solitude and joy.
Like many women who have put themselves on the back burner as they raise their children, tend the home, do their jobs, and try to squash in their dreams and aspirations in the tiny slivers of time left over, I have lost touch with myself, I realise that I miss me and I occasionally crave the freedom I had back then.
If I am being totally honest with myself, sometimes I was lonely, the existential loneliness of being human, and I craved deep connection. But, if I was to meet my old self now and tell me about the even cooler flat I live in today, in London of all places, with my lovely little family which includes my cats – I always wanted a cat and now I have two – and that I became the mum/university lecturer/yogini I dreamed I could be, I am sure I would be pleased.
Last night after dinner, I stood in the garden with a glass of red wine, there was no moon to be seen, the air was damp but smelt of bonfires the way it does at autumn, and everyone came out to join me. I was happy to share the moment with them but could have done with a little longer by myself, and I was put in mind of my old self, in my old flat, by myself and it feels like now it is time once more to experience that space again and a coming back to me.
Today, I have gotten out my Halloween decorations. I’ve said before that I dread winter but with ritual, fluffy socks, fires, and warm milk, the heat of Bikram and new projects, autumn is less nowadays about endings and more about beginnings. Tarot reader, Dane Hart likens this time of year to hibernating, going deep, and I love to think that’s what I did all those years ago in my very own space. So, this autumn, I am super keen on remembering that energy, diving deep, connecting to myself and being there for me. I am ready to experience again that rush of total happiness and excitement at being alive and I can’t wait to see what I have to teach myself.
[ part 7 ]