New Year’s Resolutions have never really been my thing, but this year I have made one. Let me explain.
Twenty-two years ago, almost to the month, my then wife Madeleine, my first son Brodan and our dog Dina, set off in a Ford Granada Estate car to find our dream home in France and live the life we pictured there.
The quest, discovery and purchase of said house became the subject of a series of books called French Onion Soup!. The first was published in 2013 and the second will be later this year; my notebooks have enough in them for perhaps one or two more.
Did we live the dream? Yes we did. Was it what we expected? In some ways it was more so and in others less; but it was altogether far greater than we had anticipated.
We lived in the big house in Molinot – renamed P’tit Moulin in the books – for two years. Our second son, Silas was born there. But in 1995, with another baby on the way, we elected to go back to Scotland. We worked hard and did well and then, now with a brood of four and another two dogs, we returned to Molinot in 2001. Again we stayed for two years and returned, again for a complex variety of reasons. This is a decision which, though it had unforeseen and drastic consequences, I have never regretted.
During the next few years our family was blighted by cancer. Madeleine suffered breast cancer and required a radical mastectomy. Yet I could not give her the support she needed and deserved, because at the same time, my mother was diagnosed with terminal lung cancer, which I believe to have been caused by decades of using carbon tetrachloride in the boutique she owned. Even I was touched by this horrible disease, and had to have a skin tumour removed. I am one of those white-skinned, fair haired Scots for whom the sun is both blessing and curse.
During this time I struggled to complete the self-build house we had begun and somehow, at the same time, hold together a business. It was not easy and the summer after my mother died, 2005, almost broke me.
But then the phone began to ring again and business came through our doors. We survived.
For five years we did not set foot in our home at Molinot, and then, in October 2008 we finally returned: Me, Charis, Ythan and Silas. It hadn’t fallen down, though it had suffered from neglect. Still I rolled up my sleeves and set to work and from then on made at least two visits a year.
In 2009 Madeleine and I decided to separate. After much heartbreaking wrangling, I took on the house at Molinot and she the one in Scotland, finally completed.
In 2011 I moved to Molinot permanently. I arrived just before Christmas with Brodan, my eldest son. After he returned to Scotland in January, I was alone. It was the first time really alone in decades. Alongside working on the house I began to write again, the Onion Soup! books but also more serious works. The first of these, now called Why Men Made God, is due for publication on May the first 2015.
Through FaceBook I met a woman in Canada, Karis Burkowski, who became the editor and now the co-author of Why Men Made God. Her enthusiasm and support made the project actually happen.
But I get ahead of myself. In 2012, I was in France, but I still had a sailing boat in Scotland. I wanted to bring her to France but soon realised the futility of the idea. Still undecided, I returned to Scotland in April, repaired and launched the boat – called Misty – and sailed her, with my sons, up the east coast of Scotland, through the Caledonian Canal and down to Oban, with a very hairy sail round Mull.
I had received an offer on Misty and in August, with no other real alternative in sight, decided to take it. A few more great solo sails were had and then, with great sadness, she and I parted in September.
I returned to France. Charis and Ythan visited for the school holidays and once again there was life in my house; but not for long. The days drew short.
I had been looking on online dating sites to see if I could find a partner. A couple of girls had chatted and one really seemed to be interesting, but then something happened: a whirlwind blew into my life and turned it on its ear.
The whirlwind’s name was Crissy Cruz José. She is from the Philippines. From the very beginning she was like a drug for me, a poison. Within a few weeks – during which time we were online every day, often more than once – I decided that I had to meet her. I told the other girls I was chatting to that I could not go further with them and bought tickets to Manila.
I will tell the story of what happened, with her permission, another day. Suffice for now to say that we fell in love. I returned to France after three heady weeks with her, and came back in late February 2013. Something was wrong; we had had silly tiffs before, but now we were arguing a lot. Crissy and I both hated it. But we worked hard to resolve the issues, and the second half of the visit went better. Nevertheless I had a bad feeling as I said goodbye to her outside her house when I left for NAIA.
2013, while not as bad as 2005, was not a great year. I was really tight for money and began to lose sight of the plans Crissy and I had made, for her to come to France. She saw herself finding a job there – I know the place and knew how unlikely that would be. The plan was flawed and in the end that flaw ate, like the cancer I had known before, through our relationship. At Christmas, full of misery, I ended it.
It was a shitty thing to do and I deeply regret it. But what is done is done. I was hollow and broken. I had lost so much; my mother, my wife, the house I built. My kids were a thousand miles away. The loss of a beautiful love seemed just another coin in the well of my unhappiness. Crissy, I reasoned, would be better off without me and would quickly find someone new. I cried over her and tried to move on.
2014 turned into a good year. With Karis Burkowski I finished Why Men Made God and the project began to look like it might work. French Onion Soup! sales began to creep up, and I had plenty of other work.
So much so that I arranged another visit to the Philippines in December.
I had a few contacts for girls I had met on line and I went on dates with four of them – all for a big nothing. They were nice and all but…I was totally cold. I had known this feeling before, earlier in 2014, with other women, both online and in real. It was as if a part of me was missing. These relationships just felt wrong and I could not pursue them.
Then I saw Crissy on the same dating site where we first met. ‘Why not message her, just for old times’ sake,’ I asked myself. So I did and to my amazement she replied, saying yes why indeed not, we might meet.
The story of the next four weeks is between me and my Crissy. Suffice to say that as I write this she is sleeping in the bed we share in a rented condo. She looks so beautiful and peaceful and I love her so very much.
So where is this rambling parable taking us? Only here: Crissy’s redemption, her return to my life, is bought at a price. No more fantastic schemes of bringing her to go mad in rural France. I will do as Mohamet had to, and go to the mountain.
Which means that the big old house in France, which has brought so much joy and is full of over two decades of my life, will go on the market as soon as I return there. I will cry when I finally close the door but I will get over it. It’s just a house.
Crissy is not just a house. She is the person I want to be with for the rest of my life. She is a flesh and blood human with needs and desires, who can be hurt – and I have hurt her – and yet still love. I could never ask for more of a partner than that she would forgive the wrong I did her and open her warm heart to me again.
So the great French Dream will finally, after twenty-two years, come to an end. I will miss it and doubtless, in my dotage, sigh over my memories. But with the end of every chapter comes the start of a new and I know how that will begin, though not yet how it will end.
I will sell up in France and move to the Philippines to spend the rest of my life – or a long as she’ll have me – with my lovely Crissy. The decision has at last been taken. It’s time to start again.
And that is my belated, but at least considered, New Year’s resolution for 2015.