So yep, I live a life of glamour, me. I live in paradise, and work in paradise. I wake each morning to the sound of cowbells, the sun peeking over majestic mountains to stroke my sleepy face through the open window. And then I jump into a jet and, in the blink of an eye, find myself on the 29th floor of a gleaming, architectural miracle in the middle of the City, looking out over skyscrapers and roofs, marvelling at the sheer size and beauty of London seen from above.
Or something like that, anyway.
In fact, my commute is not glamorous at all. I go to London every other week, leaving early (very early) on the Thursday, and returning late (very late) on the Friday. My life is like Groundhog Day, and each fortnight seems to blur into one. They all go a little something like this:
Wednesday morning: I suddenly remember I’ve got to go to bloody London tomorrow and won’t see my kids for days, so I decide to be Supermum and do something brilliant and exciting with them. Why spend the day resting and recuperating and getting ready for two days of commuting hell when you could tire yourself out chasing your four-year-old up and down mountains or taking him into town for a picnic with his papa? That seems to be my thought process anyway (though I’m not sure it’s intentional). So, for example, two weeks ago, the day before I went to London, Alpine Boy, Alpine Girl and I all went for a massive walk. Totally, utterly, completely massive in fact – over five hours in total. I was so proud of my little Alpine Boy and his tenacity, not to mention his walking ability. I kept asking if he wanted to turn back but he was adamant we were going to make it to the chalet I’d told him about. And make it we did, played in the snow up there, and made it back down again, all in one piece and still with smiles on our faces. He walked all the way with his own bag, and I had Alpine Girl and all our kit and food on my back (about 11 or 12 kg in total) – we both slept well that night.
Wednesday afternoon: could be spent packing and generally sorting my life out, but it tends to be taken up doing something more fun, as above. Or surfing the internet and dozing in the garden if the kids are taking a nap. Productive stuff like that.
Wednesday night: is always supposed to be an early night, i.e. in bed, asleep, before 10.00pm. That has never happened. Usually I manage to get the kids bathed, fed, calm and asleep by 8.30pm, then spend hours stacking the dishwasher, hanging out washing and doing the hoovering – all stuff that I could have (should have) done during the day. I also have to wash and dry my hair (so the people at work don’t know that I usually resemble a mountain goat. With dreadlocks). This task, given that I haven’t had my hair cut since I was 8 months pregnant (Alpine Girl is now over 13 months old), takes about two hours from start to finish. I therefore seem to find myself, every fortnight, running around manically between 10.30 and 11.30pm, unpacking my suitcase from two weeks ago, repacking it, cursing because the printer’s not working and I have to print out my boarding pass and loads of stuff for work, desperately trying to find my passport (I can usually remember putting it in a safe place but can rarely remember where that safe place is), desperately trying to find a re-sealable plastic bag for my liquids on the plane, ironing (usually one handed so I can do everything else with the other hand), and checking the weather report for London so I know whether to take flip flops or an umbrella. By the time 11.30pm rolls around I am so worked up I have to make myself a camomile tea (I love being middle aged). Which is so hot I can’t drink it for another 10 minutes. So by the time I finally turn the light out and snuggle into bed it’s usually nearly midnight. If the camomile tea doesn’t do it’s trick it could be at least another half hour before I fall asleep. Epic fail. Because…
Thursday 3.45 am: (YES AM!!!!! And in fact, it’s 3.45 am French time, but I’m going to England so really it’s 2.45am… Hope you’re impressed.) I wake up. It’s pitch black and it feels like I’ve not even been to sleep yet. Alpine Papa is so wonderfully amazing that he gets up with me (he offers, I don’t ask, but I totally need him to do this – I am notoriously bad at managing my own alarm clock, especially where snooze buttons are involved). He rolls out of bed, leaving me moaning and groaning, and soon reappears like an angel, bearing a steaming cup of Yorkshire Tea. Then he disappears again, to make me a sandwich for the plane. What a lovely man.
4.00am: I slowly surface and throw my clothes on, but that’s it – no make-up and no contact lenses, far too early for that. Then it’s downstairs for breakfast number 1, before heading out the door at…
…4.30am: Still pitch black, so it’s always hit and miss (literally) whether I will reverse out of the driveway or into the bush. As an aside here, I want to point out that one reason we wanted an au pair was so Alpine Papa could take me to the airport and I wouldn’t have to leave the car there – saving a good half hour in the mornings. But, although that extra half hour in bed is worth a LOT to me, it’s not (yet) worth the stress of allowing another au pair into our house…
5.40am: After a rather relaxing drive, listening to the calm of France Inter on the radio and smiling to myself as the pitch-black sky slowly lightens and the silhouettes of the sleeping mountains show themselves, I arrive at the airport. I have done the journey so many times now I can pretty much do it in my sleep (though I have not had to do that so far), which is good as I have left no time to get lost/get stuck in traffic/crash the car/hit a deer (as Alpine Papa did the first time he came to pick me up from the airport…).
6.00am: The car park is about a 10-minute walk from the airport, and so by 6.00am I am in the queue at security, hoping the screen telling me it’s “less than 10 minutes” to the other side isn’t lying to me. It usually isn’t. It’s Swiss, after all.
6.30am: By this point I’ve made it through security, gone to the shop to see if I can afford a drink, decided that I can’t (£4.70 for a small bottle of orange juice?!), tried to log on to the airport Wi-Fi, decided that I can’t, watched everyone else forming a huge queue to get on the plane, and decided that I won’t. (I usually regret this when I’m the last to board and they firmly wrestle my hand baggage off me and put it in the hold, despite me pleading with them that “I’ve got a meeeeeeting at 9.15! I don’t have time to pick my bag up at the other end!”)
7.00am: plane supposed to leave.
7.15am: plane usually leaves. I tuck into my sandwich from Alpine Papa – breakfast number 2 – before falling gracefully asleep with my head back, mouth open and, no doubt, dribble dripping off the bottom of my chin. I wake early enough before landing so I have time to wipe off the dribble and attempt to put on full makeup (including liquid eyeliner), hoping there’s no turbulence as I do.
7.05 am (English time): plane supposed to land.
7.15 am: plane usually lands. I then spend about 20 minutes fighting to get off the plane (realising now why people pay to select their seats – so they can sit at the front and get off quicker. I am, however, far too tight for that), another 30 minutes running (literally) through Gatwick airport to the station, and another 10 minutes buying a train ticket and getting on the train.
9.00 am (on a good day, 9.30am on a bad day): make it to work. Which means it has taken longer to get from Gatwick to the City than it did to get from Geneva to Gatwick. Go figure. My meeting really does start at 9.15 – usually without me…
10.30 am: By the time the meeting finishes I have been up nearly 8 hours, so it’s time for breakfast number 3 (usually a bacon sarnie, seeing as they’re hard to find in France). I then spend the day working hard, catching up, and working hard. Just taking time to have lunch number 1 (at 11.30am) and lunch number 2 (at 1.00). And perhaps a little cake at 4.00pm ish, just to keep me going… And I have to find time to nip to the shops, to stock up on Yorkshire Tea and get my Marks & Spencers fix. But mainly I just work. (Honest.)
6.30/7.00pm: I head to the house of whichever friend’s hospitality I am abusing that night. I usually turn up very contrite, an hour later than I said I would (but I am hoping they know me well enough by now not to have actually expected me on time. One day I will turn up on time somewhere and no-one will be there…). I have usually told them that I am desperately tired and need to be in bed by 9.30pm, but by the time we have cracked open the wine and tucked into beautiful food and beautiful gossip, I give up all such plans. It’s so great to be able to have a proper catch up with all my fantastic friends after so long – the need for sleep just drifts away. The wine flows, we put the world to rights, and before I know it it’s nearly midnight and I’ve been up over 21 hours, having had only 5 hours sleep the night before. For once, I’m asleep as soon as my head hits the pillow.
Friday 6.00am: I have only done this once. I forgot to reset my phone clock to English time, and so got up at 7.00 French time. I.e. 6.00 English time. Dammit. Went back to sleep.
7.00am: Up, dressed, to work (remembering why I hate London commuting).
9.00am – 5.30pm: as before – work, eat, work, eat, shop, talk, work, eat, work, leave.
5.30 – 8.15pm: the same never-ending journey between plane and City, this time in reverse. On the plane I sleep, with my head back, mouth open and no doubt dribble dripping off the end of my chin. See a pattern here?
10.45 pm: plane lands. I walk back to the car park, spend a good ten minutes trying to remember where the hell I left the car this time, spend another ten minutes trying to find the bloody exit to the car park, and then I’m on the road. Trying desperately not to fall asleep. Wide motorways turn to lakeside carriageways, which turn to winding mountain roads, which turn to my drive, and I’m home.
12.45 am: the epic commute comes to an end. I pull into the drive and turn off the headlights. Millions of stars are winking at me from above, seemingly glad I made it home alive without snoozing behind the wheel. The searchlight of the moon lights up the mountains, and I take a great gulp of that fresh air I have missed so much. Apart from the crickets, the owls, and an occasional cow bell, there is not a sound. I slowly heave my suitcase out of the car, my arms as heavy as my eyelids, my eyelids as heavy as lead. The lights are on in the chalet, a warm glow reaching out. Alpine Papa is waiting up for me, cup of tea in hand, hugs at the ready. Tomorrow I’ll be woken by my children jumping on me, clambering for kisses, not a Blackberry alarm set an hour too early.
It’s good to be jetset. It’s better to be home.