In July 2012 Alpine Family, then a somewhat smaller unit than we are now, embarked on a new adventure: giving up hectic London life for a new start in the French Alps.
It was a temporary move – I had a year’s maternity leave, and what better way to spend it than gallivanting up and down mountainsides with the soundtrack of cow bells echoing around us. The hills were indeed alive, and the Von Trapps had nothing on us (although admittedly I am yet to dress my little darlings in curtains…). Life couldn’t have been more different had we moved to the moon – life as a City lawyer was a distant memory as I got used to life as a stay-at-home mummy in the middle of nowhere with two kids (Alpine Boy aged 3 and a half; Alpine Girl aged 7 weeks when we moved here). Doctors’ appointments, supermarket trips, and snow (lots of snow): all was new, all was in French, and I blogged about the lot (well, some of it).
And, as time tends to have a habit of doing, those twelve months passed in a heartbeat. Alpine Girl learnt to crawl, Alpine Boy learnt to ski, Alpine Papa worked his socks off and I discovered my mountain mojo. As the end of maternity leave got closer, I began to panic slightly – would we have to go back to flat old London, where the only ‘mountain’ I would be scaling was of the metaphorical career variety (oh, and the 33 floors of my City office)?
But we lucked out. A very generous boss allowed me to work from home, commuting to London every two weeks, and so with a hi-ho, hi-ho, it was off to work I went. We got an au pair, she was awful, we fired her, we got a child-minder, she was brilliant, we kept her; and so the next year or so passed, in a chaotic blur of crazy international commuting, walks in the hills, and cheese. And wine. And cheese.
And then we lucked out even more – our beautiful Alpine Baby was born on a snowy night in March 2014, bringing us one headcount closer to real Von Trapp life (still staying away from those curtains…).
For a while it was perfect, but the sharpened needle of reality was heading closer to our bubble of Alpine bliss. Working in my PJs had to end: it was a temporary position and one with which my firm was not prepared to continue (and it was nothing to do with the state of said PJs. Apparently). We couldn’t stay here without my income – life in the Alps is about as expensive as life in London (Milka may be cheaper but housing ain’t) – and I was struggling to find a replacement job. I spent hour after hour writing and rewriting application forms, only for firms to spend second after second rejecting me for being ‘too qualified’ or ‘too specialised’ (or just crap, who knows). I was lucky enough to be offered two jobs I would have loved – teaching English to law students, and office work for travel company/hotel – but neither were the long-term solution we so desperately needed if we were to stay here.
And so London was calling: the growl of stability and mortgages and suburbs and pension plans (and, um, Marks and Spencer) was starting to drown out that soothing whisper of mountain life. It wasn’t as if we’d be moving to a war zone or a ghetto – we’d be going back to a nice house and a stable job and a comfortable life – but the thought of uprooting and heading back to the city was somewhat stressful, to say the least. Sleepless nights were the norm, and it had nothing to do with the brand new baby in our midst. (Ok, maybe a little bit).
And the growl won. At least for a while. The date was set for the move back to the UK – we would see another winter but then the Alpine dream was to melt away. From March 2015 we would be back in our previous life, as if we had never been away, with just a couple of extra kids and some dodgy ski-mask tan lines to show for our gap years. London chaos would gobble us up, and no matter how much I tried to convince myself (and others) that Yorkshire Tea on tap and Corrie four times a week would make it all OK, I never quite managed.
And, until last week, that might have been where the story ended; our Alpine sabbatical would just have been a mystic tale we told our kids before they (finally, dammit) went to sleep. But, like a oh-so-convenient-yet really-not-that-original plot-twist in a poorly-written novel, it happened. Someone gave me a break. More to the point, someone gave me a job!
So the Alpine dream is not over. It’s only just begun (I hope! ). Starting next month I’m no longer a lawyer, I’m just a lowly legal assistant in Geneva. The fear of giving up a career in which I have invested so much time, money and brainpower is, weirdly, enormous: as I contemplate the (no doubt dull) working path which lies ahead, I conveniently blank out the memory of 18-hour work days and stress-induced eczema all over my face which was once my norm. But leaving behind my career means we can stay here, which is the best thing for us all. And anyway, fear is just fear – if I’d listened to my fears two and a half years ago I would never have made it here; I would never have known that cows really wear bells, and that cheese could cost so damn little yet taste so damn good. I would never have found my inner Alpine Mummy.
Watch this space. Alpine Mummy is here to stay!