Gone, not before long

Dear readers,

Why am I still waiting at Villefranche train station?

When I initially called the farmer to arrange a lift to the vineyard, he said it would take him half an hour to arrive. An hour and a half later, and I haven’t heard a word from him. I decide to call him again, trying to mask the impatience in my voice. “Hi, it’s Arthur, I’m just wondering how long you’ll be?” Weirdly, I’m subjected to the same questions as before. “Do you have a big bag?”; “Will you wait outside by the bus station?” “Yes, how long will you be?” – I ask a second time since I didn’t get an answer the first. “About fifteen minutes, see you then.” OK, that’s a relief. Just fifteen minutes.

Another hour and a half scrapes past, and it becomes difficult to remain optimistic. In fact I’m almost certain that this farmer will never turn up, but I feel compelled to call him one more time, just to eliminate all doubt. He runs through the now eerily familiar script, with two minor alterations: he ends the call without giving a time estimate, and, in the closing seconds, I can faintly detect laughter in his voice. I’m left sitting on my backpack inside the train station, feeling cheated. After all the effort I put in to get here on time, this farmer can’t even complete one simple task? Whether it’s a grand display of incompetence or part of an elaborate con, I’m not willing to wait and find out.

It’s already 5pm so there’s very little point in hitchhiking now. Luckily I have a place to camp and I know there’s a McDonald’s nearby where I can successfully do nothing for several hours: before you chastise me for going straight there and neglecting to explore the town, I would like to add that there was nothing much left to see after my arduous search for a place to sleep the night before (read the post).  As for all the nice restaurants, cafes and so on? Well I definitely can’t afford any luxuries now that I’m unemployed.

In hindsight, I could have exercised more patience and restraint. I could have listened to the advice of my ex-girlfriend, who called the farmer on my behalf (she’s French, I’m not) and told me to keep waiting at the train station, as he was “on his way back there.” By then I was already in the loving embrace of MD’s, but honestly it was my pride and ego that held me back. I was like a 21st century Icarus who never received his wings, and still (somehow) fell to the ground, defeated by hubris. It’s not that I regret my decision, I just question how rational it was.

Heavy rain drives people inside McDonald’s like moths to a flame. If I had walked back to the train station, I would be soaked through by now. As it is I’m bone dry and consumed by WiFi, writing a scathing complaint email to Apcon, the company behind this whole mess. The fact I had the option to keep waiting doesn’t counteract their gross incompetence, does it? I end the email by accusing the company of violating their own contract as a result of the farmer’s actions. It’s gung-ho stuff, but I’m determined to get a refund – oh yes, I never mentioned, there was a £60 application fee, and I paid it. At the time their response was to thank me for my “trust in their project.” A great example of irony if you ever need one.

Next I scroll through work abroad websites, trying to find any quick source of cash. But something about starting anew overwhelms me, and the sudden negative connotations of Villefranche populate my mind with distracting, self-deprecating thoughts, so I quickly abandon the job-search, deciding to gain some physical – and emotional – distance first.

While I wait for the rain to stop, I find ways to incessantly rant about my state of unemployment. First it’s a long phone call with my mum, then it’s a short and attention-seeking Facebook status that tragically proclaims, “I’ve lost my job before it even really begun.” Finally, I instigate a swarm of FB chats that all centre around my misfortune. It’s a pathetic marathon of self-indulgence, but it swiftly deters any less fleeting misery.

When I eventually walk to the campsite, an odd sense of circularity confronts me. Although it’s a feeling that signals my lack of progress, it is more comforting than anything else. For the first time since leaving home I am well-orientated and sure of where I will sleep. I don’t have to stare down the nagging uncertainty of it all. I don’t have to decide between settling for somewhere close by that presents an element of risk, or walking much further afield to a place I can only imagine will be better. OK, I have to admit, there is so much adrenaline and excitement in this process; I just need a short hiatus from it.

I intuitively move towards the pair of oak trees that sheltered me the night before, and pitch my tent in the middle of their marriage. Before I fall asleep one poignant thought rises to the surface of my mind. When we face and accept our losses, other experiences eventually emerge to fill their space, and they can be far more beautiful in the long run. In my case, losing (turning down?) my job led to this moment of peace and familiarity. It also led to the rest of my journey, and while it wasn’t at all easy I’m eternally grateful for how it turned out.


A Brightonian.


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