Life before yoga: Was I petite nicole? 1.

In the last couple of years, I have been using this space to document the transformation I’ve undergone as a result of much healing work (I decline to use the word spiritual in an attempt to avoid alienating anyone though essentially, I would say spirit has rested at the core of this). I feel that it might be; 1. useful, and 2. amusing, for my blog followers to understand the extent of this transformation by sharing the perspective I had on life prior to this and the angst that ruled my life.

When I moved to Paris in 2005 it was in the midst of a haze of anger and frustration at a system that as far as I could see, had done nothing but attempt to disenfranchise and suppress me. Unlike Russell Brand who escaped this painful existence in sex and drugs, I sought refuge by trying to leave the country but discovered the same problems catching up to me.  So, in hope that I may inspire some of you to trust in the universe and change your life in the face of what may seem like insurmountable odds, here is the account of stuff that happened when I left for Paris in 2005:

I suppose I wasn’t really thinking straight, the day I decided to move to Paris that is.  A bit hung-over I think. Although let’s be honest, I rarely do. Think straight that is. For the true liberation of ‘woman’, we must be able to stand up and remain proud even when we would rather erase the previous night from our blurred memory and standing upright may be tricky. Yet here I am, shouting from the rooftops, “Yes, I’ve made mistakes: I’ve been out with some bastards, I’ve fondled some friends, I’ve swallowed things that aren’t even legal but no, I’m not a whore or a druggie and I make an honest living. I’m simply a product of the world I live in.”

In this world, Nietzsche lives and God is dead. Sex, drugs and drum n bass are my religion and the prose that followed were the mess that was my neo-modern, feminist and ex-foreign life as I tried to find my way through the tangled web that was Paris and back to London again. I’m sure that you’ll make your own judgements about what kind of person I am from the prose that follows and you are free to label me as you please. As Roland Barthes once said, “The author is dead.” Though trust me I’m still alive and kicking.

Either way, I can be content in the knowledge that I have been truthful and frank about my adventures and misadventures. However, I’d rather regret something I have done than something I haven’t and it’s this motto that I live by. Oh, and any ex-employers who’ve been evil to me, watch out, you’ve been stripped down and whipped along the corridor with your bare white arse trembling with fear.


Where the Seine meets the sky, spilling over the edge of the horizon,

its waters become fiery in the molten sunset,

flanked by the dark silhouettes of Paris’ architectural treasures:

Notre-Dame, the Louvre and the Musee D’Orsay.

As day turns to dusk and gives birth to the night,

the amber turns pearly and the river is lustrous with the moonbeams’ glow.

 Over a cup of coffee

“Nicola – I think it would be better if the team meetings follow my Management Meetings. Easier to brief the team that way…” Rachel – my boss – made the request as she breezed from the office, leaving me groaning inwardly at my desk, scribbling myself a ‘To Do’ list (re-arrange meetings, re-book rooms, send requests, organise minutes) with all the enthusiasm of a Parisien street cleaner as they watch yet another toy poodle relieving itself on the streets of the Marais at the instruction of the fur-clad, stiletto-heeled owner (who was male by the way).  Again, I mentally respent the £16,000 I blew on an English degree that wasn’t being utilised.  In terms of overhauling the filing system, my writing and analytical skills seemed about as useful as an igloo in the desert or “A barber on the steps of the Guillotine,” I chuckled to myself, remembering the Blackadder gag.  My mind took the reference and wandered with it, back to Paris. I remembered those narrow shit-covered, cobbled streets of last April, lined with boutiques, windows filled with trinkets and treasures galore.  I remembered the restaurant with Dan that surprise birthday weekend, the romance everywhere I looked, except between us. I wondered what lay behind that façade of Parisien pretension; if I could scrape away the glitz as on a Lotto scratchcard… would I be lucky underneath?   I thought of those promenading Parisiens, pooches in tow or stuffed into designer handbags (the latest ad-campaign for Lancel shows a coiffed poodle sprouting from the top of a chic looking shoulderbag).  In Paris, tall, handsome, muscular men stride the streets devil-may-care with the Paris Hiltons of the canine world trotting along behind them, their fur coaxed into a froth of bright pink curls, sporting Christian Dior collars and nail varnished toes (and they wonder why Brits think Parisien men are a tad effeminate…?)

With the aroma of French coffee wisping, wafting through my mind, I was brought back to the reality of the office as I looked down into my cup of instant and grimaced. I had a careful sip and with it, an epiphany. 

“I’m going to live in Paris for a while,” I said.  The only person in earshot, my colleague Yeta, picked up my mug and sniffed it, as though searching for the cause of my outburst.  Finding nothing more than coffee, she regarded me, confused. 

“It’s only Kenco,” she said.  “Isn’t it?”

“Yes.”  She’d hit the nail on the head.  “It’s only Kenco.”

With the thought out in the open, I resolved to do something about it. I wanted more from life than instant coffee in the morning and organising someone else’s diary.  I worried I’d find myself guilty of murder if I didn’t do something about it (though perhaps a jury might show leniency due to the mental cruelty my boss was inflicting upon me – extenuating circumstances and all that). I attempted to count up the perks of my job – organising meetings, diary management, gritting my teeth whenever my boss fluttered by – and came up with zero. In fact, I was becoming increasingly confident that the side effects to working where I did would eventually manifest themselves in stomach ulcers, high blood pressure, and various other disorders involving spontaneous implosions, ultimately caused by the corkage of my creativity and ability to speak my mind (the latter particularly serious, considering my usual upfront manner with friends, family and on occasion, the general public). A tiny, bitter part of me had been driven nuts for months.  Admin assistants (technically lower in the hierarchy than me) or rather, trainees, moved into the interesting roles in the company, and me.  Here.  Stuck.  Forced to work as a PA because I couldn’t live on an admin salary as, unlike them, I thought snidely, I didn’t have parents to rely on.  For the same reason, I couldn’t take an entry-level or graduate position in a publishing or creative company so, after the second refusal for promotion (due to “lack of experience”) at a UK children’s charity, I thought about exactly what career might suit me or vice versa because right then nothing felt right.

Paris seemed the right thing to do at that point in my life: single, no mortgage, no responsibilities – except my cat. My lack of; French; somewhere to live; work and friends there seemed merely pebbles on my path at the time, and I’ve never been one to take the easy road. I was an ordinary girl seeking a life less ordinary.  I wanted total unfamiliarity, from the streets I walked by day to the bed I slept in at night. So that was why, on the 11th January 2005, I came to be leaving on a 6.45 pm flight for the ‘joie de vivre Français,’ after several wasted flights (don’t ask), months, a few mad weekends and some dangerous liaisons. An emotional ‘leaving do’ had taken place where every one of the people I’d invited turned up to dinner and a bit of a boogie to the requisite 80’s disco and even the drum n’ bass boys joined in.

All it took to turn my life upside down was £15: an Easyjet flight from Luton to Paris.  I watched the lights of the airport roll away, remembering my leaving party – friends, dinner, dancing, a goodbye shag (bloody Cupid). Not that it was love of course.  I leaned my head against the cold window and wondered for a moment why I was leaving fantastic friends and my long-suffering pussy cat (she’d been dumped on Ali once already when I ran off to New Zealand for 6 months) behind me for definite uncertainty. I took with me: 3 grand, a French phrasebook and a pocketful of optimism.