France was my home for seventeen years, then a second home for ten.
I moved there, having dreamed of doing so since I first visited when I was six. I moved with my husband and dog, and not much money, to a ruin in Provence. It was 1994. My child was born there, and we had a rich and varied social life, making life-long friends akin to family. It was a life full of challenges and rewards. I taught briefly at the school there, created a lovely home from nothing, helped my husband set up a landscape business, got divorced, and was always completely embraced by the community.
But when my son was thirteen I thought that an English education would benefit him; that it would be good for him to know his English heritage. So we returned to the UK.
I had stupidly never got him a French passport to which he was entitled, because well, we were European, so why would he need another European passport, I thought?
In fact once back in the UK, I did immediately endeavour to apply for a passport for him, but was told repeatedly, that since we no longer lived there he had lost the right. To this day, I think I may have been ill-advised.
We have kept a small house in the area where we lived, because for us both it is ‘home’ – it is where our hearts are.
But Brexit has stolen our rights to live and work in the country in which my son was born, and where all his childhood friends are. Each time he returns there now he is expected to show health insurance, a return ticket, and enough resources for the duration of his stay, as we all do.
Going ‘home’ is now filled with anxiety about the 90/180 day rule, and the new fear of becoming illegal immigrants because of miscalculating the days we spend there. There’s also an awful all-pervading sense that we no longer belong. In fact we now no longer belong anywhere.
Our grief is the grief of divorce. I invested 27 years of my life – economically and emotionally – in a country in which I now have no freedom to live and work, and my son, whose roots are in France, feels like a prisoner of the UK, at a time when he needs every opportunity he can get both in Europe and the UK… Just as all our young do. The emotional cost is devastating. I still cannot believe that a ‘free country’, such as the UK, can legally steal the life-long rights, identities and freedom of its own people and expect them to get on and shut up about it. In constructing an entire life in and around France, only to have it stolen from us, makes me weep, and at a loss as to know how to find my way through these new rules, new fears and new feelings of alienation and even worse scorn.
© Nicola, 57, British, back in the UK since 2011 after living in France for 27 years
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