Preparing to leave for a long time in a foreign country is easier than I thought it would be, actually. That’s before you get there and realise you’ve forgotten your driving license, clean socks and cats, who should be wailing their way round Paris airport by now.

I am lucky enough to have several people around me to remind me first thing in the morning of whatever it was I spent all night thinking about. Parents, grandparents, friends are all doing their best to think of everything. Problem is, they think of it all at once and all at the same time. So one day, I’ll get a phone call from one telling me to go to the dentist’s before I go, a second phone call reminding me to do the Social Security paperwork and a third asking which books I’m taking and have I got a Kindle yet. As I am a wonderfully patient soul, I carefully answer the lot and make all necessary appointments. The next day, just as I am dreading going to said dentist’s, somebody else rings to remind me to make a dentist’s appointment. This can go on for a good two weeks after the event.

It’s quite interesting staring at cardboard boxes and wondering what on earth I could possibly have put in a box labelled “Stuff”, or another box calling itself “More stuff”. Very helpful. So you open everything, take it all out, decide what you might possibly need in a few years time, wonder why on earth you bothered packing the whole thing the first time and put it all back in again. Quite a productive way of lightening the load, considering that whatever boxes are left at the end go in the bin.

Helpful friends have been taking bits of furniture away with them, which originally had the positive side of seeing friends I hadn’t seen for a long time. That somehow turned into short e-mails or Facebook messages along the lines of “what’s left?”. Some come for half an hour, load the car up and disappear. Others drive two or three hours to come and visit, eat out and chat for ages, both of us knowing full well we probably won’t see each other again for a while. The flat is slowly emptying and the bin is slowly filling, the deadline is approaching and I’m thinking about putting up an “Everything Must Go” sign with six exclamation marks.