My year of saying yes: why Emma Freud and Richard Curtis are moving their family to the United States
In the first of her weekly diary
entries chronicling her
adventure, Emma Freud reveals how the plan was hatched and ponders what to do
with the pets and her inlaws' ashes New York
6:40AM BST 30 Jun 2015
I’m starting at the beginning here. Richard, who I live with, co-founded Comic Relief and I am now the director of Red Nose Day – yes, I know, I literally slept my way to the top.
2015 has so far been a mighty year. In March we mounted our biggest Comic Relief campaign so far, where we passed a total of a billion pounds raised since the organization began 30 years ago. In May we held the first ever Red Nose Day USA, which was the single toughest campaign of our lives.
In September Richard is working on the launch of the new Global Goals with The United Nations.
I am definitely fond of my boyfriend (it’s been 25 years, though I still won’t marry him in case someone better comes along.) But the workload this year has nearly killed him, and I can’t pretend there haven’t been rows, because there have.
I know, you aren’t supposed to argue with someone who is busy trying to save a life or two - but what about the fricking school run? After a year of 16-hour working days and an average of 30 meetings a week things got a bit shouty (a lot shouty) and a radical change became inevitable.
One night he finished work at 2 am and we discussed it seriously. I said I’d love to become one of those families who do brave and amazing things – like living abroad and having adventures instead of staying up all night re-editing fundraising films about mosquito nets. Richard said he promised to stop campaigning once these three events were done.
"I don’t believe you," I said, quietly (it wasn’t very quiet).
"It’s true," he said, tentatively.
"Let’s move to America in September for a year then," I said.
“What?” he said.
"Say ‘Yes’," I said.
“Yes”, he said.
It was a deal.
As a result, in nine weeks' time we’re taking our two youngest children out of school, swapping our mobiles for cells, packing one large suitcase each, renting out our
As yet, I’m not quite sure what we’re saying yes to, so last week we wrote a list of 10 things we’d like to embrace in this grown-up gap year. It read:
1. In a town with 24,000 restaurants, let’s never go the same restaurant twice even if we love it.
2. Let’s try to become movie experts – go to old films, festivals, talks and debates, not just films featuring the complete oeuvre of Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.
3. We should embrace American sports culture – baseball, basketball, American football, bowling, hot dogs.
4. Let’s forget TV (too many adverts) and go to a lot of music concerts and comedy nights instead – the smaller the venue the better.
5. Let’s be brave about weekends, go to places like
6. We should be a screen-free family every evening, even though the last time we tried this we lasted about 13 minutes.
7. Let’s rent an RV truck during a school holiday – drive somewhere, camp and try not to argue in it like last time.
8. Let’s definitely and definitively finally find out whether my brother’s American wife’s name is "Patty" or "Paddy".
9. Let’s form a family band and perform songs like Edelweiss without even a hint of irony.
10. And let’s say YES to almost everything that is suggested at almost all times.
I emailed it to the children and asked them to send us their responses. Bizarrely only one of them replied: it was the youngest, 11-year-old Spike. and he wrote one word - it was "No". Good start, I thought, something to build on.
The hardest decision has obviously been what to do with the pets. We have four children, a dog, two cats, two guinea pigs, two rabbits, about nine fish depending on the time of day you are checking their tank/graveyard and several hundred nits.
After endless discussions, we have decided to take our three sons with us (the fourth child has already left home), put the rabbits, guinea pigs and fish up for adoption, exterminate the nits and take the dog and cats with us on the plane as cargo. However one of the felines, Badger, has become something of a problem.
The airline has said it’s happy to have any animals in the cabin as long as they weigh 6kg including their basket. The dog and The Normal-Size-Cat are laughing – but Badger is a big lad: he’s closer in size to a puma, measures around twice the girth of our dog, and has very clearly eaten all the pies.
He’s currently coming in at an embarrassing 7kg without the basket, so he’s been put on a diet which has so far been entirely unsuccessful. Every morning he gets the cat equivalent of a small bowl of
Special K. And I’m beginning to suspect every morning when he has finished his food he goes to each of my neighbours' houses and eats the entire contents of their fridges. They probably don’t stop him because they assume he is a puma and may be dangerous.
Less of a problem but still an issue are our books. The new tenants don’t want any of them in the house. I would happily send most of them to Oxfam (if I haven’t read them by now, I’m not going to) but the Curtises are sentimental and like keeping everything they have ever enjoyed.
We have shelves of unread novels, boxes of read novels, and skip-size storage trunks of yellowing newspapers each one kept for decades because it contained an article that had once been savoured.
Unfortunately I am no longer allowed to be in charge of book disposal since a day in 2002 when I gave to Oxfam a pile of books containing a first edition of Wordsworth’s Lyrical Ballads, signed by the author. I admit it wasn’t my finest hour – I thought it just looked old and scruffy - but think how lovely it would have been for the purchaser who snapped it up for 50p.
We are also not sure whether to bring Richard’s parents with us. They currently live in a pair of urns in our study. His mum wanted to be sprinkled on the waters of the
And nobody can remember where my father-in-law said he wanted to be scattered so he is still residing in his urn. The current options are: they go into storage like our books (heartless); we donate them to Oxfam like the outgrown toys (weird); we leave them to be enjoyed by the new tenants in our home (weirder); we turn them into an hourglass or fireworks or paint or a diamond (those are all now a thing); or they come with us (insane).
I will let you know when an ashes decision is made because every week for the next 12 months I will be sharing the joys of this adventure: the horror on the face of my daughter who is a student in New York when she realises her parents are moving to within six blocks of her apartment, the rows about what (or who) to bin as we pack up the house, and the heated family debate about my decision to share the joys of this adventure with the readers of The Telegraph. It’s going to be an interesting year.