petite anglaise

July 27, 2005

bristling

Filed under: french touch, parting ways — petiteanglaise @ 12:59 pm

I am rapidly coming to the conclusion that separating from someone you were not married to is actually more expensive than divorce.

Take France Telecom for example.

A couple of weeks ago, it occurred to me that my phone number was still registered in Mr Frog’s name. As I have always harboured a burning, secret desire to see my name in print (even if it is only in the pages blanches), and didn’t particularly want to speak to any old flames or schoolfriends that might look up Mr Frog at some point in the future, I decided to have the entry amended.

The lady from France Telecom who explained the procedure to follow was uncharacteristically helpful. A fax, signed by Mr Frog, authorising a transfer of the line, plus a copy of my bank details was all that was required. A couple of days later, I noted that my name already appeared in the online phone directory.

That was fiendishly simple and efficient, for France, I thought to myself.

And then I received the first bill bearing my name.

€ 55.00 – Services ponctuels ou occasionnels (ouverture de ligne)

I phone France Telecom, to report what I am – in my misguided optimism – determined to see as an error. I haven’t just moved in, and I don’t have a new telephone number, so I can’t possibly be charged a “connection fee”, can I?

First, I explain my problem to the service clients in a calm, almost cheerful manner.

“But you were informed of the cost when you enquired as to what the procedure was to carry out the name change.” states the lady, voice dripping with boredom.

“No, absolutely not. I was informed of no such thing!” I splutter, suffering from an acute sense of humour failure.

My call is transferred to the service facturation, where I have the pleasure of starting my complaint all over again from the beginning, minus the cheerfulness.

The man ascertains that I have not changed my telephone number, and (pretends to) consult with a supervisor. When he returns, he tells me it is absolutely normal to have been charged in this way.

I am livid. “It’s daylight robbery,” I shout, trying desperately to think how to say “preposterous” in French, but making do with a forceful “c’est aberrant!”

Getting worked up like this makes no difference whatsoever to anything except my life expectancy, which is considerably shortened.

When he can get a word in edgeways, Mr France Telecom gleefully delivers his parting shot:

“There are some cases in which the transfer of a line is free. If a line is transferred between spouses, or if you were PACSé for example.”

I knew Mr Frog and I should have got married.

July 25, 2005

wobbles in paradise

Filed under: mills & boon, navel gazing — petiteanglaise @ 12:36 pm

I asked my Lover to buy a one-way ticket to Paris, so that I could pretend he was here to stay for good.

I had been cautioned, by many of the people who read petite anglaise and wish me well, that after the desolate lows of last week, I should be aware that spending time with my Lover would no doubt prove to be a palliative therapy, relieving the symptoms and reducing the suffering without curing the root causes. Problems would be forgotten, temporarily, but would not miraculously dissipate.

They were not wrong.

I spent a simply heavenly weekend in his company. The most mundane things, like shopping for food in the supermarket, or fetching a DVD, were blissful. We talked. We strolled around my neighbourhood. We went to bed at unlikely times of day. Happiness was pottering in my flat, knowing he was in the next room making a cup of tea.

Sometimes I almost had to pinch myself to see whether it was all real. I think he felt the same. A couple of months ago all he knew of me was what I had written. Now there he was in my apartment, contemplating the strangely familiar view from my balcony, known to him previously only as the header image at the top of this page.

I was however conscious of the demons lurking just on the periphery of my vision. I would catch sight of them, fleetingly, out of the corner of my eye, and knew they were waiting to pounce in a moment of vulnerability.

From time to time I would wobble dangerously: some trifling thing would bring sudden, unnecessary tears to my eyes and my spirits would plummet. A sensation of falling, similar to that which I get sometimes when hovering between sleep and wakefulness, ‘landing’ on my bed with a sudden jolt. I was torn between attempting to put on a brave face for my Lover, or baring my soul and running the risk of wounding him, making him feel powerless. Because even when he is with me, holding me in his strong arms, and not stranded at the other end of a phone line, there is only so much he can do to help.

I chose honesty. Because that is what we do best. Love might not make me invincible, but as long as I am mindful of this, and know that I do still need to exorcise my demons without his help, we can weather this storm together.

July 22, 2005

sinking

Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaise @ 10:02 am

I fell into a hole yesterday.

Not literally, of course.

Despite the fighting talk in my last post, despite the fact that my lover is coming to stay with me for two weeks while Tadpole is away on vacation with mamie et papy, I suddenly felt overwhelmingly sad. Fragile. Brittle. Exhausted.

I knew it was a temporary bout of depression, and that I wasn’t seeing things clearly, but that didn’t help. I couldn’t find my way out.

Tadpole was adorable. She saw me crying silent tears and came to give me a big hug. She fetched a tissue for my runny nose (I have a summer cold – it is not helping).

“Mummy’s tired. Mummy fait dodo on di bed,” she said, maternally, climbing up onto my bed and motioning for me to join her.

Not that I would actually be allowed to sleep. I’d barely closed my eyes when she screeched “WAKE UP!”, only milimetres from my right ear.

I opened my eyes, pretending to have been woken with a jump, and Tadpole thought this was so hilarious that we had to repeat the exercise at least ten times.

There is nothing worse than finding yourself unable to muster up even the ghost of a smile when you are playing with your child.

July 18, 2005

reunion

Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaise @ 1:14 pm

In 1995 I would probably have ordered a snakebite and blackcurrant in a damp and dingy cellar nightclub, with a name like “The Swamp” or “Moles”.

This weekend’s drink of choice was a pitcher of Pimms and lemonade, the classiest of which was served in the private gardens of the Royal Crescent Hotel.

I think that sums up nicely how we have changed in ten years.

The “reunion”, which started out as an ambitious plan to reunite a whole host of fellow “eurostuds” (European Studies and Modern Languages graduates), was actually a rather a low-key, intimate affair. So much the better. There were two or three people I really wanted to catch up with properly, and not having to feel obliged to make polite small talk with lots of others meant I could concentrate my attention fully on those who mattered.

Walking around the campus alone on Friday, before everyone else arrived, with 1995 vintage Renaissance on my Ipod, I let my feet guide me to the house where I lived in my first year. The curtains in the window bore the same leafy pattern. The trees in front had grown, and now almost obscured my third floor window. I stood there for a long while, letting memories wash over me.

Going to university, for me, was about becoming a new person. Starting over in a place where no-one had ever known me as a bespectacled, swotty, shy teenager. Leaving behind the heartache of the traumatic split with my first boyfriend, and the friends who had turned out to be more his than mine. It was about re-inventing myself. The exhilaration of living my own life, far from the constraints of the parental home, going out whenever I pleased, spending my (ahem, well, the government’s money) on precisely what I chose, answering to no-one but my own conscience.

I loved my new life, my new friends and the new me wholeheartedly, and spent the happiest years of my life to date in Bath.

Ten years later, in the process of shedding my skin and re-inventing myself all over again, I stand at a crossroads and contemplate a future far from the city of light.

I like to think that ten years from now, I will no longer refer to my time in Bath as the happiest years of my life.

July 14, 2005

smile

Filed under: mills & boon, navel gazing — petiteanglaise @ 10:52 pm

A train carries me in the direction of Paris, away from my lover, at breakneck speed.

There is a plane to be caught the next day, a long-anticipated university reunion to attend in Bath. However, the excitement I felt when I first booked that trip, my elation at the possibility of a weekend where I could slip back ten years and catch a fleeting glimpse of my twenty three year old self, has largely evaporated.

I wish I wasn’t going alone.

I know we will have a fantastic jaunt down memory lane. I also know that I will have to bite my lip so as not to tell anyone who cares to listen with the story of how I met a lovely man two short months ago. A man who fell in love with petite anglaise before he even met me. Nor will I tell them that I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I intend to marry him one day.

Every single time I close my eyes, whether it be in a train, a metro, at home in bed, or even, for the briefest second, in front of my monitor at work, I see his face. I taste his skin. Flashbacks to moments of overwhelming intensity cause me to inhale sharply.

Soon after I began writing petite anglaise, the blog was mentioned in the Guardian newsblog. That day I almost skipped around the office. I was unable to share my glee with any of my colleagues, so I hugged my glowing secret to myself.

That is how I feel today. Almost by chance, I have stumbled upon something unbelievably precious, which not many of my nearest and dearest dare to believe in, at this early stage.

I smile a secret smile whenever I think of what we are, and will be.

July 13, 2005

definition of frustration (#2)

Filed under: french touch — petiteanglaise @ 1:07 pm

I open the letterbox, and, to my surprise, pull out two identical envelopes, both containing train tickets. Upon closer inspection, I realise, with a sinking feeling, that they are duplicate tickets for the same journey.

I curse the SNCF and their wonderful, shiny, new website.

Later that day, I phone 3635 to see how the situation can be remedied. First, I am told that it has nothing to do with the SNCF whatsoever, as the website is run by another company, “Voyages SNCF”. Well I never! A French fonctionnaire merrily* shunting the responsibility for my problem onto another person/department/company. How novel.

I persist, undeterred, and manage to establish that although any complaints about the shortcomings of the website should be addressed to Voyages SNCF, to obtain reimbursement of my ticket, I simply need to take it to any station, before the date of travel.

This was yesterday. Date of travel being today. After which I would no longer be able to obtain a full refund of my € 100.

I resolve to spend my lunch hour in St Lazare station, the nearest mainline station to my office. As I approach the guichets grandes lignes, I am not a little relieved to note that there are only three or four people in each queue. This should be painless, I think to myself, idly wondering which sandwich I will by from Paul for lunch once I am done. A Dieppois? A fruit tart, to celebrate?

The employee listens patiently to my explanation, without interrupting, and when I have finished points silently to a very small sign: “Départs Normandie uniquement”.

I am not going to Normandy.

Nor can I strangle this man with my bare hands, because he is protected by bulletproof glass.

I make my way, stomach growling, to the opposite end of the station, where there is another sign marked “Billeterie Grandes Lignes“.

Oh. My. God.

Picture a large, windowless, dimly lit room with ticket desks lining three sides. The room was last refurbished circa 1960. The colour scheme is brown, on brown. There are fourteen desks, lining three sides of the room, of which only six are open. The queue zigzags back and forth across the centre of the room, in a decidedly orderly fashion for France, the irritated, overheated people having been shepherded into submission using barriers and red tape. I start to count how many irritated, overheated people must be served before it is my turn. I stop at 50, deciding, on balance, that I’d rather not know.

The time is 13.20; I left the office at 12.50.

Some people in the queue came prepared, and nibble on baguette sandwiches, or read books. I have no such means of sustenance or entertainment at my disposal, so I content myself with fuming inwardly at the number of SNCF employees who are milling about behind the ticket desks seemingly unoccupied; chatting, or just standing around with their arms folded, calmly surveying the mayhem, in full view of the people queuing. Hardly very tactful behaviour.

Occasionally, an employee comes on duty and deigns to sit down at one of the empty desks and pull up the blind to start work. But not before they have sauntered around the room at the speed of a snail and kissed both cheeks of every single fellow fonctionnairein the room.

For every blind that is pulled up, another is lowered, elsewhere in the room.

I finally reach the front of the queue at 14.02. A pleasant and efficient young gentleman with a ponytail refunds my ticket in seconds. I smile, pathetically grateful, as all along I had been imagining what I would do if once I got to the front of the queue, I was told that I was in the wrong place for refunds.

I arrive back at the office at 14.20, looking forward to consoling myself with a sandwich and a strawberry tart.

I see that my boss is back from lunch, looking pointedly at his watch, so I return to my desk, stomach still protesting, crestfallen, and consign my lunch to the recesses of a desk drawer.

At that precise moment in time, I would gladly have paid in excess of € 100 to be able to eat my fruit tart in peace.

*a figure of speech. There was nothing merry about the voice of my interlocuteur. Disinterested, slightly dim and very bored would all be more apt descriptions.

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