petite anglaise

September 30, 2005

this corrosion

Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaise @ 1:20 pm

Because I never experienced jealousy when I was in a relationship with Mr Frog, I wrongly assumed I had kicked the habit.

Not so. The green eyed monster was only lying dormant; in prolonged hibernation.

I wonder now whether this absence of jealousy wasn’t a warning sign, which should have alerted me to the plain fact that my feelings didn’t run deep enough. I was complacent, secure in my belief that whatever our failings as a couple, he wouldn’t look elsewhere. Despite late nights spent in the office in the company of pneumatic young stagiaires, and nights out on the town with colleagues, to which I was never invited. Which could have been a cause for concern, but only aroused resentment and bitterness that I was trapped at home, while he was out in the real world seeing people and socialising.

Now, for the first time in eight years, I am subject to bouts of totally irrational, corrosive jealousy. I hate myself for even having these feelings. As if wildly unpredictable mood swings weren’t enough for any man to deal with.

It’s not that I don’t trust the man in my life, or the women he is friends with, whether they be old flames or not. On a rational level I know that he is a very moral and proper person. I also know that he is so hopelessly smitten with me that he is willing to overlook all my failings. But this is purely irrational, and no amount of reasoning – with him, or myself – can lay these demons to rest.

Because I’m not jealous of anyone in his present. It’s his past I have a problem with.

Sometimes I find myself wishing I could erase whole swathes of his history. Those dark times when another woman was there to pick him up when he stumbled and fell, to comfort him, to heal him, to put him back together again. Wildly contrasting highs and lows, moments which I fear were more intense than any we may live together.

I know that these things have made him who he is today. Her influence has helped to mould him into the person I fell in love with. And yet, even though I understand this, I want to make these times disappear. To erase them. Overwrite them.

This jealously is a form of masochism. When I’m alone, feeling low, I torture myself. Willingly. Vivid pictures of their shared past swim before my eyes and try as I might, I can’t banish them. Words that he used to describe that period of his life, in emails I received long before we were an item, play over and over inside my head, refusing to be silenced.

I can’t make this stop, so my strategy is to share these feelings with my lover, preventing them from festering quietly below the surface, only to erupt one day and cause irreparable harm.

I can only hope that one fine morning I will wake up and realise these feelings have left me.

September 28, 2005

guess who?

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 5:38 pm

I’m afraid I haven’t got around to posting today, so instead I leave you to guess which of the “people” depicted on this delightful drawing by Tadpole (aged 2 yrs and 3 months) is supposed to be yours truly.

September 27, 2005

what not to eat

Filed under: miam — petiteanglaise @ 2:49 pm

I think I will have to resign myself to the fact that I am doomed never to be mistaken for an elegant parisienne.

I haven’t the faintest idea how to knot a Hermès scarf just so around my neck. In fact, I’ll go so far as to admit that I don’t even care for Hermès scarves. Nor have I ever understood the whole jumper knotted loosely around shoulders over the top of winter coat look. Unlike most French girls, I am congenitally incapable of arranging my hair in a charmingly dishevelled little chignon, so that it looks as though it was twisted up and secured with a pencil in less than twenty seconds (a look which I suspect takes half an hour to achieve). I simply don’t look French, a point which was confirmed by several (disappointed) British bloggers I met recently.

Even if looks don”t betray my non French origins, my uncouth foreign behaviour inevitably will. Whether it be downing several beers in quick succession, or partaking of snacks in public places, something will always give me away.

Which brings me neatly to the story of the ill advised bolognaise panini on the line 7 métro.

The scene: horribly late for work, following a distastrous morning where a suspected, but in fact non-existent, infantile tummy upset and an errant nanny with no mobile phone conspired to force me to take a whole morning off work. One sixth of my precious three statutory days off to care for a sick child squandered for no good reason. Having finally deposited the irritatingly high-spirited, perfectly healthy Tadpole with the childminder, I realised I wasn’t going to have time to grab lunch before work, so there was no alternative but to eat on the run.

My hungry eyes spied a baker’s shop by the entrance to the metro. Upon closer inspection however, the sandwiches on offer did not look particularly appetising. French bread may in itself be A Very Lovely Thing, but many shops don’t use a great deal of imagination when concocting their sandwich fillings. Ham and plastic emmental cheese. Plastic emmental cheese with salad. Rosette sausage. Nothing which took my fancy. And after the stress of the morning, I craved something slightly naughty, as a pick me up.

My attention was arrested by a small, handwritten sign advertising paninis. I enquired about available fillings. They were a little odd. The classic mozzarella and cheese, or mozzarella and Italian ham had sold out, so all that remained were steack haché and bolognaise flavours. I opted for bolognaise, in what I can only describe as a moment of temporary insanity.

I regretted my choice almost immediately. It took for ever to cook. Standing next to a refrigerated cabinet of cakes, I tapped my foot nervously and glanced compulsively at my watch every thirty seconds or so. But it was too late to change my mind now, I had already paid. And the baker’s wife is a scary looking, red-faced person; not a woman whose feathers you would want to ruffle.

At last, the panini was toasted, and the lady handed it to me in its long paper bag with a single serviette. I snatched and ran. Into the métro, down the steps and onto the platform, where I paused, and first became aware of my predicament.

The paper bag was already translucent with grease, and rather a large amount of bolognaise and cheese filling appeared to have freed itself from the confines of the bread and and oozed down into a corner of the bag, which was visibly weakening by the second. The serviette was already drenched, my fingers slick with sauce. Just when I thought things couldn’t get any worse, the bag began to drip. Garish red liquid, which narrowly missed my clothes, occasionally splattering one of my shoes.

It also occured to me that the contents of my sandwich did not look dissimilar to the nappies I had changed that morning. Which clearly didn’t help.

Any sane person would have consigned the cursed sandwich there and then to the nearest rubbish bin, but my rumbling tummy and sheer pigheadedness prevented me from doing so.

So, drawing a small amount of comfort from the fact that Paris is a big city and none of the people sharing my métro carriage were ever likely to lay eyes on me again, I slumped down on an available strapontin and began nibbling gingerly at a corner of the sandwich from hell, studiously avoiding eye contact with my fellow passengers.

Pieces of minced meat leapt out and deposited themselves on the floor of the carriage around me. A piping hot chunk of chopped tomato landed on my toes. The bag continued to drip, drip, drip, even enveloped in my entire packet of emergency tissues. I had to hold the sandwich away from my body after every cursed bite, whilst I used a baby wipe on my mouth and chin, so as not to look like some sort of crazed métro vampire.

A perfectly groomed Parisienne got on at Chaussée d’Antin and wrinkled her delicate nose in distaste at the odour of my food. The only available seat was next to mine, and she declined to take it, preferring to stand well out of range. I could imagine what she was thinking only to well. Judging by her figure, she had never so much as sniffed a panini in her entire life, and the only thing which she would deign to put to her lips in a public place would be a bottle of Evian.

My journey over, I dropped the greasy packaging and remnants into a bin, wiped down my shoes and peeping toes, and inspected my trousers.

And emerged from the métro vowing never to buy a bolognaise panini as long as I live.

Even English girls have their limits.

September 23, 2005

candles

Filed under: miam, parting ways, Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 2:51 pm

“GOT TO FIND SOME CAKE!” shouts Tadpole, at the top of her lungs, to no-one in particular. She has got into the habit of repeating everything I say, turning the words over in her mouth so see how they sound.

As a result, I have to exercise extreme caution when we are out and about. No more thinking aloud along the lines of “I must remember to pack some seriously negligent pants for the weekend”.

I am feeling rather desperate. Mr Frog is due to appear to whisk off Tadpole for the evening in just under half an hour, and I promised Tadpole we would have surprise cake and candles for his birthday. Forgetting a key piece of information when I did so: our local bakery is closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.

I peer half-heartedly through the window of the Chinese takeaway, with its unappetising looking boules de coco and almond tarts. Not really Mr Frog’s thing, and definitely not Tadpole’s. How about a brownie from the kosher sushi and bagel emporium across the road? No go. The metal shutters are pulled firmly closed. With a sigh, I retrace my steps towards the garage, which harbours a huit à huit minimarket. Cake out of a packet will have to do. Sacrilegious in a country where the pâtisserie fare is so unbelievable, and the packaged cakes so dire, but it can’t be helped.

Intentions: good. Execution: room for improvement.

The minimarket has a predictably poor selection. Some tired looking madeleines, a cake anglais (which generally refers to a rather pale and wan fruit cake containing glacé cherries, the likes of which I have yet to actually eat in England), and a bag of individually wrapped fondants au chocolat. I settle for the chocolate cakes, and dash home.

Mr Frog appears, shortly after the appointed hour, and I ask him to stay for a beer, to give me an excuse to repair to the kitchen. I have arranged three cakes on a plate, a striped blue candle lolling at a drunken angle in the centre of each. Tadpole, the soul of discretion, says “happy birthday cake mummy” in a stage whisper as I am leaving the room, but I don’t think Mr Frog notices.

As I bring my masterpiece through to the living room, Tadpole starts singing “happy birthday” right on cue. Mr Frog looks up, startled, and I can see he is genuinely touched.

For a fleeting moment, I catch myself wishing that we were still living together as a little family, sharing moments like this every day.

September 21, 2005

hotel

Filed under: mills & boon, navel gazing, parting ways — petiteanglaise @ 12:51 pm

I soon arrived at the conclusion that for a working mum, committing “adultery” would be logistically rather complicated.

A typical day consisted of getting Tadpole ready, dashing with her to the nanny’s, leaping into the metro, breezing into work five minutes late and then doing the whole thing in reverse come 6pm. From Tadpole’s bedtime onwards, I was “free”, but trapped inside the flat, unless there was a babysitter on offer. Hence my strong presence online.

But I simply had to take things further after our first meeting and its rather dramatic dénouement. I couldn’t not. I needed to know.

I had never been unfaithful before. I had very black and white ideas of what was right and wrong, and any sort of cloak and dagger behaviour or sneaking around was most definitely wrong in my book. Nor had I experienced a modern electronic courtship, punctuated by rapid fire exchange of text messages and emails. But over the next week the feeling that something momentous was happening intensified with every shred of contact. I had to see him again, and soon, whatever the consequences.

He evidently felt the same as I did, despite his huge reservations about interfering in my life and causing me to lie to my partner. After all, he’d been on the receiving end of this type of behaviour in the past, and described the experience as “wretched”.

I lost five kilos that week. I shook like an alcoholic with the DT‘s, adrenalin coursing through me. I barely slept at night. It felt as though guilt was etched indelibly into my face, and I couldn’t quite believe that Mr Frog hadn’t noticed that something was amiss.

Fear and excitement were bound together in such a way that I couldn’t work out where one began and another ended. I caught myself staring at my daughter through hot tears, barely able to grasp the enormity of what I was contemplating and what it would mean for her. My only desire was to curl up in a ball under the bedclothes, shut out the real world and lose myself in the scenes which were playing out across the inside of my eyelids. Making dinner or attempting normal conversation with Mr Frog was hell; an agony of going through the motions, my mind elsewhere. I took evasive action, in the form of long baths or evenings spent cowering behind my monitor; he snoozed in front of the television in the next room, happily oblivious.

When the time came, my alibis were rehearsed and ready. I told my boss that the childminder was sick and left work abruptly. I dashed, heart racing, to a hotel in the Marais. I spent an afternoon there. And an evening. And a morning. In between, I picked up Tadpole and waited for the sitter to arrive; I crept back to our non-marital bed in the small hours.

The very next evening I told Mr Frog I would be leaving him. Because even though I couldn’t be sure what it was or would develop into, this new, very precious thing I had stumbled upon, what I did know was that me and Mr Frog were a thing of the past, and had been burying our heads in the sand for far too long.

September 20, 2005

exit Mrs Frog

Filed under: missing blighty — petiteanglaise @ 12:32 pm

My life is no longer quite so French as it was.

Exit croissants, baguettes and warm goats cheese salads. These days I seem to be mostly eating granary toast with marmalade, bacon (admittedly the streaky, French version which is distressingly inferior) sandwiches with ketchup or HP sauce, or tucking into a nice piece of mature cheddar with some Branston pickle. On my last trip to Yorkshire, I returned with a suitcase bulging with the best that Tesco had to offer. Including 240 teabags.

Exit French cable TV, which for a princely sum currently offers only one decent programme in English per week (Desperate Housewives, at long last), and enter slightly illegal Sky TV at the weekends, so that I can indulge my fondness for BBC2 comedy or Channel 4 drama. And regale Tadpole with such delights as Bob the Builder in version originale. She now squawks “Can we fix eet?” every time she spies a digger.

It feels like by leaving Mr Frog for my English Lover, I have taken one more step away from my original aim: becoming “almost French”.

I wrote last year about how my initial enthusiasm for all things French, which had begun in my first French lesson at Mill Mount Grammar School for girls at the age of 11, and culminated in my moving to Paris in September 1995, had started to wane perceptibly. Where once I had watched indiscriminately whatever was broadcast on French terrestrial TV to “improve my French”, read only French novels and eaten only French food, as a matter of principle, I suddenly found myself yearning for English language and culture.

Clearly I was experiencing withdrawal symptoms.

It was time, I decided, to cut myself some slack. Living in France didn’t have to mean total assimilation, and indeed, if I didn’t watch out, my mother tongue would ultimately suffer. “Target language deprivation,” as a commenter helpfully pointed out, is a very real phenomenon, and can result in expats speaking a dreadful bastardised version of their mother tongue after a few years away from the mothership. To combat this, I signed up for cable TV and bought English books from W H Smiths. And binged on English culture. I even watched Eastenders religiously for a number of years, although, thankfully, I have now managed to kick that unfortunate habit.

The next step was changing my job, and I swapped a Franco-French office where I had never really felt anyone knew the “real me” for an English company where two thirds of the staff were British, and we all went for beers on Fridays.

Despite all this, at the end of the day, I still came home to a French partner, and socialised with his French friends.

Nowadays all that has changed, and I am faced with the delightful prospect of renovating a crumbling farmhouse, with a huge satellite dish perched atop the roof, greedily hoovering English television from the airwaves, in the British enclave that is Brittany. Eating English breakfasts with my English Lover, and washing it all down with cup upon cup of PG tips.

Somehow, if I ever do get my papers together and apply for French nationality, I rather think the fonctionnaires will laugh in my English face.

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