petite anglaise

January 31, 2007

bride

Filed under: Tadpole rearing, Tadpole says — petiteanglaise @ 10:12 pm

I glance anxiously at my watch. It is 8.27. School drop-off time is between 8.20 and 8.30, and the small but perfectly formed tantrum Tadpole threw just as we were poised to leave the flat – when I so foolishly dared to insist she wear a scarf to ward off the biting cold – has cost us dearly. If we don’t get a move on, I will be one of the latecomers, those wretched folk who scuttle past the directrice, head down, shoulders hunched, to escape the full force of her withering stare. I quicken my pace, and Tadpole breaks from a trot into a canter in order to keep up with me.

But when we reach the slightly surreal Chinese shop which sells wedding dresses and ball gowns which wouldn’t look out of place at a Jordan and Peter André wedding, Tadpole grinds to a stubborn halt.

“Look mummy! Princess dresses!” She tears her hand free from my grip and gestures excitedly at the window display. A particularly unattractive frothy pistachio number catches my eye and causes me to shudder, involuntarily.

“I like the white ones better,” I say, pointing towards something marginally more tasteful. “Those dresses are for weddings. Just like in the Little Mermaid, you remember, when Ariel marries her prince?”

Tadpole nods. “Yes, I know mummy.” This is her new favourite phrase, designed to shame me into silence if I over-explain things in a patronising tone, and terriblement efficace.

I grab her hand and we hurry on. I dare not look at my watch. I’m simply banking on the fact that it may be one minute fast.

“When I’m a big lady,” Tadpole says suddenly, “just after my tooth gets wobbly, I’m going to marry a prince as well.” She has a slight obsession with wobbling teeth at the moment, courtesy of a Charlie and Lola episode entitled “My wobbly tooth must not ever never fall out”. I have assured her that there will be no wobbling before she is six years old, but she seems to have decided that grown up teeth equals adulthood.

“Hmm. Maybe a little while after your teeth start wobbling, but yes, I’m sure you’ll get married in a pretty dress one day,” I say brightly, although I feel like I’m sucking on lemons.

“Yes, I’m going to marry a prince. Daddy is my prince,” she says with absolute certitude.

Will someone who, unlike me, actually reads all those parenting manuals and knows about the phases little girls go through be kind enough to reassure me that this is a Perfectly Normal Phase?

Please?

January 29, 2007

solo

Filed under: single life — petiteanglaise @ 9:29 pm

The last time I decided to take myself off on holiday alone was almost a decade ago.

In the summer which intervened between my two years of “teaching” English conversation classes as a lectrice, I found myself in the enviable position of having a three month paid holiday to fill, somehow. None of my friends were at a loose end, so I decided to go it alone. With the wonderful Routard as my guide, I started at Avignon and worked my way westwards towards the Spanish border, staying in cheap hotels and youth hostels in Nîmes, Montpellier and Perpignan, alternating budget restaurants and ravioli from a can, getting from A to B by bus and train. In those days, the Routard rated towns of interest with a helpful number of stars, and I made a point of visiting every place I could get to without a car, and was rarely disappointed. I saw jousting in Sète, fell of a rented bicycle into a ditch just outside Nîmes (due to a tragic combination of sunstroke, oversized bike and too-short legs) and ate fresh anchovies in tapas bar in Coliloure.

At the end of my three week tour I went to stay with a British couple, George and Sylvia, friends of a fellow lecteur, who had chosen to retire in the countryside north of Narbonne and were happy to put me up in exchange for doing a few odd jobs around their house and keeping them company. My favourite memory of that holiday is of the day when George drove me out to a vineyard to buy the cheap local red which he drank with every meal. On the way back to the village he took a turning I hadn’t noticed before, a narrow track which snaked through the vines, bringing us out on top of a hill from which we could survey the surrounding countryside.

“There’s something I thought you might like to see,” said George, parking the car and leading me slowly, painfully to the North side of the hill, leaning heavily on his walking stick. He had a bad leg, and it occurred to me that he was probably over stretching himself.

I followed him, squinting into the sun, thinking that the view was pretty, but not spectacular enough to warrant his trouble until I saw what he was pointing at, and stopped dead in my tracks. From our elevated vantage point the foundations of an immense Roman villa, invisible at ground level, were laid out in front of us. The main road almost clipped the outer wall, but without my guide, the vines would have had no trouble keeping their secret.

“I knew you’d like it,” he said, pleased as punch when he heard my sharp intake of breath. “After you told me about visiting the amphitheatres, the ruins near Nîmes. I knew you’d appreciate this.” He was not wrong.

Ten years later, I found myself once more in the enviable position of having the wherewithal to go away, and the time to do it. Tadpole will be staying with her French grandparents for ten days in February, and as I haven’t been on holiday (trips to see my parents or friends notwithstanding) since the damp and disappointing week I spent in Morbihan, Brittany with Mr Frog in August 2005, I decided to seize the opportunity.

It shouldn’t be too difficult to find some winter sun without breaking the bank, I thought to myself, scrolling through the destinations on LastMinute and AnyWay, clicking merrily through the special offer links on PromoVacances. But my mounting excitement was soon tempered by a feeling of indignant despair, as I saw that not only did most operators charge a hefty supplement for single occupancy of a double room, but in some cases they simply weren’t prepared to let a solo traveller book a room during the school holiday peak period, full stop. It seemed I had stumbled on yet another of those “Reasons Why Couples Look So Smug”, and it irked me no end.

After much dispirited sighing and surfing in ever decreasing circles, I finally found my solution (and it wasn’t a holiday site for singles, although I almost considered it). No, the solution was simply to eschew packages and book the hotels myself, often finding single rooms, and never paying a supplement.

I’ll be flying off to Marrakech for five days in late February, staying three nights there, and two by the coast in two gorgeous Riad hotels. My bags filled with books to read on the roof decks, I’ll take a few guided tours, do a spot of haggling, eat tajine and drink litres of fresh mint tea.

And by some bizarre twist of fate, guess who I’ll be meeting for dinner on the first night there?

January 25, 2007

gym

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 7:49 pm

Once upon a time I had a schoolfriend who was incapable of eating bananas in public without first breaking them into small pieces with her fingers. I remembered that rather random fact today when describing my antics in the Club Med Gym (which I still call the Gymnase Club, because I’m old school, me, and set in my ways) to a friend over lunch.

“So, how often do you actually go?” she asked, picking at the huge slice of apple crumble she’d ordered. I nursed my espresso, feeling virtuous for turning down dessert, but also rather jealous.

“Oh, three times a week at the moment while I ease into the routine,” I replied. “Then I’ll see if I can bear to go more often, maybe take some classes.”

Bear to go more often?”

“Well yes, it’s not exactly a pleasure. More a necessity. I’ve always been rather anti-sport, as you know…”

Anti-sport may be something of an understatement. I haven’t changed much since I vowed never to enter the sports hall at sixth form college. Or university. The rubbery odour of a sports shop is enough to make me wrinkle my nose in distaste, so crossing the threshold of the Club Med changing rooms requires a supreme effort of will. The only thing which makes the whole entreprise remotely bearable is my latest purchase: a tiny, clippy iPod shuffle, which makes it possible for me to block out my surroundings and lose myself in electronica while I cross country ski or climb seventy flights of stairs.

“The worst thing,” I confided, “is cleaning off the machines after you’ve used them.” Unable to restrain myself any longer, I seized my coffee spoon and stole a mouthful of crumble with crème anglaise.

My friend looked rather puzzled. “But surely it’s your sweat you are wiping?”

“Yes, but that’s not the problem” I said, setting down my spoon so I could mime the cleaning action with my right hand.

Imagine, if you will, a petite anglaise who has just finished her fifteen minutes on the stepper machine. Not just any stepper machine mind, but the one directly located under an air conditioning vent, my machine of choice. For some reason, French girls who go to the gym never break a sweat and rarely turn an attractive shade of beetroot, like I am wont to do. In order to blend in better, and draw fewer horrified stares, I always try to work out in the coolest part of the room.

By my side a lithe young man in tight shorts is hard at it. Something about his zeal for butt tightening and his choice of attire makes me think that it may not be for the benefit of a lady. Unless of course he is one those meetic boys who likes to claim that his most attractive attributes are “ses fesses”. He watches as I dismount and stagger over to the paper towel dispenser a few metres away, squirt some white, slightly opaque soap onto the tissue, and proceed to clean the first handle, gripping its girth firmly within my open palm and sliding the lubricated tissue up and down.

It suddenly occurs to me how this looks, and when I move on to the second handle I find it impossible not to smirk as I rub. The fact that my iPod has just opted for an explicit little track by “Peaches” has tipped me over the edge.

Disposing of my spent paper towel, I return to grab my tap water-filled Evian bottle and my decidedly unluxurious Club Med towel, turning to face my audience as I do so.

“It’s all in the wrist action,” I say, with a smile, before turning on my heel and heading off in the direction of the showers.

vote wisely!

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 7:38 pm

While I am puzzled not to see the likes of the lovely and very talented Anna Boat or the side-splittingly funny and rather dashing JonnyB in the British category, and let’s be honest, a little disappointed not to make the shortlist myself, I would ask you to step this way and consider casting your vote for:

Best European blog: Le Blagueur à Paris. This is my best friend and partner in crime Meg – she of the can of beer concealed in pantyhose incident – and her blog is both wickedly funny and terrifyingly well written.

Best UK blog: A Beautiful Revolution. Another very good friend of mine, amazingly talented bloke. He doodles! He writes! He takes very pretty photos! He gets a bit melancholy sometimes, too, so you never know, your votes might even cheer him up.

January 22, 2007

mirror mirror

Filed under: navel gazing, single life — petiteanglaise @ 8:20 pm

I frown at my face in the mirror. Make-up still looks good in the right light, but increasingly these days I find that foundation accentuates the fine lines around my eyes instead of concealing them. I prefer myself with my glasses on, because actually they hide a multitude of tell-tale signs. The days when I dreamt of laser surgery are long behind me.

Digging out a selection of eye-shadow colours, I proceed by a process of elimination. The dark brown one I should really throw away, it’s too severe, too ageing. The pearly pale colours are too “teenaged”. Which only leaves a nondescript matt beige and a dusky pink. I choose the former, applying it lightly with a brush. Less is more. The last thing I want is to look like I’m trying too hard. My lips, full and pouty, if slightly chapped, respond well to a coating of lip gloss.

I survey the finished product. Not bad, but not quite me either. My mother used to say she felt the same inside at forty as she did when she was eighteen. I don’t feel the same exactly, but whenever I look in the mirror I think I always half hope to see my eighteen-year-old self looking back at me, and can’t help but feel disappointed that she is never there.

Padding into Tadpole’s room in stockinged feet I open the wardrobe and deliberate about what to wear. I have always been what I would call “pear-shaped”, often with as much as two sizes difference between the top and bottom halves of my body. Despite my New Year’s resolutions and recent gym membership, there are few visible improvements as yet. Now, the party I am getting ready for called for “something red” in the invitation. Hmm… A raspberry-coloured dress bought years earlier, which drapes in a forgiving way around my curves is the only red item in the wardrobe which strikes me as appropriate for a party. I might feel a little overdressed, and if I get cold my nipples will definitely show, but I don’t have time to agonise further. The babysitter will be arriving any minute.

Tadpole looks up from her book and smiles. “Mummy looks like a princess,” she says. And means it. I give her a grateful hug. Thank god for unconditional love.

Later, at the party my friend and I joke about the fact that we are actually several years older than most of the other guests present (understandable, as the hosts are in their mid-twenties).

“You can tell we’re older, because all these younger girls are playing it cool, dressing down, and here we are with our grown-up dresses and our faint whiff of desperation,” comments my friend, wryly.

“Oh god, don’t, my confidence is hanging by a thread as it is,” I reply, and proceed to enlighten her as to the meaning of the wonderful British expression “mutton dressed as lamb”, before helping myself to another glass of red punch.

I’m thirty-four years old, and until now, most people didn’t believe me when I told them my age, or gasped when I told them I had a three-year-old daughter. But something – and I’m not sure what – seems to have dented my confidence lately. Perhaps it’s because there hasn’t been anyone who I could get excited about for a while, no-one’s admiration to bask in. Or maybe it’s the fact that my last boyfriend was significantly older than me, and these days I often run with a younger pack.

From experience I know that it’s impossible to be objective about what you see in the mirror. On a black cloud day I can’t help but hate my reflection. In the throes of a hormone peak I will feel big, regardless of what the scales might read.

I’m looking forward to the day when the mirror throws me back something I like. It will be a sign that whatever was faulty has been fixed, that the storm clouds have finally lifted.

And in the meantime, I’ll just keep on basking in the warm glow of Tadpole’s compliments.

January 19, 2007

fishy

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 12:01 pm

Tadpole’s most prized gift this Christmas was not one of the carefully selected educational toys I ordered from the wonderful Fnac Eveil et Jeux catalogue. Nor was it the Princess Barbie or the stable of my little Ponies she received from her French grandparents, or indeed anything from the sack of presents which awaited her in the UK (although the sack itself, it has to be said, was a great success).

No, Tadpole’s favourite new toy is a Little Mermaid Barbie, with glittering removable turquoise tail, a purple plastic strapless bikini top (which falls off, baring her breasts, approximately ten times a day) and a mass of unlikely, blood-red hair. She found “Ariel” on a recent visit to the bio-parents’ house, amongst a tangle of Barbies and Sindy dolls of all shapes and sizes which used to belong to my bio-cousins and, given that she had already seen the Disney cartoon of the same name, there was absolutely no way we could leave the premises mermaid-less.

The Little Mermaid used to be my favourite fairytale, once upon a time, never failing to make me shed a tear. I owned a dark red hardback collection of Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tales – sadly I have no idea where that book is now – and when the Disney version saw the light of day many years later, I refused to watch it with my little sister on the grounds that I objected to the making of a sanitised version with that obligatory happy ending.

My Little Mermaid had to make huge, painful sacrifices to walk on the land. Every step she took felt like walking on the sharpest knives. Her voice didn’t transmit itself to the wicked witch by means of a pretty ball of light flying from her throat; her tongue was brutally severed. And of course at the end of the story, when her prince marries another woman, she is given the opportunity to return to her life as a mermaid if she stabs him through the heart with a knife provided by the witch, a deed which she refuses to do, casting herself into the waves instead and becoming a spirit of the air, condemned to live in some sort of strange limbo for three hundred years, after which she will go to heaven.

That I remember all of this is a testament to how much I loved the original story, because in general I have a terrible memory for books. I’ve read too many, too impatiently quickly, and occasionally start a new one only to realise part way through that I have read it before.

Tadpole, however, is in love with the pain-free Disney version, in which the mermaid gets her prince and everyone lives happily ever after, and if I let her, she would watch it from start to finish every single day. At night, long after the lights are out, I hear her singing the Mermaid’s song, pausing to adopt the voice of the wicked octopus witch to boom “keep singing!”, then switching back to the sweet song of the mermaid once more. In the morning, when I wake her, she waves her legs together as if they were joined and says “mummy! Look at my tail!”

She’s got it bad.

Which is why I really shouldn’t have been surprised when she began using the Little Mermaid to get her own way.

“I can’t eat this dinner,” she said, as I placed a plate of fish fingers and vegetables on the table before her.

“Why not?” I asked in puzzlement. “Those are your favourites!”

“Because I’m a mermaid,” she said gravely. “And mermaids don’t eat other fishes.”

It took a few minutes of negotiation before I was able to overcome this hurdle. Suffice to say that mermaids apparently like nutella very much indeed and are willing to compromise their principles to obtain it.

As we walked home from school the next day, I quizzed Tadpole, as usual, about her day. I don’t usually obtain a very clear picture of what went on, but a few tidbits are enough to satisfy me. Those bruises on her knees, for example, were caused by Jules who pushes her over in the playground and apparently climbs on top of her, although she assures me it is a game and she doesn’t get hurt. The splotches of red on her t-shirt the other day came from the lasagne she had for lunch.

But on this day Tadpole was unusually silent.

“What on earth is the matter?” I said. “I’m asking you a question, it’s rude not to answer!”

Tadpole shook her head and gestured silently at her throat.

“You’ve got a sore throat? Shall we go see the doctor?”

Tadpole shook her head.

“Well what then? Come on, tell me what’s matter.” I came to an abrupt halt on the pavement and dropped to her level, refusing to go a single step further until she told me what was going on. With a sigh, she pulled back my long hair to expose my right ear and began to whisper.

“The wicked witch stole my voice!”

I’m starting to wonder if those éveil théâtral classes I was going to sign her up for next September are really such a good idea, after all.

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