petite anglaise

October 29, 2007

channel hopping

Filed under: good time girl, on the road — petiteanglaise @ 12:55 pm

T’as pas deux euros à me prêter pour acheter un paquet de clopes?” the Boy enquires as we draw near to a tabac. “Sinon je vais aller retirer en face…

“I was wondering when you were finally going to admit that you’re only with me because you want to get your hands on my money,” I retort with a sly grin.

We joke about it sometimes, but, in truth, whatever I have in the bank is just numbers on a sheet of paper. Numbers that won’t mean much to me until they add up – net of the eye watering amounts of tax and social security I pay with a year’s time lag – to a place to live that means my room no longer has to serve the purposes of bedroom, dining room and living room rolled into one.

In the meantime, my lifestyle has changed little. I’d rather go for beers at the Café Chéri(e) than buy a bottle of champagne at Le Baron or Le Paris Paris (I’ve yet to set foot in either). Most evenings I can be found cooking up a storm in my kitchen or waiting for the Boy to grab some takeaway on his way home from work, rather than eating out in some über-chic restaurant. I treat myself occasionally – clothes, silk underwear, a handbag, a holiday – but we’re not talking Gucci or Dior or a five star beach cabin in the Seychelles. I’m more of an Et Vous or APC kind of girl, and I doubt I’ll ever kick my Top Shop habit. Admittedly it’s really nice not to have to worry when an unexpectedly large phone bill arrives or to have to think twice about taking Tadpole to Yorkshire when there are no cheap tickets left. But, aside from that, little has changed, and I doubt it ever will.

Regardless of our wildly differing salary levels the Boy and I always go Dutch. That is, when he doesn’t insist on paying. If I try to so much as buy a round of drinks he is likely to tell me – mock sternly – to put my wallet down and step away from the till. As a result, he’s not the easiest person in the world to treat, and as his thirtieth birthday loomed, I found myself in something of a quandary. He’d surprised me with a gorgeous antique ring on my birthday, back in September, and it never leaves my finger. I was determined to do something special for him – after all thirty is an important landmark – but I knew he’d feel uncomfortable if I bought him something wildly extravagant.

In the end I resolved to whisk him away for a long weekend, instead. And slipped a pair of lace-topped hold-up stockings into my weekend bag, for good measure.

I’m happy to report that the weekend was a resounding success.

October 22, 2007

neighbours

Filed under: mills & boon — petiteanglaise @ 7:30 pm

Rarely a day goes by when I don’t marvel at the fact that, even though the Boy lives in my street – our respective apartment blocks separated by four hundred metres, tops – our paths would most likely never have crossed if it wasn’t for an online dating site.

The chances of our striking up a conversation, even there – where a recherche rapide just yielded over a thousand members living in Paris and aged between 30 and 45 – were extremely slim. My search criteria, back in May, included that very age range. And the Boy, back in May, was 29. He’d only signed up for a month, and we made contact days before his subscription ended. It could all so easily never have come to pass.

Neither of us has any memory of who clicked on the other’s profile. Perhaps I was doing one of my targeted searches. Looking for people with cool jobs (I had a penchant for musicians, graphic designers and writers at the time) or scrolling through the pages of mugshots of men in my arrondissement, looking for interesting faces. In which case I may have sent him a “flash” – the dating site’s equivalent of a facebook “poke”.

What I do know – because I’ve kept it – is that the Boy sent me a curt email regarding my taste in TV series (how could I possibly think ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ was on a par with ‘House’?) and his rather provocative one-line missive stood out among hundreds of others I left unanswered, peppered with cringeworthy phrases (even for a hopeless romantic like myself) such as “j’ai cru voir un ange passer en regardant ton profil” or “il y a quelque chose dans ton regard qui m’interpelle…

We bounced a few short emails back and forth, still on the subject of TV, and I half-heartedly floated the idea of having a drink in our neighbourhood sometime, without any real conviction. Either he was playing it incredibly cool, I thought to myself, or he simply wasn’t all that keen. And as it was, at the time I was altogether too busy being infatuated with someone ridiculously unsuitable who was sending signals so mixed that deciphering them was a full-time occupation.

One fine day, after a resounding rebuttal, I went back online and set up two dates, one with a certain Fred, and one with the Boy, both of whom I had been mentally holding in reserve for a rainy day. We chatted on MSN for a few minutes, the Boy and I, and it was fun. The way the banter flowed, I was almost certain we’d get on in the flesh. It could be really cool to have a friend in the neighbourhood, I thought. I couldn’t imagine anything more than friendship: my head was still elsewhere… And frankly, the Boy was a little on the young side, at least on paper.

We met for an early evening drink Aux Folies, at the foot of the rue de Belleville, on a bank holiday Thursday. Fred (sweet guy, zero sparks) I met a few hours earlier in a pub in the Marais, after a pre-date(s) warm up lunch with a couple of good friends.

An apéro became a couple of drinks, then morphed into dinner in a nearby Thai restaurant. Dinner blurred into a couple more drinks and an invitation back to his apartment for a ‘nightcap’. It all seemed so natural, so easy – as opposed to the tortured and stressful evenings I’d been spending deluding myself about unsuitable, disinterested guy and his intentions – but there was a part of me, right up until the moment when we snuggled up on the sofa and he began to gently stroke my arm, that had decided he would make a fantastic friend, but nothing more. I was loath to jeopardize this budding friendship by having a one night stand. But when I said so, out loud, the Boy responded by planting a kiss on my lips.

Five months down the line, I still I marvel at how easy it would have been, as Tadpole would say, for us Ever Never to meet.

October 20, 2007

tongue-tied

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 5:39 pm

It has been suggested in my comments box that my margin for manoeuvre, in terms of the subject matter I can post on petite anglaise, may have been seriously reduced since I was divested of my anonymity last year. I think it’s a question worth delving into, given that, while there may be some truth in this, my reasons for self-censoring (and ultimately writing less) are actually far more complex…

Having my name “out there” doesn’t make me feel any different. I’ve yet to be recognised by a complete stranger in the street (well, okay, I was once, but said person was too shy to approach me and I’m only aware of our near miss because he sent me a bashful email afterwards). In the past, I always said I cared only about what my friends and family thought of me, so does it really matter whether the host of faceless readers who visit this blog now know my name? Most are still just as unlikely to cross my path.

What has changed, however, is that there are a few people I encounter in my daily life who have read an article in a newspaper, or who saw me on the French TV news, and know of the blog, even if I doubt they continue to read it now. My bank manager, the estate agent who sold me my flat, a woman I once spoke to at the tax office and a few fellow parents at my daughter’s school, some of whom I’d quite like to befriend. When we mutter our sleepy ‘bonjour‘s in the morning, the uncomfortable thought crosses my mind from time to time that they may or may not know all sorts of things about me. And composing posts about Tadpole’s exploits, I have, on occasion, found myself changing her classmates’ names.

Then, of course, there is the effect my name being public can have on my family. I’m even more reluctant to allude to my sisters, as their friends will know exactly who I’m talking about. And when my mother pops into the village shop for a bottle of milk, there is every likelihood that she might run into someone who knows someone who knows someone who reads petite anglaise, given the Yorkshire Post ran several stories about me in the course of the last year. I strongly resent the idea of having to sanitise my content just because of “what the neighbours might think” but on the other hand, I don’t want to upset my family.

Some people have suggested it would be prudent for me to avoid what Mr Frog calls “crispy subjects” (the French phrase “sujets croustillants” can be used figuratively) because I have, or will have, a raised public profile come book publication. The thinking goes something like this: I’ve already committed the cardinal sin of being a happily unmarried mother, in the eyes of the Daily Mail, and look how the Sunday Times chose to take my “bad mummy” posts at face value, reading them as admissions of parental inadequacy. My ex-employer demonstrated at tribunal – albeit with limited success – how easy it is to pluck random quotes from my blog and make it look as though they mean precisely the opposite of what I originally intended. So, if I write about recovering from a rather vicious hangover once every six months, will I be portrayed as an alcoholic? If I allude to a runny nose, will someone infer that I have been snorting fat white lines off the Boy’s bottom?

Which leads me neatly on to the subject of the Boy, why I have deigned to share so little information about him with my readers. The answer is, I think, a combination of superstition (not wanting to jinx things when they are going so surprisingly well) and a genuine desire not to repeat past mistakes. I’m painfully aware that I’ve had a tendency to use my blog as an extra layer of communication with boyfriends in the past. Writing posts which were, in effect, open letters to one person in particular doesn’t seem like the healthiest way to behave. Using words as weapons to manipulate, to make someone feel guilty, to apologise for some wrongdoing and beg for forgiveness – these are all roads I have previously trodden. The fact that the Boy seems to have been blessed with emotional intelligence in spades and would immediately see through these kind of ploys makes this new resolution easier to keep.

Last, but not least, I hold some stories back because I want to use them in the writing which constitutes my day job; my bread and butter. Book Two is a fiction project, but I’d be a fool not to write about what I know and draw heavily from my own experiences. So, when something happens which is too good not to use in some way, I now have to evaluate whether I should hold it in reserve.

So, while I have no intention whatsoever of giving up on petite anglaise, the rules have changed, the goalposts shifted. And at the very least, I thought this was something I should acknowledge.

Anonymity is the personal blogger’s best friend. Lose it at your own peril.

October 16, 2007

abduction

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 10:47 am

One of the reasons I have been feeling low since the school year kicked off in September (and yes, I realise this has had some incidence on the frequency of posting here at petite anglaise) was that for a few excruciating weeks, I became increasingly convinced that my daughter had been abducted by aliens.

Gone was the cheerful sprite I had entrusted to the care of the beaux-parents while I skipped off to Greece for two blissful weeks with the Boy. Upon my return, I discovered that a tantrum-throwing, insult-hurling stranger had taken Tadpole’s place. She looked like my daughter – the same blonde corkscrew curls, the same grey-blue eyes – but this little imposter had the power to tear my nerves to shreds, to cut me to the quick with harsh words. She awoke in a filthy temper every morning and greeted me with disdain – if not fury – when I trudged down the hill to collect her from school.

“Hello sweetie, did you have a good day?” I would say, my mouth smiling, but my eyes anxious, bracing myself for what was surely to come.

“I DON’T WANT to come home with YOU. I don’t like YOU and I don’t like YOUR HOUSE. I want to stay at SCHOOL!” Tadpole would reply, her mouth surly, her forehead crumpled. For added effect she also experimented variously with folding her arms, squeezing her eyes tightly shut while putting her hands over her ears to effectively shut me out, or clamping her hands tightly around the bench she was sitting on next to the Maîtresse so that I couldn’t prise her free and pick her up.

In response, I tried:

a) talking in wheedling tones about something “really fun” we would do when we got home
b) pulling a chocolate biscuit out of my handbag as bait
c) pretending to leave without her
d) threatening her with “no CBeebies” when she got home if she did not comply
e) trying to pick her up and carry her out of the school
f) looking askance at the Maîtresse to see if she knew of a magic combination of words which would make my daughter miraculously see sense
g) chasing her around the school hall under the amused gazes of all the assembled teaching staff
h) dragging her outside by force, my hand clamped around her right coatsleeve

Once we were outside, the trials were far from over. The rue de Belleville has never seemed so long, nor its gradient so steep as on those days when I had to climb it alongside a little person who insisted on walking in fairy steps, all the while screaming at the top of her lungs that I was not her friend and she wanted to go to daddy’s house, instead. She would frequently sit on doorsteps, or indeed the middle of the pavement and refuse to move while I stood, arms folded, a few metres ahead, trying valiantly to ignore her until she came to her senses.

By the time we got home it was not uncommon for me to shut myself in the bathroom where I would muffle my howls in the dressing gown which hangs on the back of the door.

She’s tired, I said to myself. She’s in a new class, with lots of children she didn’t know last year. She’s testing my limits now that we are reunited again after the holidays. Mr Frog and I compared notes on the phone, and I was a little reassured to hear that Tadpole wasn’t sparing him either. It’s just a phase, we mumbled soothingly. These things always pass. But my confidence in tatters, I found myself reading chapters from parenting books. I started to wonder if it was All My Fault. After all, the Boy had all but moved in since we got back from Greece. And even if Tadpole and he had always got on famously, could this new development have anything to do with it?

And then one day I went into Tadpole’s bedroom to wake her and, for the first time in weeks, she greeted me with a smile. The school run, that morning, was painless. When I kneeled by her side in the school hall, that evening, fishing in my pocket for a chocolate biscuit, she did not protest. A flicker of something mutinous darted across her face, just for a moment, but she seemed to brush the impulse aside, rising to her feet instead, and taking my hand.

Just before bed, as I bent to give her a goodnight kiss, she made her apology. “Mummy, I did do lots of bêtises, but it’s all finished now.”

I pulled her closer. “It made me sad, you know, when you were naughty every day. I didn’t understand what was wrong… But it doesn’t matter now. Let’s just be friends.”

“I love you, you know,” Tadpole said, her mouth so close to my nose that I could smell the toothpaste on her breath. “I love daddy more, because he is big, and you are only middle-sized… But I do love you quite a lot.”

Padding back into my bedroom, I saw a green light by Mr Frog’s name on gmail.

“The aliens have returned our daughter, safe and sound!” I wrote. “Halle-fucking-luja…”

October 8, 2007

heels

Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaise @ 10:03 am

I just received the final version of the US cover, designed by Bo Lundberg – front panel above, full wraparound version below (publication set for summer 2008 – Spiegel & Grau). The Boy quite rightly pointed out that there are echoes of these opening credits.

If someone had told me just over a year ago that I’d be depicted wearing high heels – and possibly in the altogether, although it’s difficult to ascertain for sure – leaning against the Eiffel Tower on the front of a book (let alone MY book), I wouldn’t have believed it for a minute.

Comme quoi, life really can be stranger than fiction.

October 4, 2007

spoof

Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaise @ 9:45 am

Once upon a time, a very puzzled petite anglaise found an email from a certain Raymond Delauney in her inbox. It nestled in amongst all manner of bona fide correspondence from literary agents and publishers (a surreal situation, in itself) and I blush to admit that I sent a curt answer to the first one, taking it at face value, even though Raymond referred to me as “Kid” and it included such gems as: “I’ll get you a book deal, sunshine, but I’ll need a slice of the pie. You’re a good looking cookie and pretty smart too. I’ve seen your type before and I know exactly how to handle artistic types…” After the second email, however, the penny dropped and I decided that one of my virtual friends was pulling my leg – see this post - and did my best to unmask the scamster (to no avail).

Imagine my amusement when “Raymond” contacted me to ask whether I might give permission for our email exchange to be used in his book – a collection of spoof emails sent to individuals around the world…

I haven’t read it – my free copy is in the post – but the concept amuses me no end, and reminds me of another book I stumbled across recently, ‘Delete this at your peril’ by Bob Servant, a collection of emails between a (fictional) retired builder from Dundee and the spammers he attempted to lead up the garden path.

Seems like a new genre is emerging. Email Anthologies. Whatever next? Books of MSN transcripts?

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