petite anglaise

April 27, 2008

toys

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 10:51 am

‘I’m going to miss you while you’re staying with mamie and papy‘. I snuggle into Tadpole’s back, trying to inhale and exhale in time with my daughter, willing my runaway heartbeat to slow.

At lunchtime I’ll collect Tadpole from the Centre de Loisirs, leap into a taxi, and deliver her into the waiting arms of Mr Frog’s mother at Gare de Lyon. She’ll trundle off with her wheelie suitcase for the second leg of her school holidays.

The panic attack began, inexplicably, on Tuesday morning and shows no signs of abating. My body has slipped free of its moorings, drifted out of my control. It’s a law unto itself. My mind races in pointless circles, skittering from worry to worry. I know my sense of perspective is warped. I know, from experience, that it’s a temporary state. In a few day’s time, when I’m back on an even keel, when I can sleep through the night, I’ll have trouble even remembering how this felt.

‘Don’t worry mummy,’ Tadpole says earnestly. ‘You’ll be with [The Boy].’ She grabs my hand and plants a tiny kiss on the inside of my wrist.

‘And mummy, si tu t’ennuies, and you don’t want to go in your office…’

‘Go TO my office.’ I’m pedantic about prepositions, even at 7.45 in the morning, mid panic attack.

‘If you don’t go to your office,’ Tadpole continues, ‘then, you can play with my toys if you want. You can build some things with my pink Lego, or watch one of my DVDs.’

The back of her pyjamas, where my face is touching them, are now damp. Thankfully Tadpole doesn’t notice.

‘But mummy,’ she says in the bossy voice she usually reserves for her collection of soft toys when she’s pretending to be la Maîtresse. ‘Please don’t forget you have to tidy them up again afterwards.’

April 16, 2008

chouette hibou

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 2:21 pm

Below is the picture drawn by Tadpole over lunch in a café last weekend, using my favourite book signing pen and a rather grainy, textured napkin. It prompted a lively discussion with The Boy, during the course of which I discovered that not only do the French have two different words for owl, but that one has tufty, ear-like appendages (the hibou, pictured), while the other (the chouette) does not. Who knew?

I suspect the inspiration for Tadpole’s picture came from the fact we are currently reading about Plop, the Owl who was Afraid of the Dark, at bedtimes, which is bringing back all sorts of lovely memories of reading the same to my baby sister, many years ago.

But it’s the other, cartoon-like bird on Tadpole’s picture that amused me most. Very Roger Hargreaves, don’t you think?

April 14, 2008

three

Filed under: city of light, misc, Tadpole sings — petiteanglaise @ 10:07 am

‘Look at my big nichons mummy,’ Tadpole shrieks, fingering her (papier mâché) breasts.

It is 10.30 am on Saturday morning and Mr Frog and I have come to watch Tadpole’s annual school carnival, while The Boy, not wishing to step over any invisible lines, remains at home. This year the children are all dressed up as works of art and the overall effect is a joyous riot of colour. The costumes, made out of stiff paper, are worn like pinafores, covering the children’s clothes and turning them into walking sandwich boards. As we stand at the edge of the school playground, behind improvised police-tape style barriers, rubbing sleep from our eyes, the children file past hand in hand.

Tadpole, unable to keep a secret, had whispered to me weeks earlier that the costume she was making was a Niki de Saint Phalle sculpture. I’d recognised most of the names she’d been bandying about over the past few weeks – ‘we did a painting just like Pollock mummy, we put the paint on the paintbrush and then did throw it in splodges onto the paper’ or ‘I did a picture of a lady with a very wide face, just like Fernando Bottero’ – but Saint Phalle was not a name I was familiar with. ‘I’m going to be a sculpture,’ explained Tadpole helpfully, as I waited for the relevant page to power up on Wikipedia. ‘A sculpture of a lady with great big nipples and a big fat bottom wearing a swimming costume.’

It was The Boy who, at the mention of Niki de Saint Phalle, pointed out that the fountains in place Igor Stravinsky, in the shadow of the Centre Pompidou are Saint Phalle sculptures. I knew them well, but never would have put two and two together.

‘Shall we go on the métro on an adventure?’ I suggest to Tadpole on Sunday afternoon.

‘Ooh yes, I love the métro,’ she replies, darting across the room to fetch her shoes. If only everyone were so easy to please.

When we reach our destination, Tadpole shrieks with delight and I catch The Boy’s eye, silently thanking him for coming up with the idea. We make several tours of the huge rectangular bassin, Tadpole racing on ahead, examining each sculpture in turn, trying to decide which one she likes best. My personal favourite is the reclining mermaid with water squirting out of one huge, multicoloured breast, but Tadpole is just as amused by the huge pair of lips, the spinning bowler hat, the Elmer-like Elephant and the majestic crowned bird, wings spread, reminiscent of a Mayan condor god. We take a few snaps of Tadpole, posing by the sculptures, squinting into the sun and grinning like the Cheshire cat.

When the skies darken and the first raindrops fall, we hurry into the Marais to find a restaurant where we can grab a bite to eat. Tadpole doodles on the back of a napkin with a biro unearthed from the bottom of my handbag.

Elbows on the table, chin cupped in my hands, I look from The Boy to Tadpole and back again, marvelling at how simple and how right everything feels.

  

For Gonzales (aka fella?).

April 10, 2008

post mortem

Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaise @ 9:32 am

Reading the various reviews of “petite anglaise”, a few things have given me pause for thought.

One is that many readers are judging the book against everything I’ve previously written here, rather than on its merits as a book, full stop. This was inevitable. I do have a huge body of ‘work’ already out there. When I put together my book proposal – in haste – I had to make choices. Choices about which strands of my story I wanted to use. Choices about which material would appeal most to the publishers circling around me. Choices about who I wanted the book to appeal to most: my blog readers, or a wider audience? Or both?

I stand by my choices, but invariably some people would have preferred me to do everything differently. ‘I didn’t want to know about X.’ ‘I wish she’d written more about Y.’ I’m reminded of opinions aired in my comments box, along the lines of ‘I liked it better in the old days when you wrote more about Paris.’ There is something about the participative nature of blogging that gives readers a sense of ownership. Some feel entitled to tell me what they think I ought to write – as if a blog were like some sort of online ‘request show’. I reserve the right to politely disagree.

But I’ve realised there is no sense in worrying about not pleasing everyone. That would have been mission impossible: my book can’t be all things to all people. The quirk(e)y reviewer in the New Statesman wishes I’d shown more of my ‘disturbo’ side, whereas glimpses of the compulsive blogger in me made others deeply uncomfortable.

A charge levelled against the book (particularly on Amazon – a place I only go when I’m feeling masochistic) is that petite anglaise is too ‘mememe’, and that some of the secondary characters are rather one-dimensional. To the mememe charge, I’d say that when a story is narrated in the first person, you necessarily see events from a single perspective; you are only permitted a view inside one person’s head. Other characters, although they can explain themselves through their words and gestures, necessarily remain enigmatic to a greater or lesser degree. ‘Petite’ is a true story, taken from a personal blog and I didn’t have an ‘access all areas’ backstage pass into James’s or Mr Frog’s heads. If I had, many of the twists and turns of the story would have been robbed of the power to surprise and shock. As for my ‘secondary characters’, they are real people whose identities and sensibilities I had to protect. I was telling my story, from my perspective and left many of their stories out of the final cut, robbing the reader of extra insights which would, no doubt, have rounded out their characters. But I didn’t feel I had the right to go further.

I learnt a lot while writing ‘petite’. I learnt that a book is finished when you simply can’t bear to look at it any more; not when it’s ‘perfect’. I learnt that once it is written, the author has to let it go, leave the marketing people to their jobs, let them package it, add their cover blurb, and send it out into the world to fend for itself. There no point in me agonising over whether ‘petite’ should be shelved next to the latest Jordan autobiography, or in the travel section next to Peter Mayle. Or neither. In the words of Vicomte de Valmont: it’s beyond my control.

The main thing the experience of writing a personal story and laying myself open to personal criticisms has taught me is that I don’t necessarily want to do it again. No matter how many lovely emails and comments I’ve received from people who have read the book compulsively, finished it in one sitting, laughed and cried and empathised along with me and felt sad when they reached the end, at 4 am, because they wanted more.

So there will be no petite anglaise II. There will be a novel, in which I can draw on my own experiences as much or as little as I wish, fill out the secondary characters to my heart’s content and take on board the constructive criticism I’ve received and try and do better. I’m proud of what I achieved and convinced I wrote the best book I possibly could at the time.

But I hope the best is yet to come.

April 2, 2008

jarretière

Filed under: knot tying — petiteanglaise @ 9:33 am

When I asked The Boy to marry me, we decided that if we were going to do this thing, we’d do it our way. That essentially involved taking the bits we liked (clothes, jewellery, party), leaving the bits we didn’t (sugared almonds, seating plans, speeches, name changes, wedding lists filled with fine china and solid silver salt and pepper pots) and making a few practical decisions (marriage contract – séparation des biens – at The Boy’s behest).

Nine weeks away from Jour J, things are on their way to being organised, although not half as much as the super-secretary I once was would secretly like. I have a dress. He’s ordered a suit. We have rings on order. I still need shoes (red, I think). The evening party venue – a house borrowed from a friend – is being renovated and is currently, ahem, not quite finished. We haven’t yet settled on a restaurant for lunch (although we are testing a candidate this evening) or worked out where to drink champagne beforehand. I have no idea who will tame my hair into a chignon at the crack of dawn so that I can get to the Mairie on time, and the invitations are still work in progress in photoshop.

To my horror, I’ve recently found myself having heated discussions with The Boy about petty things like wedding gifts, when it became evident that our mix and match approach was, in some respects, flawed. Our first instinct was to say that we didn’t want gifts at all. Until we find a new place to live (and frankly, right now, I have no time to look), we don’t have an inch of extra space. And we don’t really need anything. But then guests started asking about wedding lists, and I realised that they’d like to make a gesture. And in return for all the things we’ll be laying on, I grudgingly came to the conclusion that it made sense to let them.

‘Well, we could have an urn,’ suggested The Boy. ‘Or do the jarretière? Just don’t ask me to pick out knives, forks and spoons. Anything but that…’

I wondered how gifts and garters could be related. Google, as always, provided the answer.

It is customary, I read, for a French bride to wear a garter. Often a blue and white garter, as the something old/new/borrowed/blue tradition appears to exist on both sides of the English Channel. (I was planning to ignore this.) What I didn’t know was that there is a tradition involving male guests tucking money into said garter, in exchange, in some circles, for the bride raising her dress, just a little, in exchange for every donation. Sometimes the female guests will put in counter bids, thereby enabling the bride to lower her skirt before things get too graphic. The Boy seemed to think that the whole thing usually ends with one of the male guests – the highest bidder – removing the jarrettière with his teeth.

I suspect the boundaries of his own fantasies and French tradition became a little blurred at that point.

‘There is no way I’m performing some sort of wedding strip tease!’ I said indignantly. ‘And anyway, my skirt is already just above the knee, and you know how sensitive I am about my thighs.’

We settled on a honeymoon holiday fund at Printemps instead, that people are free to contribute to, or not, as they wish. And as for the garter, The Boy will just have to wait until Jour J to find out whether I’ll be wearing one.

But if I do, it will be for his eyes only.

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