petite anglaise

March 10, 2008

slap

Filed under: book stuff, on the road — petiteanglaise @ 11:50 am

The first time I saw the schedule for my trip to the UK, one section in particular caught my attention. From 9.15 am to 1.00 pm on Wednesday I would be doing GNS interviews, back to back, whatever they might be.

At the time of writing this post, I realise I’m still none the wiser about what GNS actually stands for. Gruelling National Speak-a-thon, perhaps?

Imagine, if you will, a tiny studio at BBC Broadcasting House. I sit at a desk covered in some sort of material, which is less than ideal for setting down cardboard cups of coffee as the surface is treacherously uneven. In front of me sit a large microphone and a pair of headphones. Over the course of a few hours I am to speak to fifteen local radio stations who have booked ten minute slots of my time. Some will be live, others will be pre-recorded. By 1.00 pm I’m told I’ll have been beamed into the homes of three million listeners.

I’m not feeling particularly intimidated by the prospect. Probably because I’ve already had the pleasure of talking about suppositories on live national radio earlier that week and, that very morning, I briefly parked my buttocks on the couch of BBC Breakfast. Radio is like blogging: I talk, but I can’t see my listeners and they can’t see me. There is none of the fear of falling quite literally flat on my face as I creep into a TV studio, step over all the trailing wires, and take my seat next to the presenter while she talks live, on air. There’s nothing quite as paranoia-inducing as having to stick your hand up your skirt to feed a tiny microphone up inside when you are approximately 10 cm outside the range of a live camera.

By 10.30 am I’m crossing my legs and trying not to think about wanting to go to the toilet. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve uttered the words “sock suspenders” and appear to have a number of other pet phrases I trot out at regular intervals, which you will have heard if you were tuned into BBC radio Newcastle or Jersey or Cornwall. Mostly the presenters are kind, asking straightforward questions and seeming interested and friendly, despite the fact they are unlikely to have given Penguin’s press release more than a cursory glance. A couple of them actually quote sentences from the book, which I find impressive. And those that introduce me as petite anglais or petit anglaise – effectively transforming me into a shemale – are in the minority.

Then comes the unpleasant exception: a pre-recorded interview where I’m questioned by two clearly unsympathetic presenters, a man and a woman. The line of questioning is tough from the outset. ‘Wasn’t it completely insensitive of me to write about real people?’, they enquire. ‘What about Mr Frog’s feelings in all of this? And how do I think my daughter will feel when she reads it one day?’ Their tone and tack seem to indicate that they find the whole concept of blogging and memoir writing thoroughly distasteful.

I explain, patiently, that the book is dedicated to my daughter and her father, and that Mr Frog not only had to sign forms to say he was happy with the portrayal of his personal life but he actually enjoyed the finished product. Some parts more than others, obviously, and I had to make a few minor changes at his request. But overall I think he comes off well in the book. He’s a far more likeable character than the narrator, in my opinion, and is, arguably, the hero of the tale. As for Tadpole, I’m sure there will be moments in her teenage years when she will hate me for recounting her exploits or recording her sing. But will she squirm any more than I did when my parents got the baby photos out in front of guests? I’m willing to bet there will come a time when she’ll be pleased so much of her childhood has been preserved for posterity. In the same way that I now love the silent super8 films recorded by my granddad when I was little and wish that he’d made more.

By the end of the interview I feel as though my interrogators have thawed somewhat, and our chat ends on a pleasant note. The researcher comes back on the line and thanks me for my time, and for a few moments I can still hear the presenters wrapping up the interview with the usual ‘petite anglaise, published by Michael Joseph, is available in all good bookshops’.

But, when the recording is over, just before the line goes dead, I hear the woman say something to the man and my heart stops beating. It’s a word which was clearly not intended for my, now burning, ears. A word said so dismissively, so spitefully that it brings tears to my eyes. I whip the headphones off and stare at my Press officer (who has been sitting on a sofa in the corner throughout, also wearing headphones) in disbelief.

‘That presenter just called me a SLAPPER!’ I say, incredulously, unsure whether I’m about to laugh or cry. She looks horrified, but we don’t have time to talk as BBC Radio Ulster have just dialled in. Carrying on as though nothing were amiss requires every ounce of professionalism I possess, but somehow I manage to hold it together.

Next time we have a two-minute gap and our BBC contact man pops his head cheerily around the door, I recount what I heard earlier. He scurries off to investigate, then returns, armed with an apology and an explanation so far-fetched that I’m almost tempted to believe it.

They have their own brand of banter, the two presenters in question, you see. He always monopolises female guests, and talks to them in a different, slightly flirtier voice. And when he does so, once they are off the air, she’s in the habit of calling him a slapper. So it wasn’t directed at me; it wasn’t even about me. Allegedly.

Now, I have a friend I often refer to as ‘slag’ to her face, with such an affectionate tone that it’s almost become a term of endearment.

But I can’t shake off the feeling that there was venom in the voice I overheard. I don’t think I believe that it was harmless banter. And although I shouldn’t care about the opinion of one ill-informed stranger, I find that I do.

The upshot of this is that, for me, the ‘S’ in GNS will forever be associated with the word ‘slapper’. Which just leaves the small matter of the ‘G’ and ‘N’.

March 5, 2008

fading fast

Filed under: book stuff, on the road — petiteanglaise @ 7:56 am

Got to my hotel in London at 12.30 am last night, and am just about to throw on my clothes and head down to BBC Breakfast. If anyone is able to record my slot and pop it onto YouTube, I would be eternally grateful. (Thankfully I’m up near the end, just before 9 am. There had been talk of an earlier slot too, but the gods were smiling on me and some important news took precedent, earning me a couple of hours of extra lie-in).

If you have a radio on, there is a chance you might hear me today as I’m doing a ton of short, sharp local radio slots between 10am and 1pm. I doubt they could possibly rival my experience at BBC Radio York yesterday, where the previous guests had been a basketful of chuckling ferrets. (I kid you not.)

I’ll also be chatting to Victoria Derbyshire on Radio Five Live – somewhere in the region of 10.30-11.00 am. update: this is now happening today, Thursday 6 March.

Tune in (before I fade away).

March 3, 2008

wireless

Filed under: book stuff, on the road — petiteanglaise @ 2:07 pm
microphone.jpg

When the nice lady from Woman’s Hour suggested I do a very short reading from the very first post on this blog, I’d forgotten it contained the phrases “par voie anale” and “ring sting”.

“What on earth is my mother going to say?” I gasped, wondering whether my (lovely) Penguin PR and her assistant (known, for one week only, as “petite’s bitches”) should stage some sort of an intervention.

You can listen again here (I was first up on the show, so it won’t take you long). Something appears to have gone wrong with the subtitling of the accompanying article, mind. There is no record deal in the works that I know of.

Am now making liberal use of the free wi-fi on my train to Leeds, and trying to rein in my excitement about meeting Harry Gration in the flesh later this evening. Also reading the Guardian Unlimited review.

Update: Look North is now scheduled to be pre-recorded tomorrow to air in the evening while I’m giving my book reading.

News programmes are tricky to predict, obviously, as breaking news items take precedence. Which is why I’m still waiting for proper confirmation about:

  • BBC breakfast – Wednesday morning
  • Radio Five Live (Victoria Derbyshire) – Wednesday morning
  • Five News with Natasha Kaplinksy – Wednesday evening

Fingers crossed!

January 2, 2008

squawk

Filed under: mills & boon, on the road — petiteanglaise @ 2:35 pm

I spent most of my Christmas in the UK wishing I had it in me to behave in a more diva-ish fashion. Because if I’d stamped my foot and point blank refused to pose for photographs outdoors, minus my coat, in sub-zero temperatures the previous week, I wouldn’t have wound up in bed. Feverish. Aching. Counting the minutes until I could have my next fix of paracetamol.

As it was, Tadpole had to open the presents under grandma and grandad’s tree sans moi and I had to content myself with second hand accounts of how she stumbled blindly around the living room with an upturned Santa’s sack on her head. Let’s hope those pesky photos – due to run in forthcoming editions of Weekend Knack (Belgium – next week, I think) and Marie Claire UK (April issue) – were worth the pain. I doubt it somehow. Photogenic I am not.

It was something of a relief that I appeared to be on the road to recovery when I joined the Boy in Paris and we boarded a Thalys on Friday morning, bound for Amsterdam. Granted, I was still rather hoarse. When I attempted to speak, I sounded like a cross between a forty-a-day Gaulloise smoker and a teenage boy with a breaking voice. ‘C’est pas grave, ça me fera des vraies vacances‘ said The Boy with a teasing smile.

Suffice to say that my indignant reply lost much of its force when it came out as a strangled squawk.

There followed three days of strolling through parks and along canals hand in hand, pausing at regular intervals for a restorative hot chocolate with whipped cream, and using my convalescence as an excuse to retire early and rise late. (Do hotels make everyone feel, um, frisky, or is it just me?) The weather was perfect: mild temperatures, blue skies, low winter sun striking huge windows and bathing them in warm, golden light. We meandered in ever decreasing circles – no matter which direction we took, we seemed to end up at the same point (Hotel de l’Europe) time and time again – admiring the architecture and peering inside the houses (the Dutch don’t seem to favour net curtains). We wandered through the red light district – disappointing, I got far better underwear inspiration from watching Billie Piper play Belle de Jour – and stopped in coffee shops, bars and cafés to rest our feet.

And all the while I pondered when would be the right time to ask the Boy a question. Something that had been simmering at the back of my mind for a while. I almost blurted it out when we were sitting on a bench by a particularly picturesque stretch of canal. A little later, warm and fuzzy from a 9.5% proof Trappist beer, I had to rein myself in again. The timing never seemed quite right, and my voice simply couldn’t be trusted.

We boarded the Thalys on Sunday afternoon and as I settled into my seat and accepted my first cup of coffee from the trilingual waitress I couldn’t help feeling a pang of disappointment.

Qu’est-ce qu’il y a?‘ asked the Boy. I hesitated for a moment, took a deep breath. And decided to hold my peace a little longer.

November 6, 2007

princess shoes

Filed under: on the road, Tadpole rearing, Tadpole says — petiteanglaise @ 11:58 pm

It is a week in which I’ve already made two Paris-London-Paris trips on the Eurostar, complete with identical on-board meals of hachis parmentier and a very bland slice of bakewell tart on both Sunday and Wednesday evenings, and adjusted my watch five times (albeit a little slow on the uptake the day that daylight saving time was adopted, having completely forgotten).

On Thursday, Tadpole and I board a flight to Leeds. I pore over the in-flight magazine, wondering what my collection of loose change can buy us for lunch. I would appear to have exactly £7.70. Just enough to procure one “junior snack pack” and a still mineral water (for her) plus one packet of mini-cheddars and a coffee/kitkat combo (for me). Not the most nutritious meal, with not a hint of the requisite five servings of fruit or vegetables, but we’ve had worse. I wedge the magazine into the seat pocket in front of me and settle back in my seat, closing my eyes for a moment, waiting for the attendants to reach us.

Tadpole is studying the laminated safety card with fierce intent.

“Mummy?”

“Mhm?” I mumble, without opening my eyes.

“Why does a cross sometimes mean a kiss but sometimes it means ‘no, you CAN’T do THAT’? Those two things are not the same at ALL, are they?”

“I suppose you’re right,” I say, opening my eyes and leaning forwards to rummage in my handbag for moleskine and a pencil, nostils flaring. I smell a blog post in the making: Tadpole appears to be on fine form today. “So… what does it say that we’re not allowed to do, on the card?”

“It says no cigarette,” says Tadpole primly. “But that’s alright because me and you, we don’t fume any cigarette, do we?” I shake my head. “And it says no telephone…” she pauses and looks at me accusingly. “Why did you bring your telephone, mummy? It’s not allowed, it says it here!”

“Ah, I’m allowed to bring it, you see, but I am supposed to switch it off…” I fumble in my handbag once more and re-read my last message from the Boy, for the nth time, before complying.

“Why are those people going on a toboggan?” Tadpole wonders aloud, pointing at the picture of a landing at sea – I love the fact that there is a proper French word for this: “amerissage” which somehow makes it sound like something utterly banal and routine, and not at all like an exceptional emergency occurrence – in which several people are calmly gliding down an inflatable slide, minus their baggage and shoes. I decide not to evoke the possibility of planes falling unexpectedly out of the sky and mumble something implausible about people using slides when there aren’t any spare sets of stairs handy at the airport, instead. No sense in worrying her. Flying has hitherto been as natural to Tadpole as taking a taxi, and I wouldn’t want to change that. Pointing at the next picture, I lure her eyes away before she has time to register that the runway is blue and slightly squiggly.

“What do you think this one means?” I say, tapping my finger against a picture of an unfeasibly high stilletto shoe with a bold black cross through it.

“No princess shoes,” Tadpole replies with unshakable certainty.

Chortling, I reach for my pencil.

November 1, 2007

tea

Filed under: book stuff, on the road — petiteanglaise @ 1:16 pm

I’m not sure exactly what I expected when invited to take afternoon tea at The Wolseley with the non fiction “tzar” from a well known UK bookseller’s.

Clotted cream, scones and gleaming silverwear, certainly. Champagne was an unexpected, but not unwelcome surprise. Banter peppered with references to various celebutards and their ghostwritten “auto”biographies seemed par for the course.

This is delightful, I thought to myself, scanning the room with interest. You can’t take the Heat reader out of this girl, no matter how posh a frock she’s donned for the occasion.

But a lengthy discussion about why most women seem blissfully unaware of their correct cup size and persist in wearing ill-fitting bras for life? Whatever I did expect, it certainly wasn’t three women and one man putting their heads together to puzzle over why the soutien gorge (why gorge incidentally? French reader?) can be sized double D or double A, but you never clap eyes on a BB or a CC?

As I clattered down the steps into Green Park station to catch yet another Eurostar, clutching our leftover cakes in their immaculate cardboard box, I smiled to myself.

It just goes to show that one never can be fully prepared for meetings.

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