petite anglaise

September 21, 2005

hotel

Filed under: mills & boon, navel gazing, parting ways — bipolarinparis @ 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 — bipolarinparis @ 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.

September 18, 2005

tired and emotional

Filed under: good time girl — bipolarinparis @ 9:51 pm

A mobile phone rang in someone’s pocket. The owner glanced at it and looked up with a sheepish, apologetic grin. “It’s sitemeter. Sorry, I’d better to take this,” he mumbled, before turning his back on us momentarily so he could talk about Very Important Things in private.

The kind of banter one would only expect to hear at a blog meet.

The regular patrons of the Champion pub in Notting Hill Gate may well have wondered which planet this strange assortment of nervous looking people were from, when they started sidling in, one by one, on Saturday afternoon, often with a copy of the Guardian tucked under an arm. A private handshake of sorts.

As for yours truly, I did cheat by meeting a couple of people at a secret location beforehand, so as not to arrive alone, but after a couple of glasses of wine on an empty stomach, my butterflies were stilled and I mostly flitted around the pub repeating “I’m just so excited! There are so many people here I was dying to meet!” like a broken record to anyone who would listen.

But I was excited. Because without exception, everyone I talked to was lovely. It felt more like a reunion between old friends who hadn’t caught up in a while than a meeting of strangers. Because we Know Things about one another. More about some more than about others, admittedly, but their voices seemed familiar. They talked like they wrote, or sounded just as I expected them to sound. I asked after their building work or other half as if we’d met many times before. People asked me quite personal things (usually prefaced with “Stop me if this is too personal, but”) and I replied, honestly, because it felt perfectly normal to do so.

One person had a very exciting device and he let me hold it. Others plied me with alcohol (and if I forgot to reciprocate, please excuse me!) and potato wedg(i)es. I resisted the urge to throw a pair of (clean) undergarments at That Man From Norfolk.

I’d love to do it again. On the condition that a few other people I really, really, really, really want to meet come along too…

September 16, 2005

cornflakes

Filed under: city of light — bipolarinparis @ 3:38 pm

Autumn has arrived in Paris. The trees which line our avenue, partially obscuring the view from our fifth floor balcony when fully clothed, are beginning to shed their large golden brown leaves, making it more of a challenge to steer the pushchair clear of any déjections canines which may be lurking beneath.

I am slightly embarrassed not to be able to say what type of trees they are, but as I have mislaid my childhood “Spotters’ Guide to Trees”, I’m at a bit of a loss.

Tadpole insists on walking through the leaves, listening to the crackle they make beneath her Startrite shoes, pronouncing them to be “crispy, jus’ like cornflakes!”

It won’t be long before an army of little green men bring out the heavy artillery of leaf blowing/hoovering contraptions, working around the clock to clear the pavements. Men with futuristic looking machines on their backs, powering leaf blowers which blast the debris violently into the gutter. (Tadpole doesn’t like the noise these make, and shrieks, eyes like saucers: “regarde! it’s a big hairdryer mummy!” Hairdryers are Very Scary Things. Apparently.) There are green hoover trucks which drive up and down the roads, sucking up the blown leaves from the gutter with a huge serrated tube. In parallel, more traditional, labour-intensive methods are used involving sweeping brushes and huge green plastic bags.

In the mornings, on our run to the childminder’s house, it feels rather like an obstacle course negotiating the blowers and the sweepers, in addition to the usual pavement power washers and the sprinklers set up in the park, so that they slowly rotate and catch passing pedestrians unawares.

With all this frenetic, noisy activity going on, much of it at dawn, when it really would be nice if it were quiet enough to get some more beauty sleep, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the pavements might actually be clean.

Sadly, the little green men are no match for the combined forces of the Parisian pigeons, dogs with scoopless owners and cigarette butt tossers.

Living in Paris is a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

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