petite anglaise

December 30, 2005

grown up

Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaise @ 12:22 pm

I am thirty three years old, and a mother. The lady in the local boulangerie stopped calling me “Mademoiselle” quite some time ago.

Why is it then that most of the time I feel like I’m only pretending to be a grown up? Putting on a front. Going through the motions of what seems to be expected of someone my age, unsure whether my heart is really in what I’m doing. From the vantage point of childhood, grown ups seemed so different, so complete, so together. The phrase “one day, when you are grown up…” held such tantalising promise.

But here I am, with three decades already behind me, and I’m not quite sure I belong here. Underneath the play acting, there is a girl who often wonders why adulthood doesn’t feel like she thought it would.

I ceased to grow upwards at the ripe old age of eleven, when I watched, in helpless despair, as the other girls in my class at school overtook me. That same year, I became a woman in the childbearing (as a theoretical possibility) sense, prompting my mother’s gift of a rather chaste paperback about love and sex, with a cover photograph of a young man (German porn star moustache) and woman (flicked back Abba fringe) perpetually trapped in the late Seventies, unaware that oral sex existed.

My first physical relationship, at seventeen, was a landmark, but I wouldn’t describe it as a coming of age. I look back fondly at the young girl I was at the time, enthusiastic about the new pastime I had discovered, and fiercely possessive of my boyfriend in the manner of a small child with an exciting new toy.

I took control of my life and finances when I left home for university, aged nineteen, but I wasn’t yet a fully formed person. More a mass of contradictions: obsessed with grades, ferociously competitive, but also a thrill seeker who spared little thought for her own personal safety. It was a time for exploration, for defining my own boundaries away from the constraints of the parental home.

Somewhere in my twenties, I think I started to grow into my own personality. There was the slow, painful realisation of the fact that being top of the class at school does not automatically equip a person for a brilliant future, if that person has no particular ambition in life. Dreams were diluted with a dose of pragmatism; sacrifices were made in order to remain in the country I decided to call my home.

In my first “proper” job, once the elation at finally having money had abated, and I tired of spending every single Saturday afternoon on a spending spree, “adult” concerns started to insinuate themselves into my brain. Peers were buying flats and houses. Suddenly, amassing savings and acquiring property became a major obsession. Panic: was I missing the boat? Saturdays were a whirlwind of estate agent’s, apartment visits and mounting frustration.

Friends began to marry. I wondered whether that was something I wanted, or felt I should want. Practical reasons aside, I found myself incapable of answering this question. Somewhere along the line, I seemed to have mislaid my romantic, girlish fantasy involving a princess dress, possibly because circumstances dictated that I would be footing the bill. Mr Frog and I had moved in together out of sheer pragmatism, not as a result of some conscious decision to take things to another, more serious level.

We dithered, disagreed, and never made it as far as marriage, but the decision to try for a baby was a conscious one, not taken lightly, even though we could not help, once more, but be influenced by our circle of friends, many of whom were embarking on the same adventure at that time.

I suppose I thought that as an adult I would feel more certainty. Know, without a shadow of a doubt, that I wanted certain things out of life. Not just allow myself to be swept along like driftwood, falling into step with everyone else, mixing my metaphors, unsure of my destination.

After all the changes that 2005 wrought on my life (and Tadpole’s, and Mr Frog’s), I have clearer plans for the future than ever before. I dream of moving to the country with my Lover, renovating a house, learning to drive again. The possibility of having another child. I’m almost certain that these are the things my heart desires. But sometimes I am still haunted by the feeling that I am just a child pretending to be a grown up, yearning to play in a Wendy house, with new toys, a new doll.

Cooking lunch for my Lover on Boxing Day, I couldn’t chase away a mental image of my daughter playing with her toy cooker, with its (pink) plastic pans. Watching myself at play, pretending to cook dinner like a grown up; like my own mother.

Does being a grown up just mean playing an extended game of mummies and daddies, with bigger toys, and real genitalia?

December 24, 2005

A Christmas Carol

Filed under: Tadpole rearing, Tadpole sings — petiteanglaise @ 8:24 pm

A Tadpole is for life, not just for Christmas.

December 22, 2005


Filed under: working girl — petiteanglaise @ 1:05 pm

As we left the office to take the métro to the Marais location of our annual office Christmas lunch, the bombshell was dropped that some, if not all, staff would be expected to return to the office afterwards. Yours truly numbered among the unfortunate few, as the boss had some work he needed to finish off and made it clear that my services would be required. Inwardly fuming, I resolved to ensure that sufficient alcohol was consumed to render my presence entirely futile. It being lunchtime, the quantities required need not be vast.

First up, a champagne apéro had been laid on, to encourage us to mingle with the guests from our London office. The serveur on duty filled our glasses and then busied himself cruising around the vaulted rooms of the wine cellar where the festivities were being held, bearing a tray of appetisers. My glass soon empty, I waited five minutes before discreetly catching his eye and enquiring whether the remaining bottles of champagne in the cooler were “for decorative purposes only”. My comment was greeted with a raised eyebrow, but did ultimately have the desired effect: corks were duly popped, and for the duration of the apéro I was gratified to see that my glass was filled twice as often as everyone else’s.

Swaying slightly, I was well on the way to achieving my goal, and we hadn’t yet moved to take our seats at the Christmas cracker strewn tables. In accordance with long standing company tradition, the senior partner’s wife provides luxury crackers each year for our Christmas “do”. This year’s vintage looked particularly elegant, tied with irridescent ribbons, and, upon closer inspection, with promisingly weighty contents.

Unfortunately, throughout our meal of cream of chestnut soup with a garnish of sot-l’y-laisse (which I’m reliably informed is the part of a chicken known as the “oyster”, the best bit, hence you would be a fool to leave it) and duck leg stuffed with cèpe mushrooms, the waiters served only one glass of wine with each course, taking the bottle away with them each time. After an auspicious start, I was now beginning to feel worryingly sober.

Suddenly there was a volley of popping noises from the neighbouring table, headed up by my boss, as crackers were pulled. A shocked silence instantly fell over the rest of the room, and I put my hand to my mouth in horror.

It is an unwritten rule in our office that crackers may not be pulled until the senior partner and his wife have given us all the cue, by pulling theirs. My boss, not a great fan of tradition, had just committed an unforgiveable faux pas, probably on purpose.

I swivelled around in my chair to monitor the reaction of the senior partner, whose face was, predictably, stormy. Not a word of rebuke was uttered, but the tension in the air was palpable.

In an attempt to diffuse the frosty atmosphere, our IT technician went to put on the party CD which he had created, made up of tracks requested by various members of staff. But even with Bruce Hornsby and the Range coming to our rescue, it was touch and go as to whether our good spirits could be restored.

And one had to wonder whether the French secretary who chose Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s “Relax” was aware that the lyrics constitute a hymn to fellatio?

At 5pm, feeling replete, sleepy and just a little tipsy, I staggered back to the office, while my colleagues headed for a local bar.

Naturally, I was called upon to do no work whatsoever.

December 20, 2005

definitely not ‘French bashing’

Filed under: miam, misc — petiteanglaise @ 3:30 pm

Last night, preparing my third batch of mince pies this month for yet another gathering involving mulled wine (mulled by someone else this time, thankfully, as I found my own attempt at the weekend was a little too dominated by the pungent taste of cloves), I had an out of body experience.

From my vantage point on the kitchen ceiling, I looked down in some consternation at the spectacle of a blonde thirtysomething year old (whose dark roots could bear a little retouche, incidentally, as seen from this particular angle) gently tapping icing sugar through a sieve with a teaspoon, onto a mince pie which was partially covered with a cardboard cut out of a star, with a smaller star inside it. The results (see photo) were undeniably very fetching, but I had to wonder whether this lady shouldn’t be devoting her energies to some other, more rewarding activity than drawing stars on pieces of card and cutting around them with nail scissors.

The domestic goddess thing (if one can qualify for goddesshood when the pastry is bought ready rolled, the mincemeat out of a jar, and one is not wearing an apron) may have gone just a little too far.

As I snapped back into my body again, with an elastic band like twang, I hastily grabbed a beer from the fridge and wiped my shaking, floury hands on my jeans, in an attempt to sully the tableau of myself as Pastry Goddess.

I did however keep the cardboard cut out. It might be needed again on Christmas day. You never know.


Later still, I reluctantly prepared to do some ironing. At the best of times, this is a task which tends to be deferred until not one pair of work trousers remains and it absolutely cannot be avoided. On this occasion, to add insult to injury, the (mostly black) garments which awaited their turn had accidentally been washed with a pink jumper of Tadpole’s (with a delightful cat motif, courtesy of belle maman), and were all, without exception, covered in a fine dusting of pink fluffy lint.

This was a job for the “sticky toilet roll on a stick” device, if ever there was one. I have no idea what this contraption is known as, either in French or in English, and, in case you were planning to take it upon yourself to enlighten me, I would prefer not to know, as there are some things in life that should remain a mystery.

But the sad fact of the matter is that it was only yesterday that it came to me in a sudden and unexpected flash of enlightenment that there are actually SEVERAL LAYERS of sticky stuff on the (loo)roll.

Who knew?

There was me thinking that the “sticky toilet roll on a stick” was the most wasteful invention in the Western world, because after cleaning the lint off a single T-shirt it had to be consigned to the bin and a new one (or a toilet roll refill) purchased. How misguided was I? How could I have been blind to the existence of the several layers of untouched, virginal, supremely adhesive roll which lie beneath?

So, in case any other poor souls are labouring under the illusion that sticky toilet rolls on a stick are single use products, I decided to share my (latest) epiphany with the internet.

Please tell me I was not alone in thinking this?

December 15, 2005


Filed under: city of light — petiteanglaise @ 4:51 pm

Monoprix: where customer service comes to die.

Unfortunately, as Monop’ (as it is not so fondly known) is the only supermarket located within striking distance of my office, it is a place I must reluctantly visit to buy supplies of Covent Garden soup. The other lunch options in the vicinity of my office are so fiendishly expensive (€ 10 for a sandwich and dessert, anyone?) that I have little choice in the matter. And so it is that with a heavy heart, I find myself once again in the Monop’ foodhall, searching for an oh so elusive shopping basket.

Five minutes later, laden with cartons of spicy Thai chicken soup and garlic naan bread (when the lover’s away…) I take up a queuing position. Not in just any queue, mind. Over time I have acquired an intimate knowledge of the relative merits of the motley crew that are the Monop’ cashiers. There are those who are painfully slow. Those who are efficient, but have a habit of chatting to local pensioners at great length. Those whose French is unintelligible. All, without exception, look thoroughly miserable. The pay must be terrible, and I doubt I’d be able to muster a smile if I were in their shoes, but, even so, my sympathy has its limits.

I opt for a young, but oddly toothless, cashier. My turn finally comes around, and I unload my week’s lunches onto the conveyor belt. Prompted for my carte de fidelité I proffer it, wearily. I have tens of thousands of points, but have yet to qualify for so much as a free cinema ticket. Unlike in England, where my parents jetted off for an all expenses paid week in the Channel Islands courtesy of their Tesco Clubcard, loyalty is not a quality for which you are handsomely rewarded in this country. Quite the opposite. My S’Miles card’s only function is to serve as a painful reminder of the fact that to amass that number of points, I must have spent an awful lot of euros in this godforsaken place.

Next, I insert my bank card into the chip and pin reader. It beeps in an ominous way, and I sigh inwardly.

“CARTE MUETTE,” reads the screen.

The checkout lady takes out the card, and rubs it on her grubby uniform, before shoving it unceremoniously back in the card reader.

“CARTE MUETTE,” repeats the screen, unimpressed with her polishing abilities.

In the interests of clarity, the checkout girl states, in a monotone voice: “votre puce est muette, Madame.”

This could mean one of two things:

  1. My flea is a deaf-mute; or
  2. The chip in my card is not working.

Out of the corner of my eye, I am aware of fidgeting in the ranks of shoppers queueing behind me. It is only a matter of time before the low, discontented muttering starts.

“That’s odd. It worked just fine in the bookshop down the road two minutes ago,” I venture, trying to maintain my composure.

“Well it isn’t working now.” comes the helpful reply.

Rifling through my bag, I sigh inwardly as I note the absence of my chequebook or sufficient cash to pay for my purchases. Dentally challenged checkout girl rolls her eyes and suggests I go and withdraw money from the cash machine on the ground floor of the shop.

I start to feel more than a little flustered. And cross. I am convinced, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that it is her card reader which is malfunctioning, not my card. We are surrounded by tills and card machines, but rather than offering to try a different machine, the onus is on me to go on a cash withdrawal mission. It’s ludicrous.

Leaving my half-packed shopping bags behind, I stomp resentfully upstairs to where the cash machine is located. It’s not working. A presentation rack of cheap, no-brand Christmas chocolates has been placed in front of it; the screen is blank. The nearest hole in the wall is 100 m down the road.

I wanted my Thai soup. And my naan bread. But not that much.

Time for a € 10 sandwich from Lina’s.

December 14, 2005


Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 4:16 pm

I lurch around the apartment impatiently, attempting to locate Tadpole’s striped woolly hat, one arm inside a coatsleeve, the other engaged in hastily ramming a piece of buttered toast into my mouth. The hat, a present from Tadpole’s aunt, is nowhere to be found.

“Do you remember where you put your noddy hat?” I enquire, in desperation. Just occasionally this tactic does work, and Tadpole will reply “in my bedroom” in a tone which somehow manages to convey both incredulity (at the fact I have managed to overlook something so patently obvious) and a world weary tone of resignation (can mummy really be that dim?) Not so this time. She looks at me blankly, then turns back to her jigsaw.

I try to picture the previous day’s homecoming, rewinding the images in my head until I arrive at the relevant chapter. Come to think of it, I distinctly remember standing in front of the lift holding two bags and a Christmas tree, yelling “No, I can’t hold your hat. If you want to take it off, you hold it! Mummy has all these things to carry already!”

And now it’s missing. So clearly it was dropped on the entrance hall floor in a fit of Tadpole pique, left inside the lift, or abandoned on the carpeted landing outside our front door. Which means that either some well-meaning soul has found it and stuffed it in our letterbox, or someone a little less charitable has thrown it in the communal dustbin. Being a pessimist by nature, I assume it has gone for good and act accordingly.

An alternative hat is sourced, which is was once white, and has built in ear flaps and a strip which fastens under the chin with velcro. Now rather a tight fit, it was Tadpole’s preferred garment of winter 2004.

I decide to use this opportunity to teach Tadpole Something Important. Even if the article I read on toddler taming yesterday did say that there is little or no point in chastising children of that age about events which happened more than ten minutes ago.

Adopting my most earnest tone, I begin my lecture. “Mummy doesn’t have your noddy hat any more, because you dropped it outside when we came home yesterday. You’ll have to wear this one instead. It’s a pity, because that hat was lovely, and it was a present from Auntie S.”

My daughter eyes me gravely and nods her head. “Yes, I did drop it mummy. Is gone now.” Disturbingly, however, she shows not a shred of remorse.

“Mummy’s a bit sad,” I continue, labouring my point in the hope of getting some sort of emotional response, “because mummy asked you to carry it and you were naughty. You left it on the floor.”

Tadpole nods again, unperturbed.

Taking the ersatz-hat from my hands, my daughter says calmly “never mind mummy. I wear this one. This one very nice.” She puts it on her head and giggles as I move to fasten the velcro under her chin. “Look mummy, the hat has a beard, just like Father Christmas!”

A smile twitches at the corner of my mouth, threatening to take over, but I manage to quell it and soldier on, regardless. “It’s still a shame about that stripey hat. Mummy liked the stripey hat.”

I am starting to sound like a broken record. As repetitive as a toddler.

“Not be sad mummy. It doesn’t matter. We can buy another one, in the shop,” Tadpole explains, patiently.

If I had a white flag, I’d be waving it right about now.

We take the lift down to the ground floor, where we are greeted by the sight of a striped hat, which someone has thoughfully stowed above the battery of letterboxes.

Saying nothing, I stuff it into my letterbox when Tadpole isn’t looking, and we set off for the childminder’s.

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