petite anglaise

December 15, 2005

monop’

Filed under: city of light — bipolarinparis @ 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

hat

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — bipolarinparis @ 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.

December 13, 2005

needles

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — bipolarinparis @ 5:02 pm

When we were about halfway home, pushing the Christmas tree in front of us in Tadpole’s Maclaren buggy, I realised that the girl at the florist’s hadn’t actually given me the type I’d asked for. Mine had fat, luxurious, bottle brush type foliage, whereas this one, admittedly partially hidden by a net body stocking, was thin and sparse looking. Yet again, my attention had been diverted by a toddler at a crucial juncture in the transaction. Shopkeepers must see me and Tadpole coming and rub their hands together in gleeful anticipation. There is more than one way to shortchange a distracted mother.

I sighed, genuinely disappointed, but it was too late now, we had already covered 500 m at a snail’s Tadpole’s pace, and it was too late, too cold and too dark to contemplate retracing our steps and argue about branch girth and foliage in French.

Once we had got ourselves and our needle-shedding friend up to the fifth floor apartment we call home, I clambered up the stepladder to retrieve the decorations from their lofty place of hibernation. Luckily they were still there, intact, aside from the fairy lights, of which, predictably, only half still worked. I have not so fond memories of that fateful Christmas when the bag of decorations could not be found, no matter where Mr Frog and I hunted. I had to concede, bashfully, that the bag must have been an accidental casualty of my passion for “decluttering”. Not a mistake you would want to make more than once. Christmas decorations are supposed to be amassed over a long period of time, not purchased all at once for a price equivalent to the GDP of a third world country.

The tree positioned on the wicker chest I use for the storage of spirits (of the alcoholic variety), after careful removal of a few choice bottles which I suspect I will be needing in the interim, I opened up the decoration bag and showed Tadpole the glittering bounty within.

I had imagined this scene in my head, ever since Tadpole’s first breathless exclamation of appreciation as we passed the mairie with its curtain of white lights and mammoth twin sapins. Tadpole and mummy, bathed in the soft light of a non-malfunctioning garland of Habitat lights, in fuzzy soft focus, with a soundtrack of carol singers warbling on the stereo. A candidate for Tadpole’s First Memory, perhaps?

What my shiny, feel good fantasy hadn’t quite accounted for were the hazards of the safety pins and bent paperclips I use to hang the various baubles and stars up. Nor had I actually thought through the implications of Tadpole using eggshell thin baubles as juggling balls, or squeezing them tightly in her little palms.

My best laid plans flew swiftly out of the window, as I shrieked anxiously “No! Not like that, careful!” and “Don’t touch that! It’s really sharp! You’ll get a bobo!”

Upon which Tadpole rapidly lost interest in the whole enterprise and started colouring her teletubbies’ magazine instead, tongue protruding in concentration.

I have to say that as I decorated the tree, alone, I wasn’t exactly assailed by a feeling of déjà vu.

December 8, 2005

remembered

Filed under: misc — bipolarinparis @ 12:36 pm

I am walking along a long corridor with my daddy, who is very tall, like a giant. The corridor stretches as far as I can see in both directions. Everyone who catches sight of me, whether it be a nurse, another visitor or a patient, smiles or points, and I giggle with delight. I like being the centre of everyone’s attention.

We are going to visit mummy and my new baby sister, who has red hair and a very blotchy face, in the maternity ward. I am two years and ten months old, and when I got dressed today I insisted on wearing my nurse’s uniform.

*****

I am lying in my bed in the dark wondering what to do. I have a proper bed, because I’m a big girl, but my sister still sleeps in a cot. Wilfred, my teddy, is propped up in his usual place, covering the end of the radiator which looks like a scary face. I have just woken from a very nasty dream about the monster who hides in the shadowy place behind the sofa in the living room, and I would like nothing more than to run into mummy and daddy’s bedroom for a cuddle.

The problem is that the man who lives at the foot of the bed, who sometimes tickles my feet in the night, might grab me if I do.

I deliberate, for what seems like hours, but is probably only a matter of seconds, then shoot out of the bottom left hand corner of the bed, just out of his reach, and lunge out onto the brightly lit landing.

*****

It is the Queen’s birthday, which is called a “Jubilee”. I am wearing my very best dress, which is German and called a “dirndl”. My auntie lives in Germany, and she bought a blue dirndl for me and a green one for my sister.

There is a party in someone’s garden for the Jubilee, and all the people from Admiral’s Court, the cul de sac where we live, are there. We have wheelbarrow races, and I eat lots of cake and ice cream and jelly.

When it is bedtime, a nice girl comes to babysit so that mummy and daddy can go back to the party without us. I have a tummy ache, and suddenly realise that I am going to be sick, but I can’t tell the babysitter because I daren’t open my mouth. I point to my mouth with one hand, covering it with the other, and she somehow understands and motions me into the bathroom. I go to the sink, like mummy showed me, but the babysitter says “no!” and makes me do it in the toilet.

It tastes really, really horrible, but once all the jelly has come back out, I feel much better.

*****

These are the earliest memories I can recall from my childhood. I’m as sure as I can be that these are memories, as opposed to stories recounted by adults within my earshot so many times that I have fashioned mental images to accompany them. Although I still maintain to this day that I must have been with my mother when my baby sister was stung by a wasp as she laid in her big, old-fashioned pram, so vivid are the pictures and soundtrack I carry in my head. But I wasn’t actually there, I was at school, according to my mother.

Sometimes I wonder what Tadpole’s first memory will be. Hanging decorations together on our Christmas tree? Singing songs with mummy in the bathroom, enjoying the echo of our voices? Dissolving in fits of giggles when she does that funny voice for “The Gruffalo”? Gasping at the twinkling lights of Paris by night from daddy’s living room window?

I look forward to the day, many years from now, when my daughter will tell me.

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