petite anglaise

November 9, 2006

ripples

Filed under: navel gazing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:15 pm

“So, what was it all like, that stuff, back in July?” a few people asked me this weekend.

These were people I hadn’t seen for a year or more. People who had met me once (while tipsy) back in the days when I was being branded an internet adulteress and I had that slightly indecent, back in the saddle, new relationship glow about me.

Not an easy question to answer. My responses ranged from “scary” to “surreal” to “terrifying”, and I didn’t feel able to elaborate. But it got me thinking nonetheless. About everything I didn’t/couldn’t say at the time.

When I think back to the weeks that followed my unceremonious dismissal, I see myself at home, shutters closed, Tadpole (fortunately) with her grandparents. I was in pieces. Watching ten episodes of Lost a day, back-to-back, in my pyjamas. I had little or no appetite. Sleep was elusive. My hair hung in a gnarly, unbrushed ponytail. I shook like a leaf if I so much as smelt a cup of coffee. Kind friends invited me for cups of tea, and I spilled my guts, talking at one hundred miles an hour, high on adrenaline.

My life was a web of lies. Or, to be more accurate, withheld information. My readers couldn’t know I’d been fired because I wanted that news to come out only when I judged the time was right, and when I was sure that coming clean couldn’t cause me any additional harm. My notary, estate agent and bank manager couldn’t know I’d been fired, because I was still figuring out whether I dared sign my loan documents without disclosing my new circumstances.

I spent two months in limbo, consulting lawyers, worrying about whether or not there was any substance to the threats of legal action, regularly speaking to my journalist friend but asking him to hold off, yet simultaneously fearing that by July, it would be old news. I had mixed feelings about letting the story run at all; agonised over whether I had more to lose than I had to gain.

The story ran on a Tuesday, and I had no idea it would be the first of many until my phone started ringing, in the middle of my ASSEDIC interview, where I was sorting out my entitlement to unemployment benefit.

I was scheduled to move into my new apartment five days later, knee deep in boxes, flitting back and forth making final preparations. The new place had no internet access, so any time I spent there meant I was offline, unable to see how my story was snowballing across the web. I built wardrobes, took deliveries of appliances, and waited in for technicians while simultaneously fielding calls and giving interviews on my mobile phone in French and English.

Paris was in the throes of a heatwave, and I dripped with sweat every time I so much as changed a lightbulb. But in between the furniture assembly and deliveries I scampered back to the old flat down the road to approve hundreds of comments and scour a mountain of email for the important stuff that needed answering immediately. To change into any clean clothes I could find and have pictures taken by some photographer while my arm rested against a scalding hot balcony railing. I answered my emails at midnight, wrote a piece for the Guardian at 3 am, dropped Tadpole off with Mr Frog at 7 am so that I could have my picture taken for The Sunday Times in a café (photos never used, to my disappointment) while people all around me drank their first coffee of the day, nibbled croissants.

It was scary. Surreal. Terrifying. There wasn’t a single moment when I didn’t worry that in exchange for fifteen minutes of “fame” which no-one would remember a few weeks later, I would be left with a handful of yellowing press cuttings and no prospect of working as a PA in Paris again. When my full name was revealed – and I wasn’t stupid enough to think this couldn’t be found, just naïve enough to think that it didn’t add anything to the story and therefore people might respect my wish not to use it – I was left wondering whether the gamble had been worth it, after all. Journalists were sniffing around my home village, trying to find my daughter’s name, to contact Jim in Rennes, Mr Frog, and god knows who else. I felt exposed, picked over and extremely foolish for thinking that I could remain in any semblance of control.

I could only hope against hope that the emails coming in from agents and publishers represented some sort of genuine interest, although I didn’t have the time to explore those avenues just yet.

The day before I moved flats, there was a hasty trip to Ikea. Mr Frog and I had decided to make use of the van I’d hired (which he was driving), so that I could pick up a few things, and he could buy Tadpole a new bed and find some plants for his flat. We stopped for a snack; I knocked back an ill-advised espresso.

A few minutes later, in the lighting section, I had an enormous panic attack. There were people everywhere, but I didn’t care, all I wanted to do was let my legs go out from under me and curl up in a tight ball on the floor. My heartbeat was rapid, erratic; I couldn’t breathe. Stricken, I stared at Mr Frog, wide-eyed, unable to speak. I wanted to be hugged, for someone to whisper calming words in my ear. But Mr Frog couldn’t be that person. It was too much to ask of him. Instead I found a chair, put my head between my knees and took deep breaths until the feelings subsided. Not completely, but just enough for me to stand up and carry on, gripping the trolley with white knuckles.

I still get the panic attacks, although less often, less intense. Waterstones, Birmingham, August. An Italian restaurant in York, October. I always do my utmost to hide them from Tadpole, and whoever I may be with. Good things have happened since July and I feel lucky, grateful and slightly disbelieving in equal measures. But when every single thing in your life changes – your boyfriend leaves, you move house, you lose a job, find a new career – all in the space of six short months, it cannot fail to knock you sideways. It will take time to make sense of it all, to process, digest, and make it a part of who I am, not just something that happened to me.

I’m not quite there yet, but I hope I will be, soon.

November 6, 2006

poxy

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 11:31 pm

I hear the unmistakable sounds of Mr Frog and Tadpole approaching in the stairwell and fling open the front door eagerly. Despite her pitifully spotty and feverish state, Tadpole dives enthusiastically into my arms, giggling with pleasure at being reunited, finally, after a long week apart. I scoop her up and carry her through to my bedroom, where we sit on my (scarlet) bed and I hug her needily, in silence, nose buried in blonde corkscrew curls, while Mr Frog starts unpacking his holdall.

“Mummy, I’ve got la varicelle, look!” whispers Tadpole. At this stage, fully clothed, the full extent of her affliction is not apparent, but the area around her mouth and nostrils is red and inflamed with a swarm of tiny blemishes, and a few larger, crispier specimens are clearly visible in her scalp. I scratch my own head, in sympathy. “Do what I say, not what I do” is my motto.

“Do you know what that’s called in English?” I reply, catching Mr Frog’s eye and smiling.

“Chicken POTS!” shouts Tadpole, triumphantly.

The first I heard of the whole fiasco was a text message received while swaying drunkenly in a London pub, in which Mr Frog informed me that Tadpole had been afflicted with “the chicken pots”. Too preoccupied to correct him, I had allowed him to labour under this misconception for the whole weekend, and any attempt to convince Tadpole that this is not the correct name for her illness is now unlikely to be met with success. Once my daughter gets an idea in her head, she will not be swayed.

“I stopped in Boots and got calamine lotion,” I say to Mr Frog, pointing at the bottle of strawberry milkshake like liquid which sits by the computer, proud of my foresight. I notice then that he is brandishing a prescription as long as my arm. Clearly a French doctor has already been consulted.

The resulting prescription:

  • Digluconate de chlorhexidine – a mysterious potion to be used instead of soap to avoid infection;
  • Anti-histamine medicine to counteract itching;
  • An antiseptic spray to be used on any sores which have been scratched;
  • Doliprane syrup – equivalent of Calpol.

“No suppositories?” I remark, an eyebrow raised in mock surprise.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

This morning, after a night of fitful co-sleeping, Tadpole and I make it to the neighbouring pharmacie with our shopping list. My gaze is riveted on the till. Things have been getting tight since I signed off my benefits. For Tadpole, it’s business as usual, but I am mostly existing on Franprix’s own brand packet soup and wholemeal sliced bread.

Which makes it all the more galling when the rest of the day is spent arguing with an ungrateful Tadople who:

  • refuses to have a bath
  • refuses to let me dab on any calamine lotion or use the spray (too cold, apparently)
  • refuses to wee for several hours (it hurts, and feels hot)
  • refuses to take her anti-histamine (the first dose didn’t taste very nice)

Such is her state of distress whenever I mention any of the above, so pained is her “no THANK YOU mummy!” (I note her rare, desperate use of politeness in this context), so immune is she to bribery (chocolate biscuits, cbeebies on the computer, ice cream) that I find myself utterly powerless to do anything to help Her Royal Itchiness.

My unappetising tomato and vermicelli soup simmering resentfully on the hob, I wonder whether to try and administer potions and lotions in Tadpole’s sleep.

November 5, 2006

week in brief

Filed under: good time girl — petiteanglaiseparis @ 9:49 pm

The thing One of the things that I really didn’t expect to happen when I started blogging, back in July 2004, was that it would kick start my social life in quite the way it did. Sitting on the Eurostar as it hurtled under the English Channel this afternoon, feeling a little melancholy – as you always do after something you have looked forward to for weeks has finally been and gone – I mulled over the part people I have met through this blog now play in my life. Some are but fleeting acquaintances, others have become firm friends. What they all have in common is that I doubt I would have met a single one of these lovely people if it hadn’t been for this peculiar internet hobby we have in common.

God bless t’internet.

Tuesday:

lauren maîtresse
elisabeth coquette
meg blagueur

Thursday:

hugo
iain baseball

Friday:

mrs bobby
mr boat

Saturday:

In no particular order (and apologies if I have forgotten anyone)…

andre, mike, jonnyb, one track, mimi, unluckyman, greavsie, anxious, tim, girl on a train, lovely leonie, monkeylady, meg, karen, pete, pixeldiva, damian, clare, robin, hydragenic

So many lovely people in one single pub I never did see before. If it had fallen to the centre of the earth (although I can’t think why it would have done), there would have been one hell of a gaping void in the blogosphere.

November 2, 2006

impertinent

Filed under: misc — petiteanglaiseparis @ 1:28 pm

This article was published in the Paris section of weekly news magazine The Nouvel Observateur today. The interview actually took place in early September, if I remember correctly, and the photographer popped round to see me at home a few weeks later.

A bit of a character, he started by telling me that he thought all the pictures which had been used by the English press – with the exception of the one used by the Guardian – had been hideous and aged me approximately ten years.

I was inclined to agree, most had been taken under sweltering sun, in the middle of the day, when the light conditions were at their most unforgiving and I could do little more than squint at the camera with a furrowed brow. I also suspect that the editors specifically picked photos where I looked mildly annoyed (with the photographer, because I hated every minute of leaning in unnatural poses against pillars, trees and balcony railings) because they matched the story (annoyed with my former employer).

Mr Obs Photographer said his “Fait Divers” page tended to be a little artier, and that he was looking for something which summed up my personality, and my blog, and liked to keep snapping away until he got precisely what he wanted. I posed, awkwardly, in the room which serves as my living room/bedroom/study for approximately two hours, until I finally begged him to leave, at the end of my patience. The pictures taken seated in front of my computer, I could understand. Those photos which showed my bookcase in the background, ditto. But the ones taken against a backdrop of scarlet sheets, I admit to having some reservations about.

It was only when the photographer was on the verge of leaving that I finally understood what the “scarlet woman” sequence had been about.

“The thing that really struck me when I looked at your blog,” he said, in French, “was the fact that you said you have been living dans le péché.”

I giggled. The penny (or centime) had finally dropped.

“Living in sin is an English phrase which just means that I wasn’t married,” I clarified.

“Oh!” he said, clearly crestfallen.

I don’t know if I dare imagine what he thought “vivre dans le péché” might mean, but the result of his misunderstanding makes quite a nice picture, I think.

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