petite anglaise

March 31, 2008

special k

Filed under: Tadpole rearing — petiteanglaise @ 9:22 am

‘We’re making a “k” for “kite”,’ says Tadpole, her voice a half-yawn. This would be true if her bed wasn’t an extra short lit évolutif from Ikea, which I really should lengthen one day soon, as Tadpole is tall and willowly. My (shorter, stumpier – do I sound jealous yet?) legs are currently bent at the knee, so even if she is lying in a sort of sideways ‘V’ shape, with her bottom nestling against my tummy, we’re making a special sort of K. With a tail.

I glance at the Miffy wall clock, which reads 7.43. Almost half-time.

My morning routine (on weekdays) goes something like this:

7.15: Alarm clock sounds. It’s actually the alarm on my landline phone, and whenever I’m in a shop or restaurant that uses the same ringtone, it sends icicles down my spine.

7.20: I press snooze.

7.25: I press snooze.

7.30: I press stop.

7.32: I get up, walk along the corridor, raise the blackout blinds in Tadpole’s room, then climb into her bed.

7.32 – 8.02: We snuggle. She tells me what she has been dreaming about. Or I guess. It can be one of four things: mermaids, princesses, fairies or unicorns, so the odds are not exactly stacked against me.

8.02 – 8.25: She eats cereal, we get dressed, I drink my first Cloonette of the day.

8.25: We run to school, slipping inside just before the doors close, at 8.30.

I realise that this may not seem like the best time management policy, but try as I might, I can’t bring myself to change any of the above.

‘So, what did you dream about today?’ I ask, my voice muffled by her curls, which are also tickling my nose.

‘I did dream that I was a princess, in a castle,’ Tadpole begins. So far, so predictable. ‘And you were the queen, mummy… and grandma was the maid…’ Chuckling, I make a mental note to tell my mother about her demotion to the servants’ quarters. I wonder whether granddad made an appearance in Tadpole’s dream, perhaps as the court jester, but wisely hold my tongue. We will be visiting England in a few weeks’ time and Tadpole can always be relied upon to repeat precisely those phrases she shouldn’t. (‘Mummy says I shouldn’t eat my spaghettis like that because I’m not a piggy like you.’ Ouch.)

But there is to be no mention of granddad. Instead, Tadpole swivels around so that she is facing me and we (almost) form a triangle. ‘In my dream,’ she says, looking at me intently, ‘my daddy was the king and he did live in the same castle as us.’

‘Did he now?’ I say, reflecting that although my daughter may not look much like me, we’ve both inherited the recessive subtlety gene. ‘But mummy already has a king, doesn’t she? And she can’t have two… I mean, I’ve never seen a castle with two kings in it, have you?’

Tadpole shakes her head, seemingly satisfied with my explanation. I glance back at the Miffy clock. It is only 7.53, but I decide to make breakfast early.

‘So,’ I enquire, ‘did the princess in your dream eat special K with chocolate pieces in for her breakfast?’

March 25, 2008

Madame Bovary on the métro…

Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaise @ 12:26 pm

Petite Anglaise garnered a couple more (rather tardy) reviews in the British press this weekend. The first was in The Independent, last Friday, and gave me cause to wonder whether I shouldn’t have reinvented Mr Frog as a non smoker or extolled the virtues of Lipton yellow tea in the interests of avoiding clichéd representations of the French.

The second, in the weekend edition of the FT, references Madame Bovary (on the métro to the childminder’s). I really liked this piece – the reviewer seemed to really “get” the book.

And of course I drew no small amount of satisfaction from remembering that my former employer not only subscribed to the FT, but displayed it prominently on the glass coffee table in reception…

March 21, 2008


Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaise @ 9:45 am

I’d like to say a heartfelt thank you to everyone who turned out (in the freezing cold) to listen to me read at WH Smiths last night. It was somewhat unnerving giving a reading in front of so many people (120! Wow!) but I ended up thoroughly enjoying myself and I’m eternally grateful to you all for laughing in the right places.

For those who couldn’t make it, I signed a sizeable stack of copies before I left and these may be procured from WH Smiths at your leisure (and possibly posted to you if you live elsewhere in France).

Sadly, my camera was on the blink and I’m gutted I forgot to ask The Boy to bring his and play the role of official snapper.

But I did happen to notice a few flashbulbs going off, so if you have photographic evidence you’re willing to share, I’d love to see it. You can mail snaps to the usual address, or add photos to my facebook page. I’ll pop anything I receive up on flickr and link to it from here.

And was it just my imagination, or did my accent start off BBC posh and gradually veer off in a northern direction?

March 18, 2008


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 10:43 am

It is Sunday morning. After a friend’s birthday dinner at Le Chapeau Melon the previous night and a few glasses of wine, I’m feeling sluggish. It’s been weeks since I’ve managed to sleep in. When I’m feeling stressed and highly strung I wake early, my overactive brain skittering uncontrollably from worry to worry until I can’t bear it any more and have to haul myself out of bed to escape my own thoughts. But today I’m so snug, my head’s so empty, that I just want to savour the feeling of warm bed, the back of my hand grazing The Boy’s smooth buttock.

The problem, of course, is that I’m supposed to be taking Tadpole to her water play session (I hesitate to call it swimming class, as there is still no sign of any teaching element whatsoever). I have to go: it’s paid for, she loves it and I even made the mistake of mentioning it when I got up to make her breakfast a few hours earlier. She’s watching a DVD at present in the next room while I drift in and out of sleep, rain pattering comfortingly against the windowpane. There’s no way she will have forgotten.

I hear a noise, and it takes me a while to register whether the culprit is the doorbell, the alarm clock, or one of the four mobile phones The Boy and I have lying around the room. By the time I work out what is going on and have crawled across the room, a message has been left on my phone. The number is an unfamiliar land line, and I contemplate replacing phone in handbag without investigating further. Then again, maybe someone somewhere has just answered my prayers. So I dial “888” and clamp the phone to my ear to listen, a smile slowly spreading across my face.

Bonjour, je vous appelle de la piscine Grange aux Belles,’ says the voice. It’s the jovial lady with a poodle perm who guards the swimming pool entrance, usually armed with a large tin of assorted sweets. ‘La séance de 11h30 est annulée,’ she says breathlessly, probably making her twentieth identical call. ‘En raison d’un caca dans l’eau.’

‘Hallelujah,’ I say, glancing at the clock, which reads 11.15 am. I slip between the covers, unable to believe my good fortune.

March 14, 2008


Filed under: book stuff — petiteanglaise @ 10:15 am

Until last week, I was terrified at the prospect of giving a reading. Recording a blog post for Woman’s Hour was one thing (I’m going to keep on mentioning that for ages, yes, because I’m still reeling from the shock of saying “ring sting” on air), reading from petite anglaise was another thing entirely.

A few months ago, I happened to be in London on the very day that a Society of Authors seminar on “Giving a Reading” was held. I decided to sign up – thinking it would be interesting to check out their offices and meet a few people, if nothing else – and found myself in a room filled with twenty or so other authors. Some had penned fiction, others memoirs, history books or film scripts. Their ages ranged from twenty-five to eighty. We were united, however, by our collective fear of public speaking.

That day the speaker gave us lots of very good advice. Instead of reading one long passage (which might send your audience to sleep), you can pick several short ones, she suggested. That way you can give people a taste of different types of writing: some description, some dialogue, some action. Several amuse-bouche appetisers instead of one large entrée: a good way to whet people’s appetites. She also pointed out that if there’s a word or phrase you cringe at when reading aloud, or a sentence which simply doesn’t work when read out of its context, you can cross it out. It’s your book. You can do whatever you like.

There followed an excruciating hour where each participant read a short passage aloud and the rest of the group gave some constructive criticism about what could be done to improve things. There were those who swayed from side to side, those who buried their heads in their books, never daring to glance up. Those who mumbled, and those who read at fifty miles an hour in voices flattened by nerves to an expressionless monotone. I made the mistake of choosing a highly emotional passage – the book’s prologue – and lost my voice halfway through, soldiering on to the end in a stage whisper. The stunned silence at the end of my reading I put down to the fact that it must have been quite unsettling for my audience to see me reading on the verge of tears.

So when I gave my first public reading at York library, ten days ago, I’d given quite a lot of thought to how to avoid repeating that disastrous performance. I was stomach-churningly nervous – my ravaged cuticles and peeling bottom lip bore witness – but, having spent most of that day running from photo session to interview to photo session to TV studio, before leaping onto a train (Leeds-York) just an hour before my reading was due to start, I didn’t have too much time to dwell on my fear, let alone practise my spiel. I arrived at the library with only twenty minutes to spare, and allowed the organiser to pour me a large glass of wine (Arrogant Frog – an inspired choice) in an attempt to calm my nerves.

Once everyone had filed in and taken a seat, I gave a brief introduction then read four short passages from the light-hearted opening chapters of the book, introducing my love affair with all things French, the character of Mr Frog and the birth of the blog. It went pretty well, I thought, even if I found it tricky to raise my eyes from my book (the sight of my grandma, beaming on the front row, was a little off-putting). I even managed to get a few laughs – the scene where I meet Mr Frog was a lot of fun to read – and the consensus seemed to be that it had gone rather well. Once the questions from the floor had been dispensed with, I took out my special signing pen and had fun writing little messages in people’s books.

I did however decline my first ever request to sign a pair of white buttocks.


If you happen to be in Paris next Thursday (March 20th) and can make it to WH Smiths on rue de Rivoli at 7.30 pm, you will be able to see me give a repeat performance.

To enable the organisers to make adequate provision of alcoholic beverages, I urge you to sign up by sending an RSVP email. The event is free, and if you have already got a copy of the book, you are welcome to bring it along. If you’d like to purchase a book on the night, WH Smiths have ordered in copies of the proper UK hardback version especially (instead of the oversized export paperback some of you may have seen in Paris), which is much much lovelier, in my opinion.

Once I’ve got the reading bit out of the way (it will be mercifully short, as there are in excess of 80 people signed up, and therefore there will be no room for chairs) I will be free to answer questions, scribble inanely in books, drink wine and mingle until about 9.30pm. If you can’t make it to the first part, feel free to pop along afterwards.

See you there?

March 12, 2008


Filed under: misc — petiteanglaise @ 4:57 pm

I’m inordinately proud today at having written a piece in French for Rue89 about the sacking and book deal.

The Boy was asked to re-read it before I submitted it to the editors and, to my delight, only moved two commas. He did however mutter something about the length of my sentences (very British, apparently).

It was an enjoyable experience – I don’t get nearly enough opportunity to write in French these days – but it has convinced me that I’ll leave translating “petite” into French to the experts.

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