petite anglaise

January 22, 2007

mirror mirror

Filed under: navel gazing, single life — petiteanglaiseparis @ 8:20 pm

I frown at my face in the mirror. Make-up still looks good in the right light, but increasingly these days I find that foundation accentuates the fine lines around my eyes instead of concealing them. I prefer myself with my glasses on, because actually they hide a multitude of tell-tale signs. The days when I dreamt of laser surgery are long behind me.

Digging out a selection of eye-shadow colours, I proceed by a process of elimination. The dark brown one I should really throw away, it’s too severe, too ageing. The pearly pale colours are too “teenaged”. Which only leaves a nondescript matt beige and a dusky pink. I choose the former, applying it lightly with a brush. Less is more. The last thing I want is to look like I’m trying too hard. My lips, full and pouty, if slightly chapped, respond well to a coating of lip gloss.

I survey the finished product. Not bad, but not quite me either. My mother used to say she felt the same inside at forty as she did when she was eighteen. I don’t feel the same exactly, but whenever I look in the mirror I think I always half hope to see my eighteen-year-old self looking back at me, and can’t help but feel disappointed that she is never there.

Padding into Tadpole’s room in stockinged feet I open the wardrobe and deliberate about what to wear. I have always been what I would call “pear-shaped”, often with as much as two sizes difference between the top and bottom halves of my body. Despite my New Year’s resolutions and recent gym membership, there are few visible improvements as yet. Now, the party I am getting ready for called for “something red” in the invitation. Hmm… A raspberry-coloured dress bought years earlier, which drapes in a forgiving way around my curves is the only red item in the wardrobe which strikes me as appropriate for a party. I might feel a little overdressed, and if I get cold my nipples will definitely show, but I don’t have time to agonise further. The babysitter will be arriving any minute.

Tadpole looks up from her book and smiles. “Mummy looks like a princess,” she says. And means it. I give her a grateful hug. Thank god for unconditional love.

Later, at the party my friend and I joke about the fact that we are actually several years older than most of the other guests present (understandable, as the hosts are in their mid-twenties).

“You can tell we’re older, because all these younger girls are playing it cool, dressing down, and here we are with our grown-up dresses and our faint whiff of desperation,” comments my friend, wryly.

“Oh god, don’t, my confidence is hanging by a thread as it is,” I reply, and proceed to enlighten her as to the meaning of the wonderful British expression “mutton dressed as lamb”, before helping myself to another glass of red punch.

I’m thirty-four years old, and until now, most people didn’t believe me when I told them my age, or gasped when I told them I had a three-year-old daughter. But something – and I’m not sure what – seems to have dented my confidence lately. Perhaps it’s because there hasn’t been anyone who I could get excited about for a while, no-one’s admiration to bask in. Or maybe it’s the fact that my last boyfriend was significantly older than me, and these days I often run with a younger pack.

From experience I know that it’s impossible to be objective about what you see in the mirror. On a black cloud day I can’t help but hate my reflection. In the throes of a hormone peak I will feel big, regardless of what the scales might read.

I’m looking forward to the day when the mirror throws me back something I like. It will be a sign that whatever was faulty has been fixed, that the storm clouds have finally lifted.

And in the meantime, I’ll just keep on basking in the warm glow of Tadpole’s compliments.

January 1, 2007

taking stock

Filed under: good time girl, navel gazing, single life — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:17 pm

2006 was nothing if not eventful.

I got dumped.
I bought my first home.
I got fired.
I got outed.
I was given an exciting opportunity.

2007 should be a little quieter, less turbulent. A few important dates loom on the landscape. A hearing at the industrial tribunal on 19 February. A first book to deliver by 4 July.

But the thing which I’d most like to happen sometime soon, the thing I finally feel ready for, is the only thing that you can never plan. The thing which you can guarantee will only happen when you stop hoping; when you look the other way; when you least expect it.

I’d like to meet someone. Someone I can lose my appetite over. Someone who fills my head with silly daydreams. Someone who has the power to make me smile at complete strangers in the métro. Someone who doesn’t follow this blog, ideally, as I’d like to be discovered little by little, not offered up in one king-sized serving.

I spent much of 2006 keeping men I met at arm’s length, or pushing them firmly away. Partly, I suppose, because no single person I met was “all that”. Partly because I’d been badly burned and no longer dared trust my instincts. But also due to the simple fact that there was so much going on, so much that was new and terrifying that I wanted to come to terms with all the change before I let someone else in.

Taking stock, as 2006 drew to a close, I was forced to admit to myself that there is something a little empty about this life I’ve been leading. Spending hours alone, writing about events in my past, by day. Partying a little too hard by night, whenever the opportunity presented itself. I’m no fool. I see the binge drinking and bad behaviour for what it really is: a symptom of my malaise, escapism, a temporary stress release mechanism.

It’s time to set my life on a healthier course. Time to let go of my anxieties and enjoy the opportunities which have come my way. Time to let someone in, should a worthy candidate present himself.

Time for petite anglaise to take a step back and let me do the living.

November 21, 2006


Filed under: good time girl, navel gazing — petiteanglaiseparis @ 12:47 am

“So, what do you do in Paris?” says the friend of a friend I’ve just been introduced to.

“Oh, I’ve been here for eleven years now, and I was a secretary for most of that time,” I say. “And now, I’m, um, writing this memoir…” I let my voice trail off in a way that will make it sound like I’ve just said the most boring thing in the world, hoping to nip any further questions in the bud.

“You’re slowly getting better at this, see?” whispers my girlfriend, with a wink.

“Well, maybe, but I’m still blushing, you just can’t see it in this light,” I reply doubtfully.

I live in constant dread of having to tell people just what it is that I do for a living.

Since April, the question has been one king-sized can of worms. (Can one buy cans of worms? Aren’t they maggots? For fishing?) Because “I’m between jobs right now” or “I got fired” usually snowballs into more questions, and yet more, until the whole grisly truth comes out. It’s long, it’s involved, and I end up feeling oddly like I’m being interviewed rather than actually making conversation.

Ever since contracts were exchanged and it all became terrifyingly official, I have no longer been able to truthfully play the chômeur card, and so now I have to admit, bashfully, that I am writing to earn my bread and butter. “Admit” probably isn’t the right word, but the only other phrase which springs to mind right now is “own up to”, which isn’t much of an improvement, I’m sure you’ll agree.

Of course if I mention writing, the questions come even thicker and faster. And although I’m going to be a writer, one day, when I’m published, I don’t feel like I own that title yet. So I play it coy, hide behind my hair a lot (at least until that fifth drink, when my alter ego takes over and I probably say something along the lines of “I’m a little bit famous, can I grope your bottom?”) and attempt to keep everything as vague as I can.

Because book leads inevitably to blog. And my name is now connected to this blog in every conceivable search engine. Nasty pictures taken by photographers in the pay of tabloids who were clearly given the brief that they should attempt to look down my top, or up my skirt, are on display. Anonymity, however relative and fragile a concept that was, is no longer an option. And that is not always a good thing.

Twice recently I received worried emails the day after meeting someone new, the senders fretting about whether they were about to find themselves the subject of a forthcoming blog post (they won’t, I don’t cross those boundaries without permission of sorts). And those are the ones who knew what a blog was before we met. Those people who don’t know must undoubtedly think I am some sort of narcissistic self-centred weirdo when they hear that I share slices of my personal life with the internet at large.

And yes, those people were boys. And yes, what I’m really concerned about here, is whether it will hamper my chances of success on the dating market, my chances of finding someone a bit special once I’ve got my current teenage phase well and truly out of my system. Because you’ve got to admit that things are a little unequal, not to say unbalanced, if menfolk that I meet are able to read about my whole life on the internet before our second date, a state of affairs that leaves me feeling at something of a disadvantage.

So, it will have to be a blogger. Apparently there are currently three million blogs in France, so hopefully at least a handful are not written by teenagers and girls.

I’ll keep you, ahem, posted.

November 9, 2006


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.

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