petite anglaise

September 10, 2006


Filed under: city of light, single life — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:19 pm

When I finally took a peek out of my window, towards 2 pm, I was dazzled by unexpectedly bright sunlight. And yet, for some perverse reason, I decided it was a perfect day for an outing to the cinema. A perfect day for sitting in darkness, indoors, alone.

Once upon a time, there was a petite anglaise who lived on rue de la Roquette, and taught English part-time for twelve, maybe sixteen hours a week. She had a student card, and an MK2 cinema card (in those days, the chain of art house cinemas were called Les Cinemas 14 Juillet) and she went to the cinema three, maybe four times a week. Between classes, to kill time, she often went to the morning showing (25 francs). When her apartment refused to warm up in the middle of winter, she saw two films back to back while her toes gradually thawed.

In her time with Mr Frog she still went often, although this sometimes meant reaching a somewhat unsatisfactory compromise. She liked thoughtful, challenging, whimsical; he liked car chases, guns and mechanically working his way through a bucket of (salted) popcorn. Sunday afternoons were often spent zipping down to Bercy Village on the Vespa, munching on a Bresaola toasted sandwich and queuing up for the latest blockbuster. Then Tadpole was born, and suddenly the cinema became a prohibitively expensive outing: €21 in babysitting fees before any tickets (or popcorn) had even been factored in to the equation.

Nowadays, although I have a little more time to myself, I tend to want to spend my precious freedom wisely, preferring to see a friend for a leisurely brunch, or a few drinks, rather than sitting companiably in the dark.

But today I returned and got bitten by the cinema bug all over again.

I bought a ticket for the mid-afternoon showing of Michel Gondry’s The Science of Sleep, then retired to the outdoor terrasse, where I sipped a café crème and nibbled on a cannelé for half an hour, my nose in a book. At the appointed hour I chose the perfect seat (a third from the front, in the middle of the row) and kicked off my flip flops, tucking my feet up under my skirt. The room was sparsely populated and quiet. As the lights went down I felt a familiar tingle of anticipation.

The film was quirky, endearing and occasionally laugh out loud funny. Gael Garcia Bernal was rather delectable in his ill-fitting, large collared suit. Losing myself in a dreamscape filled with stuffed toys, cardboard toilet rolls and eggboxes for a couple of hours was glorious escapism.

As the credits drew to a close, I strolled out into the sunshine and stretched like a cat. Glancing at my watch, I was pleased to note I had a whole hour to kill before Tadpole o’clock. I stopped at a café I’d never even noticed before, on a whim. A table in the sun. The sound of djembé players drifting over from somewhere near the canal. An occasional métro aérien screeching across the metal bridge from Jaurès to Stalingrad. Scenes from the film replaying in my head. A crisp, cold pression. One of the best croque monsieur‘s I have sampled in years (it’s all in the topping – and this one was oozing to perfection with thick coating of bechamel).


There was only one false note. From time to time I found myself missing a certain someone. It crossed my mind, fleetingly, that Mr Frog would have loved the film; that he would have adored the café. We would have sat in companiable silence (popcorn chewing excepted), conversation unnecessary.

Ironic, isn’t it, that I should find myself wishing I could spend a few hours of my precious freedom with the one person who can’t be there. Freedom, it seems, comes at a price. And situations are never quite as clear cut as they first appear.

September 3, 2006


Filed under: city of light, single life — petiteanglaiseparis @ 2:42 pm

“Et, dites-moi, ma fille, pourquoi vous avez quitté votre mari, hein?” my neighbour enquires, in her abrasive, rather masculine voice.

Head: patchy fog. Limbs: rather stiff. Conversation: undesirable.

I danced until 4am last night in the scarlet womb of the Batofar. At first I thought the drink was playing evil tricks on my sense of balance, but it soon became apparent that the boat really was listing on the starboard side. I chose to believe that an uneven distribution of revellers across the dancefloor was responsible, because even if the boat had been about to capsize, there could be absolutely no question of leaving half way through “Bizarre Love Triangle”.

I finally manage to collect my wits sufficiently to venture out of my apartment twelve hours later. My aim is simply to take out the rubbish, have a peep inside my letterbox and then scuttle back upstairs to bed. Clutching a wad of junk mail and bank statements I begin my ascent. Halfway up the stairs I am waylaid by my new neighbour.

I don’t even know her name, but I am already perfectly au fait with her family situation. A son, living in Israel with his two wives (!) and four children. She was born and raised in Tunisia. There are two grown up children living in Paris, one of whom is a taxi driver. Her husband passed away sixteen years ago. She wears a sleeveless patterned overall over her clothes at all times, which I think Vitriolica would refer to as a bata; a headscarf is knotted around her wispy grey hair.

One thing is abundantly clear: the lady does not do small talk.

In the space of two minutes, she has already quizzed me about what I do for a living (ahem, complicated…) and enquired as to why my daughter isn’t with me. When I explain that Tadpole is at her daddy’s house today, that leads her to the million dollar question: “what on earth had possessed me to leave my husband?”

Executing my very best gallic shrug, I mumble something incomprehensible about how these things happen, which seems to satisfy her, for now. I choose not to correct her erroneous assumption that Mr Frog and I had been married. Now is not the time. It’s not that the subject of our separation is a sensitive one, really, but I suspect that to someone of her generation, my reasons would seem pithy. We didn’t fight tooth and nail. He never mistreated me in any way. We still get on rather well; in fact he’s one of my very best friends. The flame just sputtered out, over time, and we find it healthier to live apart. Even to myself, I now gloss over the leaving him for someone else part, which somehow seems irrelevant.

My neighbour decides to impart some friendly advice, woman to woman. Ever since she first saw me moving in, she has had a soft spot for me, apparently.

“Il faut pas rester seule, ma fille,” she says, putting a wrinkled hand on my arm and looking earnestly into my bleary eyes. “Pas pendant trop longtemps. C’est pas bien.”

I force my lips into a smile, wondering how to extricate myself from the conversation without causing offence. The footfalls of another neighbour in the stairwell give me hope. It is a thirtysomething male, bound for Franprix with a tartan shopping cart. The briefest flicker of irritation passes across his face when he sees my neighbour lying in wait, but, to his credit, he fields her questions about his family and his summer holidays with admirable patience.

I seize my chance and mutter an excuse, darting back into my apartment.

Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s lovely to have neighbours who actually want to have a chat from time to time. It’s usually the elderly who do – younger Parisians rarely take the time to get to know the people who surround them, even if the paper thin walls which divide our apartments mean that we are intimate in many other ways.

But next time I have an errand to run, I shall be checking to see that the coast is clear before I put a foot outside my door. Because there is one more thing you should know about my neighbour: her memory is failing.

We have had this very same conversation three times in the last week. I’m not quite ready for round four, just yet.

July 26, 2006

wardrobe malfunction

Filed under: misc, single life — petiteanglaiseparis @ 10:48 am

I sit cross legged on the floor, biting my lip whilst contemplating several flat packs of furniture and wondering how on earth I had managed to convince myself that I could assemble two gargantuan wardrobes without assistance.

The alarms bells first started ringing when the delivery men seemed to be struggling to even carry the boxes. They became deafening when I gutted the first pack and saw the assembly instructions, which portray a lady on a stepladder holding a wardrobe in place, while a gentleman gallantly hammers in nails and tries to resist the temptation to look up her skirt.

Not for the first time this week, I am forced to admit that I may have bitten off more than I can chew.

Happily, help is close at hand, in the form of a handyman who is coming over to help fix the wardrobes to the wall. When he arrives, I flash him my most winsome smile and flutter my eyelashes in what I hope is a feminine and appealing fashion. I doubt these things alone are enough to make him overlook my paint splattered attire and general state of clamminess, but there can be little doubt that I am a damsel in genuine Ikea distress, and he gamely sets to work while I pore over the instructions.

We are in the middle of pulling the first wardrobe upright when the telephone trills. I make a mental note to find a ringtone which doesn’t set my teeth on edge at the first opportunity and pull the phone out of my pocket with my free hand. It is someone from a radio station, whom I had rather inconveniently managed to forget about. I am supposed to wax lyrical about my dismissal on live radio in one minute’s time.

I wonder whether I am about to be the first person to ever give a radio interview whilst standing on a stepladder and holding a wardrobe upright. Given the surreal turn which events have taken since the first piece appeared in the press two days earlier, I am not sure that anything would be capable of surprising me any more. The first media call, on that fateful Tuesday, came from Radio Five Live, whilst I was sitting in the ASSEDIC (unemployment benefit) office, completing my paperwork.

The handyman, once he has heard my bashful explanation, kindly offers to refrain from hammering for the next two minutes and takes my place on the stepladder.

Realising that the level of background noise from the works being carried out in the courtyard may prevent me from making myself heard, I repair to the quietest room in my new apartment and close the door behind me.

And so it comes to pass that I give a live radio interview whilst perched on my toilet.

July 14, 2006


Filed under: navel gazing, single life — petiteanglaiseparis @ 3:49 pm

I find myself strangely unperturbed that there are no men to speak of in my life at the moment.

A few month’s back, among the flurry of well-meaning comments and emails, a few people trotted out that old chestnut about how some me-time would do me good. That alone doesn’t necessarily mean feeling lonely; it can be a very positive, healthy state of affairs. I knew that there was some truth in these words, but at the time I was still feeling brittle, wobbly, and just a little bit lost at sea. Feeling good about being alone seemed remote and unattainable, and I wasn’t even sure it was what I wanted to aspire to.

After all, I’d been “with someone” for the best part of the last decade, and was terrified I could only function as half of a couple. And what was more, single motherhood was a concept I found terrifying, riddled, as it can be, with negative connotations.

But somehow, over the past few months, so gradually that I barely noticed, a subtle change wrought itself. And one day I realised I had finally arrived in that place people had spoken of. I have found a level of self-sufficiency I never would have thought possible. The ability to revel in my new-found freedom.

I feel whole. More complete than I did when I was living en couple.

The new apartment symbolises this new phase in my life. I chose it, alone. Pored over the paint colour charts, alone. Sanded the walls and painted them, alone. Decided on a kitchen plan, bought some new furniture. There will be no-one’s imprint but my own (and Tadpole’s, although if I’d gone with her paint colours, I do not think the outcome would have been a happy one).

On my Tadpole free nights, I seek out the company of friends. After dabbling a little with internet dating, I decided not only that I couldn’t be bothered to invest enough time or energy in it – whether it be to find a mate, or just to satisfy more pressing needs in the short term – but also that there simply isn’t enough of me to go round. And what time I have, I prefer to spend with friends, old and new, rather than stumbling tongue-tied through an interminable dinner with a stranger, secretly wishing we had arranged to meet for just a coffee instead.

So let the men cross my path, or not. I’m not actively looking any more.

In London recently, I marvelled at how my two good friends from university, who had been confirmed bachelors for many years, were now attached, whilst I was not. A surreal reversal of what had long been the status quo. And yet it soon became clear that in some ways they envied me.

One of them noted that because of Tadpole’s existence, I am doubly free. In his opinion, the fact that I’ve already had a child means my body clock has stopped its ominous ticking, and I am free to go forward, unhindered by those considerations. Choose a companion who doesn’t want children of his own without it being a problem, if I want to.

It was an interesting point, I thought, and not one I expected to hear. (Whether I agree, is another thing entirely, I’m not sure I do.) I always imagined single motherhood would be perceived by others as a life filled with constraints. A negative state of affairs. I have certainly been experiencing it as a positive phase of my life, but I didn’t think other people would fully understand.

Sometimes it makes me very happy to be proved wrong.

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