Thursday, December 29, 2005

The Highlights

So, it was Frog's first English Christmas. And low and behold he didth enjoyeth it. Which was no surprise to me, even if it seemed to be to him!

The Christmas album can be viewed here.

We have always had the same Christmas rituals in our house:

8am Get up and open stockings from Father Christmas (who also generously extended his visit to include the Frog. I think a little 'bird' helped him out with that).

9am Traditional English Fried Breakfast (don't be thinking that means a lighter lunch).

10am Start screaming that we'll be late for church if we don't leave in the next 15 minutes.

10:35am Arrive late for church and tiptoe to the back pews. Mutter at the rector's sermon and his inane pompous stupidity. This year's was a new form
of literary criticism based upon the premise "Literature written by christian authors, good. Literature written by non-christian authors, baaad."

Take annual communion. As soon as the service ends see how quickly you can drag mum out the church whilst she tries to catch up with people who look at us 'kids' and for the 20th year in the row, tell you how much you've grown.

12pm Home, open first gift from under the tree whilst battling with sprouts and a blunt knife.

1:30pm Sit down for a fabulous lunch. Roast potatoes, sprouts, chestnuts, parsnips, bread sauce, cranberry sauce, huuuge turkey, carved by Mum and lovely glasses of chablis.

3pm Retire to the sitting room and agree that pudding will be later. Begin to open gifts under the tree. One at a time, person by person.

5pm Hit the Christmas pudding

6pm Finish unwrapping gifts and slowly fall asleep in front of the telly.

I had a wonderful time as usual. Until I overate and my stomach decided it couldn't handle any more rich food.

But what was the verdict from the Frog on his first English Christmas?

Frog's Highlights:

  • More (great) gifts than he ever expected to receive
  • Christmas lunch (the food & crackers)
  • The walk on Tuesday around Corfe Castle
  • Resting after the crazy weeks leading up to Christmas

Frog's Lowlights

I know. I'm gutted. I thought the new version was cool (this was my first opportunity to see it). The Frog just did not get it. Ahh well. Can't have everything!

So - Frog Family Christmas Dinner #2 tomorrow night. I'll be cooking for all the family who will descend on our flat to exchange gifts with us. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, December 27, 2005


We have eaten our way through Dorset's food and wine stocks. We'll be winding our way back to France tonight on a night ferry across the channel.

A bientot!

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Have yourself a ...

Wow. This week has flown by. I have mostly been pottering backwards and forwards from the flat to the shops. I can't carry more than one bag at a time, so Christmas shopping has been a slow and rather more dull experience than usual!

Frog has been a bit of a rare species in the flat these last two weeks. This is the heaviest period for champagne sales, so as part of a small family company that are well experienced in multitasking, he is currently van driver extraordinaire across France. 3am, 4am starts have been usual, with him reappearing at 12:45am last Friday night. In fact, after one return at 3am this week he ended up simply sleeping at his parents' house, next to the production and cellars.

Every so often I text him to 'take care', 'please drive carefully'. To which he replies it's okay he's just drunk another half bottle of coke. If a blood sample were taken there would be pure sugar and caffeine running through his veins, I'm sure.

But! We're off tomorrow lunchtime. A four hour drive to Le Havre to take the evening ferry to Portsmouth and then an hour down the road to Mum's. Before he retired to bed last night (this morning was a lie in at 5am) Frog thrust two CDs into my hand which he asked me to copy over to the ipod: "We've been too busy to get in the Christmas mood, so that's what we'll do on the drive to Le Havre".

The Christmas Album and Christmas Hits: 50 Festive Favourites are now dutifully copied. With just a tiny bit of editing. I'm sorry but no, Whigfield's rendition of Last Christmas did not make the cut. Neither did Robson & Jerome, I Believe.

But The Wombles, Wombling Merry Christmas did!

Happy Christmas! We'll be back for New Year's Eve.

Monday, December 19, 2005


We are rapidly heading towards becoming the clichéd couple embroiled in wedding guest list disputes.

So, I address this to my friends who may not receive an invitation. You'll understand, it's imperative that the Frog family plumber and his wife is invited, won't you?

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wedding Update

So... all the fun of the wedding planning is really completed. Boxes have been ticked for:

Priest & Church
Village Hall

It makes it a little easier when you're in a relatively small city with lots of family contacts. We live above the florists, the caterer is Frog Father's cousin, the dress shop is where sister-in-law recommended, the invitations are homemade, the priest is involved in Frog's old school and the village hall costs €300 for the weekend rental.

So, now we're onto the bureacracy... think that the European Union makes things easier for a Brit to marry a Frenchman? Think again...
  • Medical Certificate: dated within 2 months of the wedding file registration at the town hall
  • Copy of Birth Certificate: dated within 6 months of the marriage date
  • Translation of the Birth Certificate
  • Certificat de Coutume: in person request at the British Embassy in Paris with a cheque for €65*
  • Declaration (on honour) that we live in Reims
  • Proof of residence (a photocopy of a bill)
  • List of witnesses and a copy of their identification papers (they must be able to speak French)

We then have to both take this to the Town Hall to register our wedding dossier in person, with identification.

The Mayor's office also said that I needed a carte de séjour européene. In fact, they scrawled the request in biro across the bottom of the official Livret d'Information sur le Mariage. Well that was news to me as I've been resident in France for nearly three years without one. An hour in the Foreigner's Office at the city Sous Prefécture and it was also news to the people who are responsible for giving out the carte de séjours. In a classic French moment, the woman behind the desk, shrugged her shoulders, consulted with a colleague and 'boffed' :

"I don't know why they would say that. Did the Mayor's Office really say that? It hasn't been needed for three years. You don't need one. Why are they saying that? If you have problems when you register your dossier, tell them to call us".

Call me a cynic but I see trouble ahead on that one. French bureacracy is never that easy.

This afternoon's task is to find a translator and next Tuesday will see me queuing at the British Embassy. Happily, I see it's close to the WH Smiths on Rue Rivoli.

Next week's wedding blog update will be the menu. All five courses. Now, that's why we're marrying in France!

* I think this is a document that says that as a British Citizen I am allowed to marry a French citizen and the role of British law on my status. Or something...

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Le Dos Strikes Back

Well it was all going well until Monday 12th. A great weekend with friends in London, another baby to meet, mulled wine, Covent Garden market, Sunday roast and odd antics between Santa & a couple of nubile bellydancers.

We got back late Sunday/Monday morning and I was all ready to go to Hamburg via Paris and an early morning osteopath check up. Then my back struck back. I managed to hobble to the osteopath, still planning to take a later train to the airport.

After a very painful session, the osteopath looked at me and said "You're not going any where for at least the next three days" and then more warnings and cautions about what I was doing to my body.

And it turns out he was right. By the time I'd made it home, I couldn't move, stay still or do much to bear the pain.

Two days later, sleepless nights, painkillers, warm compresses and a very patient Frog and Mother Frog (who has cooked for us) and I am just about back on my feet. A couple of short potters around the flat, a quick check of emails and I feel like I'm reconnecting with the world.

I'll also hopefully catch up on a couple of hours work today before all my projects go down the drain.

I'll save the story of Santa and the bellydancers till next time...

Thursday, December 08, 2005


I am like a streakng blur across Europe. A peek at my diary this month:

November 30th Copenhagen
December 1st Reims
December 2nd Reims
December 3rd Reims
December 4th Reims Enjoyed these 4 days. A lot.
December 5th London
December 6th London
December 7th London
December 8th Reims
December 9th London
December 10th London
December 11th London
December 12th Paris / Hamburg
December 13th Hamburg
December 14th Reims/London
December 15th London/Reims
December 16th Paris
December 17th Reims Looking forward to these 3 days
December 18th Reims
December 19th Reims
December 20th Paris
December 21st Reims
December 22nd Paris
December 23rd Reims/Portsmouth
December 24th - 27th Mum's in Dorset

I think. I just think that New Years will be in Reims. Others might dream of jetting off for a weekend away. I cannot wait to spend more than three nights at home.

I'm not complaining, I haven't lost my sanity yet, the frequent flyer miles will pay for the honeymoon flights and my lovely Frog is quite patient with me.

And the other good news is that my contract just got officially extended for another month in January. More trips ahoy and pennies towards the wedding funds. February? That's another month, another worry. Not tonight's. Me, I've got bags to pack...

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


I am sat at London Waterloo waiting for the train to take me back to France. Three days of meetings in the UK, I've been staying with my sister and her boyfriend, seeing friends and otherwise running around like a busy chicken.

People might have been forgiven for thinking it was snowing here. Yesterday, as I got up from a coffee with a colleague, I reached for my coat and scarf. The coat is black and the scarf a lovely new big cream woollen wrap. The wrap has been slowly shedding fluff, moulting all over my coat and black jumper and trousers. To the extent that as I stretched to put the coat on, a flurry of fibres floated through the cafe, my colleague trying not to laugh.

The third and final day away, on my way home, my coat is not so much black as grey and my eyes pink with the irritation. I shall be heading to the dry cleaners tomorrow morning. We'll see if Frog recognises the cloud that will enter the flat, on my return tonight.

Sunday, December 04, 2005


Saturday lunchtime was my birthday treat from Frog. And what a treat!

We walked our way in the drizzle towards the restaurant in the grounds of Pommery, Les Crayères. Frog was grumbling that I'd strongly suggested we walk. However, I had my eye on the end game which involved drinking glasses of fine wine and supporting a heavy stomach home.

After a thirty minute walk, we arrived at the entrance, where our coats were whisked away and we were escorted to a cosy salon and seated at a low table by the windows that overlook the Pommery park. My choice of champagne for an aperitif (Moet Chandon Rosé 1996) was stunning. A clean bubbly taste that left a fruity trail. We were brought some nibbles as we perused the menu. A deep fried ball of escargot which when you bit into it gave a hot liquid garlic buttery reward; a small pastry of brie and spinach and a 'cigarillo' of smoked soft cheese wrapped in a single crunchy pastry.

The waiter came to take our orders and the sommelier gave us advice on our accompanying wine. Once our orders were taken we were able to to relax and left to throughly enjoy the surroundings.

When the kitchen was ready to serve us, we were walked to the dining room. A rather grand room with five metre ceilings, but we were still relaxed (although that might have been the effect of the aperitif!). A basket with a trio of breads, fleur du sel pastry, levain and d'olive
was brought to us by our lovely waiter, who insisted through the meal that we make sure to try each one. These were accompanied by a choice on the table by pats of demi sel or non salted butter.

Before the starter we enjoyed an amuse bouche of a chunk of pan fried salmon in a light frothy emulsion of cèpes mushrooms. If I'd been at home I would have licked the small dish clean.

For the starter, we shared a demi-bouteille of Laurent Perrier Brut 1998 with:

Oiseau: LANGOUSTINE ROYALE en chaud et froid, nage coraillée, noix, pistache, amande

Langoustine cooked three ways - cold and wrapped with thin vermicellli type pasta, very thinly sliced with spices and hot fried with walnut, pistachio and almonds

Frog: ANGUILLE échalotes/cèpes/pomme-verte, relevée d'une matelote

Eel served two ways, warm with a dark sauce and cold, layered with apple, shallots and mushrooms

Again, we shared a demi bouteille of a lovely smooth, Saint Emilion. I say 'shared' but Frog only took a few sips and I believe I finished the rest off.

Frog: TURBOT DE BRETAGNE à blanc, réhaussé de poivres,pomme à pomme aux échalotes

Piece of turbot with pepper, potatoes and shallots.

Oiseau: DOS DE CHEVREUIL frotté de genièvre, salsifis, potiron,endive, sauce poivrade

Venison with juniper, salsifis, pumpkin and endives.

My venison was so tender and delicious. The vegetables weren't so memorable but the meat more than made up for that.


Oiseau: CARAMEL au croustillant de pralin, rafraichi carambar

A roll of caramel ice cream with a centre of soft caramel, with chocolate and praline pieces. A small glass dish on ice, inside créme fraiche with caramel topping.

Frog: ANANAS, fruit de la passion, biscuit amande, coupe Pina Colada

Frog really lucked out with his choice. The dessert came in three stages. There was a plate with a small tower of pineapple, passion fruit and cream on an almond biscuit. This was joined with a pina colada glass with pieces of soft rum marinaded pineapple coated in a coconut foam. As you popped one in the mouth, it melted on your tongue. A third small bowl held mini doughnuts to dip into a sweet coconut cream sauce.

On the centre of a table, to share, was a plate of three different mini patissieries. A religieuse, a sponge 'fairy cake' and a chocolate biscuit with chocolate cream topping. Two each. Blimey.

Café & Petits Fours
By this point we were ready to roll back to the salon for a small strong coffee and more chocolate in the shape of six petits fours to share.

Total time elapsed: 3 hours

The service was wonderful. Nothing ostentatious, very relaxed, helpfully guiding us in our choices. I especially liked our waiter. He must have been in his fifties and clearly a man who has made service his métier.

A wonderful dining experience. I have to say the food was great - but the outstanding parts were the fried langoustine, my venison, Frog's dessert and the rosé champagne. Overall though, it was the experience, service and 'moment' that really made it a birthday treat. It felt like a clandestine, exclusive afternoon.

Oh, and the company was pretty good!

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Like a Child

I have always loved birthdays. Well, who doesn't? Gifts, attention, best wishes and cake. Bring them on!

Everyone has always known when my birthday is because it gets dropped into conversation, several weeks in advance. I like the event and I want everyone else to share in it. But then this year - I don't know if it's the wedding planning, busy work trips or just the plain old fact that I'm a couple of years into my thirties - it caught me by surprise this week.

I thought to myself, I must be more mature. This is what being in your thirties means, another year, a smile, a kiss and gifts from close family and friends.

Then yesterday, whilst I was sat in the Copenhagen office, briefing the agency team on a (rather exciting) project, it seemed to spring to my lips every few minutes. By the end of the day, I'm not sure if there's a person in the ten kilometre radius who didn't have it drummed into them...

It's my birthday today!!!

I went to the post office this morning to pick up the parcels that were waiting for me. I opened the couple of gifts and cards that had been propped up on the mantelpiece for the last couple of weeks. I bought a chocolate macaroon on the way home so I could have that with a cup of tea as I unwrapped the cashmere jumper, the book and the shiny new kitchen knife from family. The cards are propped up on the dining table and I'm just waiting in anticipation for for my swanky lunch on Saturday with the Frog.

That's it, I thought. And then the email messages, cards and messanger notes popped up. The fact that I've spent the past years ranting on means that no-one gets to forget even on a quiet year like this year. It's been tattooed on their brain! And I've quite gotten carried away with the birthday spirit, receiving an urgent "Where are you" call from a colleague who was waiting with four others for me to dial into the conference call line, and open a meeting as chairman of the call. Ooops.

Late afternoon will be a hot chocolate in a café with this lady and then a relaxed cosy evening with the Frog.


Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Someone is looking down on me today.
  • For the first time in 10 days the trains ran without any strikes, faults on the lines or delays
  • My taxi driver this morning wasn't blaring his radio, sniffing, grinding his teeth or shouting into his mobile
  • There were no traffic jams on the way from the station to the office
  • I had very few emails in my inbox
  • I have ticked everything off my to do list for the day
  • I am flying to Copenhagen tonight for meetings tomorrow and the weather forecast says it'll be above zero with no snow
  • I am staying in this fabulous hotel tonight. I will arrive around early evening and snuggle up for the night with a book, my i-pod and room service.

Back to business on Thursday. My birthday has crept up on me this year... I shall be having a fairly low key day that day. My birthday present from Frog will be happening at a rather stunning restaurant which will have a post devoted to after the weekend ....

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Snow Today

Snow Reims
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

This is the view from our street this morning. Frog took the photos on his way to buy supplies at Monoprix.

We have friends from Lille arriving sometime today. They are negotiating their way down the motorway with a 12 month old baby.

The chicken cassoulet is sitting in the oven awaiting their arrival for a late lunch and a glass of wine.

Friday, November 25, 2005


It has been bitterly cold on the early morning train rides to and from Paris. It doesn't help that the train strikes have been dragging out with neither rhyme nor reason. So, I find myself stranded on strange platforms waiting for another train to arrive at 8pm, waiting in the freezing rain, for the last leg of a journey home.

I saw snow out of the carriage windows this morning. It started on the outskirts of Reims and lasted a large way to Paris. But I didn't see flakes actually fall until this afternoon.

I was so excited to see the snow drifting past our large glass office windows, that I called Frog at his desk at the house and burst into exuberant questioning in one of our Franglais conversations:

Frog: Allo?
Oiseau: Is it snowing there?
Frog: Allo?
Oiseau: Is it snowing there?
Frog: Non, c'est G******* (insert Frog's real name)

I've been chortling all afternoon over that one...

Wednesday, November 23, 2005


Originally uploaded by oiseau.

If you remember this then you'll know I needed to go boot shopping. I've been in and out of the small selection of Reims shops since I wrote that post. Finally yesterday, the replacements were found.

So, somehow, in the weird way shoe shopping can so often go, I went out for a cheap pair of black boots and came back with these wonderful, expensive, tan ones.

They got their first outing this morning. After two days of working from home, I walked to the station to take the train to Paris. Only to discover what I thought was yesterday's 24 hour strike by the SNCF is turning into a rolling strike. Two trains today (next at midday) and no idea if they'll be running tomorrow.

So my boots walked me back home where I'm trying to find the motivation to work. I think I'll go out again at lunchtime just to give the boots another stroll. Seems unfair to keep them cooped up inside.

Last Night

Frog: So how much did you say they cost?
Oiseau: I didn't
Frog: I'm going to stop believing you next time you say "I'm broke"
Oiseau: Think of them as an investment
Frog: Mmmmm

Monday, November 21, 2005


I spent part of this morning with a strange man wrapped around my mostly naked body, as he urged me to aspirez, whilst squeezing me and bending me tightly.

Yes, pretty much your standard Monday morning session with the Osteopath.

The sign that he was going to be good was the fact that I couldn't get an appointment with him for weeks. As I trundled across town this morning, I was mentally preparing the recitation, in French, of my long history of back problems.

I have a huge admiration for ostepaths. Once they've stripped you down to your underwear they watch you for a minute or so as you stand, rather self-consciously, facing a wall. They treat the body as a whole (and quite often have a previous profession in dance before moving into this medical field).

Within 30 seconds he asked me what age I was when I had damaged my ankle - a sprain or fracture? (answer: fourteen years) and then moved around to face me and ask me to open my mouth wide a couple of times as he watched my jaw movements. I have a large tension in the left side of my jaw which is the reason for my headaches and sporadic pain behind my ears, apparently.

Then he moved onto my back. He came to the same conclusion as the chiropractor that I had when I was sixteen: when I was very young I must have had a big fall and landed down hard on my bum. Except no-one in my family can think of where or when this might have been.

The bottom part of my spine is ecrasé (crushed) from the cocyx to the fifth vertabrae up. It twists around, providing a dip and curve in my lower back that shouldn't be there. Meaning there's no vertabrae to work on popping back but long term care and soins to generate a little more suppleness and wellness in the region.

All this means that when I'm tired and stressed and the muscles are knackered from travelling with heavy bags, my back simply and painfully gives up.

The odd part (if you're still reading by this point) was when he looked at my central torso. Apparently, I have a lot of tension and problems here and he started asking about problems with my lungs when I was a child or asthma and allergies, breathing in fumes (no, no and non, unless you can count recent exposure to paint fumes, which apparently I can't).

Continuing in his attempt to track down the potential exposure of my fumes problem... 'What did my parents do as a profession?'... When he asked what Dad did, and I replied "he wasn't there", he followed up by enquiring what age I was when he left. "Ahhh, I think that was difficult and you have a lot of problems here" - pointing at my centre. It was the only time I've felt a bit hokummed by an osteopath. But it's also something to add to my list of reasons that Dad won't be at the wedding! (Aside to my sister - it's a joke, laugh...)

The rest of the session was given to very gentle manipulations of the spine, cocyx, neck and breastbone. I say gentle, but it bloody hurt. Before the final curling and squeezing at the end.

So, I have another séance in a couple of weeks and a few simple daily stretching exercises to keep me busy in the meantime. That's when I miss English carpets, since stretching out on the shiny, hard parquet is not quite as comfortable as the blue swirly carpet of my childhood. Never thought I'd miss the 70's turquoise paisley patterns, but I do now!

Thursday, November 17, 2005


The Frog's verdict the other day was :

Cooking - Excellent
Cleaning - Average

He was referring to my efforts in the house. And the reason he deserves a smack is that it is a long time since he contributed to either. (In his defence, when he was unemployed last year in Paris, I never picked up so much as a bottle of Cif and he always cleaned).

Following a recent couple of incidents, I'm actually a little ashamed. Firstly, we had borrowed Frog parents' vacuum cleaner before my Mum stayed, since our vacuum cleaner had recently died. Secondly, shortly after a visit by his parents to our flat, Frog appeared home from work bearing a brand new snazzy, bagless vacuum cleaner that his mum had selected and bought for us.

So, since we are currently still both working and yes, the flat cleanliness has something to be desired, we are asking Mother Frog's cleaner, Solange, if she can spend a few hours a week on our flat.

She has said she's more than happy to, and suggested to Frog that she could do the ironing as well, "but check with Oiseau first", she said.

When Frog asked me, we were actually both rather stumped as to the last time the iron made an appearance in our flat. In fact, since I destroyed the last iron in Paris (in a rather nasty 'iron shaped hole' in the acrylic blue carpet incident) the only iron we possess is buried somewhere and is an old rather crap one that Frog had hidden away. Nothing like the steam pressured machines that the French are so fond of.

Before Solange arrives I will probably end up on a trip to Darty to buy an iron that (whilst not in the price range of a steam machine) works and looks as if it was manufactured this century. Then I will embark upon the obligatory 'pre-cleaner arrival' mad cleaning spree.

The actual extent of our slovenliness may never be found out...

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Girly Hag

Isn't that a pretty bouquet? Yes, the wedding planning is moving ahead. I have large folders of bouquet , room decoration and homemade favours ideas on the computer; stacks of magazines with marked pages; excel spreadsheets with budgets (versions: base case, best case, worst case and 'today's case'), guest lists, addresses; a ringbinder with snazzy dividers including all the supplier estimates and contact details...

Yes, I am in my project management element.

And to top it all, my jaw dropped to the ground when Frog suggested we went to last weekend's Wedding Fair in Reims. Had I heard of it? Yes, of course I had but I hadn't even considered telling him about it as I was sure I'd get a belligerent, 'do we have to' response. Although once we were there, I realised he probably wanted to see the pretty models in the fashion show. And there was the bonus that on the way out, we bumped into his Godfather at the adjacent Food & Wine Fair, selling the snails he farms. (Yes, only in France).

I'm not going to jinx things by putting too much wedding detail here (mainly because we are still arguing over the costs of the details). But I can update you on two current topics:

The Dress
After a day of dress trying on last month, Mum and I reduced the selection to a 'final three'. All very different. My sister is arriving in Reims this Friday night, and she will help me make the final choice. Oooh la la.

The Hag Do
Ahhh yes. I confidently told my sister (as chief and sole bridesmaid) that I didn't want a traditional hen night, but I would love to have a night out in London with my favourite friends - male and female. Half of my good mates are male, and I can't think of anything very exciting about a night out with just girls. No offence to my best girl friends, but it wouldn't be inclusive of everyone.

My favourite London restaurant, bar... I had images of a fun, tipsy night out.

Then this weekend happened.

And so The Boys decided that they wanted to organise a stag weekend. The type that they have organised in the past, that involved meticulous planning; taxis turning up in the middle of the night; random dodgy hotel rooms to stay alone and await 4 am calls on where to find a hidden set of clothes; mystery clown costumed journeys on British Rail to find the group; en route forfeits to be completed in order to get the full set of directions (not of the naughty kind but rather the plain embarassing kind for a shy, retiring lass like myself) and... of course... much drinking.

Somewhere in the drunken haze of that weekend in Lille, I said yes to this. On the proviso that they involved my sister, invited all my girl mates and someone in the group promised to wear the 'let's be a mite sensible about all this' hat.

I had thought that my sister would be the one wearing the aforementioned hat. However, she would now seem to be one of the most enthusiastic member of the organising committee. She's already told me she is rather proud of the fact that she came up with the moniker 'Hag' to describe the event and I have a sinking feeling this may be payback for the years of bullying that she endured as the younger sister.

Should I be worried?!

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Quirky Facts

I was tagged by Andrea a couple of weeks ago. This is a bit of a recycle from last January. But I figure a lot of readers weren't around back then!
  • I grew up with my Mum & younger sister in Dorset, my grandma lived just down the road. Quite the female powerhouse...
  • I have a half brother from my Dad's second marriage.
  • My brother is 14 years old and lives in London with his Mum.
  • My brother and I look more like each other than my sister and I. That's because we both have large noses. He hasn't developed the complex yet.
  • My mum is 7 1/2 inches shorter than me - I grew up thinking I was a giant freak. I never realised it was her who was the abnormal one.
  • All sides of my family have blue eyes.
  • I can say "My name is Anna", count to ten and manage to order in a market in Hindi.
  • I used to play the oboe and the cor anglais. I became quite good but my mum said listening to me learn was like listening to a cow in pain.
  • I played in the Dorset Youth Orchestra and spent weekends and holidays on residential courses at a very expensive boarding school which had the biggest cockroaches I have still ever seen. That put a seal on my opinion of private education.
  • I used to go the school where my mum teaches. Luckily she only started doing the sex ed classes after I left.
  • I scraped a"C" in A level French because I never concentrated on the grammar. Plus ça change...
  • I moved to New York to work for 2 years when I was 27 years old, I lived on the Upper West Side and discovered the joys of Jewish Delis.
  • I learnt to rollerblade in Central Park.
  • I was living in Manhattan on 9/11/01.
  • After working in India when I was 18 years old, I travelled on my own for 2 months and freaked my mother out. She said she has vowed never to worry so much over me again.
  • I later travelled on my own to Egypt & Thailand. I liked travelling alone and meeting new people but am happy now I've found a frog as travelling companion.
  • I used to think I wanted to work in the theatre as a producer until I decided that I couldn't bear to spend my life around actor types.
  • Instead, I now work out new ways to market soap, pasta sauce & washing powder.
  • I tried working out new ways to market software, hardware and business services but it wasn't as much fun.
  • Because I have moved around in the last 13 years most of my friends are around the world.
  • I used to have a nose stud.
  • The first time I went skiing I broke my wrist and the first time I really snowboarded I tore part of my knee.
  • General consensus is that I am rather clumsy.
  • Happily, even though Frog is very sporty he matches me in clumsiness (I am not allowed to mention his rollerblading dark tunnel incident anymore).
  • When the ambulance came to pick up the frog at exit of the dark tunnel, even though we'd been seeing each other for 3 months I didn't know his address to tell the ambulancemen. I got a distinct 'you English floozy' look from the men.

I think everybody on this planet has now done this meme, so no tagging, but feel free to play along....

Friday, November 11, 2005


WW1 German Graves
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

So, today is another jour ferié for me. Catching up on correspondance, wedding planning and housework is the order of the day.

The French take Armistice Day as a holiday and I, without thinking, asked the German team I work with, if they have a holiday today too. Clearly not.

However, since the futility of the young Germans' deaths seems as relevant to me as the the allies' young generation, here are some photos of the WW1 cemetries that are scattered through this area of France.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Everybody Loves Those... Stinky Boots

When I was younger I had a slight problem with my feet. The slight problem was that they stank. I used to arrive home in the summer, and mum would instruct me to take my shoes off, put them outside, and then escort me to the bathroom to wash my feet. This procedure had to happen before I was allowed to do anything else.

My housemates at University would agree, they liked me. Hated my feet.

But once I left University, I'm not sure if I could afford a better class of shoe, or my hormones stopped hormoning. But my feet became a lesser issue. Not a hum, not a whiff.

Then last year I bought some knee high black boots. They started off fine, but one year later, cold weather and winter approaching, they've come back out of the wardrobe and it would appear they are starting to hum a little. I noticed it before Frog. And now when he sees me arrive home, wearing the boots, in a echo of my teenage years I am ordered straight to the bathroom.

It's clear I have to buy a new pair of boots. But this week before I've had a chance to get to the shops, I had to travel to Hamburg. Ideal autumn, comfortable, smart boot wearing opportunity. No heels, no back problems, there actually was no choice. It's okay, I thought. I'll get there, check into hotel, no one needs to know.

Charles de Gaulle airport security had a different idea. As I lifted my overnight bag, laptop bag, handbag onto the security belt, I slipped off my scarf and coat and prepared to walk through the scanner. The security woman in charge gestured to my boots and asked me to remove them and place them on the xray belt.

Panic. I screwed my face up. She thought I was unhappy about walking in tights across the airport floor, and in a concilliatory gesture brought out the slip on foot covers. Non, non ça-va, merci, I muttered. 'You never have to see these people again' I thought and bent to remove my boots and act completely ignorant of the odour that was about to hit the air.

Shuffling through, the beeper went off - underwired bra and all that. So, I stood for an interminable time as I was scanned. Avoiding all eye contact I then waited for the curled up boots to pass down the conveyor belt, to a point where I could snatch them quickly and hurriedly slip them back on again.

I walked with a forced nonchalance away from the security area into the business lounge. I didn't look back once.

Boot shopping. Saturday.

Sunday, November 06, 2005


One of the things that has really changed since I left London nearly 5 years ago, is my tolerance for alcohol. In New York, I would have great nights of cocktails with my buddies, but it wasn't cool to get 'fall over drunk'.

Then I moved to Paris, and in Paris, it's just not cool to get anywhere close to drunk. A couple of glasses of wine with a meal, biensûr, but I stuggle to remember times when I was really tipsy.

Well, now, I think it's safe to say I have drunk more in the last two days, then in the last two months combined.

Frog and I have been getting very wound up recently. Long days, early starts, travelling, back pain, wedding budgeting, blah. So, I knew we were both looking forward to a bit of an escape this weekend.

We started with good civillised intentions. Friday night, an apéro at our flat with this lovely lady, followed by dinner. Actually, champagne apéro turned into dinner with a good couple of bottles between three, and then champagne and ratafia bottles drained back at the flat. Fuelled by drink, our poor guest was subjected to Frog's solo dancefloor exhibition. The living room parquet became his piste to convince us that a waltz would be ideal for a first dance at the wedding. Yeah, not really convinced. I think, around the time that Frog moved onto his favourite animal impressions*, it was clearly time to call it a night.

Hungover, the alarm went off at 7:30am and we dragged our sore heads up the motorway to Lille. A bunch of my old friends were descending on the city from London, to join up with the boy who now lives there with his lovely French girlfriend and baby daughter. It was a boys' birthday celebration weekend, wives, girlfriends, children all left behind, and I was only allowed there as honoury (French resident) guest, making the group ten strong.

I will pass over the hazy details of the past two days. They'd already been going 24 hours when we turned up. It was a city that 'charmed us', as Frog put it. But I'm not sure the city was similarily charmed by our drunken bufoonery. Pubs; cafés; restaurants; drinking game forfeits; dodgy, smokey underground bars with UV lighting; sweaty clubs where the married friends egged on the single boys of the group, intent on wooing the local female population with their beery English charm. Final shapes were thrown on the dancefloor and the last crawlers got back to the hotel shortly before breakfast was ready.

But it was fun. Once a year, completely trashed, kind of fun! Frog loved it, and my English boys loved Frog, and so do I. Hungover in exhaustion, we will slob in front of a DVD tonight, weekend escape having been sucessfully completed.

* Can you guess what kind of animal? All national stereotype kind of answers are encouraged.

Thursday, November 03, 2005

Melancholia #2

Autumn Vines
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

Yes, still my favourite word, I am suffering from this and other more physical ailments.

After a glorious weekend, of sun, warmth, wedding dress shopping, bistro dining and vineyard ambling, I have dipped a little.

Chronic back pain is almost as much fun for others to hear about, as for the person suffering. So I shan't bore you with the details

The couple of day's respite that I've had were constructive - these photos show why I'm happy to be in Reims, out of the big city.

I'll return now to my heat pad, cushions on the floor and Crosby Stills & Nash on the stereo.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

One in a Million

Yesterday, I called my younger sister after a couple of meetings in London. We were meeting for dinner near her home in south London and needed to agree time and place for the rendezvous. When we were younger and on holiday, we were forced by mum to share a bed, which we complained and moaned about. I have memories of sharing a bed, in a hotel room, on New Years Eve, her full of cold and snot and me thinking this was some evil revenge my mum had concocted. She may be 28 in human years, but in sister years she will always be 13. However, I don't complain about sharing a bed with her now, when it means I get to spend an (affordable) evening in her company.

As I sat on the tube with laptop bag, overnight wheelie bag and large handbag (wondering, maybe this is why I'm suffering such back pain at the moment) I breathed a sigh of relief that I had a seat and space for the bags. Then the tube stopped and an announcement came to change trains for onward journeys. The woman opposite me, raised her eyebrows and gave a grimace. Bloody Northern Line, I muttered, and raced with the hoardes across a platform to join another train that would travel to Clapham North.

My heart sank as I stumbled with my bags, tripping and rushing down the platform for a carriage that looked like there was squeezable space. The train had already been full and now another tube full of people were trying to leverage themselves in. I continued down the platform, glancing at the forms of bodies, waiting for the warning that the doors were going to close, before I threw myself into the closest carriage. There was little space but I just got myself, laptop bag and wheelie bag in as the doors closed behind me. Sadly, my rather large handbag wasn't so fortunate and was trapped between the doors, that were desperately trying to close.

I grabbed at the bag, pulling, my temperature rising as I was overheating in layers of jumpers, coat and embarassment. The girl next to me tried to pull the doors apart, to give me the required gap to rescue the bag. Finally, the warning sound ringing in my ears, the doors reopened and I pulled the bag quickly in.

At this point, I glanced up to say thankyou to my neighbour who was wiping black grease from her fingers.


A quick automatic kiss on the cheek, gratitude and slow recognition, that the other half of the partnership in 'Mission Bag Rescue', was rooted in a longer history. It was my sister.

Monday, October 24, 2005

First Milestone Reached

Yay, we have a date!*

May 20th 2006


I'm off to London tomorrow for work and a stayover at my sister's. She's planned dinner at a lovely Japanese restuarant celebrating her status as bridesmaid and giving me a chance to flash my ring at a new victim.

On Thursday evening, Mum is taking advantage of her school half-term and I'm taking advantage of her patience to start trying on dresses. I have three rendezvous set up with the local bride's shops. I shall be very disappointed if I don't get good blogging material out of that!

Saturday morning will see us start our dossier with the priest. I have revised my opinion of the Catholic Church after a very pleasant first meeting with the priest. He was very keen on ensuring that the service is adapted to meet the linguistic needs and - as he put it - reflect my part of the christian family. Yes, I was bowled over!

Frog and I are starting to put together some really lovely plans for the day, to mix the English and French styles and traditions. However, I already have a bruised shin from dinner on Saturday evening with visiting friends, when I received a sharp blow from under the table. Apparently, I'm supposed to keep some of them a surprise.

My lips are sealed. Well, for now...

* and a village hall to celebrate in, with Frog Father's cousin providing the catering!

Sunday, October 23, 2005


Sunday morning, Van Morrison playing, Frog at the gym leaving me in peace to cope with my hangover. English friends visiting, much wine consumed...

I like this literary meme she's done, so I thought I'd play along:

1. Take the first five novels from your bookshelf.
2. Book 1 -- first sentence.
3. Book 2 -- last sentence on page 50.
4. Book 3 -- second sentence on page 100.
5. Book 4 -- second to last sentence on page 150.
6. Book 5 -- final sentence of the book.
7. Make the five sentences into a paragraph.
8. Feel free to "cheat" to make it a better paragraph.
9. Name your sources.
10.Post to your blog.

I've also included the source and background to the books, I love the fact I can remember exactly where and when I bought them. They're usually attached to a particular moment and place in my life, easily reminded by the random bookmarks I use and leave in them.

In the paragraph below, I have changed the narrative voice by taking out names and pronouns. I guess all my books must be very character driven - there would have been a cast of many characters within this one paragraph.

Barrabas came to us by sea, she wrote in her delicate calligraphy. You're in my mind now because I'm travelling in a tank, and I feel you in my body because I'm sweating slightly and it reminds me of the times we managed to be together, in spite of the fighting all around. There is malocclusion and diplopia. He plays them through on the stereo, and she tells him it sounds like one of those Scottish bands from the eighties, like Orange Juice or Aztec Camera or Josef K. Ten minutes later, he was out on the street again, walking toward the hospital to see her.

  1. Isabel Allende - The House of the Spirits
    This is a second hand US paperback, I think I must have taken it off my sister when I met her part way through her South American backpacking odyessy in Cuba.

  2. Hanan Al-Shaykh - Beirut Blues
    Bought in a second-hand shop in Spitalfields, London, prior to a trip to Italy for a friend's wedding party in Tuscany. An excursion for a couple of nights, up to Venice, on my own, was a slightly odd experience. Too many couples for my liking, but I got preferential treatment from waiters as a lone female diner. Lots of free dessert, little extra dishes and digestives would appear on my table with a wink.

    The abandoned 'bookmark' is a stamped train ticket from Venice to Florence.

  3. Martin Amis - Time's Arrow
    I bought this in my final year at Warwick University from the campus bookshop. Amis visited us to give a seminar and discussion one evening. The head of our English department was Jeremy Treglown , a renowned academic, literary critic and one of Amis' father's old friends. I think the visit was a favour. I didn't take to Amis, I found him quite the arrogant, cold fish. I've also struggled with his books. But I do recommend Time's Arrow, it tells the story, backwards, of the life of a Nazi war criminal. The only one of his books I've enjoyed reading.

    Abandoned 'bookmark' is a letter from my Mum, (pre-email), with the 'latest' news and gossip from home.

  4. Simon Armitage - All Points North
    I bought this collection of poetry, short stories and thoughts whilst living in London, to read on a solo trip to Thailand. Armitage is a leading British poet, he also broadcasts on the radio a fair amount, he must be in his early forties now. I remember seeing him when I was seventeen, at an evening organised for the local sixth-formers in our county (Dorset). New, young poets read and explained their poetry to a group of spotty teenagers in a lecture theatre in Wimborne. I remember Simon Armitage most vividly, and bought a signed copy of his newly published collection. I think Carol Anne Duffy was the other poet.

    Abandoned bookmark is an entrance ticket to Wat Phra Chetuphon in Bangkok, where I think I had a very painful massage en route to a diving trip on Ko Tao.

  5. Paul Auster - Oracle Night
    The most recent purchase, Paul Auster is an American author, who the French seem to love. I think I bought this in the WHSmiths at Waterloo on the return leg of a working trip to London. A slight magical realism feel to it, I seem to remember, but very pleasurable reading.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Good Friday

  1. Frog got up at 3am this morning, after getting to bed at midnight, to drive up to the north and make deliveries today. I rolled over and went back to sleep.

  2. Yesterday, Father Frog got the all clear results tests following his prostate operation last month. All the cancer was removed and no radiotherapy is required. Hoorah! Apparently, he went off to celebrate in his friend's bar with a game of poker, much to Mother Frog's frustration.

  3. Last night, we had our first non-Frog Family guest round for drinks (hoorah!). A friend of Frog's, from Reims, we drank a couple of beers and he chattered away, ignoring Frog's hints that he had to be up at 3am. I followed all the conversation, chatting back, and for the first time I felt no extra pressure that the whole evening was in French. I think the key to this may be only inviting one person over at a time.

  4. It's nearly the weekend!

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Bad Behaviour

I've just caught myself doing it again...

Having found a lovely priest and agreed the outline of our wedding contract, we're still trying to find a wedding venue that will manage the number of guests and our budget. A venue that won't charge us an outrageous corkage fee for our own champagne (7 euros per bottle in some places!). We've realised that by using a family caterer we can get a marvellous spread but then we have to compromise on the decoration of the venue. We're chasing our tails a bit and hoping to find the right venue, in the right place, with the right quote and the right facilities. Soon!

Whilst I re-read my lists, trying to think ahead, I have hopped, occasionally, onto this site. It's the kind of place that gives you sensible advice, sells you a few solutions and has a message board for all bridezilla's across my home land.

However, when I do pop by to the message board, I've stopped reading the posts with women gloating about their budgets, dress selection, endless supplier searches and expensive guest favours. They make me feel inadequate and panicky. Yes, I plan on marrying in seven months and I have no venue or fixed date and a tight budget to boot* and there are women panicking that eight months before the wedding they haven't decided which dress to order.

So, instead I head straight to the posts that are titled "Sorry, this is long..." "Bit fed up..." "Don't know what to do". Here I can read about women who suspect their partners are cheating; want to call the wedding off; have real mother in law's from hell; catering company's went bust taking their deposit. You get the picture.

And I'm not gloating at them at all. I just feel so much better and in perspective about what I have to do. I log off and go happily on my way again, trying to keep the wedding as simple as French tradition and family's allow.

This is not behaviour unique to the wedding. My mum has commented on this before, I get myself into the doldrums and then pick myself up by finding someone who is having a far worse time than me and ... suddenly... I feel fine!

* Which reminds me of a project manager I used to work with who would tell me, mantra style, we can do things fast but they cost more or we can do things slower and they'll cost less.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fete des Vendanges

Fete des Vendanges
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

People I talk to seem to be under some strange assumption that, chez nous, we drink champagne for breakfast, lunch and dinner. The sad truth of the matter is that unless we have visitors or a big family dinner, the bottle doesn't come out.

Weeks have gone by in the past before I've had a coupe. But this weekend was a slightly indulgent one, by our normal standards:

Friday: Apéro at our flat. Frog Parents are just back from holiday, and we wanted to tell them, in person, our news. So, along with Brother Frog and his wife, we drank our way through a couple of bottles of Brut before heading for dinner.

Saturday: Every two years a Fete des Vendanges (Harvest Party) is held in one of the villages of the region, that is the Massif Saint Thierry. We headed over to the neighbouring village, Montigny s/ Vesle, whose turn it was to host the fete, to wander the decorated streets; watch demonstrations of champagne-making, the old fashioned way; visit local craft and food stalls and the all important village champagne tent.

Naturally, we made our way to the Frog Family's village tent and sat watching dancing and music, catching up with Frog's old childhood friends and their families ... all whilst enjoying glasses of the local producers' champagne.

My contribution to the fete was a chocolate cake to join the array on the stand where they were being sold for a euro a piece. Hey, somewhere along the way I've got domestic!

The sign that I might have had one coupe too many was when I pointed out to Frog the magnificent blooms in this particular village. He drily pointed out to me that they add multitudes of paper flowers to all the existing greenery. No micro-climate here apparently.

Sunday: Frog Brother birthday. Family politics being particularly hideous and insidious at the moment, we were there out of politeness and enjoyed several glasses of champagne and a roast beef lunch. Frog Sister-in-law's mother decided to discourse on all possible current taboo subjects, upsetting pretty much everyone at the table. We made our excuses after dessert, before the coffee was served, heading back to... you guessed it... the fete for more champagne in the tent!

Frog and I got home early evening and it was cups of tea all round, ready for a budget and wedding costing session, at which point I quickly sobered up!

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Breath of Fresh Air

I spent less than 24 hours in Ireland this week. I flew the night before, arrived at 9pm and went straight to my hotel near a business park just outside Dublin. In reality, my trip consisted of travel, hotel room, breakfast and all day meetings on a business park before flying back to Paris.

I was frustrated that I couldn't see Dublin, I've never been to Ireland before and I'd had no choice over dates so couldn't wangle a Friday or Monday meeting, which could have extended to a weekend city break.

But what an energising, refreshing time it was!

The taxi drivers chatted away, the hotel staff were sincerely friendly and the full Irish breakfast filled my stomach. But it was my Irish colleagues I adored. Three back to back meetings with teams I'd never met before and I suddenly found myself chatting, answering interested, direct and intelligent questions about the projects I presented, enthusiasm about certain benefits my projects could bring to their business and a warmness and invitations to follow up on very specific actions (i.e. no blarney).

What a change from some of the French and British teams I meet with*, who are cynical, discouraging, sceptical and often look for reasons for things 'not' to happen rather than the reasons they could.

I feel strangely enthusiastic about things today!

* And anyone who is accessing this from the UK office (I see the company ISP address in my logs!) I don't mean you!

Tuesday, October 11, 2005


Whilst I've had my nose in the fabulous bridal magazines and been up to my eyeballs in lists, Frog has been very efficiently making appointments.

The unspoken agreed process seems to be that I do the research and divide tasks, and he makes follow up calls. That is how we come to have two appointments lined up on Thursday:

9am - Notaire (Lawyer)
11am - Priest of L'Eglise Saint Jacques

I'm not so worried about the notaire, it's just to find out the options for the contrat de mariage. Both Frog and I are fairly pragmatic about these things - the 'I want to be and will commit to spending our lives together but neither of us is psychic' approach. And for things like the flat and common belongings, it's important we can now put them officially in our joint names.

Now, the priest is a different matter. I'm Protestant, and church was a very important part of my family life growing up, with a rather grey fuzzy period since I left home. But being in church, before God, for my marriage is very important. Frog is Catholic, and being in church is not a priority (although he always takes communion when there) but more of a default option. His Catholic schooling has a lot to answer for.

Frog always gets confused, and makes comments like 'but you're not a Christian'. To which I have to be patient and say 'Yes, I am. I'm just Protestant'. I think that one of our first evenings out as a couple was a long conversation, over apple martinis, with me trying to explain the difference and commonalities of the two branches of the faith. Sigh.

So, on Thursday I have to meet a priest and explain why being in a church, even though I'm not Catholic, is important to me, that I would like English elements to the service (at minimum a reading), and generally need to smile and look like a good person.

I know that one of the reasons Frog was never hot about marrying and having full mass in church is that couples have to go on an instruction day. But I hope that by just having a service of benediction (blessing) we may bypass that (and I'm not allowed to take communion in a Catholic church, heathen that I am).

We've chosen this specific church as it's our parish church, just around the corner from our flat, and it's lovely from outside (architecture, darling). And on the more pragmatic side, if we remain in France, the likelihood is that our children would be brought up Catholic. However, on peering in this weekend, I did notice a rather large crucifix at the front of the altar. Which isn't quite my Church of England* style.

Let's see how Thursday goes and, if all else fails, we'll be heading towards this place.

* After writing this, I clicked through to the CofE website to see a large homepage image of Christ on the cross. Maybe I've been away too long!

Sunday, October 09, 2005


Originally uploaded by oiseau.

Remember this? Well, for the Great International Secret Blog Exchange, I had to prepare a package for a woman living in NY. I remember selecting and wrapping the items, and running to the Post Office to zip it off in the combined, capable hands of La Poste and the American Postal Service. (All irony implied).

I never received my package from whoever was selected for me. I am not bitter. I'm sure that the responsibility lies with the lovely American/French customs/post.

Well, this wasn't the end of this GISBE story. Because she was coming to Paris for a vacation with her husband. So, a couple of emails, train timetables referenced, phone calls to a Parisian hotel room and we had a day trip to Reims sorted!

I trotted off at 9:45am this morning to meet the train. I didn't take a board with their names on, but I did hang around on the platform to watch people get off the train, and leave and... Where are my Americans with the recognisable polka dot bag?

No Americans. No next train for hours. No phone call. No other mobile to call.

I ambled home, phoned the hotel, got no answer and conferred with the Frog. We decided to go for lunch and I checked my phone nervously for a couple hours.

It was weird. I knew something must have happened. Had I got something wrong?

2:30pm, Jenny called me. They'd found an internet café and looked up my phone number, that they'd forgotten in the hotel. Having arrived at Gare de l'Est for the train I'd promised them, they were told it didn't exist. (I know I watched it arrive!). Several hours, a slow train, a wander around Reims and braved calls to French Directory Enquiries, they'd managed to find a solution.

A quick jump in a car, and we whisked them off for the couple of hours that were left of the Sunday. A whirlwind tour of the house and vines, we then sat in the late autumn sun, sipping glasses of champagne.

We waved them off at the station a couple of hours later. So, in the end my package had finally arrived, accompanied by a lovely, funny couple. I think that the two bags of Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, two fabulous bridal magazines and new friends, more than make up for the delay!

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Peeled Sheep

So, I lied before. This is another wedding post, although not about my own.

I was in Paris at the office yesterday and enjoying a post-prandial café with a few colleagues. We had been in the canteen discussing different nationalities' wedding traditions and, given the mixed diversity of our group, this was a long conversation to continue.

One colleague had a ceremony in Tanzania to her African husband and explained the gift giving tradition there, where the gifts are given (unwrapped) to the bride and groom who stand in the middle of a circle with an empty suitcase to fill. Not sure how many toasters you can fit in.

Another colleague, with Croatian parents, explained the village tradition that the bride and groom hold separate parties in their houses as they each prepare for the ceremony, the groom then walks to the bride's house, his party following, to ask the bride's father for permission to take her to the church and they all leave together, walking as one group. Following the ceremony the wedding party walk back through the village, who have all come out to the streets, and the bride and groom receive a glass of the home grown wine as they pass each house. Either you're hardened to the drinking by that age, or you do a good impression of a sozzled bride, we decided.

My Dutch colleague shared the tales of his wedding, making us laugh by confessing to having had orange themed invitations and decor. Only the Dutch...

And then my Iranian friend talked about food at her country's weddings. She speaks fluent English, Persian and Dutch and often injects French vocabulary into our mostly English conversations. She was explaining the traditional dishes served which include several moutons. The moutons are cooked, she explained. And then they all stand on the long table. The moutons that is. When she looked at my face, I was in the middle of processing the image of how to stand a cooked sheep up (I've been to a mechoui and the logistics seemed interesting).
Me: Errr... Okay...
Her: Oh no... don't worry, we peel the moutons first


Her: The sheep. We peel the sheep first.

Now, I have to go and ask Frog if was can have peeled sheep too...

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Life Goes On...

I confess I'm in list heaven. Not much real work was done yesterday, and working from home today (thanks to the strikes or mardi noir) is requiring some focus. I've done some initial research and planning, including discovering the plethora of documents the French State requires for a Brit to marry a frog. Blimey.

So here are my pre-wedding vows:
  1. I will not become a wedding bore
  2. I will find a way to ensure that my English culture and family are a clear part of the wedding (and that doesn't just mean lots of drinking)
  3. I will find an 'in-law' coping strategy
  4. I will preserve mine and the frog's mental health above all things (see points 2& 3)
  5. I will not spend the money we do not have

And I will have fun!

Quote of the engagement drinks (just Frog and me over several cocktails, more will follow if my Mum can ever confirm the dates she's coming in October):

Oiseau: Either you have someone who plays games with you or you have me. And I tell you exactly what I'm thinking and feeling.

Frog: Hmmm... You don't play games.... You play sports.

Oiseau: Ha ha. That's very good for you.

Frog: Ha ha, yeah....


Frog: I heard that in some film

I promise the next post will be non-wedding related.

Sunday, October 02, 2005

How Can A Girl Possibly Say No?

Originally uploaded by oiseau.

I've had a very domestic few days. Cleaning, baking, working, blogger café rendezvous, Carrefour, oddball cinema. It's all been very relaxing.

Last night Frog went to bed with a cold, and after much harrassment conceded to take an Actifed tablet (apparently, medicine is not for real men but sniffing, snorting and sighing is). He stayed in bed till late morning today, whilst I continued the domestic routine, cleaning and the like.

He said he wanted to go to his parent's (empty) house this afternoon 'for a change of air'. I wasn't too keen on this, and whilst I went along, I made it fairly clear that I didn't want to go. As far as I could see we were going to swap one squishy, comfortable sofa for an uncomfortable one, just to watch DVDs. "The sweet doesn't taste so sweet without the sour", he philosophically told me.


After the DVD, early afternoon, I'd had enough. "We're going home". I pronounced. Frog conceded too easily. He disappeared to the loo and I went to wash up the mugs we'd used.

Frog reappeared in the doorway with a big bouquet of 15 red roses. 'For each month we've been together', he said, I pointed out it's been 16. But who's counting?

'They're beautiful.' (I suppose I gushed).

I kissed him drily on the cheek, no germs for me thank you, and proceeded to wrap the flowers in the local newspaper to take home.

Thirty seconds later, Frog reappeared 'And to follow, would you like this?'... 'Well, shall we...?'...

And in the box was a beautiful diamond ring.

Germs forgotten, I think I said yes, but my intention was clear. A couple of glasses of champagne were quickly poured.

What a splendid way to pass a Sunday afternoon!

Thursday, September 29, 2005


Apparently, a 'surprise' coach load of English tourists just turned up at the Frog Family House.

Frog is currently in a van on a motorway, somewhere between Calais & Dunkerque.

I am in Paris.

Mother, Brother & Sister-in-law Frog are at home trying to work out what to do. I think with a free glass of champagne, the English group might not be too worried about their hosts' lack of English language skills.

Alright, maybe after a bottle ...

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

"The following does not take place between 7pm and 11pm"

I am home alone tonight, eating two pork chops that had been marinated in a tamarind and honey sauce.

The Frog is in a cellar 'dressing bottles'. That is not a euphemism. Unless I missed something in the Handbook to Life in Reims.

I shall now make my way to the bathtub where I expect to soak for a long time in the company of a book.

The only reason I am not curled up on the sofa is because I am forbidden to watch any of the 24: Season 4 DVD episodes (that I bought in the UK last weekend) on my own. Grrrrrr.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


View from the Chapel
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

Mug of tea; pheasant paté with berry jelly; steak & kidney pie with suet crust; strawberries with clotted cream; half pint of local ale; quiche; potato salad; tomato salad; cheddar cheese & water biscuits; white wine.

Mug of tea; orange juice; tomato & basil sausage; bacon; fried egg; toast; field mushroom; kidneys; fried tomato; champagne; champagne; champagne; canapés; roast vegetable terrine; beef; roast tomato; runner beans; red wine; lemon tart; champagne; coffee; wedding cake; white wine; sprite.

Cup of tea; toast; sausage; cup of tea; bacon; tomato; fried egg; cup of tea; fresh plaice; new potatoes; chives from the garden; swiss chard from the garden; white wine; water; armagnac stuffed prune; coffee; chocolate cake; café latte; lamb curry; rice; summer pudding; water.

And I wonder why I lost weight moving to France...

Thursday, September 22, 2005


It's nearly lunchtime and Frog has just called to say he's on his way home. A morning cutting the last of the grapes to the floor, all the quota collected, reserves put aside and a little extra for home consumption. Harvest is done.

Let the bells ring out and rejoicing across the flat. No more 9pm bedtimes, no more 6am alarms, no more grunted, half asleep conversations.

When we finished early for the day on Sunday, Frog headed off to get a couple of DVDs out so that we could collapse in front of a couple of "braindead" films. He came home brandishing two selections. The first, Terminator 3. I think we can safely say that fitted the qualification.

Frog: And I got a Russell Crowe film as well. Un Homme d'Exception
Oiseau: That'll be A Beautiful Mind. Do you know what that's about?
Frog: No. It's got Russell Crowe in it.
Oiseau: It's about a Nobel Prize winning mathmatician's struggle with genius and schizophrenia.
Frog: Oh.
Oiseau: Not such a braindead film.
Frog: (In a small voice) Oh....

To his credit he stayed awake throughout and pronounced it a good although definitely not braindead film.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005


I've spent this morning in our study doing some online research (yes, proper work) with a new found toy talking in the background.

Well, it's Tony Blair I'm currently listening to but the new toy, more specifically, is the Today programme podcast. I'm now working through the archive as I munch on bread and honey and sip my cup of tea.

It's like a corner of Mum's kitchen has come into my North-Eastern corner of France. After a week of feeling quite ungrounded and a little lost (which culminated in a rather ugly late night, swollen eyed, cushion clutching then throwing, screaming fit) I think I might be finding my feet again.

The prospect of getting on a ferry tomorrow night to head back home to Dorset for a long weekend and childhood friend's wedding is a refreshing thought.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Champagne Harvest

Originally uploaded by oiseau.

My hands are stained black, my back aches and I have a sunburnt nose. But I wouldn't want to feel any other way.

The grapes were ripe, the chardonnay golden and the pinots burst in your hands if you pulled them too hard from the vine.

After a fairly miserable Saturday morning spent in the kitchen with the women (oh, the things my more anonymous blog would say), I joined the smaller picking team for a long afternoon in the vines. I also got up before dawn yesterday to go out with the one team working Sunday. The atmosphere is one of the best they've had. No fights this year, just some laughs, a few groans and I've picked up a little patois from the pickers who come down from the north each year.

When we arrived at the vines at 8am yesterday morning, the mist was still hanging across the valley. As the sun rose and the day warmed up, a group of fifty odd ramblers walked past, pausing to take photos and wish us courage, whilst we stopped for our casse-croûte of beer and biscuits.

I'm now sat at home, 'working', looking out of the window wishing I was back out there.

You can see the first set of photos here.

Friday, September 16, 2005


As expected, whilst in London, I spent both of my two evenings in pubs/bars. The evening I arrived, my sister and I headed over to Peckham to meet her boyfriend for a drink and pizza in the local pub.

Apparently, it wasn't the end of Peckham that this kind of stuff happens. There was a pool competition going on and boyfriend was waiting his turn to play whilst we munched and supped. Now, I know that anyone English of a certain age is going to be incredibly jealous of what happened. And let me be clear, this reflects the high-flying glamour of my jet-setting lifestyle.

Trev of "Trev & Simon", of Going Live and Live & Kicking fame was in the pub. Playing in the pool tournament. And knocked the boyfriend out of the game.

I know, some people just have all the luck. We didn't swing our pants.

I also spent another lovely evening in a cosy bar in Fulham called Blue Orange. Highly recommended, run by a young Italian couple, Fabrizio and Maria, they serve a fine burger and I heard the tapas is good too.

Thursday, September 15, 2005


After leaving a very grey, humid London at lunchtime, I arrived home at 8pm. The front door unlocked in one click, which surprised me, as I thought I'd be first home. Today is the first day of harvest and I knew Frog would finish, have a drink, shower and then dinner with all the workers. I had had visions of me alone, unpacking, taking a bath and being assertively patient for the hour when Frog crawled home.

"Hello" I called as the door opened, and I could see the flat in darkness. "'Ello", a rather small voice came from the other end of the dark flat.

I left my bags in the hall and walked through to find Frog curled up on the sofa, in the dark, with the remenents of a cold supper and 'The Sure Thing' on pause. "I thought you'd be back earlier, but I couldn't wait to eat".

"No, I said I'd be back about 9pm, but I got an earlier train. I thought you'd eat with everyone at the house. How was today?".

"Fine, fine. I'm tired. We're working really fast, and didn't have enough panniers to keep going to six, so we stopped at 5pm. At this rate we'll be finished in six working days. But I thought you'd be back and we'd eat together."

After a cuddled summary of our respective days apart, a quick sharing of gossip and news, Frog went to bed. At 8:30pm.

I am exiled in the study. I have a stack of new books from London that I frustratingly can't curl up and start to read in bed, as the light will disturb Frog who'll be awake and back at the house for 6:45am tomorrow.

I also got given my redundancy notice as a picker, being told that they have more than enough people this year. The explanation included that I should save my back and just come for the big dinner on Saturday night. And as a throw away comment, that Frog will be really busy and not be able to spend time with me.

I think this comes from him needing to focus on the job and not feeling he should be looking after me (which is more his concern than mine as I think I'm quite an independent soul). But it leaves me feeling a bit left out. I know they're saying this for 'my own good'. But it means I'll have to do much harder stuff. Like the work I'm paid for. Which is much more boring!

I'm off to potter around the flat until tiredness hits me too.

Monday, September 12, 2005


Originally uploaded by oiseau.

If I'd been working in the office today, this would have been the conversation at the coffee machine this morning:

Them: Hi, did you have a good weekend?
Me: Yes, very constructive actually. I mean, I didn't leave the appartment all Sunday but we finished half of the parquet.
Them: Oh, I remember you saying the evil builders destroyed them when they were working.
Me: Yes, the evil builders dripped paint all over the wood and roughed them up so that half the varnish was gone.
Them: Parquets are hard work, aren't they?
Me: Yes, Frog never wants to see another paint stain again. But even though the steel wool he chose to use freaked me out, he got all the paint stains out.
Them: But doesn't steel wool leave big holes in the wood?
Me: Yes, that's what I thought as well and, actually, we had a big argument about it. But with my many super products, patience and good old fashioned elbow grease, just look at the results!

Anyway, I'm off tomorrow to London via Paris. Two days of discussing cholesterol lowering margarines, interspersed with time with my sister and friends. More than likely, in the pub.

The day after I get back I'm heading straight into the vines for my 2 days of contribution to the harvest. It may be quiet here for a while and you can guarantee I will be complaining of back pain on my return.

A +

Sunday, September 11, 2005


We were driving over to dinner last night at the Frog Family house - a chance for everyone to get together after Frog Father has been home a few days and to gather enough hands so that he could have a game of cards - when Frog glanced at me and remarked that I was being very quiet. "Just thinking", I said, "about my Grandma".

I had spent the better part of the afternoon cooking a dessert to take over for the family. I chose to make a Lemon Surprise pudding, something both my Mum and Grandma used to make. It's a type of clafoutis with lemon sauce underneath and I had been cursing the fact I didn't have an electric whisk, as I strained to handwhisk the egg whites into the 'stiff, white peaks' that the recipe demands. I used to have Grandma's old electric whisk, but I guessed it was still in a box at Mum's, where I left it when I moved to New York.

The pudding didn't turn out quite how I wanted it. The dish was too large and the top 'sponge' ended up spread too thin. I knew it would taste okay, but it wasn't what I wanted to present to the Frog Family. So, I spent the larger part of the afternoon complaining to Frog that it wasn't great, and then on handing it over to Mother Frog, apologised that it wasn't the best, that it hadn't worked out right. And that's when I caught myself imitating my Grandma.

In the end we used to tell her to be quiet, as she handed us Sunday puddings, Christmas Cakes, boxes of biscuits and tarts for the week's packed lunch, always complaining that x,y, or z wasn't right with them. Of course they were always perfect, it's just she was a good cook and anything less than 150% perfection was considered under par.

I miss my Grandma. I wish she knew how often I think about her. In most ways I am the opposite of her, I have the self confidence she never had, the worldly experience she never gained, but my life has not been as hard as hers was, and I don't have an ounce of the patience she usually displayed (and if anyone asks me if I want a cup of tea, I, unlike her, can give a direct answer, not worrying if I'm putting the other person out). Grandma used to take the bus every week over to our house to clean, because Mum was a single-working mum, and that was what she knew she could do to help. After church and Sunday lunch we would spend the afternoon all togther and after the Antiques Roadshow, she would go home clutching a bag with all our laundry for ironing. When I was being my stubborn, sulky self, she would take me to one side and urge me "be good for your mum".

It would have been her 91st birthday last week and I still miss her. I know that her last couple of years were not the happiest and her frailness, ill health, increased dependence on my Mum, and imminent move out of her home, meant she was ready to leave us, even if that was something we were never going to be readied for.

Whilst everyone was on holiday in August, I spent a weekend visiting her in the care home she'd entered 'for a summer rest', but which we all knew would be a permanent move. I had the chance to share her last day with her. It was a warm day and I read her the postcard my sister had sent her from the last leg of her South American backpacking adventure; told her I expected Mum would be calling on Sunday evening from her (much needed) Spanish walking trip; she strained to smell the freesias which I had bought her and then turned to sleep the rest of the day, whilst I sat next to her reading. I remember her being in bed, without the strength to turn herself and unable to take much of the water which the nurses were asking me to try and persuade her to drink from a nursing mug. I'm still not sure if she heard me say goodbye when I left for the evening and that I would be back tomorrow before taking the train home to London.

So, it shouldn't have surprised me when I had the call the next day, from my aunt in Cumbria, to say Grandma had died that night. I know my Mum and sister find it difficult that she didn't hold on a couple more weeks to wait for them to come home and say goodbye. That's what happens in the books and movies, right? Well, maybe she was more stubborn that we gave her credit for. She'd definitely had enough.

I'm just happy that now when I dream of her she's still the Grandma who took me to the local park and tickled me when a photo was being taken, so the image I'm left with shows me on the ground, legs akimbo, flashing my knickers; everyday after school fed me ham sandwiches and cups of tea in her bedsit, when I was waiting for Mum to finish work; that I had to lie to that the crash in the kitchen wasn't Mum swearing as she dropped the tray of roast potatoes for Christmas lunch, which would be scooped up and served, 'not a word to Grandma'; who wrote me letters when I was at University, that apologised for how little news she had to write; whose annual holiday was a few nights in a Bed & Breakfast 10 miles down the road in Bournemouth, for a change of air; gave me 40p pocket money a week (and my sister 20p, ha!) and who, for an average sized woman, gave a surprisingly tight hug.

She still makes me cry to think (and write) of her, but as Mum said at the funeral, she deserved our tears. Oh, and happily, everyone told me the Lemon Surprise was lovely, and the whole dish was polished off, plates clean.

Friday, September 09, 2005


Originally uploaded by oiseau.

The countryside has come to Reims for a three day market (not that it had far to travel!). The main streets are full of stalls and sellers of local farm produce - meat, terrines, jams, dairy and all the finest fattening, heart stopping foods the region creates.

I love the fact that the French have no qualms about where the food has come from. Fifty yards from our front door there is a pig pen with piglets and mother, complete with sign explaining how long the piglets will stay with their mother before they are killed. I'm sure they put it more prosaically than I do - but that's the gist!

So, cattle, goats, sheep, chickens and pigs are residing on our main street and it's a really pleasant, though slightly smellier, stroll.

I've stocked up on dried wild flowers, 'raw' milk from the dairy (i.e not pasturised to death) and the honeycomb pictured above. I'll take another walk today to see what takes my fancy.

Before I do that, I just need to spit out the ball of wax I've been rolling around my mouth for for the last ten minutes.


Back from stroll, where I came across a shepherd with dog and crook, herding a gaggle of geese along the high street. Wildly surreal and I'm annoyed I didn't have my camera with me.

New purchases include, two types of soft cheese, another litre of "raw" milk, a chicken (which - eek - as I put it in the fridge I discovered still has its head on), creme fraiche and half a dozen eggs.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Spotted Yesterday Afternoon

Father Frog, supposedly resting, leaning out of his bedroom window and taking potshots at the birds eating from the fruit trees in the garden.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Getting Back to Normal

After over a week of wishing Father Frog well; waiting for news from the doctors to hear if the operation went to plan; giving offers to sleep in the big, empty house in which Mother Frog is scared (errr, not my offer); popping around to visit Father Frog (and trying to fight through the hordes of visitors); Father Frog was allowed to come home last night.

Whilst it'll take a couple of months to physically recover from the surgery, nobody is fretting much over his mental health. On the drive back to the house he told Mother Frog off for the things that hadn't happened whilst he was away and on first seeing Frog, asked him to account for exactly what he'd been up to during the day's so called work. This, I think, was a relief for all the family to see things heading back to normal.

Which is why when discussing my future employment plans (or lack of) last night, Frog's comment, "You know we can't employ you at the house", was one I chose to shake my head at and look at him like the strange Frog he is. No siree. I'm happy to help out at the house in my spare time, but really, can you imagine having boyfriend's parents as your employers?!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Pre-Harvest Sunday

Pinot Meunier
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

We expect that the harvest will be called (the AOC decides the date, not the vinegrowers) around the 12th September.

With only a few days notice given before the start, Frog Family are trying to get as much ready as possible (in between visiting Father Frog in hospital, where he is doing well after his operation). Frog and his brother spent time last week cutting back the leaves on the vines, to ensure the last of the summer's strong sun reaches the grapes.

Frog and I took today for ourselves. Since we haven't had time for a good argument in a while, we seemed to devote this morning to that and then had a far more pleasurable time cycling around the vines and nearby villages this afternoon. It was hot! Thirty degrees and I've created the strap marks I spent all summer trying hard to avoid.

As you can see, the grapes are looking beautiful. I peeled and tried a Chardonnay grape. They never taste like the ones on the supermarket shelf (they're not allowed to water them and too much water content is undesirable) but there was some sweetness in the juicy flesh.

Amongst all the butterflies, bees and wild flowers that grow by the vines, I spotted a small cluster of rosehips. I had been thinking about them just this week, in the Hamburg hotel who served rosehip jam for breakfast. I tucked into it and thought of when mum used to make rosehip syrup for us when we were small. There weren't enough of the ripe hips to collect today, so maybe I'll go back after harvest.

Given the hills I cycled today (we're not next to the Montagne de Reims for nothing) I'll need that time to recover!