Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Dodgy Bog

I am tired. Tired of living in one room of a flat whilst the builders strip, time, sand and paint the rest of the rooms. For two weeks we still had a functioning kitchen (although covered in so much dust and grime that you wouldn't want to cook in it), bathroom and toilet. But since last weekend we haven't had a shower so I have spent every evening doing an additional commute to Frog family house for a luxurious hour in the bathroom.

All the while I've had in mind that it's okay because in a few weeks time it will all be over and we'll have our beautiful flat. Remembering also that if we left it to me and Frog to do the work we want it would take about two years. If anything happened at all.

But today, having been poked away in the suffocating bedroom working for several hours I came out of the room to discover all the rest of the doors in the flat had been taken off. Including the toilet which I could now see was pretty much looking like it had come through an earthquake and is much the worse for wear for having five builders using it over the last week in oppressive heat.

I know my mum brought me up not to be a molly coddled lambkin and to find the 'fun' in late night dashes across campsites to the communal loos. I've been to festivals. I lived and travelled in India. I have regularly experienced the standard French café loo. But I just cannot bring myself to use our own toilet. So tonight I will be crossing my legs and praying that I can hold out until I arrive in the Paris office tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Lacking Cultural Reference

I bought a new pair of earrings in the sale that are longer and more dangly than my usual style. I wanted to wear them for work today and was about to ask Frog if they were okay or maybe just a bit too Bet Lynch.

But he wouldn't know who she was, so I didn't ask. I still put them on and now feel very self-conscious in the office convinced that everyone is looking and sniggering about some cultural reference equivalent to 'she wouldn't look out of place pulling a pint in the Rovers Return'. But I'm not sure what that would be in France?

Monday, June 27, 2005

A Clucking Good Time

Originally uploaded by oiseau.

I spent a fun filled weekend in the Pas de Calais countryside celebrating an old friend's 30th birthday.

About fifteen of us pale english people (plus one franglais baby) stayed in a rather strange mini village of little gites that came complete with attendant chickens and horse, situated close to the Birthday Boy's French girlfriend's home village and family restaurant.

(In an attempt to get closer to the wildlife the horse bit me - if anyone wants to know what a horse bite looks like just imagine a big fat lovebite/hickey - and the chickens seemed to enjoy following Frog around. )

It was so relaxing to see people I've known for years and indulge in the 'do you remember when...' stories. Babies, weddings, new relationships and broken up relationships may have happened in the last eight years but the old jokes remain the same.

Equally satisfying to me was Frog turning to me on the way home and saying "you all talk very fast, don't you. It was difficult for me to get the chance to join in". Because that's usually my line in France!

Friday, June 24, 2005

Choo choo!

Summer meadow
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

As I sit trapped in our bedroom working, I am trying not to suffocate from the killer combination of 35 degrees heat and inhalation of dust created by decorators working in every single room in the flat at the same time. I spent yesterday on a call with a colleague in London who was laughing at me as I tried to lean as far out of the bedroom window as possible to escape the noise of the workers in the flat.

But! It is still better than being in Paris right now. Although... I have started to rather enjoy the train journey from Reims to Paris.

The summer landscape as we travel through the Champagne region is beautiful. Especially between Epernay and Reims there are fields of vines, wheat and large meadows with grass and poppies growing. Even the cuttings by the side of the tracks are full of wild flowers.

So in honour of train travel here are the top three train journeys from my life:

Epernay to Reims in summer (note the homeward bound direction!) I have to pinch myself a little that 'I really live here'. Wait till winter when the vines are bare and the region freezing again and I may change this view!

Mumbai to Goa, India
When I was 18 years old and travelling around India, after teaching in the north I travelled south to meet friends in Goa for Christmas. I remember sitting on the steps of the train carriage as the train made its way through the foliage of green jungle chatting with another traveller whilst the train staff came around asking what meal we wanted them to telegraph as an order to the next station. The vegetarian thali that was brought onto the train for us to eat was served on a banana leaf and we ate with our fingers.

Waterloo to Poole, UK
That's the real homeward bound trip. And its worth doing just for that second when you get out of the train at Poole and in one breath fill your lungs with salty air. I have a craving when I'm away from the sea for that salt rush.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

With apologies to my red headed friends

I got the news last week that an old Uni friend of mine and his wife had just had a baby. A couple of days later the photos were sent out and I remarked to Frog that the little girl seems to have inherited her father's auburn locks.

Frog: So that means she's got red hair
Oiseau: Yes a full head of it
Frog: Poor baby. It's going to smell
Oiseau: What?!
Frog: Yes. Everyone knows red heads smell.
Oiseau: No they don't!
Frog: Yes - I think they sweat differently or something
Oiseau: On what scientific fact are you basing this?
Frog: Have you ever shared a dressing room with a red head?
Oiseau: Ummmm...
Frog: I used to play football at Uni with a red head and he smelt. He just had to take his shoes off and the smell was... urrghhh.
Oiseau: Let me get this straight. One red headed guy you used to play football with had smelly feet?
Frog: Red heads sweat differently. They smell!
Oiseau: I cannot believe I am having this conversation with you!


Wednesday, June 22, 2005


On Monday night, much to the amusement of my rather trendy colleagues, I went to see Bruce Springsteen at Bercy.

Frog is a huge Bruce fan and this was the third time he had seen him. I have never really got into the man but do remember that when I was in the States I liked the parts of The Rising that I heard. But that was probably more to do with appreciating his reaction to Sept 11th than other more reactionary Americans I was surrounded by at the time.

So Monday we met up with a friend Davide and sat down for a two and a half hour solo acoustic concert. It was fantastic. I forgot how much I love concerts and even though I wasn't a major fan and didn't know most of the songs the sheer power and quality of his musicianship shone throughout.

Frog provided me with the funniest moment of the night when I turned around as we queued to get in and noticed Ron Howard was right behind us. Yes, Ritchie Cunningham, no less, was in town.

"Psst" I discretely motioned and whispered (cunningly in French so as not to draw attraction, from the man) "Tu connais Ronnn 'Ohh arrd? Il est là ... derriere toi". (I have the Howard pronunciation in French down pat which anyone who knows my identity will appreciate!)

Frog with all the subtlety of a ... loud frog... turned in English and said "Where - oh yeah it's Ron Howard'. Practically in his face.

Frog doesn't understand the coolness required around celebs that only living in Manhattan can give you. (Top spot was dinner in Prune right next to Maggie & Jake Gyllenhaal and Kirsten Dunst. Though obviously it was Jake I drooled over ignoring the rest of my own table for the rest of the night.)

Very cool Frog. Ron Howard ducked away and the next thing you know he discovered he was in the wrong queue and turned about face. The fact he was queuing in the wrong place was clear once we reached our seats which were up in the gods. I imagine he was down in the row right in front of the stage. If I could have seen that far I might have spotted his baseball cap.

The point of realising exactly how long ago it was that I was at a concert was when I noticed that people don't sway with lighters anymore. They wave their illuminated mobile phones. That's technological progress for you.

Monday, June 20, 2005


Originally uploaded by oiseau.

Sunday was the Frog family garden party. Nearly forty customers, fellow champagne-makers, old time employees; friends and family were all invited over for a day in the garden.

Since it was so hot yesterday a large white covering was put over the terrace. The terrace itself was overlooking the pool.

You can see the sheep roasted on a spit at the top of the garden here, that was feasted on alongside couscous, salad, cheese and plenty of champagne and wine.

Part way through the meal, Frog left the table to go to the loo. Honestly, I hadn't really noticed he'd been gone a long time. I was sat next to a lovely chatty woman (who for once didn't want to talk babies and weddings) and Frog has a habit of disappearing into loos for hours armed with reading material. It was only when Brother Frog came over and said "Frog wants you to know he hasn't abandoned you but he's locked himself in the loo", or words to that effect, that I realised he'd been gone a while.

The mechanism for the key had snapped when Frog tried to let himself out of the toilet. With no window or other means to get out the Frog family members tried various implements but short of knocking the door down had no luck. So the blade part of a saw was taken from its handle and slid under the door.

Frog spent the next hour sawing through the 3 cm metal lock to escape.

I as dutiful girlfriend stood outside giving words of encouragement, trying not to laugh and waiting with my camera for the 'escape' shot.

He made it out eventually, covered in sweat and much relief. Just in time for dessert and then a much needed dip in the pool.

I think he saved his parents some cash because most of the rest of us wouldn't have managed to saw through the lock and the door would have been forced before meltdown occured!

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close...

... is the book I finished last night. I have been living with it for the last few days and completely submerged inside the plot and characters.

The joy for me was the creativity that Jonathan Safran Foer brings to the novel. Images, blank pages, blurred fonts that support and raise the narrative to a higher involvement. I have a confession - I'm a terribly fast reader which means I often end up 'skimming' but with this book I was completely involved.

It is also terribly sad. So, I was trying to explain to Frog the other evening why reading this book was so special and remarked that I had cried twice on the train into Paris. And he laughed at me.

Oiseau: Oh, but you wouldn't understand. You don't even cry at sad films.
Frog: I do.
Oiseau: Like what for example?
Frog: Top Gun
Oiseau: No. Ha ha ha ha
Frog. Yes.
Oiseau: Don't tell me - the part where Goose dies
Frog: Yes! I was twelve years old and suddenly I found I was crying. It was very sad.
Oiseau: Well I clearly underestimated you. I take that previous comment back.

Never underestimate the power of Top Gun.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Before Shot

Originally uploaded by oiseau.

Yes - the work on the flat began today. Frog and I caved in and realised that nothing would get done by either of us with our current working hours.

So, the decorators arrived this morning (hey, I moved to a bourgeois city I might as well act like one) and look what they revealed underneath a couple of layers of paper in the salon.


Wednesday, June 15, 2005

News from the Front

So, routines are starting to appear and I like it. As Frog and I agreed this evening on our way back from Carrefour, newly acquired loyalty card in hand, routines are there so you can have the fun of breaking them. And we've needed a routine for a while.

I think this week is how things are supposed to be. I will have taken the train Tuesday & Thursday to Paris and worked from home Monday, Wednesday & Friday.

I'm surprising myself with how self disciplined I am working from home. Maybe it's because I simply have too much to do but I sit down and start about 9am (unless I'm checking out doubleglazing samples* like today) stop for lunch (an hour on a sunny café terrace for a soup with Frog if he's around or a bowl of home cooked pasta in front of the BBC news) and then back to the 'desk' until 5:30pm. Oh and a quick shoe shopping trip squeezed in the middle. Honestly, the shoe shopping took less time than the daily average that my French colleagues spend by the coffee machine.

On other news, Frog has finally proved to me that he had childhood friends. I have been teasing him about being a Billy No Mates since we haven't seen any old school friends in Reims. Then today he spotted two of 'em. Unfortunately, one was stood outside a church next to his mother greeting mourners to a funeral (we're guessing his father's since Frog decided this wasn't the time to renew acquaintance) and the other he bumped into a couple of hours later in the street outside said friend's family shop. Actually I saw neither of them so I'm still taking Frog's word for it that they exist.

However, Frog was a little shocked about how much weight one of his friend's had gained. "He's turned into a real fatty" as he eloquently put it. So, Frog is now checking himself in the mirror and wondering what his friends will think of him fourteen years on since the summer when as 18 year olds they shared their celebratory post-exams holiday in the sunny south.

* a frequent and unpopular discussion at the moment. The things I could tell you about the benefits of PVC...

Monday, June 13, 2005

Lost & Found

Originally uploaded by oiseau.

One Multizone DVD
How? I have no idea. Frog's lesser model has somehow found its way into the new flat whilst my flashy one is... who knows where?

One Wine Glass
Despite all my best efforts to inadequately pack Frog's revolting green chunky crockery they all survived. I managed to drop a wine glass unpacking.

One Poole Pottery Coffee Cup
The retro pottery set - I lusted after for a month before I caved in and bought it - travelled London - NYC - Paris and only one cup chipped on its way to Reims


One Fab Hairdresser
I took the risk of Frog's mum's recommendation. And he was fabulous and gave me 10% discount for being a Frog "relative". Admire the new chestnut lights that cover the recently acquired grey hairs.

Shoe Shop
The next street along has a great store displaying so many shoes that I want. Now. It's just a choice between them and the slate tiles for the bathroom... Hmmm.

Bank Manager
Saw a lovely man at Crédit du Nord who organised the transfer of my account from Paris to his branch. Frog accompanied me as back up with the financial lingo and the numbers that I can't even do in English. But I then suffered the indignation of being ignored and all dialogue directed to Frog as if I didn't exist. Humph.

Money, shoes, hair ... and umm... love. That's all I need, right?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Crusader Marching Band

Crusader Marching Band
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

No, not a scene from Monty Python - that is what you're seeing - saxophone playing knights.

This weekend is the Fêtes Johanniques in Reims - which means celebrating all things Joan of Arc.

Reims loves Joan. Joan kicked the English out of France and brought Charles VII to Reims cathedral to be crowned King of France. They seem to forget that another group of French (Burgandy I believe but I'm happy to be told I'm wrong) sold her back to the English for 10,000 so they could burn her at the stake in revenge.

So this weekend there have been celebrations of all things Joan and Reims. It's been marvellous. A medieval village reconstructed in the centre complete with working blacksmith, chain or armour making and the stocks. An open air craft market with some really nice pieces (not just the animal painted enamelware!) and also a tie-in with a Folkloric Dance festival.

I never knew Reims had so many people! The sun was shining all weekend and today culminated in the highlight with a parade of over 2,000 people. This included marching bands, WW1 style horse parades, dance troupes from everywhere from the Cook Islands, via Brazil to Salzburg and other random medieval groups.

Finally Joan came riding through the streets on a horse with Charles VII next to her through the city. A young Reimmoise girl is chosen to be Joan every year. Frog made some quip about a tough search for virgins around here... which I chose to ignore. But I guess it's like Lady Godiva in Coventry but clothed...

It's all been a lot of fun and - yes the English were there in the parade. The twinned city of Canterbury sent a dressed up medieval delegation with what looked like the Archbishop and a set of morris dancers. "Up for England Up for Saint George" shouted by the group didn't seem to be so much appreciated ... but we had a great view from our windows to wave support!

Saturday, June 11, 2005

European Studies

I have just come back from several days locked in a chateau with managers from eleven European countries:

Culturally Insensitive Moment of the Week
When an image of a cardinal of the catholic church appeared in a presentation (modern life philosophies discussion - U2 were in there as well) the German manager punching the air victoriously exclaiming "Yes! We are the pope" several times. The Polish manager sat right next to her and looked distinctly uncomfortable.

Last Country at the Bar
Hungary - 3am

Largest Language Stand Off In the Coffee Breaks
The francophones vs. everyone else who prefers to speak English

Most Notes Passed to Each Other During Presentations
Czech, Poland & Hungary

Quietest Participants
Ireland, Greece & Norway

Heaviest Smoker

Funniest Presentation
Canada, eh.
(yes, Canada invites itself to the European annual meetings claiming more affinity with us than with the Americans!)

Closest Moment to Violence
The UK manager and her taxi driver who after a 3 hour drive from CDG airport asked for payment when she assumed it was prepaid and had no means of payment or French to respond to his gesturing at the meter.

Most Gracious
Netherlands (okay I'm biased she thanked my group at the end for having organised everything)

Need a little sleep now!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005


Last summer, within weeks of meeting Frog I had been dragged to a family wedding in Lyon. I think we'd only been going out three weeks or so but since I'd met his parents within 24 hours of our first date (that wasn't planned) it somehow seemed logical to go headfirst into a family wedding environment. The wedding was in Lyon and we planned to drive there and then onto the Var for a long weekend.

This involved a very long drive from Paris via Lyon, further south and then back again. Let's just say we got to know each other better. We were stuck in a car with no CD player but a tape player and all of Frog's old teenage tapes. You know the type of mix tapes you spent hours compiling and recording from the radio.

So, Frog thinks this is the time and space to introduce me to some great French music. An education of sorts. And that's how I discovered Indochine. Think of a Gallic style Duran Duran, with added overstyled, wailing, heavier synth sounds and irritating 80's voice tics.. Repeated playing of L'Aventurier was not going to win me over. I did full blown Anglo disdain and contempt for about 11 hours straight on the way back.

So why is it that now I have my newly purchased ipod mini that one of the first downloads I purchased from the Apple Music Store was L'Aventurier and 3 Fois Par Semaine (another 'classic')?

I told Frog that it's because this terrible music reminds me of him whilst I'm away travelling. But perhaps there's a more sinister truth - it's good old fashioned infectious pop and it's grown on me. Tics and all.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Evening View

Originally uploaded by oiseau.

Well obviously not this evening's view since it's been raining here all day. But I did take some shots last week.

I am proud to really show off (in every sense of the phrase) our new view. This is from the left window of the salon to the cathedral. It's beautiful in the evening to turn around and suddenly 'catch' it lit up.

From the right side of the salle à manger we have a view of the Palais de Justice. If you click on the photo above it'll take you to more views and pictures of Reims that I've taken over the months. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 05, 2005

Biker Dude

Putting aside all thoughts of unpacking more boxes and cleaning I shall whisk back in time to three weeks ago in Buenos Aires. I was booked to go out on the Hen Night with the American bride, Gail, and a bunch of her friends and family. This left the Frog with no plans for the night.

"He should go with the boys" confirmed Gail. "They've got something planned. No idea what - but get him to meet at 8pm with my cousins who will be leaving from their hotel".

So, I rolled off for the girls' night (which turned into a very pleasant night of drinks, meal and more drinks).

Frog headed off - a little nervous - to spend the evening with a bunch of strange guys including the groom's Argentian friends and the bride's male relatives.

I got back around 4am to find Frog had got back just before me. And he'd had a great night.

Oiseau: How were Andres' friends?
Frog: Oh, yeah, very nice - a bunch of liars.
Oiseau: ?
Frog: Liars
Oiseau: Ahhh, lawyers like Andres.
Frog: And Gail's family and friends are great. I met Greg, Chris & Joe. Greg is so cool.

Greg was to come up in much of the conversation and time we were there. He was the ex-boyfriend of Gail's elder sister and although they'd split up decades ago he had since adopted her family.

Greg was a 56 year old Californian biker. Of the real biker ex-Vietnam service variety. His greying beard and worn face were just distractions from his twinkling eyes that were usually seeking out women to turn his honest charm on. His party trick was to show off the tattoos that mostly covered his body, including the skull across his back. He was some kind of new wonderful exotic person for the Frog.

Frog: He got injured in 'Nam and should have got the Purple Heart but he threatened his shrimp.
Oiseau: What?
Frog: Yes, his army shrimp.
Oiseau: Eh?
Frog: Oh no. You know...
Oiseau: Shrink.

At the beginning of the night of the wedding between the church and hotel I was with the wedding 'party' as bridesmaid and having photos taken and Frog had attached himself to Greg. Who in turn had attached himself to someone I only refer to as 'Malibu Barbie'.

Whilst the rest of the wedding celebrations were happening in the ballrooms of the plushest hotel in Buenos Aires, Greg had taken Frog under his wing and escorted a lovely New York friend of mine plus Malibu Barbie to the bar.

I can honestly say I have a tendancy to the jealous girlfriend . But in this case, I know that Frog only had eyes for one person at the bar. Greg. And Greg in turn kept coming up to me at the wedding to tell me what a great guy I had. Repetitively.

When we talk about our trip and favourite moments, he still comes up in Frog's "best bits". Which makes me smile because that's what travelling is about - the new people we meet that we would never encounter at home.

Friday, June 03, 2005


Now we’re in the flat surrounded by boxes the list of jobs do to is getting longer. First on the list though is wallpaper stripping and repaint.

That’s why we found ourselves in Leroy Merlin yesterday afternoon. Most of the flat will be painted cream but I want to put some colour on a couple of walls. Browsing the aisles in the superstore we were searching for sample cards that show the colour selections so I could ponder at home.

I muttered to the Frog as we walked through the aisles:

Oiseau: Where are the sample cards? In the UK you get sample cards.
Frog: You’re not in the UK.

We found one area where old scrappy sample cards were put out with a notice that to borrow these from Leroy Merlin you had to pay €10 deposit.

Oiseau: In the UK they’re free.
Frog: You’re not in the UK.

Huffing, I take the scrappy sample card selection. I continued to mutter towards the checkout desk where we also have to pay for some wallpaper remover solution and a couple of sponges.

Items purchased we were redirected to the “Welcome” desk to pay the deposit. Muttering about ‘€10 for some shitty paper’ I took the money out of my purse. The woman took out a form and started asking for name, address which were duly given and then she requested ‘some identification please’.

Oiseau: What?
Frog: She asked for ID
Oiseau: I perfectly understand what she asked for. This is ridiculous. No.
Frog: I’ve got some.
Oiseau: This is ridiculous. We’re not showing ID to pay for the right to take home some shitty paper so I can later give them money.

The ‘ridiculous’ element was explained to the woman who explained it was so they could better organise their business. And did we have a loyalty card?

Oiseau: They’re not ever getting my loyalty.

Frog starts to continue with the process and takes out his drivers ID

Oiseau: No. We’re not doing this. We’re not showing ID and paying for this stupidity. This is ridiculous.

We both stare at each other.

Frog calmly explains to the woman who looks at me as the English freak I am.

I flounce out of the shop.

Oiseau: Where shall we go now?
Frog: With you? ..... Ha ha ha...... Nowhere!

We both agreed it was stupid, I continued muttering 'ridiculous' for the rest of the day.

In the meantime I still need to select some paint colours. Hmmmm.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Where The Heart Is

Four different beds in four nights. I'll be getting a reputation for myself!

But imagine my joy when I found out a couple of hours ago that my meeting in London tomorrow is cancelled. Thank goodness for people who cancel at the last minute. Normally I would be annoyed at such behaviour but after this week I am overjoyed!

I'm sure it's not a coincidence - this week I found my first grey (actually white) hairs. I would be highly distressed about this situation - since my Grandma didn't start the greying process until she was almost a decade into collecting her pension and my mum only in her late 40's - except I've had other things to think about.

Yesterday, the Frog excelled himself and moved into the new flat with just the help of his dad and a van. I felt huge pangs of guilt at being in a meeting room in Hamburg and not sweating heavy loads up the stairs (honestly!). However, when I got home late I quickly danced around the flat with exhilaration at our HOME! The Frog father and son combo had even put the bed together so we had something to sleep on easily.

I didn't sleep very well as I was anxious about getting up early and rushing off to London via Paris. And the cold shower and hair wash (note to work out the boiler instructions) was a shocking way to an early morning start.

But now I have a spare day tomorrow so I will leave Paris for the train back to Reims tonight and spend Thursday and Friday beginning the télétravail part of my life.

Can't wait to be home!