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!