Saturday, December 23, 2006

Chez Nous

Since I'm trying to put to the back of my mind the fact that we now have no dessert for our Christmas dinner (a disastrous early preparation session this afternoon, bloody, bloody Delia) and that I shall probably have nightmares after a real 'hack' job in trying to de-head the turkey (I'm all for knowing where your meat comes from, that's why I buy from the farm... I would just rather they did the dirty work), I interupt this panic session to take a seasonal photo tour of the flat.

Mum and D are arriving tomorrow lunchtime, so this is the last time it'll look tidy for a while!

Enter through the front door....

I bought the mistletoe and holly from a couple who regularly set up at the top of Rue de Vesle. The guy asked me how much I wanted to pay (it's Christmas and I'm a pretty lady, apparently!) which completely threw me. As I told him, I have no idea! He suggested €2 - 3, so with Christmas spirit and a sense of guilt, I handed over €5. A good business trick - though I don't think it'd work out that postively if I tried it out on my freelance clients.

Through the long narrow hall...

... and into the kitchen. Here you can find the reason why Frog should really come home when he says he's going to*. If he's late, he returns to find I ate all nearly all the home made sausage rolls and the two that are left are now lonely and cold:
If you had been in the kitchen about an hour ago you would have seen me freaking out over the turkey. I've spared you the close up of the head. Look away now if you're a veggie....

Into the living room, you can see the sparkly tree bought from Joachim, downstairs. It's handy living so close as he offered to bring it up to the second floor of our building ....

... now spot the swedish christmas horses that were a gift from a friend last year (thank you Jonas!) they now guard the christmas cards and oranges by the fireplace.
... pause to admire the old battered bookcase that I've cursed over the last couple of days, as I worked on reviving it with a couple of coats of cream paint, expertly multi-tasking, whilst watching The West Wing DVDs borrowed from the library.

Take a half pace across the room, past the Danish Christmas mobile (ahh, I remember the old days when I used to travel for business and buy little, local treats)...
... and to the final, second fireplace in the dining room, my New York mirror, decorated with the stars I bought for my first Christmas in Manhattan.

This is our first Christmas in Reims, nearly eighteen months after we moved in. We've been setting up the flat, little by little (there's some irony in the fact that when we first moved in, I had no time but a healthy salary and now lots of time and a limited income!) and there's a warm feeling to be had from seeing my home looking festive.
I have a couple hours of peace, whilst Frog freezes at the Stade de Reims. You'll find me on the sofa, digging into a tub of maltesers and enjoying the quiet!

* He's forgiven since he was buying my gift(s!) and in the village meeting a client. I have fared better than Mother Frog, Frog took a call from his father this afternoon, asking him to buy a gift to come from him to his wife. Apparently, I'm on wrapping duty. I reckon she might notice that the wrapping paper comes from our home...

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Your Culinary Advice Required

Miam miam!
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

So, here is the plan. Christmas Eve will be spent at the Frog Family home, enjoying a French style celebration. I know that the menu will include their traditional oysters; foie gras; roast something, that's not turkey and a buche de Noël (christmas log), .

The 25th will see the Frenchies joining my family at our flat. The idea was a traditional English Christmas lunch served as a dinner.

I find it highly amusing that just before Christmas, Mum usually takes off, with her friends, on a 24 hour hop across the channel to stock up on cheaper French delicacies that can be found in northern, industrial France's hypermarchés.

This year, she will be crossing the channel with shopping bags filled with English items that are difficult to find in France, including single and double cream; paxo stuffing; crackers; stilton; extra large turkey foil; parsnips and home made Christmas pudding.

I am now struggling to sort out the starter in our English menu. We'll just have one starter (Frog Mother provides two) and I think something smoked salmony would fit the bill. I was thinking smoked salmon with mini blinis, créme fraiche and lumpfish (i.e. cheap, pretend caviar). Easy to assemble, tasty and not too expensive. The problem is that when I mentioned this to Frog, he got all French and said "well maybe with some asparagus and little cherry tomatoes..."

What think Frog is forgetting, is that our English main course is so much heavier than a French one. In fact, when we eat this at the correct lunch hour (2pm), we can't usually face pudding until the evening. I think my solution is correct but I don't want the French getting sniffy.


- Starter
- Roast Turkey with crispy bacon
- Roast Potatoes
- Brussel Sprouts with chestnuts
- Roast Parsnips
- Gravy
- Bread Sauce
- Cranberry Sauce
- Stuffing
Selection of English & French cheeses with Port
Choice of:
- Delia's Iced Chocolate Chestnut Creams with White Chocolate Sauce
- Christmas Pudding with Brandy Butter
- Coffee & After Eight Mint

Tell me I'm being really stupid to worry about this....

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Getting Back On Track

I've been spending the last few days working on a freelance project. Whilst being really happy to have some work, and that this is quite an interesting assignment, it has sent me down an odd little emotional tunnel (again!). I'm working for the first time on pharmaceutical marketing - looking specifically at secondary breast cancer support for patients and carers. Yes, a real mood lifter!

So, I've stopped dreaming about deformed babies and am now dreaming about having reunions with family members, past and present, who are cancer sufferers. I'm just spellchecking the document this afternoon, so hope to bill them and quickly move onto more joyful times!

I'm pretty ready for Christmas now. Just a couple more gifts to buy and then I hope to do some baking and preparation for when the hoardes descend. Well, Mum and D anyway. We'll be going to Frog Family's house for Christmas Eve feasting and then there will be a return visit with eight of us around the table for a more English style Christmas Day meal. It'll be my first time doing turkey and the works and I'm hoping that Delia will be a reliable guide. The seating plan will need some engineering to ensure everybody has at least one person next to them who can speak their language. Once I've worked out what to serve as a starter, I'll post the menu. The 7kg turkey is ordered from a local farm in the Ardennes and will need collecting on Friday.

I came to the conclusion last night that I have, quite probably, married into a family that is more messed up than my own. At least with my paternal family I've gone through several decades of working out which relationships I can manage, and which will just have to shut up and make do without me. The issue, I have now discovered, with in-laws is that you don't have that freedom. I just have to continue in my passive-aggressive way, screaming when we're safely home and I'm in a calming, relaxing bath, chanting a mantra, 'It's their problem. Not mine. They're unhappy people. I am not'.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


After several days of muttering (I don't really want to travel... I don't want to be left alone for a weekend... I want to see my Mum.... I don't want her to have to drive over from England...) Saturday morning found me sat on the Eurostar with Frog on our way across to London.

He had a long standing meeting with an importer and I had planned on staying home, putting my feet up and taking it easy in my first trimester. Well, since my part of the plan had fallen apart, I had finally decided to head to London. Whilst Frog opted for his planned weekend with his mates, I made my way down to Peckham to meet Mum and squat in my sister and boyfriend's house whilst they took off for a four week Christmas break in the southern hempisphere.

I don't miss living in London but I do love visiting. Highlights as an expat visitor follow:

  • Watching a month's worth of QI episodes recorded on Sky Plus.

  • Managing to not completely lose it when sat in a pub surrounded by hundreds of screaming babies and children. My hunger overcame any other natural instinct.

  • Walking along the South Bank and feeling like a tourist taking photos.

  • Visiting St Paul's for the first time, after spending years passing it on the #8 bus.

  • Walking into the Tate Modern and realising that the new "Slides" installation was not a series of colour images but real "wheeeeeee" slides.

  • The look on Frog's face, just for that split second, when I told him that I had nearly texted him to tell him I was leaving him for "another man".

  • Sitting in a pub in Peckham, eating a Sunday roast with Mum and realising that my best friend from home from the ages of 11 - 13 years, who I hadn't seen since she left Wimborne and moved to Norwich with her family, was sitting at the table next to us.

  • Eating a coconut pyramid, just like my Grandma used to make, with my large latte whilst waiting for a friend in Covent Garden.

  • Having lunch in my friend's very cool member's bar and (whilst being very pleased to see her and remembering that I used to work in this industry) being more cheesily impressed when I realised that Strictly Come Dancing is filmed in the studios there.

  • Meeting a grumpy Frog back at Eurostar on Monday afternoon, who had turned up to his meeting and found that his importer was off with the flu.

Alright that last one wasn't a highlight of the weekend but the reason we both went to London never happened and yet we both had a much needed escape.

I came back with a renewed energy, I have now cleaned our once neglected flat to a sparkling level and feel ready to take on Christmas!

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Little Saint Nick

Little Saint Nick
Originally uploaded by oiseau.
I had this little brioche Saint Nicholas with a milky coffee for breakfast on my birthday last week. One of his currant eyes seems to have slipped but he tasted delicious, nonetheless. My birthday, as my American friends would say, sucked big time. I had had an early scan the day before to check the progress of a new 7 week pregnancy. The results weren't good and so I spent last Friday anticipating my second miscarriage in the space of three months.

The good news is that it has been less physically traumatic than the last one. The bad news is... the bad news. So, no birthday trip to Paris, no concert, no James, a cancelled highway code test and so on and so forth.

I'd like to write a deep and meaningful post, but the truth is I'm a bit numb to it all at the moment. I shall, instead, retreat back to my favoured position of lying on the sofa watching DVDs.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

High and Low

A couple of years ago, I mentioned my duvet coat. The photo below was taken of me, in said duvet coat, this time last year. It was snowing in Reims, we had friends to stay for the weekend and it was a little parky.Contrast that with the fact that this week, people have been wandering around the city in jumpers or light jackets. A peak of 18°C was reported on Saturday. Madness, I tell you. I love the sun, but this doesn't feel right.

I've had a fairly quiet couple of weeks. The news I shouldn't share, as it's sure to jinx things, is that I have been getting good marks in my Highway Code practice tests. After a shakey start in July, I had a bit of a break over August and September and started to work on it again last month. I've been pencilled in for the exam towards the end of December. The best score I've had this week is 37/40. The worst is 29/40. All on the same day. I think I need to find some consistency.

To continue my high and low theme for this post, I'll share the list of films and books which I've been busy devouring over the last week. Swings of cheese and laughs through to wrist slitting despair:

  • We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver. Utter utter darkness. Why on earth would I read this when I'm thinking about pregnancy? I have no idea. But it was excellent.
  • Bergdorf Blondes by Plum Sykes. I know, I know. But I'd just finished Kevin and it made me feel better.
  • Babel I don't believe it's out in the US or the UK yet. It won the prize for best director at Cannes this year. It has an all star cast and is set in Calfornia, Mexico, Morocco and Tokyo. If you've seen Amores Perros or 21 Grams, it's the same style of interweaving stories from Alejandro Gonzàlez Inàrritu . And it's very bleak. In retrospect I can see it was a brilliant film with ourstanding performances and brave global themes. However, at the time I just wanted to get out as I sunk further and further into misery.
  • Désaccord Parfait I loved this light comedy starring French favourites Charlotte Rampling and Jean Rochefort. Yes, I know Charlotte Rampling is English but the French adore her. Rochefort hams it up a little (alright, a lot). It was directed by Antoine de Caunes (R..r..r..apiiiidoooo and Eurotrash for those who remember it on UK TV) but he's a member of a French TV industry dynasty and I think (as the film and his UK TV history shows) he understands British humour. Okay, it was very cheesy. But I laughed.
  • Fast Food Nation If you read the book, you'll understand where the film's coming from. It was pas mal, but felt like it was lacking something. Oh, and it's another depressing look at the world picture.

Next weekend we're in Paris. It's my birthday and we have tickets to to a concert on Friday evening. Before returning to Reims on the Saturday, we're going to see James in version originale. Now, that will be a high!

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Mulling it over

I've been suffering from restless nights for the past week. Any slightly worrying thought that can, seems to pop into my head and refuse to budge, whilst I toss and turn half-way between dreamlike thoughts and consciousness.

Last night I had the most awful realisation that kept me awake for hours but we'll have to jump back two days for the source of the problem.

Tuesday afternoon, I had carried out my good deed for the week, welcoming a young French woman into our flat. Brigitte is a troubled first year Med student. Apparently, despite ending up in the top percentile of her year, she has gotten herself into a nervous wreck and is working herself into a deep depression about being unable to cope with the workload.

Her Mum, a friend of Frog Family, is now very worried about her daughter's health and called me up to ask if I would mind helping her daughter with the obligatory English coursework that she has to complete. Having been in that situation myself (not in the top percentile of Med school, but getting myself into a state and having a great Mum to pull me through), I was more than happy to invite Brigitte to the flat that afternoon.

She had a ten minute oral presentation to prepare and had already written out her notes. The subject was the History of Christmas and we spent a couple of hours going through her papers, correcting some of the grammar, vocab and confirming pronunciation.

Now, my immediate reaction was that she's clearly an overachiever. Whilst her notes had a few standard French speaker's mistakes, it was all in pretty good shape and when she spoke she had a good accent. My second reaction was, my English has gone to pot!

I'm so used to hearing French versions of sentence structure (in French or from Frog's version of English) that I struggled to impose an English structure on her work!

We got through the work, and I hope I encouraged her confidence a little by the time she left. I had no worries that she would do well in her presentation on Thursday.

So, fast forward to last night at 4am. For some reason this was the moment when I suddenly realised that I had not corrected her final sentence. Her humorous conclusion is a comment on drinking during the season. She wrote 'hot wine' and I had neither noticed nor corrected this to 'mulled wine'.

Why it took 48 hours to realise this I don't know. What I do know is that I need to concentrate a little on my English skills. I can't be crap in two languages - one of them has got to give!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Original Version

If you want to see a film in Reims you have three options. You could jump in your car and drive to fifteen minutes to one of the commercial parks and the huge Gaumont multiplex, where every film is shown in French or dubbed into French; you could stroll down the Place d'Erlon and pay to enter the smaller Gaumont, where every film is shown in French or dubbed into French; or you could stop at the top of the Place d'Erlon and hand over €7 to see a film shown in its original language, be it French, English, Italian... with French subtitles.
The Cinéma Odéon is Reim's Cinéma Art & Essai, or what I would call an arthouse cinema. They'll show American blockbusters and French arthouse alongside more exotic programming and series of foreign films. The common thread is that are all shown in version originale (vo). In the last month, Frog and I have seen Flags of Our Fathers, Black Dahlia and Scoop. Nevermind that the last two were very average films, it's our cinema. I'm happy to see a French French film, but don't ask me to watch a film dubbed in French (version français - vf). It's disconcerting to see an old familiar face open their mouth and another person's voice appear.
Our concern is this - the owner of the Opéra cinema (built by architects Thion and Rousseau in 1923) is reported as being open to offers on the lease which runs out next year. He says that its 130,000 visitors per year makes it unprofitable and that the space is not workable. In addition to the smaller salles, there is one huge screening salle (sith a beautiful ceiling) which is either freezing in the winter (we are now used to watching films with our coat and gloves still on) or baking in the summer and there is no central space for exhibitions and a café. The owner has had enough.
The city of Reims has replied by saying that Reims will not lose its Cinéma Art & Essai but that another more suitable, central building needs to be found. There are mutterings that the disused and decaying covered market (built 1927-1928) might be an option. My fear is that even once a decision is made (and decisions are never made quickly) the speed of works here are so snail like, we will be cinema-less for a long time and the Opéra will be turned into another soulless shopping mall inhabited by tatty shoe shops.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


So, there I was last night, getting ready to go out and see this beautiful and majestic performance by Raghunath Manet*, when my instant messanger pinged. I was really happy to see it was my dear friend, who now lives a long, long way away.

We hadn't spoken in ages, so she regaled me with the fact that she's spent the last couple of weeks in bed with a virus. Family members were apparently summoned to come and look after her as she was really knocked out by the lurgey.

so, are you feeling better?
yes... I just found out some news that I am not
supposed to share but I am dying.

Now, what would you think? My stomach flipped, a million thoughts raced through my head... I know she's had a couple of operations in the last year... have they found a tumour?

I thought for several seconds, and just replied with a single question mark. Could I get out and see her soon? I think I could stretch to an airfare if she's really sick.

A seemingly long pause
I don't want to make you feel bad but i am 6 weeks pregnant with TWINS
ahhh - that's fab

Crazy indeed. I could have killed her!

She'll read this and think I'm a big dork for that misunderstanding! But I'm really thrilled for her, she miscarried at the same time as me so it looks like our luck could be turning.

Anyway, my dear, I hope I've hidden your identity well enough until the 12 weeks reveal. Fingers crossed!

* If this guy ever shows up in your town, make an effort to go. He combines an electric interpretation of southern indian classical dance, with dancers and musicians. I loved the fact he took the time out to explain the origins of the movements and music. This dancing Shiva from Pondicherry provided quite a culture shock in Reims!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

New Occupation

I have a new daily occupation, that of 'boob prodder'. Naturally, there are other things that I can be found doing in and around Reims. You might find me sat in front of the computer, tapping away on the odd freelance project that comes swinging my way; you might see me sat, sulking, in a classroom as I continue to battle with the French highway code; I can also be found pottering around the local library, wondering which annoying person is hogging the DVD volume 4, series 1 of Nip/Tuck that I've been waiting to see for weeks.

However, the one consistent task I seem to have adopted, is the prodding of the boobs. The first pregnancy kind of crept up on me - it was planned but not expected so quickly. So, the boob soreness realisation was pretty much the same day that I was sat in the doctor's surgery, being prescribed a confirmation blood test.

The day the soreness disappeared was also the day that I was stuck in the Early Pregnancy Unit at King's Hospital, London being told by a very sweet, young doctor, that there was no heartbeat to be seen on the scan.

This time of course, the cycles are plotted, and the weeks are dragging out. And so I prod my boobs. I don't think I do it in public. I rather hope not. And there will come a point when I will have to wonder if the soreness is the real early symptom or simply a result of over zealous prodding...

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Would you buy a bottle of champagne...

... from someone with dodgy French language skills?*

This was the question Frog and I were pondering, as we drove up to the borderlands of Belgium & France.

Frog is testing out several different types of sales channels for the champagne and since the house has never really gone into the world of salons or fairs, this is virgin territory for us both.

First up was a professional fair in London in September. If you discount the fact that was the day I began to miscarry, it all went very well. Wine buyers from the worlds of restaurants, distributers and retail came and sampled the family champagne. We had very positive feedback and have followed up with several solid sales prospects in the UK.

The bonus in London was that I could speak to my fellow countrymen whilst digging into some of my marketing skills and knowledge of the family house. Frog is fluent in English and relishes every opportunity to show off his ability.

Let's fast forward to last weekend, a first salon public... in Belgium. The plan was that this was a low key event where we could make our mistakes. I would do the running around, washing of glasses, keep note of sales etc., whilst Frog would do the sales spiel. The reality of course is that when you have hundreds of Wallonies wanting to get their €5 worth of entrance fee in free champagne tasting, you have to roll up the proverbial linguistic sleeves and get stuck in.

I am proud to say that I coped gallantly and even sold a decent amount of bottles myself, in between running to wash the stack of flutes at the tap set up at the back of the exhibition hall. It was a bonus to meet some lovely people from all over France who travel to sell their foods and wines. It was like eating all your favourite holiday foods in one place. We also found some friendly locals, although, the downside of a salon public is that you meet all the public. Including those you'd usually rather avoid.


  • Being situated next to a charcuterie stand from Les Ardeches, whose owner kept passing over a variety of saucissons for us to graze on during the day.
  • A lunch of foie gras sandwiches, bought from the flirty trio of guys from the Périgord.
  • The entertainment provided by the two hot tempered Basque girls. By Sunday evening, they were being dragged apart, screaming obscenities at each other, that I imagine were Euskara.


  • Handing over €700 in duties to the 'resident' Belgian customs man, who was more chunky knit cardigan and loafers than crisp HM Customs' uniform. Apparently the several flutes of champagne he consumed during the weekend didn't sweeten him up enough.
  • Frog pissing off the local celebrity and animateur of the salon, Pierrot of Lille by asking "And who are you?". Consequently, Frog had to later grovel and offer champagne, which led to him coming to our stand and interviewing Frog with a microphone. (Result: a huge crowd of Pierrot's followers crowding around the little stand and probably accounting for a good proportion of the weekend's sales.)
  • My sore aching feet.

* According to my Mum, it's also my English linguistic skills that are failing. Thank goodness the digital red pen doesn't exist yet...

Saturday, October 21, 2006


I found these cards on this site, courtesy of Daily Candy. It almost made me laugh, but not quite, since I was having a bit of a wobbly day yesterday. Anyhoo... My mum is, as we 'speak', driving down the A26 from Calais to Reims, to spend part of her half-term holidays chez nous. I can't believe that I haven't seen her since the wedding in May. Thank goodness for Skype, is all I can say.

I plan on using Mum's visit as an excuse to indulge in all the 'non-champagne' tourist visits that I haven't managed to do in the last year. It's the year of celebrating Art Deco in Reims, so expect an 'Art Deco Guide to Reims' post some time soon.

In fact, to start the tourist theme, here's a photo from last night's inauguration of the new lighting of the cathedral. The city seems to have cottoned onto the fact that our UNESCO World Heritage site has been woefully treated. A multi-million project to light the cathedral has finally been completed and we joined hundreds of other Remois on the parvis last night to watch the switching on ceremony. Our mayor spoke surprisingly eloquently and the 'unveiling' was gradual, the illuminations being introduced in phases, accompanied by a group from the local music conservatoire. The music was relayed by speakers all around the outside of the cathedral, so that you could wander around and take in the results. It was a great atmosphere and quite spectacular (I shed a tear and got emotional but that's probably just my raging hormones again). My photos, without a much needed tripod, didn't do it justice.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006


... at the Nyetimber vineyard the English pickers get stools to sit on! You certainly wouldn't see that occurring in any of the vines in this region.

Seeing this photo today, I was reminded that we were given a bottle of this prize winning, English sparkling wine as an engagement gift from a couple of friends in England. Nyetimber retails at a very high price (over £25/€36) and there has been much talk about how they beat the quality of a large Champagne house in blind tastings. Well, they probably do rival some producers, as not every champagne house produces the highest quality. (And, at that price I should hope that it is a quality product.)

We put the gift aside and opened it one afternoon when we had Frog Mother, Father, Aunt and Uncle around for Sunday lunch. Everyone had a good taste and agreed it went down very well. However, once the mouthful was finished, there was something missing. It took us a while to put our finger on what that was. Finally, we realised that what this was was a lack of a certain taste, that infamous terroir that the French talk about, a familar note wasn't to be found in the English wine.

Of course, this was no blind tasting and the panel were a little biased (and somewhat keen to move to the table for lunch). However, if I showed Father Frog a photo of the English pickers, sat on stools, any credibility this wine had mustered would disappear in a flash!

Monday, October 09, 2006


Basque Evening 2
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

I like wedding gifts. Especially those that you can save for times when you need a bit of a pick up. We took advantage of the gift voucher for a weekend in the south-west and zoomed off on Friday in the TGV from Paris, destination South-West France.

Two nights and three days of discovery in an area that was new to Frog and me. Things that I found out:

  • Frog can comfortably put away five cakes in one day.
  • I can happily eat confit de canard every night, if offered.
  • If you order a rather rough local red, you don't notice after the first couple of mouthfuls. That is, as long as you don't try and taste it but swallow it down quickly. You can pleasantly manage a whole bottle that way.
  • We'll both believe we're exercising the food away by wandering around our temporary weekend home town.
  • Even a small branch of the largest bank in France (probably) blends into the local style.
  • The Salies de Béarn salt water has many uses, we enjoyed taking advantage of being pampered with the mineralising spa treatments.
  • We didn't giggle too much at the sight of each other wrapped up in hot mud packs.
  • The Atlantique's waves provide a surfer's paradise.
  • You can spend a Sunday afternoon sunbathing in the city of Biarritz followed by a stroll around an art exhibition.
  • If your stomach is big enough, it can stretch to one final Basque meal before heading back on a night train and couchette to Reims via Paris.

Monday, October 02, 2006


This weekend was the first following the successful harvest. Traditionally, this means having no plans, enjoying a lie-in and indulging in general slobbiness, which Frog and I relish. Except this year all the family were summoned to the village for an official meeting, Saturday 9am, to discuss the future of the House. For reasons of family discretion, I will have to save publishing any details of this, the latest part of the saga, for the book that deserves to be written, covering the highs and lows of a family viticulture business in this region.

By, the time Saturday had been taken up by an analysis of the morning's events, Sunday morning rolled around and we were still uptight so didn't manage a lie-in then, either. Once up, we enjoyed a long walk in the autumnal sunshine, through the city.

Reims is where the Germans surrendered to to the Allied Expedition in 1945. I've blogged about this before but we've never visited the place where the document was signed.

The headquarters of Eisenhower's allied forces were based in one of the local high schools, now named Lycée Franklin Roosevelt. So, it's here that a little museum has been created, and the original room preserved. Frog might have sat a couple of exams there, but had never visited the rooms.

There was something a little humbling about seeing the small class room and simple museum. A basic exhibition of photos showed Reims under occupation and documentation of its subsequent liberation. It's a relatively small city and there was a moment of realisation for me that, yes of course, the Square des Vicitimes de la Gestapo is placed just around the corner from our flat because that's where the Gestapo HQ was. And an 'oh' moment upon seeing a shot of the (then) sous-préfet of Reims smiling with Eisenhower. The sous-préfet shared not only the same family name as our current (somewhat derided) Mayor, but the same facial profile. Must be a family member we agreed*. Photos of the procession of the liberating forces show tanks rolling down our street alongside the café that Frog and I have a Friday evening coupe with our neighbour, the florist.

Strolling back home early evening and greeting another neighbour as we neared the flat, I realised that I'm getting to know my little city much better. I don't just live here, I feel like I'm becoming more a part of the city. This isn't another place that I'm passing through, this is where my life is and all plans for the future lie. It's a good feeling.

*Wikipedia tells me the sous-préfet was the father whose brother was one of the local victims of the Gestapo.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Champagne Harvest

Champagne Harvest
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

Yes, it's over!

Of the six and a half days spent harvesting nine hectares of vines, I spent half of that working in the house. I know that grape picking is back breaking work but so is helping to feed 50 plus workers twice a day and clean up around them. I now have to sleep some....

You can see the set of photos here.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006


Originally uploaded by oiseau.

Yes, it's that time of year again. The period when my day begins with a 6am alarm and I cover my head with a pillow to muffle the noises of Frog disappearing out of the flat. He usually reappears at about 8pm and manages a couple of sentences before collapsing comatose for the rest of the night.

I've popped backwards and forwards to the family house over the last couple of days. My freelance work has piled up over the last week, so I've needed focus on that. Although it's nice to be at the house during what is an exciting time, after a couple of hours I start to feel the family tensions and am happy to escape again!

There are over fifty workers (tenfold the usual employee number) that descend for the vendanges. A good fifteen of whom are housed in spare rooms. This year we have a couple of Polish families who have driven over to work . Only one of them speaks (excellent) French and I amuse myself by overhearing the other French and Poles attempt to communicate in broken English. A lot of the French guys seem to be motivated to practice their English by a rather stunning 6ft blonde Polish girl!

I joined everyone last night for dinner, during which we toasted the wedding anniversary of one of the Polish couples and were taught a Polish drinking/celebration song. Needing no excuses, the French began to reply with their own songs. Yes, I am enjoying the ability to drink champagne again!

So far the quality of the grapes is very good, with several of the larger vines producing high natural sugar contents. I'm told that we may be looking at a vintage.

I'll spend time in the next couple of days taking some photos to record Harvest 2006. In the meantime, 2005's images can be found here.

Friday, September 15, 2006

The hardest part...

... of living is giving back what's been given.

I heard this lyric today on a Radio 4 interview with Billy Bragg and it struck a chord, for reasons that will become clearer. I quickly grabbed a post it note and scribbled those words down. Lying in the bath I then thought about the flip side of this and how I've spent a large part of the last few days looking at a view from my sofa and thinking how happy I am with my life.

So, these are a few of my favourite things:

Frog and I bought this map in Argentina last year. We had just visited the Missiones in the north of the country, before going to a best friend's wedding in Buenos Aires. I found the old map of the region in a handmade paper shop in the capital and framed it upon our return to Reims. We still haven't got around to hanging any of our frames so it sits propped up on the mantelpiece.

There are two photo frames here. Frog doesn't seem to want photos of his family around (I guess we see more than enough of them!) but I like to have mine around. The silver frame shows two older photos, one of me and my little half-brother in 1994. We're in a pool in Majorca and I was teaching him to swim. I think it's the only time we've been on holiday together. Next to it is a photo of me, my Grandma, my Mum and my sister. It was my Grandma's 80th birthday and her cousins were visiting. We're sat on my Grandma's sofa and it captures the moment after the main photo flash had gone off. My Grandma is looking at my sister and my Mum is looking at me, whilst my sister and I look ahead. We're all smiling and there's a beautful symmetry to the picture.

The second photo frame is a recent purchase, taken at our wedding by my friend Aaron. The photo is my sister, me, Frog and my half-brother. I know that everyone was feeling the chill from the wind that afternoon, but adrenaline and champagne are a potent mix and I felt fine!

Art Postcards
If this were a photo in our study, you would strain to see the books past the postcards that I hoard and prop up on the shelves. The ones that have made it to the living room are a picture of cherry blossom trees, that was an Easter card from Mum, and a Christmas card showing the work of this man.

Singing Bear
Frog and I fell in love with this bear on our honeymoon. He was made by an Inuit sculptor from Cape Dorset. He looks drunk and happy and, even if it broke the bank a little, there was no way we could leave him behind.

Pink Lilies
I bought these on Monday, two days after I miscarried at nearly ten weeks of pregnancy. It was a missed miscarriage and the heart had stopped beating a couple of weeks earlier. I can't explain how I feel because by the time I finish writing this sentence it'll have changed again. I do know that today I feel physically stronger than two days ago and emotionally stronger than yesterday. I love these lilies, they were all in bud at the beginning of the week and have now flowered, filling the flat with a strong fragrance.

I hadn't blogged for a while as I was desparately trying to keep the wonderful news that we received at the beginning of the summer to ourselves, until we reached the twelve weeks mark. There are many friends I haven't told yet, and I hope they forgive me if they find out through this post. I might not blog for a while, unless harvest next week throws up inspiration.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Driving Home

Originally uploaded by oiseau.

You really know it's the end of the holidays when this is the sight that greets you as you approach home!

So a Top Ten (in no particular order) from nearly three weeks holiday:

- Having the family summer house and pool to ourselves in 30° heat
- Not getting up before 10:30am
- Nigel's Baked aubergine with pine nuts, feta cheese and mint
- Reading through 10 books provided courtesy of Reims public library's foreign literature shelves
- Catching up on the celebrity gossip courtesy of Voici and Public
- Ice creams at La Rhumerie on the port of Cavalaire
- Reading my first French book from beginning to end
- Jumping from the car on the motorway, near Lyon, before it burst into flames, conveniently close to Frog's best man's home
- Staying with friends for a weekend in Amsterdam on Prinsengracht
- Cycling along the canals of Amsterdam in the last cooler rays of the summer sun

Wednesday, August 02, 2006


Sundial Var
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

After a lazy couple of weeks in the heat, a cooler breeze has arrived just in time to send us off on holiday. We'll be leaving tonight for two weeks in the Var. It's a long drive through the night to reach the south-east corner of France and Frog is currently napping in preparation. I am meanwhile avoiding the last of the ironing and wondering if the ten books I took out of the library will be enough to keep me going, when farniente is the only plan we have for these vacances.

I also have Kristin Espinasse's Words in a French Life included in the tower of books. I'm a fan of her website, A French Word A Day, even though I do sometimes wonder if we are living in the same country, given that the differences between our regions are often larger than the similarities. I like her style of writing and the fact she doesn't rely on oft-used cliches to conjour up Provence. I also have a little feeling of smugness when I realise I know most of the words now, which I didn't a couple of years ago.

I'll just remind myself that the last report on the family house pool was a temperature of 31°. That will be my motivation for the last of the T-shirts awaiting the iron.

Bonnes vacances à tous!

Monday, July 24, 2006

Match Report

Friday was hot. Thirty-six degrees kind of hot and the only question was not, will there be a storm but when will there be a storm.

Frog called me during the afternoon and asked if I wanted to go to the stade tonight. Father Frog had just got his annual abonnement and the first match of the season was kicking off in a friendly derby against Sedan.

Now, I don't know much about football. Of course, I follow the international matches but that's not the same as following a Ligue. Especially a Ligue 2 team. Stade de Reims was once a mighty side. That was in the days when Father Frog would cycle the 20 kms from the village to the stade to watch the games. Yes, that'll be over 40 years ago. Having gone bankrupt in the early 90's, the red and whites now languish in the lower end of the second division and the times I've seen a match covered on TV, even I can recognise the low, painful standard of football.

But with one free ticket and the cost of an accompanying ticket priced at €5 (yes, five euros) who's going to pass that one up?

It ended up being one of the best evenings out we've had in a while, and certainly one of the cheapest! The new stadium is half built and we had seats right next to the pitch. Reims' opponents are local rivals who were promoted to the First Division last year, so there was some tension at this derby. But imagine everyone's surprise when the new signings showed some real mettle and at one point Reims was leading 2-1!

By the final whistle it was a draw 2-2 and everyone was thrilled with the result. Even me. Yeah, I know, shocking.

We'd sat watching with Father Frog's friend who recounted the glory days of the club and said he felt that there might be a chance again in the future. For my part, I was very happy to sit in an open stadium on a sweltering hot evening but trust me, I won't be out there once the winter begins. That's for the passionés!

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

As Far As The Eye Can See

Originally uploaded by oiseau.

Yes, it's hot here too. 36° yesterday, but I'm not finding it too hard this year. Reims is a small city and the flat seems to be bearable if you keep the shutters down . Of course, venturing outside is like someone turned the hairdryer on you. But at least there aren't the pollution levels of a larger city. Having survived summers in Paris 2003 and Manhattan with no aircon, Reims seems like a doddle.

They say if you want something done, ask someone who's busy. I'll go along with that. My key accomplishment this last week was the weekend's walks with the Frog. We took an evening stroll late Friday afternoon and then on Sunday night took the 4 x 4 out into the vines. All the local villages are linked up through stony tracks that run alongside the parcels of vines. We visited the various vines that are Frog Family's to see how they're doing. If 2003's summer is anything to go by, the heat will mean a slighly lower volume harvest but an excellent quality. Well that's what I'm told anyway.

The set of photos can be seen here.

My only other news is of my afternoons spent locked in a classroom with a bunch of French teenagers, all taking classes in the highway code. It's becoming unbearable. And having started with decent marks, I have to be the only student who's seeing a deterioration in their scores. 35 degree heat, no ventillation and French pedantry. Yes, that seems like a decent enough excuse.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Qui ne saute pas...

Since England went out, I have been standing beside my husband and supporting France. I wouldn't if England were playing against them - but ummm they're not - and it seems the right thing to do. The way I see it is if the French keep me up until 2am with their celebrations, I might as well join in. And I have experience in supporting a non-winning side to draw from should everything go wrong.

I've also come to understand why the first summer I met Frog he woke up one morning, beaming to tell me that he'd had the most wonderful dream. He had been playing football and he was Zinedine Zidane being cheered on by the stadium. That is every Frenchman's fantasy.

However, whilst les bleus have my support tomorrow there are some limits.

Frog (chanting): Qui ne saute pas n'est pas Français, -ais!
Qui ne saute pas n'est pas Français, -ais!

Do you understand what that means?

Oiseau: Do you see me getting out of my chair?
Frog: No, do you understand what that means?*

Oiseau raises eyebrows

Frog: Oh.

* Whoever isn't jumping, isn't French

Wednesday, July 05, 2006


I have lived long enough now in this country to stop getting wound up about everytime French customer service is lacking. There are so many other benefits to living here, you just have to live with the fact that the customer is very, very rarely right in the minds of those employed in the French service industry.

However, I do have to share with you a couple of pieces of recent communication courtesy of Air France and American Airlines. A perfect case study, some might say, in the extremes of these two nations.

I had contacted both companies to request a name change on their frequent flier programmes that I belong to. The American Airlines process was completed online. Air France, having failed to reply to my intial online query of what documentation was required, are replying to a letter that I sent along with a copy of my marriage certificate.

Both replies were received on the same day.


Nous avons bien reçu votre demande.

Pour nous permettre d'effectuer cette mise à jour, nous vous invitons à nous retourner un justicatif d'identité.

Nous vous remercions de votre fidélité et vous prions d'agréer, Madame, nos
salutations distinguées.

(Quick translation: Thanks for your request, in order to complete this update please send us a piece of identification. Yours sincerely.... )

Good Morning Mrs. Lxxxx,

Thank you for your e-mail. I'm delighted to help.

Congratulations on your marriage.

As requested, I have changed the name on your account.

Again, thank you for giving me the opportunity to respond. I look forward to assisting you in the future.

Have a great day and nice holiday.

Regards, Ms. P. Lee AAdvantage Customer Service American Airlines

P.S. I noticed that you're not earning AAdvantage® miles for your creditcardpurchases, which is so easy to do. For a limited time, with the Citi® PlatinumSelect® /AAdvantage® World MasterCard, you will earn 25,000 bonus miles after you make $250 in purchases with the card. And you will earn 1 AAdvantage® mile for every $1 spent on purchases up to 100,000 miles per year towards award travel on American Airlines flightsor with AAdvantage® program participants. To speak with a Citi representative about enrolling, please call 800-640-1517 (be sure to have your AAdvantage number handy). Or use this link to visit the Web site:

Oh, how I chortled... then cursed as I had to trot off to the Post Office and send another letter and photocopy to Air France.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


We knew we had to plan a weekend in London soon. There's a lovely pile of wedding gifts to collect from John Lewis, an ailing relative to visit and a friend's birthday to celebrate, so after many emails and text messages flying across the channel we organised this weekend away.

When we found out that England would be playing their quarter-final match on Saturday afternoon, our schedule became a little clearer. What better than to watch the game in a London pub with our friends.

We never even contemplated that France would have any more games after last night's Spanish game. However, after a nail biting game (well for the Frog at least) I'm pleased at France's result: my husband is happy, the city of Reims is happy (if the procession of noise and cars into the early hours of the morning is anything to go by) and even Zizou's goal made me smile.

So now our Saturday evening is booked to watch France play Brazil. Frog already knows some French friendly corners of the English capital which is where we'll move to after the England game.

It's highly unlikely that both nations will make it through those matches. But. But. If they do it's an England vs France semi-final.

Bugger! Or to quote Frog:

"That's not something that would break our marriage up is it?.... Is it?"

Monday, June 26, 2006


We were the last to arrive and the first to leave and still we spent nearly ten hours at a family reunion in the Ardennes. It was Frog Father's cousin's 70th birthday and about 30 of the family members had gathered in a small village sports hall for lunch. We were a motley crew, including a snail farmer, two wine-makers and several farmers. Plus a young French girl just back from her agricultural work experience year in Australia, love sick for her long distance boyfriend and desperate to practice her English.

Anyway, I'm not sure when I'll stop listening to Frog who says, "We'll just stop by for lunch and then we'll..." and instead remember the truth which is that this is a day long affair!

So "lunch" yesterday consisted of:

Champagne & Petits Fours
Melon* with Dried Ham
Filet of Pike Perch
Apricot Sorbet
Beef en croute with asparagus, dauphinois potatoes & tomatoes provençale
Selection of Cheeses & Salad
Plate of 4 different desserts


Accompanied by three different wines and two different champagnes.

* a whole charentais melon each


A few hours later this was followed by a cold buffet, including a choice of six different homemade desserts.

So. What happened outside of the six hours of eating? Well, I suddenly found myself nursing my coffee, looking up to see everybody around the table waiting to hear my answer. The question that had been posed was from Father Frog and his son who were looking for my back-up . "You really want to watch the football don't you?" and as an aside to the other family guests "Well, England's playing, you know".

So I provided the cover (and yes, I did want to see it but no, my mother brought me up with better manners than that) for the trio of us to head towards a distant cousin's house in the village.

Within twenty minutes, Father Frog was asleep on the sofa and Mother Frog had joined us since she was too embarassed to venture into the village fete with her red wine splattered white trousers.

The English team might have provided us with an extremely boring match but it was a refreshing interlude from the humid foodfest going on a few hundred yards up the road. Additionally, since we hadn't seen Mother and Father Frog for the last week (whilst they were on holiday) it gave us some time to plan Father Frog's dinner schedule for the next five nights whilst Mother Frog is in hospital for a shoulder operation and afterwards when she's recovering at home.

My services duly loaned out, I'll be planning my own dinner menus for the next couple of weeks when the family will have to get used to cooking English style!

Friday, June 23, 2006

French Male Pride

I wrote a post about Frog's French male pride and the bumps it's taken this week from a couple of incidents. Nothing serious at all - just the stuff that puts a Frog in a huffy mood for a few days and had me pondering a little.

Then, I re-read what I had written and decided he wouldn't be happy if I shared those thoughts on a blog.

So, whilst I don't usually support the French national football team in any shape or form (The Socceroos are proving to be the only side I'm willing to loan my allegiance to) I do hope that the team (sans Zizou) walk off the pitch tonight with an ounce of pride. If only to make this weekend a little lighter in mood chez nous!

"Allez les bleus" Shhhhhhhh!

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Newly Weds

Newly Married
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

So at first I put my blogging activity (or lack of) down to how busy I was organising the wedding and newly set up working consultant status.

I'm not one of those bloggers who enjoys using the 'personal' dramas as stimulus for writing. Things were all going to plan in the wedding preparations, however, if I'd blogged I would have focused on the inevitable parts that don't quite go to plan.

So, now I'm back and happy and enjoying getting life together in Reims... And I still haven't blogged!

Petit à petit I will get back to some routine. For now enjoy a few photos from the many (300!) that were taken on our road trip.

And I'll also link to this fantastic singer, Pierre Lapointe, that we discovered whilst tuning into Québécois radio. He'll break France soon so have a listen first!

Monday, May 22, 2006

Somewhat Occupied!

Yes, I've been somewhat occupied the last month or so but I'm back! At least for just a few minutes to present the first photo of the new Madame & Monsieur.

Truly a happy, happy day. Our wonderful families and friends joined us and after days of torrential rains even the sky cleared to give us some precious sunshine as we exited the church in Reims. Friends from across six continents joined us back in the village for food, champagne and lots and lots of dancing!

Must dash now to pack for the honeymoon. We leave tomorrow morning and I'm looking forward to sleeping on the plane and then spending two weeks driving through Quebec with my husband and reliving the last few days' memories.

It all starts here!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


I've had a post boiling up inside for the last few days. I'm full of the frustrations of the ongoing CPE saga, trying to register to work independently and discovering it would be far easier to declare myself unemployed. Poor Frog has been dragged to four different Government offices to try and ensure that this is dealt with quickly and efficiently, which was his own idea (though he's fast trying to disown it). And I have been standing, glowering at the view of 1000's of students marching past the flat because they think they deserve not to work whilst the rest of the country goes on strike.

I'm cynical and bitter and I'm in despair for the future of this country I've chosen to live and work in.

But I won't write that post. Instead I'll give you my other favourite complaint of the moment: my hair!

I can't cut it until just before the wedding. It's driving me crazy, I have no style, the grey is showing (I'm a mousy blonde, brown; how can I go grey?!) and it is daily scraped back into a ponytail with a sigh.

One day I will have this type of good hair day again... we'd just moved into the flat it was sunny enough to wear sunglasses and our Swedish friends were visiting. Roll on May 20th!

Friday, March 31, 2006

Happy Sigh!

Today I finished my job in Paris. What began as a two month contract in September 2004 ended up becoming an 18 month position. I had a lovely lunch with the people I like and then I hoofed it out of there!

I already have a freelance project beginning on Monday. It will be a fairly intensive 12 day delivery but I (for once) negotiated a fee that I'm happy with and can do the majority of the work from home. I just need to find out who to talk to set up a TVA number. Any help appreciated!

After that ... well, the wedding will be on the horizon and then... who knows what!

I feel like I'm on the edge of something very exciting, a new start, the next phase in my life. I think I'm going to take a nap and then enjoy a coupe or two when my man comes home.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006


When people have asked me about the CPE demonstrations in Reims, I've joked that this is a very bourgeoisie city and there are no burning cars here.

Well, I still don't think there are any burning cars yet but Mother Frog was stuck in a rather scary situation this morning.

I'd been sat waiting for her to drop by the flat, in order to hand over something that Frog had forgotten when he left this morning. She was popping into the city to run a couple of errands and I sat tapping my heels as I waited. And waited.

Finally, this afternoon I got a call from Frog to tell me that his Mum had returned about half an hour earlier in tears. She'd driven around a corner just as today's manifestation was starting up. The crowds surrounded her in the car and began to shake it. Frog family suspect she was a target of the group as she was driving their rather large shiny Mercedes.

I don't know anybody who has sympathies for the CPE demonstrators anymore. There's a large national strike today and I find a certain irony to the fact that I can't get to a Government office in order to learn about I need to begin work as an independent freelancer in this country.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006


One of my favourite bloggers is this guy. His link to Google Idol today has gotten me addicted to new global lipsynching talents.

Genius. Sheer Genius.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Spring View

Spring View
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

Just one week until spring officially arrives but this weekend already felt like a huge heavy weight was being lifted from our shoulders.

Blue skies, cafés, people watching, long lunch, walking, snowdrops, photos, vines, museum, viticulteur plans and lamb dinner.

The set of photos from this afternoon's drive out to Verzenay can be found here...

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Sign of the Times

I confess that I haven't been endlessly practicing my new married signature. I did however check that I could "upgrade" from my account if the was available.

I should probably make sure I'm not like a friend of mine who had a mild panic when she went to sign her new married name at the bank. She couldn't remember how to spell it.

I also have to work on the pronounciation and not hacking up a large amount of phlegm when I roll the 'r' in the the "gr" of the name. That could be embarassing.

Friday, March 17, 2006


Originally uploaded by oiseau.

I was at home yesterday in the back of the flat, attempting (and failing) to focus on a piece of work I've been avoiding for days when I heard noises from a crowd coming from the front of the flat.

I had actually been thinking over the weekend that now the weather is more tolerable it must mean the beginning of manifestation season. We're situated slap bang opposite the Palais Justice which means that every time there's a demonstration it passes by chez nous.

Then yesterday, as you may have read in the news, more and more students have been taking to the streets to protest against a new employment law, the CPE:

  • This is a good source to understand what is happening.
  • This is The Guardian's Leader piece today.
  • She writes about her experiences as a student in Le Havre.

So, as I watched the students file past the flat I grabbed my camera to capture today's events to show Frog when he came home.

The photo is technically pretty poor but I did capture the mysterious smoke that appeared as they all clustered in the centre of one of the main thoroughfares. It looks more dramatic than I think it was. The police were already around and everyone dispersed very quickly.

I got an email this morning from NowPublic, a public news service that uses stories and footage from non news sources. My bad photo has been published by them (on my permission) to accompany a story about the CPE and riots in Paris.

Things clearly were a little more volatile in the French capital.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Pill Popping

My new morning ritual is to stand in the kitchen and slowly count out an array of tablets whilst I wait for my coffee to brew.

Frog stood watching me and exclaimed, "Ahhh, now you're becoming a real French woman".

The French take more medicines than anyone else on earth. To be fair the larger part of the tablets are vitamins and supplements. These are a combination of wedding vanity (please will my nails stop breaking!) and trying to promote joint health without resorting to aggressive anti-inflammatories every day.

I now know my way blindfolded around the local medical centre and they say hello to me in the pharmacy. My physiotherapist is now 'tutoying' me* (as is my hairdresser but that's more an intimacy that he obviously feels has been created by his far more regular and original client, my gossiping mother-in-law to be).

As much as my back's health is a source of frustration it has proved to be my first real recce into the local community.

* Read her explanation about this French formality rule...

Monday, March 13, 2006


I'm feeling rather pleased with myself. I have not only survived the journée de préparation au mariage with the priest but I rather enjoyed it!

Frog and I trooped off to the new parish centre at 10 am yesterday. Frog and been sent to buy a baguette and we had a carrier bag with food that I'd been cooking till midnight the night before. The invitation had said that we needed to bring something savoury and something sweet to share as a picnic with the other young couples who would be gathering to spend the day together.

My first fear had been that during this day with the Catholic priest, older married couples from the church and other engaged couples, I would stick out as the non-Catholic (and foreigner). My second fear was that we would have to bear our souls about our faith and our relationships. My final fear was that I was going to have to do all of this in French.

So. Working backwards ... I am extremely proud of overcoming my final fear. I spoke in French all day, I participated fully (and as Frog said, 'If you spoke that much in French, I can only be glad that it wasn't in English. You'd have never shut up'). It helped that we were a smallish group of seven young couples and two older married couples. The only time I really found difficult was right at the end, when we were asked to sum up our thoughts on the day. This meant I had to, on the spot, pull together some fairly complicated thoughts into French. I don't think I've gone so red in the face since my A-Level French oral exams.

Second fear - that we would have to bear our souls. Well, yes ... compared to stories of fairly muted preparation days in the UK (both Anglican and Catholic) we did have to talk about how we met, explore our fears and worries about the endurance of marriage. But that was okay, and even Frog 'fessed up. The matter of our personal faith was left very relaxed - the line given was 'we are all on our own separate paths, some in different places than others'. The role and importance of the Christian church in our marriage was discussed - and that is something Frog and I already knew we were both in agreement about.


So, finally, I wasn't the only non-Catholic. There was another Protestant, originally from Strasbourg who confessed that he was also terrified about a day with Catholic doctrine. And I wasn't the only foreigner. There was a Lebanese guy and a woman who was half American, half French and had only moved to France, from her life in Connecticut, when she was 20 years old.

We finished up by going to the evening Mass and then almost all of us went for a drink afterwards. There I discovered there are others who are new to Reims and don't know many people (of the whole group only Frog and one other guy were originally Rémois, the other, an arrogant lawyer type, of whom I may write a story another day when I'm feeling a little evil again).

So, we're all meeting up again next Sunday evening at Mass.

Who would have thought it, eh?

And finally - my chicken dish was the hit of the picnic. Thanks to Nigel, I overturned at least one stereotype about the English!

Friday, March 10, 2006


"The Greyhound"
Originally uploaded by oiseau.

I'm so very excited this afternoon. I got the call on Monday. The call to say my dress has arrived and when did I want to schedule my first fitting?

As soon as possible! I almost screamed back at the poor lady.

A, usually curvy, friend told me that she lost so much weight that by the morning of the wedding, as she slipped her lingerie on, she felt svelte like a 'whippet'.

Well, it's fair to say that won't be me!

So, off I'll toddle this afternoon to the boutique where I expect the lovely mesdames will, in equal measure, tut and coo at me.

The thing is, I think I've put weight on since I ordered the dress. I never wanted to lose much weight for the wedding. I am what I am and fairly happy with what I've got (and that state took some years to achieve!). If I lose weight now, it'll come off my face and then my features gets big and pointy. Which is no good.

So I thought I'd planned to exercise and tone instead. But my back had other plans... and then it got cold in North-Eastern France... and insulation was needed. You see where this is going?

So, I guess I've got to start being sensible for the next couple of months. I'll begin to cut out the sugary stuff and the butter that I love.

I didn't think I'd turn into this kind of bride - but I am sooo excited. The veil, shoes and necklace are ready in a bag by the door and I'm clockwatching till the big hand reaches the 11 and the little hand reaches the five... and then I'll tear around the corner, down the straight to the shop.

Monday, March 06, 2006


This time five years ago, I remember lying out across the bed, digging into an especially bought tub of Ben & Jerry's and watching the Oscars from start to finish. I had just arrived in New York and was installed in a small, temporary corporate apartment up on 82nd and Amsterdam. This was America and it didn't matter (yet) that I had no friends, I was watching the Oscars in civillised hours from my bedroom.

Frog and I love films. At the moment all conversations that touch on work or families are best avoided, and you simply cannot talk 100% of the time about the wedding - without risking going completely bananas - so more likely than not we end up either watching or talking about films.

I often forget that Frog is... a Frog... but during moments like last night's dinner the pure and utter Frenchness of the man jumps up and smacks me in the face. We'd been to see Syriana on Friday and Frog began to warm to his topic: "George Clooney is a hypocrite for becoming rich and famous in America and then turning to attack the leaders of his country". A quite rubbish premise but he was intent on following this line in argument with me.

As I sat, laughing and countering him to pull apart all attempts he made to prove his point, I suddenly saw the French in the Frenchman. Like a guest on the myriad of TV shows that broadcast every evening in this country, he was debating for pleasure, as if sat around the table with other celebrities discussing tonight's theme. He had found his flow and was thoroughly enjoying the sound of his voice and the exercise of working through an argument.

Naturally his point was rubbish and (I think) I won with 'political art is an important part of any culture; a country is served best when freedom is given to artists at the highest level to criticise a country's leadership'. But I don't think he really cared about the point - more the pleasure of debating.

Besides, I think we have just earnt our own little Oscar. We registered our dossier at the Mairie this morning and the publication of the banns will be made next week. 132 euros of production costs, services provided by the British Consulate, Official Translators, UK Birth Registry and photocopiers across the regions. The leading actor and actress will be accompanied by their supporting artists on 10am on Friday 19th May to accept the award. The award party will be held the following day.

So, I'll be working on my acceptance speech then...

Sunday, March 05, 2006

Temper, Temper

I found myself last night reverting to behaviour that, upon reflection this morning, takes me right back to my childhood.

We'd had a good Saturday. The honeymoon, now into extended saga status, has been requoted. We're going to give the disease carrying mozzies in the Indian Occean a miss and head out to Quebec to spend two weeks driving around the rivers, fjords and lakes. We've swapped beaches and tropical volcanos for cool, bleak landscapes and whale watching.

Second stop of the day was to the jeweller to choose our wedding bands. Frog has never worn jewellery, so seeing a ring on his finger was a totally new experience for him. He took a liking to one plain design and we agreed on the inscriptions to be engraved inside. Mine in French, his in English - a simple date so that there is no excuse of forgetting our future anniversaries.

And then it all went a little pear shaped. The argument was nothing wedding related. More an issue of a suddenly remembered piece of correspondance from the lovely French tax office that had been sat in the bottom of a bag for months and now had hefty fines attached to it.

Given our French/Anglo combination, and the imagined stereotypes, it's actually me who displays the hot headedness. I have written about these convictions before. (Although I have been assured that this streak of hot temper runs through both sides of my family.)

So, I lost my temper last night. Objects that were never designed to be projectile were suddenly launched across the table. I don't think it was just the forgotten missive but a combination of different stresses that have been rising over the last week from various sources.

And as the pieces landed and I had said what I wanted to 'say', I took myself off to the bedroom, slammed the door behind me and opened my book.

We still, politely, made it to the cinema last night. It's only this morning, as the full final apologies were made on both sides, that I realised - this is exactly what I used to do. There was always a moment when I realised that lines had been crossed, before Mum could respond and I would place my hands to cover my backside and announce, "I'm going to my room".

Do we ever grow up?

Friday, March 03, 2006


It feels rather odd planning a warm (I'm being the optimist) May wedding when you look outside your window and this is what stares back:

The florist's estimate, crammed full of roses and peonies, has been agreed; my sister's pretty tea dress has been chosen; I've ordered white and floral bunting to decorate the courtyard and the music for the service of blessing just needs to be approved by the priest. A lovely friend is sending selected tunes, for our approval, that will play in the background whilst our guests sip champagne before dinner and dancing; overseas friends and family are all booking up travel and flights and I'm a regular visitor at the Post Office, sending off another photocopied map or railway timetable.

So, as I look outside the window today, I'm trying to imagine myself back to the time when this was more like the view:

Roll on spring!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Over and Out

Okay. I give up.

I'm going to take a break again from this.

The wedding planning is going fine but I'm struggling with other stuff at the moment and need to focus on working out what I'm currently calling my "coping strategy".

The good news is that the ongoing back pain has been diagnosed. The bad news is that it's arthritis in my damaged lower discs. More scans and visits to the rhumatologists will continue in the coming weeks. There's nothing nice about being told you have the spine of someone several decades older than your actual age. When I read the leaflets and advice on diet, exercise and managing I see images of grey haired pensioners and have to remind myself I'm really a youthful 32 years old.

I still (just about) have a job but am going through the joys of job searching and applications as the monthly contract renewals are about to finally run out. Anyone need an experienced international marketeer, specialising in shampoos, soaps, washing powder, teas and sauces? Based in North East France, will travel for S'Miles and Frequent Flyer Points.

The weather in Reims continues to be grey, damp and dark. You see where my mood is going with this?!

I'll be back. Just give me time, a large packet of anti-inflammatories and a little motivation.

Saturday, February 04, 2006


This morning I was rudely awaken by the alarm at 8am. The reason for the alarm on a Saturday was that we had an important appointment at the family doctors.

Part of the marriage dossier, that has to be handed into the Mairie, includes a Prenuptial Medical Certificate. In the long list of things demanded from the State, this is probably the closest I have ever come to the State being involved in my personal affairs. But this is France and France is the State.*

Once I'd got over the 'not another bloody document' gut reaction, I realised that this is probably a good system. Identify a moment in your citizens' lives to ensure that they have a health MOT. The doctor gives a general physical check (blood pressure, respiration, heart, general ailments), a look to see if you're up to date on your immunisations, a check on your blood type and the voluntary opportunity to take an HIV test.

The only reason I think this is a good thing is because the State doesn't get to see the results and neither does your partner, unless you choose to tell him/her. It's a personal check up. The doctor signs a form to say you've been through the procedure and that is what is handed to the Mairie (along with a gazillion other pieces of legal documentation).

I ended up with a couple of test tubes worth of blood extracted from my arm . Much to Frog's annoyance, I have no idea what my blood type is(he is 'special' as a type that is shared with only 1% of the French nation). His annoyance was because we couldn't get the forms signed today as we have to return for my blood type result. The doctor will then advise us if there are any issues on our type compatibility for future children and sign the certificate.

There's a great line in the series Lost when during an 'emergency in the middle of the jungle blood transfusion', they are looking for people with matching blood types. Whilst all around, American characters are offering up their blood types, including the half-dead guy on the floor, the British character Charlie panics "I have no idea, I'm English. We don't know our blood types".

According to my Mum - the source of all sensible knowledge - the theory in the UK is that if we were to find out our blood types when we're young, some might quickly discern that they are not necessarily related to their parents, due to impossible inherited blood type combinations.

So, in 7 - 10 days I will find out. It's quite exciting really. I could make jokes about discovering the hidden truth, that I'm not related to part of my family. But I won't as my sister might get upset. I'm just thinking them very loudly!

*I highly recommend a book called 60 Million Frenchmen Can't Be Wrong (Why We Love France But Hate the French), written by two Canadian sociologists. It brilliantly and vividly explains the French psyche.

Thursday, February 02, 2006


Sometimes when the weather is this crap (the last day has given us sub-zero, grey, freezing fog, sleet and snow) I like to think about white sandy beaches, turquoise seas, sarongs, and a stack of books to read whilst relaxing on a soft towel.

Well, it so happens that as I was watching the snow start to fall outside the windows of the travel agency, we were in the process of booking our honeymoon.

The honeymoon planning has been a long saga. It was my responsibility but everytime I discussed options with Frog it swung towards another idea, from Croatia to Ibiza, Crete to Morocco. (If anyone wants them I have prepared excel sheets full of itineries and hotel quotes ready to go!)

Yet, despite the charming little places I found, we still couldn't decide on where to go with my Air France Air Miles. Free flights, access to beach and warm Mediterannean sun. Sounds easy? I know.

In the end, I started to pick up the (oh so subtle) signs that Frog was interested in going further afield. And shock! Might pay the extra. Anyone who knows a management accountant might appreciate the rarity of this act.

The outcome of this (and yes, I jumped into action fast!) is that as of 10:30am this morning, we have a 10 days trip to La Réunion booked, deposit paid and now just a bikini to buy!

For someone who lied through her teeth that "a couple of rainy days in Normandy would be fine, just so long as we get away after the wedding", this is paradise indeed.

If I sound smug, it's because I am smug!

There is, however, a postscript to this smugness. When the travel agent offered us the insurance, including cancellation coverage, Frog suddenly got very interested. What would that cover for reasons for cancellation? Would it have to be something very official to get the insurance to reimburse the costs?

I immediately started to panic. Is he getting cold feet about the wedding? Is this the moment where he's suddenly realised the impact of marriage and he's looking to see what his back out plan might be?

It's only once we were outside that he turned to me, white-faced, and confessed...

... he hadn't asked for the time off work from his parents and was worried his Mum was going to freak out about him disappearing for 10 days.

Honestly. Family, bloody businesses.

The post postscript, is that this afternoon he called to say his Mum is fine with the time and us taking a honeymoon straight away.

Breathe in. Breathe out.