Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Introducing The New Man in my Life

Meet Gabriel! He's got all the makings of a grumpy Frenchman and he's adorable and all mine (well, okay the Frog has something to do with him as well!). He was born on the 19th October at 00:31 and he truly blessed me by giving me a very easy labour - my waters broke at 18:30, I still had no contractions at 19:30 whilst being monitored at the clinic. Things then moved very fast and he sped his way out just a few hours later.

Despite the fact he was 3 and a half weeks early he weighed in at a healthy 7lbs/3,2kgs and 51 cms/20 inches. He even timed his arrival to coincide with my Mum's planned trip to keep me company in my last weeks of pregnancy - one way to make Grandma extra happy!

We got home 5 nights later and since then I've been living a blur of sleepless nights, alternated by'good' nights, alternated by sleepless nights. And of course it's all worthwhile (just don't expect me to say that after he's pulled another nuit blanche).

Things I have learnt:

  • I can now fall asleep anytime, anywhere when I get more than 2 minutes quiet

  • Little baby boys like to spray pee whilst they get their nappies changed

  • The washing machine is my new best friend

  • I might have been able to get back into my jeans a week later after the birth but if I continue to eat like a pig I will grow out of them again

  • Breastfeeding pads make great coasters

  • Grey's Anatomy Seasons 1,2 and 3 are the only way to stay sane during night feeds

  • I'm not one of those mother's who can interpret her baby's cries - they're all loud and screamy

  • I have to learn to accept that my flat will never be tidy agan to the level I like

  • Frog won't admit it (for fear of the consequences in increased requests) but he's an excellent nappy changer

  • Lentils, avocados and merguez sausages are off the menu because of their disastrous chemical effect on the next nappy change

I feel a bit naughty writing this post because I have so many people to contact and thank for their messages and gifts that have arrived in the last 3 weeks. But I also felt guilty for not updating the blog!

So, not sure when I'll post again - I hope to get into a bit more of a routine at some point but have yet to progress to multi-tasking!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

I'm Ready For My Close Up

I know, it's been over a month and I've become a rubbish blogger again. I could list a litany of reasons that have kept me from my blog, ranging from the good (2 weeks holiday) to the slime (France Telecom).
I'm counting down the last three weeks of air travel to Hamburg before I'm grounded and am rather caught up in a lot of work that needs to be done before the end of the month.
The good news is that Frodo (pictured left on July 13th at the beginning of his 6th month) is doing very well. He kicks a lot and is well within the norms (which means he can't possible be related to Frog or myself). Meanwhile, I've recently been put on a sugar and fruit free diet as a precaution since my blood(y) sugar levels were slightly elevated and the kilos had been piling on. Luckily, the doctor's instructions came after my ice cream heavy holiday so it's just Frog and colleagues who have to put up with my sugar craving headaches now.
Anyway, back to the powerpoint writing. I'll be more active in a couple of weeks - I promise!

Monday, July 02, 2007


I can't say I miss drinking a huge amount. When Frog has been at various dégustations I have taken the odd surreptitious sip (you can't say no to trying Mumm's Blanc de Blancs) but that suffices as I move back to the fruit juice.

However, this weekend we went to a wedding in the countryside just outside Troyes in the Aube. It's only an hour and a half drive further south, and in the extreme of the Champagne Ardennes, but we felt the change in the temperature by a couple of degrees and felt like we were in another region.

The wedding was in a beautiful little church and was the most chaotic service I've ever experienced. After the sortie (which was never an official end to the service, more like get up when you're bored with what the priest is saying about the signing of the registers), everyone piled back to the bride's family house. And what a house. It was a huge old redbrick pile in the grounds of an old mill, complete with river, weir, 'beach' and magnificent garden. The garden and marquee were decked out for a '1001 Nights' style and we ate couscous, tagines, salads and sweet pastries.

So, to the booze. The champagne was served (the Aube is part of the Champagne AOC and known for its Pinot Noir) which was no great loss to me as I took the mint tea. Then we sat down for dinner and I spotted the magnum bottles of Pomerol 1975 on every table. Very unfair. I took a sip from Frog and even he (who's not a red fan) quaffed away happily all night.

I did, however, feel slightly virtuous the next day when Frog emerged having spent most of the night being ill after over indulgence in food and drink. Yes, I felt a little smug!

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Sweet Tip

I was in Paris yesterday for some meetings. I had completely forgotten that it was the first day of the sales, so my 'quick dash' to Haussmann, to look for a jacket that fits, turned into a Parisian bargain hunter nightmare. There is no comparison to the craziness of Paris Sales.

So, empty handed, feet aching, I headed back to Gare de l'Est to get the train home (45 mins on the TGV, woo-hoo!). Whilst on the métro I remembered that between Gare du Nord and Gare de l'Est ( a 5 min cut through by foot) I had often passed an Indian Sweet shop. Never having had the time to stop before, this time I got off the métro early at Gare du Nord.

I went inside and selected several (alright, eight) different sweets to go into a box and a couple of vegetable samosas in a paper bag. The shop specialises in Pakistani/Indian sweets and whilst there wasn't the range of the Bangladeshi sweets I used to buy when I lived on Brick Lane in London, it was full of Indian/Pakistanis so I figured that had to be a good sign. What I tasted when I got home were wonderful. Juicy Gulab Jamans and Carrot Halwa, so sweet they make your teeth ache. The samosas were finished before I got on the train! A great new find. I wish they'd start supplying our dodgy Indian restaurants in Reims who, conversely, have the worst samosas I've ever experienced.

Bhai Bhai Sweets
4, rue de Deux Gares
75010 Paris

Tuesday, June 26, 2007


The last week has been a bit of a blur. Within the space of five nights, I'd stayed in three different hotels in different countries. All rather lovely hotels, so I'm not complaining there and we had a great weekend in Amsterdam for a surprise birthday party. Frog and I splashed out on a fancy shmancy hotel and lived the high life for a couple of nights.

Yesterday, this lovely lady came for the afternoon, so that was like another mini-holiday showing the sights. And then today I had to get back down to some work.

I had a little break later this afternoon for my five month check up at the doctors. Apart from the fact that my doctor has the limpest hand shake I've ever experienced, I really like her. She's gentle but a little 'business like' at times but I prefer that and to be honest needed it with the miscarriages last year.

So, this time, for the first time I headed off without Frog for my check up. "Did I tell you the sex last time?", she asked. "Yes, you said you were 90% sure that it was a girl". Frog had been a little disappointed as he was hoping for a little boy to play football with. However, he'd been on the phone to his best mate in Lyon who had a baby girl last year who raved about being the 'hero dad' to his little girl.

"Ahh, well I hope you haven't put the wallpaper up yet - because it's a boy. Definitely a boy."

I actually feel a little thrown by this! We had a lovely girl's name all picked out and I've been referring to "she" who kicks a lot at the moment. It's all the same to me in the end - I'm happy if it's healthy - but I don't know a thing about little boys. We were all girls in my family!! I know girls get sulky and tantrummy and are supposed to be harder. But I consider myself an expert on 'little madam' type behaviour!

So, it's now on with the thinking caps for a boys name that works in English and French. I'm going to have to spend the next day or so adjusting!

Friday, June 22, 2007

Champagne Roses

I'm currently in Hamburg before flying off for a weekend away with Frog. We're treating ourselves to a fancy hotel in a European city - of which more next week.

I'd thought I'd just post a quick link to a few photos that I took a couple of weeks ago. Veuve Clicquot had an open weekend at their Manoir in Verzy. It's not their main house (which is situated in Reims) but in a village about fifteen minutes south of the city. I imagine LVMH (who own Veuve) use the house for corporate events and trainings.

However, they have a stunning rose garden in the grounds which was opened for the unwashed public for one weekend only. I just took a few photos and I'm not a great rose or gardening expert (unlike some who were there) but it was a pleasant afternoon out.

The set of photos can be seen here.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Saturday Night's Alright...

We were expecting friends round for drinks last night. Frog called during the day to invite them over for an apéro before heading somewhere for dinner together.

Since Frog caught the husband on his own, he said he'd call back to confirm after he'd spoken to his wife but yes, he said, that sounded like a great plan.

So, 7:30pm still no call... we watched the clock and as my hunger level rose so did my impatience. I stomped a little in the kitchen and grilled a couple of chops to eat with some roasted veg that I'd cooked the night before.

By now it was 9pm and Frog and I found ourselves installed at the window that overlooks one of the city's main streets. We caught ourselves acting like an old couple as we people watched and passed judgement on those who passed below our flat. It was quickly decided that this kind of behaviour couldn't continue whilst we were still carefree (read baby free) and young(ish).

We quickly left the flat and headed to our favourite hotel bar, the only place in Reims where you can pretend that you're an international jet setter and sip cocktails.
Me: The waitress thought the champagne one was for me. She must just think I'm fat.
Frog: You've been in France too long. You're starting to sound like a French woman.
Me: You think French women have the monopoly on insecurities?
Frog: Well, English women don't care what they look like.
Me: You really want to continue this conversation?
Frog: Ummm... No..... So, what do you think would be best. Being a famous international sports star or musician?

And so the coconut and mango cocktail didn't leave me giddy but we ended up having a fun evening that didn't revolve around discussing work, babies or family. In fact I think date night might need to become a more regular occurance over the next few months.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

The Not So Domestic Goddess

Frog came home yesterday with a couple of kilos of cherries from our plumber (and Frog Father friend). I do now see some sense in the guest list I was dead armed into agreeing for the wedding when they have fruit trees that they like to donate the harvest of.

So, having stoned a good kilo of them, the kitchen looks like someone has been stabbed and I have just put a clafoutis into the oven. I've never made calfoutis before but I like to bake once a week and they're s'posed to be easy. I say "I like to" because it's far from a strict rule and more to do with when the mood takes me.

I haven't had a major culinary disaster. Even the chocolate fondant cake which broke could be cut into mini cakes using a biscuit cutter. That is until Sunday. On Sunday I got together the ingredients for a Lemon and Poppyseed Cake that I'd seen in Good Housekeeping magazine. (Yes, I'm getting old). I had looked for poppyseeds in Carrefour that weekend and not found any but had been pleasantly surprised when home and digging in the herbs and spice cupboard to find a clear, unlabelled jar of seeds. I smelt them. No odour. "Great", thought I. "I must have bought them for a recipe a while ago".

So, I made the lemon cake mixture, then added the seeds that had been soaked in milk for an hour. Before I poured the golden mixture into cake tin I took a sneaky fingerful. I'm not supposed to eat raw eggs but a fingerful doesn't count. It tasted lemony but there was a rather odd aftertaste. I took another fingerful.

With a groan, I identified the intrusive taste. Mustard. I had added mustard seeds to the cake mixture. What a waste, as I poured away the four eggs, cream, sugar, lemon and mustard into the bin. Frog thought it pretty funny. Personally, I think it would have been more amusing if I'd baked it and only once he, being piggy and as usual sneaking a slice before it's ready, had tasted it have discovered the truth.

Now, she puts me to shame!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Gender Politics

This evening we were watching the first results from the elections when I felt the little one moving.
Oiseau: Ooohh, moving about again...
Frog: Maybe she's* interested in politics
Oiseau: French politics? I don't think so
Frog: You know she's half French
Oiseau: No, whilst the baby's still inside me possession is 9/10ths of the law. Until the day it decides to make a break for freedom there is no claim to be made.
Frog: Ummmm...... ok

* At the last scan the doctor said she's 90% sure that it's a girl but will confirm next month. Strangely, despite being the only one of us with a preference for a boy (I don't mind either way as long it arrives healthy!) Frog is the one who now talks about the "girl", "she" whereas I'm still rather neutral on the "it".

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Have you guessed yet?

Today is a huge relief for me. I can finally share the news that I'm expecting a little mini-Oiseau/Froglet in November!

Not only did I have to keep my mouth and thoughts shut for the first three months, until we'd reached a safe confirmation from the doctor but I had also recently started a maternity cover freelance job. So, a rather embrassing conversation with my, surprisingly understanding, director meant that I had to sit on the news for a while longer so that my other colleagues kept a credible opinion of me for as long as possible!

However, at 18 weeks and 3 days the little (not so neat) bump, who has started to kick, is becoming obvious and I have begun to announce the news to the rest of my colleagues.
I'll keep on working for as long as possible, travelling until the beginning of September, then working from home until B-Day when it's a whole new world for Frog and me.

I can't explain what an odd double life I've been living and how exciting it is to get used to talking about the news. I don't want to become a pregnancy bore but I fear that once I start now, you might never get me to shut up!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Backwards Association

Hamburg - Tired - Big Bed - Book Room Service Breakfast - Banana Bread Baking - Greedy - Frog - Weekend - Mumm Tastings - Rose Gardens - Veuve Clicquot - Lawn - Red Beetle - Sore Feet - Sandwiches on Bench - Open Day TGV Station - Disappointing Timetables - Drive - Le Gaulois - Vittel Grenadine - Sunshine - Library Books - DVDs - Home made Lemon Chicken Couscous - Try New Restaurant - Disappointed - Procrastination - Long Distance Calls to Germany - Budget Sheets - Corrections - Powerpoint - Procrastination - Doctor's Appointment - Clicky Jaw - Laundry - VAT Returns - Moan about Sweaty Squash Kit on Floor - Work Lists - Shopping Research - Budget Sheets - Weekly To Do List - Sleep - Hot Chocolate with Nutmeg - Space NK Bath Oil - Frog at Door - Raining - Taxi - Baggage Claim - Rush to Loo - Scramble to get off Plane - Delays - Tchuss

Monday, May 28, 2007

Typical Weekend

Although I spend half my working time in Hamburg, I do (usually) get to have a three or four day weekend on my return before plugging away on projects at home for another few days, before returning.

I find I'm getting really stressed on the journeys and am trying to locate my more 'zen' atttitude. I'm not sure I've ever found my inner peace but if I don't soon I'm likely to take out one of my fellow passengers or Air France staff in the frustration that I feel mounting every time there's another delay or another group of pushy, selfish business travellers or Air France dealing in its usual lack of understanding of the meaning of customer service and rewarding loyalty.

Rant over.

So, this weekend we managed a pretty normal, relaxing pace at home. I'd had a day to unwind from the six hour journey home. On Friday evening we agreed that we'd head out to eat that evening. The beginnings of a storm were threatening and we knew that we should decide where we were going in advance, rather than our usual meandering and discussion before ending up at a usual place. However, we ended up being incapable of making a decision and did our usual meandering, our pace only quickening when large drops started to slowly fall.

Frog remarked that "as usual I had got my own way" as we entered the Medina, a new restaurant for us to try, that serves couscous and tagines in a tented Moroccan decoration. I'd like to point out that I very rarely get my way with the Frog, who is probably more stubborn than I am. And of course nothing makes him happier than a plate of merguez, so of course I had his best interest at heart from the beginning.

One glass of champagne, one bottle of Vitttel, two enormous couscous, finished up with a plate of dates and sweets accompanied by mint tea and a Chocolate Liégois for Frog, we were presented with a very reasonable bill. We had noticed a couple at the neighbouring table, Frog had recognised the woman from one of the church dinners this year and from the overheard chat, they seemed to be on a date. Frog managed to put his foot in it by telling her, "Well I wouldn't have recognised you except by your voice, because you're wearing so much make up tonight". A swift kick under the table from me and tight smile from the woman and Frog began to realise he'd said something wrong. Her retort was more pointed in my direction that she, "remembered the young English wife who had given up everything to follow her husband and live in Reims". As Frog (pat on the back) said, "I'm not sure that's entirely true, since that would rather elevate my importance". All of course said with perfect French politeness and smiles. Nevertheless, the conversation stopped there and the couple turned their backs as far as is possible on an small, adjaecent table.

The storm hit Reims, with a short blackout and (unlike other parts of the region) no hail stones to damage the young grapes and we hurried home.

It's not unusual for us to have visitors at the village, usually Anglo Saxons on a weekend. They mostly come through word of mouth to visit the premises and enjoy a tasting. This weekend there was a small group of Kiwis visiting from London.

I usually drive over to the village with Frog and do the initial welcome. Then I leave Frog to do the tour of the vines and production whilst I set up for the tasting (alright, I read the newspaper and have a coffee in the kitchen). Frog absolutely loves this part of his job. He's far better at the small talk than I am and is a great host. I can see him getting his fix of "outside contact" when chatting with visitors and finding out about their lives in London, their travels and sharing his knowledge of the wines. He adores his job in the village and the new challenges but I can see that the visitors bring a refreshing change from the politics and chores of a traditional family business in the region.

Once we'd waved the visitors goodbye, we headed off to Carrefour for a dodgy Flunch lunch and did our bi-weekly stock up. Coming home, I unpacked the shopping and Frog went for a game of squash with a friend. I have mastered the art of 'pootling' around the flat, which I did for a couple of hours till Frog returned and we installed ourselves on the sofa with a home made steak sandwich, salad and strawberries.

Sunday was a perfect example of 'doing nothing' for me. Frog made it to the gym, I stayed in my pyjamas until 3pm when we went for a stroll around the park and installed ourselves in a café for an hour or so, reading magazines before walking home and plonking ourselves on the sofa for the evening.

So, if we had a standard weekend in Reims, that's how it would look.

Monday, May 21, 2007

One Year On

It was our first wedding anniversary this weekend. We went out for dinner on Saturday night but were happy to end the evening on the sofa watching Life On Mars. Old farts that we are!
As Frog says, the Anglo Saxons really do love their greeting cards. So whilst we had nothing from our French 'side', we got five cards from the British family and friends. Mum sent over a framed WW1 postcard of Reims cathedral in flames (like she said, don't read anything into it!) and we finally got to open a huge box that had been waiting for a year in the office.

Inside we found:
  • Copies of the local newspaper L'union and the International Herald Tribune from May 20th 2006

  • Drink Me: A bottle of prosecco

  • Use Me: Two beautifully designed flutes

  • Develop Me: A disposable camera to be developed from the wedding weekend

  • Remember Me: A 2006 World Cup calendar

My fab friends Gaby and Ralf had given the box to us on the day following our wedding. I think it's one of the best gifts I've ever had! (Gaby was the office manager and Ralf my first ever boss - although he passed me onto someone else after 24 hours! - when I arrived in London ten years ago).

Frog bought me a beautiful bunch of red roses that were identical to the ones he gave me when he proposed.

It's been quite a year. A brilliant honeymoon, my search for freelance work, two miscarriages, our first time 'hosting' Christmas, Frog has been adjusting to becoming more embroiled in the family business and now I head off to Hamburg every two weeks for work. Ups and some fairly low downs but when we look at it on balance it's been wonderful. And just watch this space, things will be changing again around here, for sure.

Friday, May 18, 2007


I spent the last two nights on a flying visit to London with Frog. One of his importers had invited him to attend a tasting he'd organised with a select group of small winemakers from around the world attending. The first evening was a private event in a swanky private club in Mayfair. We'd arrived directly from the ferry and did the quick freshen up and change in the loo thing (yes, very glamorous). The second evening was a public event held in the basement of a bar/restaurant next to the Barbican.

I have to say Tuesday evening was more engaging in terms of tastings - it was a fairly wealthy group who had paid to be there and were really interested in the champagnes. It's not really work for me because it's talking about something that's not my day to day business but that I appreciate and can sound fairly knowledgeable on now. The 'punters' enjoy it because they get to meet the winemaker in person rather than some big house label bought from Tescos (or more likely Waitrose in these cases!).

The second evening was quieter in terms of attendance except for when about sixteen of Frog and my friends turned up! The only reason we got through more bottles that night was because we were enjoying a coupe with our mates. I got to catch up with my sister, and seven other friends, some of whom I hadn't seen since the wedding. A couple of Frog's friends arrived a little early to announce their engagement, which of course meant another few coupes in celebration! Frog's friends also included a group of ex-colleagues using the event as a sort of reunion. Some of those he hadn't seen since he left London six years ago. I think they were rather shocked to hear his once well balanced London accent having mutated into a more traditional French bloke's tone that the last few years have given him.

Yesterday morning was spent shopping in M&S for some 'essentials'. Unfortunately, I left my bank card behind when paying which will mean hassle and admin today in ordering a new one from my local bank. I also met my best friend from school and her 6 month old, who does nothing but smile and gurgle, for lunch in a shockingly modernised Spitalfields (what happened to the grunge??).

So, we're home now. I'm pretty shattered to tell the truth but working in my pyjamas whilst the Germans are on holiday for the day, I might get to catch up on some work.

Sunday, May 13, 2007


After an entire working week in a hotel room in Hamburg it's good to be home. Not that we've really stopped since I got back!

I arrived Friday evening at Charles de Gaulle airport and instead of heading to Reims, took a taxi into the suburbs of Paris. Frog had been making deliveries all day in the city and we were meeting up at a friend, David''s, flat for dinner. A group of eight of us ate and chatted and I found it a little bizarre going from a week of German and English (alright, I'm not speaking much German but that's the aural surroundings) to an evening of fast, colloquial French. I managed to keep up until about half past midnight. After toasting the arrival of Frog's birthday, I left the others and fell into a donated bed.

Back to Reims on Saturday morning, last night we took off for Frog's birthday gift. I was buying dinner at the Assiette Champenoise, a two star Michelin restaurant and hotel, which is just outside the city centre. The suburb it's situated in is pretty grotty which makes it all the more surprising to turn into a classical, beautiful setting, away from the street lined with dark, smokey bars (where Father Frog likes to meet his mates every morning for a café).

Frog took the large tasting menu accompanied by glasses of a Krug cuvée and I selected a couple of the à la carte items. I'd been worried that I would be hungry watching Frog work his way through the enormous menu. No fear of that. The servings were copius for this type of establishment and the morsels that came 'between courses' included a pre-dessert table including smallsticks of candy floss (how could I resist?), mini chocolate eclairs, peach flavoured marshmallow, peanut brittle and more...

We left holding our stomachs and were handed a small bag containing a loaf of bread for this morning's breakfast. Since it's already 10am, I'm still full from last night and soon heading out for lunch to celebrate Father Frog's 60th birthday, I might have to freeze the loaf for a day when we'll appreciate it!

Much to Frog's discomfort I worked out why both he, his father and sister's birthdays all fall within one day of each other. Nine months back is August, traditionally the only month (in addition to a quiet February) when the wine makers have time on their hands. Seems that's one another local tradition that we'll have to watch out for!

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The Great Debate

Well last night was the much hyped TV debate between Ségolène Royale and Nicolas Sarkozy.

It's a slightly odd feeling when there is so much riding on the presidential candidate and I am no longer an expatriate 'passing through'. As an travailleur indépendent (self employed) who hands over nearly 75% of income to the government in either cotisations (fees) or taxes, I have as much to win or lose as any other French person and yet I have no voice.

So, that means that Frog gets it in the ear!

A few things I have noted:

  • The popular press refers to Ségolène by her first name and 'Sarko' by his surname.
  • Last night's debate reminded me of occasions I have experienced at my family-in-law's. It begins courteously and then as the discussions progress the sniping begins until voices start to rise and it descends into full on verbal aggression. Doesn't sit so well with my passive aggressive tendencies and at times I found last night's debate quite stressful!
  • Whilst Frog and I agree on the economic policies required for this country, I'm a little more left leaning when it comes to social and welfare policies.
  • Frog was quite scared when he saw the results of the first round in his family village:

    1. Sarkozy (160 votes); 2. JM Le Penn (65 votes); 3. F Bayrou (50 votes) and 4. S Royal (47 votes).

    So despite Le Pen's national downfall, this village apparently still stays faithful. Which is odd because what I understood as so often the source of tensions don't exist here - although it's a conservative rural village, it's also one with a relatively wealthy profile since people either own vines or have a regular income working the vines or servicing in some way the industry. And I'm pretty sure there's 100% non-ethnic diversity.
  • What's also strange in a small village is that you see the exact numbers i.e. only 47 people voted for Royal and I'm sure that I know two of them. In fact I suspect the Frog Family are split 50/50 in their support between the two final candidates. At least we can claim that none of the Le Pen voters were from his family...

Perhaps in the end there's a slight relief that I can't vote since I do find that my left/right; social/economic conscience are split down the middle.

Oh and the debate? I fell asleep and missed the one most explosive moment....

Monday, April 30, 2007

Sunny Climes

The north east of France has been hit by the unseasonally warm weather. For nearly three weeks now we've had days that have hit upwards of 28°C in the afternoon and no rain. Whilst I'm happy to sport my tanned décolletage, now that our income depends on something more fundamental than the whims of a consumer's shopping habits, you start to watch the weather a little closer.

Despite all the technological advances of recent years, the results of the harvest will come down to the pure force of nature. The lack of rain isn't a concern for the moment, given that the previous months were wetter than usual. However, the vines are now a month ahead of themselves in growth and drought or a change in the temperature bringing a late frost is still a worry. The chance of frost isn't discounted until mid-May.

I don't remember the technical term (and Frog left the photo in the village otherwise I'd have shown you) but the very young grape forms have already appeared on the vines. Similarly, the cherries in the garden have also shot out in the form of little green balls. At this rate they'll be harvesting the grapes in August.

Because of the long dry spell, the treatment of the vines had been postponed until after the first rains. The village did have a brief shower on Saturday which meant that Frog spent part of his Sunday preparing the tanks so that the workers could go straight out to the vines at 8am on Monday (today). Tomorrow is a holiday so it was a race against time to treat as many vines as possible before the end of the day. Father Frog is on holiday and this is the first time Frog has had to to this - I think it's been a busy day - learning on the job as the tractor broke down and a neighbour's had to be begged/borrowed for the afternoon. Luckily, they have a good relationship with other vinegrowers in the village and a young, experienced worker, Benoit, who's eager to do things well.

Tomorrow will be a break from all things viticole as we're escaping to the city (yes, there's an irony in the Parisians escaping to the country this weekend!) for a trip to Paris. We're going to be tourists for the day, you'll spot us waving from the bateau mouche!

Sunday, April 29, 2007


I spent last week in a three day, heatwave, whirlwind trip around three German places: from the far north of Hamburg to the south west Frankfurt and Karlsruhe. I'm afraid that, other than the building complex I had a meeting in, the only thing I could note about Karlsruhe is that it's twinned with Nottingham and Nancy. But the sun shone and whilst I waited for another colleague to finish inside my assistant and I had a sunny sandwich and impromptu status meeting on a bench.

Hamburg is my German base and a lovely city. I hope that when I go there for one week (in two weeks time) that the weather is as beautiful and I can enjoy the Alster lakes properly.
An overnight trip to Frankfurt was my first time in the city. Actually (as is often the case) I didn't make it to the city centre but was based in a dorf just outside where our agency's offices are. We stayed in a very eccentric B&B and after a full day of meetings were invited out to dinner by the agency team. There were six of us, all women, including one colleague from the international team that I first met in 2000 and despite my moves from London, New York, Paris and Reims and hers from London to Copenhagen, we've always kept in touch. In fact she was the person to give me my first freelance project last year.

We headed towards what I was told was a typical Frankfurt restaurant. I'll admit my prejudices conjured up some dark, smokey restaurant and I wasn't over optimistic about the cuisine. Once we had made it past Gerty, a sprightly 85 year old woman in charge of the parking spaces, we headed into a large garden area packed with locals and decorated with twinkling lights as dusk fell. Our orders were taken by a middle aged, mustachioed man who was more interested in giving us his opinion rather than taking any orders. I have to say it was the best meal I've enjoyed in a while. We were served local apfelwein and the seasonal speciality asparagus. Here in Frankfurt, as in the Champagne Ardennes, the asparagus is the large, thick, juicy white variety that I had never tasted until I came to Reims. The asparagus (or spargel) was the centre piece of the dish with the schnitzel, new potatoes and hollandaise sauce served as sides. Dessert was what I can only describe as what tiramisu would be if it's main ingredient was apple.

So that was my list of firsts - Frankfurt, asparagus of the season and my first al fresco dinner of the year.

Monday, April 23, 2007


Yes, I know, I know.

No excuses.

I promise I will write more in the next couple of weeks. Honestly.

What can I say? It's hot. The experts in the region say that the vines are about three weeks ahead of themselves in terms of development. So Frog is hoping that there's no frost and rain in the next couple of weeks that would prove a deadly combination.

The cherry trees that we snapped in blossom one week ago are now all green leaved.

We've been out and about visiting local sites over Easter with my family (back when coats were still necessary), you can probably just make out the sails of the Mumm windmill at Verzenay in the background.

In other news on a more 'serious' front...
I'm gainfully employed at the moment - a fixed freelance role for the next year. The upside is that I'm earning some cash and am occupied doing what I'm good at - which keeps my mind off other more emotional stuff that happened over the last year. The downside is that it's in Germany! So, I'm doing three days a week work and spending every other week in Hamburg but also increasing my previous knowledge of the country through meetings in Berlin, Frankfurt and Dusseldorf! It's the kind of situation where I get really into the projects when I'm there and think it's great to be working again. And then I come home, look around and think, 'why would I want to leave this again?'

Frog says he's happy for me to do this as it keeps me happier (read easier to live with?) than I was before when I was kicking around at home with less projects happening and generally less occupied. It also can't be a bad thing when your other half realises he can't take dinner on the table every evening for granted!

I guess I should look at this as the perfect situation ... for now.

As I said, more news soon ....

Monday, February 05, 2007

Winter Stroll

Originally uploaded by oiseau.
I've been a little bit neglectful (again) of the blog. But I have no apologies to offer. I've taken a step back from everything in the last month and just tried to 'go with the flow' (cue much guffawing from anyone who knows me and my controlling tendencies).

You might be forgiven for thinking the photo above is from our holidays in the south-eastern Var but we haven't left yet. The photo is from our three hour walk around the village yesterday. It was incredibly mild weather with a bright sun and blue sky. I saw catkins, rosehips and blossoms during our stroll. Which doesn't seem right for the beginning of February. You can see the set of photos here.

Since I last posted we have zipped from Reims to London, back to Reims, onto Brussels and across to Amsterdam for different wine fairs. I seem to have collected a nice little culture of germs across the continent and am still fighting a lingering cough and cold. It wasn't all hard work since London and Amsterdam gave us the chance to catch up with friends and let our hair down a bit during the evenings.

However, the fairs are tiring and it's hard to stay patient at the end of the day when a noisy minority of the 'tasters' (who have actually been swallowing for a while) swarm to your stand for drunken badgering and an intent to finish off your champagne. The professionals are actually far worse than the general public. Upon one Belgian restauranteur's acclamation that 'the English obviously have no taste' his French friends joined in in agreement. As he continued to demand more champagne, I gently warned with a smiling, 'You should be careful what you say, as I'm English'. He, of course, continued and I could only point out that we might then agree on one thing, "I might have bad taste as an Englishwoman, since I had indeed married a Frenchman".

Luckily the Frog has a sense of humour.

So, Frog is back at work following up with his sales leads and we just have to get through the next 48 hours and we'll be on our hols. They'll be the first we've had together since August, tied as we are now to the production and sales cycle of the house. The only plan we have is to drive down to the family house in Cavalaire with a stack of books. Everything else will be played by ear.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Le Bordeaux c'est bon mais le Champagne c'est meilleur*

I waved Frog off this evening after a hearty dinner of merguez and mash. He was wrapped up warmly with his Allez Reims scarf and Fier d’être Rémois emblazoned across his woollen hat.

Tonight was a big night. Stade de Reims had beaten Monaco and Rennes to reach the semi-finals of the Coupe de la ligue. Bear in mind that the Stade is half way down the 2nd Division and has beaten Premier Division teams to reach this far. This semi-final match was to be played in the half-built new stadium Delaune, fifteen minutes walk from here.

I had planned on having the match on in the background whilst packing and possibly having a relaxing bath in a peaceful flat. In the end I spent 90 minutes sat on the floor in front of the telly. It was an excellent game and even though the final score showed 2-1 to Bordeaux, Reims really did do themselves proud. Frog has come home in a state of excited disappointment, clutching his commemeration scarf. It was a wonderful dream that Stade de Reims would go through to the final at the Stade de France. However, for the Reims team to be talked about at a national level again is quite an achievement for the long patient supporters.

I'm off on an early train to London tomorrow for a five day trip, so posting might be a little quiet. I expect a mix of drinking, working, friends and very sore feet after three days at the Vive La France event.
*Seen on a large homemade banner at the match

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Here versus There

This time two years ago, I was still living in Paris. I spent two years in the city of lights before we moved and we're about 21 months into this Rémois adventure.

A subject of conversation that crops up fairly regularly in this household is living here versus there. Aside from the expected, that we have a better quality of life in a smaller city next to the countryside, Frog frequently claims that part of this is also due to the fact that there are simply no Parisians in our daily lives.

I was reminded of this subject recently by several things. Firstly, by her post the other day, in which she touches on this topic. I have to say everything noted about what the people in the provinces think about the Parisians rang very, very true in this household.

There are several expatriate bloggers that I follow, some are in Paris and I enjoy their observations on life in the city. However, there is nothing more irritating to me when an observation is made about 'the French' or 'France' and I think : NO! You're talking about Paris and its inhabitants. There is often a gulf between their habits and behaviours and those of the provinces.

Finally, I was embarassed to find an email in my inbox from the end of last November that I haven't replied to yet. The email came from a woman who had found my site whilst googling "living in Reims". Since she was considering a move to Reims to research and write about the champagne industry, she wanted to know my thoughts. In true laziness, I have waited nearly two months to reply and have now copied and pasted her questions below, along with my thoughts.

Your story interests me, as you're an English-speaking woman who has chosen to live in France & especially in Reims.
Hmmm... choice. Well, I was offered a job in Paris that was too good to refuse. I was young-ish, free, single and was offered a senior position on a European team, living in Paris, with expatriate benefits for a couple of years. "Well, okay then, why not..." pretty much sums up my the result of my period of consideration.

I wouldn't say I especially chose to live in Reims. North-eastern France is not the most attractive area, although €5 a coupe of champagne doesn't hurt. There are far warmer climes and Mediterannean lifestyles to be had in this country. However, the man I met in Paris had a very good reason to move here to start working with the family business. This decision was certainly more considered than, "Well, okay then, why not..." but the move to Reims, specifically, was more about his opportunity than mine. But yes, I'm very happy that I signed up for this new adventure.

What are your thoughts on the welcome the people in Reims give you as apposed to Parisians?
This is actually a less obvious question than you might think. Sure, the stereotypical Parisians are pain in the arse people. The 'true' Parisians move in tight social packs and don't easily let anyone in. They are not like Londoners vs English, Parisians are more of a 'type' than anything I found in London. However, Paris is an international city and many 'Parisians' are not really Parisian. I was lucky to work in a young international company and most of my team weren't 'Parisian' and even lived outside the French norms. By that I mean they socialised outside of work and I made several enduring friendships from the office.

By contrast, if Reims was like many other provincial cities, you would consider the people to be welcoming and friendly. However, this is Reims. The Rémois are renowned for being bourgeoisie (despite the fact that the city has the highest amount of social housing per capita in the country) and are pretty cold. I was warned of this fact by my (Parisian) boss before I moved here, she had studied at the (highly rated) Business School and was shocked by the people's attitudes here. The friendly folks from the region next to us, Les Ardennes, constantly remark on how difficult they find the Rémois. We have been lucky in that we have 'instant entry' into local life through the in-laws. However, despite the fact that Frog grew up here, we have a very low key social life, and those friends we have are originally from other regions.

Is the cost of living reasonable given it's not as big as Paris?
I think the overall cost of living is lower here. However, you have more choice in Paris - meaning a larger selection for life at the more budget end and more free galleries, events, selection of restaurants, shops etc. But housing is certainly a lot cheaper in Reims.

Any advice to someone thinking of embarking on a life (even a temporary one) in Reims?
Reims is only 1 hours and 40 minutes from Paris. And from June we'll have the new TGV Est which will make Gare de l'Est just 45 mins from the door. So, you could look at it either way. You can easily escape to Paris, or base yourself in Paris and easily visit Reims. However, for all my complaining, I do like it here. The centre is small and charming, you might not immediately be made to feel like a local by others but it's very easy to find your way around quickly. Don't expect a rich cultural or diverse lifestyle, although if you dig just a little there are some interesting things going on.

Frog and I love to visit Paris. It constantly amazes me how I manage to forget what a wonderful place it is. Yet, I always travel back feeling the same way: I'm so pleased I came, but glad to be going back home to Reims.

Friday, January 12, 2007

Happy 2nd Blogday

It's my second blogday. I wouldn't have noticed but someone trying to get me involved in some corporate blogging project (yes, I mean you Toshiba*) obviously had an eagle-eyed intern (who I hope has read this example of how not to behave with corporate blogs).

So, two years on, I'm still in France and that life in Paris, on January 2005, seems a long, long time ago. One move across the country, a wedding and oooh far too many lovely moments with my Frog to mention, I'm still here in my squalid little blogspot. It is far too neglected, I have composed a hundred posts in my head (usually at night when I'm trying to get to sleep) that never make it to the screen. But thank you for visiting and dipping in and out of this adventure with me and my idiosyncratic grammar. An added bonus is that my mum, my original reader and intended audience, is also still reading, even if she sometime gets a little neglected too by association.

I'll leave you tonight with this tale from Frog last night. It has nothing to do with my blog, or me but seems to nicely sum up the facet that living in a small provincial city brings with it - local bourgeoisie eccentrics who have lived in Reims all their lives.

Frog had bumped into the rather strange assistant to our solicitor, X. X and his wife were part of our wedding preparation group sessions with the priest last year and we have giggled at his rather odd behaviour before. Frog said that X told him he was rushing to catch Galeries Lafayette before it closed. He needed to buy some new underwear and they, apparently, have a wonderful selection. (Trust me, we have the lowest stocked Galeries Lafayette in the country). X wanted to catch the Russian saleswoman, who is excellent at helping with the selection of said underpants. This probably sounds a little sleazy. If you'd met X, it's not. He's just rather desparate to wear the right labels and do the best thing - and in Reims, I now know that means running to catch the Russian underwear saleswoman in Galeries Lafayette.

I do not tell this tale to be snobby. I tell it because it made me laugh.

* I am watching with interest simply to put you into a case study for one of my clients, I can just imagine the agency brainstorm this project came out of and the brand positioning they are trying to create. However, it's nice that someone wrote a personalised introduction to an email that she obviously had to send out to hundreds of researched blogs. I hope she made her target. Sadly, I do not think that I'm an opinion leader. That's in the second part of my mission to take over the world...

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Late Starter

Yes, I know 2007 started a good ten days ago but I'm having a bit of a delayed reaction. I admit to slumping a little in the overall mood stakes and have found it hard to find the energy to wish peace and goodwill to all, when struggling to find a reason to get out of bed.

But hey nonny nonny, onwards and upwards. I've spent the last couple of days trying to focus on getting ready for this year. A shorter new haircut, a facial (thanks Frog for the pampering spa vouchers) meant that even a doomed sales shopping trip today, when the changing room fluorescent lighting and small French sizes seemed to be conspiring against me, will not knock me back into the panic attack terrain that I slipped into last week.

So, pausing briefly to summarise 2006 with the comment written in one kind friend's Christmas Card, "I guess you'll have mixed feelings about the last year but at least the wedding was excellent!", let's move on swiftly to see what we have to look forward to in the first two months of 2007:

  • A freelance project lined up to start tomorrow (may they all follow quickly afterwards).

  • A trip to London to visit old colleagues (hire me for your short term needs now!); drink with old friends (yes, I'm still on the booze); visit best mate with her New Year baby (I will not cry) and plying the bubbly at Vive La France (try saying that without sounding cynical).

  • Another year, another Saint Vincent. This year the village celebrations are hosted by Frog Family. Let's see if the family members can all put on a smiling front and not kill each other in front of the hundreds of guests. There are, however, reasons to celebrate. The assemblage of a vintage 2006 has just been created, which apparently (I haven't been privy to the tastings) is of great quality.

  • Host another best mate jetting in from Brazil for a few days R&R, on her way to meetings in Europe. (She is the one who had a secret a couple of months back. Again, I repeat, I will not cry).

  • Trying not to inflict major bodily harm on Frog when he forgets to engage brain before mouth. His finest example yet came after seeing An Inconvenient Truth on New Year's Day, "Well, if you think about it, all of the earth's problems are fundamentally due to an explosion in the population and you're actually helping the environment". Yes, the resulting evening lurched between states of silence and screaming hysteria. Gah, men.

  • Travelling for more wine fairs in Amsterdam & Brussels. These are for professionals, which are always easier than consumer fairs. (I'm looking forward to seeing my friend Aaron's newly purchased flat in Amsterdam).

  • Ski-ing. Yes, a holiday. After "working 'is 'ands to the bone" through the crazy Christmas period, Frog is taking a holiday. Harvest to New Year is the busiest time in the industry and, being a small family business, that has translated into no time off for Frog since August (the French 35 hour week has no relation to life in a small family business). However, the good news is that they sold a record amount of bottles over the Christmas period and with February being the quietest month of the year, that's the month that we get to go away. We'll be off to Les Arcs to break a leg, or something, the first week of Feb followed by a trip home to Dorset.

I know it sounds as if we're really busy at the moment and I'm pleased that the next couple of months are packed but I really feel like I'm treading water at the moment. May 2007 unfold without any nasty surprises, that's all I can say.