If you follow me on twitter (https://twitter.com/FrenchYumMummy), you know that I have decided to stay in Sydney a little bit longer to enjoy the Aussie way of life. I had come to a point where I couldn’t take one more British winter, and a change was long overdue after close to 15 years in Blighty. Not to mention that I am a nomad at heart. In short, here I am, and loving it. So, what did I learn? Well, so far, so good. The running is amazing and it’s incredibly warm compared to Europe. But let’s not wait, here are my main findings after a few weeks:
- 1. People TALK. I know, it’s amazing, right? Over here, you say ‘Hello!’ to the bus driver, to fellow runners, to the concierge or the cashier. You might even strike a conversation. For the record, I haven’t heard anyone say ‘G’day, mate!’ just yet. It must be urban legend. That said, you might strike a conversation with somebody you don’t know. Come on, it’s shocking! In London, you shut up. It’s considered rude to talk to others, and most of the time nobody will reply if you do. Not to mention that I always took the automatic check-out anyway.
- 2. I am a control freak. I totally need to relax. That’s probably what London does for you. Things are very chilled over here, and slower than in England. Simply put, it freaks me out. When, for instance, the food is slow to come, the light remains red for too long or the shop doesn’t open bang on time, I feel like the world is coming to an end. I. Need. To. Relax.
Things are slowly starting to pick up after the Christmas break. In Australia, nobody has commented on my French accent, and it’s pure bliss. In London, I keep being reminded that I am ‘different’. What I particularly hate is when my interlocutor pretends he (Let’s face it: it’s usually a he) doesn’t understand what I am saying. It hasn’t happened in Sydney, which makes me wonder what is wrong with British men (selective hearing maybe?). Obviously, according to them, we French women are supposed to ‘have it all’. We must look like a trophy wife, but we must also be strong-minded and financially independent. What a load of codswallop!
Come to think of it, this ‘having-it-all’ concept is really getting on my nerves right now. It must have something to do with middle-age. In no particular order, I am supposed to be beautiful, stylish, thin, independent, intelligent and healthy of course. Not to mention a good mother/wife/friend/cook/coach/taxi/business woman, etc. Here is a newsflash for everybody: I only have 24 hours a day. My life is already pretty full-on. And I am far from perfect.
As we were working long hours on a new project the other day, one of the (British) assistants cracked a joke:
‘But Muriel, you are French! With the hours you are working you wouldn’t be able to have a torrid love affair.’
Here we go again, I thought. How very un-French…
It’s this time of the year I suppose. But fear not: I will not patronise anyone (I am too old for that anyway). I just wanted to share with you my New Year’s resolutions. As I never keep them, I thought that I should make a lot of them -some big, some small- to make sure that I keep at least some of them. That’s just me: I always have a fallback plan. At my ripe age, you have to be pragmatic, right?
The problem is that we often only follow through with good intentions for a week or so. The more strong-minded among us may last a month, but sooner or later we all end up falling back into the same old ways which we tried so hard to change. (Let’s come clean: when I say ‘we’, I mean, well, ‘me’).
Why does this happen? And how can we improve our goal-setting strategies?
I have read somewhere that often our goals transform into failures because they’re not solid enough to maintain our motivation, or because they’re perhaps too hard to reach. According to psychologists, if we want to welcome a change and make New Year’s resolutions for real, we must use a strategy called SMART Goals, which outlines the criteria of successful goal-setting (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, relevant, Timely). Seriously? Again, fear not: I won’t bore you with this corporate BS (Excuse my French). Again, been there, done it, and I am sick and tired of having to agree with Powerpoint slides and so-called experts anyway. I have pretended to do so for far too long. My new mantra is more real life, less theory. Call it MindLessNess if you want. I have just made it up as well. I think I am on to something…
If this year was any indication of where things are heading, then I am hungry for you, 2018. What a year! It has been a steep learning curve for me, but I feel like things are nicely taking shape. So what were the main takeaways for me?
Apparently, I am glamorous. I still don’t understand why. Especially now that I am a year older (but aren’t we all?)
Being French, people seems to believe that I have a natural sense of style. In fact, I don’t. I happen to be a Signalling Engineer turned lawyer (for the record it’s even worse than it sounds). But if it makes them happy, it can’t be that bad, right?…So what’s the secret? Well, listen carefully: the secret is that there is no secret. Naively, I thought that things would get easier as I got older. But no, I am still getting a lot more attention that I should/would like to. Yep, even at my ripe age (I feel 24 anyway).
In 2017 (just like the other years, really), I received inappropriate pictures on Twitter, a few love declarations, and was also asked for an ID when I bought some Nurofen at my local supermarket. Same old, same old, really. Some things will never change. Frankly, I have given up understanding them. Onwards and upwards and all that.
As you know, this year I made one of my dreams a reality: I ran the Canyon de Chelly Ultra in Arizona. Simply put, it was amazing. I managed to get a prize (a lovely jacket) that I keep wearing all the time (I am actually wearing it now while I am writing as it’s freezing in bloody London). What is the Canyon De Chelly Ultra? Well, in case you don’t know, it is a 34-mile race in the Navajo nation, where you first run in the sand and then climb up a canyon, and finally go back to where you started. You can read about it here: http://frenchyummymummy.com/running-in-the-wild-wild-west-the-canyon-de-chelly-ultra/ I have run several marathons, ultras and 100k races over the last couple of years. Yes, despite my ripe age (and two children, a business and a husband who spends all his time travelling the world, but hey, we’ve all got our own stories). I keep being asked how we ultra runners do it. The thing is, I have no idea. I am just an average runner (serious runners who read this are probably way faster than me). My only edge is this: I don’t give up. This made me wonder: what do ultra runners do differently? Are we really made of sterner stuff? Here is what I could think of:
1 For us, distance is relative: a 5k run is a not even a run, and a 10k run is a short run. A short long run starts at 10 miles. A long run is anything up to 100 miles. A friend of mine told me that she was a bit tired and had only run 4 miles that day. That’s just us.
2 We are eternal optimists. Or at least I am. For instance, when I found out that I was going to run in the sand, I trained in Hyde Park, in London, where the Royal Horse Guards train their horses. Needless to say, I was way undertrained: the sand in Arizona was much, much softer (and lasted slightly longer than the 300m in Hyde park). But I didn’t worry. I should have, but I didn’t. That’s just me. My calves survived. Just.
3 We don’t take ourselves too seriously. We know that we are going to face at least one massive low, and want to quit at some point during the race. We push through. It’s alright, we just have to accept it and get to the ‘other side’. For instance, I was convinced, during my first 100k and after 8 hours of run, that I was going to die of pneumonia there and then. Before you judge me, you need to understand that I grew up in the sun and that London isn’t well-known for its warm climate. And my mind was probably playing up. Needless to say, I was completely fine. In Arizona, I had a panic attack while climbing on top on the canyon (I am not very good with heights). I stopped for a couple of minutes right in the middle of the climb. Took a few deep breaths. There wasn’t much I could do except carrying on. So I carried on;
Before I start this post I feel like I need to come clean: I like Prince Harry, and I have bumped into him a couple of times at my local Waitrose (if you must know, he was wearing a hoodie and had a couple of bodyguards ). Last week (in case you have been hibernating), he announced that he was going to marry his girlfriend Meghan Markle. I am very pleased for them and I wish them luck. I am, however, appalled by the general coverage of their relationship.
Why? Well, for starters, the tabloids don’t miss a single opportunity to remind all of us that she is (in no particular order) divorced, American, of mixed heritage and an actress. They could have mentioned that she is a modern, talented, gorgeous woman and has worked for numerous charities but no, let’s face it: it’s all about bringing her down. In fact, I don’t think that it is even about her. It’s because they think that she is the ‘weak link’. Attacking her is a way to attack Prince Harry and the monarchy. How brave, right? Surely they could pick a better target. Come on, guys! If you want to attack the monarchy, why don’t you just attack the monarchy and criticise the Queen or maybe the British Government?
This pattern is indeed quite disturbing, but somehow keeps repeating itself: recently, it’s Malia Obama who faced a wave of abuse because she had been filmed smoking and (dear oh dear) kissing a boy while at uni. Seriously? Don’t we have anything better to report? Malia Obama is a private citizen and can do whatever she likes. Are there laws against smoking and kissing? Once again, it wasn’t about her, it was about discrediting her father’s legacy. How is she responsible for her father’s actions and decisions? I don’t understand. In the same vein, there were attacks against Barron Trump (a child!). How low did we fall? It just never stops: using whoever is perceived to be the ‘weak link’ is becoming the trademark of lazy reporting. Overtones of sexism and racism seem to be back in fashion. It’s clickbait writing. And don’t you dare reply, because you will be told to lighten up. After all, ‘it was just some light-hearted dig’. Don’t you get sarcasm? You simply can’t win against a certain London elite, as Prince Harry found out when their relationship was disclosed and he dared complain. Unbelievable! Doesn’t anyone remember that Prince Harry’s mother died while being chased by paparazzi?
I might be French, but I could totally live without wine or cheese. But not without chocolate. Chocolate is the one thing that I need to get going. And coffee, come to think of it. I have always loved chocolate. And I always will. That’s just who I am. I have also learned, over time, that quality matters more than quantity. So when I was offered to try To’ak aged chocolates, I didn’t hesitate and went for a try. It didn’t disappoint. Simply put, it was a fantastic start of the day!
But I need to come clean first: I didn’t know that you could age chocolate. I thought that chocolate had to be eaten, you know, as soon as possible. But no, chocolate is a bit like wines (well, fine French wines obviously): some flavours reveal themselves over time. It’s all about knowing how to appreciate them, and also taking the time to do so.
So here it is: before you scoff all the chocolate in your kitchen, you need to take a moment to learn how to get the best from your tasting experience. In fact, every stage of the chocolate making process has an impact on the final flavour. Natural factors such as the cocoa variety, soil conditions and climate are just the beginning. How the cocoa farmer treats the beans during the fermentation and drying process can have a marked impact on the flavour of your chocolate. And then roasting the beans can have an even bigger impact.
These little differences are one of the great things about small batch bean to bar chocolate. Every batch will have subtle differences. This is how I found myself, on a cold Tuesday morning smelling and eating cocoa beans, and cocoa aged in various types of wood. And I wasn’t trying any type of chocolate, I was trying the Nacional Ecuadorian beans. I had always thought that the Mayan had invented chocolate as we know it, but apparently I was wrong. This one cocoa bean was even older.
I must admit something: I had completely overlooked a key player in my household: my boiler. Guilty as charged.
Let me explain: London is quite cold right now (did you hear the British understatement here?). In fact, I am freezing (that’s more like it). It’s this time of the year, I suppose. And it’s dark after 4pm. But I digress. This Saturday, I ran another Parkrun in West London. When I came back home, I quickly realised that we didn’t have any hot water. Zilch. Nada. To make matters even worse, the heating was, at best, patchy.
I tried to call my husband and then my father but couldn’t reach them: one was still sleeping somewhere on the other side of the world, while the other was repairing a fence in a remote part of his farm. Where are men when you need them? After some frantic googling about ‘what to do if boiler breaks down’, I ended up turning the boiler off and on again. Quite a few times. It didn’t help. So much for technical progress and all that. What to do? I booked an appointment with British Gas, but the earliest slot they had was four days later. Four days? How were we going to survive four days in arctic temperatures? The thing was, when they said that they would come within 48 hours, it didn’t include weekends obviously. Whatever happens, don’t you dare having a problem during the weekend in London. Lesson learned. Maybe that’s why they all have country houses over here? I wonder.
‘Mum, there is no hot water.’
‘I know, I know. What do you want me to do?’, I thought. I wished I had a magic wand to sort everything out but I didn’t.
‘Mum, I am cold’
‘ Don’t worry Darling, we still have Internet’, I replied. Not that it is of much use against the cold, but you know, I wanted to point out one of the positives of the situation. See, it could be worse and all that. Come to think of it, we also had electricity, food, and water. That’s just me: I am a glass half-full sort of person. Or maybe I have just become British. But it was still cold.
The other day I drafted a proposal for a potential client, and was worried not to hear anything for a while. When I rang them, I heard the dreaded words:
‘ I did read your proposal but….’
I knew what was to come. Been there done it, etc…I just knew that it meant something like ‘I didn’t read your proposal because I am not really interested in what you have to offer’. You see, in my quest to understand the British, I have learned something the hard way:
Everything before ‘BUT’ is BS. I apologise profusely to those of you with a sensitive nature for my crudeness, but hey, I am French and we French like to say it as it is.
Once you consciously acknowledge that I am right, it can help you do at least two very important things:
1. You will see through the excuses that others give you;
2. You won’t fall into the trap yourself in your communications with others.
Let me take a few examples. Have you ever heard:
– I would love to hire your company but…..
– I was planning to do that this morning but….
– I would like to meet up for a coffee this week but…
– You are absolutely right of course, but…
Stop the clocks and move aside: Nisha is in town. I wouldn’t know where to start If I were to properly introduce her. Nisha is a Bollywood celebrity, the inspiration behind the story ‘And Thereby Hangs A Tale (Caste Off)…’ by Jeffrey Archer, and so, so much more. She also happens to be a longtime friend of mine, and we spend yesterday together. As usual, I had a great time.
The thing is, I grew up surrounded by men. I studied science and was often the only girl of the classroom. I was in charge of delivering trains and upgrading signalling systems. As a result, I discovered female friendships later in life, and found out that they transcend nationalities, age and cultural backgrounds. As women, we often goes through the same phases of life, and are facing the same issues and judgements. As women, we usually understand each other better.