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.
As some of you may know, I have recently been outed as the wife of an Executive of a global company. For the record, we have been living together for more than 21 years, we first met at uni, we used to travel together in cheap hotels around Bali, and we have two children together. I don’t understand why my marital status has all of a sudden become a matter of interest but hey, here we are. This makes me wonder: maybe it’s time for more general outspokenness on my side. After all, you might as well hear gossip from me rather than from the press. Straight from the horse’s mouth and all that…So here we are: I want to share with you the 33 things that I do even before the school run.
- 1. Phone call at around 3am. Really? Hubby is somewhere on the other side of the world and finally has a break during one of his many meetings. He’s calling me to catch up and discuss last night parents meeting. Can’t remember exactly what I tell him. Go back to sleep. Forget to tell him that the art teacher thinks I am a single mum. Need to keep my options open anyway.
- 2. Phone is vibrating again. Have received a flurry of emails regarding hubby’s next month travel arrangements. Put the phone on silent. Checked my Twitter, FB & blog just in case. All OK. Back to sleep.
- 3. Realise I have missed a WhatsApp message from elder daughter. Her friend has stayed over to work on geography project, too late to catch a bus back, etc. Mental note to self: prepare breakfast for one more teenager. As am awake I google hubby’s company name, his name and mine.
- 4. Annoyed to find out that I am called ‘gabby’ by a female journalist in national newspapers. Must come clean: have to look up what ‘gabby’ means. So much for the sisterhood and all that, right? Stalk the author of the piece on Twitter and magnify her picture. Nope, I don’t know her. Maybe she’s a bit bitter? Have got more followers than her on Twitter. Back to sleep.
- 5. Wake up. Am confused: was called ‘shy’ by an Australian gossip columnist just ten days ago. Me, shy? Really? Said journalist clearly can’t read women, especially French ones. Nagging question: what am I? Gabby or shy? Anyway, who cares? Must send a tweet to my followers to get their opinion.
- 6. Have a coffee. It’s 5am but am awake anyway. Might go for a run. Hubby usually runs at that time when he’s in London. Nah, it’s too dark. And cold. Empty the dishwasher. Set table. Put laundry in the machine. Whoever invented the colour catcher paper is genius.
- 7. Call from France. Mum has just read an article about hubby in the pile of newspapers she was going to throw away and wanted to let me know. Mum, it was more than two weeks ago. She said she hadn’t realised that his company was Brazilian. Because it’s a Brazilian name, right? She hangs up. Wait! What? Never mind.
- 8. Need coffee. Have coffee.
- 9. Get dressed. Usual yoga pants and T-shirt will do.
- 10. Check email. One of the tenants of my warehouses in France has run out of toilet paper. I immediately order a top up from Amazon. They might deliver it today. In bulk. Good. Crisis averted.
- 11. Check Twitter and press articles. There is a picture of me (where is it coming from?) and a comment: ‘Since when do resource industry executives have supermodel wives?’. That’s me! Chuffed to bits. Am ‘legendary’ ‘stylish’ and ‘glamorous’. Time to come clean: I am an Engineer. I used to be able to drive a train and project manage signalling systems. Might call model agency to offer my services. Might be the start of a new career.
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Have you heard of Paris Syndrome? Let me explain: it’s a surprising phenomenon whereby Chinese or Japanese tourists arrive in Paris and seem to undergo some sort of mental breakdown. I was told that they experience raised anxiety levels, delusions, irrational feelings of persecution and hostility, hallucinations, or even collapsing. Some tourists had to be sent back to their home country in a medicalised plane. I kid you not. So what went wrong ? Well, the main theory as to what’s happening here is that they have an incredibly romanticised belief in what Paris is like thanks to countless media and film portrayals. Paris is the city of love, everything is beautiful there. All women are polite and look like they come straight from a French New Wave film. I hate to break it to you, but the reality is quite different. To cut a long story short, Paris is mostly a normal city, coupled with some tangible differences in behaviour and manners between Asiatic and Parisian culture. So for instance, our waiters are not always nice. Our drivers might accelerate when you want to cross the street, and don’t expect apologies when you are shoved on the street. This can induce an intense and debilitating form of culture shock. Dear oh dear. It’s hard to see the reality without any filter sometimes. But maybe, just maybe, it is a necessary part of growing up? Just a thought.
There is something oddly reassuring about Sunday mornings in London. To cut a long story short, I should be able to sleep a bit longer on Sunday mornings. That said, I am so used to waking up at the crack of dawn that I usually don’t. Such is life I suppose. Mums will understand. It is as if I was programmed to prepare breakfast for the whole family. I can’t just press ‘delete’. It happens automatically. I usually count the number of pairs of shoes at the bottom of the stairs to assess how many friends my children have invited to stay over (Nowadays I feel a bit like a hotel manager). Sometimes I get it wrong, and suddenly the kitchen is full of grumpy teenagers who complain they have nothing to eat. ‘But Mum, I WhatsApped you 10 minutes ago to let you know X & Y had been staying over!’ But of course. What can I say? The service is very bad in this house. I might end up with a bad review on TripAdvisor but frankly, I don’t care.’Is there any more Orange juice?’ Well, not unless you’ve actually bought some, Darling.’
This country never ceases to amaze me. I was reading the newspapers, and found out that Michael Fallon had resigned as defence secretary. In his letter of resignation, he said:
‘ …I accept that in the past I have fallen below the high standards that we required of the Armed Forces…’
I am going to react the French way for once: WTF? Where do they find these people?
When you read this statement, it almost sounds innocuous, right? It is as if he had behaved pretty well, but still not well enough. Poor Darling. It’s almost as if he was the victim. Too much was expected from him. Dear oh dear. Well I, for one, will not shed any tears.
Let me rewind a little bit: do you remember the MP expense scandal? No? Well let me refresh your memory; according to The Daily Telegraph, Fallon claimed for mortgage repayments on his Westminster flat in their entirety. MPs were only allowed to claim for interest charges. Instead of profusely apologising (which was, in my view, the only decent thing to do), what did he do? Well, you couldn’t make it up: he said “Why has no one brought this to my attention before?”. Seriously? Did I miss something here? Don’t you see a pattern of arrogance ? Or is it just me?
So why did he resign? In pure British style, we will probably only ever know a small part of the facts. We are told that ‘Allegations of inappropriate behaviour have been swirling around Westminster since the Harvey Weinstein abuse scandal encouraged women to speak out about their experiences of sexual abuse or harassment.’, according to The Guardian.
I might be a French woman, but I hate being late. That said, I am the exception rather than the rule. In my home country, it is generally right to be around 15 minutes late. The reason is that we French people expect it and if you arrive on time then we will still be in the middle of preparing. That’s just the way we are.
But times are changing. I, for one, am pleased with the various hashtags #metoo and #balancetonporc -literally ‘expose your pig’, the French equivalent of #metoo. Frankly, I thought that it was long overdue. Truth be told, I had come to accept that some harassment/bullying was acceptable when you were a woman, or simply when you were perceived to be the weaker party. Just to be clear, I believe that abuse concerns anyone, men and women. It’s not a question of gender; it’s a question of power. What am I talking about exactly? Well, I have lost count of the number of times my choices were judged, my opinions disregarded, my salary lower than my male colleagues, my appearance commented upon, unwanted advice was given, my back/lower back was patted, and so on, and so forth. There were also some more serious things that I will not write about, because it’s my choice not to. When I dared mention something, I was made to feel like I was the one without any sense of humour/morality. After all, it wasn’t that bad, was it? And I was far from being perfect, right? Come on, boys will be boys… In short, once again, put up and shut up.
Do you know what the three secret ingredients of French cuisine are?
Well, here it is: butter, butter and butter.
And guess what: as a result of soaring popularity of the dairy product and pastries abroad, my home country faces a massive butter shortage. Dipping your croissant in your cup of coffee might become the ultimate luxury pretty soon. What happened? How did we get there? Is it the end of the world as we know it?
Well, let me tell you something first: if you are familiar with this blog, you know that I am from Provence. In short, I am more into olive oil than butter. That’s just me. I am told that, if I were from Brittany, I would see things in a different light and become very depressed. But fear not: I am fine. Our olive trees seem to be in good shape, and my father even told me that we would get more olive oil than last year. All is well and we will survive.
When I say that I run ultra marathons, one of the first questions I get is usually along the following lines:
‘But what do you think about when you run for such a long time? Isn’t it boring?’
The truth is that it’s so hard that I don’t think. I just put one foot in front of the other as best as I can, and thinking would be an unwelcome distraction. It’s all about sparing my mental energy.
This weekend, this simple strategy worked again. What happened? I realised a childhood dream: I ran the Canyon De Chelly ultra marathon in Arizona. Running this race was one of the main reasons I started training. I also vividly remember a substitute teacher who taught our class when I was about seven. He was passionate about Native Americans and told us about the Apaches, the Navajo code breakers, Geronimo and the Wounded Knee massacre. It stuck. In fact, I can still remember the tune we learned about life in Arizona.
Fast forward almost 40 years (time flies right?), and here I was, trying to be part of the race a thousand miles away from London, and managing to get in despite the crashing website. It only dawned on me a few weeks later: I was in. Me being me, I immediately started organising the logistics. I was supposed to go with a friend of mine, and possibly our respective husbands. But life happened, and as the start date was approaching it was only me who could go. Frankly, I thought about dropping out. Because, you see, it wasn’t just a race: I actually had to go to Chinley. It was an expedition. The only way was to fly to Phoenix and then rent a car to drive 500 km to the place where the race started. The thing was, I didn’t really like driving and I had never driven in the US. What to do?
I don’t know if it’s my French side, but I hate surprises. I plan like mad. I don’t like the unexpected. Things must be neat, and controlled. Why? Well, because life is already full of surprises, and as a result I like to control what I can. So here it is: I am a control freak.
Maybe I am not that French after all, because I have heard at least a million times that French women are always late, don’t apologise and enjoy the flattery. Well, my British side has clearly taken over then. For instance: I hate being late. I am the sort of person who will text you if I might (and only might) be two minutes late. That’s just me, I suppose. As for waiting, well, I simply can’t stand it. It’s fair to say that Twitter saved my life: I tweet when I wait. That’s how I ended up tweeting all the time, I suppose!
As for not apologising and enjoying the flattery, hmmm…once again, my British side has taken over: I say sorry all the time. yes, even when I am not sorry. The other day I managed to say sorry to a lamp post I had accidentally bumped into (ouch).
Sorry, but today I am going to rant a bit. After all, I am not French for nothing, right?
So here it is: I know I shouldn’t be scared, that life goes on, and so on, and so forth, but I can’t help it, I am scared. Worse: I feel like a sitting duck.
I walk or run all the time. I take the Tube, the bus and the train. My kids do too. I used to feel reasonably safe in London, but not any more. In fact, I feel like an easy target. I have read everywhere that terrorism remains a negligible risk, that I am more likely to be struck by lightning than to be the victim of a terrorist attack, and that we are probably just more aware of terrorism, which is why we feel the hurt and the pain more. But still, I am scared. Truth be told, the recent attacks in the UK and in France haven’t helped. As for what just happened in Las Vegas, I don’t think that I have fully processed it yet. It’s just too much.
Instead of explaining to me about probabilities and other rational arguments, hear this: on 7th of July 2005 I was on the tube. I was just coming back from maternity leave. I had to be evacuated. I was lucky: I wasn’t on the train that was bombed, but it was a close call. What do probabilities mean when you are in the middle of an attack? I’ll tell you at once: it means nothing. I just felt lucky to be alive and see my baby at the end of the day.