Posted by / Category London /

© Sarah Moon courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery

Memory is a funny thing. Sometimes, what you thought you had forgotten comes back to you in completely unexpected ways. This is exactly what happened to me with Sarah Moon’s exhibition today. I grew up with Sarah Moon’s designs and pictures. She was, at the time, working for the well-known French brand Cacharel. Cacharel represented the epitome of chic. I was ‘borrowing’ my mum’s Cacharel shirts to try to look good. The first dress I bought with my very first pay cheque was a Cacharel dress. And if you happened to have a Cacharel lipstick in your bag, you had to top up your make-up in public with it. It immediately transformed you into an irrestible vamp.

 

© Sarah Moon courtesy Michael Hoppen Gallery


Here I am, (too) many years later and not living in France any more, at the Michael Hoppen gallery in Chelsea. The magic of her work still has the same effect on me. Some things never change. I am traveling back in time. Is it a photo? Is it a painting? It is hard to say at first, but then I recognise her inimitable photographic style, and I feel like a young adult again. There is something fragile in her work, and an incredible strength at the same time. Maybe it is because the colours want to be bright, but somehow remain toned down. The shapes are always bit vague. In fact, despite being in colours, her work has the strength of black and white photos. Am I making any sense? Probably not. I don’t know. In fact, I can’t explain it, and I probably shouldn’t even try, because art is all about emotions, right? I almost expect the models of to move, because they have clearly been captured in the middle of something. Even the flowers in her photo are on the verge of falling.

I feel like my 15-year-old self again, but without the pimples and the bowl cut. I am grateful for this. If you want too travel back to your teenage self too, the exhibition is until the 5th of April.


Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

How Do You Take Your Tea?
I will always remember the first time I went to my company lawyers’ office in the City. I was swiftly led to a plush meeting room and couldn’t resist the warm brownies on display. I started stuffing my face. Yummy! Then our legal team arrived, and before we started discussing the case, I was asked how I wanted to take my tea.
” With a little milk.”, I answered.
Do you want the milk before or after the tea? I was asked. I had no idea, and said it didn’t matter to me. Silly French me.
The partner of the firm then started a long-winded explanation:

” 
You should put the milk first because you can pour it whilst you wait for the kettle to boil, hence saving time. Furthermore, pouring the milk first gradually warms up the contents of the cup to room temperature while you wait. Pouring the milk last rapidly heats the first drop of milk almost to the temperature of the teapot, denaturing the flavour of the milk and so developing more ‘boiled milk’ flavour. Putting the milk first is also known to tan more uniformly the milk protein (casein) with the tannin, because if you pour the milk last the first molecules of casein entering the cup will tan more thoroughly than the last ones. There is no reason why this difference should not alter the taste [note: the use of a double negative will get you additional brownie points]
Right, I thought. Clearly tea is  so much more than a drink. I knew I had missed something here. One of the more junior lawyers, who was coming from a well heeled family, was feeling a bit rebellious, and started to defend the opposite view. I couldn’t believe it.


But, my dear [condescending tone] by putting the tea in first and then stirring as you pour the milk, you can exactly control the amount of milk depending on the strength of the tea, whereas if you pour the milk first you might put in too much milk. Furthermore, the practice of putting the milk in first originated when users were in doubt of the quality of the milk, and putting the milk in first was seen as a more effective way of scalding it and killing the bacteria. Asking someone to ‘put the milk first’ when taking tea is therefore a subtle way of criticizing the housekeeping.
It is going from  bad to worse, I thought. Why are we having a debate on tea again? Have I missed a trick?

It then dawned on me.

The response, in itself, didn’t matter. What did matter was that the answer was as long as possible, and that they had made their position in the class system abundantly clear by declaring a preference for one way or the other (milk first = working class or ‘MIFs – Milk-In-Firsts’, milk last  = middle class and upwards)


Right, I said, Shall we review the brief now? 

Next time, I will take black coffee, I thought to myself. Much easier.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences /

I am in France for a couple of days and it already feels a bit funny. When I say ‘funny’, I suppose I mean ‘weird’. Nothing seems to ever change in my small village. The cars are as small, old and rusted as ever, and my late grandmother’s car is no exception. Frankly, it feels a bit like driving a huge pot of yogurt. Interesting. My grandfather buys his fresh baguette every day. He then reads his newspapers. Every day the same ritual.
When you visit a shop, you need to greet the shopkeeper with a loud ‘bonjour Madame’ (or ‘Monsieur’). Unlike in London, you mustn’t ask ‘how are you?’ (Comment ca va?) too often, otherwise you will get told something like ‘I am fine, nothing has changed since I last saw you (a month ago )’. Lesson learned, I will shut up next time.

So here I am, trying to remember that I used to belong here but finding it hard to fit in. To make matters even worse, today I bumped into an old friend of mine on the street, and it turns out that he is an estate agent now. Apparently, we were classmates when I was 7 or 8. It was embarrassing: I couldn’t even remember his name. His face and voice were vaguely familiar, but that was it. We had a quick chat, and he was very adamant that we should meet again. How weird. There can only be two possible reasons for this:
– 1. we had a thing for each other at the time (probably more on his side than mine -I think I would remember?);
-2. I have greatly improved over the last 30 years (or so – am rounding down a bit). I think that’s the reason, right?
Given the fact that I was a stern geek as a child, can you see any other explanation ?
Anyway, tonight I will be back home. In London. And it feels good. Because the past should stay where it belongs: in the past…
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

Saint Honore Cake
Yes, I have a sweet tooth.To be fair, British desserts can be pretty nice. But here is the real test to check if you are really British: when it is cold and damp, and you want to have a heart-warming dessert, what will you have?
Come on. Don’t cheat. Think about it and then read the answer:
 You can have scones, apple pie, eccles cakes or even plum pudding (or whatever you like, really), but you need to have it with ice cream. The love affair of the British with ice cream knows no limits. Even when everybody is shivering outside, the British eat ice cream. It is an essential part of the British diet, and there is simply no avoiding it. If you are serious about becoming British, you will have to learn to love ice cream even when it is freezing.
However hard I try, I am not there yet. I am not a huge fan of ice cream, especially during the cold and damp British winters. Furthermore, I think that it kills the taste of a dessert. You see, I miss the taste of the French specialties of my childhood. I miss the fresh madeleines, the Tarte Tatin, the Paris Brest, the fresh croissants, the Saint Honore cake, the eclairs…

Lovely Cakes
My silent prayers have been answered: there is a new French patisserie in London. It is called La Patisserie des Reves. Somehow they found me and they sent me an email to tell me that they had just opened a shop in London. I couldn’t resist it. I had to go. I wasn’t disappointed. 
First of all, this is not your average French patisserie. This is art. The cakes are so well-presented that I initially thought it would be a shame to eat them. They are carefully kept in a glass bell and look, well, perfect. I have tried to bake Tarte Tatin and brioche, but I have never ever managed to get such beautiful cakes. I was explained that the chef had to try 96 recipes for one of the cakes. Yes, 96. No wonder I am not there yet.

I ordered some fresh cakes. Actually, I ordered lots of fresh cakes. That’s how it works: your cakes are always fresh. You need to order them, and they make the final preparations in the shop (it just takes a few minutes). My cakes were neatly packaged in pink boxes.

The real surprise happened when I reached home. I sat down and tried the Saint Honore. And suddenly I wasn’t in London any more. I was six or seven again, with my late grandmother, going back home after the Sunday mass (she was quite religious). We used to stop by the local patisserie in my small village to buy some cakes for lunch. It was heaven.

She had a sweet tooth too and we always shared something on our way back home. I wasn’t supposed to tell anyone that we had eaten a cake beforehand. It was our little secret. I loved this ritual.
I was traveling back in time.  It was wonderful. 

Mind you, when the whole family came back home, they ate all the cakes and enjoyed it very much. Of course, my children took some ice cream with their Tarte Tatin. They are British now. Life is all about compromise, right?



NB: This is not a sponsored post.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Uncategorized /

Thom’s tree

Trees are soothing. When I feel sad or suffer from writer’s block, I go for a walk in the park. That’s the reason why I love London’s parks. Somehow, seeing trees appeases me. I like the sound of the wind in the branches, and I also like the fact that trees will always stand, whatever the season, as if they could survive anything. In the blogosphere, I have met another tree lover, Thom Brown. We belong to the same group, PBAUs (Personal Bloggers Are Us). Thom loves trees so much that he took a picture of the same tree from his office’s window every day over the last few years. You can see the results here


Thom passed away last Sunday. Despite the fact that I had never met him in person, I am grief stricken. I feel a bit ridiculous too: Thom leaves a wife, two daughters and a grandson. I can’t start to imagine what they must be going through. Who am I to feel sad? Do I even have the right to feel sad? Probably not.



Thom was a psychology teacher in Utica College. He had faced many health issues (in his own words ‘they beat the crap out of my body’), but despite this he often ended his posts with an upbeat ‘I am a fortunate man’. He never complained. He never indulged in self-pity. He always had a kind word for each of us, and made a point of reading all my posts. He was sending me words of encouragement at every possible opportunity. Thom just understood what we were writing, and was happy when I was eventually published in a national magazine. But he would also have told me to continue even if I hadn’t. Because that’s who he was: supportive and deeply human. I also loved his eclectic posts and his sense of humour. I knew that he had been sick but somehow thought that it was all over, and that he would go on for ever.

Well, I was wrong. Now I regret not going to visit him when I went to New York City. And I have learned that there is no such thing as online grief. Silly me.

I am also left with a sense of unfinished business. I had one thing to tell him, and I never did. It was:

Thank you, Thom

It is dark and rainy in London, but I need a walk  right now.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

Emily (left) and Anna (right)

When we were living in Paris, we didn’t know our neighbours. There was no real need and, frankly, that’s not something that you were supposed to do. I could rely on family and friends over there. Well, things are slightly different in London and, over the years, I have become more and more accustomed to using local services. For instance, when I need a babysitter for my children, I use a website called Babysitters of Kensington And Chelsea . Believe it or not the young entrepreneur who created the website lives very close by and is called Anna.

This morning, Anna had organised a coffee for parents and some small local businesses to meet up. Being such a regular user of her website, I went with my younger daughter. The bad news (for me), is that I was surrounded by bright young things who had set up a business from scratch. It all made me feel ancient and slightly out of touch but hey, you have got to live with your time, right? Am feeling very tired right now. I hope it is not the onset of menopause.


Let me explain: I first met Emily, who has set up a tutoring business and who told me that she has 60 (yes, 60!) bright young tutors, and some of them are even helping kids as far as the Bahamas. She has set up Kings Tutors, and I feel slightly guilty not to pay any tutors for my kids. You see, I still do things the French way and check my children’s homework every evening, but Emily told me that it is a competitive world out there and now I don’t know what to do. Why are we mums always feeling guilty about everything? Will my kids miss out because of me? I sometimes wonder. 

Patricia and my daughter’s hand

Finally, I bumped into Patricia, the creator of Kids in Guide. Basically, her website lists all the possible activities for kids in London, including birthday party venues and sport activities. I was looking for swimming lessons during half term for my little one and found three possible schools near where we live thanks to her website. I had been trying to book something for ages. Silly old me. Patricia wants to roll out her site in Madrid and in New York. Wow. Bright young girls and mumtrepreneurs are clearly on their way to world domination. Beware. Seriously, I hadn’t realised that there were so many good local businesses out there, and that they were run mostly by women. Who said girls were sitting on their bottoms and waiting for things to happen? Even with a day job and sometimes kids, such women have put themselves out there, and I have to admit that I am humbled by such initiatives. And a bit jealous too, because I feel a bit past my sell-by date right now.  Things move really fast: I thought that having a blog was, you know, giving me an edge, but now it is all about going local. I hadn’t realised that Internet could get to know your local communities in ways I didn’t even think were possible, but this morning’s coffee is evidence of this. Right, off to have a nap now. At my advanced age, I need all the rest I can get.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

What is it with the British and their local? I have just found out that a new pub will open two streets away. To be precise, it closed down a few years ago, and someone wants to reopen it. I can’t believe it. Honestly, we don’t need another pub: there is at least one at every corner of every street where I live. It is not too bad during winter, but it is a nightmare when it gets warmer: drunken patrons start shouting in the streets, peeing everywhere and occasionally fighting during the wee hours of the night. And it is the same in most parts of London. Lovely.

Don’t get me wrong, I totally understand that British pubs are a way of life. They are so much more than places where you drink. Pubs are where most singletons meet their other half. The most important business meetings happen down the pub. And if your boyfriend doesn’t commit to you while having a pint or two, then the relationship is clearly doomed: everybody knows it. I get it: over here, pubs are where most important life milestones happen. That said, don’t you think that it is a bit sad to need booze to open up? What happened to theaters, cafes and art galleries? What is wrong with us? Don’t you think that it is a complete non-sense?

Seriously, I counted 11 places (without the new pub) where you can buy booze, and they all are two blocks away from where I live (we are talking about a radius of something like 110 yards or 100 meters). Some are restaurants, others pubs. I didn’t even count the corner shops. Do we really need a another one? Really? I don’t think so. I have therefore decided to object to the new place’s license and there will be a hearing at our council in a fortnight. I am told that the license will be granted, even if there is fierce opposition in the neighbourhood. It makes you wonder why we are consulted at all if our objections are not going to be considered anyway. I hate this ‘tick-in-the-box’ culture over here: the neighbours needs to be consulted. Check. It doesn’t matter what they say, it is something that you need to do. Check. We might (only might) be able to reduce the opening hours (until 11.30pm in the actual application!), impose some additional sound insulation, and prevent customers from drinking outside, but apparently that’s as far as it goes, and it is certainly not a given at all. Come on, this binge drinking culture needs to stop! Why would we want to make it even easier to get drunk? What is there to gain exactly?

I know that I sound like an old bore, but honestly, where does it stop? Maybe they want all the residents to get sloshed at every possible opportunity? Why don’t we have ‘drinking streets’ then, where all houses have a public bar? I thought that there was a housing shortage in London, why don’t they convert the new pub into flats? Or a health club with a cafe? Surely it would be money better spent? I really don’t understand this booze culture. Wish me luck for the hearing!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Uncategorized /

Kate Holt/Shoot The Earth/ActionAid

The 6th of February is International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation. You might believe that it has very little (if anything) to do with you. After all, we keep moaning about the weather, British men, the cost of life in London, and so on, and so forth. Come to think of it, we are indulging in very first world problems, right? As much as I believe that sexism is still rife in Europe (I like rugby, but the rugby team mentality in the workplace is not always nice…or appropriate, right?), even I have to admit that my very selfish problems are nothing, absolutely nothing compared to what some women go through. Well, from time to time, we need to care for each other. That’s why I have teamed up with Action Aid today (I am one of their ambassadors and I sponsor a child in India with them). You can support their campaign here.  Here is what they have to say:

” 
6th February International Day of Zero Tolerance to Female Genital Mutilation – is about raising awareness of the practise – encouraging people to take a stand and to help eradicate it.
Female genital mutilation is the deliberate mutilation of the female genitalia – commonly carried out on girls between the ages of four and twelve. It can cause severe bleeding, infection, infertility and death and currently more than 140 million girls and women worldwide are living with the effects that’s more than double the UK population. The practise is unnecessary. 
Here’s one girl’s story:

 Christine, 17 years old, was subjected to female genital mutilation when she was 15, before being forced to marry a much older man.
“My mother and brothers said it was the only thing for my future. When it had been done to me and I was in seclusion, an old man came to my brothers and gave him 15 cows to marry me.

“When the time came for the marriage ceremony his relatives and some guards carried me away. I didn’t want to go and cried. The old man had a wife before me too. She was much older and just treated me like one of her children.

“On my first night in the house with the old man we were left alone together. He forced himself on me and I felt so much pain that I cried [I will spare you the rest. Suffice to say that, if Christine had been my daughter, I would have begged her to forgive me for the rest of my life]”

Christine escaped the house and ran to Kongelai where she sought help from the head of the mixed primary school who subsequently contacted ActionAid. By working with the Kongelai Women’s Network, ActionAid was able to help Christine find a place at school. The chief of Christine’s village was contacted and alerted to what had happened and her family is beginning to accept the wrongdoing. Christine is building a relationship with her family.  
All Christine needed was one person to care for her, understand what she had been through, and help her to rebuild her life. Action Aid is creating such a network. Because, come to think of it, don’t you think that we all need a helping hand from time to time? Who has never ever needed help? It is not always plain sailing, right? So be generous, contribute to the campaign or simply help spreading the word. Thank you.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London