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.
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.
- Continue Reading
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.