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Buttress on the Embankment

Today, I am a guest blogger for Cathy’s wonderful blog: While The Dervish Dances…

Dear New Family,
I know that you are interested in me. I can feel it, and it is good to be desired again. I have been neglected for such a long time.
On the face of it, I am just another vertical slice of a Victorian terraced house. But come on, look closer. I was built in the late 1840s. I have seen it all. You know, the Millbank prison was just down the road. Every person sentenced to transportation was sent here first, and then to Australia. Several thousands of persons convicted of petty crimes, such as stealing an egg because they were hungry, walked here before leaving. You can still see the buttress on the embankment. I remember their fears and also their hopes of building a new life. Some were so young!
Continue…

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I really liked Elizabeth’s comment on my last post. You are so right Elizabeth. Over here, it is all about having good manners. I am convinced that you could get away with murder, provided that you are well-mannered. Obviously you would need to be charming and polite. Words really matter over here- acts sometimes don’t seem to.
It is all about style over substance. As I am not sure that you believe me, a few examples will probably help.
This morning I had to wait a good 10 minutes to get my much-needed cappuccino because the barrista was busy chatting away with her colleague. Busy night apparently – good for her, but none of my business…
When she eventually realised that there was a long queue and after at least 10 failed attempts -on my part- to grab her attention, she politely said:
“-sorry to keep you waiting Darling”, and then she smiled.
What she meant was in fact :”I couldn’t care less about you guys, I had important things to say and come on you can wait a little bit for your posh coffee, can’t you?”
It is also important to note that my sense of humour usually wakes up after my morning coffee and not before…my husband can confirm!
I didn’t smile back as I was slightly annoyed. She noticed it and asked:
“-skinny or normal, your cappuccino ?”
I was outraged. I am taking my coffee here every morning. What she meant was probably:
“-have you put weight on?”
I couldn’t believe it.
“-no, full fat as usual please”
What I meant was: as you can see, I don’t need to diet and you know perfectly well what I want as I come here every morning.
I think that she got the point. I might change coffee shop anyway.
And here, you can say the meanest things in a very polite way. Here are a couple of examples with their “real” translation:
“- You didn’t expect to get the job Darling, did you?
This means: “you knew you were too thick to get the job”.
“- She is such a nice girl”
Don’t be fooled, this means: “she looks like the back of a bus”.
The list is endless.
It is the way Brits are educated from a very early age. You have to conform and be polite in all circumstances. My younger daughter didn’t get into a posh nursery in London because, at her assessment -when she was 3-, she finished her scribbles, got bored and started to pull her little friend’s (very nice & expensive ) dress. This is not an acceptable behaviour you see, even at 3, if you want to become a lady -which after careful consideration I am not sure I want for her. We found the right school, and she is doing very well. I am especially pleased that she doesn’t have to do any curtsies ( not joking, it happens!).
French can be a lot blunter, and it felt nice, initially at last, to be surrounded by seemingly polite people. Well, it didn’t last, because I now can say what they actually mean. Maybe it means that I am ready for a British passport…
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Writing this post following the terrible events in Japan was difficult, but I sincerely hope that it will give you a brief moment of happiness!
The Brits have a lot of unusual ways to have fun. To my French eyes, some of them remain hard to comprehend. I actually have to admit that I don’t find them funny at all…
For instance, they love quizzes. Each pub has a quiz competition every week. You can even have quizzes on specific specialist themes, such as birdwatching, train-spotting or whatever…The few quizzes I had to attend were such a bore that I almost fell asleep. But my British friends really had good fun! They were laughing their heads off, cracking jokes I couldn’t understand, despite all the interpretation skills I have developed over the years. I have to admit that the questions were not really designed for foreigners. Maybe that’s the point. It gives them a sense of community -and excludes anyone who has not been born & bred here. Here are a couple of examples:
1.    Were are the Scottish crown jewels kept? Well the response is “in the castle of Edinburg”. Being French & hence Republican, I didn’t know and frankly I didn’t really care. But the whole debate, during the evening, was to know whether the jewels had be brought to London. And believe me, it was a passionate one…
2.    According to Beatrix Potter, what sort of animal was Mr Jeremy Fisher? The response is “a frog”. Apparently, this is hilarious as I was the only French in the audience. It took me a while to understand that one (Beatrix Potter writes for children and her world is one of speaking animals, and Frenchies are known as frogs) I am sure that no harm was meant, but I have to admit that my love of quizzes didn’t really grow that night.
Another odd thing is the Vicars & Tarts parties. Or any costumed party really. Honestly, why on earth would you want to look ridiculous and make an effort to do so! I am struggling with this love of costumed parties, but Brits absolutely love it. It is FUN, apparently. Maybe it is just an excuse to drink and act in a mad way. It is not unusual to see your (male) stern boss with a plastic pair of breasts and make-up. And he will probably be completely drunk. Whatever he does during the party, you must not mention anything the day after. It is not good behaviour. Even if he made a pass at the young trainee. Everybody must pretend that all is fine and nothing has happened.  Even if it is a big, fat lie…for some reason, it is all part of the game. Not to worry, tomorrow everything will be back to normal…Really.
And finally, we have dog races…very popular indeed. A classic. It is supposed to provide you with a safe platform for gambling. People who are usually shy and discreet start shouting and cheering like there is no tomorrow. Weird.
So why is having fun so different this side of the Channel? No idea really! Something to do with being so polite most of the time maybe.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Thank you Sam , for the Lovely Blog Award, 



and thank you Janine, for the versatile Blog Award.


This week is Award’s week for 40BlogSpot. I am new to blogging and was delighted to find so much support amongst fellow bloggers. Thanks again for all your encouragements and kind words of support.

I understand that I now need to pass on the Lovely Blog award. Here are the lucky winners:
1.     The Accidental Londoner: I can’t remember how I came across this blog, but I love it. Something to do with falling in love with London, I suppose
2.     Secondary Blog Adventures: this is my daughter’s blog. She writes beautifully and I am a bit jealous.
3.     Reflections from a Red Head: Janine’s honest account of her life and dreams.

Now each winner can pass it on to 3 other blogs…Enjoy!


And for the versatile blog award :
1.     Dathai C A Republican invited to The Wedding Of The Year. If this isn’t versatile, what is?
2.     http://www.smileforlondon.com/ : I love the videos. Just have a look and enjoy…
3.    What Not To Do In Love And Business : Sherrod’s beautiful site and stories
4.    As the Actress said to the Bishop: Isabelle’s funny posts
5.     While the Dervish Dances : Cathy’s magic moments of life
6.     A Cup Of Romance: Sandie’s uplifting romance stories
7.     Vinobaby’s Voice : a ray of sunshine from Florida!
 Now you guys need to pass the award to 7 other blogs and say 7 things about you that we don’t know about you yet!

Right. Now, I have to tell you seven things about me that you don’t already know:
1.     I find myself checking the news every 5 mins following the Japan earthquake and tsunami. I am horrified by what happened. I hope that everybody I know in the South Pacific is fine & safe. I am worried and feeling useless;
2.     Despite the name of this blog, I am NOT 40 yet (but not very far from it, which is why I am writing it while I still can). I thought that I should clear that one out right away;
3.     I hate judgemental people. I guess you could say that I am very judgemental about judgemental people (but that’s allowed);
4.     I don’t believe that you learn from your mistakes. I personally prefer to build on my strengths and try not to make the same mistakes twice;
5.     I had one too many glasses of champagne yesterday evening and am feeling a bit tired today. My head hurts. Thought you couldn’t get drunk on champagne but was clearly wrong;
6.     Today is a beautiful day and I have set myself a target to run 3 times this week;
7.     I am Sooo looking forward to the week-end!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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(Grimaud Castle, France, The sky is the limit)
For those of you who don’t know it (where have you guys been all this time?), last week was offers’ week for secondary schools (i.e. from 11 to 18 years old). In London, finding a secondary school is a very competitive process, and girls need to pass several exams and then interviews before they know where they can go in September. It is a stressful time for mothers & daughters (see my post on the prep here and my daughter’s version of the events here)
Back in October, I went to talk to my daughter’s teachers. I felt like I was back to school when a stern maths teacher with square spectacles made it very clear that my daughter was, as she put it, “borderline” for London’s top schools. She didn’t say “with hard work, she will get there”. No, she delivered the news that my bright, beautiful daughter would be better advised not to present the school she badly wants since she turned 5 – let’s call it Saint Peter in West London.
It is fair to say that I pushed her. Selection in the French system is ruthless, so I knew what to do and how to get ready. I took the bulldozer approach and I analysed all the past papers I could find. I identified all the different types of exercises and am now such an expert on all the 11+ tests that I am seriously considering starting a tutoring business!
I would like to think that I wasn’t as bad as other Mums as she could still go to her after-school clubs (ballet, swimming…) whereas most of her class mates stopped everything. I might be in denial here. To be fair, some of the girls had been tutored since the day they were born. I only gave her a push over the last three months. Again, I might be kidding myself.
We have just received the offers. She got a firm offer from ALL the schools she presented.  Each of them, including St Peter of course. But, best of all, her current school is now offering her an academic scholarship as apparently she did extremely well. How come that Borderline Girl has now become Bright Girl?
Oh, and we haven’t worked together since the exam. Instead of revising, we are now catching up with all the chick flicks we missed…I recommend “The Rebound”, it made me laugh. It is really good to get my life back.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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                                       (L’arbre des possibles, The tree of all possibilities – Muriel 2010)


Today is women’s day. However, we keep hearing, in Great Britain, that we women have never had it so good, that we have a choice (career or children) and that, in short, we shouldn’t complain. Best of all: studies made by women came to such a conclusion. Do we all live in the same planet? I sometimes wonder.
Of course, we have access to services and a quality of life that other sisters can not even dream of (tap water, health services, education…). But come on, we are far from being equal, aren’t we? Who are we kidding here? Did I dream the glass ceiling thing? Where are the girls in boardrooms? In Parliament ?  I believe that we will have achieved some equality when incompetent men and women will be treated the very same way. I once had a male boss who was corrupted. He was promoted (or, should I say, swiftly moved to another job). The female Human Resources director had been sacked just before, apparently because she was incompetent – the two events were not related-.
I will also believe in equality when my husband puts the dirty laundry in the basket, not on top of it.
I am an optimist and I am hopeful that, eventually, we will get there. In the meantime, I am exhausted every day and ranting on my blog is my therapy.


Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Welcome to the SheWrites Blogger Ball!

A big thank you to Meg for organising this…Enjoy your visit!
I thought that I should take this opportunity to introduce myself a bit better. Here are some quick facts about me:
1. I speak 4 foreign languages, but all with a French accent (and believe me, you don’t want that);
2. I am a French Mum living in London;
3. I hate the way people (mostly men) look at me when I speak with a French accent;
4. A long time ago, I decided to be brutally honest with myself, even if it means facing some not-so-nice home truths sometimes;
5. Chocolate is my favorite thing;
6. I am passionate about Asia and would love to live there at some point;
7. My daughters are growing up beautifully and despite the fact that I feel 15 in my head I have to accept that I am middle aged now. Tough.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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In order to understand what life is about over here, I had to learn lots of new, sometimes useful words.
For instance, it took me some time to understand that you had freehold and also leasehold properties in this country. I thought at first: who would buy a property for a lease of 20 years -or sometimes even less? Once the lease expires, you are not sure to be able to renew it. Or it will cost you…But, once again, I was wrong: you need to be flexible here, and in any event you have no choice, most properties are leasehold anyway. Leasehold contracts come in all forms and shapes. Some are only for a year, others for 999 years. I am still struggling with what a peppercorn rent is. It has nothing to do with pepper and corn, I am sure of this.
Apparently, it is perfectly normal to buy a leasehold property in London, and to pay huge amounts of legal fees to get the share of freehold (i.e. all or part of the ground your property is built on) later, or to renew it at the end of the lease (which you are not sure to be able to do)… Weird…someone needs to finance the lawyers’ lifestyle-and the freeholder’s (who is usually part of the aristocracy), I suppose.

We live in Pimlico and are lucky enough to have bought a freehold property, which is a rare luxury in London. This is because, 150 years ago, Pimlico was were the honest businessmen from Chelsea were coming to drink a few pints and relax in company of women of little virtue.
The freeholder got slightly annoyed to have to sue various madams to get his rent and eventually sold the freehold of his properties, which can be considered to be a radical but effective way to solve the problem.
I like this history of Pimlico. The records of the Stuffed Cat’s house (http://mumugb.blogspot.com/2011/02/stuffed-cats-house.html#links)
do not appear to show any activity of this kind. That being said, they would not advertise it I suppose…Our house was initially rented by room, and former tenant shave included, apparently, a gifted musician, a dress maker, and various engineers.
For some unknown reason, Pimlico remains one of my favorite parts of London. Thanks, Sisters!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I have always liked London. I don’t really know why. Maybe it is because of the energy, the various parks and the narrow, cobbled streets. But I can’t help thinking that it is because London has all the ingredients of an organised chaos.
Take Paris for instance. Someone called Haussmann decided to renovate and reorganise Paris. Old individual houses were destroyed and the main streets were completely renovated, boasting tall, modern buildings and wide avenues.  It was all about order and ensuring consistency of style.
As a result, if you cannot afford to buy a “Hotel Particulier” (i.e. a big, posh house) in the XVIth district, it is virtually impossible to buy a house in Paris.
Things are different in London. Buying a house doesn’t come cheap, but remains possible. Lots of streets still have terraced houses, some Victorian, others Georgian. The capital is made of different layers and hasn’t had to sustain a heavy programme of renovation over the last 250 years. It shows. It makes it more human.
After a few years here, we wanted to put down roots and decided to try to buy our own place. It was quite a journey…Until one day, lured by another nice ad from an estate agency, I visited this home. An old couple had been living in it for a few decades and it was part of a house built in the 1840s. There was a cat on the cupboard, in the lounge. It looked asleep and was breathing. The agent explained to me that it was a stuffed cat that had been kept to keep the new cat company. And to trick the new cat, it was plugged and could breathe.
How weird. I thought that it must be a British thing again and kept my mouth shut. We made an offer. My highflying husband managed to convince the agent that the ad should be removed. It worked and the offer was accepted.
I have now been living in the Stuffed Cat’s house for 4 years. The former owners obviously took both cats (the living and the stuffed ones) with them. We found old newspapers from the 1850s in the attic. We now have our own piece of London.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London