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Before we start, I have to confess something.  I am not in London today. I am sitting outside, in a small village close to Saint Tropez. The sun is shining; the light is so intense that I actually need sunglasses (In London, I put them on when I want to show off because there is a tiny bit of sunshine). But I miss London. Yesterday, I couldn’t find any coffee in my Mum’s house and had a terrible headache. Withdrawal  syndrome. I am pathetic. Addicted to coffee. Where is my coffee shop at the corner of my street? The Internet connection is, at best, patchy, and Twitter seems only a dream from here. Fortunately, I had brought one of these old newspapers found in my attic. Just opening it felt nice. The smell of the old paper reminded me of London. I am a City girl. I miss the buzz. Something has gone badly wrong with me.

I will never know why I only have a few copies of “The Illustrated London News”. Who bought them? Why did they keep only a few copies? Anyway, we are Saturday, February the 10th, 1877, and for some unknown reason the “Illustrated London News” feels incredibly thin today. One of the illustrations shows a fight between two polar bears.
“This fight took place, one day last year, in the Zoological Garden at Cologne. It is to be hoped that the attendant keepers were able to separate these infuriated enemies before either of them had suffered mortal injuries (Well said. But did they stop them or not?). The visitors to our own Zoological Society’s gardens in Regent Park (I miss London. Don’t talk to me about Regent Park) have often remarked the unsociable temper of the white bears, which seem never disposed to amicable play with each other or to entertain the friendly greetings of their human admirers. In this respect, they behave differently from the brown and black bears…”You may remember that we were all amazed with Knut the bear. Apparently, there is nothing new here. Zoo fights and gossips were of interest more than a century ago. Human nature doesn’t seem to have changed too: the colour of the fur seems to be of importance to determine how you behave…Men seem to love to generalize (I know, I am deep today. Must be the sun on my head).
In Italy, “The Chamber of Deputies has passed a bill abolishing imprisonment for debt.” I didn’t know. How civilized of Italy! Oh, and “The English cricketers played against the Auckland team on the 2nd inst., winning easily.” I thought that the Brits were into fair play. This comment is borderline arrogant, isn’t it? Clearly, I am still missing something. Cricket must run in the British blood. Maybe it awakes their inner white polar bear? Just speculating here.
There is also a full transcription of the opening of the Parliament by the Queen. Apparently, “The ceremonial was favoured with the proverbial Queen’s weather, the day proving to be as fine as an early English spring could be expected to produce.” I am not sure what it means. Probably that it wasn’t raining. The Queens mentions the hostilities between Turkey and Servia (yes, with a v).  At the end of the ceremonial , “the brilliant assemblage immediately broke up, and the Royal procession drove amid the clanging of the bells, the salvoes of artillery in the park, and the loyal cheers of the populace.” Some things never change. I miss London.
Lots of adverts are for new songs and clearly, the mood seems to become more romantic:
“ Love Never Dies. New song. It is just the composition to take the popular ear, and to be a favourite with all who can sing and all who hear it.”
“My Laddie (yes, with two d’s) Far Away. A new and excellent song.”
“Only Love Can Tell. Peculiarly fresh and charming, and will prove a great acquisition to sopranos and mezzo sopranos”.
As you can see, all is well under the sun. See you next week!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Brits are very polite. At all times and in all circumstances. They never say “No”. I once asked a colleague whether he had already used a new software I had heard about. I thought that it was a yes or no type of question. How naive of me. He replied “Not directly”. I am still wondering what he meant. I have come to the conclusion that, in this instance he just couldn’t say no. It must have hurt him. Saying “No” is, actually, a no-no. A true Brit can’t say no. He has to window-dress it. The best examples are as follows:
“Well, I am not sure”
“Yes, I hear what you say”. (although it is nice to hear a yes, do not kid yourself, this is a no)
“I don’t suppose so” (this is quite direct, it must be a good friend of yours)
“I will contemplate it” (this one is the worst. Once you have understood that contemplating doesn’t mean doing, you have made a big, big step forward…)
Likewise, here, when you apply for a job, a school or anything else you get, most of the time, a very polite rejection letter that can read like this:
“Dear xxxx,
Thanks for your application. Unfortunately, we have received a lot of applications of exceptional quality and, despite your breadth of experience, we feel that other candidates might be better suited….”
From time to time, you don’t get anything. Radio silence.
So my question is: does it make it easier to be rejected politely?
Simply put: no, it doesn’t. I think that I would prefer an honest explanation of why  I didn’t get what I wanted, with quantified justification (it must be a French thing, I love numbers…) like:
– what the grades my daughter at her assessment are and what she would have needed to pass the test;
– why exactly my CV didn’t make the cut;
– how much the other tenant earns and why did he get the flat.
Instead, what I get are wishy-washy explanations like:
“the personality of your daughter should have shone through”
“we feel that you are oversized for the job”
” the flat is not available any more”
“you are too good for me” (used by my friend’s boyfriend to dumb her)
Why are they so polite? Why do I hate it? Why is it so difficult to say “No”. I can’t understand. I don’t get it. Please, just say No.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I am starting to believe that my old Victorian house has a mind of its own. London is, finally, under the sun, which is nice. But for some unknown reason, my wooden entrance door has decided to dilate with the heat and coming home is becoming more and more of a challenge. The door needs a really big push! I must have done something to make the house angry. I can’t help thinking that it must be because I am revealing its secrets…anyway, as London is not really famous for its weather, my concerns should be short-lived.
As you know, I found some old copies of the “illustrated London News” in my attic. Today, I am taking you back to Saturday, November 7th, 1874. The picture on the front page is an illustration of the civil war in Spain, it shows donkeys bringing food rations for Carlist (I.e., supporter of Don Carlos) soldiers defending Estella. It is a part of history that I have never been taught. This week, the tone of the paper is a little bit more measured. It looks like the journalist is starting to get worried for Germany – or is it because of the power of Germany ? ” However confident Germany may be in the adequacy of her own resources, she is deeply impressed with the necessity of organising and utilising them to the utmost. She is in geographical contact with three great military powers. Upon two of them, in single encounter, she has inflicted the humiliation of defeat. What if they should combine against her? The contingency, it may be, is not on the cards just now ; but it may be at some future crisis of European events. At any rate, she will prepare for such a possibility to the fullest extent of her means. For the present, Germany aims only at keeping what, at great cost, she has won, and at tranquilly enjoying the conquests she has achieved.”
The news from France are quite boring this time, so let’s jump to the local section. “There were 2359 births and 1368 deaths registered in London last week. The births exceeded by 20, and the deaths were 149 below the average numbers. The deaths included 1 from smallpox, 8 from measles, 128 from scarlet fever, 4 from diphtheria, 12 from whooping cough, 43 different forms of fever, and 21 from diarrhoea. Six deaths were caused by horses or vehicles in the streets. The mean temperature was 53.3 deg” I am not sure that the transition between the numbers of death and the temperature is that well managed. I am also thankful for living in 2011 as smallpox has disappeared, and antibiotics or vaccines can prevent or cure most of the listed death causes. I certainly tend to easily forget that it wasn’t the case not that long ago! And for those of us who don’t do Fahrenheit, the temperature was 12 degrees. Chilly.
The funny bit is that there is a long section on “Paul and Virginia”. What, you haven’t heard about “Paul and Virginia” written by Bernardin de Saint Pierre? Let me brief you: it was a best seller at the time.  It was published in 1789 but stayed at the top of the game for a long, long time and was even translated in several languages. It is the story of two children brought up together as brother and sister, in Mauritius. When Virginia becomes a teenager, she realises that her feelings towards Paul have changed. She loves him, but ends up being sent to France, where she feels miserable despite her aunt’s attempt to educate her. After a year, she decides to come back but her ship goes upon the reef of rocks just before reaching Mauritius and she dies either because she doesn’t want to get undressed to swim (there are men onboard!) or because, being almost naked, she doesn’t want a sailor to carry her -I can’t remember which one, but I know that it always seemed to me pretty ridiculous a reason (times have changed). I wouldn’t hesitate to go and dance naked on the street if it could save my skin. And mind you, everybody was almost naked today in the park, which was not always a pretty sight. The journalist seems to agree with me (with his own words obviously) “Poor Virginia was the victim, perhaps, of a mistaken sentiment of duty and honour.” Well, spot on.
And finally, if you are looking for a present for your friends,”the magic sailor will, when placed on the ground, immediately commence dancing, in perfect time, to any tune, astonishing all present. post free 14 stamps. HG CLARKE and Co.”
See you next week!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I recently attended a debate with work colleagues. It was about whether HS2 (i.e. the new high speed train between London and Birmingham) was a good thing. It was the first time I attended a debate and I didn’t know what to expect. Well, I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, I couldn’t recognise my work colleagues. They had prepared arguments, were playing roles, and were passionate about debating.  What surprised me the most is that the topic of the debate didn’t really matter, they just loved debating. You could see it on their face. They were actually having fun.  There was a bell and it rang  when one of the speakers was taking too long. Furthermore, one of our Directors was playing the role of David Dimbleby, who is a famous BBC political journalist.

I started to wonder where this love of debates was coming from. Well, believe it or not, it starts at primary school. My daughter explained to me that, from time to time, since she was seven, (yes, seven!) they had been having so-called “hot balloon” debates. Basically, they pretend that they are in a hot balloon but a couple of persons need to jump out of the balloon in order for the others to survive. You need to make your case and then you have to vote to decide who goes. Honestly, what sort of game is this? To make matters even worse, apparently it is good fun! This is probably because she never was “thrown out” of the balloon as she is very popular. According to my daughter, it is so perfectly normal and acceptable that she didn’t even think that it was necessary to mention it to me. To be fair, they also debate current affairs, which I knew about.

This is not where it stops. There are debating clubs and even competitions in every secondary school. Furthermore, Oxford and Cambridge have debating societies. You know that you are set for life once you are one of their members. Apparently, it also increases your chance to become a Prime Minister.

What I don’t understand is: why is it a good thing to debate for the sake of debating? Why is being a good debater so well recognised? Shouldn’t we value substance over style? You have to understand that the emphasis, in my (very French) education, was to come to the “right” solution (or “as right as possible given the circumstances”), and make a good decision. To a large extent, it is disrespectful in France to discuss a decision that has already been made. You just have to make the most of it. Well, not here, where every piece of decision is dissected bit by bit until you don’t understand the point of the initial decision any longer.

The name that sprang to my mind was “Sophists”. In Athens, they were teaching their skills for a price, because they spoke very well. They use rhetorical techniques to make their point, and it was working very well. It has certainly helped democracy, but as a sophist could successfully argue opposite opinions I doubt it made the decision-making process any easier. So, don’t you think than Great Britain is a Sophist Country?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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In my quest to understand the British, I have some unexpected help: my two daughters are becoming more British by the day and are giving me a useful insight into the British mind, and I also found five old newspapers in my attic. I have already described the first two, and wanted to write about the third today.

But I attended my body combat session, and I am feeling in a feisty mood. I didn’t like something I read in “the illustrated London News”, dated Saturday, October 24, 1874. So I am going to talk about it first, and then, after my rant, I will talk about the paper. Maybe.
Ok, here we go. A big banquet has taken place at the castle of Rambouillet,  in France. “This was the dinner given at the Chateau (castle in French) of Rambouillet by a French Duke to the Prince of Wales…It comprised a crayfish soup, some tartlets a la Talleyrand ; roast beef and potatoes a la Dauphine, lobster salad, ramequins au fromage and glaces a l’Orleans. I mean to write a book some day on the vocabulary of the kitchen, which, albeit its syntax is eccentric, is not half so idiotic as some people imagine. Take the tartlets a la Talleyrand, for example. Well ; did not the Queen of Hearts -that is to say, France- make some tarts ? ( yes, I copied it word for word). The crafty Charles Maurice de Talleyrand Perigord was the Knave (it must mean knight?) of Hearts who betrayed Napoleon I. and handed France over to the Bourbons. So his tartlets ever since 1815 have been popular at the Legitimist Chateau of Rambouillet.”
It then continues on and on but I will spare you the rest. You get the gist of it. On the face of it, there is nothing new. The Brits have always made fun of the French and vice versa ( have a read at what a former French Prime Minister, Edith Cresson, said about the Brits. Not nice. Can’t write it here) But it made me realise that it started long before my time, and hasn’t stopped ever since. Why is this? Why do we always badmouth our neighbours? Why do we have this urge to explain that, deep down, we are better? Sometimes I am feeling very pessimistic about the future of the human condition. Or maybe the so-called journalist had just been dumped by his French girlfriend and I am over-interpreting. In any event, I needed to get it off my chest.
The funny thing is that the rest of the newspaper is pretty balanced, and even start with a very good explanation of why there is a need for a “municipal government of London”. Here it is : “Its inhabitants are at present in the hands of a great many petty officials, who act in their name, and in some way or other by their authority, but do not really at all represent their wishes”. Very nicely put.
Other interesting news include the fact that, in Guatemala “The late Governor of San Jose, being a drunk madman, some months ago took it into his head to flog the British consul.” “For this outrage the Republic had to pay a large sum of money and to make a formal apology.” There is nothing like an insult to the authorities to wake up your inner patriot.
The other funny thing is how things can change fast. Napoleon, in France, has been thrown out. You may remember him, he had been praised for his attitude  on my last post (see here). Well, he isn’t even mentioned now. Nope, not even half a line. It looks like France has always been a Republic…
Let’s finish with of couple of ads:
“Hobson’s patent lock-Rib umbrella: the smallest, when folded, of any umbrella in the world; also their new scent bottle umbrella for ladies. No148, regent street” well, in London, I am sure that they made a fortune!!!
“pale and golden hair-sol aurin produces that tint so much admired in classic age and now so much desired. Sent for 72 stamps. 248, high holborn, London”

Some things like rain and old hair, never change. Well, that’s reassuring

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I have already covered, at some length (apologies, but I am still traumatised!), what it takes to pass the 11+. Another important milestone, over here, is to attend the right primary school (the first year is called Reception, and that’s the year when your child is supposed to turn 5). You have all types of primary schools here, but each school has its own admission policy, and, quite frankly, it is a maze. There is also a big craze about going to the right primary school: this is because otherwise, apparently, your child will be condemned to a life of drug addiction and petty crimes.  Once again, preparation is key. You are warned (I wasn’t!).
Here are a few examples of what you are going to be asked:
        How far do you live from the school? If you are lucky enough to live in the catchment area of a good state school, competition will be fierce, and there are instances where, out of two families living in the same house (one on the top floors, another one in the basement flat), only one got in (the one living in the basement flat). Some cheat but beware: anti-terrorist laws were used to spy on families who had tried to give a false address. Not nice and a bit over the top…
        Some state schools are faith schools over here (this is hard to understand for my French mind as only private schools are religious in France, because the State doesn’t subsidise them –long story). If you want to apply, you will need all the required certificates (marriage, Christening/naming ceremony… ) and, also a Priest/Minister/Rabbi  letter explaining how active in your religious community you are (yes, a religious reference – hard to comprehend for my French mind as religion is a private matter and you don’t advertise it). According to a good friend of mine who desperately wanted to avoid school fees “if you don’t have it, fake it – but start a good year in advance”. I will not comment on this advice. Let’s just say that it seems to have worked for her.
        Then, you have all the fee-paying schools. Some are single sex, some are mixed. Some are very informal, even a bit hippy (you can call your teachers by their first names), others very posh (teach your child to curtsy, it will be appreciated). Where I live most private schools are very posh. The children are being assessed at 3 and what exactly is being assessed remains a mystery. It has to do, apparently, with the child’s vocabulary (not nice if your kid is bilingual) and their attitude (girls need conform and be disciplined!). You might also want to dye your hair blonde (highlights will do, otherwise a wig), be skinny (prepare the interview at least 6 weeks in advance, you can have a hamburger after the interview anyway. What wouldn’t you do for your child?) and finally come wearing big, posh sunglasses even if it is raining and dark . A friend of mine (who, let’s say, is “medium-built”) was initially taken for the au-pair (apologies if I am hurting anyone, it is a true story). If you don’t fit the bill, take a business card with you stating that you or your husband are managing Directors of a leading bank, it will do. Or hire a driver for the day. Or just make a donation.
So why are we all so stressed about getting our kids in the right primary schools? I honestly don’t know, I just went to my local primary school in France and that was it. Is this craze really worth the stress? I am starting to wonder. I just want my daughters to be happy. But at the same time I don’t want them to miss out. I think that I might have become a Londoner!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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As you know ( see here and here), I have found 5 old newspapers in my house’s attic. Once a week, I will try to travel back in time with you to show you what was happening at that time…

Today is Saturday, October the 9th, 1869. You are waking up a bit later than usual in London and are walking to your newsagent to get this week’s  ” illustrated London News”. You open the door and mumble something like: “Can you give me the London news please?”. The shop is very dark and small. I silently hand over the newspapers to you. You give me the exact change, 10 pence, as it is a double issue. You barely notice me, and start reading on your way home. You open your entrance door, grab yourself a cup of your freshly grounded coffee prepared in your Italian coffee machine, and you start turning the pages.
Let’s start with” the foreign and colonial news”.
France is discussed first. The Brits and the French are so similar that they can’t stand each other. As usual, the French are treated with a slightly superior tone:
“Prince Napoleon received, on Friday last, a deputation of English politicians who desired to congratulate him upon the tone of his recent speech to the Senate. He expressed how much he felt complimented at their approval of his conduct; though, I dare say, at heart he, in common with most Frenchmen, thought their proceeding a slightly impertinent one. Still, your restless Englishman temporarily abroad must always mix himself up in the affair of his neighbours.”
Oh, and the legendary neutrality of Switzerland hasn’t changed.
 “The Federal Government has refused to interfere in any way in the affair of the banishment of Frankfurt citizens.” Why are you not surprised?
In the “America” section: “an unprecedented fall of rain visited the Atlantic States on Sunday and Monday, and the floods which it occasioned did much damage to the Railway”.
The Brits’ analysis of the situation in Spain is an interesting one:” The prospects of the Republican party have enormously improved; and this might not be a subject of unmitigated regret (you can’t say anything more British than this) for, through we believe Spain to be monarchical at heart, there may be no reason why she should not try a republican experiment.” They know it all, don’t they?
The Queen was poorly recently, and “should her Majesty’s health permit, it is expected that  the Queen will inaugurate the new Blackfriars bridge early in November”.
You must be careful because “An extraordinary number of counterfeit sixpenny pieces are in circulation in London”.
You don’t really care too much about the country news, so let’s finish with some ads.
“Nuda Veritas – this valuable Specific restores Grey Hair to its original shade; then it grows the natural colour, not grey. Hoveden & sons, 5, great marlborough St, London, W”
“Galvanism-remarkable cure of nervous debility and headache by pulvermacher’s patent improved chain bands, certified by the following testimonial “337, Oxford street, w, nov 4, 1865- Messrs. Pulvermacher and Co -Gentlemen-Some months ago I purchased one of your electric chains for my wife, who has been suffering for years from nervous debility, with extreme prostration and loss of appetite, and I am thankful to say that she is restored to health and strength, solely from continuously wearing it. I have also found it infallible in relieving headache from which I have constantly suffered ( what a couple!) -I am, gentlemen, yours, obediently, George Titlow (I am not joking). Pulvermacher, 200 regent street, W.”
Charlatans are everywhere and have always existed, I suppose…
 I now have to wish you a pleasant week. I will see you next week for your week-end’s newspaper…

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Reading my last posts, I think that it is time for something more light hearted. Let’s talk about a British invention: boarding schools. You see, here, when your kids are seven, you can send them to a boarding school. This means that you are only going to see them during week-ends -if you are lucky- or during holidays-when they are not holidaying with their friends.

This is the main reason why British people tend to have only one child if they are not insanely rich. You see, for the privilege of not seeing your child any more, you will have to fork out more than 3500 pounds a month. Yes, you read that well.
Apparently, boarding schools are back in fashion. My daughter, at some point, even wanted to go to one, because all her British friends wanted to…it made my French blood boil. The phase passed, which is good -and we won’t have to remortgage the house.
I asked one of her classmates why she wanted to go. She answered me that “it was going to help her independence”. I was gobsmacked. She was ten. I must have missed a trick.
What is the impact of going to a boarding school? Well, it depends. Most kids seem to survive, find themselves and even thrive, but some are emotionally damaged for a long, long time. Going to a boarding school shapes you for life. It leaves subtle marks: a certain distance when you speak to others, a will of perfection in everything you do, a fierce independence mixed with extreme vulnerability, and a sense of having been through something, a real accomplishment. Oh, and boarding schools are single sex, I am convinced that it might explain why over here so many men are into cross-dressing. Weird.
Most of the time, it’s not too bad for the kids. But for all French mums, the result is the same: lots of tears and anti-depressants eventually. Wine might help. Some friends of mine started drinking in their forties, when their kids left for boarding school. And they had to spend more money in rehab, cleaning their act. They ended up almost broke, and sometimes single. Tough.
And then, a lot of Brits want to make it look like they went to a posh and expensive boarding school, when they weren’t. It is a pretend game. One day, they are all posh, the next, they are chewing gum and swearing as if there is no tomorrow. Why can’t they just accept who they are?
As for me, I would only send my children to a boarding school if I had no choice (i.e. If I was sick, or living far from a city). Call me a French Mum!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

                                        Spring in London – Just today…

After a long wait, sleepless nights because of the size of the mortgage and various delays in the building works, we finally moved to the Stuffed Cat’s house. It was a dream come true. I was home. Finally.
We found a dollhouse in the attic, as well as copies of old newspapers called “The Illustrated London News” and “The Graphic”.  Eight newspapers in total. The oldest one was dated Saturday, August the 28th, 1869 and the most recent one had been issued on Saturday, May the 4th, 1869.
History is a funny thing. We remember the main events of a life or a country’s history, or a period of time. But being face to face with the detailed reality of a week in 1869 is a completely different matter. It is difficult to reconcile it with the main headlines that we know about. It is a different perspective. Shall we have a closer look?
I am taking you to London, in August 1869. You have just given me five pence and are opening your weekend newspaper. The first sentence you read is “It is  a great convenience to newspapers that our men of science hold their annual festival in this, the dullest month of the year…”. Interesting. Who  knew? Now let’s move to the “Foreign and Colonial News”. You will be pleased to know that in France “The Emperor (Napoleon!) was sufficiently well to preside at the Council of Ministers yesterday.” In Turkey, “it seems that the preparations which are being  made in the capital for the reception of the Empress Eugenie are on a very imposing scale. Roads are being formed and districts improved entirely for the convenience of her Majesty.” At the same time, “In America, President Grant is visiting New Hampshire.”
The tone is a tiny bit patronising. The topic of the moment is the Spanish Revolution. A year ago, “the Spaniards had resolved on throwing off the yoke of a Sovereign whose personal good qualities had certainly not manifested themselves prior to the revolt”. “Spain is still in transition state”.” The Cortes (i.e., Spanish Parliament) was elected without any disturbance”, and “there were no margins to be left for wild patriots, eccentricities, or sham Brutuses of the French revolutionary type”. Ouch. That hurt.  So much for the Entente Cordiale.
But don’t forget the Special Grand Fireworks Next Monday, at Crystal Palace.
Let’s finish with the ads
“Bread-and-Milk Flour (for BABIES) is also excellent for Invalids and Ladies in Confinement (what is that?). To be had of Chemist and Grocer’s.”
“Those ladies who have not yet tried the GLENFIELD starch (The starch is a powder or spray used before ironing to stiffen fabric or clothing) are respectfully solicited to give it a trial, and carefully follow out the directions printed on every package. It is rather more difficult to make than other Starches; but, when this is overcome, they will say, like the Queen’s Laundress, that is the finest Starch they ever used.”
Have a nice week. I will see you on the 9th of October 1869.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London