Posted by / Category London /



Do you remember The Clash? They were great. I especially liked their hit song “should I stay or should I go?”. And guess what: I live close to 36 Causton street, in London, where The Clash have recorded their songs.
The Vanilla Studio doesn’t exist any more -it has been replaced by the diocese of London:


 However, every time I walk along Causton Street, I have this tune in my head: “should I stay or should I go?”.
Anyway, today, I have a very personal dilemma to share with you. I am thinking of quitting my day job. You see, I am too busy doing the school runs, taking care of the girls, working full-time and my husband travels very often -too often, in fact. And also, I am knackered all the time. Simply exhausted -in a way that I didn’t think existed-. I always have something to do or to attend (I am writing this while watching The Princess and the Frog).
But I have a secret card to play: 4 years ago, I started my very own business, on top of my day job. It is now tumbling along quite nicely and will require more time if I want to take it to the next stage. Don’t understand me the wrong way, it is not going to make me  become Bill Gates. Let’s just say that being my own boss feels nice, and I could have more time with my daughters and my family, and take it easier generally. Financially, I could always look for another job or work free lance in the future if things don’t work out as expected.
But I spent a long time studying Engineering and I pride myself in being an Engineer in a male-dominated environment. I am reluctant to give it all up, after so much effort. I am finding myself excuses to keep my day job: it represents security, I know the Industry, I am reasonably recognised- whatever it means-… And wouldn’t I miss the interaction with colleagues ? It is difficult to be on your own all the time.
In short, I don’t know what to do. That said, I know that I am very fortunate to have a choice when people around me are struggling to make ends meets.
It is a funny time in my life. My grandparents have now passed 90 and, let’s face it, might not be around for much longer. It feels right to have more time with them now, and it simply won’t happen if I keep my job.
So come on and let me know: should I stay or should I go?
I am hoping that I will not have to make the decision myself, that I will be able to take advantage of one of the many reorganisation plans that my company is going through. It would be so much easier…
Maybe I just need a break and everything will be fine. Again, I know I can’t complain: I am in good health, and don’t have any real problem.
But it is a big deal for me.
I will give myself more time to decide. A few months. End of the year, top…
So come on and let me know:

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

I will soon be back in town, and life in the French Riviera is becoming a tad boring. On top of this, my Mum’s house is a complete mess and I can’t say or do anything about it because she would be upset. Anyway, all is not bleak : my husband has managed to find some time in his busy schedule and is spending the Easter week-end with us. Actually, he is catching up with sleep as I write. But let’s not complain: he didn’t forget to bring with him a copy of “The Illustrated London News” , which is good. For those of you who don’t know, I found some old newspapers in my attic, when we were renovating our house in London, and I am trying to read them in the hope that it will help me to understand the British…
Today, we are Saturday, March the 19th, 1898. On the front page, there is a huge illustration of the Queen’s visit to the Riviera ” Her Majesty’s departure from Nice railway station for Cimiez”. Well, it looks like I am in the right place. Lucky me.
But my joy is short-lived. The newspapers is full of good, old fashioned generalisations and judgemental comments.
1.    Against the French
“Why are Frenchmen so unwilling to quit their native country and spread themselves as pioneers over unoccupied parts of the earth, like the English? A French writer ( no name is given of course) mournfully confesses that it is the fault of French mothers. They are adorable women; they inspire the life-long attachment of their children….English prejudice is fond of attributing to the French a lack of moral fibre; but it is the very ardour of the domestic virtues which disqualifies most Frenchmen for the labours of colonisation.”
2. Against the Germans
“Mr. Forbes-Robertson, who is playing Hamlet in Germany, has discovered that Shakspere (that’s how it is written)is a German author. The critics have judged his performance not only from the standpoint of German dramatic art, but also through the refined and lucid medium of the German language. Shakspere in English is unsatisfactory to German ears accustomed to his wood-notes wild in their native Teutonic. It is, perhaps, the most singular delusion of English egotism to suppose that Shakspere was an Englishmen, whereas it is well known to all educated Germans that he was born at Postdam, and that his dramas, which are occasionally seen on the London stage, are played in a corrupt English translation.”
3. Against female nurses
“The hospital nurse is more intent upon flirtation than upon healing.”
4. Against Korea, “that singular and sequestered country”
5. Against people in general
“Great number of people travel by the Underground. It makes you wonder where in the world they all come from.”
It made me wonder something else: why do people in general and British in particular have this need to prove that they are and know better? It is not new: it was already the case more than 110 years ago apparently. Why do we have this need to comment and judge? Is it because it makes us feel better? Probably. The sense of belonging to a group of like-minded people is powerful. It is as if we belong to some sort of elite. It is also because the group may have followed the same education, the same initiation rites. There is a long section, in today’s newspapers, about “whipping boys”. The section starts as follows:
 “When Dr. Markham asked George III how he wished his son educated, “like the sons of any private English gentleman ,” his Majesty replied. “if they deserve it, let them be flogged; do as you used to do at Westminster .”
Maybe, when you are a private English gentleman, this sense of belonging to the same group is extremely strong ( courtesy of extensive flogging during childhood) and somehow gives you the right to believe that you are superior to the whole world. Maybe. Well, I believe that it is high time to be more open minded!
And finally, a couple of nice ads:
-” harlene”, the great hair producer and restorer. The finest dressing. Specially prepared and perfumed. Fragrant & Refreshing. Is a luxury and a necessity to every modern toilet.”
-“asthma cure” Grimault’s Indian cigarettes. Difficulty in expectoration, asthma, nervous cough, catarrh, sleeplessness and oppression immediately relieved by these cigarettes”
See you next week!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

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

Posted by / Category London /

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

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

Posted by / Category London /

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

Posted by / Category London /

You probably don’t know what they are. Well, simply put, they are part of your survival kit if you want to be taken seriously in this country.
It is all about appearing to be making sense when you are, in fact, talking non-sense. Don’t underestimate such a vital skill. Even Shakespeare used oxymorons.  If you want to go with the flow, you will have to learn.
When I moved to this country (Ah. Memories!), here is the sort of things that I would have said:
          Where are the children? It is very quiet in here;
          I don’t speak English very well;
          The proposal was rejected;
          She is divorced but doesn’t want anyone to know;
          I went to the concert on my own;
          I disagree;
          I don’t understand.
Fatal mistakes. Everybody was noticing that I hadn’t been brought up in Britain. Here is what I should have said:
          Where are the kids? What is this deafening silence?
          I am an advanced beginner in English;
          The proposal was rejected in its entirety but it proved to be a successful failure;
          Her divorce is an open secret;
          I was alone in the crowd at the concert;
          Let’s agree to disagree;
          It is as clear as mud.
As you may guess, it was, and still is, a steep learning curve. I am not sure that I will get there eventually. This is because my brain is wired in a different way. A long time ago, I decided to always be brutally honest with myself, even if it was tough and meant that I had to deal with some not-so-nice home truths.
I have to learn to think and speak in a different way. It is hard work. It is all about being positive and wanting to make an impression. But guess what: an unexpected side effect is that I am happier here. I have more fun.

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

I feel older and none the wiser. Not to mention the fact that I am exhausted. Tough life
The reason: I have had to organise my daughters’ birthday parties (I am very organised: they are born the same day).
When I was younger (no, not that long ago, but I might be in denial), for birthdays we used to share a home-baked cake with a couple of school friends. Well, those days are gone. Peer pressure is strong and, over the last few years, birthday parties I have had to take my daughters to have included:
          Full makeover party;
          Climbing party;
          Renting out a cinema (Yes, a whole cinema);
          Fireworks in west Essex;
          Action Man themed party…
The list is far from being exhaustive. In short, to keep up with the Jones’, you must either:
          Have deep pockets
          Think outside the box
And if you have both, it doesn’t hurt. I am trying hard to keep the budget under control, which basically means that I have to work harder and try to find original parties’ ideas. Also –Shame on me!-, I don’t hesitate to share birthday parties with other classmates. My daughters don’t resent me too much (yet). You also have to prepare party bags & birthday cakes. It is a job. There are party planners in London.
This birthday party pressure must be specific to this country. I am not aware of anything of the same scale elsewhere. Quite the opposite. A British friend of mine living in Paris was going to a Star-wars-themed birthday  party and took the metro to get there, with her son in a Darth Vador costume and her dressed up as princess Leia. People thought that they were barking mad. No-one understood why you would dress up like that for a birthday party. She felt ashamed. No one would have blinked over here.
Where does this pressure to do something extraordinary every year come from? When did everything change? Why didn’t I see it coming? Our little darlings must now feel loved, valued, entertained…And us parents have to work, pay and shut up.
Tough life, as I said. I might be a bit jealous…
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /


The other day, when I was talking to French friends, they asked me when I was going back to France. They made it sound like:  “The holiday is over; it is time for you to go back where you belong.” They seemed convinced that no meaningful life is possible outside of France. How very French.

News flash: I am not going back to France. Of course, I will go for some holidays, or to visit family and friends. But not permanently. In order to explain to them why, I have tried to list the 10 best and worst things (we need to be balanced here) about London.

THE BEST:
1.    The coffee culture. There is nothing like the cappuccinos and lattes here, and my first sip in the morning is probably the best time of the day;
2.    The permanent Turner exhibition at the Tate Britain. Guess what: it is completely free!  You can turn up whenever you like. Being French, I was taught about the Impressionists, but never about Turner. What a mistake! Turner is a precursor, a genius. For an exhibition like this in Paris, the queue would be one mile long. I used to go every day when we moved here, until I realised that I was falling for a dead painter. I am trying to go once a month now. I am still in recovery. He is simply great;
3.    The parks. The list is endless, and you can spend a day in London walking in different parks without taking the Tube or a cab. St James Park, Hyde Park, Kensington gardens, Holland Park..;
4.    The fact that I feel thin here (but not in Paris);
5.    The chocolate croissants. Especially when the chocolate is melting inside…;
6.    “Show and tell” at school. My daughters have become very confident and it is a pleasure to listen to them;
7.    The solidarity between Mums. One day, the school was closed because of a major leak. I had had 3 phone calls before 8am to warn me, with babysitting offers. I was amazed. It had never happened in France;
8.    The streets between Smith Square and Westminster school. It feels like travelling back in time. The houses have not changed. You can see the signs showing the entrance of shelters used during WWII on Lord North Street. On Barton Street, the old houses are leaning towards the street and some of the windows are not straight. I feel like I am going to see a carriage with two horses whenever I walk past it;
9.    Jogging along the Embankment;
10.Spooks (The TV series). I think that I am addicted to it.

THE WORST:
1.    Parking in London. It is so complicated that no one understands it. It is all about your resident permit. It can be completely different from one street to the next and I am not sure whether you can park on a yellow line on Saturdays and Sundays. I am told that it depends (on what?). I have given up and have to pay the odd parking ticket from time to time (£60. What a rip-off! And in France it is just €15!!!);
2.    The sandwiches. It is almost impossible to have a lunch that doesn’t involve a sandwich or a salad here;
3.    The price of a decent education. OMG!
4.    London GPs. Especially when you are used to your family doctor in France. Here, they do you a favour when you finally book an appointment and you are on your back foot from the start. Someone will have to explain to me of what use GPs exactly are;
5.    Being called darling, sweetie, honey or love by people you don’t know. Weird and not necessarily nice;
6.    The way people look at me when they hear me speak with a French accent. I can assure you that being French is not an illness. It is not contagious and I don’t understand why apparently it is so sexy. I am here to work, not date;
7.    Porridge: can someone honestly tell me that they like it? Is it just a test that you have to take to become a British citizen? I never understood whether you put salt or sugar in it. That’s how bad it is. I think that it looks like solidified saliva;
8.    The white cream the Brits put in chocolate éclairs. Not nice;
9.    Custard. Not, it is not like Crème Anglaise. It is much worse;
10.Chutney: what is it exactly? If decay had a taste that would be it!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

Stop all the clocks! Nisha is in town. I am normally a very discreet person. I only wear make-up when absolutely necessary. But Nisha is my (only)celebrity friend and she is in town. My whole world is upside down. She makes me discover new beauty products that I didn’t know existed. She knows all the names of the fashion designers just by looking at the clothes. That’s shouldn’t come to a surprise to anyone as she is the person behind the Nisha JamVwal brand. She is an editor in chief, an architect, a model… and, more importantly, a friend of mine.
We met at her hotel and went straight to Harrods for a shopping fix. It turned into a whole expedition. With her larger-than-life personality, she managed to get a ton of tester products. How does she do it?
We ended up having a bouillabaisse at Harrods seafood bar. I was keen to make her try my favourite dish, the flavour of the special occasions of my childhood (marinated soup of fish and seafood). She loved it. We laughed a lot.
Seeing Nisha in the street of London is a treat. Actually, it is like a thermal shock of cultures: the Indian warmths meets the British coldness…So much fun…But do expect some surprises. She brightened my day (and it was a tough day, not least because we had a leak in the house and cannot use the upstairs toilet. Nightmare). Thanks, Nisha!!!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London