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 (
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.

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.

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

Posted by / Category London /

My daughter has just finished her last interview for London top secondary schools. In this country, this is called the 11+. Going to a secondary school is a selective process and only the best get their first choice of school. The selection is ruthless and my daughter had to deal with a lot of pressure. All of this is already well documented and all of it is true ( the reality is in fact much, much worse). Having being educated in the French system, I am kind of used to this.

What is less talked about is how it affects mums …I wish I had taken some meditation classes to keep my cool. I basically survived on Daylesford organic brownies and 5k runs. I do not recommend it, despite the fact that I managed to lose some weight during the process (not a lot. Damn it)

First of all, forget about any kind of social life from September of year 6. Just write it off. Cancel any work engagement. Then, find a good tutor or be prepared to tutor your daughter yourself. Do not believe anything you are told by the school, all the girls are tutored and must be prepared unless you still believe in fairytales -and at the end of the process you won’t any more. Prince charming will not come. Some mums learned it the hard way-.  Some girls even started having a tutor at nursery (on top of the school fees, of course). Really. That said, do not kid yourself: the 11+ can not be outsourced, you will have to get your hands dirty. Do not count on your husband, he will be on business trips at all the crucial times and there is no point in complaining, they all do it and you don’t want to start divorce proceedings during this process anyway.

Then, information is key. You have to pump the other mums for information and-shock horror-, discover that sometimes you will be interviewed too. My advice: preparation, preparation, preparation. You have to attend with your husband and present a united front. It was tough for a friend of mine whose hubby ran away with her best friend. But, for the sake of her darling daughter, she did it. That’s what it takes. I think that there might be a business opportunity for pretend-husbands here. Oh, and the power stripes are mandatory for him, he must look like a banker (see (  Then, you have to understand that most Sloane Square mums look similar:
– skinny
– blonde. Blonde highlights are acceptable, hair extensions are a real bonus
– loads of foundation on  the face (do not even think of visiting a school without make-up). Botox is recommended
– designer clothes. For some unknown reason, most of the mums look  like they are going to go horse riding (please do not bring the whip or leave it in the Chelsea Tractor), and they accessorise the look with a Prada bag. I have tried to look around to see the horses but couldn’t find any.

I am ticking none of the above boxes. I have bought some fancy boots but the girls are laughing their heads off when I am wearing them. With a mum like me, my daughter does not stand a chance. I would be taken for the French au-pair, which would not boost my self confidence. My only choice was to hire an actress or to choose schools with no interviews for me. I chose the latter ( but just in case I had a skinny friend lined up to represent me).

Finally, be prepared for anything. My daughter was asked about what was happening in Tunisia. She acted as if it was perfectly normal for a 10-year old to analyse Tunisa’s political situation and explained that Ben Ali’s wife stole a ton and a half of gold. In short: do not let anything bother you. Maybe, after all, she could tutor me now.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category Cultural Differences, London /

We all had, at some point, to see our GP (General Practitioner – that’s how we call our doctor over here). It is a very peculiar experience. My daughter had been suffering from a bad cough for what seemed to be a very, very long time (especially when you wake up every other hour. I had to send my other daughter to the guest room as she was in the middle of her 11+ exams so that she could sleep -more about that in a few weeks- ).

But we just talked. He didn’t examine her.  He didn’t even look at her, or take her measurements. You know: weight, height, blood pressure…he explained to me that there is a virus out here, the cough lasts 4 to 5 weeks and there is nothing to do. Tough luck, dear lady. The consultation didn’t last more than 5 minutes. I insisted that he should take a look at her, listen to her lungs, look at her throat, or simply do something but no, he didn’t do anything. He didn’t give in. He just didn’t see the point.  But he was really, really nice.  And polite too. The next thing I did was to get a prescription for antibiotics from a French friend who happened to be a doctor and I am pleased to say that the cough has gone in less than 3 days, which means that the whole household was able to get some much-needed sleep at last.

The problem is in fact a cultural one. Whereas in France we talk and then we do something, here we talk, and talk, and talk again. Then, eventually, only when absolutely necessary, something is done about the issue. Not always.  A (British) friend of mine managed to talk about how tea is made the proper way for more than 25 minutes (I timed him.). Given that it must take a couple of minutes to actually make a cup of tea, it took him twelve times longer to talk about it.  Amazing.  I just can’t imagine the time it must take to tackle a real issue over here. I think that I would have time to die of boredom 10 times before it happens. I am still unsure as to how you would solve the issue though. Maybe that ‘s the reason why we can’t get our dishwasher repaired: a week of talking would be required.

Mind you, this love of words also has its upsides.  A defining moment of my life in this country was when I had my second daughter in London. When in France I immediately got an epidural when things got rough, here I was asked to talk through my pain. I ended up doing so much more than talking: I shouted, insulted, begged and threatened (I can’t remember the exact order)…but in the end no epidural was needed. That’s what’s called efficiency!

On the bright side, I have learned to trust my instincts here. In France, people will actually do something (and sometimes they will actually do too much. I still resent the science teacher who gave me a 0% to make me understand that grades were not important). Here, finally, I don’t care any more about all the talks and unwanted advice. And we are going to change the dishwasher.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

Posted by / Category London /

It is this time of the year again: the stripes are back. Beware: they are on the tube, at work, in the street… I am not talking about the discreet little stripes on a white shirt here, but of the thick, usually purple or green ones. My favorite is when they are on a pink shirt. They usually try to cover a fat, well-fed tummy, but with limited success…

What is even better is when, together with the shirt, the trousers have stripes too-not the same ones of course. The possibilities are endless. The jacket can have stripes as well, and the tie too -usually oblique ones to be fair. Some even decide to have a tie with dots to add a little bit of variety. Lovely touch. After careful observation, I have come to the conclusion that stripes give an ego boost to the guy who wears them. The more stripes, the better, and the smarter the guy will feel. It is a sort of trampoline. The more they have, the higher their confidence jumps.

What I am still struggling to comprehend is the choice of colors that some men like to wear. I have seen a green man. The trousers, the jacket, the tie, everything -with the mandatory stripes of course. Pink and purple are also very popular. There is nothing wrong with this, of course, except when it is with some light-blue trousers. In the run-up to Christmas, I was wondering whether there was a Christmas tree competition. Now I am starting to believe that color blindness is much more widespread this side of the channel.

That said, the beauty of this country is that, even with no make-up and wearing my husband’s socks, I feel great. No one seems to care and I find it liberating.  When I was working in Paris, I once was so asleep that I put a brown tight on one leg and a black one on the other. You could barely see the difference but I was so ashamed that I rushed to the first supermarket to correct my mistake. I wouldn’t do it here. Nobody would have noticed anyway and if someone had, being French, for some funny reason, seems to mean that everything I do is stylish. I love it. I feel like I am a style icon here. Whatever I wear, I have some friends who are always telling me that I have a lot of style, even when I have my scruffy jeans on. I think that my friends are a bunch of very nice people!

As I am writing there is a group of teenage girls outside. They have mini-skirts and sleeveless jackets. Outside, in the cold, of course. Of course I could be shocked. But well, if it makes them happy, it can’t be that bad!
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London