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Breaking news: Joy has mentioned my blog and I just love what she said about me. Check it out at Catharsis.

Where has the week gone? It is a glorious day in London and I am knackered. I need a good holiday, but having a break is not on the agenda yet. That said, it was a good week…
Thanks to my 6-year old daughter, I went to the Royal College of Art this week. She has been selected amongst 7000 participants in an art competition organised by a charity, and her painting was displayed there.

I could hardly believe that she was selected. It is apparently an honour, and saying that I was surprised is a bit of an understatement here: let’s just say that we are not an artsy family. Far from it.

So, a bit stressed, I walked from Gloucester Road Tube Station to the Royal College of Art. I then had to pay £3 for the privilege of entering the exhibition, and was suddenly surrounded by 700 kids’ paintings. Very helpfully, my lovely daughter had explained to me: “Mum, you can’t miss it, there is a pineapple, a pear and a flower”. I expected a “nature morte” and surveyed all the walls, desperately looking for the pineapple. Surely I would recognise her style. But nope, I couldn’t find anything. I tried to understand how the paintings were organised ( by school? By age group?) but I couldn’t figure it out. In the end, I had to ask one of the lovely ladies at the entrance door to help me.

To be fair, it took her quite some time to find it but she managed. There it was, right in the middle of one of the walls. 

The yellow thing on the right is, I am told, the pineapple. No wonder I missed it. I was baffled. Very proud, of course, but a bit disappointed. To make matters even worse, I had to make a (generous) donation to be able to get the painting back and order some postcards (given the family history, it will probably be the only painting selected for an art competition in a long, long time so I felt compelled to do the right thing ). Then, the lovely ladies tried to convince me that putting it on a canvas would make a great present but I resisted the suggestion…

So here I am, home, with the painting, and I can’t help thinking about something that happened at the Tate Modern a few years ago: one of the cleaners thought that a paperboard sculpture was a pile of rubbish and threw it away. I sympathise with the cleaner and I think that I will never “get” art. Don’t get me wrong, the Tate Britain is like a second home to me. I love going there, and the permanent Turner exhibition is fantastic. But sometimes, I just don’t understand art.

This is a small pyramid with names of real and imaginary persons. I didn’t get it

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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I am still in shock. As I am trying to write, I find myself watching the recording of the new hearing, and I understand that DSK has been granted bail. Hopefully this will allow everybody (including me) to calm down. In the meantime, CNN, BBC and France 24 are my new best friends. The truth is: I am stunned by the comments I have read in the French press. I feel like I don’t understand the French any more. Something must have gone badly wrong with me while I was living in London. Little by little, I have become less French. Let me list all the reactions that bug me and please let me know if I have missed anything:

1.    According to a poll (and this is mentioned in the very serious newspaper “Le Monde”), 57% of French believe that DSK is innocent and that the whole thing is a conspiracy. Conspiracy against what exactly? The guy was arrested because he is suspected to have assaulted a hotel employee. Why do people always want to make things more complicated than they are? How arrogant is it to believe that THEY know better?

2.    Then, some so-called Socialists, who are supposed to defend the interest of the “working class” forget to mention the victim and try to minimise the alleged offence. Jack Lang in particular even said (see here) that “No-one died”, implying that what might have happened is not a serious crime anyway. How dare he? To make matter even worse, Bernard-Henry Levy (Known as BHL. Some sort of philosopher whose arrogance I hadn’t fully appreciated until now) went further and said that DSK should not have been treated like everybody else (see here). What does he mean? Shall we have different treatments depending on who is judged? Have they all gone mad?
3.    Then, the French strongly believe that seeing DSK with handcuffs was against the presumption of innocence. It is true that  such pictures could not have been shown in France -as a matter if fact I don’t think they have-. This is because, in 2000, a law was passed, mainly to protect corrupted politicians from being seen with handcuffs. Let’s face it : such a law sometimes protects people who are wrongly accused and yes, what DSK has been through is a PR execution. But most of the time, this law only protects people who are guilty. And in France, I am convinced that the maid couldn’t have pressed charges -she would have been vilified and her picture would have been all over the news-, so why are we trying to lecture the Americans again?
4.    Finally, some are quick to point out that the maid never goes on her own in a bedroom in such hotels. Here is a thought: why didn’t DSK use the security chain to lock the door?
It looks like we are going to hear about this for quite some time. I would like to clarify something: yes, the French believe that politicians have the right to a private life and are not too shocked when they have affairs. I think that I remain French on that one. Even if I believe that leaders should lead by exemplarity, I have yet to meet a perfect person and a relationship between consenting adults remain largely their own business. But we are talking about something different here: if proven, the crimes described here are very, very serious. Even if Jack Lang and BHL don’t seem to share this view.   
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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As you know, I used to write about the old newspapers that I found in my attic. But I can’t do this anymore, so I have decided to talk about today’s newspapers. Me being me, I had prepared a list of potential topics but it looks like, today, the news have caught up with me and my good intentions.
Let me explain: Dominique Strauss-Kahn (DSK as we know him in France), head of IMF and one of the potential presidential candidates in France was arrested in New-York after allegedly assaulting a hotel employee (see here). A couple of years ago, he admitted to having an affair with an economist of the IMF (see here).
Obviously one of my questions has always been:
“How can an intelligent man be so silly?” (and on top of being intelligent, his wife is a very bright journalist) but I think that there is more to this than meets the eyes. In France, you see, there is an expectation that the President must be a womaniser. I think that it stems from the fact that we have no king any longer, so our President becomes the Father of the nation. I mean, literally. Where else have Presidents had two families (Mitterrand -one official and one “on the side”, and of course the mandatory mistresses)? Where has a President had an accident with the milkman when he was coming back from a (hopefully passionate) night with his mistress ( Giscard d’Estaing)? In France and nowhere else. Behaving badly with women seems to come with the job. Like it or not, that’s the way it is.
For obvious reasons, I will not speculate about what has happened to DSK in New-York. But there is one thing I wanted to say: in France, I don’t think that such a scandal would have transpired in the press and I don’t believe that DSK would have been arrested. For this, hats-off to the Americans, and let’s see what happens next.
I think that you might not realise it, but your politicians, in the UK and the US, are more scrutinised than in France. There, no-one, not even the press, dares to challenge the establishment. It is not possible and as a journalist you might loose your job. As a result, dare I say, the caliber of politicians is probably better in the UK/US  than in France-I know that it might not be what you want to hear, but, sadly, I am convinced that it is true.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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Article first published as The Truth About raising Bilingual Children on Technorati.

When friends see my daughters, they are amazed that they can speak English without any hint of a French accent, and reply to me in French as if it was completely natural to switch from one language to the other. I am obviously very proud of my children, but I can’t help thinking that:

  • It was, and still is hard work to make them speak French. My younger one especially has explained to me countless times that French is boring and, by the way, she can’t be bothered to learn to speak it. They go to British schools and are more British than French by now;
  • It is me whom my friends should be amazed at, as on top of a full time job and taxiing them to their various after-school activities, I try to teach the girls some French at least twice a week, and once a day when I am ready to put up a good, old-fashioned fight against them, which can happen after two weeks of taking vitamin supplements and usually doesn’t last very long anyway.

In short, it is not as glamorous as it looks. To make matters even worse, the selective nurseries will test your little darlings at age three and, if they are coming from a bilingual family, their English vocabulary will be narrower than “proper English kids” and usually this will be held against them. I also know some kids who started speaking very late because they were coming from bilingual or even trilingual families (parents who speak different languages and communicate in English). Everybody was worried that something was wrong with them, whereas they were just confused.
The truth is, there is no such thing as perfectly bilingual. I would say that English is my daughters’ primary language, and French will remain my primary language.
On top if this, French is awfully complicated. My daughters have a tendency to use the colloquial form if “you” (“tu”) with everybody, even with doctors or policemen. Most of the times it makes them laugh, but some were really offended. French can be really stuck-up, you see. (I would know, I am French.)
So, all in all, is it worth it? Of course it is, especially in the longer run. But not as much as I thought. You see, I have seen kids really messed up with this whole “bilingual” fashion, and they ended up having to undergo years of speech therapy and seemed very, very unhappy. My advice : Happiness prevails. Life is too short. If it’s too big a deal, stick to English.
A few useful resources for busy Mums:cned : This is the site I use to teach some French to the girlsCenter For Applied Linguistics
American Association of Family Physicians

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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As some of you know, I have found old copies of “The London Illustrated News” in my attic when we started renovating our house. Today, I am talking about the last newspaper I found. The London Illustrated was created to inform people, and it was thought that the illustrations would attract and hence inform a wider public. Fair enough. Today, I am talking about the last newspaper I found. This time, it is dated April 13, 1889. It is a bit of a different one, as it only consists of a short story called “The history of a slave”.
This initial story is a catalog of all the cliches you might have on slaves and Arab countries.  Here are a few examples:
” The Master had me tied to a stake and flogged on the back until I fainted ( note from me:the Brits seem obsessed by flogging somehow). Then, the slave escapes and manages to see the Sultan:
” He was a tall Pulo ( no idea what this is. I think that they invented it for the story) with a yellow face marked with small-pox, and with a thick, black beard.” Then, the slave manages to convince the Sultan that his old master is a traitor and the Sultan has him executed:
” They thrust a wooden gag into his mouth, so that it prised his jaws open; and, when this was done, the executioner took from his waistband a pair of iron pincers…” you don’t want to read the rest.
The Sultan is eventually attacked by another sultan (of Yakuba) and everybody has to escape. The slave betrays the Sultan but ends up being sold . He explains ” I was now forced to walk in step with a poor wild pagan in the slave caravan.”
A long story follows, and the slave becomes a soldier.
This had me thinking : can you really benefit from someone else’s views and experiences? When someone tries to educate you, or teach you something, he or she will pass on to you all his/her cliches, ways of thinking and even small defects. Even with the best of all intentions, you are going to end up with something subjective, biased, and partial. As a result I was wondering: isn’t experience the best way to learn? Instead of learning about a different country, isn’t it better to travel there? Likewise, instead of reading parenting books, isn’t it better to be a mother and do it your way? Do we really need all this so-called education? Being French, I used to think that education was the Holy Graal leading to a successful life. Now I am not so sure. Isn’t the school of life the best way to be educated? When educated people write all sort of cliches on other countries – like in this week’s newspaper, isn’t it time for good, old fashioned common sense and life experience? I know so many seemingly intelligent and educated people with patronising, rigid views that I tend to prefer less polished people, who have learned their lesson the hard way or have had the real intelligence to remain humble despite all their degrees.
And here are this week’s interesting ads:
– “Brooke’s soap – the world’s most marvellous Cleanser and Polisher. Makes tin like Silver, Copper like Gold, Paint like new, Windows like Crystal, Brass Ware like Mirrors, Spotless Earthenware, Crockery like Marble, Marble White. Won’t wash clothes.”
– “Jewsbury & Brown, original and only genuine Oriental Tooth Paste. Sixty years in use.” I wonder what it might be…
So, this is the end of the old newspapers’ post. Thank you for reading and for your support. Starting  next week, I will speak of today’s newspapers, and choose something to discuss -something unusual, or simply funny. Stay tuned.
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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This post can also be found on Technorati:

My daughter, my red coat and me in London

I sometimes find living in London liberating. As a French woman, the pressure to look good is huge. In Paris, I once was on the verge of crying when I realised that I had tights of different colour on each leg (one black, one brown black). And I always felt that I had to be skinny, because all my female friends were looking like models. Life was tough.

Well, it is not the same in London. Basically, I have seen most of my female colleagues with a torn tight and they didn’t really care: they either didn’t notice or found it very amusing. How weird! As a result, I am much more relaxed here. Best of all, despite being a middle-aged mother of two, I don’t feel fat. In fact, most of the time, I feel great.

It is as if being French was giving me some sort of aura. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t work in fashion and I am far from being glamourous. But for some reason everything I wear seems to strike the right note, even my scruffy jeans and my cow-boy boots. Last time I was wearing my red coat, I had looks of envy from everybody. Being French, people seems to believe that I have a natural sense of style. In fact, I don’t. But if it makes them happy, it can’t be that bad…the secret is that I have no secrets and I am just sticking to some very basic rules:

  • Less is more: flowery dresses, for instance, tend to be hard to wear…I stick to simple designs;
  • I am trying not to let myself get too fat. I am amazed to see that a lot of young women have a muffin top over here, and for some reason they proudly show it -not nice;
  • No make-up is better than too much make-up;
  • Don’t try too hard. Being natural is what works best for me. In this country for instance, a good hairdo seems to mean that your hair must look like a souffle. Well, it is a no no;
  • And finally, try just a subtle touch of originality (a nice necklace, or bracelet, or belt…).

But despite all this, it all goes wrong when I try to speak. The problem is that I have a strong French accent. Apparently, British men find it incredibly sexy. Good for them. I was born this way, and despite my best efforts I still have it. This means that men look at me thinking of anything but work and it simply drives me mad. I once missed a step after an early meeting. In the blink of an eye, I was surrounded by no less than three well-meaning British men asking me “are you OK, Miss?”. Give me a break, I just missed a step. To top it up, I am nearing 40, and no longer a Miss…
So that’s the problem of my life over here, and I am seriously thinking of getting some professional help to get rid of my accent. What would you do?

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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As already mentioned, I have found some old newspapers in my attic, when we bought our crumbling house. I am trying to read them to try to understand how the British are thinking, and so far it has given me a rather useful insight in how to understand the locals. That said, I am getting worried that I will never get there. Whenever I think that I have progressed, something happens to prove me wrong. Lastly, it was a passenger on my flight back assuming that I was a tourist going to London for the Royal Wedding. So much for being almost British…
Anyway, today I am taking you back to Saturday, May the 4th, 1889. There is a whole paragraph on the “Zulu Sentences” “It cannot be said that the tribunal which tried Dinizulu and the other Zulu chiefs tempered justice with mercy. They were arraigned and convicted on the serious charge of high treason, and no doubt there were technically guilty of that crime (I like this expression “technically guilty”). But matters had drifted into such a chaotic and misty condition in Zululand that these poor savages ( it says it all, doesn’t it?) might well doubt whether they owed allegiance to Queen Victoria. They probably had a hazy idea to that effect, but not to the extent of conceiving that their levying war against Usibepu could be construed as high treason…” I have to admit that I knew nothing about this, so I had to look it up. Zululand was a monarchy in Southern Africa. Dinizulu was the son and contested successor of King Cetywayo. He turned to the British for some help to be recognised as the new king  but, as they did nothing, he took matters into his own hands and fought them, hiring mercenaries. He was sent to St Helena- the same island as Napoleon- for seven years of exile, starting in 1890. Zululand is now a province of South Africa. Who knew?
There is also a long section on “A Hospital For The Insane” : ”The London County Council has appointed a Committee ( you have to remember that England is the country of Committees -they have a committee for everything here-, so I am not that surprised) to inquire into and to report to the Council upon the advantages which might be expected from the establishment, as a complement to the existing asylum system. The Report of the Committee will be awaited with much interest by all who devote attention to this most painful subject. It may be thought that the existing asylums do all that can be done ; but this is extremely doubtful….That insanity, on its physical side, is simply a disease of the brain, all the authorities agree; but the causes of the disease may be so complicated or so subtle as to be far beyond the reach of science. We have no right however to assume, that this is the case.” You see, that’s what I love about this country. They are not as judgmental as the French. In France, it remains a shame to suffer from a mental illness and until the early 1900’s patients were chained in mental hospitals. You have got to love the openness of the Brits here.
There is also a refreshing, politically incorrect account of the progress of the Paris Exhibition : “The British Section is well ahead amongst the foreign departments, the United States, Russia, and Italy are rather behindhand, and Spain is almost empty.” You have got to love the British humility here.
And this week, we have a few ads of soap, as if there was an obsession about hygiene. I especially like this one:
“A Fair Beautiful Skin -Sulpholine ( what an odd name!) Soap gives the natural tint and peach-like bloom of a perfect complexion. by washing with Sulpholine Soap the skin becomes spotless, soft, clear, smooth, supple, healthy and comfortable.”
And, finally, I love this one:
” Electricity is life
Galvanic belts
For the Cure of Nervous diseases
Have received testimonials from
Three physicians to
Her majesty the Queen,
The academie de medecine of Paris, and
Forty members of the Royal College of Physicians of London”
Next week will be my last post on my old newspapers, I hope that you have enjoyed it!

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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It is freezing, it is empty apart from the tourists and the journalists. There is an helicopter above Westminster to cover the Royal Wedding -it is making an awful lot of noise- and people are camping out of Westminster Abbey. The Royal Wedding is simply everywhere, and even mentioned on the oddest places (look at the scaffolding : cute, isn’t it?). In short, it is London.

I am back, and not sure where I belong any more. I don’t think I am French any longer, and even with a British passport, let’s face it, I will never be truly British- I got a stark reminder of this on the plane: this guy asked me whether I was going to London for the Royal Wedding. It seems that I will always look like a tourist.
The truth is that I am happy to be back for the following reasons:
1.    I can now have a decent coffee in the morning. I love it;
2.    Chocolate croissants are great (and no, it is not like pains au chocolat);
3.    My home is clean and tidy;
4.    I can have a massage -in France, we don’t have this massage culture…
5.    Tomorrow is a day off – thanks to this Royal Wedding…just for this, I wish them well!

And let’s admit it: I have more fun here. This morning for instance we saw a Europcar van full of policemen -I should have taken a picture. The police had to rent additional vans to beef up the security of this Royal wedding…funny, isn’t it? This is happening in London and nowhere else (I never saw policemen in a rented Europcar van before. Have you?)

This helicopter is driving me mad. I hope that it won’t stay all night. Coming back feels a bit weird too. Especially with this wedding. It is simply impossible to escape and I don’t believe in fairytales any more. Let’s see how tomorrow goes. As much as I deny it, I can’t wait to see the dress. And in my humble opinion, she badly needs a haircut! Watch this space…

Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London

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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

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I am spending some time in France, with my two daughters and my (dysfunctional) family. My parents are divorced and haven’t talked for the best part of 20 years, which means that I have to spend some time with each of them separately. Having a driving license is obviously a must to make the shuttle and also to hear each of them badmouthing about the other (in a subtle way, they are clever).  Lovely.  But something deeper is happening to me. I think that I have just fallen out of love with France.

In France, you see, we have good state schools (entirely free, even the pens and the books…). If you decide to go private, you are not going to pay for the teachers, just the additional management/discipline. But everybody thinks that it is REALLY expensive (we are talking about €100 a month here).  So what do French do? They complain. Too many children in a class, you see. Private schools are so expensive that it is unfair (I think that I understood the meaning of expensive when I moved to London).
Healthcare is fantastic.  When you see the local equivalent of your GP, you will have a full examination (blood pressure, weight, height, chit chat to check that you are not depressed…), and your GP will usually give you a long prescription for each symptom. You will have to pay 23 € for the privilege and you will get reimbursed something like 21€ (which means that it will cost you the cost of a cappuccino if you don’t have a private health insurance). And French have the right medication for everything. My grandfather was suffering from a heavy shoulder (I think that he must go to his GP at least once a week just for the company. Or maybe he fancies the secretary, he has always liked beautiful women). His GP gave him something that, apparently, worked. Everything courtesy of the French healthcare system. My father thought that I was a bit tired and wanted to take me to the doctor (maybe for some blood analysis). I thanked him for the advice and am feeling perfectly fine after a good night of sleep. He was shocked. It must be tough to see that I am a big girl now, but here we are.
These are only a couple of examples. The list is long. Childcare is a lot cheaper than the UK. Universities cost less than €300 a year…and so on, and so forth.
But despite all this, the French are not happy. They are moaning all the time. Life is tough, you see. When I asked why the extreme right was so popular over here, I really got some aggressive responses: where the hell have you been (in London, actually)? Can’t you see that it is really going downhill (no I can’t)? In short, I have come to the conclusion that the French have MORE than the British, but for some unknown reason they are LESS happy (my thinking seems to be corroborated by the fact that the prescriptions for anti-depressants have rocketed this side of the Channel). How weird!
And now, I have a confession. I have received my UK Permanent Residence. This means that, provided that I pass my Citizenship exam, I can have a British passport in a year.  Will I take it? Am I British enough? I honestly don’t know. But watch this space…
Muriel – A French Yummy Mummy In London