Saturday, 22 September 2012


So during my two  months off travelling I was very lucky to leave for Zurich with a very cool bunch of people: amongst us we were 4 Germans, one born in Zimbabwe, 2 Americans, 1 Korean, 1 Slovakian (Finland) and one not so secretly more content to be mistaken for French English person, aka me.

There was no doubt probably from the outside we were a strange bunch but from the word go we 10 strangers mingled well and were like a little family by the end of our short stay; Magda and Folie were the mother and father figures – organisers of everything from food to transport to the whole weekend itself! 

And why did I find myself jetting off to Switzerland with 8 strangers? 
Because of  Santina, aka Shrek, my longtime first friend from Paris (see blog: Shrek and Donkey and The Elevator McFlurry Moments) could try out her nerves flying and concur her  air-phobia before she planned to fly over to Miami for a year!
Santina was scared to say the least but with this herd of bubbling evidently eager tourists as companions, I think I can say we took the fright of ‘flrightening’! Sorry terrible joke.
 I made various over this trip but who can blame me, living in France with French people sometimes can get frustrating when you crack jokes left right and center only for them to fall on deaf ears because word games and what I would say are cunningly sly one liners are less than understood. So for me, finding myself in amidst those who share the shame mother tongue and appreciate the same music and even same child hood favourite cartoons I revelled in being able to joke alot easier. I’m not saying that in France, I am less a jester!  Although, the jokes are less plentiful and less well-founded, or just too English sometimes to be digested by french tastebuds!  
Anywho! Jetting off we landed in Zurich all in one piece much to Santina’s relief! We headed off to where we were staying Utliberg, a hill looking over the Zurich Lake and the city. It was stunning to say the least! We arrived late and got given a tour guide by our mysterious spiritual healing temporary landlord and her cat...Hmmm!
If I had to be honest and get all critical on my travelling I would say Zurich is not somewhere I would say ‘put on your not to miss list’. Not because it’s not worth it, it is! We revelled in walking around the city, I liked questioning the locals on what was good to do! There was a slight difference of holidaying styles: the germans wanting to stick to a rigid plan of things to see and what time to get bck to the house and eat and the rest of us opting for a more relaxed tourist approach: wander, ask questions, be curious, enjoy the sunshine, take lots of photos, compare each other home countries loudly and eat ice cream in plentiful doses of each!

Zurich is an outstandingly beautiful city – the river, clean blue striking against the hills and in the deep background the alps can be seen watching over all the old architecture balanced with the inevitable building evolution as Switzerland’s capital.
The river is without a doubt the top spot to be during the summer: the river edge is littered with various restaurants, public bathing spots and buskers can be found decorating the hot summer air with their melodies. This hot bustle of activity along the waters border is idyllic and the clear crystal blue waters of the Limmat River makes you feel like you’re walking in paradise.
Zurich the capital. Wow.

However Santina and I also took the train to Basel, a neighbouring city and I can honestly say I was blown away! If I thought Zurich was an attractive city Basel is better and why? For two reasons:
1)      Less tourists and it not being the capital make it lets do the ice cream comparison: Zurich 7euros Basel 2euros 50 cents. WoW. Lots cheaper!

2)      The river Rhine is lots more fun! You walk along the river edge until you choose a suitably beach zone to lay down your affaires take off your shoes strip down to swimming suit and you waddle in to find that the Rhine current takes you away! Literally! You are pushed, no point swimming against it, unless you want to work on up your arm muscles is good exercise but you are powerless to fight against the force of water that gently yet surprisingly efficiently sweeps you down the river – where you get out? Well, that depends how far you are happy to walk back! It’s a thrilling experience that is worth every...oh wait. Unlike in Zurich you can bath in the river for FREE! Yes!
Whilst there I comtemplated the fact that I could easily see myself retired and living in summer Basel: like the locals going for a jog along the river until the summer sun gets to hot and you cant resist the call of the lapping current of the Rhine when you dump your stuff in a waterproof bag which you use as a cushion, laying down literally letting the water have it’s way with you!
This feeling is better than any yoga relaxation, massage, ANYTHING. Just the river Rhine can make you feel like a heap of liquid wonderment!  Stress fighting? Why fight? Just float!

This is the start of my two months holiday!  J I feel like a buddah who has been practising meditation for 30 years and has found he’s ZEN. Blisssssssss.................

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Polishing off the Parisian to Earning my Devon Freckles again

The journey from Paris to Bristol takes a little over one hour in real time. Though theoretically it lasts 15 minutes because of the one hour time difference. This just adds to my amazement because, for me, my life in Paris and my family in Devon are worlds apart!

However, on my return to England, there is never this 'culture shock' but rather a 'transition period' where my mind gets accustomed to Not responding in French out of shock when passers-by wish you good day like you knew each other! Not zoning in on every English accent heard whilst wandering the streets, as I am habitual to do in Paris. Not  pointing at each hill, sheep, cow, bird that is not a pigeon that passes and saying 'OOOOH' in a touristy fashion.

After all of these delights progressively re-become normal day-to-day eventualities I find myself reverting back to my 'green roots', so much so that; as soon as someone offers me a pair of wellies and some overalls I get this childish gurgle in my stomach to go mad, get muddy and jump in as many puddles as possible ! The transformation from Parisian foreign student to country girl is inevitable...

I spent yesterday with one of those friends who doesn't need you to qualify your friendship with photos or presents, simply a cup of tea and a shared laugh can make it feel like old times: when you were both living in the same country and undeniably struggling through unbearable Chemistry lectures together.

Watching the rain drive diagonally into the side of Louise's cosy farm style bungalow from our comfortable position, wrapped up in fleece blankets and cradling cups of tea the average size of a french woman's handbag on her sofa, one could of mistaken us for a pair of oldies chin waggin' about the good old days (and the reoccurring conversation topic: Food, of course...)

Though at her parent's suggestion of 'getting some fresh air' we left our nest on the sofa and ventured out onto the farm where the next several hours were passed.

I found all my questions answered to how farmers move their new-born calves: You herd them (...obviously...) but, suprisingly into the front dig-bucket of a JCB where like on a skate-rink the long legged animals find it impossible to stand up and so just lay-down and wait for the ride to be over!

I met a farrier, who kept in his spare change in a crisp packet and spoke with such a broad Devonian accent that I felt the same feeling I felt shortly after I moved to Paris and was having to make a huge mental effort in order to decipher each word in a sentence... English as a foreign language!

I discovered there were 5 gears on a quad bike! So, we succeeded in getting our dose of fresh air by speeding down the road on a quad bike at 70+ mph and I gained some of my own 'Devon freckles' as Aubrey, Louise's Dad had put it. (Or basically, mud splats on my face in plain English)

 Thank you Louise Hosegood and your family!

Monday, 16 April 2012

Poisson d'Avril - Watch your back!

So we celebrated April Fools Day this month but it got me thinking: What is April Fools? Why do we celebrate it? And thanks to google I discovered my answer easily enough: because dear Charles IX changed the start of the year to January 1st from April 1st.

In those days apparently it became tradition to give joke presents to people according to their jobs so a chef would be given a sieve without holes, a farmer would receive a access his fields etc

And in Scotland it became normal to send people to carry out irrational, impossible and completely ridiculous chores: "Go fetch the milk from the pigeons dear!"

At my house in England, April Fools Day can be dangerous! It triggers a booby trap war between my sisters and I resulting in such pranks as filling the sugar pot with salt... The worst surprise in the morning and equally the worst cup of tea of your life. Could be the reason why I no longer take sugar in my tea...Safelty first after all!

Anywho, last year for April Fools Day I was in France, au pairing. (Joy..) And I was quite disappointed as the kids I was looking after did not share in my delight in this holiday. So this year, working as an english teacher in and about Paris I still have alot of contact with children. But because of the way 'Poisson d'Avril' was forgotten about last year I let down my guard...

In France, they do 'April Fools' differently: instead of pulling practical jokes on people, the tradition is to stick paper fish to people's backs.

Me, I cycle to work everyday so whilst on the way home pedalling through the outskirts of Saint Denis like usual,  I am a little confused as to why each passing car sounds it's horn at me... I get paranoid and do the various self-conscience self and safety checks:

  • Skirt tucked into knickers?  NO
  • Riding on the right side of the road? (I'm English and somedays forget that it's the inverse to the UK)
  • Flat tyre? NO
  • Dropped bag? NO
  • Unknowingly ran over a pigeon? ...I don't think so!

At the next set of red lights a man in a van pulls up beside me and winds down his window with a sheepish grin on his face...He yells with great delight: "Madame! Vous avez un poisson sur votre dos!"

Me, completely oblivous reply: "Un quoi????!!!!"

The light turns green. Go! He accelerates past me shouting with rellish "Joyeux Poisson d'Avril!"

 'Poisson d'Avril'...Bien sur!

Lesson Learnt. 

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Humpty Dumpty in the frigo!

Happy Easter 2012!

I love Easter! I think it is really special! It's one holiday where you have to get people to work for their treats. What I mean to say is it's not like Christmas or your birthday where your presents are handed to you, you open them and before you know the best parts over!

Easter the fun is dragged out. The suspense is what I like! I remember last year for Easter I was an au pair and I made a treasure trail for the kids I looked after to find the eggs, there were clues! And challenges! I had great fun organising it! I hid eggs everywhere! And so this year, finding myself now not as an au pair and without kids, don't get me wrong that's a great thing! I had to find another way to celebrate easter.

So I decided to make my own easter eggs. Well to begin with this idea was plural. Eggs. But after two hours of attentively trying to fight physics a little drop of chocolate at a time, I was quite relieved to have even succeeded in finishing one egg! But finished he is!

Say hello to Humpty Dumpty!

I emptied out an egg shell so that I could lovingly fill it full of chocolate for my boyfriend, hide it on the shelf in the fridge for when he came back from visiting his parents for Easter! And it worked! One egg is enough seemingly as I managed to squeeze two bars of chocolate into this one shell!!!

(Well, I melted two bars anyway whether both two ended up in the wanted destination is another story!)

The motivation for making 'Humpty Dumpty', as I knighted him, originated from it being Easter obviously but equally whilst I was away for a week celebrating the carnival in Cologne my boyfriend got creative...

When I returned from my week in Germany I was greeted by this 'boite a manger'!!!

And inside he had made me this necklace... Humpty Dumpty was the least I could wasn't it?

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Skiing !

I'm not sure what spurred me to go skiing with ULIP but go I did, and frankly, I'm rather glad!
I have to admit I have never been skiing before in my life. So after unknown forces motivating me to say YES, sign the papers and hand over the money, I had many restless nights while my brain concocted various different scenarios of what skiing might be like.

It's insane but I have an over active imagination so trying to picture something I knew very little about makes way for a number of bizare possibilities.

I knew the basics: you slide down the face of a mountain with planks of plastic strapped to your feet.

And I had one childhood memory of skiing:
The ending scene from a Wallis and Gromit film, you know, the one where they go to the moon to collect cheese and they find that robot and they are so scared of him that they take off hastily in their handmade rocket and almost crash so the door falls off...Good film.

Well, to spoil the ending for you, the robot makes a pair of skis out of this piece of metal and the movie finishes with a rather content robot skiing gayily about the moon's craters. Paradise!

One thing was worrying me: this memory was of an animation. A cartoon. In cartoons, the characters can regrow limbs, fall off cliffs but manage to climb back up and get squished flat by falling pianos before popping back to life to play 'Mary had a little lamb' with flat fingers.

As a result, one week before the departure date I had a particularly frightening and ridiculous dream where skiers were dropped down from an airplane into a tube which was above the snowy mountain slope and so you had hope to death you'd be able to find your feet when you landed to ski back down!

 During the build-up to the ski trip I got nervous from all the stories of broken bones, chair lift accidents, unfortunate crossings with bears, caught in snow storms... But also immensely excited!!!!

The day of departure I packed my bag full with borrowed skiing clothes and too many tons of socks and set off for an Indian meal with my boyfriend. I left a little bit later than planned from lunch and almost had a heart attack when Daniel text me saying the train was 30minutes earlier than previously thought! After running though Paris with a rucksack for a train I was never going to be on time for, I had that feeling of 'PLEASE LET ME CATCH THE TRAIN I REALLY WANT TO GO SKIING!'

Fortunately, Daniel was mistaken with the train time and all six of us ULIPPERS boarded the train and sped off towards Alpe d'Huez. On the train we speculated what the accomodation would be like.
"Hovel, like a small hovel" was the agreed verdict and we couldn't help but laugh when our guide met us off the coach to say that potentially 'there will not be electricity'.

However, luckily the flat was cosy - even with electricity! There were cold showers from time to time but there was the essentials and the week flashed by! Good morning music was blasted to wake us up, we went skiing everyday in the sunshine! Getting tanned, having fun, eating lunch up on a mountain at midday and being blown away by the amazing mountain views. Honestly, that is the best way to holiday. Laying on a beach is no fun at all compared with slalemming around on skis!

The days of sport were followed by the good old evening ''trough meals'', (or the equivalent to a communal food dish to save on washing up!) and sometimes a deadly 'Ring of Fire’ game before heading out to dance and drink away the muscle fatigue! Well, that would be a good excuse for the immense amount of alcohol consumed.

Honestly, if you didn't go on the ‘OUI SKI WHISKEY’ ski trip this year - go next year! It is great fun! You are in beautiful surroundings, catching the sun rays whilst having fun and getting a good kick of adrenaline from time to time.

Skiing is easy to learn if you're a beginner like I was. As for the stories about serious accidents and people being taken off the mountain in black Gondolas well all I can say is:

If a plasticine robot from Wallis and Gromit can ski so can you.
Oh, and I even saw gullible written in the snow. It's true.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Bikes are Better!

For the last month I have been biking my way around Paris. Everyday to and from university from my house in Saint Denis to Invalides.
                   I take the bike instead of the metro everytime I can: for work, to meet friends.

As a consequence I'm feeling pretty good !

On a bike you see alot more of a city than you ever will crammed in the dark metro underground.
Some of the things I have seen have been lovely: the sun; birds, my first bee of the year, watching spring coming in...

Although somedays I see things that disgust me. Such as today. As I was cycling back to my house from university this afternoon when I was overtook by an ambulance. Normal. Until the paramedic in the passenger's seat opens his window and without even looking throws his empty coffee cup on to the road in front of me. I swerve to avoid being hit in the face by this unexpected flying cup and stop, pick up the cup and without knowing what I'm doing, pedal until I finally have caught up with the ambulance at a red light...

Pulling up beside them I tap at their window, he slides the window opening grinning down from his ambulance at the blonde, flushed red girl on a bike, (who, just to complete the image has a bike basket she has found on the road strapped to her back...)

However my ruffled appearance does not stop me from thrusting back at him his cup with the words:

"Monsieur! Vous ne devrez pas jeter votre tasse sur la rue, numéro 1: vous pouvez reçevoir une amende, pensez à l'environnement!!! ET numéro 2 si vous avez fait un peu d'attention vous auriez vu que j'étais là sur mon vélo quand vous avez jeté votre tasse et du coup vous m'avez failli me taper!!!!!!!!!!!"

Is it normal to have to lecture the french ambulance services not to throw their coffee cups out of their ambulance once they've finished with them once I caught up with them at a red light?

1) Because it's littering and just not acceptable anywhere, put it in the bin for goodness sake!


....Luckily you may be able to save my life as you are a paramedic if I did have an accident, although you drive so badly, you don't look in your wing mirrors, so the chances of you seeing me is unlikely.

The irony is: only yesterday I was stopped by 5 policemen in a police van for having jumped a red light. This is a harmless action I feel, I put no one at danger, compared with carelessly dropping misiles from a fast moving vechicle.

Tuesday, 24 January 2012

Baffling Bibliothèques & Bafouant Bibliothécaire!

After spending a delightful 3 weeks not working, studying, teaching or barely even putting pencil to paper in England, I came back from the Christmas holidays and found that due to my 'holidaying' I had left myself with 3 days in which to write an essay for university. An essay that should have taken 3 months to complete... 

As result my first weekend back in Paris I spent dwelling in libraries, But wait! 
REAL libraries. 

The libraries you tend to imagine when you're little; 
         a grand hall, where you find deaf professors with round glasses, 
                studiously bent over books and with such pale skin as to suggest they never leave this enchanted cavern of books to enjoy the sun. 

The books that surround you are found on bookcases which cover the expense of the walls and you find the old fashioned cliche of library ladders that you have to climb up for miles to reach the ceiling! 

         Where, there, perched on a wooden shelf untouched for centuries amongst                   cobwebs and dust there is the old, yellowing book which you had hope to find all along and must surely hold the answer to your arduous and dull essay question! 

Yes. I have my little girl library dream.
                     A library that looks like something out of Hogwarts. 

And how did I find this gem? 
                                      On the internet of course!

When I researched online to find good books to help me tackle this daunting essay I came across the library packed with history books. Satisfied it was perfect as the name mentionned the word 'Histoire', I set to find it in real life!

I walked past it numerous times. It looked too scary to be a public place of reading!

They're were bouncers at the entrance for a start! And it was a part of the Hotel de Ville! Which now I know turns out to be not just the Mairie but a library and a gallery place and a historical museum all at once. Weird! 

So after swallowing my fear I approach the bouncer to ask if I was in the right place...On my explanation: I'm writing an essay and there's a book I'd like to read inside s'il vous plait!  

I get escorted inside by Monsieur Big Bouncer man and as soon as we've entered, I feel out of place. Inside is luxurious, security ridden and much too sophisicated entrance hall for a foreign student to be entering. I feel like I'm a spy trying to gain access to a secret bank of information!

           Despite these thoughts of how I feel abit misplaced, they sign me up and give me a library for the "Specialised Libraries" in Paris ! COOOL! Unexpected but I just like the title of the card! 

(Who would of thought you can be welcomed into such a sauve resource center as long as you don't get scared and run away at the sight of the scary bouncers instead of walking up bravely  and asking "OI THERES MEANT TO BE A LIBRARY HERE OR IS JOHNNY DEPP INSIDE? IS THAT WHY THERES SO MUCH PROTECTION?"

Anywho, I have my special library card! YAY! And I'm allowed to access the main building  and make my way to the library. 

I walk up numerous amounts of stairs! 

It's a huge huge HUMUNGUS BEAST of a building!

And I walk into the library sweating my coat and stripping my scarf. Not very elegant when I look around and I am in a room with one man with who asks me my life details and tells me the rules of the library: 

"Its forbidden to sit here, here, here, here and here. They're for rare documents. Here you can. Oh no wait the table there is delicate to ink if you're thinking of writing? You are. Ah bah... When you enter choose a table thats not delicate please..."

I'm busy trying to digest all this is way-too-much-hassle-regulations-just-to-read-a-book and I'm feeling rather out of my middle class social rank if I'm honest. 
However I agree to abide by the rules and when he asks what material I'm interested in he literally jumps off his chair in delight!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

"JULES FERRY! My god yes we have tonnes! Everything! More! Lovely!" 

His fingers flash rapidly over his keyboard and within milliseconds gives me a lightning speed run down of all the books which would I will be highly grateful to study! (Unfortunately due to me daydreaming that I was a spy breaking-in to steal some secret spy information from a top-of-the-art-most-highly-protected-library,  I miss all the details he says to me. Everything but one book title.)

FINALLY, I escape Monsieur Eager enthousiaste and get abit lost finding the entrance to the library itself. HUGE BUILDING. So I make a unplanned but welcome break at the toilets.

Finally I find the entrance: 2 MASSIVE MAGNIFICIENT wooden doors; as tall as you can imagine tower infront of me. 

                          Jolly good here goes! 
I push open the door. Get too overwhelmed and search for find a table in panic! 

Vite vite vite no not this table, nor that one. No the man there looks far too intelligent I can't share a table with him, I'll disturb him too, oh balls, no delicate surface... 
Bah voila! 

And I dump my heavy bag on the table with such relief that an unfortunate,  unwelcomed BOOM. echoes round the hall. oh shit. oh shit. Not feeling at home here it's much to sohpisicated...

However on further examination I realised there were a fair handful of students busily buried in books so whilst making a scene to find a table and banging down bags in a REAL REAL REALLL library is not over appreciated... I made my myself thoroughly at home. 

The table was huge I could spread my papers out. Everyone was studying and busy making notes and you found youself sucked into the studious spell! Yes I think I got caught up in the academic ambience and just went for it. 
          Progressed alot I feel.
                     Amazing how a Hogwarts style library can make you fill a page faster                   with french words than 10 cups of tea and a lot of chocolate!

Anywho, I had yet to ask for the books that had really bought me here in the first place. It was a frightening procedure. Having forgotten all the useful results from the research Monsieur Ethousiaste had threw at me through various spit missiles I had to research the book and fill in a little card with all its details and then the scary bit: 

Give it to the documentalist (or whatever their absurd titles are.) 

I walked up. Very conscience of my new squeaky boots on the old wooden floor. 
I peak my head up over the rather-too-high-to-be-friendly desk of the man I have whittled down out of all the various figures sat authoritively at tall and daunting desks as the librarian. 

I whisper: I'd like this please. He looks bewildered as to why I have disturbed him from his Large, book of IMPORTANT LAW and then takes my card book request. He scans it. I wait with baited breath. I have noted to the best of my ability what book, ISBN number, Author, Year, Publisher... Uh-oh...He screams:


Oh fuck. Everyone turns to look.

"Errr. But no I found it online at my house and then for the 2nd time here in the libraries database. I am certain this book is here. Even Monsieur Enthousiaste outside found it for me..."


I fought the urge to be impolite and say "SSSShhhhhh It's a library..." Like in that TV program I no longer remember the name of. However. Instead, tail between my legs and squeaky boots on feet, I followed his finger to the another man....

I cleared my throat to start my speech over when the SHOUTY SHOUT SHOUT SO EVERYONE CAN HEAR man came over and did a little speech on how I couldn't use the database search and I needed educating. Charming.

When he had let out all his steam and reduced to the size of a normal man he span on his heels and marched in a manner that made his footsteps echoe off the bookcases with a sound reminding you of the headteacher approaching at a school.
                  What an uncanny likeness to Professor Snape...I have found Hogwarts!

I didn't let my eyes leave the back of the SHOUT SHOUT FOR ALL YOU CAN man's walk until I was sure he was seated comfortably and absorbed deeply in his book of boredom.

I swung my eyes round to the next man on the high chair behind his tall desk and like a child who couldn't recite her timetables whispered: 
This is what I would like please. 

The man gave me the welcoming grin I have ever seen in my life and soon we were chatting in library whispers like neighbours. 

And as it turns out I was correct in my research!

I was not just a blonde foreign stupid girl who always made mistakes!

I started the short journey back to the SHOUT man by slaleming through the desks with such a  swagger that said "Yeah in your face!" 
This self-confidence faded fast with every squeaky new boot step and I ended the journey strolling hesitantly up to the SHOUT man and saying the words:
It is here. I am right. Even the nice gentleman there says so. 

SHOUT man grunted, roughed up his hair with an air of auhtority and said:
I know every position of all these books. They've all safe places. This one single book I don't know where it is. And to make matters worse. It's only small. 40pages. 

I replied: In that case I shall read it quick when you've found it so you can quickly put it back in it's very safe place or lose it again. As you wish... :) 

He did not reply to this remark...

He slithered off his chair (the thought struck me how I was taller than him which was pleasing and made him much less frightening) and after half an hour of searching and watching him scale up ladders (just for me hehehee!
He found my book and with a very defeated expression placed it infront of me. 


Bref, if you've got to the end of this blog my new Hogwarts Wizards Hat goes off to you!
But on a serious note, I suggest if you really want to get an essay done - get lost in a huge library and be swallowed in a silent crowd of readers. You can't talk, the outside world of distractions doesn't exist and you'll increase your production rate without increasing your BMI with extremme chocolate and tea consumption!


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