Networking. Not something I was born to, but I am told by people in the know that I have to, on occasion, make an effort. One such recent occasion had managed to worm its way into my diary so I found myself entering the lobby of a fabulously traditional venue in London, the kind I hadn’t known still existed: doormen in tails and hats, marble floors, curved stairs with brass railings, “powder rooms”.
As I worked my way across the room in the direction of someone I wanted to speak to I was accosted by an important looking older man. He checked my name tag and said “Oh, you don’t have any children then?” That was a bad start. I instantly disliked the guy. Every fiber in my being stirred against the presumptuousness of this man, and worse, that he was only asking a personal question to find out the first thing about me at a professional networking event. Somehow I managed to exercise restraint and simply respond “sure I do”, perhaps a little too curtly but not so much he noticed. “Oooh, how many?” I always want to say “10!” when the question is put to me like that, but again I desisted. He went on to ask me how old my children were, and when I said my oldest was 15 he exclaimed “Surely not! You don’t look old enough!” And instantly I mellowed, and forgave him all his stupidity. What a lovely man!
Long time no hear, I know. Been busy. I spent the summer in Paris. You know, those few days this past week. Always a treat, even if it meant I missed summer in England. There is something irresistibly careless about Parisians in summer mode. They seem more forgiving, less urgent. The cafes and restaurants open up and the streets fill with people relaxing after work. Sitting among them with a glass of chilled Saint-Veran in good company makes you forget you got up at 5 in the morning and had a long and productive day.
Eventually of course summer had to be washed away in almighty thunderstorms and floods. Leaving the city in a morning-after mood, full of the memory but a touch deflated. And Parisians counting down to their summer trek to the south coast, where the sun shines, even this year. And me? Back to the rainy isle, keeping myself going with these morsels of summer as it should be. Once I’ve shaken the memory I’ll kick it up a gear, I tell myself. For now I’ll pour myself another glass of wine and sit back. Worth it, I might produce a fabulous idea. You have to make time for that.
Britain closed shop to party this week, so I found myself with a week’s holiday on my hands. Ok, really this happened because I have been working so hard I haven’t been taking my holidays, and if I don’t take them soon they will be lost. I hate losing so I booked time off and mentally prepared myself to go sit in the sun with a book for the week. I bought suntan lotion and an extra book. Weeded the garden a few weeks ago, so I’m all set. And then it rains. A lot.
As the forecast was for rain all week, “occasionally hard and persistent”, as one radio professional puzzlingly put it, I had a choice to make: mope around the house all week and end up arguing with husband, who is setting up a new online business from the study; cancel my leave and go back to work; or finally paint the house. You’d have to be hare brained not to understand option 1 was not a smart choice, so I won’t elaborate further. Option 2 was frankly no-go as well: I am p*d off with my employers right now; I would do myself a disservice not to distract myself for a while. I have to dip into my inner energy pool to manage going back smiling. So, painting it is!
We have lived in this house for 5 years and never touched the walls, which were covered by some dusty coat that is supposedly meant to let the walls “breathe” – apparently a new house breathes. I’d have to modify that statement: the children did touch the walls, leaving their grimy paw prints. I’d rub off the dusty paint trying to wipe them off, so we’d ended up with patches of near-bare plaster board, still grimy. I told myself for a long time we should just wait for the children to grow up. They are 15 and 13 now. But really I was daunted by the idea of painting the house myself: surely I am no good, we want the house to look nice so let’s get the professionals in. Cue the British holidays. I tried to get professional painters interested in the job, but didn’t get any takers. By Monday morning there was no more escape: I had to spend the week painting. I knew I shouldn’t push husband to help much: DIY is not his thing, he gets very frustrated. We’d only find ourselves in option 1. But crucially I also knew I must leave the story intact that he has every intention of sharing the paint work with me.
And so it happens that I spend the best part of every day up and down the steps, contorting myself to reach awkward corners with a precision brush without knocking over the TV. Husband has a breakthrough with his business preparations so he can’t join me as much as he would have liked. By the end of the week and of a particularly long day, my back broken and my hand in a permanent precision grip (I swear I was made for a desk job – hat off to painters), husband bursts in: “Oooh, my ear really hurts: I must have been on the phone for hours on end!” The only thing that saved him from a very bad fate indeed was the look of realisation that dawned on him once he’d seen my face. And the stumbling attempt at apology that followed. Which I gave him all the time in the world to get through.
Statistics can prove anything. They have now confirmed that London is the 6th largest city in France: more French people live in London than in Bordeaux, for example. There is also a significant French community in the Scandinavian countries. The French are taking these facts on the chin, and just work with it: they have created a “Northern Europe” constituency in Parliament. It’s a way of keeping ties with those who left, perhaps aimed at enticing them back one day. I may be ill informed but I don’t know of any other country that gives its expats a voice in home politics. My own experience is that my home country has shown no interest in me whatsoever since I registered abroad – I chose to leave so stuff me. Which is fair enough.
If lots and lots of us were to emigrate I suspect there would be a whole lot of navel gazing about what is driving the population away. Of course there aren’t very many of us, so the impact would be magnified. Not the French officialdom. They are confident they are the best country in the world to live in, and I imagine they are grateful for the French citizens who have kindly volunteered to go spread French culture and values to the barbarian hordes. And so am I, to some extent: I love to have French wine, patisserie and cheese among my options. Just like I love to have a few Danish pastry options. That is one of the things I love about living near enough London: it is metropolitan. I even heard a couple of women talking in Dutch in my local farm shop yesterday, in the sticks!
Maybe the French are plotting to claim London as their territory one day. I am not sure they ever got over the wars. And I do think they want a piece of the show here. Did you see the Royal river pageant for the Queen’s Jubilee today? Absolutely fabulous darling, despite the rain: