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jeudi 17 novembre 2011

It happened this morning

My phone-alarm clock sprung to life way too early, as ever. The bright light it made as it squawked meant that I had an excuse for not opening my eyes straight away.

I stretched, trying my best to look more like a cute kitten waking up than a Kraken, but most likely failing miserably - my mother's genes have ensured that, true to her Scottish clan's heritage, I am most definitely not a morning person.

The sound of soft breathing by my side made me smile. No, for once, it was not my cat (you can't hear him breathe, for one thing). This was a human being. A living, breathing human being.

Holy crap. It wasn't a dream. There really WAS a man in my bed. A man, if the images running through my head were anything to go by, that bore more than a striking resemblance to Don Draper. Good job I was wearing my least-unsexy pyjamas.



"Wearing pyjamas" didn't sound right.

Surely, if Don Draper were in bed next to me, I wouldn't be wearing anything at all. I would be glowing, swathed in just a white sheet, my hair tousled yet fetching, my skin flushed and my eyes shining.


That didn't sound right either.

I stretched again, willfully keeping my eyes closed. No, I wasn't imagining it. The breathing was most definitely there, and there was very clearly someone lying next to me...

I opened my eyes, slowly, scraping the morning crud away and peering murkily through the darkness. The form lying next to me was certainly human, but it didn't look quite how I imagined Don Draper would look. Blonder, for one thing. But I could (probably) live with that.

Yes, but not just blonder. Kind of shorter. A lot shorter. And skinnier. And -



Not Don Draper at all. Not even a man.

A 7-year-old girl, my sweet baby L, who'd climbed into my bed at some ungodly hour after waking from a nightmare.


I swear, I love that little girl with all my heart. But at that moment, at that precise moment when I realised that my dream was just that, a dream, my deception at seeing her long, blond hair tangling over the edge of my pillow was monumental.


lundi 14 novembre 2011

Autumn blues

Still no solution to the Christmas question, mainly because I still haven't plucked up the courage to talk to D about it, but also because I am so overdrawn I can't afford to even think about buying flights (yes, my dad has said he'll pay for them, but by that, he means that he'll pay me back when we're in Scotland - weeks from now).

Still wishing it were 2 January, then.

The days chug by and start to all look and feel the same. Some days, I leave the house, others (many) I do not. Most days I spend way too much time at the computer. Every day - - I long for the time I can climb into bed and slip into the fantasy world I've created in my head.

I cook meals, do laundry, wash dishes. I translate texts, prepare classes, mark homework. I hold my girls in my arms, kiss them, need them. I despair over the state of our home, screech like a harpy, cry.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

The autumn weather - despite being ridiculously mild - doesn't help. We've had endless rain, interspersed with only brief non-rain moments. The leaves are falling, mushing underfoot. The sky is grey, heavy with clouds, threatening rain. The air has the unmistakeable feel of dampness, decay, the dying of the light.

I feel pulled towards pretty, shiny things. Lovely things. Warm, delicious colours, inviting décors, comfort foods. Sexy men, cute animals, reassuring words. Thank God for Pinterest - the ideal place for seeking out beauty and comfort and fulfilment without spending a centime.

I'm an alien in just about every sense of the term (I don't actually come from another planet, though to most French people I guess Britain seems like one). A desperately poor, single, separated mother at a school full of rich, Catholic, happily-married couples. A freelancer that works hard, and is good at her job, yet can't earn enough to feed her family. A freak.

This coup de blues will pass, most likely once Christmas is over, once the days start to get longer again, once the sun starts to shine. But till then, all I want to do is hunker down and hibernate, leaving my lair only to gorge on chocolate and crappy TV.

Thank goodness there are music videos to watch and get weepy to...

lundi 7 novembre 2011

Wanted: Good Carpenter and/or Zoologist

So. An "épisode cévenol" happened. Or is happening, I guess. If you don't understand French (or can't be bothered to read the entire entry), an "épisode cévenol" can be succinctly explained as a metric shit-ton of rain, over a long period of time.

It's nothing unusual - it happens just about every year at this time - but, in a region where rain in general is rare, it always makes Montpellier feel rather apocalyptic. I swear, it's been raining - and raining heavily - for a week now. The mild temperatures make it feel tropical, but apocalyptic all the same.

Montpellier is a non-Roman city in a predominantly Roman-ruin-filled region (Narbonne, Béziers, Nïmes, Arles, Marseille, Orange...). As a result, and despite the mostly ignored, yet fascinating, Mediaeval history of the city, much enthusiasm is put into pulling things down and building lots of new stuff. The "best" example of Montpellier's folly is the "Antigone" district, a fake Roman district designed by a famous Catalan architect, Ricardo Bofill. The hideous (fake) Roman-style architecture and street plan is enhanced (or exacerbated) by streets with names such as "rue de Thèbes" and "place de Zeus". An American friend of mine who visited here this summer described this district as "Las Vegas without the casinos" and, while I've never been to Las Vegas, I've seen enough of it on film and TV (mmmm, CSI's Warrick Brown...) to find the description perfect.

Now, this enthusiasm for building could be good. With building work probably the n°1 employer, it certainly provides jobs in a city with one of the highest unemployment rates in France (the endless tramway construction work alone must employ about a billion workers). But the sad truth of the matter is that while the Mediaeval guys actually knew how to build things, the guys today clearly don't. So everywhere not Mediaeval (read: about 95% of the city) floods, every year. Whether it's because of incompetence or corruption, I don't know. But the fact remains: flooding, every year.

I tried to take the tramway out to Ikea yesterday (yes, I lead a wild and thrilling existence) and ended up waiting for over 40 minutes because roads were flooded and cars were stuck and said cars were moved "out of the way" on to the tramway tracks, blocking the trams. There are puddles about 6 feet wide (and 6 inches deep) on every street corner, the main square (Place de la Comédie) is certainly pretty with its (fake) marble slabs but is now a mildly flooded skating rink... Post isn't delivered, rubbish isn't collected, schools are closed (well, some of them - in an act of spectacular irrationality, the middle school attached to my daughters' primary school was closed by midday on Friday because of the "severe weather warning", but not the primary school (the two are on the same site). Go figure). 'Tis the apocalypse, spake the Lord. Or so it seems, anyway.

Now, as I've said, there's absolutely nothing unusual about this weather. It does indeed happen every year (often a little earlier than this, to be fair, more October than November). But this is a city that claims (in its tourist brochures) to get 300 days of sun a year, and I suspect that's a conservative estimate (the sun shines here a lot). A week of solid rain is soul-destroying, and impractical.

My laundry is draped all over the inside of the house in a desperate attempt to get it dry. Tom is miserable because he can't got out on to the balcony because he gets his paws wet if he does and he doesn't like that (I know, I know. But he's a delicate, refined little snowflake and he doesn't like wet paws). My rubbish chute is blocked up, possibly as far as the floor above me, because the guy who comes and takes the bins out hasn't been since Friday. My feet hurt from wearing rubber boots every time I go out.

There's only one possible solution: an Ark. But of course, I know bugger all about carpentry (unless there's an Ark in Ikea-kit form, I'm pretty good at Ikea stuff). So, if you happen to know a decent (preferably sexy) carpenter willing to build me an Ark, I'd be grateful if you could send him my way... (I'm having second thoughts about the zoologist: do I really want 2 of every animal on my Ark? How big would the damn thing have to be?! Tom, the girls, my sexy carpenter and I will be just fine on our own...).

mardi 1 novembre 2011

Hallowe'en, Christmas

So, that's another Hallowe'en over.

Hallowe'en is one of the few times of the year that I really regret being in France. For the French, it's an excessively American, over-commercialised, devil-worshipping thing that is to be shunned at all costs. There are no special Hallowe'en candies to be found in shops, no one dresses up (OK, some people do, but you don't see people in the street), there's no tradition AT ALL for trick-or-treating and the whole thing is a bit of a damp squib to be honest. I really miss the fun of Hallowe'en in Britain...

That said, there's an English school just down the road that organises a free party for anyone who wants to turn up and, whilst it's undoubtedly chaotic, it IS free, so we always try and make an appearance. Plus, it's the only chance the girls get to dress up in Hallowe'en costumes...

This year (like last year, actually), C dressed up as a vampire bat, and L went as an actual vampire (I used her Zorro cape and painted her face - I was really proud of the result!). The party was more disorganised than ever this year, and none of the girls' friends were there, so it was a bit of a let down. The other kids - being more pushy than mine - grabbed most of the candy on offer, so C and L got virtually none, and the "costume catwalk" resulted in L sobbing again (not so much because she didn't win, but more because C won AGAIN (she wins something every year)).

For supper, I had pumpkin soup and chestnut mousse for dessert in an attempt at autumnal fare, but I don't know. It just doesn't feel like Hallowe'en here.

But now, it's over and all thoughts will be turned towards Christmas (as I write, C is trying to put together a cardboard nativity scene she found in a book...). And my stomach lurches.

Back in my "before" life, we always alternated Christmases: one year at my dad's in Scotland, one year here at home with D's mother visiting. Last year - our first Christmas as a separated couple - was a "D's mother visiting" year, so we stuck with that and all was well.

But this year is supposed to be a "at my dad's in Scotland" year and I feel kind of sick. I would very much like to go to Scotland. My dad would be thrilled if we came, and the girls are more than enthusiastic. But.

Oh, BUT.

If I take the girls to Scotland for Christmas (and C's 10th birthday, on 27/12), D will be on his own. And, whilst I couldn't give a toss about him being alone (no skin off my nose), I know that it means that next year, he'll take the girls to Paris to be with his mother and I'll find myself totally alone for the entire holiday, and I don't think I could face that. I can't bear the thought of not being with my girls on Christmas day, on C's birthday.

So, I still haven't mentioned this problem to D, even though if flights are to be bought, they need to be bought now (it may already be too late for some cheaper options). I feel sick at the thought of discussing this with him because I know how he'll react, I know he'll get his revenge next year.

I'm still so angry with him. And I still can't understand why I have to be "punished" with not seeing my children at Christmas when he's the one who left, who walked out, who screwed up our family. I know that's a biased view (and one he most certainly doesn't share) but still.

I can try and reason with him that my dad is old (80!) and that there won't be many more opportunities for Christmas at his place; I can emphasise the fact that the girls want to go and that I'm the one dragging my feet (on HIS behalf); I can explain that my cousin wants to take them to Glenshee to try skiing for the first time; I can say that we'll make the trip as short as possible so he can spend the rest of the time with them. But it won't cut it, I know it won't. He'll seek revenge, and it will be terrible (for me).

I don't care that he might have to spend Christmas eve, Christmas day and C's birthday on his own, in his sordid little bedsit. I couldn't give a shit about that. I just don't want to have to be alone next year. Even if the girls and I get to celebrate Christmas and C's birthday after the event, it wouldn't be the same.

I wish I could fast forward to 2 January 2012.