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lundi 30 avril 2012

Z is for...

Zut alors!

There's a classic image of the stereotypical Frenchman - stripey T-shirt, beret, bicycle, a baguette and some wine, maybe a Gauloise hanging out of his mouth - and the stereotypical Frenchwoman - outrageously chic, poodle on a lead, high heels clickety-clacking. And then there are those expressions we're always vaguely led to believe the French use but that we're all pretty sure they don't.

"Zut alors!" is one of those expressions, along with "Sacré bleu!" and "Comme çi, comme ça".

None of that's particularly interesting. But what I do find interesting is that, whilst I have never heard any French person ever say "Sacré bleu!", the other two are totally in use. The latter, "comme çi, comme ça", means "so-so" and is actually pretty standard.

The other, however, may seem utterly improbable but is in fact amazingly common. "Zut" is an interjection used by anyone wanting to make an interjection but without offending anyone (in the presence of small children, for example). I would never have imagined that people actually used it.

But they do.

So. This has been a pretty crappy day, in a pretty crappy week, in a pretty crappy month and in a pretty crappy year. The A to Z Challenge is now at an end (unless there are more letters in the alphabet that no one told me about), I'm really tired, my back aches from sleeping on the sofa while my dad's here, I'm hopelessly behind in my work and my financial situation - which everyone keeps promising me will improve - persists in absolutely not doing so.

All of which means there's really only one thing to say.

Zut, alors!

samedi 28 avril 2012

Y is for...


Contrary to what most of the entries on this blog might lead you to believe, my favourite colour is neither dark nor depressing. No, it's yellow. A bright, sunshiny yellow.

When I was a child, my mother had very set ideas as to what colours a redhead could and couldn't wear. In the former category, there was dark green, dark blue, brown, dark purple and grey. In the latter, all the others. Every photo of me from about the age of 4 up has me wearing one of those dull, drab colours. And I yearned for a yellow jumper. Or red. Or orange. Or anything not "dark".

Added to this was the fact that all British schools have uniforms, and they're frequently dull and drab too. In the many schools I attended, I had a navy blue uniform (white shirt, red tie), a hideous brown and yellow combo (yes, there was yellow, but the uniform was still predominantly brown), a dark green + kilt combo and, for my entire middle school period, a grey-green monstruosity (white-and-green striped shirt, beige jumper and socks, burgundy cape. Yes, a cape. An ankle-length cape).

As a teenager, my parents never gave me an allowance, so I still depended on my mother for the clothes I wore. She "let me choose", but I was never in any doubt as to what she thought suitable. I managed to get her to accept lilac and turquoise, but there was still a lot of dark - navy blue, dark purple, black. With my white, white skin I probably looked more like a corpse than anything.

It wasn't till I went away to university that I finally (eventually) plucked up the courage to wear clothes that friends told me suited me, but that I knew my mother would hate. Above-the-knee skirts, for example, and fitted clothes (my mother was obsessed with the fact that I was fat, even though I've never been fat in my life. Just fatter than her. But she weighed little more than 6 stone (around 90 pounds, maybe, or 40 kg) and was 4 inches shorter).

The day I travelled home for Christmas after my first term in St Andrews, I was wearing an emerald green shirt,  pale green mini-skirt and Doc Martens. My mother almost fainted.

It was liberating. After that "success", I went wild, wearing the wildest, brightest clothes on earth - I went to a formal dance pretty much dressed as a deck chair, with a red-yellow-white striped Lycra mini-dress, gold tights and red T-bar sandals with a vertiginous heel.

Now, I've calmed down a fair amount, but still don't buy into the French thing of wearing black all winter and navy, white and beige all summer. I do have black clothes, and some beige, a little white. No navy, though, and no dark green. Almost no brown, either.

I have yellow, though. I also have yellow kitchenware, yellow walls, yellow jewellry. It's a colour that brightens my mood (and heaven knows it's needed brightening of late), warms me up, makes me feel that there's something good in the world.

Yellow is a good colour.

vendredi 27 avril 2012

X is for...


I'm not quite sure how "X" came to be an almost universal symbol for a kiss, but it has. When I was a child, I always signed letters and cards with a row of them, usually three. Back in the heady days when I had a proper family, I signed things from the 4 of us (me, the girls, my ex) with four of them and a hand-drawn pawprint from Tom. Now, I'm back to three (+ pawprint).

Today, however, I'm going to be writing an awful lot more. Today there will be an infinity of them, an infinity squared, even. Because today isn't just an ordinary Friday.

Today is the day my baby girl, my Looby-Lou, my little Lobster, turns 8.

She can be difficult. She hates sleeping, likes less and less food and eats little. She can't sit still for more than a nanosecond and she's big on sulking. She is hyper-sensitive to perceived injustice (in the form of things-her-big-sister-does-that-she-doesn't) and even more naturally untidy than I am.

But - she's also affectionate, bright as a button, fun-loving, giggly, mischievous, both girly and a tomboy, friendly, generous and downright adorable a lot of the time.

Happy 8th Birthday, my littlest hobo, I hope you have a wonderful day and a wonderful year being 8.

I love you more than anything.

jeudi 26 avril 2012

W is for...

Winnie the Pooh.

I was a moderate fan of Winnie the Pooh when I was a child, but you have to remember that I am positively ancient, so back in those days, the Disney version didn't exist, and my knowledge of the Bear of Little Brain was "limited" to the original books.

I say "limited" because that original, A.A. Milne version is a damn fine version, and the stories and poems he wrote for his son (the famous Christopher Robin) are wonderful.

The Disney version is immensely popular, and I have nothing against it. The characters retain their charm, the stories, though sometimes a little too moralising, are generally cute and fun, and the drawings, though more cuddly than the originals, are still pretty adorable.

My fan-dom lasted long into adulthood - the one time I flew long haul (from Paris to New York) I had the choice of watching a disaster film (this one) or an animated (kids') film, The Tigger Movie. Well, I was travelling alone and didn't care what my fellow passengers thought of me, so I chose the latter. And thoroughly enjoyed it. I should perhaps mention that I was 31 at the time...

Anyway. It turned out that my elder daughter, C, fell in love with a plush Winnie the Pooh when she was very small. That one unfortunately got lost a couple of years later, so a replacement was procured (thank you, Disney Store online!) and she's had him ever since. He may be a Bear of Little Brain, but he is also a Bear who is Very Much Loved.

C turned 10 back in December, and in many ways she's very clearly on her way to being a teenager (heaven help me). She listens to music on YouTube, she can apply make-up better than I can, she can seem amazingly sophisticated at times.

And yet.

At heart, she's still very much a little girl, endlessly loyal to her Winnie, holding him on her lap pretty much constantly when she's at home, hanging him over the back of her chair by his T-shirt when we eat, kissing him goodbye every time she leaves the house.

I'm pretty sure many of the kids in her class would laugh at her for being a baby if they knew how very much she adores her Winnie, and I'm equally sure she doesn't ever talk about him when she's with her friends.

And whilst I've never been one to mope around at the thought of my girls getting older (I've said it before, I'm soooo not a baby or toddler person!), I do kind of hope she'll keep this love of her Winnie for many years to come.
This is the one she has. Only hers is much grubbier. And much loved.

mercredi 25 avril 2012

V is for...

Violon d'Ingres.

I don't remember the first time I heard this expression, but I think it's great. If you're not familiar with it, Ingres was a 19th century French artist, famous for paintings such as this:
For the artist, his favourite pastime - if you consider that painting was his job - was playing the violin. Hence, any activity that you do for pleasure and not as a job is your equivalent of Ingres' violin-playing.

Love it.

The "Violon d'Ingres" is also a very famous photo by the great Man Ray:

which suggests that for the photographer, women were his "violon d'Ingres".

Go on, I dare you! Try and fit this expression into your conversation tomorrow.

And my "violon d'Ingres"? Hmmm. Maybe reading, maybe arts and crafts. I'm not sure... What's yours?

mardi 24 avril 2012

U is for...


When things go wrong in your life, you feel like you're spiralling down, down, down. Out of control. You can't see daylight when you look up (assuming you can actually look up), and beneath you it's all dark and scary. It's not a good feeling at all, and it's one that I've been all too familiar with in the course of my life.

There have been - so it seems to me - so many times when things have been less than perfect. Less than "just OK", actually. I know I moan a lot, and complain a lot, and I know that despite all the crap that goes down I do still have much to be thankful for, and am thankful for, yet it would be a very unfair to say that I have (and have had) an easy life, because it's not true.

These last few months (err... two years? three years? it's hard to know when the latest round of crap kicked off because the early stages were insidious and progressive) have been a new low period in my life. I don't think I've gone out of control, but I've certainly had that impression. I've certainly felt that I was falling, sinking down into the depths of a dark, dark hole. I've certainly struggled to keep my sanity. And I know I've been more miserable than I've been in a long, long time.

The bad times aren't over, and there's still a way to go. Just last night, I was so far off the end of my tether that I ended up getting up from the dinner table and going to bed, leaving the girls (aged 10 and almost-almost-almost 8, remember) to finish their meal, clear the table and get themselves ready for bed, then into bed, all by themselves. No story, no goodnight kiss, nothing. They did it, but both spent part of the night sobbing, which always makes me feel spectacular, as you can imagine. And my lifestyle is currently verging on out of control - insomnia, poor eating habits (basically "not eating", actually), too much crying. But I'm hoping, as I finally succeed in getting one bank account into the black and the other overdrawn by less than €100, that maybe, just maybe, I'm at the bottom now. Maybe this is as far down as I'm going to go. I barely dare write this because I'm scared of tempting fate, but financially at least, there seems to be a glimmer of hope. It's still weak and distant, but perceptible.

So what that really means is that from here on out, the only way is UP. And I don't remember the last time I was in "up" mode. It was hard to imagine, even 2 or 3 weeks ago, but now, I am starting to be able to imagine that things might actually not be so dark and miserable in the future. As I said, there's still a way to go, and I'm not a natural "glass half full" kind of person, but it's there. That tiny, tiny glimmer is there.

It seems kind of appropriate that Up is also one of my very favourite animated films. I'm pretty sure I enjoyed it more than the girls did. The opening sequence (which lasts about 20 minutes if I remember correctly) is stunning, an amazing risk - it's about old people, it's incredibly sad, and ultimately very downbeat. Quite an opening for a kids' film. But then it picks up and is really very amusing. And touching. And yes, I cried - at the beginning and at the end. If you haven't seen it, go see it! It's a kids' film, for sure, but definitely worth watching as an adult!

lundi 23 avril 2012

T is for...


Everyone knows the famous Oscar Wilde quote, "I can resist everything but temptation", but it's still perfect. Because that is it, exactly.

I can stand up to the trials and tribulations life throws at me (mostly. sometimes. partially). I can be strong and superhuman and translate a phenomenal amount of words in no time at all. I can be sleep-deprived yet functional, sleep-deprived yet efficient. I can deal with hassles and two jobs and raising children.

I can do all that. Maybe not well, and maybe not with my mental health intact. But I can do it.

But what I can't do is resist the temptation to do certain things. I get a new DVD, I can't resist the temptation to watch it. All of it. I buy a bar of chocolate and I can't resist the temptation to eat the entire thing, even though I know I'll feel like crap afterwards. I find myself incapable of resisting the pull of such things. It may all seem innocent enough - I mean, I'm not hooked on crack or anything after all - but sometimes, this inability to resist temptation can seriously screw me up.

Example. One of my students lent me his Grey's Anatomy DVDs. All of them (though not, thankfully, all at once). I started with season 1 and have been steadily working my way through them.

He passed me the DVD for season 7 not long ago. That's 22 episodes, about 45 minutes long each. Or, if you prefer, over 16 hours of DVD.

And I got sucked in, as usual. After years of being unable to understand the attraction of this series (and whilst still disliking Cristina and Meredith more than any of the other characters), I'm now hooked. So instead of watching maybe 1 or 2 episodes in the evening, I found myself watching several, whenever I could, instead of working. Instead of sleeping. Instead of doing housework.

Result? I watched all 22 episodes in 6 days (watched the last one this morning, in fact). And I'm now hopelessly behind with my work. Not to mention the housework (bearing in mind my clean-freak dad arrives in 2 days too...).

Temptation is a sneaky bitch, really. And I'm powerless.

samedi 21 avril 2012

S is for...


I first saw this film as a teenager. It was a Saturday night and I was at home, bored, but not wanting to go to bed. My parents, of course, were already in bed. Back in those (pre-historic) times, the number of TV channels available in Britain was severely limited, but I "flicked through" all four of them, somewhat listlessly. I'm guessing it was either BBC2 or Channel 4 that were announcing their "late night film" and it sounded promising, if not exactly exciting, so I decided to give it a go.

And I was soon hooked! Laurence Olivier and Michael Caine are fantastic. You can tell it's a stage play in origin because it's pretty static, but there's action all the same, and the dialogue is sparkling. I can't really tell you much about the plot without giving things away, but the starting point is that Caine is the lover of Olivier's wife and Olivier invites him to his house for a discussion. After that, well... you'll just have to watch it!

There was a remake, with Caine playing Olivier's part and Jude Law playing Caine's part, but I haven't seen it. According to the reviews, it isn't as good.

After that first viewing, it soon became one of my favourite films. The next time I saw that it was on, I videoed it and was then able to watch it whenever I wanted. Since then, I've probably seen it about 5 or 6 times, it just never gets old (even though it IS old - 1972!).

I get the impression it's not a particularly well-known film. I've often mentioned it to people, and most never seem to have heard of it, which is a terrible shame. If you haven't seen it, and if you like intelligent dialogue and a plot with more twists and turns than a Cornish country road, get hold of this and watch it! I'm sure you won't be disappointed. I'm kind of tempted to watch the remake, just to see what it's like...

vendredi 20 avril 2012

R is for...


When I was a kid, what I wanted more than anything on earth was to have blond hair; long, straight, swishy-hair. Kind of like Gwyneth Paltrow's. Kind of like my mother's, actually, though hers wasn't as blond. My mother, of course, spent all her time trying to put curls in her ramrod straight hair, almost wholly without success.

I guess we're back to need versus want again.

Anyway. Yes. Blond hair. I hated having red hair. Really, really hated it. Kids are cruel and they'll pick up on any difference they can find - fat kids, kids with glasses, kids with red hair - and, being a small, wimpy, swotty, unathletic type, I was easy pickings. I was endlessly teased.

It affected me, but it was never more than teasing, and I knew many, many other kids were being teased too, so I  didn't lose sleep over it. But I did want blond hair.

When I started middle school (when I was 11), there was a girl a year older than me who just loved picking on me. Sacha. Ha. Bitch. About once a week she and her friend threw me into the holly bushes. She snarked, pulled my hair, called me names. One day, she was right behind me in the queue for school lunch. She pulled my hair, laughed, did it again. The dinner lady gave me my plate of spaghetti bolognaise, Sacha pulled my hair again, harder. And something inside me snapped. Me, who'd never so much as been told to stop talking in class. I turned around and poured the entire, tomato-y contents of my plate down the front of our regulation uniform of green and white striped shirt and beige cardigan (it was a hideous, hideous uniform). Of course, Sacha was furious and protested very loudly. But do you know what? I didn't get punished. SHE DID! Oh, how I laughed! And naturally she never bothered me again (we didn't exactly become friends either, though).

After that, I stopped hating my red hair, without ever really loving it. Gradually, over the years, I've come to appreciate that it's probably my best feature, but I think I would still, secretly, kind of like long, swishy blond hair, even if it's never going to happen. The only time my hair swishes is when I leave the hairdresser's after my yearly appointment (yes, I hate going to the hairdresser's) because my hair is naturally wavy, totally unmanageable, tending to frizzy if too short (hence my long hair).

So yes, I've come to accept my red hair. That doesn't mean I'm not secretly delighted that my sweet girls are both blond though - and they both have long, swishy hair! And, with the exception of a certain delicious doctor, I'm still not wholly on board with men with red hair.

Even though red hair is starting to be seen as sexy again (thank you Christina Hendricks, the world's sexiest redhead!), I think I would still change in a flash if I had the chance. But at the same time, I've never dyed my hair, never tried to go blond, never (actually) done anything whatsoever to my hair. I've had the same "hairstyle" (if you can call it that) since I was in high school. So maybe I'm more content with it than I realise.

jeudi 19 avril 2012

Q is for...


quick  (kwk)
adj. quick·erquick·est
1. Moving or functioning rapidly and energetically; speedy.
2. Learning, thinking, or understanding with speed and dexterity; bright: a quick mind.
a. Perceiving or responding with speed and sensitivity; keen.
b. Reacting immediately and sharply: a quick temper.
a. Occurring, achieved, or acquired in a relatively brief period of time: a quick rise through the ranks; a quick profit.
b. Done or occurring immediately: a quick inspection. See Synonyms at fast1.
5. Tending to react hastily: quick to find fault.
6. Archaic
a. Alive.
b. Pregnant.
1. Sensitive or raw exposed flesh, as under the fingernails.
2. The most personal and sensitive aspect of the emotions.
3. The living: the quick and the dead.
4. The vital core; the essence: got to the quick of the matter.
adv. quickerquickest
Quickly; promptly.

[Middle English, alive, lively, quick, from Old English cwicualive; see gwei- in Indo-European roots.]

quickly adv.
quickness n.
Usage Note: In speech quick is commonly used as an adverb in phrases such as Come quick. In formal writing, however, quickly is required.

The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition copyright ©2000 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Updated in 2009. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

I'm no athlete, never have been. I hated sport at school because it was just one humiliation after another, one failure after another. I hated running marginally less than most of the rest, not because I was particularly quick (I wasn't), or particularly good at long distances (absolutely not), but just that my many athletic failings were less evident when I just had to run from one end of field to another.

However, I am quick. Not in the running kind of way, but in my way of thinking. I think quickly, I make connections quickly, I get things done quickly (I mean, the things I do, I do them quickly. There are many things that sit on my "To do" lists for weeks, or even months). And, although I do things quickly, I take a fair amount of pride in the fact that I generally do things pretty well, too.

I can type quickly, I can read quickly. I translate quickly, I talk quickly. I walk quickly, I'm efficient.

My dad is the same - for the things he does, I mean. He obviously doesn't translate at all. Or, rather, he was the same.

My dad turned 81 on 14 April, and, despite being in pretty good shape, all things considered, he really is an old man now. He forgets things, he dithers (he who never, never dithered before). He fumbles, he faffs. He's getting old, really old. And it scares me. When he dies, I'll be alone. Totally alone. My girls will grow up and leave, which is normal, I know, but it'll leave me even more alone than ever.

It's all very well being quick. Yes, it means that I can translate 7,000 words in a day and survive. Yes, I can read quickly, meaning I was able to read several set literary texts at university in no time at all. Yes, I can walk quickly, so that means I don't have to leave for work as early.

But one day, that quickness will go, it will be gone. And what will I have left then?

It seems interesting to me that the etymology of the word gives the original meaning as "alive". Once it's gone, once I'm no longer able to be quick, I guess that means I'll be dead.

mercredi 18 avril 2012

P is for...


1. To give a false appearance of; feign: "You had to pretend conformity while privately pursuing high and dangerous nonconformism" (Anthony Burgess).
2. To claim or allege insincerely or falsely; profess: doesn't pretend to be an expert.
3. To represent fictitiously in play; make believe: pretended they were on a cruise.
4. To take upon oneself; venture: I cannot pretend to say that you are wrong.
1. To feign an action or character, as in play.
2. To put forward a claim.
3. To make pretensions: pretends to gourmet tastes.
adj. Informal
Imitation; make-believe: pretend money; pretend pearls.

[Middle English pretenden, from Old French pretendre, from Latin praetendere : prae-, pre- + tendere, to extend; see ten- in Indo-European roots.]

As a shy and lonely, bookish only child (that sounds like something from Dickens, doesn't it?!), my imagination developed pretty well.

To fill the void around me - no friends outside of school, little family, my parents almost never "entertained", so we spent weekends, half-terms and holidays pretty much just the three of us - I invented whole universes, other realities, in which my life was drastically different and, at least in my imagination, undoubtedly better.

To be honest, I've never really outgrown the habit, and to be even more honest, these imaginary "elsewheres" are really what's allowed me to survive the last few years. I spend so much time physically alone - I work mainly from home, the girls are at school all day, four days a week, and spend time with D at weekends - that I need the "company" my fantasy lives give me. I have whole conversations, imagine whole, complex scenarios (scenarii?). Really, these imaginary worlds are amazingly realistic, fleshed out, detailed.

When I finally manage to get myself to bed, I fall asleep half-way through a favourite "episode" from "my life" (because yes, of course, I have favourite parts of this imaginary life and I choose to relive them whenever I can). These imaginary lives aren't necessarily all happy, all shiny. Bad things happen. But - and this is the big difference with my "real" reality - when the bad stuff happens, I'm surrounded by love and support and arms to hold me and wipe the tears. There are ups and downs, and sometimes the downs are really downs, but there's always someone there - physically there, not Facebook-y there, or Twitter-y there, or e-mail-y there - to pull me through, give me the strength to carry on.

I don't really believe I'm as insane as this must make me sound. I mean, I'm perfectly aware of what's real and what's not. I have no illusions that the people (sometimes famous people, or characters from films or TV series who happen to play the right role) who inhabit these fantasies will actually play any part in my life. It's just a means of escaping the "real" reality I'm struggling so mightily with. It's just a way of getting to sleep, even if I can only seem to manage to sleep in 2-hour chunks right now. It's what helps me get through the rest of the day.

But I'm also aware that I'm getting to a point where my pretend lives (because there are many variants to my fantasies, and I chop and change between them as my fancy takes me) are actually more important to me than my real life. I long for the moment when I can lie down in my bed, turn out the light and forget about the crap-fest around me and fall headlong back into a world where everything ultimately works out. Where I am loved by a man I love, where wrongs are righted and dreams come true.

I guess 42 is pretty old to be playing make-believe. But I thought I'd have my life worked out by now, too. It's just that it didn't happen that way. And now, all I have left of my dreams is what's in my head.

mardi 17 avril 2012

O is for...


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Percy Bysshe Shelley

I don't know why I've always liked this poem, but I have. I know I must have learned a whole slew of poems at school, but this is one of only two I can actually quote from (the other being "The Old Vicarage, Grantchester" by Rupert Brooke), more than just a phrase or two I mean.

Maybe it's because my mother could quote the entire thing, making it stick more clearly in my mind.

Anyway. I like this poem, like it very much in fact. The name "Ozymandias" sounds delightfully exotic and ancient, mysterious and mystical. The story the poem tells is one of power and abuse of power... and decadence and the passage of time.

It's kind of depressing, really, if you think about it, but there's something about the way it's written that prevents it from being maudlin. It's a strong, proud poem, arrogant and supercilious (like Ozymandias, of course).

Those Romantics lived wild and unconventional lives, and they really knew how to write (OK, I'm going to be honest here: I usually pretty much hate the Romantics, but Byron and Shelley are cool. And I don't mind some of Coleridge's work. Not such a big fan of Wordsworth, though. And the French Romantics? GAH.).

OK, Literary Tuesday is over, guys. As you were.

lundi 16 avril 2012

N is for...


It can be very difficult to separate "need" from "want".

I "want" a lot of things - happiness and good health (both for me and my girls), a healthy bank balance, a decent social life (ANY social life, actually), a new kitchen, new decor in my bedroom, a holiday... Lots of things.

But what do I really need right now? Oh, and the right answer to that is not "a kick up the backside".

I need to find a solution to my money troubles. I need to snap out of this god-awful funk and pull my life together. I need to stop being such a hermit and make the effort to reach out to people. I need to start being healthier in my lifestyle.

Not a hugely long list, but horribly daunting given how I'm feeling right now. Admittedly, 4.30 am after a 48-hour food intake of tinned tuna (split with my cat), toast, chocolate, Diet Coke and coffee probably isn't the best time to contemplate such things, but I know that even in the cold light of day (assuming I open the shutters of course), this list will still look daunting.

The money troubles part is largely out of my control now. I mean, there are things I've done to help, and "things" are (apparently) in motion, but other than pray there's not much I can do in reality.

I remember hating the "pull yourself together" speech I got so often back in those other murky days of my past. The people who helped me never said that to me, so saying it to myself seems pretty much doomed to failure. But at the same time, I know that's what I need to do. Need. Huh.

As for the not-being-a-hermit thing, that's tough too. I feel disconnected from the parents at the girls' school (so!many!couples! and so!many!well-off!people! Way to make me feel inadequate), and I am, literally, disconnected from the friends who could do me the most good. So yeah, that's another tough one.

The healthier lifestyle is at least possible. But will require super-human effort on my part. Going to bed early, getting up early are anathema to me, always have been. Cooking is not something I enjoy (or am particularly good at), so comfort foods are an easy option. Not necessarily unhealthy, but not great either. And I think I'm addicted to Diet Coke.

But still. It's a reasonably short list.

There's just one more thing I'd add to it.

I need...or is this just want, after all? feel a man take me in his arms and tell me it's all going to be OK. Make me feel human again, make me feel like more than just a machine for translating endless, endless words. Make me feel like a woman again.

Fat chance, I'd say.

OK, so now the inevitable quote (you knew this was coming, didn't you?!):
"You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need".

Fingers crossed, eh?

samedi 14 avril 2012

M is for...


There was a time - my second year at university, actually - when I used to write this word all over my notebooks, files and folders.
A guy in my Spanish class asked me a few times if it was because I was a fan of the group... 

Well, I liked Suggsy and the boys as much as anyone; but in truth, no, that wasn't why I wrote the word everywhere...

It wasn't a good year for me. I spiralled out of control and almost screwed everything up for real. There were various "incidents", various types of incident, that I regret. Things happened, things were done. Other people were involved. It was a tough time. But, I got through it, somehow. I'm still not entirely sure how. I kind of know who got me through it (and oh, how I wish I were still in touch with those "who"...), just not the how.

Later, when I was a student in a different town, a different country even, that word crept back into my life. I worked - out of choice - in a psychiatric hospital. I chose mental health in general, and schizophrenia in particular, as the subject of my postgraduate work.

It was another tough year (though for some different reasons, some similar), and although I didn't exactly spiral out of control, sometimes I felt close to it. There weren't any "incidents", so to speak, but there oh, so easily could have been. There was, most definitely, irrationality, irresponsibility. Stupidity, too.

Now, with tough years seemingly my new normal, I can feel the pull once again. I'm not exactly spiralling out of control - I have responsibilities, and I have other people to take into account, (little) people who depend on me, and I take all that very seriously - but I do get the distinct impression that certain elements of my life are slipping off the tracks. I know I'm not behaving rationally; I know I'm not "doing what I should" for my own life. I keep certain aspects of my life together - the girls are fed and clothed, their clothes are washed, bills (mostly) get paid, homework gets done, tax forms get sent in - whilst others are disintegrating around me, and I feel helpless to stop it happening. If I keep this up, I'll be dead before I'm 50 I should think.

I feel bitter and angry and full of... dare I say it?... hate, yet I know I'm not taking the right steps to turn my life around and make the best of what I have. And what scares me is that it's possibly some form of this word that is pulling me down, tying me to my irrational behaviour. 

I feel as if my insides are spiralling out of control, whilst my exterior keeps up those oh-so-important appearances. No one can see what a mess I am. No one can see how irrational my behaviour has become.

I know I should try to reach out, I should try to stop the rot, but I can't. I need to be strong, I need to keep going, but I'm not succeeding right now. The pull of the swirling, spiralling forces is too intense and I can feel it all starting to slip away, through my fingers...

I can't stop listening to this, either. There's something about her voice that touches me, makes me tingle. And then the lyrics - oh, the lyrics! Particularly 2:13 to 2:43...

vendredi 13 avril 2012

L is for...


And seriously, it's not right (oh, I'm so damn witty...).

Yesterday, my two little girls packed their little red suitcases with stuffed animals, books, card games and costume jewellery; I packed their "real" suitcase with trousers and socks and knickers and pyjamas and T-shirts, all possibly slightly damp from the tears dripping off the end of my nose. Then, at 2.15, D arrived and took them away.

They've gone to Paris to stay with my ex-MIL and won't be back till next Thursday.

I know this has happened before, and I know I've taken them places too. I know it's been 2 years now that we've been doing holidays like this. But it doesn't get any easier, it doesn't feel any more normal yet.

When they left, I burst into tears, bereft at being left behind. It's not that I want to spend a week at my ex-MIL's in Paris (hell no). It's not that I want to spend a week with D (hell no-to-the-power-of-a-million). It's not even that the girls and I have such fun together (mostly, we don't). It's just that it's not right that we have to spend time apart (me and them, or (begrudgingly, I'll admit) him and them). We were a family, we did things together and those things were better. At least, they were better until that time they weren't. Which, coincidentally, was during a similar trip to Paris, exactly 2 years ago. The holiday from hell, actually.

Now, there's always someone left behind. And although I have to take advantage of this time and get a shit-ton of work done (you have NO IDEA how many words I have to translate right now), this crappy situation doesn't make me happy. In fact, it makes me miserable.

They haven't even been gone for 24 hours yet, and I miss them terribly already.

I know it's pathetic. I know millions of families live like this, and millions of others regularly send their kids away on holiday to grandparents or camps, or whatever. But we didn't do that. We were a together-family. And now we're not.

Heavens, how it hurts! Still. So much. So very, very much.

jeudi 12 avril 2012

K is for...


Pronounced "cur-coddy" by those in the know (the East Neukers, then).

Memory's a funny thing. I often wonder why certain things stick in your mind, whilst others just disappear. I mean, I lived in a beautiful Georgian terrace house for a couple of years maybe when I was very, very small (about 2 years old, I think). I've seen pictures of the house, the garden. I've been past it (rarely, but past it) since then. But I don't remember that house - or, rather, all I remember is that there were slaters in the kitchen and an orange carpet somewhere upstairs. I mean, WTF?

And Kirkcaldy? Well, Kirkcaldy is a town near St Andrews, which is where I was a student many moons ago. Whilst St Andrews is a picturesque, quaint town steeped in history, Kirkcaldy...isn't. Yes, it has a history, but nothing to match that of St Andrews.

I may be being very unfair to the place. Maybe it's a beautiful place (I don't think so though).

I have only been there once, and I remember virtually nothing about the circumstances of my visit. My then-roommate and I decided not to go into Dundee (the nearest big town to St Andrews) one Saturday before Christmas, and instead trekked out to Kirkcaldy, presumably by bus (as I said, I really don't remember).

I have no idea why we would have done this, though I have the vaguest of notions that a pair of green trousers was involved. Don't ask for more details, I don't have any!

What I do remember is thinking that if the Apocalypse were to actually happen, the world would probably end up looking like Kirkcaldy. It struck me (that winter Saturday back in...holy crap... 1987) as the greyest, most miserable place I'd ever seen. Obviously, not many places in East Fife look good in winter (including St Andrews), so I'm almost certainly being unfair. I'm not imagining the hideous chemical smell that seemed to dominate the town though - that was true enough, a reminder of the town's linoleum-making. I also remember that the inhabitants looked kind of grey and depressed too.

All in all, the town left a strange, incomplete memory in my head. I just have to hear the word (which I admittedly don't, very often) and an image of greyness cloaked in a chemical smell immediately comes to mind.

During those years in St Andrews, I visited plenty of other places. Yet I don't remember their names or even anything about them. Yet I do remember (albeit not very well) that one-off visit to Kirkcaldy.

And when I'm called upon to think of a word starting with the letter K for an exercise like this one, after my first name, this is the first word that springs to mind. Even though I only went there once, more than 24 years ago.

Memory really is a strange thing, don't you think?

mercredi 11 avril 2012

J is for...

Just stop, already!

That's what I want to say to 2012... I mean, COME ON! I've had such a string of crap years now that they can't really be called crap any more, they're the new normal!

So come on, 2012! Play the game! Give a girl a break!

I'm not asking for much - some financial leeway would be nice (I'm not asking to win the lottery - even yesterday I wasn't asking for that, just trying to imagine what it must be like...), some self-confidence would be amazing and a man? Oh, yes, that would most definitely be welcome.

Not necessarily this one (though obviously I wouldn't say no - and "they" do say he's single now...):
But yeah, a man would be very nice. Very nice indeed.

Maybe this should have been J is for Johnny Depp...

mardi 10 avril 2012

I is for...


I think we've probably all played the game of wondering what we'd do if we won a huge sum of money... even those of us who don't play national lottery type games or do any kind of gambling activity.

I (unsurprisingly) find it hard to imagine what it must be like to have limitless funds. I don't really know what I'd do. It's lovely to dream, though it's hard to get past the bricks and mortar of the walls pinning me down right now.

I mean, obviously, if I won the lottery this week, I'd pay off all my debts, pay off my mortgage, all those boring things. That's a total no-brainer.

But what about the rest? What do I dream of doing? Would I really just stop working, tell all my clients to screw their translation needs?

I'm not sure. I love the idea of "not-working", but I think it's mainly because I currently work so much. I can't believe I'd really enjoy a life of leisure. I'd feel the need to do something.

If I won the lottery, obviously I'd also put a huge chunk away for each of my girls. I'd give money to my friends, try and get them out of debt too. I'd go on holiday (but where? and with whom?). I'd get my teeth done, my hair done. I'd buy new clothes, refresh my driving skills and buy a car.

I'd put money away for my old age. I'd get home improvements done (and boy, does this home need improving!). I'd give to charitable organisations, helping children, helping animals.

But the biggest if has to be less down to earth. If I were rich, would I actually be happy? Who knows. Sometimes, I feel like I don't even know what "happy" really means. "They" say money can't buy happiness, and I'm sure that's true. Only up to a point, though. Not having money is still (in my opinion) worse, and I'd rather be unhappy with money than without it.

If you had limitless funds, what would you do?

lundi 9 avril 2012

H is for...


It's only the beginning of April, but already I'm dreaming of going away, getting away, being somewhere else. I don't even know if it's going to be possible to go away somewhere with the girls this summer - my finances are really, really dire and by the time things get sorted out (assuming they do, actually, get sorted out) it might be too late.
Also, my dad apparently wants us to go to Scotland for 2 weeks, which is just unimaginable. What the hell would we do? The weather would most likely be crap (no surprises there), we'd have no means of transport other than the extortionately expensive and very slow public transport service and my dad's getting too old to do much driving about. I would like to take the girls to St Andrews, just so they can see it, but it's an awful lot of hassle for an afternoon in the East Neuk.
Plus, more importantly (and, no doubt, more selfishly), going to Scotland really wouldn't feel like a holiday for me. Especially as I'd most likely have to work too.
So. Yeah. Holidays.
I like to take the girls to new places, new countries, new cultures. In their short (holidaying) lives, apart from England and Scotland, they've been to the Alps (La Toussuire, 2006), the Pyrenees (St Lary Soulan, 2007), Lake Como (Varenna, 2008), St Jean de Luz (Ciboure, 2009), Bilbao (2010) and Genoa (2011). This year, I'm fancying either Italy again (but you already know that from Saturday...) or possibly Lisbon, another city I loved the one time I was there.
But it's expensive and we can't afford to go for long - as I'm travelling alone with the girls, self-catering is out of the question; I do enough shopping-cooking-washing-up-laundry-cleaning at home as it is. I don't want to do the same on holiday. That wouldn't feel like a holiday either.
No, if we're going anywhere, it has to be a hotel, and preferably (for the girls' sakes) one with a swimming pool. And that, obviously, pushes the price right up.
And, as I'm clearly totally delusional right now (despite not having had any Easter chocolate whatsoever), I'm ALSO thinking about taking the girls away for a couple of nights in a hotel in May, just to thank them for being so understanding about the crappiness of these last few months, so good about lending money, so sweet when the tears have flowed down my face like rain.
I mean, I really can't afford that, but it's nice to dream...
I remain hopeful that we'll get some time away, just the three of us, this summer. We've done it twice, and it's been fun. I'm sure it can happen again. I've found that the Holiday Inn in Lisbon is only €67/night, and it has a pool on the roof. We just have to find reasonably priced flights...
But it's all a pipe dream right now. I can't afford to book anything. I can just dream of a day when I'm not here, sitting in front of my computer, day in, day out.
Do you realise that there hasn't been a single day - including Sundays, public holidays - that I haven't done at least some work since we came home from Scotland at the end of December? And that there most likely won't be one until this maybe-maybe not holiday in August? (Unless I can pull things together in May, but I'm not sure about that at all.) Do you realise that I haven't been outside of Montpellier, haven't been anywhere other than the university and the city centre, actually, since about November (except for Scotland at Christmas)? Seriously, I lead the most boring life in the world.
Oh, how I need a holiday this year!

samedi 7 avril 2012

G is for...


Oh, how I love Italy!
Each visit has been different, each has left me with wonderful memories.
My first trip to Italy was when I went InterRailing with my dear friend J in the summer of 1989. We spent time in Florence and Rome, a night in Venice, Turin and Pisa and many, many hours in trains. We had such adventures (particularly at Roma Termini railway station!), such fun. It was the most magical part of our month-long holiday, the part I remember with the most fondness.
My next trip to Italy was in early June 1994, with my American friend D. He and I had spent the year working as English assistants and had become friends, and decided to travel to Italy for a week together. We went to Florence and Siena and Turin. We drank dessert wines and ate icecreams, we wandered around museums. It was lovely. Really.
Next, I convinced D (my ex, not American-D) that we should travel to Lake Como with the girls in the summer of 2008. It was amazing. So far, Lake Como is the most beautiful place I've ever been. It was stunning and perfect, a wonderful holiday.

And then, finally, last summer, I took the girls to beautiful, wonderful Genoa. So much to see and do, so interesting and varied, so dynamic yet laid-back. The perfect place for a holiday with two not-so-small girls. A magical place.
I wish I'd studied Italian rather than Spanish - I wanted to study Italian, but St Andrews didn't have an Italian department, so Spanish it was. I like Italy so much more than Spain...
And Genoa? I'd go back tomorrow. In fact, if my finances allow it, it's one of the possibilities for our summer holiday again this year. I know the girls would like to try somewhere new (maybe Lisbon?), but I think they'd be happy back in Genoa too.
I even like cheesy Italian pop songs! Like this one, or this one... Tell me you can listen to these and not have at least one of them in your head afterwards! And even though I don't speak Italian, it's close enough to French and Spanish to be understandable.
Bellissima Italia, ti amo !

vendredi 6 avril 2012

F is for...

Easy, this one.
My first experience of France was when I was almost 15, on a school trip. We went to Paris for a few days, just a group of girls from school (yes, it was an all girls' school. Yes, it sucked) and my two favourite teachers. I remember little of what we actually did, though I have a vague idea that we went to the Eiffel Tower and Montmartre. I do remember undercooked steak in a restaurant and the hotel with the lights on timer switches meaning we had to go up to our top floor rooms in a relay...
After that, my parents and I drove through France every summer for 4 years on our way down to Spain in the summer for a couple of weeks, but the French scared me and, even though I theoretically spoke more French than both my parents combined, I could barely utter a word.
I'm not entirely sure why I chose to study French at university. I was probably better (then, anyway) at English literature. But I chose French, added in Spanish and there you go. My dad's disappointment in me started there.
I spent 3 months in Paris in my 3rd year at university, studying French at the British Institute and working at the (now no longer) Burger King on the Boul'Mich (boulevard St Michel for the uninitiated). It was not a particularly happy time, as I recall it, though the flat I shared with two friends (on avenue Daumesnil) was lovely.
So it's kind of surprising that I voluntarily returned almost immediately after graduating. And have been here ever since. Amazingly, I'll have been living permanently in France (first Paris (very briefly), then Lyon (7 years), now Montpellier) for 20 years this summer.
My French is pretty much fluent. Yes, I still make careless mistakes about "le" and "la", mainly because I can't be bothered to make the effort to learn them correctly, but I think my accent is pretty damn good.
I've only ever worked in France, my children are essentially French (more than they are British, anyway), my whole life is here. Yet I've never taken out French nationality and I most certainly do not feel French. Not at all.
Many things about life in France bug the shit out of me - lack of civillity being the main one, I should think - but many others make me sure I could never move back to Britain (the standard of living seems better, though maybe living in the south with a generally pretty wonderful climate has something to do with that).
As a non-citizen, I can't vote in the upcoming Presidential election (less than 3 weeks to go!), though I'll be watching the results come in on TV like everyone else, and will moan if Sarkozy wins again.
My daughters have dual nationality (though France is pushing for the abolition of this status, which would piss me off mightily) and I hope that one day they will choose to spend time in Britain.
France is a beautiful country and I have no regrets about my decision to come here. I don't miss Britain (apart from year-round proximity to Creme Eggs and hot cross buns, I mean), but I do miss my friends.
What is true, though, is that I don't really feel like I belong anywhere anymore...

jeudi 5 avril 2012

E is for...

When I look back at the 14 years D and I were together, I find it hard to remember the good times. That's mean of me, because there WERE good times. In fact, people used to comment on how well we got on together, even though D rubbed many people up the wrong way very quickly. Through my working-from-homeness and his not-working-very-much-at-all-ness we spent huge amounts of time together, much more than most couples. And we really didn't argue that much, considering.
Yet, as I say, I find the good times hard to remember. My anger levels are still so high, after 2 years, that I'm beginning to think it's unhealthy (even though he continues to do and say things that bug me, so it's not like I'm solely angry for stuff from the past). And it's just so much easier to remember the bad times, the sad times.
One thing that should maybe have put me more on my guard than I was before he walked out was a criticism he made of me with relentless monotony. Every single argument we ever had, I should think, ended with him making some version of it. And whilst one of my (probably many) failings is that I take criticism badly, I am now adult enough most of the time to accept it (sort of). Except, of course, when I feel it is so blatantly untrue.
What was that criticism? Ha!
D used to tell me I lacked emotion, that I lacked that wonderful human capacity for feeling. In other words, he was basically telling me I am a robot.
Oh, how that hurt!
Even when I explained certain things, he wouldn't back down (for example: when our first baby died in utero back in 2000, we were both distraught. We displayed this in different ways, obviously, but I pretty much sank into total depression. We'd had a holiday booked before our baby died and we decided, even though it was literally days after she died, that we should go ahead and go, it would do us good. So we travelled by train down to Murcia to stay with a friend. D soon got into the full swing of things, and seemed to be having a good time. Me, not so much. I was leaking milk for a baby who was dead, my baby was dead. My baby was dead! And D, just 10 days after the most traumatic event in my entire life, told me to "pull myself together because my miserable face was ruining his holiday". After that, I decided that showing him how I felt bored him, so I bottled it up, kept it to myself).
I know I can appear cold and distant - I'm painfully shy and socially pretty awkward, but also extremely OVER-emotive. I cry very easily, I blush easily, my voice shakes, my hands shake... So OF COURSE I try and keep things in check. So for not particularly close friends or acquaintances to find me distant seems reasonable. But for my partner, of multiple years and much time spent together, to feel the same? Blew my mind.
How on earth could he know me, understand me, so little? It was clearly a warning sign.
Funnily enough, pretty much the same could be said of my parents - my mother in particular never seemed to have the least idea who I was or how I ticked; I think my dad does know, but a) he's an elderly British man so he never shows emotion himself and b) he disapproves of my lifestyle choices so much that he can't quite get his head round who I am.
Clearly, this song was written for me...

mercredi 4 avril 2012

D is for...

The bare bones of the story of Damocles are pretty well known, and the expression "the Sword of Damocles" has become part of everyday language for a lot of people.
Right now, my own version of that damn sword is swinging perilously over my head, attached to the figurative rafters by a strand of horse's hair.
For once, I'm not actually talking about money (though obviously the image fits that situation pretty well too). No, this time, I'm talking about work.
I translate for a living. You know that. I translate mainly scientific and technical texts, often articles for publication in peer-review journals. I also translate a lot of websites, commercial correspondance and newsletters.
Recently, though, the focus of my work has changed. Yes, I did a lot of words for a pharmaceutical firm last month, but not nearly as many as there are in the book on history and museums I'm wading through right now, or the university exchange programme. There's also a media website.
So where does Damocles and his sword (so to speak) come into all this? Well, as a professional translator, I'm bound by deadlines. And deadlines? I have them.
Being poor and freaked out about money has resulted in me taking on waaaaay too much work. And now the deadlines are starting to seem horribly real and very scary.
A quick run-down for you: 150,000 words (yes, you read that right) by 15 June (that's the history/museography book); 22,000 words by 20 April (the university exchange programme); 2,800 words by this Thursday (the media website). Plus a couple of things to proofread, student translations to correct, exams to mark. I mean, I've done some of it (30,000 of the book, for example, about 3,000 of the university thing), but there's still so very much more...
Panicking much? Er, yes, actually.
I can almost feel the tip of the sword on my scalp...

Of course, maybe the most famous version of the story is actually THIS...!

mardi 3 avril 2012

Teaser Tuesday Posting Frenzy

It's been a while since I fell down a meme-shaft, but I saw this one on The Warrior Muse, who in turn saw it on  Should Be Reading and I (of course) couldn't resist...
The rules are pretty simple:

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
So, here are my two teasers:
"It was Acheron Hades, the designated evildoer and antagonist from The Eyre Affair. Inside the book, he was a homicidal maniac who would surgically remove people's faces for fun, but outside the book he collected stamps and wrote really bad poetry."
Jasper Fforde, "One of our Thursdays is missing" (this is actually the 6th book in the "Thursday Next" series; if you haven't read any, then you really need to read them in order, starting with the aforementioned The Eyre Affair...)

C is for...

Here in France, "collège" is the equivalent of middle school. Most kids are 11 when they start collège, and they stay there for 4 years, before going to "lycée" or high school for a final 3 years.
My sweet girl, C, will be starting collège in September, and she's already pretty excited about it. So am I, to be honest. I got a letter in the mail today inviting us to an open day at the collège she'll be attending (which is the sister school to the primary school she's at now) and it's in less than a month. We'll be shown around and the first year (6ème) programme will be explained. I'm guessing we'll meet teachers too...
We've already had to decide which language options she'll be doing - she outright refused to do the "élite" bilingual German class (even though she is most certainly capable of it), preferring instead to do just English for now and then add in Spanish in 2 years. That suits me fine. The German bilingual class is basically what she's going to be doing, but with 2 extra hours of classes to study German. I have no interest in her doing that (I'd have been quite happy for her to do it if she'd wanted to, obviously, but she didn't. End of story) and much prefer that she's decided to do Spanish.
The change from primary to collège is a big one - kids are expected to be autonomous, pretty much all of a sudden. They're given more freedom and have to learn how to manage their time, their homework, their revision. But it's an exciting step and I'm delighted that she's reached it. She may only be 10 (she won't be 11 till the end of December, which will makei her one of the youngest in the school), but I can see that she's ready.
My sweet baby C is growing up!

lundi 2 avril 2012

B is for...

Right now, I feel like my entire life revolves around banks. I check my bank accounts on line about three times a day (which is stupid because it depresses me beyond belief), I receive letters from banks - nasty, "pay up now, bitch" letters - more or less every day, and my life has been put on hold by banks. I fucking hate banks.
I keep hearing that "money isn't everything" and "there are more serious problems than money problems", but I can't help but feel that that's only true when you DON'T have money problems. Because money, or the lack of it, is just about all I can think about right now. I dream about my debts, I wake up in a cold sweat at least once every night because money worries are consuming me alive.
I know this, too, shall pass, but it sure as hell doesn't feel like it most days.

dimanche 1 avril 2012

A is for...

The fact that D and I weren't married was never a problem - we still had our "anniversary". In fact, it was the anniversary of our first "date" (even though we almost never went on actual dates...). And it just so happened that it was April Fool's Day. That was always something I liked; it was a fun date to have as our anniversary, and it made gift-buying more amusing: we never bought each other "big" gifts, just small tokens, often with a joke theme, or (given that here in France April Fool's Day is "poisson d'avril" or April Fish) a fish theme.

Today would have been our 16th anniversary, although in fact we only made it past our 14th by a month (and trouble was well and truly looming for a while beforehand).
Now, April Fool's Day is a day tinged with sadness for me. The girls enjoy the French tradition of preparing paper fish and sticking them on the backs of friends and family without them knowing, but I can't quite get into the joyous mood. Especially this year, with the world crumbling around me.