Penelope and me


It is the end of the week, and my daughter’s birthday. Five years ago, a tiny, mewing person rested on my chest for a first dazed cuddle. Today, the little person hopped around in excitement all day, and condescended to eating vegetables without a fight because, you know, Anna in Frozen does not argue about vegetables.

Otherwise, my head is swimming.

Life this year got so close to becoming a Hollywood romantic comedy (starring Penelope Cruz as me, why not hey) that I am still expecting the credits to roll any moment now:

  • Mid-film, Mr Nice (played by Jude Law) and I would rather inexplicably separate in the midst of floods of tears and music by Tom Mc Rae (tick)
  • Mr Nice would go on to behave like a complete moron (tick)
  • My close, kindly friend Mr Xmas would step-in, sweep me off my feet and admit to falling in love the moment we met a few years back (tick)
  • Mr Xmas and Penelope/me would stand on a mountain-top at sunset. I would feel light, excited, and serene all at once (tick – in fact, above is a photo of said mountain-top just before said sunset). The camera would circle overhead, the music crescendo to something heady and full of violins, then cut to:
  • Scenes of whatever crap new couples do in romantic comedies (which oddly enough always seems to involve shopping centres, rain and Christmas – does anyone know why?), before we move in together, get married on a beach and live happily ever after, whilst Mr Nice sits dejectedly in bed with the flu. Huhuhuhu!…

Except cut. This is not what happens.

In my none-Hollywood, French-Alpine life, I am plagued with doubt about the nature of my feelings for Mr Xmas, who becomes scared of losing me, whilst I feel miserable about hurting him. We hobble along on a slippery crest, trying to balance his legitimate expectation (of simply being loved back), and my inability to give him what he needs.

Will my feelings grow over time ? Deep inside, I cannot feel any certainty, and the weight of it is dragging me down.

Aphex Twin – Avril 14th

A few flakes of beauty before Winter sets in.

Neuroscience and the baobab

My baby baobab

My baby baobab

The rain tip-taps on the skylights, soaked leaves dance in the wind.

I have an hour left to churn out three job applications, and zero motivation.

Doubt is seeping through me like a cold drizzle: This is not the life I wanted.

Ha, hang on a second, I can feel a bit of mid-life crisis coming on: Watch this space, as I will probably buy a Hermès bag, and take up wingsuit flying next.

Erm, ok but anyway, what’s that got to do with neuroscience and baobabs ?

Well, for once baobab trees are the symbol of a small Western African country called Senegal, where people are incredibly resourceful and athletic, and baobabs can grow incredibly old and large.

Secondly, I spent what was arguably the best week ever with Mr Nice a year ago in Senegal.

Thirdly, on our last day, I bought a cute baby baobab from a woman who said it would probably struggle to survive in Europe.

A year on, the baobab is flourishing (and will probably outlive us all at this rate), while Mr Nice has turned into someone else, and my anterior cingulate cortex is having a party.

Wow wow wow, hang on a second, your what? Have you also been smoking those baobob leaves?

Hold on, you Heathen, here comes the explanation:

Your anterior cingulate cortex (ACC if you two are close) sits in a part of your brain directly behind your brow – which I can tell is wrinkling up in concentration right now. Good. Bear with me.

Anyway, the ACC is involved in a variety of biological functions such as regulating heart rate and blood pressure, as well as cognitive functions such as consciousness and registering the intensity of physical pain. In fact, its activation is what makes it difficult to do anything when you’re in pain.

And guess what else sends your ACC into a party ? Yup, heartbreak. So there you go, this is why heartbreak feels a bit like simultaneously stubbing your toes, shins and nails on sharp objects. And why my job applications are just not getting done right now.

More on the science of heartbreak :


Photo by Manu Redcheex on Flickr

Photo by Manu Redcheex on Flickr

I drive back with the sun in my rear view mirrors. My daughter has finally gone to sleep.

After hours of her non-stop chattering, my mind can quietly wander over the walnut orchards, the hills, cattle and sleepy villages in the declining light.

Suddenly, the tallest mountain range emerges in front of us, rosy from its first dusting of snow.

By twilight, we reach the city. Tomorrow work and worries will resume, but just for a little while longer, I am still on holiday.

I park and open the door quietly, my house is lit and smells of dinner.

Mr Xmas’ arms close around me.

I am home.

Ok, I know, this song is of the sickening-marshmallow-feast variety, but what can you do, it just reminds me of Mr Xmas!


imageIt has been a quiet sort of week.

The kind I had not known in a long, long time.

I stayed at my family’s holiday home near Montpellier, on the Mediterranean edge of France.

Time slowed to a gentle pace, punctuated by mealtimes with the children, who inevitably bemoaned the unfairness of having to eat courgettes, or pumpkin soup…

Before vanishing again in a flock of my cousins’ children, to cook elaborate mud, gravel and mint-based delicacies for the five-year old, or to hotly dispute table tennis tournaments, and occasionally give me pre-teen attitude about the unfairness of having to go to bed before everyone else, or not owning a smartphone like everyone else for the 11-year-old.

Most afternoons involved sitting on the beach, chatting and baking in the sun, while children splashed about in the sea… A million miles away from the notion that back home in the Alps, Winter is on its way, and that I really need to find my next job in a pretty crappy job market.

Evenings saw assembled relatives -clutching mugs of the garden’s lemon verbena infusion, discuss grandchildren and weather forecasts.

I did not let the sum of my preoccupations go beyond menus for the next day, and how much resistance to vegetables I was prepared to put up with from my offspring. I let myself forget.

It’s been a kind of week when recent trauma recedes, and every breath yields peace.

This song has been my soundtrack:

Archive – Controlling crowds

What is love ?

Mountain lake by Lady E

Mountain lake by Lady E

Well, apart from the über cheesy 90s cover by someone called Haddaway (naah, I’m not even posting the link – makes my ears shrivel in horror).

So erm yes, ’tis the season for half-term break with my two brats delightful children, days out at the lake or at the beach, and profound questioning.

The thing is that I left Mr Xmas approximately 36 hours ago, in a state of uncertainty about my ability to ever feel passionate about him.

Yet, it is official, I miss him. I miss the comfort of his deep, soothing voice, the way his arms wrap all the way around me, and his face lights up when he smiles.

I am also officially tired of attracting, and falling for broken men : They can be so devastatingly nice, and crave so much the stability and security I am able to offer, that I got blinded. I failed to fully register the danger, the darker side of their personality, lurking underneath the surface of their good looks and sincere attachment.

Take Mr Nice who is torn by a perpetual inner conflict between a need for stability and freedom, between the desire to be like his dad – a selfish, rich, unhappy man, and the desire to not be like him. I watched him wrestle his demons, and for a while, my presence  anchored him into stability, and a more peaceful version of his own life… Before suddenly, it no longer did.

I do not feel as viscerally attracted to Mr Xmas as I did to Mr Nice, or even T, but then again, what good did that do me ? In some ways, Mr Xmas is the anti-Mr Nice : He is not scared by commitment or children, responsibilities do not overwhelm him, and he knows beyond the shadow of a doubt that he loves me.

Will my attachment to him grow into something I can recognise as love ?….

And hey, what on earth is love anyway ?


Overnight, the-30°C-blue-sky weather has turned to rain, mountains all but vanished into the clouds. Exactly the kind of overnight change, which seems to be all the rage in my Summer-Autumn 2014 life collection…

Three months ago, my two children and step-son all feverishly bickered over Panini stickers for their football world cup albums, while Mr Nice mourned France’s demise in the quarter finals (which was obviously solely due to undeserved bad luck – nothing to do with skill). The school year was in its dying days, and everyone looked forward to a fairly predictable Summer of family fun at the beach, catching up with relatives, and general winding down.

But then, the weather refused to acknowledge that Summer had arrived, and remained sullen, cool and wet.

Mr Nice flipped. In the space of weeks, what had once been us, became an empty shell.

Two months ago, on a beautiful sunny day, we called it a day, turning both ours and the children’s lives upside down.

Overnight, Mr Nice became a peculiar stranger. I struggled for breath.

A month ago, as Summer refused to give way to Autumn, a steady pair of arms caught me for what must have been the hundredth time as I fell apart.

And I decided to stay there for a while…

To Mister Xmas

Fauve – Lettre à Zoé