Demain

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Winter sun by Lady E

My daughter’s hand is pulling inside mine as we walk briskly in the cold still air. We reach the top of the path and stop, puffing out little bits of cloud. I tell my daughter she should quit smoking, she rolls her eyes and with the patience of a seven year old humouring her predictable, dodgy-humoured, possibly dim-witted mother, replies that she can’t because she doesn’t smoke. Before us the valley spreads out, blanketed in a mist of pollution that the pale sun hasn’t managed to lift.

A new year has come.

And a whole year has somehow elapsed since my urge to write was last bad enough that I did. Since, so much has happened in the world that the changes in my life feel microscopic.

My son is now 13, taller than me (which is not exactly an achievement), and methodically conforming to every cliché about teenage, with the result that I often feel like throwing him in the large, green, recycling bin. Yet I somehow trust that he will not do anything truly stupid or dangerous, and at times get rewarded with a glimpse of the broad-shouldered, thoughtful and clever man he will become.

My daughter is growing too, my heart clenches to see her begin to struggle with the complicated politics of primary school girlfriendship, and lifts to see the never-ending stream of crafty creations she leaves lying about in an artistic trail of mess around the house.

The changes in me are more subtle: I probably have more grey hair, miles on the bike, experience in academic international relations, and compassion. I still work and shout at my kids far too much. I am still single, alternately grateful for the lack of additional complication in my life and dying for a pair of arms to disappear into.

Outside the realm of our family, the past year seems to have been marked by a growing sense of fear and the temptation of nations to close in on themselves. In contrast, I have become more involved in some of the million initiatives we hardly ever hear about, by people who believe in togetherness, in giving their time and energy for others, in welcoming refugees, choosing environmentally and socially responsible banks, retailers, life-styles without waiting for everyone else to do so.

It all started a few years ago, when I crowd-funded a French documentary project called Demain (which means tomorrow).

The film came out in December 2015, has been screened in 27 countries and is a real antidote to today’s sense of doom and gloom. It is now available on DVD with English subtitles. Watch it, it may change your life… and ther’s a special prize if you can spot my photo at the end of the credits: I haven’t managed yet in the midst of the 10,000 other people who funded the film.

Anyway, it’s been a long-time since I heard from any of you and would love to know: How have you been? How did you react to events in 2016? What are your big or little ways of making the world a better place?

In the meantime, I wish you an amazing day, an amazing year 2017.

Coldplay – Amazing Day

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Do you remember?

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200 mph sunset by Lady E

This song has been playing on my mind for the last few weeks, which is just another way of saying that I’ve been mildly obsessed with it, usually playing it loud several times in a row and dancing as I cook or hang laundry to dry, thus driving my children potty.

Payback time is what I say…

Anyway, it all started on Christmas Eve, when I accidentally joined a body-balance class at my mum’s gym.

As you do.

This song came on, we got into a peculiar sideway-stretchy-come-balancing pose, and I brutally realised that:

  • I enjoyed this body-balance lark
  • I did feel nostalgic for the time I spent with Mr Xmas, especially our holiday in Lanzarote a year ago
  • I wondered if he remembered the way it made him feel too
  • There was strictly no way of knowing, given that he’d gone into radio-silence again
  • Which was annoying
  •  I’d better let it go since there was nothing I could do about it.

Which of course meant that I did not let it go. In fact, it intermintently bugged me for the rest of the holiday, in the way some really itchy mosquito bites might. Only in Winter.

Apart from that, my two-week Christmas break  was very nice, and very welcome, after finishing work with my tongue hanging out the previous weeks.

Paris on Christmas week was as gorgeous as ever, and the weather pretended it was Spring.

I spent that first week abdicating all parental responsibilities, as I studiously ignored the fact that my almost teenage son spent most of his waking hours glued to a screen of some description, or being obnoxious. Or both.

I read, slept, cooked, saw friends and relatives, and started feeling more human. Heaven. Super-Xmas-thank-you-awards go to my parents, brother, and brother’s partner who took care of most of the logistics, and put up with their hormone-and-screen-crazed grandson / nephew. If you are reading this (which is a disturbing thought), you really shouldn’t. Ha.

In contrast, new year’s week near Montpellier felt uncharacteristically like August in Liverpool: Very grey, very damp, but still pretty mild for Summer in Northern England.

I started out by picking up my daughter who had spent Christmas with her dad (note how four years ago this tore my heart out and only gave me a mild twinge this year: The wonder of time, healing and all that jazz…).

I spent more time cooking, playing the guitar and basically doing all the things I enjoy but never have time to do.

Which inevitably led to a major bout of not-wanting-to-go-back-to-work-and-single-motherhood last weekend.

Ho-hum, in the end, I did get back to work and single motherhood, since, rather disapointingly, I couldn’t magically fathom a better way to pay the bills or have a partner.

I have also stalled on taking any new year resolutions. So come on, inspire me, who’s got some good ones to suggest?

 

The knights who say no – part 2

There’s nothing like a bit of people-watching, fluffy magazine reading, or supermarket psychology musing, when you’re idly sitting on a beach… Which is what I did in copious amounts over my recent holiday, leading to the previously dazzling profiles of my exes.

Anyway, huhuhu, next instalment (hold-on to your seats, a psychology Nobel prize might have to be created): I have brilliantly worked out something T, Mr Nice and Mr Xmas all had in common.

They really fancied themselves as knights in shiny armours, rescuing a hapless princess.

How they thought it would be 1

The thing is that T, Mr Nice and Mr Xmas don’t really like themselves, and conversely really liked the idea of being knights in shiny armours, especially family knights, because it would make them feel all saintly, worthy and good.

how they thought it would be 2

Needless to say that I am no hapless princess, but a perfectly capable one thank-you-very-much, even though I admit to some degree of fraying around the edges.How it really was

So family knights they became, which was quite nice, if I’m honest.

how it actually was 2

Until they worked-out that being family knights was not exactly how they had imagined it based on, you know, car and holiday villa adverts…

In fact, being family knights turned out to be quite hard work and boring after a while, because you can’t really go out every night as you please, there may be nappies to change, pesky people wanting your attention even when you’ve had a hard day at work and just want to collapse on the couch to watch game of thrones and eat pizza out of the box. That sort of unbearable disappointment.

Meanwhile, I’d wanted a boyfriend, not a hero, and strongly believed relationships need constant tweaking so that everyone’s needs can be met; so it wasn’t like I had them chained to the stove or banned from having their own lives.

Still, the car-advert promise was shattered, disappointment set in, and they started resenting being family knights, as well as feeling bad about themselves for failing to be heroic.

And because feeling bad about yourself is no fun, they eventually had some kind of brutal a-ha moment when they decided that in fact, our relationship was the source of all evil and must be disposed of rapidly.

Clever clogs.

The end

So there. I seem to attract men who convincingly really, really, really like the stability and security they see in me, as well as the idea of having a family with me, but end up saying “actually, you know what, I don’t think this life fits me, feels a bit too tight, makes me look kind of bloated… Can I send it back to the shop?”, which is when I say something to the effect of “No bloody way. We’ve had a baby together / blended families / moved in together. This is not covered by the manufacturer’s warranty”

Voilà.

So what does that teach me for the future? Mmmwell, I’m not quite sure… That I should steer away from men who like the idea of family life? That I should never ever have a baby / blend families / move in with someone who really, really, really likes me ?

Err…, have you got any slightly more convincing lessons to suggest?

Interlude

Corbières

This week I have been blessed with forgetting.

Not my usual where-on-Earth-have-I-left-my-phone (oh, and the charger, and the canteen bill?), but the rare gift of has-there-really-ever-been-another-day-than-today oblivion.

In fact, get that: I managed to entirely forget the past year…

And nope, it did not involve half a gallon of rum and passing out with cocktail olives up my nose.

Which is impressive, because even by my standards, the last twelve months have been pretty hairy.

Say, if I were to produce a dodgy Xmas present calendar with pictures illustrating each month, there could be: Mr Nice and I crying over our separation and the death of my children’s pet Guinea pig (August 2014), Mr Nice changing his locks and turning into Mr Big Bastard From Hell (September 2014), me frowning over a job application (anytime beween July 2014 and February 2015), meetings at the bank attempting to fit a size 12 budget into a future size 6 income (November 2014), piles of unfinished work and a ticking clock (finishing my old job, Jan-Feb 2015), an idiot’s guide to international relations (starting new job just as Mr Xmas plunges into depression, March), a bottle of Sauternes and foie gras (to celebrate my promotion, April), an idiots’ guide to surviving hierarchy overload, stress at work and single parenthood (May to July), a blown gasket for Mr Xmas (June).

Although I have to admit that I wouldn’t know a gasket -let alone a blown gasket- from a garden gnome.

Anyway, this week, no shade of work, blown gaskets or big bastards. Nope.

Toulouse 1I righted the world’s wrong with friends near Toulouse, until far too late in the night to cope with energetic offspring in the morning.

Watched my son’s delighted fishing despite his refusal to touch anything on the hook (bait or fish).

Watched my daughter go down the water slide all by herself for the first time.

Chuch bell CorbièresListened to the church bell ring out the slowing down hours, in a quaint village of the ruggedly beautiful Corbières.

Cooked with only a microwave for three days (a challenge)

Counted the number of mosquito bites behind my right knee (8, a record)

Listened to my children fight over three hours of jammed traffic and torrential downpour between Narbonne and Montpellier. Fantasised about heavy-duty parcel tape, gags, and James Bondey-type cars where you press a button and a sound/bullet-proof glass partition buzzes up between the front and back seats.

Saw a lot of relatives and was stunned by how much their children have grown. A mystery of the universe (apart from the disappearance of anti-matter): How do I keep forgetting that other people’s children grow up too?

GuardiansWatched Camarguese cowboys near Montpellier herd bulls through the streets at high speed (and yeah, I didn’t fancy getting too much closer as I took this shot). It’s a local festive tradition. So is drinking neat Pastis.

So there. It has been a busy, and lovely week to round off my Summer break. Tonight, I will be driving North one last time, and going back to work tomorrow. I haven’t started loading the car and think I may varnish my nails. Anyone mentionned denial?

Madilyn Bailey – Radioactive

A nice cover, which keeps playing on the radio this Summer, and my children like to sing along to when they’re not fighting.

Not sick of holiday snaps?

Corbières IMG_1780 Corbières

Kiddos

Swimming kiddos

Swimming smurfs

I am swimming Southwards, and as the joyful hum of the beach recedes, the sea’s wet clapping quietness surrounds me.

The water is warm, the sun gently leaning to the West. I feel a timid kind of happiness.

Not the heavy-duty, my-life-is-so-fecking-perfect-I could-die variety, but nevertheless, a thin, fragile, in-spite-of-everything-I-am-still-standing (well, strictly speaking, I tend not to swim standing, but you get my drift) and-right-this-second-life-is-sort-of-close-to-perfect kind. Which all things considered, is pretty good.

I see three main reasons for this:

  1. Yeeeeeesss, hallelujah, at long last, I am on holiday! In fact, I am somewhere around halfway through my 3-week break, and work (what work?) feels mercifully far away.
  2. My antidepressant is good shit.
  3. This morning, a cute guy tried to chat me up at Montpellier’s train station, and I have generally noticed a decent amount of male attention lately. Thought of the day: Skimpy Summer dresses and tanned legs should be available on prescription too.

But there’s an underlying fourth reason, currently digging holes in the sand and splashing in the waves: My kiddos. I keep having moments akin to the revoltingly-soppy-bullshit abundant on Facebook, when I just cannot believe I have such beautiful, kind-hearted, clever, lovely children. They amaze me. There (sick-bags are available in your seat pockets).

This said, rest assured that their ability to be disgusting-brats-I-just-want-to-throw-in-the-bin is also amazing at times.

And for the last few days, they have been joined by the boy they consider a funny kind of sibling: Mr Nice’s son (hence why 3 smurfs in the pool picture).

It’s a long story… Which cut short could be something like (I recommend having an extra cup of coffee before reading, on account of staying alert):

  1. Bear with me, I have a thing going on with numbered lists at the moment.
  2. Our kids (aged 5, 6 and 11) had been kind of brought up together for just under three years, when Mr Nice and I separated at the end of last Summer.
  3. Mr Nice and I both solemnly promised the children that they could still spend time together and count on the two of us.
  4. Mr Nice promptly turned into Mr Big Bastard and decided to do the exact opposite.
  5. Responding to our distraught children, Mr Nice’s son’s mother (are you following?) and I, ensured they could see each other regularly.
  6. Over the last 10 months, Mr Nice’s son’s mother and I have actually become friends.
  7. Mum+son have joined us for a few days holiday in the South.
  8. We’ve all had a fantastic time, and sincerely hope Mr Nice sunburns and catches stomach flu.

End of story.

Penelope and me

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Mountain top by Lady E

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.

Peace

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