On the weekend I picked up a ‘Best of the Muppet Show’ DVD and as it’s a rainy miserable day (three days shy of summer, my eye) I thought this the ideal time to spend the afternoon with our colourful singing puppet friends.
And then I discovered it is in ‘Version Française’ – and ONLY version française. Okay, so it’s good for me (and the kids) to watch TV in French, and plus, it’s easier for me to block out if it’s playing in French while I’m in the room working on the computer… but it’s not quite the same.
I got a bunch of other familiar favourites with the particular intention of watching them in French, after last week’s rediscovery of ER (and the minor tear-fest that followed…) I certainly understand more of the language than I used to, but it’s hard to gauge how much progress I’m making.
My daughter Elena turns one next week and her progress is much more noticeable and exciting than my ready transition between the passé compose and imparfait tenses. Let’s just say, no one has a problem spotting the differences if they don’t see her for a couple of weeks.
She is proper-crawling now, on her hands and knees, and only needs a hand-hold to get up onto her feet. She won’t walk unless she’s holding both our hands but she’ll move a little – from one piece of furniture to another, or from side to side, to reach some toy-temptation. She says ‘mama’ and feeds herself given the opportunity, although hasn’t quite mastered the art of the spoon.
I might feed her breakfast for a little while longer yet.
She is certainly developing her own preferences and the will-power to make them reality.
Maybe she has an idea for the painting. It’s in need of another coat.
She’s playing by herself much more happily than before but definitely prefers the company of her brother.
And if Louis can do it, she wants to try. Unfortunately that little wooden bike is not very stable and doesn’t respond well to the leaning-method of turning a corner…
She recently cut her second tooth, which means teeth-time! Why stop at her own when Louis might need a hand?
She’s a busy little girl and all the learning and progress is delightful to witness, if a little (code: a lot) exhausting. But such is the nature of growth. It can be hard to spot the difference, but easy to feel the weight and wear of making it happen. I’m re-writing a romance novel I wrote a couple of years ago and it’s easy to spot the flaws now, but not that long ago I thought it was ready to publish. Hopefully, the new version will be a notable improvement, and maybe even pay off… in the form of publication. That’d be nice.
As to French, I spent yesterday afternoon with a French friend I haven’t seen in months. I was looking forward to seeing her but also dreading how much it would wear me out, just trying to listen and pick up all the vocabulary and tenses and crazy, confusing exceptions to every rule (reflexive verbs – gah!), and planning everything I want to say, and misunderstanding each other…
But it was much easier than expected! The sun was shining, we sat in her garden, drank our coffees, watched the kids play, and maintained a conversation entirely in French. Hurrah! I managed to tell her a bit about my novels, and our plans for the future, as well as give a basic outline of our recent holidays. I understood a bit about her work and her son’s progress, and we made plans for the weekend. Her partner is fluent in English but we won’t need to rely on that as much as we did last time. Go team!
In an unlikely turn of events, my ironing board cover has worn out… talk about things I never expected to say. My freshly ironed clothes have criss-crosses in places, but they’re crinkle free, and I’m all up to date on ‘Once Upon a Time’. If I have to iron I might as well watch/listen to something and Luuk gave up on that particular show a whole season ago.
But the ironing pile, in this instance, outlasted the tv series and so I turned to the live feed – this afternoon’s offering of ‘ER’, or ‘Urgences’ en français. The imminent demise of Mark Green still gets me teary, even when it’s all in French.
I can follow a lot more of the dialogue than I could a year ago, but there’s definitely room for improvement. Sometimes I feel like my progress in the language is painfully slow.
I’m determined to find opportunities for more listening to French and perhaps this is it: familiar television. But I’m always out of time. Too much to do, that’s the problem really, but I can’t decide what to cut. Louis starts school in September (holy cow!) and Elena will have two or three half days at the halte garderie, so in a few months time I’ll have a few more hours a week in which I can write novels and study french. But there will still be laundry.
I don’t know if it’s the indefatigable pile of laundry, or this lousy grey spring, or what, but I’m feeling rather worn out. When I’m running low like this I tend to snack, and waste time, and get grumpy, impatient, reactive…
So what am I going to do about it? More sleep. Early nights. And I need to offload all the lollies in this place; there are too many chocolates lying around, murmuring ‘eat me’. And I need to keep the fruit bowl stacked.
But right now an apple compote will have to do, perhaps with a greek yoghurt and then I’ll get on with re-reading my novel. I won’t be finishing today. Tomorrow evening Louis and Luuk are off to the circus (to watch, not to join… not yet) and it’s not baby-friendly, so Elena and I will stay home. Maybe tomorrow evening, while my dream baby dreams I can finish re-reading and then, come Monday, I’ll be ready to begin (again) re-writing!
Monday was another May holiday, here in grey France. Spring is being particularly dumb actually. Summer is just a couple of weeks away but it must be hiding around a corner. The weekend was ideal for… board games. So Luuk and I spent quite a lot of it battling over A Few Acres of Snow in our very own version of Canadian/American history.
Versailles – the first time we’ve been while the fountains are going.
We visited Versailles while it was sunny on Saturday, and we popped out to church on Sunday evening, so we weren’t hiding inside the entire weekend. On Monday we might have stayed in our PJs but in a nice turn of events, got a call from a friend inviting us to an impromptu afternoon tea and play-date. So that got us out of the house for a few hours. And wore the kids out nicely.
Louis and his buddy, making music at our impromptu play-date.
Of course, with a day off the week starts pretty slow, in a nice leisurely kind of way… so long as you don’t need to get anything done. I had grand plans to start rewriting my ‘rugby romance’ (not the title on the book jacket, I predict) but have adjusted my expectations. I will REREAD it this week, and take some notes, but the rewriting will start next week.
Starting can be frustratingly slow but sometimes it’s the best way. And there’s more to life than writing (gasp!) – I had a bunch of other mums with 2-3 year old boys over for coffee and cake this afternoon, which was lovely.
The kitchen’s a bomb-site and nowhere else is really and truly clean, but there’s more to life than cleanliness (nobody gasps when I say that, any more…) but I might read chapter three – or not. Elena’s awake. Better sort the kids’ dinners as Luuk might be late (what with rain and traffic and not getting in early this morning – it was a slow start all around).
I’m a bit behind, a bit flustered and not quite together. We were away, then had visitors, then away again, then had another visitor. On Monday said visitor biked into Paris for the day and left before I did (to take Louis to halte garderie) so I thought it might be something like an ordinary day. And it was, until the evening.
I’ve been meaning to go along to Spoken Word in Paris for a while. It’s connected to the writers’ group I attend and a bunch of people go to both. Ayley, who was visiting us, was really keen to go and so we said we’d meet there – at a bar in a part of paris I’m entirely unfamiliar with.
I was late and she was even later, but we made it and enjoyed an evening of poetry with a sprinkling of song and prose. It wraps up at 11.30 and we had to dash for the Metro, with the bike… which we got away with just fine. Metro trains run till midnight but aren’t a sure bet after that so we were glad to get that train. Then we had to change trains at Chatelet-Les Halles, which is the biggest station in Paris, two stations really, and easily a 10 minute walk to change trains. We were switching to an RER train, which are the lines going in and out of the city. RER trains run later, but I wasn’t sure how much later exactly.
We were on a bit of a mission and my crazy friend at one point rode the bike on a travellator, and then lost any time she’d made up by being scolded by RATP staff… but we got to our second train. Whew.
And all was well with the world (for us), munching away on a squashed pastry, reviewing the evening, getting in everyone’s way with our bike in the middle of the train.
And then everyone got off the train at Bagneux, a tiny stop six stations short of where we’re meant to get off… There had been an ‘incident’ on the tracks at Bourg-la-Reine, no prizes for guessing what. The staff at Bagneux couldn’t tell us how long till trains would go again.
At half past midnight we were strangded, with half an hour to wait for a bus, or we could walk for over an hour… or we could take advantage of the bike.
So I jumped on the back, with my notebook for cushioning, and we bumpety-bumped our way (mostly downhill, thank heaven) the six kilometres home. At one point a middle aged Frenchman called out ‘Ooh-la-la!’ And that’s why I love living in France.
Or that’s one of the reasons. The other reasons were waiting for us at home: a midnight (or well-after) snack of fresh-ish baguette with fig and walnut boursin (cheese), a glass of white wine and petit-pots of dark chocolate mousse.
Voilà. C’est la belle vie.
I’ve spent the remainder of the week too tired to function properly. But I did manage a little writing and finished my play, which I will shortly expose to my writers’ group in all its 2nd-draft roughness. I’m hosting the group again this evening, which I’m pretty excited about. Can’t have done too bad a job the first time. And I’m boldly taking a play where I’ve never heard one read before. So that’ll be fun. Better toss back this coffee and get out of here.
The theme for our Wednesday in London was most definitely the theatre. First thing, we headed to the Globe and took a tour of the theatre (a replica, which isn’t overly old, in fact) where a group of actors were rehearsing for that afternoon’s performance of Shakespeare’s ‘The Tempest’.
The Globe Theatre
Buying a flagstone was one way of contributing to the great cost of building a replica theatre on this site… and a few familiar names pitched in.
We grabbed lunch at the cafeteria in the Tate art gallery and then spent a couple of hours (with conveniently sleeping children) looking at all the free exhibits. The Lichtenstein exhibition was tempting but we barely had enough time to see all the free stuff.
These were a few of my favourites. Above, I really liked the colour and use of words and lines, as well as white space. I like the boldness.
I liked how this one was quite different depending on where you stood to look at it, and it definitely poses the idea that a picture doesn’t need to be just hung straight up-and-down on a wall.
Luuk and Elena taking a break. One has art fatigue, the other a sleep.
I love working with thick, decadent oil paint. And I love how the mess can come to life and capture form, and still look like chaos.
Similarly, I love all the lines and scribbles in this and how they come together to create a clear image. I also like the mix of paint and pen and (possibly?) charcoal, with the smokey thing going on and smudgy border.
One of the rooms was hemmed off, but it was pretty cool that they still allow you to see in. I’d love to sit there and watch them set up a new exhibition. A lot of them include elements painted or glued directly onto the walls and floors – effectively the art is created (though probably not for the first time) in the exhibition space.
A very simple and classic example of modern art. I just like that it’s all off and asymmetrical. Wouldn’t put it on my wall, but like it anyway.
We had a date to meet up with a friend on the steps of St Paul, so crossed the Thames again and, while we waited, watched numerous men and women in full military dress uniform… and then we remembered the date: 8 May – the end of World War 2 in Europe.
Elena, Luuk, and Louis, taking in the sights.
Just one of the sights.
Crossing London’s many bridges. (And, hey, there’s the Shard.)
In the evening Luuk and I left the kids with a school friend of mine who is now based in London. In fact, she came to our hotel room and looked after our two little mischief-makers while we went off to the theatre.
The show, about to begin.
Yep, I saw Les Miserables again, but it was Luuk’s first time. Fabulous show. If you’ve never dared see a proper sung-through musical, this would be a good place to start. I cried twice and laughed numerous times. The music is still going around in my head and the staging is so brilliant, it’s like a work of art in its own right. Love it.
Our last day in London was a bit grey (at last, the weather we were prepared for!) and we were all feeling a bit out of oomph. There were two museums of particular interest – the natural history museum (quite popular and no great surprise) and the foundling museum (a little more obscure, yes.)
A character in my historical romance novel gets involved with the foundling hospital in London and so I was particularly keen to see this museum, located at the site of the original foundling hospital. This was a place set up to take care of children whose mothers or families were unable to do so themselves.
Supporting such charities was quite fashionable for upper-class women in the 1700s and 1800s, but also many musicians and artists got involved and supported the cause – making the museum something of an art gallery as well. The top floor is basically a museum to Handel and his last will and testament is on display there. He left a full copy of his Messiah to the foundling hospital and many other things, having supported the charity fiercely for much of his life.
Elena playing dress-ups at the foundling museum.
We grabbed sushi train for lunch, always a bit of a silly idea with our particular brand of kids.
Elena ate more rice than ever before, but Louis wouldn’t touch it (probably for the best, considering the wait-staff’s preference, no doubt, for rice to stay off the floor) and stuck with his fruit salad.
Next stop, the dead animal remains…
The natural history museum.
Cool architecture on the inside as well as out. And then there are the dinosaur bones.
Dinosaur bones, architecture, and quite a lot of people.
T-Rex, come to life, and lit up rather blue. Don’t worry, Louis, he’s just pretend.
Wouldn’t want him standing on your toes.
Relax, wee man, he’s extinct.
Looking up at blue whale skeletons, among other things.
Everybody say ‘cheese’.
We were so tired of carrying the pushchair up and down the steps in the underground that we decided to walk back to the hotel to pick up our suitcase… a couple of kilometers, but right through Kensington Gardens, and so rather scenic really. Certainly more scenic than the underground!
Unfortunately we got a little lost. Luuk had to run for the bag and I waited at the station with the kids, then it was zippety zip to St Pancras, through customs and security and all that jazz. We had to wait a bit and grabbed a drink but my coffee was too hot to drink before the train started boarding. It was all a bit of madness but once we got on the train we could relax… almost.
Eurostar were booked pretty full so we had the kids on our laps again. Thank heaven for sticker books and nice neighbours.
Manic-tired the both of them. London was quite the work-out.
Monday in London was a bank holiday so we took the opportunity to spend the day with Michelle and Adam (who would’ve otherwise been working). On their recommendation we spent the day at Greenwich.
Louis and Elena on the Thames Ferry.
Nice view from the boat.
The Old Naval College, which I’m told was also the birthplace of King Henry VIII, and where they filmed some of the new Les Miserables film (which I still haven’t seen…)
Inside the painted hall, with Adam, Michelle, Luuk and the kids.
The guy on the right is the painter. He wasn’t paid for his labours and so added himself to the picture, with his open and empty hands a reminder.
We went to the maritime museum, which was well set up for keeping kids interested.
Louis played in the boat while we took lots of indulgent photos…
And here’s one of them: a strange collection of figureheads.
A champion waterman! Oh, the places you’ll go!
The HMS Implacable. Brilliant.
Louis crossing the Atlantic on his submarine.
After the museum we went for lunch and on to see Cutty Sark, an old ship that used to deliver tea, amongst other things, all the way around the world.
Michelle, learning about the Tea Trade.
Luuk and Louis look out a port hole.
Look closely (what’s that smell?)
Louis trying his hand at steering a ship.
Luuk and Louis, up top.
The rigging – and the brilliant blue London sky!
A proper view of Cutty Sark.
We walked up to the observatory, through a gorgeous park, and crossed the Greenwich meridian line (though not inside the observatory because they make you pay for that bit… and we spent our pennies on ice cream instead.)
The view from up by the observatory.
Relaxing after our long walk.
Eventually we decided on where to go for dinner and then sat by the pier and nibbled on a couple of classic english sweets (kendal’s mint cake and cream toffees) till the boat arrived.
Elena, waiting for the boat.
On Tuesday everyone had to go back to work, and we had sights to see! First things first, the changing of the guard at Buckingham palace (Christopher Robin went down with Alice – gah! I can’t help it. Just slips out.) It doesn’t start till 11.30, so we went via Westminster Abbey.
Unfortunately the price put us off. 18£ each… ouch. Free if you go to a service, and I know these buildings have horrendous upkeep costs, but ouch. We wandered around the outside instead.
We particularly liked the statues of the saints over this door. Martin Luther King Jr. and Dietrich Bonhoeffer were among this group of modern martyrs, for want of a better title.
On we walked, in the direction of Buckingham Palace, and while we waited for Louis to catch up I checked online for the best places to stand for viewing the changing of the guard… and basically we’d missed any chance of getting a good view, arriving so close to the starting time.
Nonetheless, we took a few minutes to play pooh-sticks on the bridge over the stream in St James Park, on our way through. Not that there’s any reason for me to assume Pooh and Christopher Robin played this game on this bridge, but it seemed an A.A. Milne themed day, and so we did…
And Louis won. Yay for our very own tigger. Piglet was asleep in the pushchair at this point. Which makes me Pooh, and Luuk must be Eyeore… or the wise owl perhaps.
On to the palace!
There it is, the round-a-bout in all the pictures. Oh, and a palace. Flag up, Queen’s home, and some cobbers on horses for good measure.
Luuk and Louis, waiting for the show to start, enjoying the sunshine. There was a bit of a wait, but we were right by the railing and had our handy-dandy london bus toy for Louis to play with – a gift mum and dad brought back last year. We also had our sun block, having learned our lesson the day before (I have tan-lines on my feet!)
Gorgeous gardens in full spring colour, right opposite the palace. If you have to look out on a roundabout, at least it’s a pretty one, eh, your majesty.
And then the guards came marching (not two by two but I say ‘hurrah’ nonetheless.)
Oddly, each group of guards and band were escorted by mounted police. Surely the palace guard don’t need a police escort. But I suppose if some idiot cycles thorough while they’re blocking the path for the guard’s approach, it’s better a cop deals with them than the guards break form… NO! I wanna see those guards in action. (And yes, someone did try to cycle through. They were thwarted.)
A well-armed, uniform, but (let’s be frank) odd looking bunch.
The mounted guards, all shiny and ready to go.
Elena woke up just in time to see the last group march through the gates.
Here they come!
Fresh guards, on duty.
If only girls could be guards! Though the chin strap seems to baffle her as much as it does me (and everyone, right? Right?)
We found lunch nearby and wrapped up with a little tea and scones. I opted for iced tea because London was warm – I mean, seriously, the bad reputation was taking a long weekend elsewhere. The weather was amazing. And the scones were pretty darn good too.
Me with my tea and scone.
We took a train to the south bank and went in search of the Globe Theatre. En route, Louis found himself a play ground, which I’m guessing is actually a sculpture, but no one seemed to mind.
Searching for the Globe (via the borough market)
Hey! Found it. Nice. Unfortunately we couldn’t see inside because they have matinees most afternoons. We put it on the agenda for the next day and had a look around, in search of some other site to see. We weren’t disappointed:
Across the Millennium bridge we went, and up to St Paul’s.
St Paul’s Cathedral.
I was told, shortly after taking this photo, that we weren’t to take pictures inside. I missed the numerous signs at the entrance because we took the wheelchair/pushchair entrance… what can I say? Oops. And there’s the forbidden picture.
Luuk and Louis went climbing up to the whispering gallery and then up up up to the top of the dome. Meanwhile, I wandered around the sanctuary and down to the crypt. Evensong began at 5, so everything shut and I didn’t get a chance to see upstairs, while Luuk and Louis missed the crypt (wherein lies the Duke of Wellington as well as Nelson… or was it Napier… or both. I always get those two mixed up.)
We met up again on the steps outside and found a little afternoon tea at ‘Paul’, a totally french franchise, but familiarity… you know…
The eastern-facing entrance to St Paul’s Cathedral.
Then we went in search of a bank that would let us withdraw pounds from our French (euro) account… and after about an hour of near-panic and frustration, standing on busy footpaths in rush-hour, with a sleeping Louis and grizzly Elena, Luuk on the phone either on hold, worrying about his battery, or arguing in French, we got the helpful advice to try my card.
The bank, turns out, has some silly policy whereby there’s a limit on how much cash we can withdraw in a given week. Luuk’s card was basically useless. There was nothing they could do, though he told them that he was in London with his wife, two kids, and just twenty pounds… So very helpful. Fortunately, my card dished out the dosh, and then we were off to Nando’s to meet a few London-based friends for dinner.
Walking along the Thames, back to the tube station, with Ayley, after dinner.
We got to see the lights of London, which was lovely, and had a great catch up with a rather random selection of Luuk’s old work-mates, a cousin of mine, and a few others.
Which brings me to the end of day 3. Two more to go, but now I must get back to working on my play! Or I could take a nap…
J’arrive is, strangely, what people say when they’re leaving (coming to meet you, like ‘I’m there’ when they will be soon but aren’t yet) and what they say when they are in fact arriving. And that’s all the French I’ll be using in this blog post because it’s about our trip to LONDON!
We took the Eurostar, Sunday morning, from Paris. We pack up rather neatly into one suitcase – not bad for four people, five days, I’d say… so long as you don’t count the ever-present bundles of bits and pieces cluttering the bottom of the pushchair. We took the single buggy and the sling, hoping to cajole Louis into walking lots… for the sake of our arms/backs. It wasn’t entirely in vain.
After dropping our bags at the hotel, and grabbing a little lunch, we headed for Kensington gardens, which may or may not be counted as part of Hyde park, but if it is, it’s the western nearly-half of it. We walked all the way through and Louis chased the ball for a good part of that. An excellent beginning.
The park was busy with picnicking Londoners enjoying warm if not consistently sunny weather on the Sunday afternoon of a long weekend. We got in everyone’s way, with our rambling game of kicks, but no one seemed to mind… probably because unusually wonderful weather makes people happy. First time since last summer they’ve all got enough vitamin D, perhaps?
There was a lake and when we got far enough away from the pigeons, Louis stopped freaking out and happily threw stones in the lake… Obviously, we can’t live in London because Louis is afraid of pigeons.
At the far end of the park we found a statue of Queen Victoria (not the only one we saw in London, of course) and Kensington Palace but I talked Luuk out of going in. I’m sure it’s very interesting, but we only had five days in London and hoped to see a couple more sights on the first. Plenty of museums in Paris. And several in London which we particularly hoped to see. Can’t just walk through every grand house we pass or we’ll die of exhaustion before we’ve even seen Buckingham Palace.
One of our must-do things for London was a ride on an old red double-decker bus. And we managed to get one of the really old ones, on the no.9 line, from Kensington South all the way to Trafalgar Square.
Elena was not a happy little lady, screaming down the bus-roof – or rather, screaming up the conductor who kept popping his head up the stairs and poking faces at her. It was the only thing that calmed her down.
Though we all tried, Louis included. She hadn’t had enough sleep, I guess, and fortunately went back to sleep, in the sling, once we got off the bus. We couldn’t take the pushchair on this particular bus, which we knew – so we left it at the hotel. But once we were off the bus it would have come in mighty-handy!
Trafalgar square was packed and pumping with an Indian music festival, from what I could tell. We had a little jive along to the music, then walked down to the river.
We crossed this bridge… one of many and NOT the millennium bridge… I think. On the other side we discovered another festival, mostly food, a merry-go-round which we didn’t avail Louis of, and buskers with bubbles!
And ice cream. The perfect accompaniment to a busker making gargantuan bubbles.
And then there was the view. And the London Eye, which was right there and seemed like the obvious thing to do.
Me, on the London Eye
(feeling a little bit queasy, if I’m honest, but probably from the achy back rather than vertigo.)
On the way up…
Elena, and the view-guide. There was a railing at just the right height, no doubt designed for newly-toddling babies to use…
Luuk and the kids, looking out over London.
Nearly at the top!
Not a bad view of Westminster and Big Ben…
We were all utterly exhausted so had take-aways in our hotel room before we crashed. Day 2’s plan was Greenwich with the lovely Michelle and Adam, so hopefully a little less hectic. But we were feeling a bit proud of ourselves, having really made the most of our first day – and it was only half a day really. Go team.
May in France is all jours fériés – May Day, VE Day,, ascension… Which all fall mid-week this year. But add a day of leave and we have mini-break material. And so after a week at home since our ANZAC trip to the Somme and côte de channel we have crossed the channel. That’s right, I’ve finally made it to London.
But more on that soon. Our week at home was about half normal (French classes, writing, laundry, soccer in the living room, etc.) and about half well-out-of-whack. Firstly, Louis had holidays from halte garderie and so did all the other kids – ie. French class was rowdy at times. I decided to start doing more French on my own time, but was thwarted by technical issues (easily defeated, yes).
I had other plans too: I’ve finally started writing a play, and I’ve finally started putting together Elena’s 1 year album. All this I wanted packed in before Thursday evening because we had friends arriving and staying a couple of nights – kiwis who’ve been traveling in Europe and were passing through Paris before flying home.
Lots of things got started but not finished, which is nearly as annoying as this rough fingernail I’m stuck with till morning (somehow forgot my nail file. Gr. and pharmacies here in England aren’t so sure-fire open late even on bank holidays, as their Parisian counterparts.
But after our London trip it’s business as usual for me (kids and writing and laundry and Paris) till summer holidays in August. Plenty of time for finishing things… Only I have another goal/deadline. In the middle of May 100 Days Project begins and I don’t like juggling too many projects at once. I’d like to have the album done before Day 1 of my book cover design marathon. Or that’s the goal. We will see.
Pictures to follow – when I’m not sharing a dark hotel room with sleeping kids and a husband as tired as me. Travel is fun but woah, got the wobbles. Sleep time.