dimanche 30 mars 2008

les vacances. interrupted.

So, I know I just got back from Montreal, but here I am in sunny Antibes holidaying en famille. Well, with my brother, his (put upon, but also seemingly quite work-averse) wife and their two (adorable, gorgeous, beautiful) kids. These are the kids who are going to wheel me round in my bath chair when I'm ninety (god forbid), so I'm being nice to them.

Anyway, le soleil brille, le ciel est tout bleu, etc. But not for long as I'm about to wing my way northwards for a last minute 'any chance I can see you asap?' meeting with my boss. She's away for three weeks from tuesday and wanted to see me before she went - wants to discuss my 'location' for the next two years. Sounds very ominous doesn't it?

It's possibly less ominous than it sounds though, as I think she's picked up on my grumblings about travelling so much and not being able to get a life because I'm never in one place for long enough. We had a brief chat on the phone last week, which kind of went:

"I think you should move to Lille, that way you're still in France but handy for Belgium and Holland"

"I'm not moving to Lille"

"Well it seems the logical answer to me"

"I don't want to have to quit over this. I'm not moving to Lille"

"How about a five year contract in the States?"

"Can't I just move to Brussels?"

"Hmm. I hadn't thought about Brussels. It's not in France, though, is it?"

"Not last time I looked, no".

So it seems that we have a couple of issues on our hands here. a) My boss lives in a world of make believe, b)she's never looked at a map of europe, like, ever, c) She seems to think that just because she pays for my apartment she can choose where I live.

I guess with option 'c' she may have something of a point.

Anyway, the meeting is tomorrow. It seems my Lyonnais days are almost behind me.

Let's hope the next town likes me just as much.

mardi 25 mars 2008

It looks like America, it sounds like France.

Well, kind of, but neither of these is actually true. It looks like America in a certain light (think Manhattan, not Tulsa). And it sounds like France, but only in a 'what-the-fuck-kind-of-weirdass-accent-is-that?' kind of way.

But it is neither America nor France. It truly is a place all on its own. A pretty great place, at that. Quebecois seem to have a great attitude - friendly, helpful, chatty, open-minded..... Maybe this a Canadian attitude? Now doubt my Canadian chums will enlighten me.

So much was crammed into such a short trip, but for those of you interested, here are my Montreal moments (in no particular order). Alas, no Mounties made the list:

1. The ten feet of snow piled up by the side of the road into town. What had I gotten myself into?

2. The ice cold wind hitting my face and freezing my tears. The most effective hangover cure I've ever known. Walking down by the river the morning after. Amazing.

3. The staff at my hotel. It seems they're only employing model-standard at the W these days. Even the maintenance guy who came to fix my TV could have stayed and entertained me. Who needs TV?

4. The Musee des Arts Contemporain. Possibly the best shows of new art that I've seen in a long while. Really great, homegrown stuff. Go there. See it.

5. The night I was woken up outside my hotel by the cab driver at 3 am. Shameful or shameless? Both, I'm afraid.

6. Le Village. The best gay neighbourhood ever? Quite possibly. That said, Darlinghurst doesn't have the peril-inducing snow and ice problems. So maybe the second best gay neighbourhood ever.

7. The way the sun hit the icy streets and made even Ste Catherine Ouest an area of outstanding natural beauty.

8. Quebecois attitude and joie de vivre. I like these people, they're like easy-going Americans (sorry if you are a non-easy-going American, but if you are, WTF are you doing here?).

9. Closing my eyes on my way up to the top of the Olympic tower. It all looked white and pretty from up there.

10. Steven.

11. Many many great bars. All good, all serving cold beer and great attitudes. Not sure I've ever been anywhere like the Stock Bar before. Not sure I ever will again. For many reasons. But you could probably twist my arm.

So many reasons to go back. Maybe I will. It seems like the kind of place I could hole up for a while and write this damn book. Did I mention the book? I need to get it started, but it's hard to write when I'm always on a plane.

Or maybe that's just an excuse?

lundi 24 mars 2008

Are you being served?

Montreal was great, more later when I'm back on a reasonable timezone. Suffice it to say the streets were cold (real cold) but the bars were hot. Which is kind of the point, n'est-ce pas?

Anyway, in the Air France lounge yesterday evening (and by the way congratulations to Air France who excelled themselves this trip by giving me a seat with a broken movie screen and a non-functioning reading light, in both directions, with nowhere to move to) I got chatting to an elderly Quebecoise lady who was telling me how she was desperate for the thaw to arrive.

"I just can't wait for the snow to go - we've got six feet of it in our back yard"

"Gosh, that's a lot of snow"

"And the thing is, my little pussy has been locked up since October"

"Oh, really? That must be uncomfortable" childish giggle, suppressed laughter.

"My Husband says that my pussy is making the house smell now"

"Gosh, that's terrible" mustn't laugh, mustn't laugh.

"Well, it's quite old, you know".

And so the chat (no pun intended, French fans) continued.

Admittedly she was old and English wasn't her first language, but as conversations go, this was pure gold.

And very, very 'Mrs Slocombe'.

The sun'll come out, tomorrow.

Lyon is a classy place. The local hookers advertise their 'wares' on luminous stickers, which they stick on lampposts, traffic lights and so on. They put their name and their phone number on the sticker. Printed in black. Nothing more, nothing less. I guess as marketing goes, this must be quite a cheap campaign.

The thing that has always made me laugh about these ads is the imagination that has gone into thinking up exotic and seductive names. Names like 'Sasha', 'Jasmine', 'Inge' and 'Mirabelle'.

Then there are the plain weird names like 'Chou-chou' (trust me, this sticker exists).

There's also 'Trans' which I'm guessing isn't a name and which will lead some poor unsuspecting sap of a punter to end up with chips when he wanted rice.

But this morning I have seen the most curious of all. Think about it - you are a 'lady of the night' and you want to sound alluring. You want people to look at your name and conjure up images of a Swedish blond, an African princess or an Eastern promise.

With this in mind, would you choose 'Annie'?

It makes me think of a ten-year-old redhead with untameable curls, a big dog and a penchant for running away from the orphanage.

I can imagine her booking in clients - "I can't *@%! you today love, but tomorrow, tomorrow, I'll love you tomorrow - it's only a daaaaaay aaaaawaaaay".

mardi 18 mars 2008

A brush with the Evil Empire

I had to meet someone at the Lyon Hilton last night. It was a work thing - meeting someone who wanted to be a distributor for us in Morocco. The Lyon Hilton is at the Cite Internationale, just a few steps away from the sinister looking Interpol HQ.

So I walk into the reception area and start to look out for my contact - no idea what he looks like, but I'm guessing he has olive skin and dark hair. This doesn't really help me, what with this being France and all.

I spot someone in the bar who looks like a likely candidate and I go over to him.

"Excuse me Sir, are you Ahmed al-Habdi*?" I ask him, politely.

He fixed me with a deadly stare, and replied "I can assure you, Sir, that I most certainly am not Ahmed al-Habdi*".

A little unnerved, I moved away. Alas, the only other seat in the bar was at a table from which I could see his back and the screen of his laptop. Being naturally nosey, I was intrigued by his screensaver. Straining my neck a little to get a closer look, I read the words on the logo wandering around his screen.

It read 'Israeli Ministry of Defence'. Shit.

As I looked closer at the Israeli, I noticed that he not only had an ear piece with curly cable disappearing into his suit jacket, but he was also wearing a collar microphone that he was talking into from time to time.

Ten minutes or so later, his laptop all packed away, he jumped to his feet as an older man in a very sharp suit stepped into the lobby. He muttered something into his collar and whisked the older guy into a lift and out of sight.

A long while ago, I lived in Jerusalem for the best part of a year - and I quickly learned to be wary of men in sharp suits with hidden microphones.

And here I go accusing such a spook of being an Arab.

I'm only happy that I live to tell you the tale.

*names have been changed to protect all of us, innocent or otherwise.

dimanche 16 mars 2008

Who's your Daddy?

When I was little and we lived in the 'old house' we had a really cool neighbour.

His name was Barry and he was probably in his mid-twenties at the time. He lived with his wife and son who was about three years old.

I was around six when I decided that I wanted Barry to be my Dad.

It wasn't that I didn't love my Dad - I did. But Barry had a beautiful hairy chest and he used to play out in the sun with us kids with his shirt off. Hairy chests are a novelty in my - very anglo-saxon - family. Anyway, I wanted Barry and his hairy chest to be my Dad, and I obviously never told anyone this.

This was around the same time that I used to get a cheap six-year-old's thrill from looking at the men's underwear pages of my Mom's Grattans catalogue. So you can see that there were tell-tale signs of where this was all heading from an early age.

Anyway, back at my Mom's house on Thursday evening, she asks me if I'll drop her off at her friends house. She keeps in touch with the woman who used to live across the road from the 'old house' and who looks a lot like Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie. She has the tight perm and the glasses and the big nose and everything.

I'm dropping Mom off and Tootsie asks me to come in and 'have some cake'. Not an offer I'm likely to refuse.

Well who should be there, but Barry himself. I haven't seen him for the best part of thirty years. He must be nearly sixty now.

I've never been so put off my cake. I didn't know where to look as he shook my hand, shirt open three buttons and both formidable chest and chest hair still very much in evidence.

He gave me this killer smile, said 'I remember when you used to sit on my knee', laughed, and walked off.

I dropped my slice of lemon drizzle, made my excuses and left.

'What was all that about last night?' asked my Mom the next day, 'why did you rush off?'.

Well, I told her all about my boyhood crush, whilst inside I was dying of shame that he had, once again, made my knees quiver.

'It's a shame you didn't stick around then' she said, 'you could have met his new boyfriend'.

Ye gods. I mean, I know we have the nicest bus, but is everyone getting on board it these days?

samedi 15 mars 2008

It's been a week...

This week has seen:

- my cousin diagnosed with terminal cancer on Tuesday. No prognosis, just 'spend time with your kids, enjoy your family'.

- a really lovely family friend died on Wednesday - of old age, but nonetheless.

- the only dog to ever join our family died yesterday and is missed by three generations.

- we also passed the sixth anniversary of my Dad's death - which my Mom still struggles through, understandably.

So not the easiest of weeks, as you can imagine.

It reminds me a bit of the two year period in which I organised 5 funerals for close family members. It got to the point where the funeral home starting saying 'No way, who is it this time?' whenever I walked in. Trust me, by number five I had it down to a fine art.

Anyway, a sad, sad week. Let's hope it's not to be repeated for a long time.

Happier post to follow.

mercredi 12 mars 2008

To my luggage

So it was almost two days that we were apart. We got split up somewhere along the way, the journey was almost too much for you.

Paris has always been such a special place for me but you leaving me there has scarred me - never again will I walk the halls of CDG2 without thinking of you, and where you went when you left me.

Did you go with someone else, while we were 'on our break'? Don't tell me, I don't want to know.

I never thought how much I'd miss you. It seemed that everything I have is in you and everything I need is there, within your warm, waterproof shell. The days were long and hard without you.

I started to look at others, I admit it. But none came near you. It's not just your wheels and handy pockets, it's that we've been through so much together. We've crossed frontiers and barriers hand in hand, so many many times. How could I do that with another?

We were reunited last night and, oh, how glorious it was. I loved rediscovering you and was so thrilled to be inside you once more, rummaging around amongst the laundry. I was so happy that I almost put these past two days behind me. But I'm not sure if I can.

I'm going to try, but I feel betrayed and I'm not sure that I can ever truly trust you again. Let's work hard to make sure we never split up again. Let's start by never flying Air France via Paris, although I realise this is a fool's dream, such is their convenient scheduling and affordable pricing structure.

Let's see how it goes. Let's take it gently. Let's see if we can make it back to Lyon.

Maybe then we can start to re-build our life together.

lundi 10 mars 2008

Stuck in the middle

OK, so when I left Geneva this morning, no-one told me that my connecting flight in Paris was cancelled, even though it had already been cancelled an hour before I checked in.

I arrive at CDG and walk to my gate, completely ignorant to the fact that I ain't going nowhere.....

I'm not surprised really, the first flight didn't so much land as was blown out of the sky and chanced upon a runway. Many green-coloured passengers disembarking. Anyway, all of the flights to Amsterdam are cancelled and I'm sat on a waitlist for a flight sometime in the next couple of hours.

I did try the 'do you know who I am?' line and they told me that yes, they do indeed know who I am, and that is why I'm number 4 on the waitlist, not number 24. Sometimes even celebrity doesn't help that much.

Let's hope that this storm blows over and they start to fly planes again.

Why I'm travelling from Geneva to Amsterdam via Paris is a question in itself. One that is best directed at my glamourous assistant, who tends to go for price over convenience....I'll kill her.

Meanwhile, I'm in the fancy lounge and knuckling down to some serious work, as you can tell.

Ho hum. Wish me luck.

dimanche 9 mars 2008

La Nouvelle France m'attends

So I'm off to Montreal for easter. But the question is this, do they have Mounties in Montreal?

Short of the teeny tiny possibility of bumping into Rufus Wainwright, while he's back in town to visit his Mother (it'll be a chance encounter in the street, he'll be instantly captivated by me, we'll hang out for a couple of days and then he'll ask me to marry him to keep me from leaving the country), anyway, beyond this Mounties are the thing I'm most looking forward to.

Maybe it's a hangover from my big crush on Paul Gross from Due South, or maybe it's just the uniform, but I'm really hoping they're there. And that there's a bar in the village that has a Mounties night.

Any other recommendations for things that may entertain me in Montreal are very much welcomed...and remember, I'm pretty easy to please.

King of the road

Phew. Have just got back from the airport, having deposited two old ladies and seen them through the beeping machine. God knows if they'll find the plane, but I certainly hope so. My life is my own once more.

So now I get to start thinking about preparing for a rather scary couple of weeks of traveling.

Tonight I'm off to Geneva, then Amsterdam, Brussels, Den Haag, Amsterdam, Birmingham, Manchester, Paris and home Saturday evening. It's a bit of a ridiculous schedule, to be honest, but it's sometimes much easier to do it all at once. That's what I keep telling myself anyway. And there is the promise of some lekker and large entertainment along the way to look forward to....

Anyway, I need a cunning plan. A plan that keeps me out of the UK, but cuts down the amount of traveling I do. I love the traveling in many ways, but sometimes I want a life, not a life on the run.

And the plan is no longer to marry the Swedish dentist and become an Uppsala housewife. That plan was very 2005, and it didn't work out (much to my disappointment - I'd already picked out a very lovely housecoat).

So, for the time being, life continues.

While everyone else is happily watching Antiques Roadshow and tucking into a plate of Mr Kiplings fancies, I'm going to be driving over the mountains, heading for a week of mithering continental sorts.

Cunning plan, anyone?

mercredi 5 mars 2008

Did anyone order two old ladies?

Well, my mother arrives tomorrow. With her sister (yes, my Aunt) in tow. God help me.

So, I've cleaned the house from top to bottom. I've removed anything that may upset or offend. I've made sure that the fridge is cheese-free (otherwise my mother won't eat anything that's been in it - she has a cheese phobia) and I've made sure there's plenty of gin in stock for the Aunt. Luckily there always is.

I even mopped the floors with a special 'parquet brillance'. It has made my wooden floors shine so much that I've fallen on my arse, twice. I've now taken to walking very gingerly about the flat. Ridiculous.

My mother called me this evening to ask what time her flight is and it sounded like she was at the bottom of a hole.

Apparently she's losing her voice.

Thank the Lord for small mercies.

The weekend may yet pass without incident.

mardi 4 mars 2008

Didn't your parents buy you any toys?

Well, tonight I arrived home grumpy. I don't know why. I had a decent enough day - interviewing in Paris all day with my lovely colleague - but when I got off the train at Part Dieu, I just felt grumpy.

Maybe it was because I had a seat that faced the back of the train (I hate that, and SNCF know it - why do they do that to me?). Maybe it was because the TGV travels so darn fast that my internet connection can't keep up. Maybe it was the snow that had started to fall.

Anyway, I got off the train and felt grumpiness wash over me.

Then I read the comment from Valleys Mam, who suggested that next time I'm faced with an in-flight breast-feeder (see In-flight catering, below) I get my dick out and claim equality for the sexes. This made me laugh a lot and brought to mind the following episode (VM, this one is for you...)....

I was travelling by plane from Birmingham to Glasgow about three years ago, and was sat in the middle seat between two colleagues. It was an early morning flight - we left at about 6.30 a.m. - and so, having been woken by middle of the night alarm clocks, we all promptly fell asleep upon boarding.

Anyway, whilst sleeping the sleep of the innocent, I had a less than innocent - some would say downright filthy - dream which involved me 'pleasuring myself' 'manually' and achieving much joy from said 'pleasuring'.

I woke, with quite a flush in my cheeks and a need to reposition myself in my seat.

Whilst repositioning myself, I noticed that my flies were well and truly open, and gaping....

Surely I didn't.....

Two days later, I fell asleep on the train from Birmingham to London. Yet again, I was taken by the same filthy (but not un-enjoyable) dream. Again, I woke up to find my trousers undone....

It'll not surprise you to learn that I quickly developed a fear of falling asleep on any form of transport.

lundi 3 mars 2008

London calling

So, the Isle of Dogs. Otherwise known as Canary Wharf, Millwall, Docklands. No matter what you call it, it's not exotic. That said, the name 'Isle of Dogs' does conjure up images of pirates, loose women, and much ale-swilling in Dickensian taverns. Could anything be further from the truth?

Anyway, the weekend was great and just the break I needed. I was staying with friends who had 'surprised' me with a ticket to see Alicia Keys. Now, you know how much I value friendship, but there are some things that even the strongest friendship can never recover from.

I'm not saying the concert was bad. I'm saying it was dreadful.

Just the worst thing I've ever been to in my life. To say it was cruise-ship entertainment would be doing a disservice to all of the professionals currently hoofing their way around the med.

She started with a song that involved a lot of warbling. It's not that there wasn't much variety, but the same song continued for an hour and a half, then she sang 'Falling'. Then we left.

The evening wasn't lost, however, as we met up with more friends and worked our way through the cocktail list at the local high-class-hostelry. This seemed to set the tone for the weekend, and it descended into two days of cocktails, hangovers, scary bars, scarier clubs and propositions that were gigglingly rejected. We were like a bunch of schoolgirls let loose in London town.

At City Airport, and in the 'holding pen' before boarding the flight home, I decided to do my usual 'pass five minutes' exercise. I like to look around to see a) who I'd like to sit next to (and there were a few guys who fell into this category) and b) who I'm most likely to sit next to.

In category b, there was no competition - a huge (I mean huge) American guy, with perspiration issues who kept shouting 'Can someone just open a freaking window in here'. The room was crowded but there was no-one standing within five feet of him.

Naturally, by the time I got to my seat (3C, aisle seat, front row of economy, god bless Air France for knowing me so well) I was sat next to said 'big guy'.

Luckily, there was an empty seat between us. He called the steward and asked for a 'belt extender' because 'the belts on this type of aircraft are always so short'. Then proceeded to huff and puff his way into said belt contraption.

I closed my eyes, thought of Geneva and the next thing I know, we're hitting the Swiss tarmac.

"You snored" sneered the big American.

"Yeah? Well now you know how your wife feels" said I, and I skipped off the plane, homeward bound.

In-flight catering

Is it just me? Maybe it is.

Friday afternoon I take the plane from Geneva to London City for the Isle of Dogs weekend. The plane is full, but I have my favourite seat (the aisle seat in the first row of economy) so all is well with the world.

The window seat is taken by a thirty-something business guy, all suited and booted (and quite a hotty, if you'll forgive me). In between the two of us sits my nightmare passenger - the mother with baby. It's not an old baby, but it's a bit hairy, a la Suri Cruise. I'm now expecting and hour and half of screaming kid....

The baby didn't cry. Mother had a secret weapon up her sleeve. Well, not so much up her sleeve as in her blouse. We had barely left the ground when out came the titty and the baby was attached.

Both me and the cute suit shifted uncomfortably in our seats.

It's not like she was even discreet about it. She just sat there, tit out and baby sucking. OK, now I know that all of the female readers are going 'so?' and 'Oh come on!' and 'it's only natural'. But it was really uncomfortable.

Anyway, mothers milk being obviously quite rich, the baby proceeds to fill his nappy. It stinks. Mother puts her breast away and takes him off the the toilet (after getting me to hold the kid while she sorts out a clean nappy). Trust me, it stunk.

With mother out of the way, the cute suit looks at me and says "Is that normal behaviour?". I can tell that he too secretly wishes he'd taken British Airways.

Mother comes back with clean child and, no sooner has she returned than the blouse is opened, the titty is out and the child is, once again attached. Ten minutes later and the same foul smell is choking everyone. Cue, repeat of the whole palava....

On her return to her seat the second time, the mother does nothing less than open her blouse and flop it out again. She's sat there, tit out, when the steward comes up and says "We'll be landing in five minutes, you may want to finish the job on the ground".

Is it just me? Maybe it is.

But it seems to me to me that - despite it being very natural, blah blah - that breastfeeding on a plane, sat between two strangers (both men) and in such close proximity, was actually a really bizarre thing to do.

But hey, at least the baby didn't cry....