mardi 30 septembre 2008

Bamako bathroom blackout

I'm inspired by a post over at Conortje's blog, which is always good for random, hilarious and conor-ish tales. The post reminded me of an incident that happened to me in a public toilet, a few years ago.

Now, if you are a regular here you are probably already drawing your own conclusions as to what your beloved TBNIL was doing in a public latrine. But no, I tell you, you judge me too harshly. It was nothing of the sort. And how was I to know he was a police officer? ha ha. No seriously, nothing of the sort.

I was actually in Bamako, Mali. Why was I there? On holiday of course. Doesn't everyone go to Mali for their holidays?

Anyway, there I was and had been for a couple of weeks, enjoying the sights of the desert and the delights of the Malian diet - i.e. 'big grey fish' and 'poulet bicyclette' and the ever present giant mango, which is truly the devil's fruit. Horrible.

And it was the delights of the Malian diet that got me into the situation in the toilet in the first place.

It had been a strange couple of days - the day before, the streets had been full of protestors and burning tyres blocking the roads. It turns out the education department had run out of money and so had closed the schools and sent the kids home - leading to protests from angry citizens.

The day I left for the airport, the streets were eerily empty - it seems that yet again government cuts had led to closures. This time it was the prisons that had run out of money and they had just shut up shop, releasing all of the inmates in the general populous. Everyone stayed home that day....oddly enough.

Anyway, I'd had a bad stomach brewing for a few days and the smell of burning tyres and a pretty scary undercurrent hadn't helped. I arrived at Bamako airport for my flight to sanity (well, CDG at least) in the early evening. It soon got dark and the plane was delayed.

As midnight approached, there was still no sign of Air Afrique and I now desperately needed to get to a bathroom. I'd put off the dirty deed for as long as possible, hoping to be able to 'go' on the plane instead. The fact that I saw a 767 toilet as a luxury surely tells you how bad the bathrooms were at the airport.

To say the bathrooms were bad is the biggest, massivest, hugest understatement in the world. Poor plumbing, no cleaning regime and a lack of sense of direction or ability to aim amongst recent customers had left them in a sorry state. And to make it worse, the toilets were of the hole in the ground variety.

So, leaving dignity and self respect behind, I headed into the toilet. Crouching amongst the vileness, I let nature take its course. And then the lights went out.

Yes, there was a power cut.

I was squatting over an open cess pit, trousers round my ankles, with germs on every surface - in the pitch black.

I had nothing to hold onto to keep my balance and pulling up my pants and getting out of there was not an option. I knew that the walls and floor were filthy, so no chance of feeling for the loo roll. I just squatted there, wanting to cry.

Ten minutes later (it felt like a lifetime) the lights came back on. I let go of my ankles, sorted myself out, got dressed and ran for the clean, fresh air of the airport terminal. Well, when I say clean and fresh...everything is relative in these situations.

Awful. The plane did finally arrive and as soon as the seatbelt sign was off, I was up and running. Never has an aeroplane bathroom seemed so luxurious and clean. I'd have sat in there for the whole flight, such was my happiness. Alas, my peace was shortlived.

All hell was breaking loose outside the bathroom door as two female passengers were fighting with a steward who, it seems, had accused them of 'drumming up business' amongst the male business class passengers.....but that's another story altogether.....

dimanche 28 septembre 2008

The stewardess's new clothes

I've been visiting my lovely Amsterdam friends this weekend - they are about to produce child number 2 and they have a hard job ahead of them, making sure that number 2 is as cute as number 1. Anyway, after a lovely weekend en famille I got the last flight back from Schiphol to CDG this evening.

Because this flight gets in pretty late, my only option for heading into town is the train. This would normally be my last choice - it's hot, it's slow, it stinks and it's crowded. The Air France bus is quicker and drops me off at the end of my street. Which is handy. Anyway, the bus had already stopped running, so I was consigned to the train.

As you'd imagine, on the way to and from the airport there are often flight crew members heading to / from work. On the train tonight there was an Air France stewardess who looked wiped out. Judging by her bag she was fresh back from Shanghai. But I digress. The point is that she got on the train looking exhausted.

She put her bags down and started to rummage away. Before you could say 'please keep your clothes on Madame, this is a public place' her uniform jacket and top was off and she was standing in her skirt and a grubby looking vest. The colour would be best described as 'hot wash grey'. She undid the button of her uniform skirt and, pulling a pair of black trousers from her bag, proceeded to wriggle into them under the skirt.

Off came the skirt and out of the bag came a succession of black and grey 'upper body garments' which combined to make a startlingly stylish outfit.

With her clothes now back on, she tied a scarf around her head and proceeded to put on her make up. She gave herself a pair of smoky, Amy Winehouse inspired eyes, and buffed up her cheekbones. Then the scarf came off and she ran some kind of putty-ish product through her barnet.

When she got on the train she looked like a generic Air France stew. Nothing special, a bit dowdy and absolutley knackered.

Alighting from the train she looked like Agyness Deyn having a beatnik moment. Stunning.

Now, I'm quite used to seeing girls put on a bit of lippy on their way to work in the morning, but I've never really witnessed a transformation like this before.

It was all I could do to stop myself applauding.

vendredi 26 septembre 2008

Jingle all the way - pt II

So last night, in Strasbourg, I was invited with a colleague to eat dinner at a customer's house.

The customer is a lovely guy, with a big family and he is also deeply religious.

We took our places at the dinner table and were instructed to hold hands in order to pray.

I held hands with my German colleague to the right, and the sixteen year-old daughter of the customer to the left of me. As the customer prayed in German and then in French, all I could think about was one thing.

The pierced scrotum.

Am I going to hell?

mercredi 24 septembre 2008

Jingle all the way

Just got back from the gym. (I find it hilarious that I can start a blog post with this line, but it's the truth).

Anyway, I just got back from the gym. For some reason, by the time I get there all of the good lockers are usually gone and most evenings I end up with one on the bottom. I hate the bottom lockers.

The bottom lockers mean that you have to really fanny around to get to your stuff and it's hard to change in front of the locker - I always end up emptying the thing and de-camping to a bench elsewhere in the changing room.

Anyway, the thing is this evening I was doing just such fannying around - trying to get my locker organised so that my towel was on the top ready for when I need it. To do this, I had to kneel on one knee. So there I am, kneeling down in front of the locker block and I hear a jingling in my ear.

I hate it when people can't say 'excuse me' or 'excusez-moi' and instead they cough or shuffle or jangle their keys. Anyway, thinking it was an impatient upper-locker owner, I turned my head to say, shirtily, 'I'll be two minutes' and got quite a surprise.

It wasn't a set of keys that was jingling in my ear. It was actually a rather heavily and decorously pierced scrotum.

Now, I'm not one to do too much looking in the locker room (ok, well maybe a little bit) but this bling-bling ballbag caught me off guard.

I looked up to see to whom it belonged. It turned out to be attached to a rather fetching, dark-haired, tattooed young man.

"Excuse me", he said in french "I didn't mean to pressure you - I just want to get my towel".

"No worries", said I, trying to be cool. "I just thought you were jangling your keys in my ear".

"I get that a lot" he said, winking.

I bet he does, too.

mardi 23 septembre 2008

Subway city

I'm a 'down below' kind of commuter. In fact, I spend an hour of my day sat in a metal tube on wheels, hurtling through tunnels far below Paris. This is kind of new to me, and a bit odd.

I'm not sure how I feel about commuting underground. I don't take the Metro, I take the RER (fewer stops, faster) and it is an unusual way to travel.

Firstly, no matter what the weather outside, it is always boiling hot in the RER. Hotter even than the Metro. People either take their coats off and hold them all bundled up in their arms or they keep them on and sweat. Which leads me to my second point...

The RER stinks. I'm not sure if it's because the tunnels are close to the sewers, because of the food stalls down there, because of the train fumes or just because of the people sweating their rocks off. I'm guessing that it's all that, plus the added benefit of poor ventilation. It's a unique smell. Like fetid cheese left in a bag in the sun. Narsty, is what it is.

But then there are things that I love about this commute. I love going underground, surrounded by traditional Parisian Haussman-style buildings and coming back up again in the middle of the modernity that is the outer reaches of La Defense. I also love that this only takes me twenty-thirty minutes.

I like the people with high-vis jackets and gloves that make sure everyone is on and the doors are shut - giving a necessary shove where a door (or a passenger) needs it. It's an amazing use of manpower to have them lining the platforms of every station - but hey,maybe they're serving some kind of weird community service order? Anyway, they seem to do it with good spirit, even if they do all have the facial expression of hardened French 'service' industry professionals.

I also like the fact that you get a free newspaper in the morning and a different one in the evening. Keeps me up to date, informed and tells me where the next strike in the system is going to be - ah yes, the season of strikes is almost upon us....

And I really love the fact that while everyone else is staring at their shoes, bored to bits, I'm happily singing along (in my head, obviously) to American Boy on my iPod.

Oh yes, I'm still stuck with that song.

lundi 22 septembre 2008

Sounds like a good weekend to me

Do you ever get to work on a monday with the tunes from the weekend still buzzing in your brain?

Today, my poor, funny, lovely, underpaid, overworked assistante - from here on in to be known as Debbie - had to put up with my almost non-stop singing. And whistling. And humming. And none of it good. Even less of it in tune.

She bought a radio at lunchtime to shut me up. I kid ye not.

So what was I singing? Well, if I'm going to share these classics with you, you have to promise that you won't laugh/think any worse of me/tell anyone.

We have a deal? OK, here goes....

Top on today's sing-list was Moi...Lolita, the Mylene Farmer classic, sung most recently by Alizée - with the excellent 'c'est pas ma faut-e' line. The shame of it.

I annoyed Debbie all day with this one. She was putting up a poster and I was singing 'mais pas si haut-e' ...and then when she made me coffee I pointed out that 'c'est pas trop chaud-e'. And so it went on.

By the end of the day I was practically peeing my pants with these. She wasn't laughing.

A very (and I mean very) close second was Estelle and her lovely American Boy. Too cool, really.

This one was pretty big this morning, but died down towards the afternoon, when it was replaced by Katie Perry and her hilarious 'I kissed a girl and I liked it'. Debbie looked at me very curiously as I sang that 'I hope my boyfriend don't mind it...'.

Maybe she hasn't worked out my gayness yet. You'll excuse me whilst I stitch my sides back together, won't you.

Luckily I didn't get too far into singing the other songs of the weekend - Alphabeat's 'Fascination' and 'A cause des garcons' by the lovely Belgian that is Yelle. Both are very good songs for dancing to, too.

And I hear that 'Fascination' is particularly good for dancing to on the way home along the Avenue Daumesnil at five thirty in the morning. I'm not sure who told me that, though...

So, what have you been listening / dancing / drinking / misbehaving to this weekend?

Go on, show us your soundtrack....

dimanche 21 septembre 2008

A cause des garçons

My favourite weekend in a long time is coming to an end.

I spent it with lovely friends, dancing, drinking, eating and enjoying the sunshine. I'm exhausted, but in the best way possible.

Elle est belle, la vie.

Elle est belle, ma vie.

mardi 16 septembre 2008

I've got the time, but not the patience

My mother called me today to ask me what the time was.

In her house she has (and this is from memory, so forgive any inaccuracies) three wall clocks, three bedside/alarm clocks and a handful of watches. She also has a TV, video recorder, computer, oven, microwave and a central heating system that all also display the time.

She can check any of these. She can even dial 123 and ask the talking clock. But does she?

No. She makes an international call (to someone in a DIFFERENT TIME ZONE) to find out the correct time.

It seems she was worried that her alarm clock had gone off late, and that she would miss an appointment at the hairdresser. She pretended not to listen when I made the point that having a ten-minute conversation with me would only serve to make her even more late.

Shortly after my father died, only 6 years ago, I took my Mom to Australia - on the holiday that my Dad had promised her, in order to celebrate her retirement. The trip took us to countries in four different time zones and across the international dateline.

Did this faze her? Not at all.

All she was interested in on that trip was flirting outrageously with the stewards on Qantas and having her photo taken in her business class seat ("it's my first time 'up front' you know"). The complete and utter shame of it.

Anyway, in six short years she's gone from being the older woman who flirts with the boys to an old woman who doesn't know what time it is.

So did I tell her the time?

No, I did not.

Instead, I told her that every time she calls me with one of these crazy questions it puts her one step closer to officially being an 'old lady'.

"I'll go and see what time the TV says", she said. "And if I ever hear you call me an old lady again I'll come round and show you how hard an 'old lady' can punch".

Now, that's more like it.

dimanche 14 septembre 2008

I heart Paris

How good is it to be at home? Fabulous.

How great is it to sleep in my own bed? Stunningly so.

How exciting is it to have electricity? It’s just the icing on the cake.

And let’s face it, a cake’s not a cake without icing. I mean really – who wants that doughy bit in the middle?

So, you guessed it. I’m back home, back in my own bed and the electricity is on and shining out of every lamp, screen and refrigerator. I’m so happy I could, well I could catch up on my unpacking and washing and ironing and blah and blah and blah. Being back at home also means being back in real life.

I kind of forgot that that would happen.

So, in a ‘je refuse’ moment, I put the chores to the back of my mind and headed out for a day of falling back in love with Paris. Trust me, it wasn’t difficult.

I started with breakfast at my corner café – les Artisans. It’s a good spot, close to home, and they do a great cup of coffee. I read my book for a while, enjoyed the morning sun (yes, readers, the sun is shining in Paree) and planned my day.

Figuring that I needed to get some culture into my hardened-by-head-office soul, I weighed up my choices… main criteria being no queuing, no greek artefacts, minimal tourists and a short, sharp dose of great art. There was no contest really.

At eleven o’clock, I walked up to the front door of the Orangerie Museum (no queue), bought my ticket (few tourists) and plonked myself down in one of the art world’s most truly amazing spaces (with no ancient greek nick-nacks, thank the Lord).

It’s not everybody’s taste, and I certainly wouldn’t want to live with them for too long myself, but sitting down in those oval galleries with the Monet Nymphéas is truly mind blowing. Empty your mind, stare at the wall, fall into the colours, the textures, the moods.

One room so calm, one so much more lively. Two amazing spaces. It’s surprising to think that you can easily lose an hour with those eight pieces. But that’s how it happens.

After a while, I like to position myself so that I can see people’s faces when they enter the gallery. It is so beyond what anyone is expecting, that the reactions are amazing to see.

I left feeling calm, happy and thrilled to have this experience so close to home.

Lunch on a café terrasse fortified me and I headed off to do some shops.

Rue des Francs Bourgeois, rue de la Verrerie, rue Ste Croix de la Bretonnerie. The greatest shops and the most beautiful people in Paris. Naturally I stopped in at BHV Homme to touch the shoes and stroke the man bags.

I got home in time to put my feet up before heading out to the cinema.

How great is my life? Well, it’s not for everyone, but for me it’s pretty near-perfect.

Which is all well and good, but now I need to get down to some serious business. Namely, falling in love.

It’s not going to be easy. But you can bet your ass I'll be writing about it.

mercredi 10 septembre 2008

I've (not) got the power

Paris. I'm home. Hooray!

Well, this was how I felt when I pulled up outside my apartment building and lugged my bags up the three flights of stairs. So exciting. So happy to be home - you know how long I've been desperate to get back here.

I turn on the lights. Nothing.

I check the fuse box. Nothing.

My estate agents are useless. Having been unable to provide me with the original meter readings (that I need to get an account set up with the electricity people), they told me that they would organise it while I was away. They promised that they would pass the information on to the electricity company and that all would be sorted for my return.

They said 'Go to England'. They said 'Don't worry'. 'We're onto it'. They said 'We'll sort it out'.

They didn't.

So I called EDF (the elctricity people) myself and they informed me that the power supply was cut on August 6th, but that they could happily organise a technician to perform an emergency reconnection.

"Excellent" said I. "When will that be?"

"Thursday morning" said the nice lady at EDF.

"But that's two days away" said I, with a hint of horror, alarm and panic in my voice.

"Yes. Normally it's a five-day wait" said Mme EDF.

"Book me in for Thursday!" said I.

To make matters worse, this week in Paris there are two of the biggest expo's of the season - Pret a Porter and Furniture & Deco. On top of this, Coldplay are in residence all week at Bercy. Unsurprisingly, every hotel room in Paris was apparently taken.

An hour of phoning and begging later, I find a room on the outskirts of town. I hump my luggage all the way over there and try my hardest to keep hysteria at bay. I'm not totally successful.

I settle down in my temporary lodgings and decide to catch up on my emails and the blog. Thank goodness that I did....

At the end of the worst day in a long time, three great things happened:

1. I receive an email from my boss thanking me for a great month in the UK - and confirmation of a very nice bonus for my efforts.

2. I find out that David over at authorblog has given me his award for the 'Post of the Day' and that this has brought lots of new people to my blog.

3. I get an email from my new assistant that proved to me what a fantastic recruit she is turning out to be, and made me realise how much simpler my life will be with her around.

Wow. How great is that. I have an awful day and these things are sent to me as little pick-me-ups. Almost like someone knew I'd need something to make me realise that life really is good.

A more religious person than me (a less religious person doesn't exist) would see this as the Lord moving in mysterious ways. I call it serendipity, happenstance and straight old-fashioned damn good luck.

As I counted my blessings, my hysteria slipped away and I settled down for a big old sleep.

So, rested and in control, this morning I headed for the offices of the estate agency. You can imagine how well that went.

They should just be grateful that I got a good night's sleep...

lundi 8 septembre 2008

My husband(s) and I

Family weddings are supposed to be funny. They’re also dangerous, nasty events fraught with the risk of near death. It’s much like poking a stick at a grizzly.

The wedding at the weekend was no different. We all assembled to see my dear cousin get spliced -–when I say all, I mean both families and assorted friends.

Families included four sets of parents (one for the bride, three for the bridegroom) and the rest of us hanger-onners. Friends seemed largely to be composed of the cast of Hollyoaks (or the OC, depending on which side of the Atlantic you woke up on this morning) such was their beauty and youthfulness.

We all battled our way through the most awful weather – it seemed like Gustav had made his way over to the UK for a two-day shopping and theatre break in London – and got to the venue wet, sodden, drenched. Ladies stood by the radiators, shivering and trying in vain to dry out, and perk up their fascinators. In fact, the fascinator seemed to be the fashion must-have of the wedding – standing at the back (as I was, giving up my seat to someone more needy) all I could see was an ocean of pheasant plumes and rhinestones on wires. It was like a bomb had gone off at the Folies Bergeres.

Beyond the fascinators, the outfits were a pretty mixed bag – from my other cousin, a vision of sartorial elegance in an understated Donna Karan number, through to the groom’s mothers, who – faced with their nemeses – had gone to town on their individual ‘look’. Even if the opposition was a group of Vegas streetwalkers, these women would still have won the ‘dress like a hooker’ competition.

The wedding all went according to plan (apart from the weather) and the ceremony passed smoothly into wedding breakfast and speeches. As the best man stood to make his speech, I looked at the groom’s parents who seemed incredibly uncomfortable as they shared the top table. His mother looked particularly uncomfortable, but then that’s not a surprise.

Of the five men sat at the top table, one was her son, one was her son’s new father in law and the other three, well… God bless her – it’s pretty awful going to a wedding knowing that you’ve slept with half the guests.

Trust me, I know.

My super best script

I arrived in the office this morning to find that my lovely boss has arranged signed copies of best friend's book to be left on everyone's desks.

Lord have mercy. When will this ever end?

jeudi 4 septembre 2008

My super best friend...blah blah blah

Hmmph. I'm not happy.

My boss has a best friend who has just had a book published. To make it worse, it's a book based on a blog and the author has made sure that my boss gets something like 300 mentions per page in a 'my best friend is so perfect, my best friend is so super, my best friend is so beautiful' kind of way. Sychophantic, some would say.

Kind of understandably, all my boss talks about these days is this bloody book that his bloody friend has written. And the friend is getting lots of publicity and lots of media attention and it's not even a good book and it's a really dull subject and IT'S NOT AS GOOD AS MINE!!! Damn, there go my true colours....

You see, in a normal world, I'd be thrilled for anyone getting a book deal. I'd want to meet them and chat to them and ask them for advice (and the name of their agent). As it is, everytime I've ever met this author I've been given a very cold shoulder and very subtly ignored in favour of my boss, who sucks up the attention (and endless compliments) from his best friend.

Alas, this isn't a normal world and I'm just downright jealous. How did he get picked to write a book and not me? How did he manage to get such a hefty advance? Why is he now talking to TV companies? Why is my boss ramming this down my throat like a robin stuffing worms into an anorexic chick? Maybe he isn't. Maybe he is just talking normally and I'm being hyper-sensitive...hmm?

I know what the answer is. Just sit down and write that book. Get myself past chapter two (yes, I'm still stuck on chapter two).

I'm going to try and turn my annoyance into motivation.

And in the meantime, I'll try and be nicer.

Forgive my rant. It's been brewing for a long time now.