13 November 2008


Less than a week to go!

Yes, our house is spotless. It’s not like I’ve been nesting like mad just recently. It’s that I’ve been nesting regularly for the past 9 months. Now with the impending birth, I just keep things clean and tidy at all times, as I know that once Sprog is here, this house will never look the same again and I will never have this much time on my hands!

So in-between making photo albums (a 2-year backlog!), tidying up endless folders of digital pictures, deleting megabytes of blurred, badly framed or uninteresting shots, resting and reading lots of books, I do the occasional dusting, a spot of hoovering, a bit of bathroom cleaning, and I put things away and throw useless items out. It is therapeutic, and every day I feel better and better for it all.

Every woman should have maternity leave at least once in her life, regardless of whether or not she is about to have a baby!

22 October 2008


Just over eight months – one more to go!

I thought I would write loads in my blog these last few weeks. I thought I would take the time to document my pregnancy. But I am already writing a journal for Sprog, and one for myself, so there is just no time or willingness to write about it all in here as well.

But here are a couple of pictures of my tummy, at 7 and 8 months.

There could be a month left, there could be 6 weeks left, there could be just 2 weeks... or less... But I’m OK, I haven’t reached the impatient stage yet (‘I don’t want to be pregnant any more, let this baby OOOOOUUUUUUTTTTT!!!!’), although I’m getting a little more uncomfortable each day now, especially at night. The baby is doing great, still growing normally, and I’m feeling fine, if a little (very!) tired at times.

Everything is ready – the room, the pushchair and carrycot and car seat, the Moses basket in case we decide to use it after all (a friend of mine gave me hers but we still do intend to put Sprog in the cot bed straight away), the clothes, the bibs, the muslin squares (ten – apparently, you can never have enough!) and the towels and bath toys and mini picture books (of course!) and soft toys...

Still, I have been in denial for about 3 weeks. I can’t quite make the link between what’s wriggling inside me and the reality of a baby in my arms in a few weeks’ time. I wonder why we have transformed the guest room into a baby room, why we have piles of baby clothes, why we have a carrycot ready to go in the car, and worst of all, why quite a lot of old clothes and towels and a collection of breast pads and maternity pads are packed away in a suitcase, standing and ready to be picked up at the slightest sign of labour...

I’m pregnant now, and this is my new state, FOR EVER! Of course there’s no REAL baby in there, of course nothing’s going to come out. I’ve just got a big tummy, that’s all.

I’m a bit better these past couple of days – I’m back to reality. Maybe because it was my birthday on Monday and I didn’t do a thing and so I had plenty of time to talk to Sprog and feel him/her and tell him/her stories. But mainly, I think it’s because he/she’s growing so big now that I can feel every part of him/her: the back, the feet, the knees, the bum, that tiny little bum that makes me laugh so much when it pushes upward and looks like it’s going to pierce the skin of my tummy and pop out!

Intellectually, I know that in just a few weeks a baby will come out of me (try, anyway!), and now physically and emotionally, I am starting to feel that it really is quite possible that there is a real baby inside me and therefore it will want to come out at some point. It’s getting tight in there...

But Sprog, hang on in there. Mummy’s not quite ready, and you’re not quite ‘cooked’ either. You still need to put on a few more ounces and develop your lungs to their full capacity, so that you can give this powerful scream when you do come out...

22 August 2008

Table for four

I had dinner at an Italian restaurant in Oxford last night with one of my (many!) pregnant friends.

‘Table for two?’ asked the East European waitress in a thick accent and barely audible voice.
‘Yes,’ answered my friend, N.
‘No, table for four,’ I whispered, smiling at N.

Ah, pregnancy bliss! The pleasure of being able to imagine and, now, to know that there is someone in there, a real person, who is growing stronger by the day, kicking harder every day...

Soon, there will be three of us in this household, but I can already feel that we are a family now. It is a wonderful feeling, one that I had not anticipated. Roll on third trimester!

19 August 2008


Six months today! Three more to go!

I am bruised.

All over.

But inside.

Mind you, outside too – I keep bumping into things, dropping things, hurting myself with forks and knives and jewellery and pens.

But on the inside, it’s not my doing. It’s Sprog’s.* I am battered, beaten, shaken, trodden, flattened and crushed. Day in, day out, and at night too.

I couldn’t go back to sleep last night. It was only half past midnight, I had been sleeping for a couple of hours, but Sprog had woken up and just used my bladder as a punching ball – the loo beckoned. Then Sprog never went back to sleep, hiccupping one minute, kicking the next. So I didn’t either. Well, until about 2.30 a.m., that is, after lying still on my back on the sofa bed in the study, resting, reading, till my eyes couldn’t distinguish the words on the page any more.

I hope that this is not the first step on the downhill slope that leads to the abysmal first few weeks after Sprog has joined the world (till he/she finally sleeps through the night). If so, it will be a long winter...

* I don’t like using the name ‘Sprog’ for our baby, but Monsieur l’Anglais likes it and it stuck pretty much from Day 1, so we carry on using it. I did suggest using the boy name we’ve chosen on ‘he days’ and the girl’s name on ‘she days’ (no, we don’t know what sex the baby is), but no, he prefers to use ‘Sprog’, so hey, I might as well use it here too!

16 June 2008

Are you a Woolly Mummy?

Especially for T. ...
I have been reading The Yummy Mummy’s Survival Guide by Liz Frazer avidly, but I would like to write about a different kind of mummy – the Woolly Mummy.

You are a Woolly Mummy if:
- you are more hairy than a monkey – and yes, even in the most unsightly places
- you scratch yourself all over, in all kinds of places (nipples, areolas, small of your back, and of course underarms)
- you spend countless hours brushing your teeth every day (see my French blog)
- you can only express yourself using ‘ooohs’ and ‘aaahs’ and ‘mmmhs’, because you have a woolly memory and you get completely gaga in front of (pictures of) cute baby animals, e.g. cygnets under their mother’s wings (yes, under, or even between – see picture, taken by our professional photographer friend during a boat trip on the Thames)
- you get all excited and emotional when you look at your friend’s first baby scan – let alone your own
- you grow a hairy tummy and a beard!

Ah, the joys of pregnancy!!!

30 April 2008


There are advantages to being pregnant and feeling sick and/or hungry at night and therefore being unable to sleep for more than 2 or 3 hours at a time. Yes, really.

Take the moon, for example. Who saw the moon rise in the sky last Wednesday night, a deep apricot colour, just like the sun at dawn? And again the night after that, but this time a pale yellow, high in the sky, just like the sun at midday?

I felt it was Nature’s way of compensating for her evil ways, like making the female body produce an insane amount of hormones in order to make a baby and its support system – placenta, more blood, bigger uterus, etc. – and inducing nausea and exhaustion in the process.

Thank you, Nature – it made me feel so much better to be able to see the great things you are also capable of!

21 April 2008

An old wives’ tale?

Five weeks ago

When yesterday I retrieved Blooming Birth from under our bed, because my temperature was still 37 degrees, I knew it was a good sign. First, there was hope in me again. Second, there was will to start thinking about it seriously again, to prepare for it seriously.

Last night, I asked Monsieur l’Anglais what he wanted to do: wait until the 38th day of my cycle because my longest cycle had been 38 days (just two months ago), or do a test ‘tomorrow’? He asked how much longer we would have to wait if we waited for the 38th day. After a brief calculation, I said, ‘Two weeks’. He instantly looked crestfallen. ‘That’s a long time!’ ‘Yep! OK, let’s do this: if my temperature is still 37 degrees, we’ll do a test, OK?’ ‘Yes, OK!’ We were both quite excited.

So excited that this morning, I woke up early (6.00am) and couldn’t go back to sleep! Thankfully, I didn’t have to wait too long before Monsieur l’Anglais woke up too and decided to get up. At 7.30, we were downstairs. My temperature was still 37 degrees. The moment of truth. Monsieur waited in the kitchen while I did the business in the bathroom. It’s such a privilege to find out before everybody else!

It was not disappointment when I saw the horizontal blue line appear in the square window – it was complete disbelief. ‘No way!’ I muttered. I was so sure (99%) that I was pregnant that it was just impossible that the test would show a negative blue line...

But then, paradoxically, it was disbelief again when I saw the vertical blue line appear in the same window, crossing the horizontal line, making a perfect ‘plus’ sign! ‘Oh my God!’ I muttered this time, a huge smile stretching my lips and cheeks. I stayed quiet, finished peeing, then went into the kitchen, unable to contain a half-grin, holding the test in one hand and the instructions in the other. I had time to think ‘What shall I say? “You’re going to be a daddy”? No, that’s too soon... Just in case...’ and so instead I said under my breath, ‘I’m pregnant!’

‘So?’ Monsieur l’Anglais asked, ‘What does that say?’, unwilling to find out for himself, to read the instructions and work out what the blue lines meant. Of course, it was easier to find out from me.

‘I’m pregnant,’ I repeated, this time more clearly and loudly.

We hugged tight as he said ‘Good!’, beaming. ‘I love you.’

‘I love you too.’

I was shaking with emotion and shed a few happy tears.

Right now, a couple of hours later, in bed, resting, about to go back to sleep because I’m so tired, it feels completely unreal. Like it’s happening to someone else. Who were we talking about in the kitchen?!

But I’m talking to the tiny creature in my tummy again – our daughter, because of course it’s going to be a girl, as predicted by my aunt and as intuitively felt by me! – as I’ve been doing for the past couple of days, and telling her ‘Hang in there, stay warm, reste bien au chaud...’

The truth is, even before I found out, still in bed this morning, I was already imagining Monsieur l’Anglais taking pictures of me every month, and also telling my friend I, ‘Exactly one year after you! How do you fancy having a one-year-younger-twin for your daughter?!’ And about two weeks ago, two days in a row, I remember waking up and my first thought being ‘So how are we going to redecorate the guest room?’ – the most weird first thought of the day, when I didn’t have a clue that I was already pregnant (I can’t remember when exactly this was, but it must have been just after the baby was conceived – a completely unconscious message from her already!)

My friend T (mother of three) had told me, ‘Don’t worry, you’ll know’. She was right! But I think I only knew – I was only so ‘sure’ – because I had been taking my temperature for two months, and the last few days there was no sign of it going down. And also because my boobs were hurting already (since Sunday 9th) and my lower tummy too (since Tuesday 11th). Still, it was a calm certitude, an ‘I’ll be damned if the test is negative/if I’m wrong this time’ kind of certitude.

Once I’ve rested a bit, I’ll ask Monsieur l’Anglais to take pictures of me in my bikini – the first of nine series, till the birth. Gosh, ‘birth’ – who the hell are we talking about here? Not us, surely?!

So my friend C and I are going to share a few months of pregnancy after all (we have six in common overall, but we’ve already ‘missed’ one, so we’ll hold each other’s hands for just five). How cool is that?! It will be like my mum and her friend C, and our children will be like A and me... So cool!

Funnily enough, when I last went to see C (on 9th February), she said, ‘Well, now you’ve sat on my sofa, you’ll be all right! Apparently,’ she explained, seeing my nonplussed expression, ‘if you sit on a pregnant woman’s sofa, you’ll be pregnant soon too!’ An old wives’ tale?!

12 March 2008


The clouds are crying again. Endless tears, and quite violent. And so it’s made me cry... Today, Monday, was going to be my day. My pilgrimage day. My trip to Nice, on my own, with my memories, my travel diary to write down all my feelings and emotions about it, and my camera, to finally take digital pictures of the place that holds most of my childhood memories (I do have a few pictures from my 2004 trip, but they were taken on film – I hadn’t entered the digital age yet). However, even just lying down in my warm bed before getting up, I could tell that this was going to be a ‘bad’ day (un jour sans, as we say in French). At first, I didn’t have the strength to wake up properly and get up to say goodbye to B before she set off to work. But when I finally did, I nearly fell over as I was so weak and dizzy. I said ‘Bon courage’ to B, then looked out the window and saw the grey sky. Another crap day... ‘Oh it will probably get better later, don’t worry.’ Yes, I thought, but perhaps I won’t...

I went back to bed but couldn’t fall asleep again, so after an hour, I gave up and got up for good. I didn’t feel any better. When I got into the lounge, what I saw made my heart sink. Sheets of rain, and a blocked view, yet again.

I sat at the table before starting eating my breakfast, and all I could feel was exhaustion and sadness. Then I tried to stop feeling miserable and said to myself that realistically, I would not even be able to walk to Monaco's train station, near the Casino, let alone traipse around Nice. In any case, I wouldn’t be able to take pictures, the weather being so awful, so there really was no point. And even if the sun had shone and the sky had been blue, I would have forced myself to be reasonable and stay in the flat, at least in the morning. Because if tomorrow I feel like I’m feeling right now, travelling back to England will be nearly impossible. So I must gather some strength.

Tonight, hopefully, if I’m not feeling too bad, we’re going to see a soon-to-be French cult film: Bievenue chez les Ch’tis. In its third week, it’s already immensely successful. Fingers crossed, not many people will want/be able to see it today at 6 p.m., and we’ll have most of the room to ourselves. It is Monday after all, and 6 p.m., even for the rich Monegasques, is too early to leave work and have a leisurely couple of hours in front of a big screen...

EDIT: The room was only half full and we had a great time. We laughed out loud many, many times and came out feeling like we had had a good abs workout! I definitely recommend the film to all Francophiles out there – but especially Francophones, as the language is very hard to understand, even for French people!


What a pretty, picturesque village! And at this time of year, it is very quiet, so wandering around its streets was most enjoyable. We started with the 10th century castle, well worth the 3-euro ticket as the views from the top are breathtaking. Especially when the sun shines, which, amazingly, it did today, for about an hour, just as were walking up and down the village. THANK YOU! I got tired quite quickly, though, so after admiring the views from various meandering streets, we took the car and drove to the centre of Monaco, where we had planned to watch a film. But it wasn’t to be – the queue was huge, B completely put off, and myself disappointed but glad to go home to a warm cup of tea and a nice sofa to lie down on. The film would have to wait till Monday evening.

9 March 2008


This is the picture-perfect view (courtesy of B) I would have been able to photograph this morning, had the weather been idyllic. But today, if I had taken a picture of the scenic view from the balcony, you would only have seen white. It is foggy like it has never been. We can’t see further than 2 metres away. No yellow or orange specks on the trees across the hair-pin bend today...

So we stayed in all day, processing, editing, deleting photographs (for me) and making a photo album (for B). If we had been able to set up the wifi connection on my computer, I would have started creating a photo album with MyPublisher too (either the three weddings we went to in September, or our honeymoon in Sri Lanka), but we are not internet-connection savvy and so after many trials and errors, we gave up. Never mind. At least I have now edited three folders of pictures – yippee! Only 24 to go!

Down and up

Specks of yellow in the trees on the opposite side of the corniche – could these be lemon trees?

When I’m ready to go out, the clouds finally containing their tears, it is midday. I start my one-hour journey by walking down towards the town centre of Beausoleil and Monaco. I follow the first hair-pin bend and arrive at the specks of yellow: they are indeed lemons. But right next to them are also mandarin trees, orange spheres dotting dark-green and brown leafy branches. Fruit trees on tiny terraces, lodged between the road above and the paths below, no houses, just rocky and pebbly balconies, with the force of life growing on them. Such a surprising sight!

The morning traffic has finally died down. The view I behold when I round the next corner is breathtaking. The sky is lighter in places, so I can finally distinguish the sea. The line of the horizon is black, then the white clouds take over and lead to further, dark-grey dense cotton balls. The sea is peppered with white boats. Above, the cliffs and hills of the coast, with tall apartment buildings, not very pretty but typical of the area, in tones of yellow, ochre and light pink.

When I get to the escalier de la noix (walnut stairwell), my calf-tightening and knee-breaking journey begins. I go down the stairs carefully, as the surface might be slippery. It has been raining hard and each step is sloping down a little – a treacherous combination. When I reach a crossroads of sorts, I choose the wrong path and end up trespassing on to someone’s grassy alleyway and more terraces of lemon and mandarin trees. I retreat and get back on to the tarmac. My shoes and trouser hems are soaking wet, the chill from the ground going straight up the front of my legs, travelling to my arms, sending a shiver down my spine right back down to my heels. Brrrrr. Shouldn’t have made that mistake.

When I finally get to the bus stop, I can see The Casino. The famous casino, where millions of visitors come to lose their money, very few making winnings and departing straight away. I was one of the latter, though, nearly ten years ago. I came with my grandfather in September 1998, having never been to Monaco before, despite my years of coming to the area. My grandmother had just died, and so we did things that we had never done before, the spirit of my granny hot on our heels, following our every move from way above, or so we felt. He gave me 50 francs and off we went to the slot machines. After putting a few one-franc coins, I suddenly found myself with an overflowing plastic goblet. My granddad said: ‘Oh you should see your eyes! You look like Picsou [Scrooge McDuck]! I can almost see dollar signs in your pupils!!’ I put a bit more money in the slot machine but I wasn’t getting anything in return, so I said ‘No more, I’m stopping, that’s it. I have made money, that was my intention, I’m not trying any more. Let’s go.’ My granddad was impressed. I got 120 francs back from the man at the tills. That was a 70-franc gain. I was very proud of having resisted the urge to play all my coins. I am no gambler. I am a saver. No surprises there. (Incidentally, when Monsieur l’Anglais and I went to Las Vegas two and half years ago, I didn’t win a thing. Luck doesn’t follow me everywhere I go, at least not the financial kind of luck...)

From the Casino stop, I take the bus to Fontvieille, the financial and commercial district of Monaco, where B and R work. Monte Carlo is the richest part of Monaco, with the Casino and the grandest hotels and houses, and sprinkled with lavish boutiques such as Dior, Vuitton and Dolce & Gabbana. Larvotto is the area with all the beaches and further buildings hiding sumptuous flats and expensive shops. La Condamine is the northwest section of Monaco, which includes the expensive-yacht-filled port. Finally, Monaco-Ville is the part that boasts the palace. It is the old city, placed on a rocky promontory extending into the Mediterranean, known as Le Rocher (the Rock of Monaco).

B and I meet up in front of her office and go for lunch at La Salière, a very Italian restaurant at the port of Fontvieille, with staff who speak at least French, Italian and English, some German too, and that serves a selection of four or five main dishes which changes every day. It makes choosing my lunch very easy (I tend to agonise for hours over several types of dishes – I don’t have that luxury today). I go for the asparagus and blue cheese risotto, B for the grilled seabass with tomatoes and potatoes. Within minutes, our dishes arrive. That is the other advantage of serving only a few dishes at each meal – they are nearly instantly ready, the busy businessmen don’t have to wait and you can endlessly say ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’ to satisfied customers (there is enough time between 12 p.m. and 3 p.m. for probably four or five seatings!). It makes complete commercial sense, bravi!

After lunch, I walk B back to her office building, then I walk up the stairs to the next street level and look at a shop called Loisirs Créatifs – scrapbooking items, paints, paper in all colours, pens, paintbrushes, books about painting and scrapbooking, and many other arty items. A nice little shop. I then go to its counterpart – the Loisirs Créatifs Maison, back down the next street level, a few metres away from B’s office. Candles, hand creams, pots, vases, photo frames, rugs – a bit of everything for the home. If I wasn’t flying, I would buy a thing or two in here...

After ambling around the small shopping centre a two-minute walk away, I’m at a loss. Not a nice little café in sight! It’s raining again, it’s a bit cold, and my only options are a smoky café in the shopping centre (there is no smoking ban in Monaco, as yet) or a café outside in the cold. I’m a bit disappointed.

I start walking away from the shopping centre, hoping that there will be more choice near the port of Fontvieille. I walk towards the port of Cap d’Ail, through empty streets and unable to dodge the raindrops, and finally spot a café: the Brasserie Le Cap, part of the Marriott Hotel. This will have to do. And it’d better be open. I pass by the swimming pool – desolate, grey – then the empty terraces, the tables covered in rain puddles, sad, longing for sunshine and people sitting behind them, and I finally reach the entrance door. It’s open!

I sit down and order a green tea. It turns out to be very strong and a lot less enjoyable than I have anticipated. Nonetheless, finally sitting down, resting, in the quiet (only three tables are occupied!), reading and writing my travel diary, the green leaves perk me up and the tiredness manages to leave me alone for a while.

At 5 o’clock, I leave the café and go to the 10th floor of B’s building for a quick tour around her office. From now on, I will always be able to picture her at her desk, where R sits, where her boss’s room is and where her other colleagues are in the room compared to where she is. I am starting to know a bit more about my friend’s life and it feels nice and cosy.

We drive back home in yet more rain – the Monegasques panic at the first drop, and the traffic is at a standstill near enough immediately – and sit down to a long-awaited cup of tea. Toes to toes, we are facing each other on the sofa and finally catch up. The last time we were able to talk for uninterrupted hours was in August 2002, before B jetted off around the world on a cruiseship, with R in the top offices of the kitchens, a welcome kind of déjà vu (this is how and where they had met 5 years before). Now we’re making up for lost time and it feels wonderful.


I hesitated a little before I included this picture in my post. The view is most atypical. Probably because I'm not supposed to do too much, it's raining (you understand – if the sun was shining, I would be walking everywhere and exhausted for the rest of my stay here). It was 17 degrees on Monday and bright sunshine. Today: 13, low clouds, rain. The sea was ink-black yesterday afternoon. I had never seen it this colour before, in the 50-odd times I saw it in my life. This morning, it is light grey, reflecting the sorry colour of the sky. In fact, I’ve just looked up again and I can no longer distinguish the sea from the sky (you can just about on the picture). The earth is at one with the heavens. And it’s still raining...

After reading my book in bed and listening to B’s music on her iPod station, relaxing, musing, I thought some more about my trip yesterday.

‘Hey everybody, this is the land of my childhood holidays!’ I wanted to shout to all the passengers when we started descending. ‘Hey, listen all! I know this area so well! You’ll see, when we get closer to the airport, suddenly we’ll go out towards the sea and the view will be breathtaking! It’s my favourite part of the trip! The beautiful Med!’

I shed a few tears, overcome by emotion. I hadn’t flown to this part of France for nearly four years...

However, to my astonishment, we arrived at a strange angle, and so instead of circling wide towards the sea just before we could see the landing strip, it was as if we were heading straight for the north of Africa, passing the south coast of France on our way to, dare I say, more beautiful, certainly more exotic, landscapes. For a long time, all we could see was the blue of the sea (along with some jellyfish, if you had the imagination of the brats at the back of the plane) and the white of the boats bobbing seemingly gently below us. Then suddenly, mountain peaks appeared, white as coconut ice cream, their edges rugged, grey, raw. I had never seen the Alps while hovering above the sea. The best of both worlds right here, one below me, one ahead of me, nearly reconcilable. I was mesmerised. Apparently, we went as far as Menton and Monaco, then we started flying lower and back towards where we should have headed in the first place – Nice airport – going along the coast. We passed Cap Ferrat – so distinctly a cape when you’re flying above it! – the port of Villefranche, the Promenade des Anglais, and finally the strip of land where the plane could be put down, after a two-hour journey. Within minutes, we were at our gate, disembarked, and five minutes later my suitcase was rightfully mine again. B’s partner, R, arrived as I was busy looking at Stelios and the man next to him, both being welcomed by a handsome French man, and all was well in the world. I had made it safely to the land of my childhood holidays. My present holiday could start!

Ironically, an English voice on Riviera Radio was the first sound I heard when I got to R and B’s flat. ‘What is this? I’ve come to France and I hear an English voice on the radio?!’

‘Ah! This is Riviera Radio, for all the Brits who’ve settled in the area.’


But indeed, the ads are all about buying and renting flats and houses, with a splendid 360-degree view of the Med, a huge balcony and two or three bedrooms, of course at an exorbitant price. For a minute during our scenic drive from the airport to Beausoleil, I imagined myself living out here, but now I understood why B and R hate the whole Monaco experience. The glamour is only superficial (though the wealth of the people is quite real). It is a million light years away from my life and what I like in Life...


At first, it felt a little like being in a farm, stuck with herds of strangers. I just wasn't reassured. It all felt cheap and cheery and 'what does it matter if we crash and you die?' An old Indian woman next to me in the queue about to board the plane had told me, just ten minutes before, that Stelios Haji-Ioannou, the founder of EasyJet, was going to be on the plane with us – she had seen him hanging around. I suddenly remembered this interesting information and told myself that surely if the boss is going to be on board, they will have triple-checked everything and so we would be fine. In any case, my lucky star is always there with me. Nothing to worry about. I have never had any problems travelling, it wasn't going to start happening today.

The first flight of my life was when I was six months old, ironically to Nice, just like today (though, of course, from Paris, not London, and [perhaps shockingly] in the care of an air hostess – not because my mum was one, not because I was an orphan or in foster care – no, simply because those were the times when you could entrust your infant with a hostess to deliver her to her grandparents at the other end of the country, which thus freed you to set off on your own travels, whether it be India or Senegal or any country in between). So yes, I was practically born on a plane. I'm used to flying. I must have flown more than 100 times in the thirty-one years I've been using this means of transport. It's just that, this afternoon, I didn't like the feel of the whole experience.

Now that I've read a few pages of my book (Alias Grace) and an article about Petite Anglaise (alias Catherine Sanderson) in the Daily Telegraph, and chatted a little to my neighbours (thankfully, by some sort of miracle, there was a seat towards the front of the plane and I didn’t have to sit down right in the middle of the twenty-strong group of secondary school students, acting like brats), I feel a bit more settled. It's not the nice, relaxing, quiet atmosphere of a British Airways plane, but for 56 pounds, it will do I suppose. I'd like to snooze for a while, but I don't seem to be tired enough.

People keep buying stuff – mini pizzas, red wine, bottles of water, scratch cards, tea, chocolate bars, lip gloss, collagen eye masks... You wonder why they bother getting cheap flight tickets to then buy lots of expensive extra things they don't need. I, for one, made my own salad last night and, along with a yoghurt, a banana, an apple and plastic fork and spoon, stuffed it in my already-bulging travel bag. Admittedly, I did buy a small Toblerone bar and a packet of Polos when I arrived at the airport, for a grand total of £1.42. Reasonable, wouldn't you say? Go low-cost airlines! At least, thanks to the likes of Stelios, we have a choice: fly as cheaply as is possible, then spend, or not, extortionate amounts on tat. Oh and it's quite safe – I arrived unscathed in the land of my childhood holidays, in and around Nice. I am ready to start my pilgrimage proper.

28 February 2008


I have aged at lightning speed this past year. I can’t believe it. That’s it, you hit 30, and your skin starts showing blemishes faster than multiplying cancer cells, your memory fails you 30 times a day, you can’t go out without make-up, your eyes have more lines than an A4 sheet of ruled paper, you find your first grey hair and pull at it like an insane woman, and you have to avoid any kind of slanting light in the vicinity of your thighs, lest it should show your by now very obvious cellulite? No no no, I am not OK with this. Not at all.

I guess it’s the same for everyone, but I thought that I would ‘last’ a lot longer. I thought I would be young for many more years. Best of all, I thought I wouldn’t notice my ageing. I thought I would just wake up one day at about 40 and think ‘Oh, dear, I’ve got a line here, oh well’ and then not think about it and not notice anything else for 10 years or so.

Well, this is not the case. And I’m in shock. Perhaps hypothyroidism isn’t helping. I look like death warmed up most days, and if I do put make-up on, I look like circus warmed-up death, complete with white-ish mask and doll-pink cheeks. Perhaps I need make-up lessons, but I suspect the trouble lies deeper.

In any case, I am not best pleased with my appearance lately and so You: Looking Young by Roizen and Oz is very welcome. It is also meant to help me deal with hypothyroidism (or whatever else it might be, e.g. ME) more effectively. All sorts of tips to feel better, not just younger for longer. On my road to recovery, I also started yoga classes three weeks ago, and I’m feeling better already. It will all help to restore my health and my confidence in life. Maybe we’ll even finally manage to create a new life... (it is not impossible that the ‘delay’ in that department is due to my thyroid problems – any tips welcome, since patience and perseverance still haven’t paid off).

16 February 2008

Exhausted and priorities

I have hypothyroidism. A.k.a. ‘an underactive thyroid’. It developed during our six-week stay in the US and now, despite the fact that I’m on thyroxine, I’m not better. In fact, I was worse until yesterday. I had to go back home early on Wednesday, couldn’t go to work on Thursday and couldn’t even work from home.

I know it’s a blessing in disguise. I know that this is happening for a very good reason. To make me think, perhaps. To make me take a pause in my life and reflect on it. Or just to let me see that if I do too much, or even just try to do too much, then my body will let me know. It’s keeping me in check. So I must stop striving to do so many things all the time, in my life in general, but also daily. That’s the general message. Loud and clear.

Ironically, on Thursday and Friday, during my self-imposed rest, all I could think about was writing. Writing writing writing. I was exhausted, I couldn’t function, I could barely get out of bed let alone walk, but all the while, one thought persisted in my head: W-R-I-T-I-N-G. I even got a new idea. It’s based on the same idea I’ve had for ages, but now the concept has evolved and I’m going to build a completely wild story. A real departure from what I’ve done so far, with that idea and with all the others.

It might take me 30 years, but I will write that story. I keep going back to this idea – there must be something in it...

So, in brief, despite my most definite commitment, back in October, to stop writing and stop thinking about potential stories, and to simply be happy, every day (it was clear that thinking about writing but not writing was making me miserable), this hypothyroidism is awakening my sense of priority again and so, despite this October decision, I now realise that I really must write, simply because it is still my passion. It is still the thing I go back to, no matter what happens in my life. It’s inexplicable. It is unfathomable. Tomorrow, I might decide, again, that I’m really not cut out to be a writer, that I REALLY must quit trying, but today (and often recently), as so many times in the past 20 years, I feel the irresistible quality of my desire to write.

The other day, I realised with great clarity that what I need to do is change my approach. That’s all I need to do. I can carry on thinking about writing, I can carry on writing, but what I need to do is incorporate it into my daily life, as I do with everything else – brushing my teeth, taking a shower, doing a bit of gardening (weather permitting), working, doing a few yoga poses, going for a 30-minute walk or bike ride. The way I do all these things every day (or most days for some of them), I need to do just that with my writing: a few sentences at a time. Because even if it’s just a few sentences, it’s still a lot more than I’ve been doing in the past few months. Years. And that’s what I want to achieve – build a story over time, not forcing myself to write it all in one go, in one year, day in, day out, three hours a day, as I’ve been trying (well, dreaming of trying to do!). If I do it this way, making this HUGE decision one day For The Rest Of My Life, there is too much pressure to do it, finish it, polish it and do it perfectly, and so I despair too quickly (because of course nothing is perfect straight away – or ever?). Whereas (I think, I hope) if I just write a few sentences each day, on my PDA or my computer, with no pressure at all, as things come to my mind, just scribbling, the way a visual artist might doodle in her notebook, then I won’t have enough to despise and despair about. These will only be a few words.

I think that, overall, this will practically require me to ignore the fact that I’m writing. I’ll have to see it as typing up words rather than as coming up with a story. I will have to stop myself from thinking about it as writing.

Of course, this doesn’t preclude me from becoming all horrified and in total desolation and hopelessness when I come to edit the damn story (the hardest bit, I know that already), but I will try not to think about this part of the process until it actually needs to be done (simply because I may never even get there!).

At least, maybe this story will still interest me in a year’s time, in 10 years’ time, even. Maybe with this one, I can stay the distance.