31 Aug 2012

Packing for Paris

packingThe horrible thing you have to do before going on holiday when you’re forced to pick and choose which items to take with you.  Except I’m not really going on holiday….I’m going to live there.  I even bought myself a smart grey blazer because apparently Parisians dress “chic”; I was under the impression that my beloved St.Trinians-esque snakeskin blazer with its neon pink Paul’s Boutique logo and skull buttons was not classy enough.  Especially since I’m not a schoolgirl anymore.

So yes, I now have to pack a large chunk of my life into two suitcases.  Easier said than done.  The contents of my wardrobe and chest of drawers are lying sprawled across my bed in randomly coordinated heaps which will later be squished and re-folded to fit within the confines of my bags.  I’m making sure my Mother is nowhere in sight because I know that said heaps will rapidly deteriorate, along with comments such as “do you really need 5 belts?” and “I don’t think they wear hoodies in Paris”.  Needless to say, I’m packing hoodies….for those days when I’ve got nothing better to do than curl up in my duvet eating Marmite on toast watching Desperate Housewives reruns on my laptop.  It’s good to be in touch with your fabulously British side in an European city…

Today is going to get increasingly stressful.  I basically need to photocopy my life: my passport, birth certificate, driving license, European health card, bank card…might as well go ahead and start scanning my face onto sheets of paper.  Just for shiggles.

beretI should also at some point acquire a Paris A-Z (if that’s even the done thing?)…just so I know what I’m doing and where I’m going.  I’ve been pretty good at taking my London A-Z around with me (I’m trying this new thing called “efficiency”) but it’s about 50 years out of date, and still doesn’t help my sense of direction.  But I’ve been warned that Parisians can often be rude (no offence) and unwilling to help a fellow homo sapiens in need.  So a map of the city might be my best bet.  I’m just hoping God will plant a few Good Samaritans along my travels to point me in the right direction.

Has anyone seen my beret?
Watch this space.


27 Aug 2012


EurostarI’m leaving for Paris in under a week.  It’s actually happening.  The Eurostar has been booked and I’m £112 worse for wear (that’s what you get for booking only a week in advance!).  Nevertheless, I am well on my way to immersing myself in France’s capital city.  Ooooh la la.

I’ll be living in an apartment within the 6th arrondissement in a place called St. Germain-des-Près, just south of the River Seine.  My internship is at the International Herald Tribune (IHT) and they have offices in the western Parisian suburbs near La Defénse which is the last stop on the metro line.  #trek.   This is where I’ll be spending my week days from 3rd September until 2nd March, in an effervescing News Room bursting with Americans, Brits….possibly a few frogs but I’m not yet certain.  I’m not exactly sure which language I’ll be speaking at work either; after all, the IHT is the international version of the New York Times, and it’s written entirely in English.  As long as they don’t “zedify” every word, I’m fine with that; no way am I returning to Exeter having spent the year writing tantalize and specialize.  

With a generous expenses allowance of *€?/month from the IHT, a monthly Erasmus grant from the government and an accommodation cost of only ?/month, I’m expecting to have a remaining ? each month to fill the gaps.  So that’s essentially ?/week to fill the fridge, hop on the metro, purchase a caffeinated beverage every morning and take up salsa dancing.  Or join a pottery class.   Or something equally artistic.  But given the current shoddy-ness of the euro, the extortionate prices in Paris, and my inability to budget, this will probably only be just enough.  And who knows…maybe if I actually make any friends I might be persuaded to sneak out for an expensive weekend glass of scotch.  Or is that too British?

international herald tribune mag It’ll be a bit of a shock to the system working 40 hours a week when I’m used to having only 8 contact hours at uni, but I’m sure I’ll be tucked up in bed by 10.30pm most nights and the weekends will finally be a luxury.  I never really understood the benefits of weekends at uni because most of my time spent at Exeter felt like an on-going holiday with a few lectures and seminars floating around like anomalies.  (Bar exam season and the two days leading up to essay deadlines).  But given that I had about four essays a year, this again was an anomaly in the equation.  I know that students working abroad for the British Council this year get €800/month for teaching French kids 12 hrs/week of English, but I’m quite excited about buckling down and going to work with a flashy briefcase filled with A4 sheets of paper - even if I have doodled over all of them.  There’s just something about A4 paper which makes it sound important; it definitely means business.  I’m currently envisaging that 40 hours/week sitting in a news room with my eyes attached to a computer screen will somehow prepare me for my future stint in employment.  That is of course until I meet The One and have his babies and strive to be No. 1 Mummy while my husband brings home the pennies as tradition dictates and I go on weekly shops to Waitrose to buy lamb cutlets and spinach leaves.  The university days of beans on toast and instant noodles cannot be repeated.  Once my own children have all grown up I’ll then probably take up a job working with primary school children a few hours a week because I feel like I have to do something with my life.  Or I’ll volunteer in a soup kitchen.  Oh, the endless possibilities involved in cynicism…..

So there you have it.  I’m almost ready to embark on this new adventure.  Just need to get insurance (no biggy), pack and proceed to lug my life over to Paris unaided (that’ll be about 10 suitcases) and attempt to pronounce the name of the road I’m living on to the taxi driver in my best French accent.  Eh bien!

Watch this space.


*I'm avoiding giving exact figures in case someone attempts to stalk and then rob me.

15 Aug 2012


No offenceMy Dad thinks I should get the world saying “NOB” - the shorter and catchier version of “No offence, but…”  He used to take the piss out of me all the time because I’d spend my life saying the phrase.  I’ve since learnt that saying “No offence” before you say something offensive doesn’t really stop it from being offensive.  In fact, it highlights the fact that you’re knowingly saying something highly offensive.  Kind of awkward in that respect.  But I seemed to be so addicted to the expression that I’d use it 24/7, even when I wasn’t saying something offensive.  “No offence but I think this road is quite narrow”; “no offence but these shoes don’t fit me”; “no offence but I think I’m shorter than you”.  I suppose that’s better than “no offence but I think you’re a bitch”.  I guess I was just overly polite at times...

Tonight we had chicken drumsticks for dinner which my Dad doesn’t like...because he’s American.  The Americans like breast.  Doesn’t matter how much it’s been processed, modified, regurgitated… they just can’t be dealing with bones (life’s too short/they're lazy etc.)  My Mum consequently deboned his chicken drumsticks (sounds like an euphemism but I assure you it isn’t), but sadly my Dad still found a bone in his meal which he believed to be a “chicken knuckle” which would be funny/relevant…if we were eating chicken fists.  He then rephrased, explaining how it actually looked like a chicken testicle.  If human ones are anything to go by, I sure as hell don’t think it was a testicle…thank God for those Bio classes is all I'm sayin'.

le chickenWe then got onto the subject of chicken veins when my Dad decided that he’d found a suspicious edifice within his meal which he believed to be (and I quote) “an octopus”.  I said it was probably an artery.  He squirmed.  NOB, get over it.   

Sheesh…I hope this word becomes an Internet sensation.  I said NOB to my sister earlier and she ran off crying...maybe need to test the waters a little more before I start nobbing around.

Watch this space.


13 Aug 2012

Totes adorbs

Our generation seems rather too keen on shortening words.  And I’m defs a culprit.  I’d like to blame it on texting, BBMing and MSN (although tbh, MSN is totes last year). We seem to have become lazier and lazier about those extra few letters on the end of a word which could cost us a few more seconds worth of typing – seconds we’d rather spend watching quality TV or facebook stalking.  And I mean quality.  I suppose text slang and phrases akin to LOL are acceptable in their appropriate contexts, but it seems that LOL, ROFL and TBH are creeping into everyday chat, debasing conversation and destroying essential grammar principles.  No-one now knows (#alliteration) the difference between your and you’re because it’s been replaced with “ur”.  Although, I’d rather “ur amazing” than “your amazing” – there’s obvs a difference between poor grammar and cutting the ends off words.  “Blates amaze” and “totes brills” substitute “that was absolutely fantastic” and nagging parents get pissy when their children adopt this form of literacy which is incomprehensible in their eyes.

Twitter  By Twitter, Inc.  #iphone #twitterAnd then you bombard them with made-up words which just roll off the tongue because for some reason they just work.  “The DJ last night was totes amazeballs.”  The origin of this word is a little flaky, but I assure you it’s a real word….at least, I repeatedly hear it uttered from the lips of teenagers and young adults who spend far too much of their time watching Skins.  I also find myself adding the word “age” onto everything: “Cooliage”, “awesomeage”, “wowage”.  This new gap filler vilifies the English language with its sarcy overtones – see, I can’t even say the word sarcastic now without removing two syllables and adding a y.  And then instead of “I’m going to the beach”, there’s a temptation to turn beach into a verb: “I’m beaching it this afternoon”.  Facebook too has turned into a verb, along with MSN and BBM because we consistently need to find a verb counterpart to describe the action of using them.  Although I do congratulate Twitter on “tweeting” – “twittering” would be a bit of a mouthful.  Forget about freedom of speech and the individual voice – we are in fact creating a new, superimposed language to complement our lives which are so critically linked to technology, speed and functionality.

I just read that Collins Dictionary are currently hosting a competition where they give out daily prizes to individuals who come up with new words for their ever-increasing database.  If successful, your word gets published on collinsdictionary.com and hey presto, you’re practically famous.  Dialogue today is essentially a combination of different British dialects to reflect new ideas, feelings or thoughts stemming from an inherent desire to pioneer how we view and relate to things around us.

If we’re this bad in England, I only dread to think what it’ll be like in Paris! 

Watch this space.


4 Aug 2012

Where you going? Barcelona!

A week ago I went to visit my friend in Costa Brava, Spain and we took on Barcelona for the day.  Forget about tourist buses, Barcelona FC and La Sagrada Familia - we decided instead to treat ourselves to the city's hidden luxuries.  110 euros seemed to disappear from my pocket without a word of warning...and without the aid of any thieves either.  The day began with a two hour coach ride into the city at 8.30am after only five hours sleep (the cava and mojitos from the previous night were beginning to haunt us and we were feeling slightly zombified). 

First off, breakfast.  We're talking freshly squeezed orange juice, freshly baked croissants and dashing waiters who call you "guapa" (beautiful). While I was hoping for a string quartet playing on the roadside or even just a talented harmonica player to drown out the beeping horns of yellow cabs, all we got was a loopy Spanish woman singing in dubious English into a megaphone, trying to scrounge money off the tourists as she serenaded them.  I was tempted to pay her just to shut up.

We then waltzed in and out of shops on the high street, flicking through the sale racks and averting our eyes from the hideously expensive dresses and shoes we only wished we could afford.  While trying on clothes I soon came across the depressing realisation that in Spain (unlike in the UK), I'm actually a size medium, not a small...I think I'll start trading my morning croissant for some ice wrapped in cucumber and a cube of cheese for lunch.

We then arrived at the Hotel 1898 (nothing short of deluxe), christened right there on Barcelona's most famous street: Las Ramblas.  The elevator seemed to ascend seven floors up to the roof-top with not so much as a lurch or rattle.  The magnificent view of the city was accessorised by our six euro glasses of mid-day cava with their bright red strawberries which clipped the horizon in a stunning array.  We looked out towards Barcelona's world-trade centre, their very own "Gerkin" and the Olympic village which put the city on the map in 1992.  With the sun shining, the parasol blowing gently in the breeze and my fingers wrapped around a chilled glass of cava, I felt every inch the star.

We then walked down Las Ramblas - lined with street performers, florists and artists showcasing their celebrity paintings - getting closer and closer to the gigantic statue of Columbus with his finger pointing towards the Americas.  Tourists were grouped en masse around the central monument with their upside down maps and quizzical expressions.  We then hailed a taxi and continued our journey in ultimate style, cooling ourselves with hand-fans on our way to the W hotel.  W, for wonderful, overWhelming...as we waltzed in through the doors and were greeted by the staff I couldn't help but feel like I'd entered a parallel universe.  The room rates range from 250 euros a night for the "Wonderful room" to 11,000 euros for the "Extreme wow suite".  You know you're in the right company when someone from the latter invites you to wine and dine with them one evening...

While I wanted so much to fit into my surroundings, I couldn't help but feel slightly like a cartoon character in a period drama.  But with our heads held high and our expectations grand, we paced along the marble floor towards the Salt Restaurant, cradled below a gorgeous cream canopy.  My friend's mum had called up the restaurant to book us a table for a 3 o'clock lunch and explained how we were journalists so we needed the best table in the restaurant.  On arrival, the manager greeted us and showed  us to a table with an oh-so-chic charcoal grey sofa, overlooking the entire restaurant with a stunning view of the Mediterranean beach (marred slightly by the topless brunette hosing herself down beneath one of the beach's fresh water showers.)  However, this seemed to greatly please the group of Dutch men eating beside us who spent more time drooling into the bread basket than eating its contents.  

We pretended to discuss an article we were writing for our various newspapers, our back stories perfected with a fine tooth comb.  I was supposedly writing for the International Herald Tribune - the food section, all the way from Paris.  A month too early perhaps, but it made our charade all the more exciting.  The only thing lacking was a pen to scrawl down our thoughts on the corner of a napkin.  #vintage.  We were beginning to take ourselves too seriously as we held our menus with intrigue, trying not to order the cheapest dishes (we didn't want to be mistaken for phonies.)  I went for the yellow gazpacho, followed by a tuna steak with saffron risotto.  All I'm saying is, when someone puts a purple flower in your soup, you know you're special.

The cocktail menu was staggeringly expensive so instead we decided to share a twenty four euro bottle of cava which took us two and a half hours to demolish. The aspiring journalist within us described the restaurant ostentatiously as we tried to exude an unique level of intelligence.  But we had to be careful - the waiters all had a fine grasp of English.  In our amusement, we decided to create a back story not only for ourselves, but also for the waiters serving us.  The manager of the restaurant who was dressed in a smart suit was about thirty years old.  We had this awful premonition that despite his manly good looks, good dress sense and devilish charm, he was in fact a sex addict.  One of those men who you can't help but fancy, fall deeply and passionately in love with, idolise to the extreme...but who is secretly a misogynistic bastard  that sleeps around with the entire female population.  Our fun and games were definitely at his expense.  But it made the cava taste just that little bit better.

Finally, after a meager tip of two euros (we'd already spent forty each on the meal), we headed towards the beach.  The view was sensational.  Every inch of sand seemed to be taken up by white-breasted women and men clad in man-thongs.  The sand was silky, perforating our skin with a creamy coating of dust.  We overheard the conversation between two Hispanic teens playing volleyball, discussing their latest conquests.  As I basked under the sun, covered in lashings of factor 30 outside a hotel which boasts the company of Madonna, I felt totally in Vogue.

Watch this space.