Sunday, August 28, 2011

Lectrice positions

If you're an anglophone who wants to live the dream of being in France for a year or two, and if you want to earn a bit more money than you would working as a lowly English assistant, but with the same general lack of actual work, why not become a lectrice? A lectrice (or lecteur, for the guys) is essentially a language assistant for a university. Most universities will hire more than one, so if you play yours cards right, you're in with a shot. You don't necessarily have to speak much French at all to get by, and in fact many places seem to prefer a lower language ability as it reduces your chances of talking to students in French. By the time November came around, I, for example, was so fed up of repeating ''WHAT....DID....YOU....DO.....THIS....WEEKEND?'' to a class of gaping 22 year-olds, so resorted to simply speaking their own language.

The Pros of working as a lectrice:
  • Unlike the assistantship gig, you will definitely be in a city or a large town, removing that "congratulations, you've been placed in village X, population of 17!" moment
  • Salary around 1200 euros a month
  • Around 10 hours work a week 
  • Paid holidays: October, Christmas, February, Easter, countless other Catholic saint days and France's many bank holidays, and (the biggest seller of all): paid summer holiday
  • Renewable contract: you can stay for two years
The Cons of working as a lectrice:
  • The students 
  • I joke. Sort of.
  • More responsibility than an assistant. In other words, playing hangman for 11 weeks running isn't going to wash. Although I did try.
  • Meetings (some universities won't expect you to attend, others will)
  • Extra-curricular stuff. As an assistant, you go in, take your classes, you leave. As a lectrice, you have to mark exams, supervise exams, hold oral exams, possibly organize trips away and hold weekly English nights. You get the drift.
  • It may just have been the particular university I was at, but I found the experience of teaching university students incredibly boring. French students are definitely not as mature as their anglophone counterparts, possibly as a result of staying in their home town for university, and worse, living at home for the duration of their studies. Instead of having interesting conversations and getting a reaction out of bright, inspired, anglophile kids, it was like being in a room full of 17 year-olds, when many of them were, in fact, my own age. And it was definitely not my choice of topic. I did political music (Bob Dylan, Lennon, Billie Holiday), This Is England and the skinhead movement, Banksy, reggae...nothing. Give me a class of unruly 13 year-olds who are still completely dazzled by the mere concept of a foreign language any day.
How to get a lectrice job:
By and large, I have to say it is a generally positive experience, can be enriching, and makes good financial sense.
  • If you're a final year student in the UK and you study French, your university probably has links with one or two French universities, in which case around March/April-ish you will be informed that your university is holding interviews. If you pass the interview, you get sent to work at a French university. Simple.
  • If you're not British, or if you are but don't study French, or if you DO study French but want more options, you have to go down the good old fashioned application route. I was waiting to hear back from my home uni as to whether or not I'd gotten the job, so decided to do my own applying in the mean time. I sent off approximately 40 lectrice applications, and got 3 offers (1 from the home university, 2 off the basis of my application). 
  • First thing to do - remember that France has a whole fucked up education system I don't even want to begin delving into. But basically, you have the universites, the ecoles, the instituts...we're all internet-literate here, I don't need to guide you through a Google search. Make your searching as thorough as possible. Personally, I only bothered with the universities, because I thought it would serve me better to work within an actual arts and languages department. 
  • Where are you sending your application? Go through the list of French universities, each time finding the postal address for their English department (sometimes listed as their 'anglophone' department, or other variations). Some people will tell you emailing your CV and cover letter is  fine. Well, yes except that sometimes in France, they don't like applications to be sent by email. Some of them even want a handwritten cover letter, for Christ sake. So play it safe: post it. If that means hand addressing and posting 40 A4 envelopes, then so be it. Yes, an email might be fine, but maybe the person recruiting is of the email-hating persuasion. I don't neccessarily agree with it, but I can understand where they're coming from, in terms of effort. It takes no effort whatsoever to sit on your fat ass slurping a chocolate milkshake with your right hand and repeating 'Ctrl A, Ctrl C, Ctrl V - send' over and over again with your left. To actually get up, research an address, print stuff out, put it in an envelope, skip down to your local post office: it shows a bit more 'I'm really into this'. So I would say - using the French uni websites, find the postal addresses, and send your applications.
  • The university websites might actually visibly advertise vacant lectrice positions on the department page. Otherwise, keep checking back on the assistants in france forum

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Giving to the homeless and taking from the landlords

In the early hours of the morning, I was awoken by horrendous thunder and lightening. It was about 4am, I sat up and watched: truly amazing. The sky was being lit up for seconds at a time, a greenish-yellow: like being in a fantasy world, on another planet with different light. I really, really wish it happened more often.

So. My room stretches out in front of me: a blank canvas, a bleak tundra of space. The clutter by the mirror - decluttered. The mothballs in the corners: exterminated. The sad, pathetic little rags that used to hang from the ceiling in an attempt to create a wall seperating my room from the front door: gone.

Let me cut a long and boring story short. As you know, I'm going to Strasbourg in 3 days. My (American) flatmate, has found someone to replace, if not my dazzling personality and abundance of charisma, then at least my physical presence in the flat. An Australian assistant. Which she has explained to our WWII-obsessed landlords.

Anyway, at 4pm, my flatmate goes out, I sit on the window ledge simultaneously gobbling down a roll-up and ripping layers of skin off from around my thumbs, and then the landlords arrive. They struggle up the stairs, I usher them in, and try as best as I can to get the ball rolling. "So, what paper do I need to sign?" I bleat, over and over again. But no - they want to speak to 'Mademoiselle' (my flatmate) about the 'situation'. What bloody situation? I'm leaving, she's getting a new roommate in October. You get me blud? But no, they insist I ring Mademoiselle up and say in a fake, breezy voice 'Hiya! Could you just come back round for a minute? They want to speak to you', hoping the flatmate senses the fed-upness.

In the mean time, back down we hobble, to read the water and electricity meters, Monsieur striding along, getting things done, with Madame screeching "Mais Michel! Miiichel! Tu as bien vu, hein? Tu as bien noté?" Back up we go, in comes the flatmate, and here's where the mind-boggling nightmareish nature of the whole thing began. Madame unravelled an ancient contract, written in the gently looping italic hand of an 18th century bard. And she begins to read it out loud, over...and over....and over, again. " 'Mademoiselle is reponsible for the full amount of rent' understand, hein, Mademoiselle? You are responsible, yes? You are responsible for the full amount! Where was I....yes, so. Mademoiselle is responsible for the full amount of rent." Jesus Christ, woman! She made a few notes, and then, finally, it was over. Except: "Michel," Madame began, "We should re-read this, and rewrite it out, now." Oh God please, please, show some mercy, do not make me sit here discussing the war whilst Monsieur's shaky hand embarks on the lengthy process of transcribing this...MANUSCRIPT.

Luckily I had the bright idea of whipping out my mini computer, seeing their eyes widen as I flippantly suggest I type it out. A scuffle ensued, when I reached over to take the contract, but Madame's iron claw clutched it ever tighter. She seemed to be suggesting she read, and I type. Well, I'll be fucked if I sit there whilst she re-reads paragraph 47 over and over again, changing her mind as we go along. I won, but not before she managed to belittle me by insinuating I can't count.

Here's a list of things old people are good at:
  • Darning socks
  • Making victoria sponges without using a recipe
  • Plucking chickens, and generally dealing with animal to plate processes
  • Mending things
  • Being casually racist
  • Counting in their heads
She was trying to force us to subtract the original water meter count by the new one. "Just simply subtract 2167 from 3694!!!" she chuckled. My flatmate and I looked at each other, and 'get your phone out' I muttered under my breath. "Are you not capable of doing that in your head?" she snorted, obviously appalled by the fact that I was still breathing without being able to do this. She looked at her husband, absolutely gob-smacked. "Well, to tell you the truth: no, I'm not", I felt like retorting. "I might, if you weren't staring right at me, watching every tremble of the pen's nib. But right now, I'm not capable." Also - can she roll a cigarette when walking up a hill in rain and a gale? Didn't think so.

So anyway, I typed out the contract, keeping one ear on Monsieur's story of fighting 'the Krauts', and how brave the American soldiers were, and how noble the English, and how this one time an American gave him a clementine and a walnut, and how this one time, the Americans got caught in a storm near Val, and a tree fell on their tank and crushed them to death. I chortled away. SHIT. You know that moment where you're not really following, and then the other person's like: "It died, Hannah. The dog died. Of cancer." and you feel awful? In all fairness though, don't ask me to type out your wordy, cursive French contract AND expect me to follow 'The Empire of the Sun: The French Version' too!

Sorry, got a bit carried away there. So I got my deposit back, and all is well. Just earlier I was sitting outside Dog Shit Park, when I saw a homeless man huddled in the doorway of the church. I was wondering what he could have done the other night, when the massive storm was on. Where did he go? Then it occurred to me: I'm moving and have stuff I won't be taking with me, which he might like. Here's some of the stuff I have for him:
  • Some raclette cheese
  • Some tomatoes
  • Some turkish delight
  • A scarf
  • Two long sausage shaped cushions
  • Some lemon squash (obviously will fill it up with water too)
  • Will buy him some bread to go with it, maybe some fruit too
I hope he isn't offended, or worse, just doesn't want it. That would be a bit tragic. I hope he's still there tomorrow, too. I took my books to this local bookshop that had a sign in the window saying "we buy your old books. Ask inside for pricing". I had about 20-odd books. Went inside, and the owner, this dirty man with a fag hanging out his mouth, curled his lip at me and turned away.
"Umm - hello?", I said, "I've got some books to sell."
He sighed and dragged himself over.
"Ah bon?" He rummaged half-heartedly through the bag. "Thing is, I haven't got any room for them." I looked around me - surely he could make room?
"So you won't buy them, then", I said. 
"Well, no."
"O....kay," I thought for a moment, "Well in that case, I'll just give them to you."
"Pfff", he scratched his head impatiently, "well, you know. I haven't got room."
"Okay, fine, I'll give them to the library." I picked up the bag.
"The library won't take them. They haven't got room."
For fucks sake, honestly. What sort of warped capitalist bullshit society do we live in, where you go to a BOOKshop, stick a bag of FREE BOOKS in the guy's face, and he actually has too much? Let's just hope the homeless guy isn't going to be all "you're alright mate, actually. Got some raclette cheese in just last week, it'll do me a good while yet. Cheers for the offer though."

P.S.: Might be a bit AWOL in the next few days as my big move is coming up. Hope everyone is well xx

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Lavender, fringes, cigarettes, where the hell am I going to be living next week?

This morning I woke up and decided to stop smoking. It lasted about an hour and a half, and I was surprised by the grit and determination I felt billowing out from inside me. I will stop smoking. I will become one of those rosy-cheeked, healthy, wholegrain girls who sits there calmly, watching those pathetic smokers cobble together their anemic roll-ups, and think to myself "God, I'm glad I'm not an addict. I'm glad my lungs are like pink marshmallows." But then, I started thinking about the harsh realities of giving up, and it frightened me. Still, I have a very thorough knowledge of the electronic cigarette industry now, and I think on that terrible day when I do have to give up (perhaps if ever I conceive a child, or when the doctor tells me I have the beginning of some kind of awful smoking-related disease, or when the social pressure to stop becomes too unbearable), then electronic cigarettes will be the way forward for me.

In other devestatingly exciting news: I cut my own fringe. Goodbye trips to the hairdresser, hello preserved bank account and dignity. I don't want to shell out for a few millimetres of hair, nor do I want to sit in a chair staring at my own face under harsh lighting, revealing every fine line and clogged pore, whilst two hot 16 year-olds in black catsuits grab handfuls of my hair, screeching "What is this? What *is* this? Do you use conditioner? Do you know what that is?". Surprisingly easy to do, cutting your own fringe, once you get past the idea that with just one small movement, you could gouge your own eye out. It's like when you're looking over a bridge, and think to yourself: "What if my brain suddenly rebels, and I throw myself off, without wanting to?". I went to the Aran Islands a few years ago (wonderful, by the way), and there's this cliff you can look over:

You have to crawl to the very tip, get down on your stomach and hang yourself off the edge, and look at the black waves crashing against these giant rocks, and there is that moment where you're inexplicably drawn to destruction. Same with having scissors near your eyes. Or maybe that's just me.

Anyway, here's a picture of how I did:

So here's something you might want to try, if you're the sort of person who enjoys frivolous, pointless stuff that's pretty (I know I am). Lavender scent bags to put in your wardrobe. Free to make, satisfying, and makes your clothes smell really nice.

The other night, under the cloak of darkness, I embarked on a midnight trip to go lavender harvesting, dragging my flatmate with me. If you live in France, you're never too far from some lavender, even in the gloomier regions. My local lavender patch is situated across a massive congested bridge, on the side of a roundabout. So that's where I headed. The time of day meant I wasn't afraid of the flower police descending on me and arresting me for theft (although let's face it, they let their dogs shit all over the place, so don't tell me taking a few flowers is destructing my community, please), and as such, had the pick of the crop. You'll need to pick a few stalks of the stuff, try and find ones that are plump and laden with flowers (obviously). Pick them off with a fair amount of stalk, you'll need those at the later stage. I also passed by some wild roses and took one for good measure. This is the sort of thing one might have been burned alive for, a few centuries ago. Those poor witches. Murdered, for creating pot pourri.

Next step, be as gentle as possible with them and get them home. Ideally, you should try gathering them at the end of a warm, dry day. I got mine after a thunderstorm. Get two sheets of newspaper, and sandwich the lavender between them, gently pressing to dry. Leave them to dry a little, say for an hour or so.
 For the next part, you'll need an elastic band. Now, I was that annoying kid who used to burst into the classroom ten minutes late, skulk over to my seat, and eyes lowered, flushed, would frantically and pleadingly badger my neighbour for a pen. I never had my books, or my gym kit, or a ruler, much to the irritation of classmates who got sick of bailing me out, and my mother who thought the teachers would assume she was a bad parent. So - if you're anything like me, you won't have an elastic band casually lying around waiting to be used, perhaps in a stationary drawer, or in a special box marked "elastic bands". In which case - use a hairband. Gather the lavender in a bunch, tie it together with the band, and hang it up to dry somewhere darkish for a few days (should be something like 8/9/10 days, I get impatient and call it quits earlier). If you're using rose with it, just leave it to dry up on the newspaper - rose petals dry much quicker anyway.

When your lavender is dry, take it down, let it fall apart (cut up the stalks as well), and put it all in whatever you want to go in your wardrobe (I have a lace bag I made awhile ago, but you can also just cut the toe off a pair of old tights, and use that with a bit of string around to close it - works well!).

In other news, I am now one week away from being allowed to move into the student residence. Two days ago, I contacted good old Yannick (you remember him!), saying "Hello Yannick. It's me again. Now I *really* need to know my address, as aside from actually needing to move in in 7 days time, my landlords here and my bank want a forwarding address. I also need to know how much the rent is, and how to get the keys. I will be staying in a hostel whilst waiting for the room. Thanks for all your help." Almost instantly, I get an email back: "If it makes life easier for you, perhaps I can ask the residence if you can move in a few days early?". My heart leaps: you absolute STAR! I reply saying that would be fantastic, but I understand if not possible. And then....well, then I heard nothing at all, and as I say, it's been 2 days. Yannick, you old prick tease!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Down and out in London and Leeds!

So on the 16th I decided I would hit the road, due to a lethal combination of boredom and self-hatred. Self-hatred may be too strong a word, but let's face it, I've spent the past few months getting paid to not work, and the last exciting thing I did was ordering underwear online. My life was lacking a certain energy. I'd been mulling over the idea of heading back to good old Blighty for awhile now - numerous reasons (the need to see family and friends, the need to get out of a country where sales staff refuse to put change in your hand), so I decided on the sort of last minute trip that fills you with a real sense of purpose, and fills the people you're visiting with a sort of dread ("Oh for fuck's sake, right, okay, so you'll be here tomorrow....right....").

Being, somehow, in a continuous state of borderline poverty, I opted for the glamour and panache of travel by coach. Lille to London with Eurolines takes about 6 hours, so on I hopped, off I hurtled, towards England's drizzly shores. I enjoy travelling by coach because I like the sense of distance covered. I like to look out the windows, read the signs, visualize where I am on the map, watch the landscape change, look at the houses and countryside and the people, and imagine their lives. I chose the seat just behind and across from the driver, and settled in with my pauper's picnic, the paltry remains of salvaged food from my fridge that ''had'' to be eaten: a piece of cheddar, two pears, and a hard, stoic bread roll. Well, guess what people? You don't put pears in with other food, as my grandmother later - and uselessly, at great length - informed me. You know why? Because it TURNS THE REST OF YOUR STUFF TO SHIT. I opened my plastic bag to find a mushy purée of brown pear and sweaty cheese congealed around that trusty old bread roll. Picnic = fucked. I settled back into the chair, and prepared myself for the journey ahead. A peaceful, relaxing, mind-clearing journey. Except not, because in that unique, special way I have, and despite myself, I made friends with the bus driver, who spent the whole 6 hours jabbering away about his views on university fees, the London riots, different parts of London ("Camden? It's full of witches and that!"), DIY techniques ("See, now when I didn't have a shower at my old flat, I just used a hose-pipe and the sink"), places to live ("Amsterdam! Amsterdam is where it's happenin' mate!"). Arriving in London, he then took the coach round the long way, through Lewisham, so that he could point out and stop in front of each and every little shop that had been disturbed during the riots, slowing the bus down and, "Do you see the boarding? Do you see that boarding there? Riot, innit!" over and over again. In all fairness though, when we stopped in Milton Keynes, he bought me a muesli and honey yoghurt pot. Now that's what I call service.

I hung around Victoria waiting for my friend C to get off work. I squatted down by the side of the station rolling a cigarette, and he arrived, dressed smartly, with an umbrella and gold-tipped cigarettes. The thing about C is, we were at uni together but never really hung out very much at all. In fact we probably only every really saw each other 2 or 3 times, and yet we've kept up contact which has always been very easy. He made me a present of a packet of cocktail cigarettes - incredible things, a work of art, to be honest: they come in pastel shades, purple, green, pink, yellow, all mixed up together, in a sumptuous box. I almost felt bad smoking them, like writing on a book, or kicking a little white Persian kitten. We took a bottle of wine to outside the Queen's house, and sat there for awhile, catching up, drinking, checking out the various feats of nature (squirrels, ducks, etc), and then off I went to Oakwood, to meet my friend B. C accompanied me, and so we were on the tube, gawking (at least I was, provincial peasant that I am) at a huge man sat opposite us, his multiple stomachs spread across the seat, his bloated tongue lolling out the side of his mouth, a web of drool vibrating in time to his snores. Ah, London. You get some crazy folk round those parts.

And so I was at B's, which was a fairly bittersweet experience. Unfortunately, the B-ster has fallen upon hard times. A far cry from the glamour and excitement of the London she had dreamed of, she hates her job and is living far out in a neighbourhood that seemed nice enough, but which wasn't perhaps as close as she'd hoped. I felt completely useless in terms of being able to make her feel better: we've all been there, dissatisfied to some extent or another with how our lives are. It's passing moments, and is a dissatisfcation no one but yourself can cure. Hopefully us catching up had some soothing effect, at least that's what I'd like to think. She did say it made her feel much better to see a familiar face, and sometimes that's all you need to start feeling more positive.

After a night on B's sofa, up I got to continue on, further into the wilderness of England, into that dark, dismal, yet strangely soothing land - Yorkshire. Ah, God's Own County, as it has been called - the sweet, vaguely depressing, yet despite that, somehow cheery stuff of my memories. I was off to see my dear old Gran, and Mad Aunty Pip, as she's known in the family. Onto another coach with me, this coach a far cry from the socialist 'life's too short' vibe of the punchy Lille to London crew. This coach was more like a state living under a dictatorship, as we sat there, clutching our Ribena bottles to our chests, cowering under the bellowing of the Yorkshireman dictator who would be driving us up to Leeds. This total knob cheese of a man came to relieve the initial driver, about 45 minutes into our journey. The old driver said "Alright there ladies and gentlemen, there will be a driver swap now if you'd like to get out and stretch your legs. We will be departing in ten minutes". Up we got, off we hobbled, except the doorway was blocked by this huge, towering, beef of a man, who screamed "Where the bloody hell do you think you're going?"..."T-t-the driver...he said....well, he said we could get off for ten minutes, you see". "SIT BACK DOWN!", the new driver roared, "this is a driver swap, not a stop!" Jobsworth!

Anyway, I arrived in Leeds, got on the train to Skipton, populated by it's usual mix of housewives right out of the 70s and weird, chavvy results-of-incest people, and off I stepped, in Skipton, into Gran's car, and away we go, to the fair land of Barnoldswick. Let me tell you something about this area: you should go. Okay, sure, you're bound to get bored, if you stay up in those parts for anything more than, oh, say, a day. But the countryside is truly beautiful. Dark, gentle, wet, OLD. I love it. And I love staying at my gran's. The thing with me and my gran is, we haven't had a particularly smooth relationship in the past. Memories of her chasing me round the house with a broom, calling me the devil child, and I laughing in her face and screeching "you can't catch me though, can you?!" But with time, people mellow, and people become more accepting of each other. She has relaxed a lot these past years, and I'm also not a cheeky, difficult 8 year-old anymore (right?). The thing with Gran is, she's very political, and a feminist. In fact, she said to me in the car, on our way to one of those never-ending shopping trips, "Do you know, I think I would have been very happy to live without a man. Very happy indeed. In fact, if I were of your generation, I don't see that I would have married at all". Fair play Gran! I spent two days there, watching programmes like 'Village SOS', and 'Totnes: discovering life in our towns', eating comfort food, and just enjoying being with her. I wish I could see her more often, I really do. My panic "Holy fuck, what was that, is someone trying to break in?" mode kicked in, but I think it may have something to do with the book I was reading before bed (about a killer who preys on a psychologist's patients, driving them to commit suicide....OMFG!)

Gran, my uncle who lives down the road, and myself all went out for tea at the pub (bangers and mash, bien sur), I struggled with law and order in small village England - two different shops refused to sell me rolling papers. The second one was in a petrol station, and when I was refused since I had no ID on me, I leant on the counter, smirked knowingly at the shop girl, sniggered, rolled my eyes, nodded my head towards Gran who was coming in to pay for the petrol, and said "Well, I'll just have to get my Gran to buy them then, won't I?", to which the girl told me she would then have to refuse my Gran. Uhhhh-----whaaaat? My gran was fuming and I could see she was about to embark on the trusty old war path, so quickly huddled her out. She was even more pissed off than I was. In the end, I old her I'd just have to use her St John's Bible paper to roll, she nearly had a bloody heart attack.

The next morning, my uncle came to pick me up to take me back down to Leeds (which was a wonderful time for a heart-to-heart, and a beautiful morning), to stay with Mad Aunty Pip and Uncle B. These two I love. They're both artists, and therefore live by their own rules, in a way. They're both individuals who reject a lot of the values modern society tries to impose on us, and for that I love being around them. It's just amazing to be able to share ideas, any ideas, to discuss all sorts, art, politics, to be around two people who are so happy together although life isn't always easy when you've decided to make your art your living. They were back from a work trip to Japan, and it was fascinating to hear their take on what they saw over there, the differences in the way their culture operates. I truly love staying with them, because I feel so free. They also cook some amazing food, especially their home made pizza, and I tried ribs for the first time (it was actually at their house that I stopped being a vegetarian, after 12 years...that roast lamb was my downfall). We had a film day: we went to stock up on food and snacks, and then got out 4 films: one had Liam Neeson in it (Uncle B's review: 'shite'), one was about a soldier coming back from Iraq ('shite'), one was about the deportation of British kids to Australia in the 60s ('alright'), and the most interesting one, and one I heartily recommend for some good old-fashioned family viewing, is called "I Spit on Your Grave", and features two parts. The first part, lasting an hour, shows a girl getting raped over and over again whilst being forced to act like a horse. The second part involves her getting her revenge on the gang-bangers, by putting them in bath-tubs full of acid and raping them with guns. You should check out the trailer! I also made the most of being in Leeds by catching up with my old friend DJ W, which was nice although faintly disappointing. I've perhaps moved on from smoking spliffs in the park and necking down pints of cider in old man pubs. Still! No harm in a quick sashay down memory lane, every now and then.

With deep sadness, I departed Leeds, after 2 days of relaxing, warm company. Back on that old coach, back down to London, back to Victoria, for a brilliant Sunday with C. I think, to be honest, that Sunday was possibly the best Sunday of my life. Waking up in Leeds with my aunt and uncle, eggs and bacon in my belly, homemade cheese sandwiches (this time, sans the pear), and then the afternoon/evening that followed. The first thing was, C presented me with an Oyster card. I held it up, dazzled by the rays reflecting off its shiny blue surface. Now, I could pretend to be a real Londoner. I could sneer at the noobs using their single fare £5.60 tickets. I could roll my eyes at people blocking the escalators, and give world-weary sighs whenever I bloody well felt like it. This is such a useful thing to have, but more to the point, what a thoughtful thing to give. We wandered around Spitalfields Markets, which if you haven't done yet, you should. It was the first time I'd been there, and it was incredible - these mazes of little clothes stalls, and street food...we stopped off for a pint at this big outdoor beer garden thing in the street, and then carried on walking, through this area which is such a far cry from the usual London haunts you normally end up dragging yourself around. We went for cocktails (I picked the right ones, ones that seemed to be basically 100% alcohol) and had some trendycool snacks: 'cheeseburger crostini', and mini cumberland sausages with chilli. We then moved on to this simply amazing bar - from the outside, it appeared to be an old, rundown pub, but when you climb up to the very top of the building, you emerge onto the rooftop, and can see all the lights of London....and I saw a shooting star! So corny, I know. But still, those little things never cease to bring out the childish wonder in me. The main thing I loved about that night, however brilliant the atmosphere, and the drinking establishments, and the life of the people we saw in the streets, was just being with C - how magical. We talked about everything and nothing, it seems. My hatred of Anne Hathaway (must watch One Day to get more bitching material), quantum physics (let's get real - he talked about that, I was more like ''oh really? (clueless), religion, socialism, university, just having a laugh. It was wonderful, so fluid, it makes me sad to think we live in different places, but then that sadness is fleeting, because I know we can do it all again, especially since I've got an Oyster card now, right? I remember at one point we were talking about where we would love to live - what kind of place would we imagine is best? And now, all I can think is - I would love, wherever I end up seriously living, to have a sumptuous guest room, so I can give back to people who have welcomed me, that same warm welcome and kindness. Aside from the gift of the Oyster, C also gave me his bed, wine and strawberries when we got home, breakfast in bed (I mean, I can't remember the last time that happened to me), and most touching of all, a luxurious coach picnic, my third, made up of a chicken salad, some tasty berries, and - so heartbreakingly thoughtful - a fork. I had checked out the salad, thought ''Hmm, there's no plastic fork'', and considered my options. Should I eat it with my fingers? The Indians do it. But I'm not Indian, and would probably fuck it up. Could I work  out some kinda chopstick way of doing it, using a pen and the end of my toothbrush? Or should I just dunk my head into the tray, and chomp it up, like a goat? No need to worry. C had thought of it. Reader - he gave me a fork.

And now I'm sitting here, as the rain pisses down over the arsehole of France, hearing the apeish guffawing of the men outside, watching in awe as the lightening crashes down over the town - I actually stared into the centre of the lightening, like I was looking into the eye of God! And the thunder just set off a car alarm. A coincidence? Maybe. But I prefer to think it was His will.
Strasbourg in a week!

P.S. That was fucking long, I feel like I deserve to get paid for this.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

London's Burning!

So I'm back in the arsehole of France, aka Val, and am distracting myself from the horrors of the barren landscape outside by organizing my life. Have managed so far to:
a) Put my clothes in my wardrobe properly and hand wash some stuff
b) File all papers, throw out the massive amount of old newspapers and enveloppes that have been serving me as a bedroom rug for the past 6 months, and
c) Get the deedpoll and birth cert sent off to be translated
Have also bought a foot file and anti gum disease mouthwash. Now that I'm single, it's time to take care of the actual health problems, and stop with superficial niceties like, you know, leg shaving.

Vatti (our name for our dear old father) and I decided that he will take me to Strasbourg after all. He's flying in to Brussels on the 28th, and we'll head down on the 29th, and he'll go back home on the 31st. All I can say is - thank fuck for that, Vatti. Thank fuck for that, and for you. Because I mean, I've done the whole backpack and binbags on trains sooo many times before, and the effort of it is awful but manageable. The real sadness of it is the masses amount of stuff you have to leave behind. Bedding, big heavy books, kitchen stuff. I thought S might be able to take the train down and help me, but I checked ticket prices and she'd have to spend around 150e for the train and hostel - a bit much to ask of somebody. So - this is great news. Happy face. Plus, I'm sure Vatti will just LOVE the Alsace cuisine. Bad for the cholesterol, good for the soul.

So anyway, got back yesterday as I was saying. Mutti (aka Mum) was flying to Leeds at the same time, so we thought we could grab a coffee at the airport together, but we were flying from different terminals. When I got to Brussels, I met a woman from Alabama on the train, whose husband is with the Dutch army, and who lives in some small village somewhere in Holland. Her suitcase was pretty bloody heavy, so she needed my help getting it on and off trains - always happy to oblige, plus my train to the deserted border town between Belgium and France comes pretty regularly. Had a grand old chat with this woman, who managed to tell me a huge amount of anecdotal info concerning her life and emotional state, in a suprisingly short amount of time ("Ah jus' lurve 24 hour shoppin', what is wrong with Europe? In the States, ah go shoppin' at Walmart at 4AM!", and "Ah made sure my husband got me saddelite TV and ah have an AHCE-MAKER on mah FRIDGE"). She was really nice, I felt a bit bad for her, doing this journey on her own, and getting back to a village all on her own (husband is back in the States, she doesn't speak Dutch). It must be very lonely. We had a chat about Ireland ("Hey! AH'M Ahrish!") and she decided she might try and take the car up to Dublin. Fair enough, and fair play!

Spoke to the ex today, after being bullied and bitched at to call him ''comme promis'', ''pour en discuter''. Took some light abuse: ''you are capricieuse, you are moody'', gave him answers to his 'why?'s: you are actually from the fifties and are spoiled. I feel a little sad about it, not for myself, but more for the fact that I have been on the receiving end of break-ups before, and I remember how painful it is, especially when you feel like it's come out of nowhere. Anyway, that page is now firmly turned.

So let's talk about the London stuff that's going down. The first thing that's a shame, is as my friend R points out, the fact that:
"It seems that if you're an ignorant racist knob-hole, you can blame it all on immigrants (aka the Sarkozy approach), if you're an old person you can blame it on the Youth of Today and their Lack of Respect, and if you are a Labour politician you can blame it on the government."

Why do we have to choose camps here? Why do we have to be either 100% 'this is awful, these people are despicable, gun them down', or 'let's really understand where they're coming from here, let's feel sorry for them'? I have personally changed my mind over this a few times in the past few weeks, and obviously no-one has an answer to what's going on - maybe the situation doesn't even require one. Here are a few things I'm thinking in regards to the situation:
  • I do feel sorry for the family, and I don't understand why the lad who apparently started the whole thing off was shot to be killed (the bullet went to the chest), but my sympathy is not total, because I just keep coming back to: what the FUCK were you doing walking the streets with a gun in the first place? Had he not be in possession of an illegal firearm, the whole situation would not have occured (the shooting, not the riots). I also believe that the matter should be looked into, but at the end of the day, let's just remember that police are human. Think of how many times you fuck up at work on a weekly basis. This doesn't excuse the killing of a human being, but I think it should be remembered all the same. Perhaps if you were put in a uniform and came face-to-face with a person wielding a gun, you might panic. I also want to know why communities go ape-shit when someone is shot by the police, and yet remain silent in the face of gang shootings, that occur more frequently and with more casualties.
  • There is no blatantly political message behind these riots. As far as I can understand, it's the reaction of certain communities (no, let's get it out in the open, a certain CLASS) in the face of blatant wealth and 'stuff'. In other words, kids who have grown up with nothing, living with a future full of nothing, thinking "fuck it, why should we go without?" and taking. And I can understand that. Their message isn't outright political, because how to voice/express their experiences to people who don't want to hear it? Maybe our government should start stepping up to the plate.
  • It doesn't make sense, as has been pointed out, to attack their own communities. Why burn your own street down? Why break your own toys? Maybe if your toy is shit, you don't care. "But it will take so much money and time to rebuild what they've destroyed, in their own communities!" Well, yeah. But if you're broke, no education, no job, no real future, let's be honest, who gives a fuck whether you lose your local Footlocker, or your local community centre? Maybe your commuity centre was crap. If you don't have anything to lose, you don't mind losing it.
  • The most ridiculous thing in the world has just been brought to my attention, an e-petition put out by the government. When you click on that link, you get this message:
The e-petition entitled “Convicted London rioters should loose all benefits” has now passed the threshold of 100,000 signatures and has been passed to the Backbench Business Committee to consider for debate. It will continue to be available for signature once the site is re-opened.

Are you a MENTALIST? If rioters lost their benefits, they would riot 1000 times harder, and more of them would join - this time, they'd probably move it OUT of their neighbourhoods into wealthier suburbs, and they'd be hitting up the supermarkets and more ''essential'' shops whilst they were at it. I'm disgusted at this reaction, and particularly the reaction of a certain type of wealthy young person who thinks 'these people' are 'horrendous', and should just be able to claw their way out of generations of poverty, generations of abuse, absent families, lack of education. It's alright for you love - you were brought up on poached salmon and trips to St Moritz. Naturally you just 'fell' into a university degree and a smooth life - your parents made that possible for you, whether that be through finance, encouragement, or simply 'you WILL go to university'. What if you hadn't had that pressure or support? Maybe you would be sitting on the dole right now, because let's face it, you're neither especially bright or innovative as it is, and that's with the £100,000 private secondary school. *breath* Sorry, I sort of lost it for a minute there. I just think it's unfair to say 'some people escape their background', because yes, some people do. Just like some middle class kids grow up and turn themselves into millionaires. Most don't. Most just stay middle class. Why? Why don't they become millionaires? They must not be working hard enough.
I DO think the rioters are wrong, I DO think it's a stupid, violent and criminal reaction to life's injustices, but maybe slating them, fining them, imprisoning them is the wrong response. Maybe the very fabric of our society should be reconstructed. Maybe, just as the French were required to take a hard look at the level of sexism that exists in their culture following the DSK scandal, Britain needs to look at its inflexible, condemning class system. 

Boeuf bourguignon

Here's what I do for boeuf bourguignon. S, my flatmate/psychiatrist will bear witness to the genius level of this dish.

For 4 people, you need:
  • 3 big carrots
  • 1 big onion
  • 1 clove of garlic
  • Just under a kilo of diced beef
  • bay leaf + parsley
  • 1 bottle of red wine (any will do)
  • New potatoes (4 biggish ones per person should do)
  1. Put your meat it in a bowl. Add salt and pepper. Pour wine over it until meat covered. Put in fridge. [In France you can buy meat for bourguignon, or ask the butcher. I imagine in the UK any kind of stewing meat will be fine].
  2. Leave meat to soak in fridge for about 2 hours.
  3. Finely chop onion and fry until translucent. Put aside.
  4. In one of those big massive stewing pots, cook the meat with a bit of oil, turning all the pieces over until browned on all sides. NB: Make sure you use a draining spoon to move the meat from the bowl to the pot: we don't want the wine in there yet.
  5. When meat is all browned, add the onions, garlic and sliced carrots. Add a ladle of water. Wait for it to 'reduce'. For this whole process, it should be on a medium heat.
  6. When that happens, take it off the heat for just a minute, while you stir in a tablespoon of flour. Put back on heat.
  7. Now add all of the wine that had had your meat soaking in it. Pour it all into the pot, and if there's any left in the bottle, pour all that in too (keep just enough for a small glass for yourself!)
  8. Stir, reduce heat to a low setting, add parsley, more salt and pepper, your bay leaf. Cover, and let simmer for minimum three hours.
  9. In the last half hour of cooking, peel your potatoes, get the water on and boil them. The consistency of the whole meal should be ''melty'': you want your carrots to fall apart on your plate, your potatoes to cut open seriously easily, and your meat to be very tender. You cannot leave this dish to simmer enough, the longer the better.
  • You put in too much flour: why?! I said a tablespoon. Add more water.
  • You put in too much wine: you can't really overwine this, but I get what you mean: add more pepper and a bit of sugar
  • You put in too much water: add a little bit of flour, although even better I discovered: gravy granules. Thickens the sauce really nicely, and adds a bit more seasoning (plus I don't know why this happens, I'm not that knowledgeable in the kitchen, but sometimes when you add flour to cooking dishes it can turn bumpy and taste weirdly floury.) - so yeah, onion (or beef?) gravy granules work great
  • You like: you can add mushrooms *shudder*, and you can also remove the bay leaf after it's been in the pot for an hour. 
 The cost (Ireland):

I bought: a bottle of wine, 4 carrots, 2 bags of new potatoes, 900g of Irish beef = 18 euros something.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Admin admin admin

It's a beautiful day here in Dublin, which is all the more precious because it's so rare. There's nothing more wonderful than a good summer's day in Ireland, in my opinion. The sky is a deep blue, there's a light breeze, you can hear the faint cry of gulls. It has none of the pressure of a summer's day anywhere else. It's warm, but still refreshing. No one expects you to be out in a bikini and sarong. People make a point of mentioning it wherever you go, at the post office, in the supermarket
[ - ''Ah it's a beautiful day today, isn't it?''
- ''It is, yes.''
- ''Wonderful weather!''
- ''It's pretty warm out.''
- ''Ah sure, it's gorgeous!''
- ''Yep'']
You can't deny people in Ireland are friendly. In fact, it often makes me feel guilty, having been conditioned to display a tight-lipped sort of secrecy in my dealings with strangers. The other day, whilst making a boeuf bourguignon (recipe to follow), a guy came to get me to sign for a letter, and said ''Are ye makin' somethin' nice, are ye?''. I just sort of looked at him, startled. ''I'm sorry?'' he grinned, ''I said, are ye makin' somethin' nice fer yer tea?'' I signed his little digital thing, and said coolly: ''Yes. Stew.'' And shut the door. He probably thought 'frigid British cow' but it wasn't actually me being rude - more just taken aback by a question that to him was simply being friendly. It happens a lot - someone in the shop comments on something you're buying, or the bus driver interacts with you, like the other day when I got on and he shouted at me: ''Stop playin' with yer feckin' phone, you can count your money on the bus, now GET ON!'' It's sort of nice. It feels natural and more human. Not like in the UK where everyone keeps a physical and emotional distance from everyone they come across. Perhaps I should have invited the letter guy in to sample the stew (not innuendo).

So anyway, in an attempt to find out more about my housing situation in September, yesterday I emailed Yannick, and got this reply:
"Je suis absent du 13 juillet au 16 août.

Pour les BGF-BGE vous pouvez contacter [Madame X]

Bonnes vacances."
So I emailed Madame X, and got this reply:
je suis en congés du 29 juillet au 5 septembre inclus.
Pour tout urgence concernant les BGF et BGE vous pouvez contacter [yannick] à l'adresse suivante : [email address]
très cordialement"
Then, the scholarship woman forwarded me a document about what to do to get set up financially, and she included a letter from the CROUS, which, at the bottom, includes the following line:
"Compte tenu du parc de logements disponibles, il ne peut y avoir d'engagement formel du CNOUS et du CROUS pour assurer un logement en résidence universitaire a l'étudiant".
Which, despite the non-sensical wordiness of it, basically means 'we can't guarantee you 100% that we will have somewhere for you to live'. For fuck's sake France, honestly. What is the *deal* with this naffing off on holiday for two months of the year? I'm not too worried though, will just see what happens when they're all back from their 7 week holiday in the South of France. When they sashay into their office, mocha frappucinos in hand, crisp white shirts buttoned loosely over their trim, freshly-tanned bodies, blowing the dust off their monitors as they turn the computers on, honking away at each others' jokes and accounts of encounters with the peasants down in Draguignan, and then BAM. That's right, it's the annoying English girl who has flooded your inbox with irritating emails. NOW DEAL WITH IT.

The thing is though, I can't get through to them so I'm guessing it's just not going to be possible for my Dad to take me down there, which is a bit sad really. I feel like I've let him down somehow, which is ridiculous because there's nothing else I could do. He did suggest us going down earlier and me staying in a hotel for a few nights whilst waiting for the room, but....that sort of defeats the purpose, plus I think I'd feel lonely then. Anyway, we discussed him coming to visit in the last week of October, which is when I have a break. And Mum is going to a conference in Zurich, which turns out to be a 40 euro, 2 and a half hour train ride away - not too bad! I'd love for both of them to come and visit. It was great when Dad came to V/Paris to see me and Beefa, and then when Mum came to Chartres....although I remember one day in Chartres, where we had a fight, and I think out of all the days in my life, that's the day I regret the most. She was crying and upset, I can't remember why, but I remember being a total MEAN BITCH to her, and whenever I think back to it, I do that thing where you cringe and actually physically shake your head a bit in an effort to bury the memory. Bit melodramatic, eh?

Another thing I have to deal with today - the uni were asking me how I wanted to pay my fees, and they demanded a response by the 24th of August. The only options on the sheet I have to send back are:
  • ''Go ahead and take 3000 out of my bank account - here are my details''
  • ''Go ahead and take 3000 out of my bank account in installments of 800 - here are my details''
In fact I can do neither of those, as the scholarship pays for it. So I emailed scholarship woman asking what I should do (the uni being closed until the 24th of August, naturally) and she said to ask them to invoice her, or for me to pay it and for her to deposit 3000 in my account, upon receipt of payment. I don't want to do that second option, since I don't have 3000 lying around, plus even if she fed the mulah into my account, it would result in a budgeting catastrophe for me. So today I'm going to email her and ask her to write a brief letter that I can attach to the stuff to send back to the uni, saying that she will be paying the fees, and to invoice her. That should do the trick! I wish I didn't feel so awful about asking people to do things for me, it makes me feel dreadful, even though I know this is this woman's sole job. I feel like a beggar.

Good news on the shoe side of things - the boots have been shipped to good old Barnoldswick. Which means a phone call to my dearest grandmother is required, so I can casually mention that yet again I've been ordering shit to her house. Oh, other good thing - finalized deed poll came! I am now who I say I am :D

Other things to do include finding my brother a job, making an uncomfortable phone call to ensure that my ex understands he is my ex, getting the balls required to send the scholarship email. Infected eye still being a dickhead. Why won't it just LEAVE ME ALONE?

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sole searching

Eye infection alert! Get them all the time. Woke up at 5 in the morning, blinking, trying to shift the cruddy film that had developed across my right eye.  Feels a little burny, but nothing I can't handle. Eye infections tend to look particularly grotesque on blue eyes. Makes you look a bit mad and junkie-esque. Considering I can't put my lenses in and have lost my glasses (MUST get soon as I get that holy grail of French society, the Carte Vitale), I'm essentially blind for the moment. Got told by Mum to go to the pharmacy, but I'm considering using old-fashioned techniques to try and rid myself  of the gunk. Compresses, salty eye washes (might want to google that, sounds like could possibly have opposite effect?), etc.

Because we moved to Ireland in my last year of secondary school, and because once I'd finished that I left the country, I don't have any friends here. Which means that my time at home, such as now, turns into the life of a housewife minus the being a wife part. I get up, grind some fresh coffee using my Dad's loud and ugly 80s coffee grinding thing (which he has kept for sentimental reasons, because he had it when he lived in East Germany, or something). I then glide around the house alternating between reading books, flicking through glossy magazines, napping on the couch, and making bacon sandwiches. Occasionally I might do a little light laundry, and half an hour before everyone comes home from work, I go on a massive clean-up operation, brushing off breadcrumbs from various counter tops, de-fatifying the frying pan, plumping up the couch cushions.

So I've got not much else to do other than cook for people (tonight - boeuf bourguignon) and organize some Strasbourg stuff. It's quite sad actually - my Dad didn't help me move to Sheffield for uni because I said I would do it myself. He didn't get to come to my graduation because I didn't go myself (might have been a bit weird had he turned up all by his lonesome). So he really wanted to fly to Paris, rent a car, pick me up in the one-horse town I now cannot wait to be rid of, and drive me down to Strasbourg. Except the CROUS are being anal about the whole thing and have told me my room will be available from the first of September. Grr. My Dad checked at work, and he has a meeting on that actual day. So my options are:
  • Make the move alone (no big deal, but quite sad as it was something he wanted to do)
  • Go down earlier and stay in a hotel for one or two nights so he can drive me down and then get back to Dublin on the 30th
  • Hassle the CROUS to see if there can be any give on the date
I'm going to start by attempting option 3, and if that fails - I'll cross that shaky bridge when I get to it. Email has been sent to dear old 'Yannick', the guy in charge of us BGFs - I've received an email from him before, which was very cool, dismissive, and uninformative. I realized that his signature has a link to his email address: except the html is wrong, and links up to someone elses email. I thought about adding that as a P.S., except I realized I could use this as a secret weapon based on his reply to my dates enquiry. If he even so much as DARES to get shirty with me, WHAM! I will destroy your htmling confidence, Yannick. Hehehe. HeeeeeHEEEEEHEHE. BWAHAHEHEHEHEHE! [/end evil laughter]

Anyway! I'm on a mad desperate frenzied search for these boots:

Don't ask me why, they aren't particularly special, but I just *want* them, you know? That's one of the horrors of having your family living in Ireland: a whole world of Britishness is spread out in front of you, but without the access to the perks. They've got (practically only)  British shops here, so you can only use the British website, but inevitably there's always some sort of stupid fucking problem, because newsflash, Ireland isn't in the UK.
So I got an email saying (in a nice, jovial tone): "Thanks for your recent communication, Hannah. Your order has now been cancelled". Noooo. Called up pleasant Glasgow call centre. In this particular case, the Stupid Irish/British Problem was...they ship abroad from warehouses only, and they don't stock those particular boots in their warehouses. Why don't you just get your own shoe shops, Ireland? Same with telly: they have RTE, their Irish channel, but it's shit and no-one watches it. People watch BBC Northern Ireland instead, but their papers give normal BBC listings. So you think you're watching the Grumpy Guide to Food, and instead end up watching The Impressionists: let's learn more about them, and their boring works.

So once the nice woman at the call centre gave me the downlow on the warehouse Irish/British Problem, I cheated the system by ordering them to my gran's address in Barnoldswick. Felt pretty self-satisfied, until I logged on to my 'account' on the Office website, and it now has the same 2 pair of boots as 2 different orders, both with the status: 'PENDING', which over the last 3 days has been modified to 'pending', 'Pending' and 'PENDing'. Very descriptive, Office.
I suppose all I do now is sit back and wait for the fuckers to arrive. Maybe I'll get two pairs. Maybe I'll get one. Maybe I'll get none.

I vote the last option.