Premonitions of Summer

We didn’t really have a spring this year, did we? The weather here, at least, and presumably elsewhere in the UK, has been a bit mad – miserable grey winter-type days, interspersed with hot sunny summer days.

This week we’re in a run of hot sunny summer days. And I’m melting. Tomorrow I’ll break out my new summer skirts and shoes, assuming that I can bear to put the shoes on over the blisters I rubbed wearing uncomfortable trainers earlier in the week, but even switching denim for cotton is unlikely to stop me from wanting to just lie down in the fridge.

According to the internet, and my reliable sources living out there, the USA is going to be at least this hot, if not hotter, all summer. It could reach 30 degrees celcius in August. Today it’s been about 22 and I’m feeling a bit sick. Oh dear. Wish me luck.

Incidentally, I went to buy some sun cream the other day and it was £15 a bottle. I almost passed out, and then I walked out again in the optimistic hope that it might get cheaper later in the year. Unlikely, I realise.

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An Adult All Over the World

As of last Friday, I’m now of legal age in every country (or at least, as far as I know). I’m not usually very bothered about birthdays, and it always amuses me to see how few people send me a happy birthday message on Facebook in comparison to a friend who was born exactly a year before – her birthday is visible on her profile, mine is not, and as a result she receives around 50 messages while I got precisely two.

But that doesn’t mean no one knew about it! On Thursday several of my friends from choir went to formal hall and I was hugely relieved when they weren’t given permission to sing to me until we’d left the hall. We went on to the bar and then wound up in someone’s room playing Articulate until the small hours of the morning. Then my mum arrived at Friday lunchtime to spend the weekend with me and we went out to dinner. When I got back I discovered several friends had been to my room in my absence and my door had a poster on it, with presents and cards slipped underneath.

Saturday morning saw mum and I making an epic four-hour trip into town to buy almost everything ever. The Veggie Roadshow was in town and we spent a rather excessive amount of money buying delicious things (and the woman running the veggie sweets stall gave me an extra packet and a toy koala when she found out it was my birthday the day before), before heading down Mill Road to buy even more things. Then a mad dash to Sainsbury’s before hauling our bags back to college for an afternoon tea party with three friends and a phenomenal amount of cake.

Today we woke up to half a foot of snow, which has made getting around quite comical. Mum set off at noon, after half an hour of clearing snow off the car, and I’m about to head out to choir early in the hopes that I might make it there without falling over. Wish me luck!

Summer Essential: Sun Cream

Image by capl@washjeff.edu

Oh boy it was hot today. The temperature wasn’t all that unusual – it was about 22 degrees – but I wasn’t really expecting it to be quite so warm, so I wore a thick t-shirt and jeans. Definitely time to investigate my summer clothing options (which are alarmingly limited – I just noticed my favourite, and only, pair of shorts has developed holes that make them unsuitable for public wearing).

I would have been warm anyway because I spent the day at the children’s hospice and cleaning is warm work! We cleaned bathrooms, vaccuumed floors, washed down the tables and chairs in the dining room (not just the surfaces but the legs and underneath as well), cleaned the paintwork, swept the floor of all the kitchen areas and store rooms, and generally wore ourselves out. Time goes past really quickly there, because everyone chats and jokes and just gets on with things. I’m really enjoying it (and the wonderful lunch I got was exactly what I needed after four hours of cleaning!).

It is actually an even brighter red than this

I finished at half past two and walked home. It’s about an hour from there to our house, mostly flat until I reached the hill we live on, which is a twenty-minute hike on steep and winding roads. I don’t mind walking long distances if I’m actually going somewhere, but I’d foolishly forgotten to put any suncream on and my pale-as-milk covered-all-winter skin is now bright red. Ouch. There wasn’t really any shade anywhere on the road and that might account for how exhausted I was when I got back; I fell asleep on the sofa within ten minutes, and once I’d got into my bed I slept for three hours.

Now I’m slathered in aftersun and well-rested, but I won’t be making that mistake again. Sun cream if I’m venturing out of the doors even for ten minutes. After seeing my brother suffer from second-degree sun burn in a French holiday resort when we were little (he had to be taken to hospital, which was not how I’d choose to spend my holiday) I’m determined not to suffer the same fate. A pox on our Scottish/Irish heritage!

I’ve been preparing for my choral scholarship audition, which is two weeks on Friday. I’ve never sung solo classical music so I had to ask for advice on what I ought to prepare – I think the director of music interpreted my email as saying that I’d never sung classical at all! She seemed relieved when I assured her I have sung in several choirs. I’ve chosen “O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings to Zion” from Handel’s Messiah, which I really liked as soon as I heard it, and which requires some pretty good breathing. Hopefully the leaders of my church choir will be able to help me practise it. My proud Northern vowels aren’t really in keeping with classical music so I’m struggling to remember how to sing them “properly”.

The Winds of Change

It is quite windy at the moment! My mum mentioned that it’s nearly midsummer and I almost fell off my chair in surprise. It just doesn’t feel like summer. I realised that this may be quite a lot to do with my circumstances – it’s the first time in my memory that I haven’t had term dates to give my year shape. That thought gave me pause.

Anyway, the change part is that I think I’m done with the hospital, until they have paid work for me that is. I came home early today after having gone in and discovered the work I’d been planning on doing had been done by someone else, and on the way home I got a call from a pub I’d applied at, wanting to interview me tomorrow. I’ve sent off my references to the cleaning agency who seem keen, and I’m going next week to talk to the hospice I’ll be volunteering at. So even if I don’t get a lot of paid work, I’ll have other things to occupy my time.

This weather is so strange. I can’t quite credit that it’s almost June. It looks like my idea of March, or maybe early November – not the beginning of summer. And April was roasting. I do wonder if it’s actually that the weather is weird this year, or if it’s just that I’ve never needed to take any notice of it before. Now, the weather is pretty much how I can tell what season we’re in. It’s exam time and I’m not taking exams. It’s nearly the summer vacation and I’m not vacating anything. The end of term is approaching and I came down more than six months ago.

Can you credit that? More than six months ago. Paris feels like a brief but enjoyable dream, which has receeded so far into the distance that it doesn’t seem quite real. Earlier today I was reading a novel and a description of a child gave me a sudden pang of missing Daughter Four. I do miss all of them, to varying degrees, but Daughter Four and Baby Girl were the two whose trust and love I had finally earned, rather than had all along or never quite managed. And now they probably don’t even remember me. Such is life, I suppose. There’s always another train.

I’m not sure if there’s a chaffinch singing

… but I am in England and it is April. It’s very sunny, and not as hot as Paris was – I just took Midge for a walk, wearing a hoodie, and wasn’t too warm. I hope it stays this way, maybe with a couple of rain showers to avoid a drought.

The trip home was uneventful, apart from a brief panic in Birmingham when I discovered my direct train had been cancelled. They put all of us onto an earlier to train to Wolverhampton, though, and we picked up the train from there. There wasn’t even a problem about the fact that I’d been booked onto a 5am train and was travelling at 4pm… I don’t think the conductor even noticed that my ticket was dated the 18th (due to the overnight train out of London).

It was really nice to spend the day in Birmingham. I’d reached the hostel at 2am and rolled into my bed in my clothes, but when I woke up the next morning I noticed that it was a very nice room, much nicer that the Youth Hostels I’ve stayed in. If you need somewhere cheap to sleep in Birmingham I’d recommend Birmingham Central Backpackers. They obligingly stored my luggage for the day while I wandered round the city in the sunshine and saw Source Code at Cineworld. It was so great to be back in a country where I knew intuitively which way the traffic was coming (although I admit I had to check both ways in case I’d got it wrong), could understand overheard conversations, and where people wear bright colours instead of shades of black!

This morning has been quite productive: I’ve made a doctors appointment, rung the hospital to chivvy along the form-filling process, bought a rice cooker, done the morning’s washing up, put away my clean laundry, and taken the dog for a walk. Now it’s quarter past one and I’m not exactly sure what to do with my day.

Summer has arrived early!

It has been glorious weather here for days now – good weather for August in the UK, and I’m told it’s unusually hot for Paris too. I’ve even started to tan slightly, and would probably be bright red if it wasn’t for sun cream.

Yesterday’s cooking class was brilliant. There were four other students, all Americans of different ages, and the class was taught by a man from the South-West of France. He was incredibly knowledgable and took us around all the different types of shop in the market: the cheese shop, where we bought five different cheeses to try; the fish shop, where after great discussion the others selected mussels and scallops; the butchers, where we saw whole rabbits (it’s illegal to sell them without the head, because of a former tendency to pass off cats as rabbits) and pigs’ heads, amongst other delights. One of the men told me I was very brave for going into the butchers shop, but I tried to view it as an intellectual interest and not consider what I was actually seeing… One thing you can say about French butchers shops is that they do not sugar-coat things; it was abundantly clear what animal you were buying.

Then we bought fruit and vegetables and herbs to go with the menu, which was drawn up on the go by democratic vote. I was a bit concerned that I’d be eating side salads while everyone else ate duck and mussels and scallops, but actually the sauteed fennel with tomato and orange dressing, the asparagus with mashed potato and celeriac, the five types of cheese, and the almond and poached pear tart, left me absolutely stuffed! I’ll definitely be recreating some of the things we cooked, particularly the potato and celeriac mash which was really good.

After the class, which lasted for SIX HOURS, all of us went to Sacre Coeur together and looked around. It’s smaller than Notre Dame but I think I prefer it, despite the heaving crowds. The view was spectacular from the outside – you could see all across Montmatre, which is mostly out of sight from the Arc de Triomphe and the Eiffel Tower.

Today I didn’t end up going to Versailles, as Anne realised she had already agreed to do something else and I didn’t feel like going alone. Instead, I saw Morning Glory which was very funny, and then went to the Jardin du Luxembourg to read and got told off for sitting on the wrong piece of grass (overwhelming sense that I had somehow teleported back to Cambridge – especially since it looks quite a bit like Christ’s Pieces in places).

Now I’m considering my options: do I do the sensible thing and pack, or do I play on the Sims 2 and/or watch a film? Three guesses which I’m leaning towards most…

Bookshops are my favourite kind of shops

Or maybe stationers, or maybe toy shops, or maybe craft shops, or possibly home hardware shops.

Anyway I was in a bookshop earlier today buying leaving gifts for the children. I had Baby Girl with me so browsing time was limited to how long she could bear to sit just out of grabbing reach of so many shiny new books, but I managed to get hold of something for three of the girls. Then we went to a toy shop and I failed to find a small replica of my polar bear teddy, which Baby Girl just adores and makes a beeline for whenever she is in my room, so I bought some stick-on glittery letters which spell out her nickname. Tomorrow I’ll go to La Defense and pick up a gift for Sole Son – I already know what it will be and where to get it, so it shouldn’t take long.

It has been so hot today. Well, it’s been around 22 degrees Centigrade but that is swelteringly hot for me and certainly hot for April! Apparently it’s quite normal for France though, and it just keeps getting hotter. I’m quite glad I’ll be leaving before that happens…

A couple of days ago I bought a new bag. I’ve been trying to find a photo of it on the Etam website but it doesn’t seem to be there so you’ll just have to imagine it – it’s cream with pale pink roses all over it, a long shoulder strap and EIGHT POCKETS. Eight. Count them. That is a lot of pockets!

There are two big ones, a thin one between the two big ones which is perfect for storing my Kindle, two small open ones for my phone and purse, an inside zip-up, an outside zip-up and an outside magnetic one. There’s also a funky little chain for attaching your keys so that you can find them quickly. Basically it is my perfect bag, with lots of space but without the black-hole capabilities of a backpack.

Anyway I mention this wonderbag because I took it on its first outing yesterday, when The Mother, the three youngest girls and I went to Versailles for a picnic. We must have looked hilariously English to all the other people, who were lying langorously in the sun, tanning their bronze skin even darker, while we slapped on copious amounts of suncream and laid out our picnic boxes on a big blanket. Then we hired some bikes and went on a short cycle round the Grand Canal. It was my first sighting of Versailles and I was impressed at how incredibly huge it is! Even when we studied it in my French Monuments lesson I hadn’t quite grasped the scale of the place. I can’t imagine living there.

It was my last Wednesday afternoon with the girls, because next Wednesday I leave for my choir tour very early in the morning and then I go back to England the following Monday. It was a lovely day to be able to look back on 🙂

A Literal and Figurative Storm

First, the literal: we went to the park today, because Tuesday is about the only day when there are no after-school activities for anyone and we can just hang out. Daughters Two and Three played happily, Baby Girl and I sat and watched (usually BG gets out of her pusshchair and plays too, until she walks in front of the swings and I strap her back in for safety. Today she was content to watch).

Suddenly, simultaneously, and hilariously, every single one of the women in the park started shouting to their charges to COME because we’re LEAVING right NOW. I had BG in her pushchair within seconds. D2 and D3 were bundled into their hooded jackets and I’d tugged up my hood too (what benign deity was watching when we all dressed this morning? Hoods are certainly not a given at this time of year).

Then we joined the veritable flood of people leaving the park and storming up the hill. We weren’t quite quick enough, though, and by the time we’d made it back to the house we were drenched to the skin and D2 and D3 knew a lot more about lightning, thunder, electricity in the sky, and the delay between light and sound being detected. D2 is in her element when there’s science involved, but D3 was tired and a bit scared, so it took all my jollying powers to avoid a misery meltdown. Poor BG was ignominously isolated under the rain hood, which is fortunately broken in such a way that it can be folded all the way over, rather than just reaching far enough to direct all the rain onto her knees. Who designs these things? Not parents, that’s for sure (although the little window in the top of the “correctly”-folded hood is very handy for seeing what the resident is putting in her mouth this time).

Anyway, that was the literal storm. We had baths very early today and then made a tent in the living room in which D2 and D3 ate their supper and made surprisingly little mess.

The figurative storm is not so much a storm as a tidal wave. I’m feeling a shadow of how I felt back in November, when I discovered that somehow the decision to leave uni had been made and I couldn’t remember making it. Because I’m leaving Paris on April 19th.

The trains have been booked, the packing has begun (actually I never unpacked after the weekend away, as I had a hunch this might happen) and the children have been told. They’ve taken it quietly, so quietly I’d be offended if I didn’t know better. I’m swinging wildly between knowing it’s the right decision and being happy about it, being desperately miserable, and not caring either way. Depends how tired I am.

Anyway time to take my painful, hacking cough off to bed to see if another 12 hours of sleep can get rid of it. In the same way that all illnesses start in my throat, they all seem to end there too – this is probably the last gasp of Friday’s stomach flu.

Can’t get anything past her

Daughter Two: “Look! A mummy labradog and a baby labradog who is sucking her nipples!”

This afternoon I took Baby Girl on the tram! Only one stop to the main part of the town, where we went to a little park for a bit and then came back on the tram. But it was quite exciting. I’ve been gradually making our trips more elaborate as I gain confidence; in a month or so I expect we’ll be spending our afternoons in Lille.

Just kidding.

It’s been quite a quiet week because my French teacher is on holiday, so I’ve been in the house a lot doing some shorthand and reading and sleeping. Tomorrow I’m going to venture out for a french lesson with a different teacher (I was meant to meet him/her last week but I woke up ill so had to cancel) with my friend Anne.

Spring seems to have sprung in Paris, it’s great! The sun has been shining a lot more and it’s been almost too warm some days – nearly warm enough to take your coat off!

I met up with Becky from college today; she’s here doing some work experience with a law firm in the middle of her year abroad, and she leaves on Saturday so I went to where she works and we went to a little cafe nearby. It was really nice to catch up and talk about people we both know! Weirdly when we go back to uni, she will be replacing me in third year and I will be replacing a girl called Jacqueline who is a year-abroad student in the first year. Equilibrium maintained!

Snow storm!

So, it’s the final day before I go to Paris and what am I doing? Am I packing the last few items? Am I looking at maps to make sure I know the train journey I’m taking? Am I reading a French dictionary?

No. I am getting angry.

I just got an email from college saying that I would have to pay this term’s tuition fees myself because Student Loans won’t pay if you leave before December 1st. I spent several days ringing Student Loans to make absolutely sure that this wasn’t the case and was assured that if you leave for medical reasons then they will pay. I wouldn’t have been able to degrade if this wasn’t the case. And suddenly now they are telling the college that this isn’t true? Time to sit on hold for three hours again.

Also it snowed in the night, and in less than ten hours we have several centimetres of snow, maybe several inches. I really hope the trains aren’t messed up – so glad I’m not flying this time because I have a feeling flights will have been cancelled again.

Grrrr. How am I going to sort out the loans thing from France? And I don’t even have enough money to pay that fee.

Later: Phew. Just rang Student Finance and actually they hadn’t even realised I wasn’t at uni (despite the fact that I rang them twice and college said they would contact them too), and are still paying the entire year’s fees. So college just need to contact them and let them know how much they need. Only three months late.

Even later: The college bill has just arrived and it includes the £30 paintwork fine I fought and had revoked last term. It is also being sorted out, but it is further evidence that the finance office just don’t communicate with other relevant people about what they’re charging us – so yes, they do just pick a number.

Grr. Also just had an odd phone call with LoveFilm’s Indian call centre, where the man I spoke to was like a sort of robot; he responded to what I said in perfect English but it was like he had a list of outcome speeches which he had to choose from. I guess he probably did. Anyway the upshot of it is that I’ve paid for three months of subscription I can’t use, because trying to cancel early and get a refund would be far too complicated. Ah well, I expect my mother can watch the complete Narnia series for me.