Dogs not always welcome


It’s been five months since my last confession and I can’t believe how quickly time has passed.  I was tempted to edit the previous post to remove the non kept promise but life changed overnight and I just went with the flow trying to discover as much as I could in the shortest of time because we never know how long we will be.  Istanbul is obviously my payback for all those slightly boring conservative places that we have lived in up until now, Paris and Coventry are exempt of course.

After a week away visiting family and friends, I was presented with an official letter from the Compound Manager telling me that I no longer had the right to use the lift with the retriever as we had succeeded in reuniting the three other families in our block into making a formal, unanimous



love me as I am

complaint about our dog’s hairs in the lift.   The new ground level lighting which highlights every flaw and hair there is, had shamed me into quickly hoovering up in her wake because this is the season for hair loss and that new lighting does no-one any favours.  H and the teen obviously didn’t feel the need to continue this with the enthusiasm I’ve had, so in my absence, the lift probably resembled the rest of the apartment.

I was left feeling hurt (she is part of the family after all) and paranoid until H pointed out that if this was the biggest problem facing modern day Turkey, then the world would be a much more simple and peaceful place than it is.



Istanbul for beginners



I wasn’t expecting to fall in love again.  I’ve been married since the evening Lady Di died in Paris.  I am an accidental nomad who no longer says “used to” when introducing myself to strangers.  I had no preconceived ideas about living here because we hadn’t been curious enough to visit before arriving in September.  Until now, my expat life had been spent living in rich European cities, which despite being regular fixtures in the “best city to live in” lists, I couldn’t wait to leave.  Istanbul is nothing like that and I love it. 

It is a chaotic, charming contradiction which defies categories or definition.  It’s cheek by jowl luxury shopping malls with the just habitable, historic and modern and the old east and west. I’ve seen a range of religious clothing on a scale of 1 to 10, 1 being very pious to the very seductive but unlike anywhere else I’ve lived in until now, they are sharing a table.  I still get the urge to photograph the minarets against a blue sky, it doesn’t matter how many of them I see.  I no longer set my oven clock to the correct time.

I’ve been struck by the kindness shown to strangers, the young looking after their elderly, bus drivers (wait for it) stopping in-between stops to pick up or drop off passengers, children sitting on laps in the front seats of cars, a seemingly genuine wish to help you, no strings attached.  It must be tough for the Turkish who leave if this is what passes for normal behaviour.  Should they join the EU one day, I can’t help but feel that this would put an end to all that is dynamic and entrepreneurial and they would become miserable and depressed like the rest of us.

The Country has many challenges ahead: geographical, political and economical to mention a few, I only hope their newly democratically re-elected Government is up to the task.

Meeting up with other international women, I was struck by the number of young and not so young happily married to Turkish men which made me think that I might have a missed a trick.  Next time maybe.

Wishing you a happy and healthy new year.

Goodbye France, hello Istanbul


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We’ve moved and it’s been an exciting few weeks.  I didn’t enjoy the actual moving in because for nomads, we have too much stuff but I have only five boxes left to unpack and the guest room has become our “can’t deal with it just now” drop off zone.

I was reluctant at first, of the four job proposals that H had in June, I did say that Turkey was, in my opinion, the least interesting and with that my fate was sealed.  Confirmation quickly followed when I heard my mother gasp “oh no, let’s hope it’s not Turkey” and here I am.  I will try to post twice a month, even if it’s just a photo or a recipe that I’ve found because there is so much to see and learn that I don’t know where to begin.

Wish me luck.

Working mums and motherhood according to Harvard


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It’s official then, according to a recent study on working mothers from Harvard, I have done untold harm to my daughter’s future career prospects by giving up work when she was born?  Adding more than a pinch of salt into the wound is this quote from a senior academic at UCL’s Institute of Education.

“In some ways [the study’s findings are] a comfort to women who do go out to work – and a signal to women who don’t that they have to think hard about how the role they have within the household is going to impact their children’s perceptions of what it means to be a woman and to be a mother.”

I found the Harvard study and media reportage rather simplistic and I’m tired of being categorised.  Real life choices change with time and needs and why pit the “full time” mothers (which is nonsense no matter what you do during the day) vs career mums. I have been both at some point in my life and I admit that my younger self would have been delighted to pay zero income tax and dodge pension scheme contributions which today I find depressing.  By taking time out during the formative years and beyond, we’re often making life difficult for our future selves to get back into the job market (spoiler, sorry).

I’d like the media and experts to stop sending us signals and move the debate on to equality in the workplace in pay and opportunities and flexible working hours and conditions.  Women have more lives than cats these days so please stop trying to put a label on me.

No regrets



“Have you read this contract?”

“No but I’ve made the decision that it’s better to earn little rather than zero and they pay for preparation time too.”

“No, doesn’t mention preparation time and you will pay social security so you’ll come out with less.”

At that moment, I wanted to take the contract and put it down the loo.  I went to the “initial training’ on Wednesday thinking that I had reconciled myself to the fact that teaching English in France wasn’t going to be the highest paid work of my life but within two days I knew I had made a mistake in accepting their terms, so I resigned.

I always tell newcomers that they must adapt to the country and not the other way round which is exhausting and a waste of time.  An example, I had developed a stern outdoor face in Germany and Austria because I’d found that smiling at people you don’t know made people uncomfortable.  When a chap came to our flat in Berlin to fix the wifi, I offered him a cup of tea and his face was stricken with horror, (I hadn’t realised until that moment that I was so unattractive) but I said “it’s only tea”.  From then on, I found it was better not to offer a beverage hot or otherwise, just in case.

Going past the queue in the Post Office in England to ask the woman to take my stamped parcel does not go down well with the locals.  “You’re not in France now” hissed my sister as she pushed me and my parcel to the back of the queue but you’d be there till closing time in France if you didn’t.

I’m not single handedly going to change France’s renumeration of part time teachers so I need to find something else to do.  I don’t have the necessary diplomas to go into the schools because they like their English teachers to have a french accent, I’m half joking but it’s true. I don’t show up in the statistics because I’m not officially unemployed but prices are high, (we don’t have TK Maxx) and as H shouted that evening “there are lots of miserable salaries in France” which is frankly nothing to shout about.  I know he wanted to say something about lucky and age which thankfully he kept to himself. Had I known then when I gave up work 15 years ago how difficult it would be now to have something interesting and satisfying, I might never have agreed to leave Paris and my job.

But hindsight’s a wonderful thing so I didn’t give it much thought at the time and only wanted to look after my new baby daughter having been convinced for so long that I was never going to become a mother. My advice today would be to enjoy what you have and waste as little time as possible on regrets, we should all have a little Edith in us.

Where is the nearest exit s’il-vous-plait?


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I watch the young couple from our front window propping up their toddler.  It looks as though it’s taken hours for them to get outdoors, they’re equipped to scale a mountain but they look so happy.  He has a ‘real’ camera and is patiently waiting for the baby to look in his direction. Her first pair of sunglasses are pulled out of his rucksack and the three figures move off to continue their sunday walk.  That was us at one point I think, including the bandana and plastic sunglasses.

Fast forward 14 years and ours is not as happy a scene.  The teen had hidden bad school results which means that our Sunday sits under another black cloud despite the good weather.  This isn’t a one-off sadly, it’s happened at least twice a year for the last six years.

We chose the french system for our daughter as it doesn’t change in that wherever you are in the world, children are studying the same curriculum at the same time making changing schools/country relatively easy depending on your child’s personality.

As a four year old in Germany however, I chose a german kindergarten which had a tree house and tree climbing equipment, children of mixed ages played together so that the older learn to look after the younger and the young learn from the older group.  No reading or writing, just the essentials of social bonding and learning to hold a pencil and most importantly, play.  When the weather was hot, I would find her sitting in the paddling pool in the shade.  None of this though prepared her or us for the french system at 6 which in their eyes was too late.

“What a disadvantage for your daughter to have English as a mother tongue” was my first clue that all was not well.  I laughed but when I realised that it wasn’t a joke, I replied that whatever the mother tongue, it’s never a disadvantage.  I now realise that what she should have said is that the french education system is difficult for those who are not french native speakers and I would heartily agree with her now.  Children start school at 3 either knowing already how to read and write or well on their way because parents know that they will have to catch up fast with the rest otherwise.  I wasn’t aware of this and we’ve been at a disadvantage ever since.

H is 100% french and wasn’t allowed to bring anything less than 18/20 home.  When he did get 17, his parents wanted to know why he hadn’t got a better mark so this, disappointment which is putting it mildly, comes as a huge deception and I think he suspects my family gene pool is responsible for the defective DNA.  He could be right.

The girl is 15 and a lot of time and effort is going into how to avoid spot breakouts, make-up tutorials, how to cover up aforementioned spots, looking thin whilst continuing to eat junk, the right hair products and fitting in at school.  If any of these subjects were on the curriculum then anything less than 18 and I would be asking why she hadn’t done better.

I’m trying to retrain my default thinking into being optimistic until faced with overwhelming evidence to the contrary but it’s a struggle.  “How is T coping with these catastrophic marks?” the teacher asks.  “She’s holding up OK” I say “but I’m not doing too well”.

Woman without an Anthem


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I had thought that I’d resolved any doubts about identity and what or who I am but after my week, I’m wondering if I’ve overlooked something. It’s a familiar tale and it started innocently enough with the arrival of our German exchange student and instructions from the school to speak only in French so that they can be fully immersed in the culture and language.  I realised that my whisky infused scones and Yorkshire tea were not exactly typical French fare along with the intermediate French I was serving up after school; this girl I thought, is entitled to a discount.

Our resident Frenchie happened to have the busiest week ever so although I delayed serving dinner until the last possible minute in the evening, each time I found myself sitting opposite two sullen teens who felt making small talk unnecessary in any language and eventually, I stopped insisting on it.  By the third evening, I would have happily agreed to a TV dinner to avoid having to speak to either of them using the same questions and getting very little back except some ghetto French from the teen.  I was quite relieved when the week was over.

On the last evening, the school had organised a party until late and when they came home I could see that our guest was upset.  She had spent 45 minutes looking for her friend at the party who had disappeared and then when she did find her, they had had an argument.

“Oh, there was probably a boy involved” I say to reassure her.  “You’ll be able to sort it all out on the bus home tomorrow”.  It strikes me moments later that had it been my daughter who had disappeared with a boy during the evening, I wouldn’t have been quite so blasé about it.

Saturday evening was spent listening to three handsome young Irish boys singing the songs that my father used to sing to us on long car journeys although as he only ever knew the chorus, that’s all I could sing too, which was more than everyone else there though. 

The music continued until late and the crowd wouldn’t let them stop playing.  They finished the evening with the Irish Anthem in Gaelic which I don’t know and then the French sang theirs and I watched as H and the teen joined in but I couldn’t do that one either.  I resisted the temptation to begin the British one because my voice isn’t good enough solo and I wasn’t sure that this crowd wanted to save our gracious queen but it made me think as I drove home.  I had thought that the question of identity had been settled and coming back to France was part of that.  I’m comfortable being British as opposed to English (because this suggests something broader) but my Irish roots are undeniable and maybe I should do something about it.  But what exactly?

The funny side of bureaucracy


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“We’d like your feedback” and just below is an empty perspex box. Where to begin?

The woman who dealt with us this time was an older version of the first lady I saw a month earlier. Impatient, bored, abrupt, cold there seems to be some form of civil servant cloning going on. Her icy demeanour meant that this time, I signed my name in the wrong place, dated the form under the signature whereas it should’ve been in the box on the right “WHERE IT SAYS LE” and when I hand it back, E notices that I’ve written 2014.

E’s fingerprints don’t match because she’s moved slightly “NE BOUGE PLUS” she would’ve made an excellent gendarme. She hands over the new passport but keeps the old one. Why? “C’est comme ça”. That’s how it is. Why, why? She shrugs and walks off.

So feedback wanted.

I make a spelling mistake in “accueil”, the teen sniggers and those behind the counters look up. Oh well, in for a penny. I miss out the second u in chaleureux. “Is welcome masculine or feminine?” The teen takes the pen and a new form with a look of exasperation not unlike the frosty lady who is the subject of our feedback.

By now we’ve made so much noise, everyone’s looking our way. “You would have had 0 out of 10 for that dictée”. Dictée, a text read out loud by the teacher and the children have to write it down exactly. Everyone starts off with 10 points but for every written mistake, you lose a point or two depending on how serious the error is.

“We didn’t get a warm welcome and no explanation for withholding an expired passport”, it now says with as far as I know, no spelling errors. I sign and date the thing and whilst she’s not looking, put the teen’s email address as a contact before making a quick exit.

life in France after Charlie


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I didn’t rush to type up my reaction to the terrorist attack in France last week, I thought it might be better to wait until the dust had settled a little before adding my voice to the fray.

I didn’t like the magazine much and dare I say it, to provoke just because you can is difficult to justify, so when people I knew kept telling me to put “nous sommes Charlie” in my window or send it as a text to all my mobile contacts, I balked.  If I had felt compelled to print a cartoon knowing that I was going to incur the wrath of islamic terrorists, it would have to be very, very clever and very funny, preferably both but would it ever really be worth it?  Charlie Hebdo wasn’t racist in my view, they just wanted to ridicule everything they could and one of their lasting images in my head is Francois Hollande being em, “cuddled” by a dog but he didn’t take up arms and take them out one by one.

France has a difficult time ahead because from where I’m sitting, there’s an uneasy truce between the traditional french community and culture who feels under threat and the second or third generation immigrants who reluctantly or not, have made France their home but feel unloved and prejudiced against.

The UK is a more tolerant but before one can get too carried away, you only have to look at the Lawrence family’s experience to know that this is also a work in progress, sometimes flawed but as I often read in my daughter’s school report “en cours d’acquisition”.

I’m very proud of the fact that my parents were immigrants to England in the 1960s from Ireland and considering that the IRA were waging their war on terror at that time, verbal insults were few and far between and my family thrived. I hope that sense will prevail, not all muslims are terrorists in the way that not all Irish were IRA. Life in the UK is more interesting because of immigrants not despite.

Maybe France will learn to tap into this source of potential. Those who have the courage to get up and leave behind their countries are usually the most dynamic, motivated by the chance to give their children a better life as opposed to chasing benefit cheques.

It will take strong political leadership and it won’t happen overnight but as unthinkable as it was 10 years ago, you can no longer light up in bars and restaurants in Paris and who could have predicted that?

I wish you all a very happy and healthy new year.

The business of beauty


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“What are they exactly?”

“One’s a primer and the other one reduces your pores”  he smiles  “Anything else I can help you with?”

Yes, why is this always so dirty?  I gesture to the counter in front of us which is caked in old makeup.

I see that he wasn’t expecting this question but he turns to really look at me.  Unfortunately for me, his makeup is perfect and the spotlights are not doing my 50 shades of grey any favours but I hold firm..  The teen stops breathing.

“Ah well …..”

It’s Saturday afternoon pre Christmas in Sephora and it’s really busy but this display has always looked neglected, broken brushes, dirty shelves, missing testers and foundation testers with broken plastic heads.  I like this brand, I even have some of it at home (not wearing it now sadly) but this is not at all attractive.

He starts to rub the plastic on the shelf with his thumb as he carefully chooses his words and we wait. I know that my expression is very similar to the one Meryl Streep wore throughout the film “The Devil wears Prada” because the teen told me later.

“They’ve used a different material here, the other displays are shiny but this one just looks untidy compared to the others.”

We both nod, not because we agree obviously but I decide that this young man is not responsible for all the sleights of hand that the beauty industry aim at women young and old.  However, if Red Bull can be successfully sued because, newsflash, their drink does not give you wings then maybe it’s about time the beauty industry stopped taking us ladies for dupes by advertising anti-ageing creams on twenty year old skin, mascara on models wearing false eyelashes and anti-cellulite on perfectly sculpted thighs for starters because ladies, we’re worth a lot more than that.

The teen pushes against me to make me move away which is just as well because any longer, I might even cackle and Halloween was weeks ago.  I don’t think I caused any lasting damage, he probably thought I was a mystery shopper for Nars and the teen says she’ll shop on her own from now on but I left Sephora smiling.  I only wish that I’d had some of this nonchalance before now but could the world cope with confident women when they’re young and do not need pore minimising cream nor primers to be beautiful?