Summer days chez moi

I’m sitting on my bed in my dressing gown. It’s 10am and rather warm. An all too familiar clank-clank starts over in the corner and I realised that Chicklet has found the cat’s metal water bowl. Splashing sounds then mark his little hands playing and soon it will stop. The bowl has been upturned and a mini lake is now forming on my bedroom floor.

I think I should care about this, but all that passes through my mind is that I’m glad he’s found a way to cool down that doesn’t involve me getting off the bed.

Yup, I am well and truly in the slummy mummy category.

Some shade

It’s been superbly sunny here recently. Chicklet needed some extra shade, so I popped into a shop that sold baby accessories.

Qu-est ce que vous cherchez madame?” the assistant asked.

Un nombrile.” said I in my flawless French.

Aaah. Une ombrelle.” she repeated, turning to walk in the direction of them, with the hint of a smile crossing her lips.

Instead of asking for a sun shade, I had confidently asked for a belly button.

 

Hashi’s

There is a brief window, usually the three to five minutes after waking up, when I feel good. I feel like I have enough energy to make it through the day. I feel like I’ll be able to accomplish something. Finally. And then it hits: nope, not today.

Everyday a dense fog descends. My brain stops working. I have great difficulty remembering why I went to the kitchen, why I’m in a particular shop. My body just doesn’t want to move – my atrophying thighs feel like they’ll give way after a walk to the sitting room.

My feet hurt, the soles, so painful every morning, or if I’ve been sitting on the floor for a while and try to stand up.

My hair is tied up, constantly, lest Chicklet gets another handful of it in his chubby little fingers. There is no point in wearing makeup: my skin is so dry, scaly and wrinkly it actually makes me look worse.

Clothes are a nightmare. Truly a nightmare. Half a kilo a week weight gain. A little translation: that’s more per week than I was putting on at eight months pregnant, only I shan’t be having a little bundle of chicklet delight arriving in a month or so.

Occasionally there are deep, dark waves of horrible feelings that make me extremely glad for my little Chicklet, or perhaps I’d have bungee jumped – without the rope – from the Eiffel Tower months ago (taking the lift up, of course, no energy for stairs).*

Mid-night wake ups because my hands are so dry they wake me up. After a smothering of cream, I can sleep again.

A love-hate relationship has developed with Coca Cola. If I want to be able to a) gather my thoughts b) seem like I’m sort of on form and c) make it any distance from the apartment, I need some caffeine and sugar. That’s the love. Putting on half a kilo per week (and I’m doing that without the help of too much coke), that’s the hate.

And the fog, the fog, the fog. Why am I writing this? Why did I start telling you that story? Why did I want the pen I now have in my hand?

The bone-aching tiredness every day, mid afternoon. So tired, every cell in my body is fatigued, yet I can’t sleep. I don’t want to sleep: it’s the middle of the afternoon.

A funny feeling. Faint. Jittery. Extremely weak. My heart, it turns out, is under so much pressure, it starts to beat erratically.

I had no idea until last month that all these were symptoms of one thing. In Cairo I thought I was dehydrated and I thought I was lazy. Then I thought I was pregnant, so I was supposed to be tired, not be able to think properly, have swollen hands and feet. I thought everybody who gave birth was exhausted, everybody with a baby was tired, even if they slept through the night. I thought that clumps and clumps of hair in my hands, golf ball sized hairballs on my pillow in the mornings for weeks and weeks on end was what everybody has post-partum. I thought I was weak. I thought I had to ‘push through it’, so I pushed and kept pushing.

I pushed so hard that I ended up on the edge, luckily only the edge, of a very serious problem.

Turns out, I have Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease of the thyroid. My body kills off the thyroid hormone that the thyroid produces.

I’m not dying. It’s not Cancer with the big ‘C’. It’s not motor neuron disease. It’s not a horrible, nasty thing that means I’m going to meet a horrible end.

And I’m truly, truly grateful for that, more than I know how to fully express.

That doesn’t mean that it’s ‘just’ a thyroid problem and “Oh well, at least it can be easily treated”. Both things that almost everybody I’ve told has replied and that I too would probably have said if someone told me they had a thyroid problem.

My life should go back to ‘normal’. I should have energy once again to do four hours in the gym and then dance for four hours after riding for an hour in the morning and working an eight hour day, even if darling Chicklet doesn’t allow such extravagances of time.

Should.

The tablets that I have to take every morning for the rest of my life should make me feel better. Fingers crossed they do – all my hopes are pinned on these little white pellets. But right now, although the lab results are changing for the good, the wait to feel better is on.

It’s not ‘just’ a thyroid problem to me, right now. It’s something affecting every cell of my body and every aspect of my life. As Mr S agreed to my tears this morning, “This isn’t a life”.

I’m desperate, itching, to get out in the world and do things, even if that just means taking Chicklet swimming and “making the most of Paris” while we’re here, but for now, I’m going to go back to one of the things I can do: painting a bedside table.

*Don’t worry, not only do I not have energy for the Eiffel’s stairs, I don’t have the energy to get there, so there’s absolutely no chance of any pseudo-bungying taking place. I also enjoy painting bedside tables far too much to try to end it all!

Image is Hashimoto’s Disease at 4x Magnification from Nikon’s MicroscopyU website – probably the coolest thing about all this! 

 

What I think you’ll think

I’m not a tidy person. Never have been. That I’ll freely admit. I can’t, however, stand dirt, dust, dust bunnies etc., chez moi.* I would clean – once a week would suffice – but arranging papers, folding clothes and the like, well, that could wait. So, I class myself as “clean, not tidy”.

Suddenly, now that Chicklet is here, I find myself cleaning and tidying frequently. I don’t really want to, but feel I must – something takes over! A wiping of the table, a sneaky little vacuum (yes, it was done yesterday, but there’s a little bit of fluff about to appear in the corner), arranging papers, straightening the duvet cover, polishing the tiles…

I came to the realisation that, as a student, if you came around and my flat was a mess, I would think that you wouldn’t think anything of it. Or I wouldn’t think about it at all. It’s a mess, so what? Add a baby to the mix and I feel a pressure: I think you’ll think that I’m “not coping” if things are untidy.

Is this how housewives are born? Eeeeek!

Off to plump a cushion…

*Rather ironically, I don’t notice these things at your place, so don’t worry!

Home is where the heart is

I have spent the weekend watching my beloved country get its courage. I can’t be there and it pains me. Think of it like a very close relative in hospital for a serious illness. You want to be on top of every moment. Every gain in health and every attack from the bacteria. You are not a doctor and you cannot make them better, but somehow, if you follow every minute, you are doing all you can do and if there is a second where you can step in and help, you’ll be able to jump up ready.

Unlike with a sick relative, however, I am overjoyed and immensely proud of the people I lived amongst for just under a decade. When I arrived in Egypt I was told, in offhand comments, that Egyptians were lazy. It certainly seemed like that to start off with. The more I was there, however, the clearer it became that this was not the case. It was not lethargy, it was a lack of pride. And why would you have pride in your school work, as a child, when the teachers teaching you are not teaching. They are not proud of their job as they are so underpaid, they tell you that if you want to learn, your parents have pay for you to to come to their private classes in the evening. When you see that the children who get the good marks, are those who can furnish tips for their teachers. So, you make it through the school system, you get some good marks in your leaving exams and enter a university system that is determined on your high school grades, for which your work was not fairly marked, and your parents contacts. Your results in university are again, partly dependent on your parents connections.

Of course, you know you’re the lucky one, because you got into university in the first place.

You are not that lucky though. Most university students over the past ten years have graduated into no job. If the average-grading engineer with no family connections is lucky, he can drive a taxi. The lucky ones who graduate AND get a job, are unlikely to be paid a wage decent enough to live on.

There was, at least while I was there, and I am sure before I got there, a nation-wide depression. A total hopelessness about both their personal future and that of their country. Those who could leave and work abroad, did. People would frequently ask me why I was there, often truly shocked that I actually wanted to be there. If I had one Egyptian pound for every taxi driver who asked me how he could get a Canadian visa, how he could get to Europe, if there was work in Scotland, I would be a millionaire – in US Dollars now.

The lack of pride was also in evidence by the amount of rubbish on the streets. There were street sweepers, but that was not the issue, it was the normalcy of dropping rubbish on the ground and the incredulity when someone, usually foreign, went off in search of a bin to put their rubbish in. One driver at a company I worked in, let’s call him Wael, pulled me to the side one day, still laughing in shock, because our CEO had been visiting us from abroad and between meetings, he’d had a ta’ameya sandwich, water and coke in the car. When he finished, he put all the rubbish back in a plastic bag. Wael, reached back, took the plastic bag from him, lowered the window and moved to throw it out on the highway. The CEO shouted, “NO! Don’t through it on the road!” He then, shocked, told Wael he should not throw rubbish on the road, and anyway, “Why would you want to make your country dirty?”. Poor Wael, had spent the evening mulling it over and thought it was rather funny and strange that a foreigner wouldn’t want to dirty Egypt, but he didn’t care. He asked me if we thought like that in the UK and if other countries I’d been to thought like that. He still talked about this when I saw him 5 years later – and he still found it strange, but he said that he had never put rubbish on the street since then.

So, to see something like this video, makes me happier than I know how to convey:

Lack of Vit D vs Skin Cancer…

It is no secret that I was not over the moon at the thought of moving to Paris. I was no less displeased to actually be here – a fraud, living someone else’s (many others’) dream. Mr S was a little peeved about this as there wasn’t much he could do about it and, after all, Paris is in France and being French, France is the best country in the world: rejecting Paris was rejecting the best country in the world, his family, his heritage..all the way to his toenails. Ok, I exaggerate, but it certainly seemed like that.

It’s getting better, as logically I knew it would – it had to. Yesterday afternoon I was organising my photos from the past few months. It was nice (can you hear the heavy sarcasm) to come across photos like this:

and then as I got closer to the present, they were starkly contrasted with this:

What? You can’t see the top of the tower? Aaah, that’s because there’s freezing fog.

You think I’m kidding about the weather? That almost-vertical (my bad angle, not a rival to the Leaning Tower of Pisa) structure in the background is the Eiffel Tower. The spots just in front of the lense: sleet.

The same day that we moved from Cairo to Paris, some good friends of our moved from Cairo to Mozambique. I was insanely jealous, a radioactively glowing green. That has changed a bit as the months wear on, especially as the working spouse’s job involves outsmarting pirates. ‘Nuff said!

This change is faltering a little now, however, after talking with them on Skype yesterday. Mr S and I were wearing about three layers of clothes. She was in a sleeveless top and he was topless.

Later on at dinner, Mr S said to me, “Do you think you could change the calibration of your webcam? It makes us look white.”

“We are white.”

“No, I mean it makes us look really white, it’s not normal.”

“We are really white – we’re living in Paris in the Winter.”

Might it be, just perhaps, Mr S is realising that while Paris, and by extension France, has everything*, it does not have the best weather?

*I have to admit, as evidenced by my rapidly disappearing waist, that France’s food is indeed, excellent.

Operation S.B.A.M

I lived in Egypt for 8 years straight. Before that, I was there the two prior years for extended periods with the rest of the time spent as a student in Scotland. In total, that is 10 summers, 9 autumns and winters and 8 springs in Egypt. Of course, “Winter” is a rather loose term in Egypt. It certainly gets cold, exacerbated by the fact that Egyptian homes are built only for hot weather, but snow, horizontal rain, sleet, sub-zero temperatures and weeks of grey skies are not a feature of the “Winter”.

And now I’m here. In Paris. The city of Style.

Before leaving Egypt, I decided that altruism would be a nice parting gift and gave away all my clothes, other than evening gowns, wedding dress, two t-shirts and two winter coats – neither of which I liked).

My name is Trailing Grouse and I’ve been wearing the same grey marl jumper since early October. And the same pair of jeans, changed with one of two crappy (read drawstring AND elasticated waist) trousers that sag in the bum after the first wearing. And one of three t-shirts (two came from Cairo, one I bought here).

My name is Trailing Grouse and last week I found myself wearing sky blue velour trackie bottoms (10 years old) with a fuschia fleece (bought exclusively for skiing two years ago). I hasten to say that I did not leave the house in this fashion hideosity.

My name is Trailing Grouse and until a week ago, I had not had a haircut since late June 2009.

My name is Trailing Grouse and I can’t watch TV with my glasses on because the lenses are so scratched that I can’t actually see it.

My name is Trailing Grouse and I feel completely overwhelmed by all the brands, types of clothes and products in general, so much so, that I have not been shopping.

My name is Trailing Grouse and I’m really not kidding about these shameful facts.

And so it is, after reading the delightful Peonies that I have decided to join Operation Stop Being a Minger (in comparison to her, my reasons for joining are pretty crap – when has apathy been a good excuse –  but somehow, I’ve ended up at a similar point!).

Paris behind the photos


People all over the world dream of living in Paris, in an “old” i.e. Hausmannian, apartment. High ceilings, cornices, large windows over-looking slate roofs, cute streets, window boxes. There are hundreds and thousands of descriptions in books and more modernly, pictures online, of a “Parisian apartment” – and the majority really are beautiful.

Picture from A Life’s Design

At least in the pictures.

The reality is, for the majority of French people, that they could not afford to live inside Paris proper. It is an expensive city (and not just in comparison to Cairo!!). Buying one square metre inside the Périphérique (the road that divides the city from the ‘burbs) of mid-level real estate costs around €10,000  - one of the reasons that apartments are generally so small.

(from se loger‘s Paris property for sale section – in the much romanticised Montmartre area)

Most important, however, is what none of the pictures tell you: except in some exceptional circumstances, the noise isolation of Parisian apartments is virtually non-existant.

(from se loger‘s Paris property for sale section – in the Montmartre area)

This came as a shock to me. Stone walls and high ceilings in the UK generally mean that you can barely hear your neighbours. Not so in Paris. Shoes on wooden floors? Of course, that’s to be expected. Hearing shoes on wooden floors of your downstairs neighbour? Hmm. Ventilation shafts running vertically between apartments amplify arguments for neighbours’ ears. Standing in a building hallway waiting for a friend to open their door and you can hear from behind the closed door on the same floor, every word of a discussion between a father and his young daughter. Two floors above and another neighbour, behind another closed front door, is practicing the violin…

(from se loger‘s Paris property for sale section – in the Monmatre area)

Despite hearing the witchy downstairs neighbour I had in Cairo (more on her soon) I find it a strange phenomenon that I know my neighbours have daily trouble with their children at meal and bed times, that one of the children did not get dressed in time for school this morning resulting in a rather upset father, yet I have no idea if I have ever met them in the elevator, passed them in the lobby, or smiled at them when I checked my post – or not.

What I find even more strange is that I am now quite liking the idea that I can hear my neighbours (well, some of the time). I am not a fan of screaming children and shouting parents, but when it’s quiet, I do find myself wondering if everything is ok…

Going solo

In Cairo, a lively debate was had amongst a group of expat ladies about what we called our, well, housekeepers/live in nannies come housekeepers/cleaners/or, gasp, the word English speaking Egyptians use: maid. Straight off the bat let me say that it is considered downright stingy to the point of rudeness to be able to afford um, a woman-what-does, and not employ one. That’s right. If you can afford a [insert here your term], then, socially, you must. This not a relic of colonial times dragged out by the modern Western expatriate community reliving some former glory (that they mostly weren’t part of in the first place), but an informally formal social system that functions in place of a governmental welfare system. If you do not employ the widowed cleaner, she will have a very hard time feeding her family.

Never mind the never ending nightmare of Cairo dust exacerbated by ill-fitting windows…

I digress.

Having lived within this social norm for the whole of my life since graduation, I am back in “The Real World” as Mr S (I would almost say that stands for Smug here..) likes to say. I am not a stranger to a dustpan and brush, nor a ghastly toilet brush. Not at all – and for that very reason, I delighted in the fact that if I planned a dinner correctly, I could leave everything in the kitchen and the next day, by about 9.30am it would all be either in the dishwasher (yes, I’m that lazy) or (if I wasn’t that lazy) back in the cupboards. I revelled in the joy that is neither washing nor ironing my clothes, even if that did mean a shrunken cashmere sweater and whites turned pink on the odd occasions, precisely because I knew what what an annoyance it is to do it myself.

So, now in The Real World, I find that in order to keep our modest apartment clean, it takes at least an hour a day. There is DUST. Shocking really that wet, cold midwinter, with our windows almost always closed and the nearest desert about 1000 miles away, that there should be so much of the bloody stuff.

And then there’s the ironing…

What I cannot quite get my shrunken-from-the-cold-head around is how people actually manage to have a reasonably clean house AND work AND have kids (and not have any form of outside help). So, inside my temple of delight (aka a library with books in English) I found my Christmas reading:

Tweedle dum (a whopping 834 pages including index)


Tweedle dee (a lesser, but mighty fine 373 pages, no index)
I started last night. By goodness there’s got to be only one thing worse than doing housework: reading about it. Or perhaps not, given the first sample’s verbosity, editing it clearly proved a mind-numbing task! The editor’s lack of textual interference is perhaps further evidenced by this corker. A little context first though. There is a list of tasks divided by the frequency with which they should be completed. On the ‘Daily’ list, just after “Neaten; put away newspapers, magazines, and similar items” and just before “Empty trash and garbage containers (evening)” comes, “Do interim marketing, when necessary”. Now, while I may know how to change a hoover bag, I have never heard of marketing as a household chore. Upon closer inspection of the waffling text, it appears this would mean that I need to pick up small food/household items as necessary during the week that I didn’t get on my weekly (see Weekly list) shopping trip to the superMARKET… 
Yaw…sorry, I’m still here. Are you finding it all as thrilling as me?
Never mind, I’m sure these encyclopaedia will include some top tips that get better (and funnier) with a mince pie, some fine chocolates and a glass or two of sherry….

Notes from a New World: 1 – A Conversion

There are major renovations being undertaken on my building. Every day, on the dot, some of the workmen break off and cross the street to the supermarket to buy baguettes. Noon, Monday to Friday, without fail. 

Set meal times. Set times for anything are odd. Unsettling even. 

I find myself watching them through the window. Whenever I’m at home. Noon, Monday to Friday, without fail.