Saturday, 30 July 2011


I shouldn't be here, I should be looking for the dog-eared piece of faxed paper from DVLA, circa 1995, that is my excuse for a driving licence. Or something. The summer "holiday" (aka family trip to the Beddington Cotswold Tetanus Theme Park) is imminent and I am downloading shitty scrappy maps and forging the dog's passport. I am looking forward to it a great deal, which is only partially indicative of just how shit things have been recently. Not big shit, you understand. Just the kind of aggravating, financial/admin/work shit that makes you long for a minor bout of lockjaw, some dead baby mice to examine and those extra-special leaden British holiday skies. I am also looking forward to it in a more straightforward way, because of the possibility of reading a book. Possibly sitting in a chair and drinking tea. I am hoping to do each of these things at least once in the course of our 8 day stay. Baby steps.

Good things about the summer "holiday":

- absence of masonry dust

- unlimited wine

- seeing my amusing, frequently furious nephew who hates animals/farms/farmers/the country

- and my niece, who likes all that stuff, and is a total peach.

- possible trip to the Cotswold Farm Park to have clothing eaten by aggressive escapologist goats

- Can wear the same thing for 7 days and no-one will notice/care

- Access to leaden, stodgy sponge cake offerings from Shipston on Stour

- Rumoured existence of a coffee machine in Shipston on Stour (unconfirmed)

- Children thankfully too old for Bourton on the Water Fundays playbarn.

Bad things about summer "holiday":

- the eery quiet and poor television/mobile phone reception of rural England

- strong likelihood of being very cold

- strong likelihood of being woken very early

- no suitable footwear

- children will get bored and violent after 48 hours and come over all Lord of the Flies

- dog will continue its descent into pathological neurosis, and probably pee on something antique or get savaged by a badger

- large amounts of driving

- many great big fuck off objects to incompetently drive into

- no money

- access to stodgy Shipston on Stour sponge cakes will make me even fatter than I am already

I think on balance, however, being away from the current home environment of dust, financial terror and builder angst is beneficial, but it could go either way. We shall see.

I went to Paris this week, anyway, where I recovered my children from their grandparents. They were happy to see me and pathetically grateful not to be required to fold their pyjamas for the first 24 hours, then reverted to mainly requesting regular cash injections and hitting each other. Lashes, in particular, has grown again over the last 3 weeks and reaches nearly to my nose, and treats me with a sort of kindly condescending manner that is by turn amusing and maddening.

It was a good trip, with some full and frank science park action, and a Lashes-enforced trip up the Eiffel Tower which ended with both he and I queasily clutching each other in the second floor gift shop in the grip of Hereditary Pathetic Vertigo. Fingers, who did not want to go in the first place, waltzed around like a slightly sulky moutain goat, entirely unaffected. Apart from that, I did not have time to buy any tiny choux buns or eat cold udon noodles and tempura in the 2ème, which saddended me. However, I did observe two Paris phenomena:

1. Tourist idiocy

In the - admittedly massive - queue for metro tickets at Gare du Nord, I listened to the following conversation between two - youngish American guys behind me. Not teenagers. Distinctly old enough to know better. I swear I am not exaggerating this conversation. Several times I turned round and openly stared at them, but they were entirely unmoved.

Idiot 1: This place sucks. This would NOT happen back home. This is a disgrace. Man, Paris is a disgrace.

Idiot 2: Yeah! Is it always like this?

Idiot 1 (authoritatively): Yeah. France sucks. They do not give a shit for anyone. Paris is a shithole.

Idiot 2 (reverently): I guess I didn't realise how lucky we are.

Idiot 1 (magnanimously): Yeah, coming from the best place in the world, I suppose everything else is gonna suck. Man, I hate this place. I hate France. I hate Europe.

Idiot 2 (tentatively): London was ok?

Idiot 1: London SUCKED. I hated London. I hate the English. The French hate the English too.

Idiot 2: They do? Why?

Idiot 1: (portentously): It's historical. They always have.

Idiot 2: I shouldn't be wearing this shirt then! (Union Jack polo shirt, very fetching)

Idiot 1: You wouldn't last two hours in London anyway. You can't stand the food! You wanted hamburgers and hotdogs!

Idiot 2 (conciliatorily): Yeah, that's true. But apart from the food, London was ok.

Idiot 1: It's a dirty shithole. Like Paris.

This discussion of the general suckage of Europe continued for a full fifteen minutes until we reached the front of the queue. Welcome, messieurs! May your pockets be picked repeatedly!

2. Senior violence

YET AGAIN, within hours of arriving in Paris, I was beaten by a furious, slightly mad, elderly lady. I did almost nothing to provoke her. I tried to walk across her path in the metro station, but at a sufficient distance ahead that it did not require her to slow down or alter her trajectory. She zoomed towards me like a thing possessed and started thumping me, shouting "Dégage, dégage, dégage" (get out of the way). I swear, once more, that improbable as this sounds, it is absolutely true. I was not even surprised. I am a magnet for Parisian geronto-violence. I remember getting beaten with a walking stick once at the market on rue Poncelet, to my tearful horror. The cultural image of the elderly lady in England is of someone kindly, who is likely to give you a dusty extra strong mint, and possibly tell you your baby needs a hat. This is all wrong in Paris (and according to my Czech colleague, also in the Czech republic, where old ladies are viewed with appropriate fear and caution). This time, at least, I found it irresistably funny, which is evidence of at least some limited degree of personal growth in the last eight years. My laughing just made her more furious, of course. Whilst I do not condone venting your irritation with your fists, I have some respect for this kind of naked display of aggression. Madame will not be dying of an ulcer, at least, will she?

What I would really like to see, obviously, is crazy old hitting lady take on the two tourists. Perhaps with a son et lumière production by Jean Michel Jarre. Make it happen, Paris!

I had better get on. Once more unto the Dunkerque ferry, and so on. I suggest you keep the roads of Belgium free tomorrow morning.


Macy said...

At least in good old Shipston wotsit you're highly unlikely to be beat up by indignant little old ladies :)

Unknown said...

You may be happy to know that David Lebovitz totally corroborates your stories of geronto - violence in Paris in his book The Sweet Life in Paris.

Clare said...

Cotswolds currently scorching hot. I kid you not. Good = hardly any laundry, fewer dressing decisions.

Patience_Crabstick said...

I wish I could teach my fellow Americans not to have loud, obnoxious conversations while partaking of public transportation in Europe, but that task is beyond me.

Pat (in Belgium) said...

You are to be commended most highly for not tearing into those American young men. Having just returned from visiting family in the States & witnessing the debacle of idiots otherwise known as the U.S. Congress, those guys have little, if any, room to talk about "shit holes".
Bonne vacances!

Anonymous said...

I apologize for my countrymen, the Americans. What can I say??

frau antje said...

I would advise you not to stand next to members of my extended family while buying metro tickets, they will only make you want to rip someone's head off, or at the very least become unhinged. Well done on the open staring though, turns out your stomach is stronger than mine. Just Bourbon on the Water Fundays here, and trying to fix my European shithole.

Dara said...

I hope to be an indignant old lady someday. Paris sounds ike the ideal place for me to retire.

Alison Cross said...

I have never been beaten by an old lady, but now feel my life is missing a certain something.

The ignorant tourists? Every nation on earth has got it's dickheads. Scottish dickheads can be found sporting See You Jimmy bunnets with fake orange hair sticking out over their ears, usually asleep in the sun turning lobster red, usually steaming drunk.

You'll never find them in the queue for tickets because they never pay for their train travel. So at least the Yanks WERE buying tickets - not all bad!

Enjoy your vacances in England with your family!


WrathofDawn said...

Our old ladies tend not to attack with umbrellas or walking sticks but they do have a rather disconcerting habit of always managing to repeatedly poke me in the breast whilst talking to me, forcing me to step backwards a step at a time after each poke. It's most offputting.

I think I will aspire to walking stick thumpings à la Parisiennes rather than breast poking in my old age. Which will no doubt land me in jail. At least I won't have to cook there.

Nicky said...

Old ladies talk to me very loudly at close quarters whilst holding me in a vice-like grip on the upper arm, invariably also treading on my toes. They leave finger-shaped bruises and blackening toenails. I suspect a beating with an umbrella will feature in my near future.

PlatformEdge said...

Old ladies in the Czech republic may not be outwardly aggressive but they've perfected the passive-aggressive 'look of disdain' if you don't close the outside door in a block of flats building firmly behind you. (Right before they come up to you and ask you outright to always make sure the door's closed firmly, otherwise thieves might get in.) And woe betide the fool who does not vacate their seat for an old lady on the tram or metro, even if you think it would be insulting to do so as it would suggest she's 'reeeeallly old'. In fact, you'll probably find she's only 56, but this country will have drummed it into her by then that she is ancient and therefore has no other function in society than to claim the right to expect everyone to give up their seats for her while she casually grumbles about how no-one is polite to old ladies anymore.

J. said...

Those two jag-offs in line have never been to any large cities before, European or otherwise, obviously. Chicago, New York, even Houston have long lines for tickets. My favorite part of this conversation is the assumption that no one around them speaks English, so they are free to be assholes. Of course as soon as they get to the ticket counter they will be pissed off if no one on staff speaks English. The one saving grace might be that their lack of French will preclude them trying to hit on anyone. When I get stopped by a foreign male tourist here for directions I not infrequently get propositioned (and I'm not particularly attractive nor habitually dressed like a prostitute). I guess American female politeness to someone asking for help is interpreted as being willing to have sex with strangers.

MsCaroline said...

It's the middle-aged ladies here in Korea - the 'ajummas' - that are very dangerous. They have pointy elbows(the better to push you with, my dear)and strong opinions, and hundreds of years of Confucianism on their sides. The really old ladies (say, 70+) are just like rock stars; they don't have to do anything at all to get what they want. On the subway you should see people jumping up as fast as they can to offer them seats the second they enter the train. After I die, I would like to come back as an old lady in Korea.

Anonymous said...

The next time you see or hear an American acting like that, you have my permission to kick them square in the balls.
-An Ashamed American

Anonymous said...

I feel your abusive-old-lady-pain. For two Sundays in a row, some terrible old crochety cowface has been leaning out of her third-story window and yelling at my kids for 1. Playing with the hose and 2. Touching some dead leaves. She has threatened to 'throw us out of the garden'. I am both mocking and scared. She is old and she hates me and she hates my children. She may quite possibly be the Queen of the Garden and if so, we are skating on thin garden-etiquette-related ice. May we grow old in a non-violent fashion, with some sense of the sisterhood intact.

Jane Calderwood Norton said...

I also remember the scariest people in New York City being the elderly ladies.

Z said...

I'm almost an old lady. I look forward to being crazy, but sadly I'll be one of the sweet but clingy variety. I shall offer barley sugar and floral gums and you will feel obliged to speak to me. I apologise now because I'll be past it by then.

Rhia said...

i remember visiting a Brit friend who was living in Venice and the cruise liner was moored and lots of American cruise members disembarked. So far no problems..I was talking in English to my friend (being as we are both British) and a nice but somewhat off the mark American couple approached us and asked us to show them around the city (for cash!) Ok so being offered cash makes it a tiny bit better, but WHAT?! How insanely random!
I explained that I was ON HOLIDAY and had no intention of carrying out paid work that day..
I am not American bashing at all, but this story reminded me of my American tourist experience!

mountainear said...

Apropos Shipston on Stour/cakes. My mother taught cookery/home economics at the high school there - probably in the 70s and probably about the right era to have taught a generation of. S on S home bakers their calorific art.

I apologise.

Ro said...

Just by the by, I hope you've seen this:

Put a crochet tam-o-shanter on Oscar and he'd fit right in!

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