Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Things are moving.

There's nothing worse in life than to have no goals. When you have the feeling you've stopped growing personally, professionally or in whatever direction you choose, you reach an impasse. For many, the solution is either the bottle, the affair, the ludicrous clothes or golf. Not wanting any of these options, I decided to pick up the phone and start reviving old contacts. Within an hour there was the prospect of a more productive future and that's good enough for the time being. All that has to be done now is to pencil in some dates and get talking to the right people to ensure there's something concrete for the diary, prepare and execute. All you need is an idea, a phone that works and people available at the other end who don't bear you a grudge for running off with their wife, stealing their prize marrow or setting fire to their dog. E-mail works, too, but the human voice is more effective, providing you can suppress your desperation to turn your life around.

I'm only writing this blog as a personal diary. After losing three tomes of thoughts and memoirs to hard disk failure I decided to store them on the internet. Just in case anyone does read this one day I've taken the precaution to mask who I am, what I do, where I live and anything which could compromise the privacy of my family. I'll remember what job I was doing later on, but I probably won't recall how I felt at the time.

The Fingernails are at home all this week. Either it's the school holidays or the children are all on strike; it's difficult to know in France, sometimes.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Profile. Again.

Sorry to go on about this profile thing, but the 'Profession' menu doesn't even list the branch I'm in. Considering that it was the n°1 earner for the EU in 2005 (€14.7 billion) I find it remarkable to have to select 'Arts' while 'Consulting' or 'Law Enforcement' get their own tabs. Big Al's Mutant Flea Circus counts as 'Arts' and we're much better than them.

Something new, by God!

It's incredible to think we've been here three years and have only today hit upon the wonderful (and, let's face it, remarkably basic) idea to get pedalling and explore a bit of the countryside. Armed with two bikes with a Fingernail each on the back we ploughed through the detritus of the city centre and headed south along the canal before having lunch at a collective farm. Even at my age I never cease to wonder how far away you can seem from your workaday life in such a short time. Nice for the Fingernails to inhale something other than carbon monoxide for a few hours, too. The idea to make this a habit is now too strong to resist; having no car does tend to make one stop thinking about possible excursions, even if my suggestions of taking a train somewhere - anywhere! - and just winging it often fell on resigned ears. The upside is that the bairns zonked out within two minutes of lights out, leaving Mrs. F and I to contemplate what we could possibly do with all this newly-one free time. In true romantic tradition, she took her saddle-soreness of to bed to read and I sat down and checked my e-mails. Now, that's romance in the computer age.

The only disadvantage with having Monday as your only free day is that anything worth seeing - The Museum of Discarded Drawer Handles, Frère Jacques' Antique Modem Emporium and the like - is closed. The locals need to recuperate after slaving all day Saturday and striking on Wednesday, so as one of professional society's oddbods, you're on your own. Even a charming-looking café, situated next to one of the busiest locks on the canal (even on Monday), offered us nothing more refreshing than the knowledge it would be open all the six days of the week we're engaged in our primary occupation, namely slaloming around dog shit and playing chicken with cars doing 70 in a 30 zone.

On a lighter note, the general mood is lightening at Chateau Fingers. I read these last few posts back and didn't recognise myself, to be honest. The ambition and optimism which has led me through life to this point has been alarmingly absent since starting this blog, but can now feel a turning point. I've always had goals in life; they've taken me around the world a few times, I've seen and done things that many people never will, but recently, all I've wanted to do is curl up into a ball and hope the whole darned mess just goes away. I've got a wife, children and job that zillions would kill for, but the internal spark went out for a while, there. Thanks to a couple of rented bicycles and a bit of greenery, I can feel it coming back. Sometimes I think that's how close we all are to the abyss: just a few inches. But a few inches in the other direction can take you where you really want to be.

Sunday, 28 October 2007


I've just looked at the page "Edit your profile" and saw that the initial choices for 'Country of Residence' and 'Profession' were 'Afghanistan' and 'Accounting' respectively. I think I'll go with that: there are few things more glamorous than number-crunching in Kabul.

Onwards and upwards

We're all out of the woods. After Fingernail 2's modeling of Jackson Pollock's new pyjama range at 2am the other night and Fingernail 1's performance artistry in the bathroom, Mrs. F and I successfully navigated our bouts without any recourse to Generation Game-like redecoration fantasies and can envisage a happy bug-free week while we go out and get ourselves poisoned by car fumes. Ah, the glamour of France! From what I've observed these last twenty-odd years of being a foreigner, is that it's only really the Scandinavians and the Teutons who really know how to live in cities. It requires a lot of mutual respect, limited traffic and as much green as the city limits can cope with. Dear old France fails on all three counts. We're getting rent-a-bike stations, semi-pedestrianised areas in the historic centre and the rest, but it's an uphill struggle if the populace stubbornly refuses to take public transport, preferring to sit in traffic for two hours than risk the humiliation of getting on a bus or underground train to get home in less than half that time. God only knows what it must be like to live in Mexico City full-time; I was there for a month a few years ago and the air nearly did for me in that short period...

Saturday, 27 October 2007


So that didn't really turn out too well at all. The Fingernails passed on their germs and Mrs. F and I were laid low the whole day. Rather than infect all my colleagues I called in sick and slept most of the afternoon. Having taken care of the Fingernails the whole morning I passed the baton just before lunch and hit the sack. It would have been nice to have started this blog whilst surfing a tide of good fortune, but ach, 'twas not to be. With any luck, things will be better by the morning and I can take the Fingernails out to the market, get a paper and then sit with them on a café terrace while they sip their little drinks. It's a simple pleasure but a delightful one. That also gives Mrs. F a couple of hours to do whatever it is than women do when holed up on their own for a limited period. Monday heralds the start of the autumn half term holiday in our region. Thankfully, it's only a week and Fingernail 2 will still be going to her crèche, so it's not so bad. Growing up in England, we always lived in a house with a couple of gardens and it seemed everyone else did, too. French cities are low on green and high on pollution and dog turds, so battling your way through the streets to the park in the afternoon is not always rosy. The first time I saw a family living in a flat was when I moved to Germany about twenty years ago. They were clearly well-heeled, so I couldn't understand their choice. Here, having a house and garden here would mean moving a long way out, getting two cars and buying a timeshare on the ring road. The Fingernails would breathe much better air, but I'd hardly ever see them. Living the way we do, I take one or both to school in the morning, pick one or both up at lunchtime, have lunch en famille, then I go off to work in the afternoon, generally being back before they go to bed. The park is close, so it's a fair compromise.

Friday, 26 October 2007

So here we are...

It's late. Not as late as when I was 25, but that's time for you. Mrs. Fingers is asleep in bed and the Fingernails are sleeping off a 24-hour bug which has caused the washing machine to nearly overheat. Still, things are returning to normal and tomorrow's Saturday, but I don't get off work that easily. Monday's my only free day so while I'm off tackling Mozart the rest of the Finger Family will be at their grandmother's, chewing paella and getting bitten by insects the size of small dogs in the overgrown garden.

I met Mrs. Fingers while working in London over ten years ago. After spending time in Scotland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris and Germany my work took us to her home town in France. Like many in France, she's descended from foreign stock, so I can add instant family in France and Spain to the English and Australian on my side. That was three years ago. We arrived with Fingernail 1, born in Germany and now five, then added Fingernail 2 two years ago. Life was pretty carefree before, but then we started making people and it all changed. Nipping off to Las Vegas on a whim has been replaced by the usual cares of parenthood i.e. making sure your children don't try to eat broken glass or play hide-and-seek in the dishwasher. Fingernail 1 has just woken up with a headache but she's a stoic; Fingernail 2 will save all her energy and zest for life for 6am, just when we're enjoying the end of a good night's sleep with -haha- the prospect of not having to get up too early. We tell ourselves this every Friday night, but we've yet to be pleasantly surprised.

I'm not a clichéd English expat. I'm not retired, I don't live in the country. We bought a flat in the centre of the city and I go to work every day like anyone else. We don't own a car, we have no mobiles and since greasing the palm of every parasite involved in our real estate purchase we have no savings, either. Still, our children are healthy (except when they're redesigning their pyjamas) and Mrs. Fingers hasn't left me for a wealthier model. Yet.