Tea and motivation

Slightly less malade.

The drugs they gave me in the French pharmacie are working most fantastic magic and I am improving, although perhaps not quite as quickly as I imagine. I urgently need food supplies at home (today has been the first day I have succeeded in washing myself, so that should give you some idea of energy levels). However, this means having to go shopping. I have had to bribe myself into it with a trip to Bio Break, my favourite gluten free cafe, where the waiter makes me very nervous with his aggressive friendliness, but where I strangely like their cardboardy vegan food. I knowingly paid an extra three euro today for a soup that I knew was going to be cold. French Sarah does strange things. French Sarah also drinks many different types of teas, which she would have previously spurned as ‘not proper tea’. Earl grey, which would have been suspiciously regarded as the preserve of English people and aristocracy, is the new craze. I depart from the Frenchness by putting milk in it, but it’s baby steps. Who would have thought that milky lemony goodness could be so delicious? Black tea?? Blah. For commoners. So I have myself a cup of it (for motivation, of course), but the minutes are slipping by.

An hour later, I am still in Bio Break with neither the energy nor the inclination to go to the supermarché across the way. I can SEE it, I just can’t BE in it.

Struck down, in the prime of life! Maladie!

Since returning from Ireland, I have been afflicted with a chest infection that has knocked me for six. Apart from work, I have barely been out of bed in three days, and last night I had to sleep sitting up. This ignominy was thanks to the horrible cough, which had me pinned horizontal for two days, but which then revolted badly against horizontality and insisted on a full time upright position. So a mixture of breathlessness and guilt propelled me into the sitting room to sleep, where I could take advantage of the cushions and cough away unhappily without melting Karim’s brain through the cardboard walls. Boooooo.

The Irish/French non-overlap

We had a new girl started in work with us last night. I am only raging jealous at how everything is coming to her so easily, what with the monstrous advantage of understanding what people say to her. I think I may have underestimated just what an obstacle that was going to be….

But for now, my focus must change. Back to psychologising and speaking Irish, to see if the Irish psychologists will have me on their panel again. It has been so crucial to me to continue improving my French that I haven’t been able to allow myself practice Irish for even a minute, but now is the hour. And let me tell you, the hour is long and arduous. I cannot speak a single word of a language in which I was once the proud obtainer of a Leaving Cert honour. I have forgotten the words for ‘today’, ‘also’, ‘but’, ‘with’, ‘a little’ and ‘of course’. And that’s in the first five seconds. It’s like I have two large pots in my mind -one is for English, and this is a good sturdy pot, with no holes in it. The other pot is labelled “other language”. This pot is of a considerably poorer quality -I probably bought it in Aldi -and refuses to distinguish between any languages therein. As a result, it produces whatever-the-fuck it feels like in terms of sentence construction, and decides it is right proud of itself. So in short, all my pots and kettles are ‘noir’, which is going to cause beaucoup de deacrachtai when it comes to the Irish entretien amárach. Mais fan go bhfeicfimid!

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We could have had it all!

We could have had it all. I was SO CLOSE to getting a full week of smiley faces on my work chart. SO CLOSE! I was having the bants, we had only two clients in the restaurant last night and spent the rest of the time telling jokes that worked despite language barriers. It was great. Until this morning, when commenced the great ‘aw aw aw aaaaaawww aw’ debacle. Apparently none of us thought to bring the till down into the cellar last night, which is technically on my list, but is definitely not my job. However, this was no impediment to Jeannette delighting in the rage that this permitted her, and she started a rant about the many problems that she discovered upon opening this morning. Apparently the boss is not at all happy, and will definitely be talking to me. I always check the bloody list, but the one time I didn’t -raging. So my Terrible Awful Misdemeanour was obviously related to anyone who would listen, and anyone who would listen also had a great time making horrified faces at me. So naturally I spent the day dizzy with guilt and bad feeling.

This was not helped by this afternoon’s visit to the physiotherapist, one Ms. Leslie-Marie Martin, who I will never be seeing again. Another one who only wanted to talk about crepes. I knew from the outset that I was on to No Good Thing here -she was probably the wrong side of retirement age and I knew the minute I clapped eyes on her that she was much too frail and skinny to be any match for my knee problems. (Which are aggressive and muscular -I think they must be Polish.) It didn’t help that she kept asking me for some piece of paper from the doctor that said what was wrong with my knee, even though I kept explaining that the doctor had given me no such thing, and wasn’t it enough that I was TELLING her what was wrong with my knee. I even had an MRI as proof, which I had kindly translated into French for her, but to no avail. She was beyond useless, and gently rubbed my knee for fifteen minutes with essential oils, all the while banging on about French cuisine. Her diagnoses is that I am walking wrong, apparently swinging my hips like a catwalk model. I. Am. Not. She kept telling me that I needed to walk differently, telling me to “cherchez dans les pieds”. I politely explained (while trying to keep back tears) that I hadn’t a scoobie doo what she was on about, telling me to “search in my feet”. She took this opportunity to talk louder, repeating the same thing, while fashioning a swingy jaunt around the room. I asked her dubiously if she thought this would work (notwithstanding the fact that I really didn’t know what she meant) and her response was that it had worked for her half sister. Evidence based practice at its best. She attempted to schedule a return appointment, but I left her with a vague promise to call her. Bullshit. She only charged me €15, but that is still €15 and an afternoon that I will never get back.

However, later this evening, things improved a bit. I was still in the depths of depression about the whole till incident, when I met one of the two whose job it Actually is to look after the till, and they were shocked to think I had taken it so badly to heart! It was Jeanne (very different from Jeannette, you see), and she was very clear on the fact that it was nothing to do with me. So all guilt lifted! And I can flit off home to Ireland tomorrow for my interview without dread in my heart! I told Karim the whole sorry story and he was awful nice about it -Karim wouldn’t be the type to go around harbouring unnecessary guilt. Or taking shit from French people. He blamed the others for just being French (not a good thing, in Karim’s book) and between the two of us we’re cultivating a fine racist culture here in Tunisia 1b.

Serotonin and the Stress/Caffeine Continuum

Serotonin is Low. Now don’t get me wrong -this is not a bad thing. I find I’m not that attached to my serotonin, and low levels can lead to some highly enjoyable highs and lows. (Says she cavalierly before the onset of a major depression…) Now for those of you who are not my close friend and family, I love talking about serotonin. Apologies if I’ve explained this before, but it is a magical little chemical that is very important in maintaining your mental health. It is commonly misunderstood as the ‘happy’ chemical, because people with depression and anxiety lack it. However, it is in fact the emotion regulator, meaning that when you have appropriate levels of it, you won’t get too down. Which, as anyone who has ever suffered from depression will tell you, is A Very Good Thing. But you won’t get too excited either, which is why when you drink alcohol (which reduces serotonin), you feel things a bit more strongly. Having the craic with your friends? Even MORE craic. Crying over your ex boyfriend? Even MORE heartbroken. Annoyed with someone for bumping into you? RAGING. Feeling guilty the next day about all you drank, ate and said? Full scale depression. Laughing over stupid things you did? HILARITY. So there’s ups and there’s downs, basically, and overall you’re better to have it than not.

However, today, for some reason or other (I have my theories), I am in the red, serotonin-wise. And given that there’s nothing really wrong with me, I’m loving it! Things I have been overly excited about today: songs on my French songs playlist (singing and dancing accompaniments included), finishing my physio, a fun conversation with Karim last night, making a video blog of how to make buckwheat porridge for my cousin, handing in a CV. Things I have cried over today: a hip hop song about single mothers, two tragic stories in the news, not being able to print something, a video about a single mother (it’s all about the single mothers at the moment apparently -never knew I had such compassion for them) and a relationship advice column. But they weren’t BAD tears -they were kind of enjoyable, in a sad movie kind of a way. (Except for The Book Thief, there was nothing AT ALL enjoyable about the inelegant blubbering that went on at that, and it was Hollywood’s emotional manipulation at its highest, which drives me spare. Clearly some smart director -probably Clint Eastwood, the prick -realised that if you could make Americans cry, that they thought your production must be ‘meaningful’, and you could sell loads of movies -even if you were peddling over-sentimental tripe.) But back to today, I’m having a great time, toute seule, and I didn’t even need any alcohol to do it! There are sure to be repercussions…

So as for the possible reasons for low serotonin levels, well it’s probably work related. You’ve only got so much of the stuff, and high levels of stress and worry reduce it. Tuesday was another bad day, starting and finishing with mistakes. The mistakes cause the stress, the stress causes mistakes, Alice compounds the stress by being an utter bitch, and it all gets a bit defeating. So by Tuesday night I wasn’t in great form. However, on Wednesday morning, I remembered that I am a psychologist, and shouldn’t be taking crap from stress and anxiety. There is also the factor that I have labelled The Stress/Caffeine Continuum. I keep drinking coffee to help me deal with the stress and energise myself, but I read somewhere once that drinking coffee is like ingesting a little cup of anxiety every time, which naturally creates some sort of a vicious dependency cycle and love-hate relationship. So despite all of my own personal reservations, I convinced myself to reduce the caffeine intake and to do some meditation before work. Lo and behold, it worked! I also analysed the situation and realised that consuming myself with nothing but work and physio exercises from Saturday to Wednesday is probably a recipe for disaster, so I started scheduling in a few meetings with friends on my afternoons off. And that worked too! Granted I am only a day in to the new regime, but I have great faith in it. Wednesday went much better, and I forced myself to start a little database on my phone, recording how each shift goes, so that I don’t lose sight of the good ones, and can analyse the situation properly. If in fact you can call writing the days of the week with accompanying smiley faces a database. Which I am. Still, upon reflection, this week had many more smiley faces than sad faces, so it’s helping me look at the bigger picture. I’ve kind of turned ‘remaining calm and learning to enjoy my work’ into a project, and it’s a nice new way of approaching it. Also, admitting to myself that I can’t be trusted with numbers in French is maybe a positive first step. I FEEL like I know them, and my brain tells me that my fingers are typing the right things into the till, but my fingers are clearly less French than I need them to be, and keep typing Whatever The Fuck They Like, before confidently hitting the ‘confirm’ button. Betrayed by my own index fingers! (And they being with me through thick and thin, the treacherous snakes). So calmly slowing down in the face of stress and busy-ness is the new goal. I believe in it. However, don’t get me wrong -if I get offered a job with better hours they won’t see me for dust! But for now I’ll continue to ignore Alice and use the rest of them for French acquisition purposes.

I feel like I’ve noticed an improvement in the French as well. I am becoming much niftier at messaging my tinder boys (two Fabiens and a Bernard), who are all very reassuring and supportive about my phraseology. (Sometimes I make up words that sound appropriately French -it works more often than you would think!) They may have alternative agendas, but I hope they understand that complimenting a lady’s grammar is not the fastest way to get someone into bed. Although I suppose it can’t hurt… The great fun thing is that I do not give a Fiddlers what I am saying to these guys. I can be as outright as I like, because it doesn’t feel like I’m asking them anything inappropriate, when even my own meaning is slightly lost on me! I say very brave things, like, what are you looking for in a relationship? And, how do you feel about the age gap between us? (I am aware that many people have the emotional maturity to have these kinds of open discussions in their own language, but I am appropriately repressed and this seems daring and exciting to me.) But they are answering! Not an eyelid batted out of them! And anyway, if I say something appalling, I will blame the language barrier and plead innocence. It’s all mighty craic. Until I have to meet one of them, and actually speak. In sentences. Consecutively.

Karim is back from Tunisia, and is in the middle of a complicated scheme to bribe all around him to keep his games room open. The percentages of likely success are getting lower and lower, but I have my fingers crossed for him. And for me too -I’ve seen him in a fouler before and I don’t fancy the thought of living with him in that kind of humour. Stress drove him to drinking the Guinness I gave him last night, but he had a big panic when he finished the can and found the little widget at the bottom of it. It took some serious persuasion to convince him that this is normal for cans of Guinness, and that I had not spiked him with magical Irish drugs. Which in a way I did I suppose -he probably doesn’t know about the serotonin…

Flirting my way around France

This MeetUp application is definitely one of the best things ever. The people I have met through it have been so interesting and fun. There was a Spanish guy who was sharing his passion for dancing, and talking about it alone was enough to have his shoulders wiggling. He was two steps and a flashy prop away from a cabaret. There was the Moroccan atheist feminist, who was very clever and made impressive points about the recent Moroccan law banning Burkas. Next there was a very humble Indian who accidentally let slip that he was in the top two percentiles of educated Indians. He spent his youth studying -his said that very strict parenting meant that he saw about three films throughout his adolescence, because he had to work so hard to get into college. Apparently 5,000 out of a quarter of a million are accepted, so this is pretty big pressure. His forms of rebellion were becoming atheist and choosing aeronautic engineering over his family’s choice of engineering. He said it was because he always liked things that moved in the sky. Great guy, funny sense of humour. I like injuns. And finally there was a Lebanese guy who is mad for parties and doesn’t mind getting his facts so wrong that it’s likeable. He kept insisting that 60% alcohol chartreuse doesn’t make him drunk, it just makes him really hot and want to take off all his clothes. He also doesn’t like sleeping when he is drunk, because he wants to profit from the situation. He insisted that the Lebanon was 10,000km long, and kept up this argument with our top-two-percentile Indian for a considerable amount of time. When Google was pulled out he rapidly changed his argument and said he meant area, not length, but it was all very entertaining.

However, as predicted, I woke up feeling terrible -physically and mentally. I don’t know which was worse -the guilt or the headache. I drank three pints last night, and this is far too much for the petite irlandaise. I woke up remembering how awfully I had commandeered the conversation of the two French people in the group and monologued at them as they politely looked on, waiting for me to leave. Next I remembered a highly objectionable Canadian, who spoke too loudly and overconfidently, and who took badly against me. We had been talking about climbing and I realised that I had been the worst kind of climbing dick, shouting about how boring anything but real live climbing was. My only defence is drunkeness. Sarah of the Bandy Knees is apparently too good for Via Ferratas, a very safe kind of climbing. But it isn’t really climbing at all, which was out of my mouth before I could screen it for manners. The Canadian was quick to pick me up on this, and although I didn’t like this asshole, I didn’t like it that he thought I was an asshole. And in fact I had been a bit, which contributed significantly to my early morning post-alcohol self flagellation routine.

Entirely unmerited, apparently!! Within an hour, the headache was reduced, but the guilt was GONE! The French guy had clicked on the ‘good to meet you’ button and the Canadian had asked me out!!! In the most arrogant way humanly possible mind -he more ordered me out than asked me out (“let me know when I can buy you a drink” -no ‘if’s or question marks there I note), but it was a fine ease to the guilt. Not on his nelly, by the way, but I am highly amused.

Having started my inextensive job search (of two jobs), I have become convinced of two things. The first is that I am going to be offered both jobs, and I am checking my emails obsessively approximately every four seconds. I am disappointed every time, but this doesn’t take from the panic every time my French phone rings. (It’s usually just text messages, but I still live in fear of phone conversations. Although I am becoming more convincing at speaking on the phone, my phone listening skills are still poor and conversational context is generally a nebulous and elusive mistress.) The second thing I have become convinced of is that I am about to be fired, rendering aforementioned job search doubly necessary. In searching for the job, I did find an ad seeking a waiter/waitress in none other than our very own crêperie, posted on the third of January. This set my brain a-working, and I have made several realisations that lead to suspicion. One, there was a big sign on the rota this week saying that ‘ Carina’ was starting on Thursday, which nobody had previously mentioned to me. Also, unless someone else is leaving, I can’t see that we need another person? Two, my period of probation is set to be up on Monday, so it would be the ideal time to go about a-firing me with no fears of legal retribution. Three, I may or may not have imagined a softening of the others towards me on Wednesday. Do they know something I don’t know???? The weekend will tell a lot…

To err is evolutionarily adaptive….

“I’m not thick my brain is just economising.” I’m a great believer in the brain’s infinite capacity for maximising its resources, and believe the brain to be always looking for the best way to get something done while expending the least possible energy. It makes sense from an evolutionary perspective (you couldn’t be going around wasting brain power -you might need it later for outwitting lions and such like), and it explains perfectly why most of us are borderline professional procrastinators. However, in work, I can almost see my brain snipping away the connections that it deems unnecessary, while it is busy with the important work of language comprehension. Sadly, what it appears to have casually discarded are useful skills like counting, planning and attention to detail. All of which I could do with in large doses. If I could drink a bottle of it, I’d have it swigged before you’d even see the dodgy bloke I had bought it from. You might catch a glimpse of his shady outline as he fades into the darkness but that would be the outside of it. (Maybe this is how people descend into cocaine abuse…) In any case, the mistakes are up and at em, and morale is at an all time low. I have clearly taken on more than I am able for, and it is causing stress and misery. There is constant anxiety and second guessing myself, which is only making things worse. I am assuming everyone is talking about me behind my back, but somewhere in the back of my mind I am aware that this is the preserve of the chronically paranoid. I know that in reality it is only me who is thinking about me all the time. The week is long though, and I have to ask myself whether this was my goal, in the dramatic move to France plan.. Or will the stress ease and lead to more of what I want? However, there are no better jobs throwing themselves at me at the moment. I have already emailed an application for a job as a breakfast waitress, which has been neatly ignored, but I feel if I present myself in person they might be more well disposed towards me. I can do smiling a bit more energetically in person, remaining careful of course to keep the manic desperation out of my eyes. So I will arise and go now to the Grand Hotel of Dreams.

Even terribler workplace grievances

Well, it’s been a while, and I’m suitably ashamed of myself for so blatantly not blogging, so you can keep your comments to yourself thank you very much. As it happens, I’ve had quite enough of comments to do me for the rest of the year at this point, and we’re still only eleven days in. Suffice to say, work has not been going great. I can’t be 100% sure, but I think I’m being bullied! Now as most people who have been bullied will likely tell you, if you are being bullied, you will KNOW you are being bullied. But as usual, my skills of translation -of both culture and language -mean that there is a vague possibility I am missing something. But with my general 85% track record, I am 85% sure that I am being bullied! Which I can tell you is enough.

Right so the story is this: Christmas came at a very bad time work wise -I was just settling in and starting to build up a bit of trust and goodwill from the others. The errors had slowed down significantly and things were going a bit better. But then I skipped off to Ireland for 11 days, lost my French and gained three kilos. (They judge me mainly for the French, I judge me mainly for the kilos). The gaining of the kilos was fantastic fun but the return to routine here was a bit nightmarish. And as a result, the errors are back with a bang, and all goodwill towards me has evaporated. Apparently it takes more than a tray of half burnt brownies to win over the French. I should have spiked them.

The most recent spate of accusations, barking and general ill-will towards me from some of my work colleagues however has been no laughing matter. I have been trying to decide how much of their horribleness is deserved, because I am making so many mistakes, and how much of it is just horribleness. However, like the inverse of the boy who cried wolf, I actually committed the fault so many times that they now believe ALL errors to be my fault, and I am being blamed morning, noon and night. Given that I am also working morning, noon and night, this is tough going, and it came to a crisis yesterday afternoon. I can’t be sure of what the general wisdom is on an acceptable level of horribleness, but I suspect it’s not that high. When said horribleness is multiplied by several people, who simultaneously socially exclude you, it starts to add up to something a bit worse. I also have a suspicion that they are enjoying scapegoating me, and only loving to be out the front smoking fags and tutting derisively about the Irish one inside. It has also occurred to the Irish one inside that this could take a very long time to bring about any sort of a palatable situation, so as of yesterday afternoon, the Irish one inside is soon to be outside, looking for other jobs. She does not have to put up with this shit. She is also concocting all sorts of imaginary conversations in which she verbally pins Alice, the ringleader (previously endearingly known to you as the Biggest Bitch in the Whole Wide World), to the wall, angrily and with flourish. Albeit with stilted French.

So that’s the sitcheeyation work wise, but outside of this life in France is great craic. My circle of friends is becoming consolidated and I had most joyous reunions with the Hungarian and the German. Well I was joyous, the German was up in a heap after some problems over Christmas, but it was still lovely to see her. (I sensitively toned down the joy -on the outside I was all low tones and soothing noises, but on the inside there was a private polka dance). (I’ve just realised that non-Irish readers could misconstrue that last image, so if you find yourself appalled at a sudden turn for the lecherous, please look up Irish polka on YouTube, and all will become clear. In short -I was happy). I had my first proper French social interaction, where I went climbing and subsequently to the pub with my new French Friend. He speaks English but charitably agreed to help me practice my French, so we had a pint and a half, and spoke only French. This was the cause of much glee for me, and it seems that a pint and a half is the exactly perfect amount to allow you to talk without reservations, while also remaining relatively sure you are not talking complete gibberish. I must find a way to monetise this information.

And yes, I dropped that in there quite casually -I WENT CLIMBING!! Well first I went back to the infamous Dr. Ledivil, who told me this time that his injections couldn’t do magic, and there really wasn’t that much else to do with my knee. Previous experiences with the bould doctor haven’t exactly inspired confidence, and nor did this one. He told me to avoid stairs and mountains, but that rock climbing was fine. REALLY???? Well unlikely though this seemed, it suited my private intentions and previously laid plans perfectly, so I chose to believe him. And it transpires that he was right! I CAN climb! Not as well as I used to, but with minimal pain. I had forgotten you see that you use your hands as well as your legs for climbing, and that if there is a possibility that something might hurt, one can limit the damage by taking the weight on the hands. Being now the proud possessor of two fine shoulders -supraspinitises of steel I tell you -we may just have found a winning solution. Now all I have to do is keep this French guy on side and convince him to climb with me again. If we could just have the drinks beforehand sure I’d be multitasking out my ears.

The lament of the ill fitting trousers

I’m back in France, and fat as a fool. I am squelched into my work clothes and I feel like I’m wearing a fat suit. Je me degoute. I only have myself to blame, I know. I drank all of the drink, I ate all of the cheese and chocolate and not one finger did I lift for eleven days. It was borderline criminal. But as every good criminal knows, committing crimes is fantastic fun. A lark.

The Christmas season got off to a slightly rocky start, with me missing the first bus out of the airport. Now admittedly I was being an awful chancer by booking this bus fifteen minutes after the flight was due to land, and feigning shocked dismay when I missed it, but with some jostling, I engaged the core and muscled my way on to the next bus an hour later. I knew the physio exercises would be good for something. I will send a thank you card to my physio, and some flowers to the old lady who is probably still recovering from the aggressive trampling.

I got on top of my communications in the interim hour, and discovered that my best friend’s car windows had been smashed by some neighbouring ne’erdowells, meaning that her stress levels were through the roof, putting her mental health, our night out and my lift home in jeopardy. But more on this later.

I crept into said best friend’s bed as previously agreed at about 2am, with a quiet wave, exercising great restraint not to edge too close to her to steal her body heat. She was like a little baked potato, radiating waves of it, while I shivered on the other side of the bed. But ‘encroaching’ behaviour gives her nightmares and is apparently a social no-no, so I restrained myself. She snuck off to work at an excruciating hour the next morning, while I immediately leapt into her baked potato space.

I caused considerable stress some hours later by asking a pregnant woman (another friend) to drive to a nearby restaurant to meet me, what with me now being a transportless hobo. I had forgotten of course that asking anyone to drive anywhere around Christmas time in Irish cities is a completely unreasonable request. She showed up an hour late, with stress in her hair (you could actually see it) and I felt much guilty for jeopardising her baby-growing process, charging it with stress hormones.

Irish cities at Christmas. Jesus. If I was the religious type, I might comment that said Jesus was nowhere to be found, with the manic worshipping of false idols that was going on. Fortunately for you, I am not the religious type, but that doesn’t stop me objecting to worshipping of false idols. Especially when I am caught in the middle of it with an umbrella and a shopping list. It took me thirty minutes to cover a distance of about 300 meters. The hustle, the stress, the lunacy, the consumerism -it was all awful. It the relative serenity of where I live in France -a city of about the same size, I might add -I had forgotten about this side of new-Irish culture -the image focus obsession with attaining not only things, but all sorts of status symbols. In fact, the minute I arrived into Dublin airport, the madness of trying to ‘have it all’ hit me hard. It was just an ad for working for Aldi, but the poster implied that this guy had it all, because he was working like a mad thing and going for a ten kilometer run every day beforehand. The consumerism is only one part of it, but I hadn’t previously registered the constant pressure here to be amazing at all things as well as look like a catwalk model. It was only after a few months of a reprieve from this type of propaganda that I realised how off the head it is. The expectations we have of ourselves here are completely unrealistic, and feel somewhat unprecedented. We are constantly being bombarded by the idea that we need to be multitasking maniacs, who are only acceptable human beings if we are pushing ourselves to the point of mental and physical exhaustion, AND looking great while we’re doing it. If listening to the schedule of a normal person here makes you want to take a nap, then maybe there is something wrong. It feels a little bit like oppression by any other name. Convince all of the people that they are not good enough and they will voluntarily break their backs overworking themselves and over-obsessing about looking young, fit and rich, rendering them unable to question their attitudes and choices. And being fit is no longer enough mind -you now have to be SUPER fit. Going for the odd jog no longer even counts -you have to be running ultra-marathons. Up mountains, if you’re any way motivated really. Six inches deep in mud. THIS IS MADNESS! Now admittedly we are a culture given to excesses, but we seem to have replaced the drink with obsessive achievement. Less damaging, for sure, but definitely still damaging. It’s time to wake up to the fact that we need to take a step back.

I will stop ranting soon, but I clearly felt strongly enough about this over the holidays that in my encounters with the neighbours at Christmas morning mass, I managed to possibly ruin Mary Bennett’s Christmas and James O’Hara’s career! My take on consumerism had poor Mary white in the face -she came back to me after mass to say she had been thinking about it all through the mass instead of saying her prayers, and she looked genuinely upset about the whole thing. As for James O’Hara, well the poor divil was dressed up to the nines in the pew behind me with his mother and his very expensive suit. He revealed that he living is in London working 14 hour days in some kind of financial institution (further proof of the world having gone mad) and naturally I recommended a spell in a French crêperie. His mother panicked and swept in with the uplifting Christmas message that nobody is happy in their careers anyway and there is no such thing as a job you like. Poor James. Is he really working those hours to dress up like the dinner of a dog and come to mass with his mammy on his half a day off a year? So having gone on a sufficient social rampage, I sat back next to my grandmother and enjoyed the singing.

So suffice to say, the city three days before Christmas horrified me. However, by night, the city three days before Christmas was an absolute delight! Having engaged in mild napping to recover from the grey-faced pallor induced by town, myself and her good self put on our glad rags. Well actually I put on most of her glad rags, and we headed for a local spot of ours, one of the nicest little pubs you ever will find. They have an amazing heated beer garden, from which they serve pizzas, yes, pizzas, so I threw caution to the wind and took a gluten-digesting enzyme. One of my better decisions, as it happens. There were even carol singers there and it was all magic. Our friend Damien joined us later, and the three of us spent the rest of the evening falling over laughing at our own hilarity. It was a great night.

However, it was followed by a somewhat less great morning. During the previous night’s revels, we conveniently forgot that the car windows were still bashed in, and the only solution was to rise as early as possible and get to Mr. Windscreen in a nearby industrial estate, in the hope that he would hook us up with something to assist with the ventilation problem. The morning started with hungover fumbling around the bedroom to gather our affairs for the trip home (after which I am still missing one white lacy bra). This was followed by me clambering inelegantly from the drivers side into the passenger seat, and getting shards of glass lodged in places I never expected shards of glass to be. The passenger window was covered with duct tape and bin bags, and I watched bemusedly as a kitchen knife came cutting through it near the mirror, to enhance the visual driving experience, while minimising the sensory assault caused by the near storm outside. Thus prepared, herself put the key in the ignition. Nothing, not a fecking peep out of it. The car would not start, and a hungover Damien in Boxer Shorts had to be roused from his drunken slumber. The car was in the drive, and there was talk of pushing it to facilitate some jump-starting, but some very nifty rally driving out of Damien avoided this necessity. Thus jump-started, we waved thanks and happy Christmas to Damien through the hole in the bin bag, and set off on our search for Mr. Windscreen and his associates. To make a long story short, Mr. Windscreen and his associates managed to knacker the back door, and we drove the two hours home with it duct taped on, and with the no-seatbelt alarm screaming blue murder about having glass stuck in the clasp. Still, we got there, and we were very glad of the windows.

By this point, the had been some sort of a storm related panic chez mom, and she had driven my brother’s girlfriend to Dublin to catch a flight to Germany for Christmas. So before anyone said hello to anyone, everyone had a nap on their respective returns home. We made up for this incivility later on though, with a very lovely evening of drinking fizzy wine and eating too much. This was the start of Christmas at home for me, and also the start of the story which starts with Sarah drinking wine every day and which ends with Sarah not fitting into her work pants.

I won’t go through every day of the holidays, but overall it comprised catching up with friends and family, relaxing, eating and drinking. Some of the highlights included a night of playing cards with the family and her good self, watching Oliver Twist in my dressing gown, high-risk set dancing in my aunt’s house (high-heels plus slippy floors being quite the menacing combination), singing embarrassingly badly in her good self’s house for The Wedding that Wasn’t, and spending lots of time at home making jigsaws. I actually miss my jigsaw at the moment, and the thought of it at home alone in its uncompleted state is giving me physical pain. The Diffney quiz was another salient feature of the holidays, and civilised conversations were regularly interrupted by people randomly leaping from their seats thinking they had found answers -“HOPS 13!!!!” “ROGUE 1!!!” Finishing the Diffney quiz has become a source of familial pride, and in typical mom style, she has the head lost with it. She was found on more than one occasion frantically searching online for another fix. I know that if she could subscribe to an app that would let her do four hundred Diffney quizzes in a row until she is the Master of All Things Diffney that there would be no stopping her. We were also embroiled in a secret competition with her good self’s family to finish this quiz faster than them, but we had the edge because they did not know they were in this competition. So we won. Ha. There were several visits to the nursing home to my bould father, my favourite of which involved him warning me off French men because they only want to get straight to the action. Noted, Dad. Thanks for the heads up.

So as I said, the arrival back to France was tough. I found myself completely allergic to speaking French. My friend the Hungarian explained that she had such similar sentiments that she had to change the language of her phone back to English, as when she saw the French she immediately thought of it as a personal affront and a form of telecommunicative treason. Karim is in a most almighty pick, as his ex girlfriend has shown up. Given how badly he is reacting to this, I can only assume that this was unannounced, and he is mooching around the apartment glowering and moaning about her to me in tones that are frankly not low enough. She seems nice enough, but he is NOT impressed. However, no amount of glowering is budging her, and she is stoically planning to stick it out here until Wednesday. As for me, getting back into routine is seeming like a whole lot of no fun, but after eleven days of having pretty much nothing but fun, I will not complain. On y va!