Showing posts with label Paris. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Paris. Show all posts

Monday, 25 February 2013

Snow in Paris

Victoria Beckham looked frozen as she watched her husband make his debut for Paris St-Germain last night. I’ve just spent two days in Paris and I’ve rarely felt so cold. The temperature never lifted above -2 degrees, there was a biting wind and flurries of snow fell all weekend. My daughter wore three jumpers and I kept my Brora fingerless gloves and scarf on indoors and out. We had to dive into cafes every half an hour to stop our teeth chattering. Yet when I glanced at the papers this morning Victoria had stepped off the Eurostar in an unfastened coat, with her ankles bare and no gloves. She’s clearly tougher than the rest of us.

But never mind the cold, Paris is one of the prettiest cities on earth. We stayed at the super-stylish Mama Shelter, which boasts chic rooms, friendly staff, reasonable prices and a great brunch. Even though it’s slightly off the beaten track (in the 20th arrondissement) buses whizz past every ten minutes to whisk you into the centre for the princely sum of two euros – which meant we were at Bastille in fifteen minutes and in the Rue de Rivoli in thirty. As we chatted on the number 26 bus a Paris-based sports journalist from the UK tapped us on the shoulder and said he never usually heard English voices “on this route.” He made us feel like real locals.

Instead of sticking to our usual haunts we decided to visit an area we hadn’t been to before –the Batignolles, where Manet had his studio and artists like Degas, Renoir, Monet and Cezanne used to gather (at the Café Guerbois on the Avenue de Clichy). It boasts a pretty park, a village-like atmosphere and lots of quirky shops and art galleries. My daughter bought a pink hyacinth at the lovely flower shop below – I only hope it survives the winter on her student windowsill.

Mama Shelter is a five-minute stroll from the famous Père Lachaise cemetery so on Sunday morning we headed down the rue de Bagnolet and through the ancient archway. It’s the largest cemetery in Paris and one of the most famous in the world. Among the renowned names buried there are Chopin, Moliere, Proust, Colette, Modigliani, Edith Piaf, Oscar Wilde and Jim Morrison. Not surprisingly, with a total of 69,000 tombs at the cemetery, a map is essential.

Actually, a snowy Sunday morning in February was definitely the time to visit this historic graveyard. A distant church bell tolled solemnly and the pale grey sky gave it a gothic, rather eery air – like something out of a Balzac novel in fact. Actually - and rather appropriately - he is buried there too.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

Les Misérables - rapturous applause from the audience

I’ve been longing to see the movie of Les Misérables since last spring, when I unexpectedly stumbled on to the film set during a visit to Greenwich. With filming due to take place the following day, I couldn’t quite work out how the giant stone elephant and extraordinary pile of old wood, furniture and rubbish the crew had built next to the Old Royal Naval College would look in the movie.

Well now I know – because the film is out in the UK and I foolishly went to see it with my husband at the weekend. I say foolishly because a) I can’t think of a single film we’ve both liked (I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Lincoln) and b) he hates musicals.  But he sweetly went along with my Les Mis plan – and apart from the moment when he whispered a bit too loudly “Oh God, he’s not going to snuff it, is he?” didn’t complain too much. 

So what was our verdict? You won’t be surprised to hear that my husband loathed it. As for me, I thought parts of it were stunning, but at 157 minutes it is way too long and I’m sorry, but the Old Royal Naval College does not look like 19th century Paris.

The best bits of the film, I reckoned, were Anne Hathaway's touching I Dreamed a Dream, the comic pairing of Sacha Baron Cohen and Helena Bonham Carter as the evil innkeeper and his wife (their performances veer slightly towards panto, but are very funny), Samantha Barks as Eponine (she gives a wonderful performance of On My Own) and child actor Daniel Huttlestone as Gavroche (who steals every scene he appears in).

The Tom Hooper-directed film has won three Golden Globes - and been nominated for nine BAFTAs and eight Oscars, including Best Picture Award, Best Actor (Hugh Jackman) and Best Supporting Actress (Anne Hathaway). Some critics have given it ecstatic, five-star reviews, although others have been less enamoured. But on Saturday night in Oxford the audience (apart from my husband) clapped wildly at the end.  I’ve never seen that happen at the cinema before.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

From Paris to South Wales - how I sent my son pizza across the channel

The hall’s full of bike bits, there’s a ton of washing (make that two tons) scattered across the floor and a well-thumbed copy of The Cyclist’s Training Bible is propped up on the kitchen table.

It can only mean one thing. Yes, my son’s back from his first term at university and I couldn’t be happier. I don’t know why, but I was worried he might be different. But he isn’t. He’s a bit skinnier (too much cycling by half), but he hasn’t changed a bit.   

And sweetly, he is pleased to be home for the Christmas holidays too. The novelty of doing all his own shopping, cooking and washing seems to have worn off pretty fast and now he’s thrilled to open the kitchen cupboard and discover stuff he always took for granted before. Like bread, biscuits and his favourite Krave cereal.

Actually, for the last week of term he existed on a diet of lentils and rice. His credit card got nicked at a club and the bank said it would take up to ten days for a new one to arrive. He managed fine, going into the bank on campus to take money out every day. Except everything went wrong last Sunday night, when he staggered in from a 60-mile bike ride and realised he’d completely run out of cash. Worse still, the cupboard was bare and none of his flatmates were around to borrow from.

So he rang me. The only problem was that I was in Paris for the weekend, staying with my daughter. I panicked, wondering what the hell to do. And then my daughter hit on a bright idea. “I know,” she said. “We’ll order him a pizza.” And so that was how the pair of us, sitting in her flat on Paris’s chic Left Bank, found ourselves busily (and incongruously) hunting for a Domino’s in South Wales.

But guess what? It worked. Within 20 minutes flat, my hungry son was tucking into a Pepperoni Passion. Result!

Wednesday, 5 December 2012

A December weekend in Paris

As regular readers will know, my student daughter is at university in Paris this year. She’s settled into a flat on the Left Bank and, three months on, her French is pretty fluent. She says she still sounds English but that’s hardly surprising. Unless you’ve spoken French from the age of two or three it’s impossible to sound completely français.

I’m trying not to be a clingy parent, I really am, but I’d been counting the days till I could whizz across the Channel to stay with her. I booked a Eurostar ticket weeks ago (£99 return) and, finally, the big day arrived.

Paris has always been one of my favourite cities and December is the perfect time to visit. The Boulevard St Germain twinkled with chic white lights, a team of carpenters was busy building white wooden huts for the annual Christmas market and the shop windows were a vision of festive loveliness.

With temperatures dipping towards zero (I’m SO glad I delivered my daughter’s duffle coat – she really needed it), we spent loads of time catching up in Paris’s brilliant cafés.

My favourite place for breakfast was a tiny bakery (below) in the rue de Buci (6e). It’s called, quite bizarrely, The Smiths. When we asked the waitress why, she explained that the architect was a huge fan of the band and named it after them. But Morrissey apart, The Smiths sells a café crème, croissant and orange juice for 5.5 euros, which seems pretty good value. The French are clearly a hardy lot because even though it was freezing lots of people were sitting at tables outside. Luckily, The Smiths, like most other cafes, supplies blankets on the backs of chairs so you can wrap up warm as you sip your coffee.

Meanwhile the Rose Bakery is brilliant for lunch. Rose Carrarini (author of the fabulous cookery book, Breakfast Lunch Tea) co-founded Villandry in London in 1988 and later went on to open the Rose Bakery, an Anglo-French bakery and restaurant in Paris. Some people were sceptical about how the French would take to a menu featuring cakes, scones and brownies, but it was a roaring success. Ten years on, there are three branches in Paris, as well as others in London, Seoul and Tokyo.

When we arrived at the branch in the Marais (30, rue Debelleyme, 3e) the queue stretched the length of the narrow restaurant and spilled out on to the pavement. Within 20 minutes though, we got a table and happily sat down to lunch. Everything is kept simple – with brown paper laid on the table, hunks of warm wholemeal bread and huge carafes of water. The only tricky moment comes when you have to choose what to eat – it all looks (and tastes) delicious.

Saturday, 29 September 2012

JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy - the verdict

In an interview with The Guardian’s Decca Aitkenhead last weekend, JK Rowling said: “I just needed to write this book. I like it a lot, I’m proud of it, and that counts for me.”

Well, I think she’s right to be proud of The Casual Vacancy, and I said as much when I reviewed it for the Daily Express this week. Even though Rowling’s first book for adults features “teenage sex, drug addiction, swearing and scenes that would make Harry Potter blush,” I called it “a highly readable morality tale for our times.”

The book’s been out for two days now and everyone I know is desperate to read it. My husband’s visiting my daughter in Paris this weekend and the first thing she asked him to bring from the UK was a prized copy of The Casual Vacancy. “I’m going to stay in all weekend and read it,” she said happily. “I can’t wait.” Her excitement took me back to the old days, when we used to drive to the old Borders shop in Oxford and queue at midnight for each newly published Harry Potter story.

I’ve been stunned by the vitriol that JK Rowling has attracted in some quarters this week. The New York Times’s Michiko Kakutani judged her book to be “willfully banal” and “depressingly clichéd” and said it read like “an odd mash-up of a dark soap opera like Peyton Place.” And writing in the Daily Mail, Jan Moir acidly declared that it was “more than 500 pages of relentless socialist manifesto masquerading as literature crammed down your throat.”

I completely disagree with both of them. The Casual Vacancy isn’t perfect by any means, but it’s a gripping story. I read it in one go, barely glancing up to make a cup of tea or switch the lights on as dusk fell. Yes, the themes are dark, most of the characters are unlikeable and Rowling’s style is workmanlike rather than literary, but she is a brilliant storyteller. There was no way in a million years that I could have stopped reading this book. In my newspaper review I gave it four out of five stars and I stand by every word.

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Hotel review: Mama Shelter in Paris

If you’re looking for a chic hotel in Paris that doesn’t cost an arm and a leg then Mama Shelter could be the place for you. I’d been wanting to stay there for ages and last weekend I finally got the chance.

Situated near the Père Lachaise cemetery in the 20th district (or as Parsians would say, the vingtième), it’s not the most central location. The metro is a brisk ten-minute walk and then it’s eight stops to Hôtel de Ville. But if you don’t mind that (and we didn’t at all), then give it a try. 
Designed by Philippe Starck and opened in 2009, Mama Shelter boasts ultra-modern rooms with crisp, white linen, Kiehl’s shampoo and soap, iMacs and free Wi-Fi. Best of all, the prices are reasonable by Paris standards. My daughter and I paid 79 euros each for a room with twin beds and an en-suite shower.

From the chic dining room (boasting every make of trendy chair you can possibly imagine) to the rooftop terrace, Mama Shelter is gorgeous to look at. I particularly liked the giant mirrors with details of the day’s events in Paris scrawled across the glass and the low blackboard ceilings covered in chalked drawings and graffiti.

On Saturday morning we had coffee at a traditional café en route to the metro station at Gambetta but on Sunday we decided to treat ourselves to breakfast at Mama Shelter. The cost was 15 euros each, which seemed a little on the steep side – until we tried it out. As we helped ourselves to limitless coffee, fruit, yoghurt and croissants we realised we didn’t need to eat again till supper-time.

It was a balmy 26 degrees in Paris on Sunday so we sat outside on the long, narrow terrace overlooking a disused railway line. With its huge outdoor lanterns, massive sofas and friendly staff, Mama Shelter has an urban charm all of its own.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The kindness of strangers Part 1

“I can’t believe I’m leaving you in Paris,” I told my daughter as we hugged goodbye on the Boulevard St Germain.

“I’m more worried about leaving you on the metro," she replied, deftly handing me a train ticket and a bright pink Post-it note with scribbled instructions to Charles de Gaulle Aéroport.

We’d just spent two action-packed days together and it was time for me to head home while she embarked on her new student life in France.

Determined to allay her fears, I strode confidently through the metro gate (getting my suitcase wedged in the barrier in the process) and hopped on the train to Châtelet-Les Halles.

But after that, everything came unstuck. As I waited in vain for the RER (the express train that connects the city centre to the suburbs), I started to panic. My flight was due to leave in 90 minutes time and I was still miles away.

Then suddenly a couple walked past and murmured something incomprehensible. “Je suis Anglaise,” I replied – my default response when I haven’t got a clue. The man replied in faultless English and told me the train to the airport wasn’t running.  We apparently needed to get a train to Mitry-Claye, a place I’d never heard of, then catch a bus.

It sounds ridiculous but I instinctively knew I could trust the pair. I hurried on to the packed Mitry-Claye train behind them and we hurtled through the grey suburbs of north-east Paris together, past places I’d be afraid to walk alone. The man told me he was originally from Cameroon and was on his way home to South Africa from a business conference in the US. He and his wife had stopped off in Paris en route to see friends.

When we finally reached Mitry-Claye I lost sight of them in the melée. As hordes of passengers tore down the platform in search of the airport bus, a few RER staff in red T-shirts apologetically handed us a tiny biscuit each. Not exactly what you’re after when you’re about to miss your plane, but still.

I pushed my way on to the packed bendy-bus, wondering where my new friends had got to. As it pulled away I spotted them standing patiently at the barrier. My bus was full and they’d clearly been told to wait for the next one. I waved like a maniac and mouthed “merci.” I don’t think they saw me…

PS. The kindness of strangers Part 2 is here.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Empty nest syndrome

There’s an autumn chill in the air, the garden is covered in leaves and the traffic in Oxford has resumed its usual snail-like crawl.

But this September feels very different for me. Why? Because for the first time in 16 years I haven’t got a child going back to school. I haven’t had to rush round frantically buying new shoes, files and geometry sets or doing the annual (always unsuccessful) hunt for my son’s rugby gum shield.

At the moment my children are both still at home but by the end of the week they won’t be. My daughter’s off to university in Paris while my son’s heading west to Wales (with his beloved road bike, of course).

I’m so excited for them but every now and again I find myself asking plaintively “where on earth did the last 20 years go?” It seems no time at all since my daughter, clad in a yellow flower-sprigged pinafore and matching hairband, clung to me as I took her into nursery school for the first time. And since my son was a toddler with white-blond curls and a penchant for Thomas the Tank Engine.

Now my daughter’s moving to another country for a year and my son’s excitedly looking forward to Freshers’ Week. The house is full of packing boxes, my son’s busy practising his cooking skills and my daughter’s rushing round seeing all her friends before she starts her new Parisian life.

It’s going to be very quiet around here in a week’s time…

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Flat-hunting in Paris

My daughter and my husband are in Paris this weekend. Their mission? To find a flatshare for her year at university there. Luckily they struck gold on the first day so they’ve spent the rest of the weekend with our dear Parisian friend Anne Marie. They've visited the Louvre, wandered along the Boulevard St Germain and watched the Bastille Day parades (complete with military jets trailing patriotic streaks of red, white and blue across the sky).

I am so envious - and plan to visit my daughter lots in the coming months. Paris, I reckon, is one of the most civilised cities on earth. Everyone looks stylish – even the pigeons seem sleeker and less down-at-heel than their ragged UK cousins.

I remember sitting with my daughter in a café at the Palais Royal (above) a couple of years ago. An elegant orchestra played Vivaldi in the square, elderly ladies walked tiny dogs on long leads ("rats on strings,” said my husband) and roller bladers whizzed past at death-defying speed. Thanks to the dire exchange rate, the prices were eye-wateringly high – eleven euros for a lunchtime baguette and a glass of bourgogne blanc. But considering we sat there for hours, enjoying the music and soaking up the atmosphere, we probably got our money’s worth. Even better, all the museums and galleries we visited let under-26s go free, so sightseeing didn’t cost us an arm and a leg. Just an arm.

Other highlights were dinner at La Coupole, the famous brasserie where Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir were regulars, and a visit to an amazing emporium called Merci.

Launched by the founders of chic children’s fashion store Bonpoint, Merci is utterly gorgeous. Housed in an old factory in the fashionable Marais district, it sells furniture, flowers, clothes (new and vintage), pictures and Annick Goutal perfume. All the profits go to a children’s charity in Madagascar and there’s even a used-book cafe where you can sit in an old leather armchair, sip an espresso and peruse the books. My son called it a “do I really need it” sort of shop - and, devoted dad though he is, I can guarantee that my husband definitely won’t have set foot in the place this weekend.

PS. I adore Emma Chichester Clark’s illustrations and if you’re a fan too, take a look at her new blog. Plumdog Blog relates the adventures of a sweet little dog called Plum, with pictures and words by Emma. It’s adorable.

Monday, 12 March 2012

The Little Paris Kitchen - book and TV series

My favourite piece from yesterday’s Sunday Times was an interview with new cookery sensation Rachel Khoo in Style magazine.

Rachel is the hotly-tipped young chef whose gorgeous-looking cookery book, The Little Paris Kitchen, hits the bookshops this week. Not only that, from March 19 we’ll be able to see her in a six-part BBC2 series of the same name.

But the reason the feature caught my eye in the first place was that Khoo’s career took off after she moved to Paris from Croydon six years ago to work as an au pair. When the art and design graduate arrived in Paris she couldn’t speak a word of French and didn’t have any culinary expertise. Now look at her. She used her earnings from her au pair job to pay for her cordon bleu training and at 31 is an established food stylist, writer and cook. From her tiny Parisian kitchen she whisks up delicious delicacies like potato and pear gallette with Roquefort and cassoulet soup with duck and Toulouse sausage dumplings.

It can’t have been easy starting a career from scratch in an unfamiliar city, and she admits that it was “difficult and lonely” for the first two years. I can well imagine. I was an au pair in Paris for a few months when I was 18 and even though the family I worked for was lovely, it was tough. I remember wandering around Ile de la Cité and Notre Dame on my day off, not knowing a soul and having to fend off leery old men who said they wanted to paint my picture. Hmmm. A likely story.

Now I’m worrying about my daughter, who’s studying French at university and will be off to live in Paris soon. But if I got by with my hopeless French and Rachel Khoo made such a stunning success of her move, then I’m sure she’ll have an amazing time. And return with impeccable French too…

Saturday, 14 January 2012

Pret A Manger goes to Paris

The most memorable lunches I’ve ever eaten have been in France.

From a posh restaurant lunch in a medieval hilltop village near Cannes to a freshly baked baguette and some brie de meaux under the plane tree at the House With No Name, le déjeuner in France is special. It’s certainly not something to be gobbled at top speed in between phone calls at your desk. When my daughter started school at the école maternelle round the corner from our house in Orléans, classes stopped for an hour at noon and virtually every child went home for a proper lunch.

Most French people I know take time over lunch They wouldn’t dream of going to a sandwich shop or takeaway – which is why I was taken aback by the news that Pret A Manger has just opened its first branch in Paris. A cheery notice on the Pret website reads: “We've opened our very first shop in  La Défense, Paris... and we're 
really very excited! So, if you're planning a trip to Paris any time soon, do pop in and say bonjour! Our second shop on Marbeuf, Paris, opens in a few weeks (our builders are on a roll!)…”

I’m a big fan of Pret A Manger – the Pret sweet potato and lentil curry soup is sublime – but I’m not convinced the French are ready to give up their traditional long lunch break to eat sandwiches. And what they’ll think of the plastic cutlery, triangular bread and indeed the name Pret A Manger is another matter (strictly speaking Pret should be Prêt after all…)

But maybe there are enough time-pressed office workers and ex-pats to make the venture a success. When we lived in France I remember making special trips to buy Cheddar cheese at Marks & Spencer in Boulevard Haussmann every time I was in Paris. My husband got very irritated. “It’s absolute sacrilege to buy English cheese in France,” he said. But I still did.

PS: The old M&S in Boulevard Haussmann closed in 2001. But M&S recently opened a new store - on the Champs-Elysées, no less. 

Monday, 19 December 2011

The trials and tribulations of online Christmas shopping

Like most people, I’ve done loads of my shopping online this Christmas. Instead of flogging round the shops in the freezing cold I've sat in the warmth of my office sipping coffee and choosing presents from Amazon, Topshop and other shopping emporiums.

It’s so quick and easy that I wasn’t surprised in the least to read that online sales have doubled to ten per cent since 2000 and are predicted to rise to more than 12 per cent by 2014.

Except the one thing I’d forgotten in the midst of it all is that someone still has to deliver the blooming stuff. And that’s where I’m not so impressed.

Last week, three Amazon parcels got delivered to our house. Fine, except they were delivered on the days I was in London and were simply dumped on the doorstep. Again, it wouldn’t be a problem if we lived in the middle of nowhere but we’re on a main road in a busy city. Anyone could have hopped up the steps, nicked the parcels (luckily they didn’t) and sped off in a trice.

But I didn’t make a fuss till a third parcel arrived and was left outside in the pouring rain. I arrived home more than 12 hours later to find a sorry, sopping mess. The cardboard packaging completely disintegrated when I picked it up and the book inside was ruined. It took three phone calls to get through to the delivery company and about an hour to repackage the present and arrange for a new one to be delivered. Hmmm. In that time, I could have walked to Waterstone’s and bought it in person. Maybe online shopping isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

PS. The most hilarious piece I read over the weekend was a report declaring that the happiest moment of Christmas is at... 1.55pm. Apparently that’s the time when all the presents have been opened, lunch has been cooked and served and the children are playing happily with their new toys. I’m clearly the most disorganised parent on the planet but I can predict for sure that at 1.55pm in our house, lunch won’t have been cooked and served and we’ll only just have started opening our presents. I’m ashamed to admit that the latest we’ve sat down to lunch on Christmas Day was 5.30pm. And did it matter? Not a bit.

PPS. Just to show that there's something else to be said for shopping in person, the picture above (taken in the Rue Saint-Honoré in Paris) shows my favourite shop window of the year. A VW camper in the window? Now that's definitely the way to attract customers.

Monday, 28 November 2011

Christmas turkey, stuffing and life as the world's most useless au pair

With less than a month to go, I’m worrying about the Christmas turkey. I know I should have cracked it by now but the truth is that I’m useless at whizzing up traditional lunches. I love cooking but can’t do gravy or stuffing. As for bread sauce, well it just sounds horrible to me.

In fact most of the recipes I cook are the ones my mum taught me when I moved to Paris (above) at the age of 18 to become the world’s worst au pair.

I was so clueless about cooking that the night before I left I hastily copied down her staple recipes for soups, flans, risottos, pasta and stuffed peppers. Actually, copied is the wrong word. My mum recited them from memory off the top of her head.

When I got to France, the recipes went down a storm with the four little girls I looked after. They were aged between one and nine years old, and apart from the cooking and making up bedtime stories, I was hopelessly out of my depth. The little girls’ mother was a nurse and she was stunned to discover I’d never changed a nappy, couldn’t drive, couldn’t speak fluent French and couldn’t make beds with hospital corners. Worse still, I didn’t even know what hospital corners were!

My own mum was a brilliant, instinctive cook who never measured ingredients (a habit I’ve copied). When anyone asked her for a recipe, which they did all the time, she’d wave her hands vaguely and tell them to add a heap of this and a few spoonfuls of that. She wasn’t into fancy kitchen gadgets either. A friend who came to stay for the weekend was so shocked by her temperamental cooker and solitary blunt knife that he promptly went out and bought her a Baby Belling and a set of sleek, razor-sharp knives.

My mum was touched, but utterly mystified. She proceeded to carry on as before, perfectly happy with the dodgy stove and duff knife.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

The art of speaking French

“You only ever say three things in French,” said my son. “Bonjour, s’il vous plait and merci.” Crushing words, but the trouble is he’s right. Even though I studied French till the age of 18, spent four months in Paris as the world’s worst au pair and lived in Orléans for a while, I’ve forgotten virtually everything. Worse still, by the time I’ve figured what to say in French, five minutes have passed and the conversation has moved on to something even more incomprehensible than before.

Luckily my husband and teenagers are doing far better. My daughter has the advantage of having spent a term at an école maternelle in Orléans, on the banks of the Loire, when she was four. She was the only non-French speaking child in the whole school and when I left her on her first day she looked petrified at the prospect of not being able to communicate.

Her French school was a world apart from the nursery class in Blackburn she’d left behind but she loved walking home for lunch everyday and not having any school on Wednesdays. Then again, she hated having to sleep on a mat for an hour in the afternoons (“some children take dummies,” she told me indignantly), learning that peculiar swirly French writing and not being able to chatter nineteen to the dozen to the other children in the class.

After two days of her new régime she stomped home in a complete strop. “I’ve been here for two days and I still haven’t learned how to speak French,” she said crossly. But within weeks she’d picked up a smattering of the language and could count to ten, order croissants at the bakery and greet her new best friend Philippine.

But 15 years on, I reckon those tricky months at French school made a real difference. She’s still a firm Francophile and even though lots of secondary pupils drop languages like a hot coal at the age of 14 she didn’t. She’s now studying French as part of her degree and excitedly making plans for her year in Paris (or Montpellier or Avignon – opinions gratefully received!) next year. Which is great by me.

PS: If you’re looking for a great beach read, Tasmina Perry’s Private Lives (Headline Review, £14.99) is out this week. Set in the world of glamorous movie stars, go-getting media lawyers and super-injunctions, it’s just the ticket for holiday time.

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