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in the biscuit tin

According to today's Times, a 1997 study by Arthur Aron (a New York psychologist) devised these 36 questions to test people's interpersonal closeness (i.e. determine your and another person's romantic suitability). While I'm clearly not using them for this purpose below (hence why three questions have been omitted, as they are irrelevant without another person to ask), I thought they'd be fun to answer anyway. I'm increasingly coming round to the idea of maintaining a diary for posterity so that when I am an old woman my grandchildren will not think that I was always old and boring. I kept paper diaries regularly from 1997 to 2005 before basically transferring to LJ. I haven't written as much since being married, since being happy tends to curtail the amount one writes. However, one of my "new year's resolutions" (if you will) is to revive my diary-writing purely as a record for future generations. I'm particularly struck by an old story I read once whereby a teacher asked her students to raise their hands if they knew something about their parents (of course all hands went up) followed by their grandparents (eliciting fewer, but still a reasonable number, of hands up), followed finally by their great-grandparents (seeing practically no hands raised). The notion that our lives, and the idea of us as real people, rather than just old photographs and names on family trees, can be completely forgotten in three generations, for no real reason, is disquieting. Hopefully my answers to said questions, and the aforementioned conscious effort to write more diary entries, will help to give my descendants some idea of what I was/am like (even though by then Livejournal will be a quaint relic of the past, probably).

1. Given the choice of anyone in the world, whom would you want as a dinner guest?
A dear friend of mine who I do not see often. I am lucky enough to be able to dine frequently with my husband, parents and sister. The question does not, after all, specify whether the scenario relates to a one-off occasion or to a "every night for the rest of your life" kind of situation.

2. Would you like to be famous? In what way?
Yes, for writing. So people know your name, and you are rewarded financially for your talent and effort, but don't get mobbed just for walking down the street.

3. Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say?
Yes, sometimes, especially for routine things. I am not very good at telephone conversations. Clamming up is a frequent hazard and I hate going away from a conversation (telephonic or otherwise) kicking myself for not having been assertive enough or not saying what I wanted/needed to.

4. What would constitute a perfect day for you?
Sleeping in (preferably in a Sofitel-style bed, which remains the comfiest ever). Breakfast in bed. Amazing sex. A bath. Exercise of some kind (perhaps swimming or dancing), to work off all the yummy food that would surely be involved in a perfect day. Weather: cold and sunny. Warm and comfortable yet fashionable clothes, to prepare for a walk in said weather. Laughing until my face hurts. Going to a concert or play. Shopping. Afternoon tea (yes, I intend to eat basically all day). Having one meal cooked by my mother and another at a Michelin-starred restaurant. Champagne, chocolate and decent coffee would all have to be involved somewhere along the line. Another walk, this time under the stars (so all of this would have to take place in or near a place with little light pollution if you want to do it properly). Staying out late to fit this all in. Would somebody kindly invent alcohol that won't make me as drunk as a skunk after all this, please? Wonderful friends and family to share this all with.

5. When did you last sing to yourself? To someone else?
I regularly sing to myself in the shower or when just pottering around the flat in the evenings waiting for JM to come back from work. Singing to others is quite a different matter. I used to sing in concerts regularly (both as a soloist and as a choir member) but that all stopped when I moved to France, as the few choirs that do exist here either don't have rehearsals at convenient times or require a higher level of sight-reading than I possess. In terms of singing directly to one sole individual, this is something that I very rarely do. It's a very powerful experience that leaves you feeling very exposed. It's therefore not necessarily unpleasant but requires significant trust.

6. If you were able to live to the age of 90 and retain either the body or mind of a 30-year-old for the final 60 years of your life, which would you choose and why?
For me, this one's a no-brainer. The media, fashion and beauty industries have all significantly warped our perceptions of what it is to age and what it is to be beautiful, and do not suitably prize intellect, compassion or humour, instead wanting us to aspire to be vapid shells that are Botoxed to the eyeballs. I would certainly prefer to have the mental lucidity of a thirty-year-old when still in my 90s, rather than losing my mind to conditions like Alzheimer's but still being able to fit into size 10 jeans and have skin that's plump with plentiful collagen. Where's the sense in that?

7. Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
It wouldn't surprise me if I died as a result of being led astray by an unscrupulous taxi driver or ostensibly kindly stranger looking to 'help' me as I have a low sense of danger and tend to be overly trusting. However, I'm not sure that this amounts to a secret hunch. Last week's attacks in Paris and the recent bin lorry tragedy in Glasgow just go to show how easily you can be going about your normal daily business one minute, and yet gone the next.

8. Name three things that you and your partner appear to have in common.
We were both bullied badly at school. Such experiences change you fundamentally and it's perhaps unsurprising that you'd be attracted to someone who mirrored these resultant personality traits and shared these experiences.
We also have similar artistic sensibilities, with our tastes in music and literature in particular resembling one another.
Finally, we share an instinct towards travel, which equally contributes to our twin senses of openmindedness, global citizenship and multilingualism.

9. For what in your life do you feel most grateful?
My loving family. I know that no matter what happens in my life, because of them, I will never be alone. So many people in the world are terribly lonely and/or have had awful childhoods. None of that applies to me.

10. If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
As mentioned above, my childhood was not awful in the least. But if I could change one thing, it would be the lack of respect and acceptance I received from my parents in my teens. I don't think I was the kind of teenager they were expecting to have to deal with, and their reactions to my behaviour frequently made things worse, not better. I'm not a parent yet, but I'd aim to go forward doing things differently. I already know that my mother would do things differently with Teenage Me if she could do them again, as she has told me this, and since none of us are perfect, it's the best I could hope for. Long-term, it hasn't stopped us from being close.

11. Take four minutes and tell your life story in as much detail as possible.
START: 21:56. I was born into a loving family (2 parents, one sister) and was always encouraged to be independent, to reach for the top, to have a sense of fun, and to be myself. Was rejected (academically in particular) and bullied (by my peers) a lot, but it only made me stronger. I was also lucky enough to be given tons of opportunities to enrich myself and travel the world. I learned that I often had to do things alone if I wanted to do them, otherwise I probably wouldn't get to. This improved slightly once I began attending Exeter and Oxford Universities and began to meet more likeminded people, although I did also learn that you'll meet immature and anti-social people wherever you go. After graduating I moved to France and found my true calling - teaching English. Despite previous aspirations to be a journalist, I don't think I would have enjoyed it (it would have been too shallow and unreliable for me). Besides, I still get to use my subject and talents this way and even get to indulge it in some blogging and translation on the side. I met my husband when aged just 18 and married him 7 years later. This year we celebrate our tenth anniversary. No children yet, but hope to have some. In future we also hope to live in other countries, and become truly global citizens. END: 22.00

12. If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any quality or ability, what would it be?
Upon first viewing of this question I was tempted to give a music-related answer. (How joyful would it be to be able to play the piano beautifully all of a sudden?) However, there's always a chance (time and space permitting) that I'll be able to achieve musical prowess by myself with sufficient resources and practice. I'd therefore choose to wake up with perfect skin, which smacks of cognitive dissonance given my answer to question 6, but which I would still choose because my efforts to improve it ever since the age of 10 have been futile. There's a chance I could ameliorate my musical abilities, but I don't think I'll ever be able to improve this.

13. If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about your life, your future, or anything else, what would you want to know?
That's a really difficult one. If some horrible truth were revealed, chances are we'd go out of our way to alter the courses of our lives so that this would not be fulfilled. Therefore, 'knowing' the 'truth' about, for example, our deaths, would perhaps not be productive. Equally, knowing the 'truth' based on a person (e.g. one person's true feelings about another) would seem to be equally useless to me as I'd be unlikely to believe it without hearing it directly from the person themselves. So I suppose, in short, I wouldn't want to know anything.

14. Is there something you've dreamt of doing for a long time? Why haven't you done it?
I've longed to be able to play the piano from a young age, but my parents never encouraged this ambition. As I grew up, I was able/permitted to pour my passions into other pursuits, such as dance, singing, reading groups, community service, and the theatre, which I suppose served as distractions to a degree. When I moved to France initially, I had other priorities. At my wedding, people were kind enough to contribute to the costs of a piano and some lessons, but sadly, at present we lack the space (living at the top of a spiral staircase with no elevator also presents its own difficulties). The money is still there, and the hope is that when we someday move and have more space, I'll be able to pursue this.

15. What is the greatest accomplishment of your life?
Attending Oxford University.

16. What do you value most in a friendship?
Reliability, communication, intelligence, a good sense of humour, a listening ear/shoulder to cry on, some common interests, some differences, and the ability to introduce each other to new things.

17. What is your most treasured memory?
There are really so many, but suppose I'd be in trouble if I didn't say getting married, wouldn't I?

18. What is your most terrible memory?
Funerals. Say no more. Perhaps the worst was that of my friend Olivia, who died aged just 23. At least my two grandfathers at least had the chance to have long lives.

19. If you knew that in one year you would die suddenly, would you change anything about the way you are now living? Why?
I'd probably stop working, and use the time to travel and spend time with friends and family. Reasons, hopefully, are obvious.

20. What does friendship mean to you?
The preciousness of the diversity of shared experiences cannot be underestimated. You also go back such a long way with so many of these people that they really can be the family you have chosen for yourself. It is, in short, indispensable, with quality being more important than quantity.

21. What roles do love and affection play in your life?
I'd be lost without these. I'm a firm subscriber to the view that there are as many kinds of love as there are hearts.

22. Share five positive characteristics of your partner.
He's intelligent, witty, gorgeous, serious and caring.

23. How close and warm is your family? Do you feel that your childhood was happier than most people's?
Very, and yes. Even though I now live abroad I try to see and communicate with them regularly. Even though they can be annoying, they make me laugh until my face hurts and the strength of their love is overwhelming to me. Wouldn't change anything about them for the world. Equally, I'm enormously grateful for the childhood I had: not just for what was provided materially but also for the happiness, resilience and safety my parents created for me and my sister while we grew up.

24. How do you feel about your relationship with your mother?
It's not always been perfect, and in some ways it's been downright turbulent (cf. question 10), at times even involving arguments the neighbours could hear. However, this in the end took up a small proportion of my life and in the end the good has outweighed the bad. We share recipes, music, stories, and more. She really is one of a kind in terms of her blend of domestic goddesstry (if that's not a word, I just invented it), relentless positivity, and childlike spirit.

25. Make three true "I" statements.
Even though the concept of truth is a slippery one...I am overly critical of others and not always terribly sympathetic towards others' problems. I am also generous, innovative and keen to learn and improve. I am also true to myself, as others will criticise me regardless of my choices, so I may as well.

26. Complete this sentence: "I wish I had someone with whom I could share..."
I would say cake, but that would be silly. Plus, I believe there are some things that everybody needs to keep just for themselves (NB not just cake).

27. Share three pieces of information that you consider it is important for someone to have if they are going to be a close friend of yours.
I'm hyper-organized/impulsive and can't bear it when people dilly-dally over decision-making about relatively straightforward things.
I appreciate being told if I'm annoying you; I'm rubbish at reading between the lines, so it's better to be straight with me about these things.
I like cake.

28. Share an embarrassing moment.
Farting in front of my entire drama class (NB as a student! Not a teacher!) during an exercise where of course we were all supposed to be extremely quiet.

29. When did you last cry in front of another person? When did you last cry by yourself?
By myself? October. In front of another person? Probably also October.

30. What, if anything, is too serious to be joked about?
I'd like to say nothing is too serious to be joked about, but it depends on how it's done. Always a difficult one to handle, especially in the light of Charlie Hebdo.

31. If you were to die this evening with no opportunity to communicate with anyone, what would you most regret not having told someone? Why haven't you told them yet?
There's a dear friend of mine whom I've never told that I love. I never have because I fear losing them if I do. Our friendship is complicated to say the least.

32. Your house, containing everything you own, catches fire. After saving your loved ones and pets, you have the chance to safely make a final dash to save any one item. What would it be and why?
My writings (counting poetry files, diaries and USB key as one item here!). Ars longa, vita brevis and all that.

33. Of all the people in your family, whose death would you find most disturbing?
Any of the young ones (of my generation and younger). Our parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles etc have all had a crack at a long and decent life. Those of us in our twenties and younger (JoAnn, aged nearly three, is the youngest) are just getting started.

Current Location: Saint-Germain-en-Laye, France
Current Mood: peaceful peaceful
Current Music: Radio Classique

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This is today's task according to the Guardian Happy for Life app (which I recommend btw).

1. I have beautiful colouring which I really appreciate: no fake tan, hair dye or coloured contacts for me!

2. I'm a really hard worker who makes efficient use of her time and always strives to do right by the kids.

3. I have a good singing voice which brings me and others happiness.

4. I have a great memory, which comes in really handy for just about everything.

5. I care really deeply for others, which can be expressed in many forms, from going out of my way to spend time with them to frankly awesome gift-giving capabilities.

6. I suppose the above would also cover generosity, with both money and time.

7. I have a good sense of humour and am able to take criticism well, which helps professionally and personally.

8. I don't malinger. If I take a day off work, you know it's got to be really bad.

9. On that note, I can be devoted almost to a fault.

10. I blend fun and ambition, hopefully to good effect.
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Found this link the other day and thought it would be fun to see how much of it I've done since I made it (in 2010). I'm also not 30 yet, so there's still time to potentially complete it!

I got married :)  No baby yet though!
Piano and piano lessons on hold until we move into a bigger place...which hopefully we'll have to before I'm 30 because of the baby thing :p
German Christmas market hasn't been done yet! Maybe in 2015?!
Have been to the US twice since 2010. Not sure we'll squeeze in another before my 30th though.
Pass driving test...sadly not yet :(
Ditto getting rid of acne, publishing a novel, and owning at least 6 Loeb books.
The holy books thing is in progress...very important in today's world I think!
Actually, most of these things I copied from my 101 list, which I already analysed here. Unrealistic goals for the win!
Some I've revised since (such as owning every Simpsons box set ever released), some are in progress (like reading Clarissa), some are achievable but still not done yet (e.g. owning Louboutins) and others I've achieved (such as going to a ballet, and seeing Divine Comedy live).
Perhaps the best one was actually getting into a regular exercise routine. It really does so much for so many areas of your life: your weight, your fitness, your mental/emotional wellbeing, your productivity, your energy levels - and, in my case, since my gym has MTV, my popular music knowledge is much improved too...useful when you work with teenagers :p
Should perhaps make another list once I'm 30...although by the looks of it half of the list will still be the same :p

Current Location: 78100, France

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Can't believe it's been two years since I posted here on LJ. TWO YEARS.
I've obviously been trawling through all my old entries with great interest, and a few things struck me.

- DAMN I complained a lot.
- I'd tell anyone leaving university to NOT WORRY about their career; life often chooses it for you and with a little bit of luck it will be something that suits you (contrary to my initial instincts, I now believe that teaching is something that suits me, very much). If not, well...you can always change it :-)
- I also found my 101 in 1001 list, which I was supposed to complete by the end of February 2012 (and which I clearly paid great attention to): http://angelil.livejournal.com/85422.html#cutid1  ...and thought it would be fun to run through how much of it I've actually achieved (probably not much...), as well as keeping the rest for future reference:

I haven't published a novel. The reasons for this are a) lack of effort in terms of finding an agent/publisher, and b) I don't think I'm actually good enough yet. Organising my poetic fragments so I can work on them more, and actually assembling a half-decent poetry collection that may someday be worthy of publication, is also slow going.
I got engaged, and married. Good stuff! I won't deny it, though: marriage can be hard work at times, particularly when one party is frequently deployed overseas for work.
Owning 6 Loeb books and a piano hasn't come to pass yet, mainly for space reasons (a tiny apartment can only hold so much). Hence the piano lessons haven't happened yet either. Session in a recording studio is still a highly desirable but low-priority concept. I didn't join a choir, but did join a gym (not a swimming pool). Close enough, right?
I did indeed go on holiday to places that were not Britain or France...America was even part of the equation, when I thought it wouldn't be. Happy days! Next stop, Japan (hopefully...). I think I have also now visited at least 4 UK destinations that I hadn't discovered before (Canterbury, Torquay, Leamington Spa, and Guildford to name but a few...).
I've abandoned the freelancing idea now in favour of teaching. Teaching offers better security and pay both in the short and long term. Maybe someday it'll be something I come back to, but now it's a hobby at best in the form of blogging. I'm naturally constantly trying to improve my teaching, and don't see that stopping even now I've got my certificate. Organising resources is always a work in progress; digitisation IS the way forward, I've decided. I also got a raise (and with that, a raise in workload, but that's par for the course).
Trying every form of loose tea in that nice shop on the rue St-Honoré would have been quite a stretch! 50g of loose tea is a lot, you know. Doing everything in the Paris Insolite book would have also taken up EVERY SINGLE WEEKEND and then some. Unrealistic ambitions for the win!
Language learning has not come along well. I've made most progress with Italian (having acquired a decent dictionary, as I said on my list that I would), but despite encouraging reading and writing skills, I'm terrified to speak when I go there. Doh. Russian, German, and some other random language just for the heck of it just haven't had the benefit of my time.
Gardening...I do not have green fingers. I've killed a pot of basil and several orchids...that's as far as it goes. I'm a bit addicted to The Great Allotment Challenge on the BBC though...does that count?! (Thought not.)
I no longer aspire to own every single Simpsons box set known to man...just up to season 15. (The show is rubbish after that.) Not living in the UK anymore, and the ridiculously long waiting list to be in the Top Gear audience, also put paid to that ambition.
I did read all of Proust's In Search of Lost Time, although Clarissa still has yet to be completed. (Though I have started...) Trying to read all the books I own, and then selling them to make way for more, is a Sisyphean task to say the least, as is the kitchen equipment one. Just as soon as I've exhausted my list, other items come along to replace them. Latest lust object: fully automatic ice-cream maker, taking up the space of a small elephant and costing around £200. Errr...
On the fashion and beauty front...no Louboutins yet. It'll always be the dream! I am also still a Lush addict.
Culturally, I have DEFINITELY improved my wine knowledge. Gone on several serious tours and tastings and could probably bore you a bit on the subject. (Don't get JM onto it unless you are really interested though...you may well be an OAP by the time he's exhausted his ridiculous body of knowledge on you.) We also saw Divine Comedy live, but still not Bill Bailey yet....his tour dates never coincide well with our UK trips, it seems. I did see several ballets with my lovely friend Zoe, but dance lessons haven't ever materialised. I reckon the gym is enough. Needless to say, I still cannot do the splits. As I mentioned originally, this is cool but not essential.
Tech-wise, I finally succumbed and got an iPhone earlier this year. Next on the gadget lust list: a Kindle Fire.
The less said about the driving licence, the better.
I've eaten in several wonderful restaurants (including some Michelin-starred), but not yet the Fat Duck (hopefully this October...) or the Waterside (plan B).

Embarrassingly, I noticed only just now that I only got up to 43 on my 101 list. Says it all, really. Seeing as I didn't even accomplish all of those, it probably signifies the loftiness of my ambitions and general lack of follow-through.

Nonetheless, in a lot of ways I feel I'm in a better place mentally than I was when I was keeping this LJ more regularly. How much of that is down to the abortive 101 list is probably limited, but needless to say I'm looking forward to saying hello to my 30s and goodbye to my 20s. There has been good stuff in my 20s for sure, but I'd like to hope that with age comes wisdom and that even by now I'm a slightly better, nicer, more interesting human being.

Did you do a 101 in 1001? How did it pan out? I'm genuinely curious :)
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“If ever there is a tomorrow when we’re not together there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.” ~Winnie the Pooh
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The first five people to respond to this post will get some form of art, by me. It will be about or tailored to those five lucky "victims."
This offer does have some restrictions and limitations:
- I make no guarantees that you will agree with what I perceive as art and/or quality. (Nobody said anything about quality, anyway!)
- What I create will be just for you.
- It'll be done before the year is out. (I'd rather give myself enough time to make something nice.)
- You have no clue what it's going to be. It may be fic. It may be poetry. I may draw or paint something. I may bake you something and mail it to you. Who knows? Not you, that's for sure!
- I reserve the right to do something extremely strange.
The catch? Oh, the catch is that you have to put this in your journal as well, if you expect me to do something for you!
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So here I am and loving November. I have always preferred winter by a long way in just about every respect: winter food, winter weather, winter fashion, and of course, the approach of Christmas. Not partaking in another November activity, though - NaNoWriMo (good luck to those of you who are, though!) - due to having become increasingly busy this term (see below).

I did not actually realise it had been so long since I'd last written, but it's understandable given the aforementioned work- and non work-related busyness.

Naturally, with 42 students in my homeroom this year for me to manage all on my own (yes, really), this is the most difficult part of my job at present. Especially since I taught half of them last year and did not have a good relationship with them, so said half the class are intent on heckling during the registration period and just generally not letting me get on with the job in peace. Despite my best efforts in terms of both appeasing and disciplining them (seriously, I have been the Duracell bunny of discipline so far this term. Lost count of the number of detentions I've given out), nothing seems to be working and I am really at a loss. Any ideas (apart from changing job!) would be appreciated.

It's a shame about the part in brackets in a way because my other classes are generally going well: they're working, I'm forming good relationships with some of the kids, and I'm keeping them under control. I'm managing my workload well and have also taken on a new IGCSE course this year, Global Perspectives, which is fascinating and terrifying by equal turns (the kids have to produce about 5000 words' worth of coursework each before they even get to the exam).

Less fun was the school trip. This too was a great shame as last year's trip was immense! This year, thanks to one kid ending up in hospital and one in the doctor's surgery, plus general misbehaviour, it was a nightmare of fairly epic proportions. Not helped by this being my first year of actually organising the thing and feeling rubbish about the way I handled things. My fiscal reward? €480 gross for five days of trip. Should just about pay for the therapy I'll need, then.

And so this is the dilemma: do I continue in a job and industry I don't wholly enjoy/feel I can handle, or do I continue pursuing a path in an industry that is far less secure both in terms of immediate financial gain and in terms of a long term future (journalism)? I get more responses from editors these days, but it rarely leads to commissions due to budget problems :(

In terms of Good Stuff That's Happened Recently, I went on a short break to the Loire valley a couple of weekends ago with JM. Included in this weekend was the weirdest wine tasting ever of some of the world's nicest wine (think ancient old lady who insisted we used the spittoon) and one of the best meal experiences ever at this place - think amazing food, high quality wine and top notch views over the vines.

We're also off to England this coming weekend (the 12th) to take advantage of a free hotel room, see my parents, go for fireworks and fish and chips on the beach in Deal, and raid Waitrose's shelves. Novembering indeed :)
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FOUR NAMES YOU GO BY:
1. Bianca
2. B
3. Miss Summons
4. Mrs Pellet

THREE THINGS YOU ARE WEARING RIGHT NOW:

1. striped navy and pink Oxford uni rugby shirt
2. short grey skirt
3. dark blue tights with white dots

THREE THINGS YOU WANT VERY BADLY AT THE MOMENT:

1. A pair of red trousers from River Island
2. For River Island customer services to stop being such wankholes
3. Dinner (and it's on its way, in the form of quail)

THREE THINGS YOU DID LAST NIGHT:

1. Watched some Mr Bean
2. Read some Proust
3. Ate tiramisu

THREE PEOPLE YOU LAST RANG UP:

1. Parents
2. The gynaecologist's office
3. River Island customer services

THREE THINGS YOU ARE GOING TO DO TOMORROW:

1. Go to work.
2. Get waxed
3. Practice driving theory

THREE OF YOUR FAVOURITE DRINKS:

1. Sauternes
2. Coffee from our coffee machine that grinds the beans for you
3. Diet Coke (even though I shouldn't, on the advice of the dentist and on the grounds that I am trying to avoid aspartame in all its forms)

THREE THINGS THAT MADE YOU SMILE TODAY:

1. My husband
2. Bill Bailey
3. Hearing the news that one of my friends had her baby at four minutes to seven this morning: welcome to the world, Florence Elizabeth Joly!
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It's been an eventful month or so, or at least it certainly feels like it's been a busy one.

I was marking for Edexcel for the first part of the month, and I have now been paid for that work, even though I now need to write a snotty letter to the Inland Revenue to claim back the tax. It was an interesting experience, although maybe not one that I would wish to repeat (at least with Edexcel). Suffice it to say that it confirmed many of my suspicions.

Secondly, I went to England with JM for what was essentially our honeymoon, during possibly the rainiest week/month on record. It even pissed it down on our boat party/UK wedding reception day, which was a slight bummer, but at least if the French adage of a rainy wedding equalling a happy marriage is true, that means double happiness is coming our way. The party itself was good, though, although with hindsight I may have changed a few of the guests round for others who mean more to me. It didn't feel like four hours at all and just flew by. The cake was epically nice, the speeches were well-received, and I got to talk to everyone, which is probably about all you can wish for.

Our week started in Kent, though - we got the ferry from Calais and stayed in Dover for a couple of nights, using it as a base to explore Canterbury (which I had never been to, but enjoyed and would return to), Margate (my mum and dad's old honeymoon haunt - the hotel where they stayed back in 1979 is now spectacularly wacky), and Deal (where my grandparents used to live, and which subsequently has a load of fab memories attached). We also went to The Marquis At Alkham for an evening of gastronomic delight - would recommend!

JM then motored us to Maidenhead for the boat party, and after staying there for 2 nights with the inlaws, they went to Windsor for the day with my mother before heading back to France, while we headed to London for more fine dining and just generally pottering around. On Monday after lunch we headed to Exeter, although a massive crash on the M5 prevented us from getting there until about 6. Visiting campus the following day was a strange experience; the place is virtually unnavigable and unrecognisable thanks to the £225m efforts to turn the place into some sort of space age metropolis. I'm sure the facilities etc will be great once it's done, but it didn't feel wholly like my university anymore.

We also used Devon as a base to go to Darts Farm to pick up delicious local produce, wander around Exeter town centre, visit Teignmouth (would have been nicer sans rain) and see Torquay (MISTAKE. Have a feeling it's not what it was in Basil Fawlty's day). On Wednesday we went to Bath for the afternoon on the strength of an English breakfast before filling up on afternoon tea (literally the full works, with dinky sandwiches, Bath buns etc) at the Royal Crescent Hotel. OMG TEH NOMZ.

Thennnnn back to Maidenhead and then the following day back to Dover for the boat. JM did all the driving (I still have no licence...oh the shame) and he did spectacularly - especially considering it was his first time on UK roads.

To be honest, throughout this time I have been so busy looking forward to my trip (and then subsequently enjoying it) that I can't find I really care much about the phone hacking scandal, even though I know I probably should. My reaction was stronger to the Norway attacks yesterday and to Amy Winehouse's death today (I don't like her music, but feel sad for her that she wasn't better looked after by the music industry).

Since coming back from the UK we've mostly been cleaning and tidying as well as relaxing and catching up on past Top Gear episodes. Forget spring cleaning - the 8-week summer holiday is where it's at for me. Cue tidying the spice rack and cleaning out under the bed. FUNFUN.
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