نعجة quits Arabic

7 Jan

Once again I owe you all an apology. You may have noticed I’ve been missing in action for a semester. There are three main reasons for this:

1)      This term I have started to take shit seriously. This means not going out four nights a week. This means actually reading the “compulsory readings”. This means completing coursework before 4am when possible.

2)      This term my hair was braided and, like Samson incapacitated by a Delilah, I temporarily lost much of my creative powers along with the ‘fro.

3)      Last year I was often struck by the bizarreness of Paris and Parisian life. This year less so, which introduces the worrying possibility that I have been assimilé (NOOOOOO!!!).  I find myself ignoring people on the streets, judging strangers who do not abide by the three colour rule (Note: the Three Colour Rule states that you are permitted to wear a maximum of three colours at any given time. Underwear is exempted from this rule so long as it remains invisible. Your bag must not, however, match your shoes. End of note.) and generally feeling superior until I catch myself in disgust. I think we can all agree that this is a serious problem but don’t worry, I’m seeking medical help.

Despite my general lack of material this term, I thought I’d recount the tragicomic tale behind my decision to quit Arabic class.

 

‘Twas a midsummer morning and I found myself before the computer, carrying out the inscriptions pédagogiques. This included signing up to language classes and, in my clearly idiotic Anglophone mentality, I assumed that passing level one Arabic meant I could advance to level two. How wrong I was.

What I hadn’t calculated was that most students on the Paris campus have their third year abroad between level one and level two. Motivated as they are, they often spend it helping traumatized Gazan refugees or shouting political slogans in Tahrir Square, and therefore return to Paris practically proficient. I on the other hand, still find it difficult to differentiate between the letters ع (“ ‘aieen”) and غ (“ghraieen”).

I also hadn’t factored in the possibility that not everyone spends 99% of their time in level one Arabic learning how to deduce and pronounce the “déclinaison”. Comme vous le savez the “déclinaison” is the changing vowel sound at the end of a word which shows its place and function in the sentence (sujet, COD, COI… Yaaaawn). Unfortunately it is only ever needed when reading the Quran out loud. Now excuse me, but as a non-Muslim woman, I highly doubt such a situation will arise unless I find myself working undercover as a religious leader in an al-Shabaab controlled area of Somalia. Even then, to my knowledge most copies of the Quran have the vowels written in, expressly to avoid this sort of wild guesswork which might lead to an inadvertent alteration of the word of God.

All this was not helped by the fact that the Level Two Arabic teacher and I did not get off to the best of starts. My first impression of her was of a patronising, impatient, totalitarian sadist who seemed to be under the impression that we were majoring in Arabic with the minor annoyance of a full time degree in political science on the side. She evidently was not impressed with me either. “You’ve got to start working” she would say after I’d spent the entire weekend deciphering analysing and learning two texts by heart, answering three question sheets, three more grammar sheets, composing a full page summary of the texts in Arabic and *Ooops!*, forgetting to learn that by heart as well. Lazy, lazy me.

After a month of bi-weekly sessions of psychological torture I did have one small moment of glory. We were being tested one by one on the capitals of Arabic-speaking countries. The easy ones like Egypt, Syria and Lebanon had gone and someone had just got the capital of Jordan wrong. The atmosphere was tangibly tense. We were venturing into unknown territory and the interrogation was moving round the circle in my direction. The guy next to me failed to name the capital of Yemen.

Shit went down.

“Aren’t you supposed to be at Sciences Po?” she taunted, “What sort of political science institution is this if you don’t even have basic geopolitical knowledge?”

I bit back the retort that maybe if we didn’t spend 15 hours a week on Arabic we might have time to sit and memorise world capitals. Everyone looked suitably ashamed, then their gazes turned to me. It was my turn, and the reputation of our university rested entirely upon my next answer.

I looked up at our teacher who was loving this and racking her brains for the most obscure capital city she could think of. I was silently freaking out; geography had never been my thing and I didn’t watch University Challenge or Mastermind or Pointless or any of those general knowledge quizzes. What would she ask? Yemen, it had to be Yemen or one of the other Gulf States like Oman! Oh please don’t let it be Oman, I have no clue….

“What,” she said finally, with a triumphant gleam in her eyes “is the capital of Sudan?”.

HA HA HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAA! That is NOT a question you should ask a Euraf my friend! My mouth twitched but I kept it together, formulated my reply in Arabic and asked innocently:

“Do you mean the capital of Sudan or South Sudan?”

Stifled laughter ensued from my gleeful classmates. Even the teacher smiled reluctantly.

“Alright,” she said “You’ve made your point. I don’t think I know the capital of South Sudan.”

“Well just for your information, the capital of Sudan is Khartoum and the new capital of South Sudan is Juba”

Miss Smug 2012. Insert evil laugh of victory.

‘Twas a sweet moment of success in an otherwise bleak failure of a language course. But I shall battle on! I shall return to Level One to make sure that if I am ever given the honour of leading an Eid service, I shall be well equipped to rise to the challenge! Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more! For, believe it or not, this is our last semester in Paris! :O

Ps. Sorry, no pictures this time. My sister is working on some illustrations.

Mouton begins Second Year or “Inscriptions Pédagogiques” for Dummies

8 Sep

Hi there!

NOTE BEFORE YOU READ THIS POST: I have recently been introduced to gifs (pictures that move) by my wonderful and technologically advanced sister. If the picture isn’t moving click on it to get the full effect then return to the post. Let’s try it out:

So…

In the first week of uni our head of course announced that he’d heard many of us were nervous about the upcoming “Inscriptions Pédagogiques” and not to worry, it would all go smoothly. Like a fool, I believed him.

“Hah!” thought I, “Why would anyone be scared of course registration? Weird…” I wish someone had come up to me that day and said “Be afraid. Be very afraid!”

So come sign up day I overslept by two minutes and went online to find the only available classes were at 8 in the morning or 7.15 in the evening, which is how I spent my first term in Paris with no food, no sleep and no social life. From then on I ensured I was always prepared for inscriptions, once sprinting the entire length of Saint-Germain, pushing past ageing glamazons and tripping over small rat-like dogs, just to get to a computer on time.

You have to approach the inscriptions like you would a battlefield; with a watertight military strategy, graphs, tables, maps, plans, back-up plans and options of last resort. Even so, things can still go wrong; with thousands of students simultaneously trying to sign up for the same classes with varying internet speed and keyboard skills, 3 milliseconds can spell the difference between success and failure. It’s a bloodbath!

Personally, I’d be in favour of shaking things up a bit. Wouldn’t it be fun if students mud-wrestled for the classes they wanted, in groups according to gender and weight? Though I’d probably be no better off than in the current system. Perhaps we could compete at timed sudoku, or spider solitaire! I’d be laughing then.

Anyway, signup day this year saw me poised in front of my laptop at 7.59am, cup of tea in hand, frantically clicking refresh and waiting for the signup page to open. A little voice in my head whispered “Let the games begin, and may the odds be ever in you favour!”.

I told it to shut up. Aaaaaaaaaaaand GO!

Ok, straight to Philosophy of Law and “Inscrire!”

… nothing happened.

Inscrire!

… still nothing

INSCRIRE!!!!

MOTHERF***!!! Why wont this thing let me sign up?! Ok ABORT! ABORT!

Quick, switch tactics! Plan B: sign up to development economics….

Shit.

The ominous little “C” signifying “complète” (class full) had appeared next to the course name. I scrolled down all my other choices… C, C, C, C, C…. This was starting to look a lot like my report card.

“MUUUUUUUM!” I cried, “Help meeeee!!”

She ran into the office.

“It…. wont… signup…. full…. classes…. doomed!” I spluttered

“OK don’t panic” she said, “Let’s see what’s left, check under arts classes.”

We cross referenced all the available classes with the gaps in my timetable and were left with…

“Ok so it looks like it’s either ‘Conflicts in Africa: Writing the Unspeakable’ or ‘Baroque Dance'” concluded Mum.

I weighed it up mentally.

On the one hand, two hours a week of murder, rape, incest, mutilation, excision and genocide. On the other, two hours of prancing around in medium-sized heels, waving garlands of flowers looking like a prat. I chose humiliation over permanent mental scarring.

“I pick baroque dance!” I exclaimed and was about to click when a little “C” appeared. Genocide it is then.

A couple of hours, a few tantrums and many, many emails later I found myself with Conflict Literature, hardcore African Economies, Politics of the EU and, wait for it, Administrative Law.

On the bright side, seeing as I have no idea what to do with my life, all these courses could be interesting. I said I wanted to knock economics on the head and here’s my chance! Journalists have to cover difficult subjects so conflict lit will be useful and Admin Law, well, honestly I have no clue what it is!

I am determined to make a success of this year, no more blundering around like a lost sheep (geddit? EHHEHEHE! ). I will jog on weekday mornings, I will actually show up for tai chi, I will cook real food and clean the apartment and stop starting dissertations at 4 o’clock on the morning they are due! Okay

Will keep you all posted on my progress though somehow I doubt ridiculous things will just stop happening to me (and would I want them too?).

Second year:

Mouton OUT!

PS. I realise there are an insane amount of gifs in this post. All I can say is…

Mouton’s Not-So-Triumphant Return

24 Jun

Travel. A nerve wrecking experience merely because so many things can go wrong. First there’s the packing when you realise just how much crap you own. Then the tickets, the passports, the travel cards, the easily accessible bottle of water, the list goes on.

This time I didn’t leave things to the last minute. I started packing two days in advance, oh yes! I checked out of LP with minimal stress. The caretaker came to inspect my room, walked in, asked “So, any problems?”, “No,” I replied thinking of the wobbly chair, broken cupboard and the shower that doesn’t drain properly, “none at all”. Case closed.

I traversed Paris, boarded the Eurostar and settled down. The train manager Guy announced that he “and his friend Jean-Pierre” would be patrolling the aisles, which made me smile. It’s something my mother and I noticed a few years back: no matter how many times you take the train, you will invariably spot the manager but never his “friend Jean-Pierre”. Therefore the only logical conclusion is that all Eurostar managers have imaginary friends to keep them company on the journey. I then fell asleep, as I always do on Eurostar. It’s the air con: drugged I’m sure of it.

Arriving back in London, despite being weighed down with 4 bags, I enjoyed listening to people speaking English. English! In informal situations! Magic! It wasn’t Shakespeare I’ll admit it, the best line came from an angry man in a suit who shouted down the phone: “Tell Sam when he comes down he can help us fix up the shed. No, f**k chickens I want a jacuzzi!”

So with a little help from my friends, a big dose of divine intervention, a sprinkling of common sense and a dash of experience I made it onto the 7.50 train from Paddington. Approaching Maidenhead I decided to call my mother to remind her to put on her driving shoes and get ready to pick me up from the station. The conversation went a bit like this:

“Hi Mum!”

“Hellooo!?” (surprised and confused tone)

“Yes, hi Mum. Just to let you know I’m at Maidenhead right now”

(Pause)

“What? In France?”

“Ummm… no. England.” (I mean really! How many places called Maidenhead can there be in France? I don’t even know how you would pronounce that in French!)

“Wait, you’re in England? But you’re supposed to be coming home tomorrow!”

For a split second I panicked. “I’ve got the wrong date!” I thought, “I’ll have to go back to Paris! Wait, hang on… Eurostar would never have let me travel a day early. Breathe, Mouton, breathe.”

“Uh no… I’m pretty sure I’m coming home today”

“Really? Oh sorry darling I’ve been ill, completely lost track of time! Twins! D’you hear this? Your sister is coming back early!”

(Muffled voice of younger brother from the background) “Whaaaaa??”

“Well it’s not exactly early is it…” I started to say, but was interrupted.

“So you’re on Eurostar then?”

“No Mum! I’m at Maidenhead! I’ll be arriving in 25 minutes, get your shoes on and come find me!”

“Yes of course darling, what a wonderful surprise! See you soon!”

“Bye Mum.”

Hangs up.

Surprise. Hmmmphh. Four months I’ve been away. Train tickets been booked for a month and a half. Good thing I called ahead really. So not exactly the long awaited return I was hoping for, but it’s good to know nothing’s changed around here.

Got home, made some real tea with the proper milk and water, plugged in my computer and the sockets had the right number of holes, ate a good British pork sausage roll and settled down to the latest episode of Silk on BBC 1. Whoever said the grass isn’t greener on the other side has clearly never made the Channel crossing.

Mouton and her Male Sheep Friends

24 Jun

Dating. A word that strikes fear into many a heart and gives me personally the impulse to run as fast as I can in the opposite direction, buy a horsehair tunic, grow a beard somehow and set up a whole new existence as a hermit monk in the Scottish highlands. But as someone who refuses to be beaten by anything (hence the decision to come and study in Paris of all places), I have attempted, admittedly whilst I’m meant to be revising, to rise to this particular challenge. And what a challenge it has been.

As you may have guessed, I am quite new to the dating scene and also suffer from the bus syndrome: you wait forever for a bus and three come along at the same time. Well, it’s the same thing with guys and the problem is I am quite a picky person at the best of times. So this leaves me making an insane amount of pros and cons lists.

Punctuality does not bother me; the shortest time I’ve waited for a date is probably 20mins. Funny how when it comes to conferences or “tutorials”, arriving two minutes late is an offense equivalent to publically declaring yourself a Sarkozy supporter. But when it comes to meeting for drinks, a half hour delay is perfectly acceptable. Logic level: French men.

But despite being on edge during most of any date there are certain little things that I find extremely difficult to let slide. For example, violation of the “the one you touch is the one you take” rule while eating the café’s provided bowl of chips.  Answering the phone when in the cinema: unforgivable. I don’t care if it’s Barack Obama, the Pope or Michael Jackson calling from beyond the grave, you just don’t do it! Oh and ordering for me, which is only allowed if you’re paying! Trivial issues yes, but annoying nonetheless.

I’m getting better at chit chat en français, although it still seems a little odd and artificial to me. I keep thinking “I barely know you! Why am I telling you all this random stuff?”. There are those unforgettable moments though, when a certain question provokes an unexpected response. For example half way through one date’s explanation of his role as director of a real estate firm I stopped him with “Wait… how old are you, if you don’t mind me asking?” and he replied “Thirty one”. CHICKA-ZOOONT-ZOONT-ZOONT!!

Shame really. He had an unbelievable car.

So not much luck in Paris, the city of love, so far. I still walk past that bridge near the Louvre, the one with all the lovers padlocks attached to it, and picture myself breaking them all with a wrench and chucking them into the Seine. But no matter, I’m sure there’s a ram out there somewhere waiting to sweep this mouton of her feet. Eww… that sounded wrong. Or perhaps I’ll just spend a few more years happily grazing and frolicking around on my metaphorical Scottish hillside!

20 point recap of Paris: Year One

26 May

This year I have…

 

Modelled for a fashion show

Interviewed David Willets

Attempted tai chi in the Jardin de Luxembourg

Bluffed my way through 10 economics exams

Gotten mugged by Tunisians at 2 in the morning

Been on a shopping spree in Galleries Lafayette

Drank champagne on the Champ de Mars

Met a billionaire

Read at a confirmation service to a French, English and Tamil congregation

Learnt to love KFC

Been labelled a sheep

Taken constitutional law in French

Danced salsa with a racist, sexist Cuban

Learnt about excision, marijuana smoking, mass violence and how to conjugate in Arabic

Ice skated at Hotel de Ville

Lost two ipods

Seen Magic System live

Seen Nick Clegg, but not Francois Hollande… yet

Attended a conference on education

And finally… escaped Cité Universitaire!

 

Not bad huh? Think I’ll come back next year.

 

Image Detail

Mouton Gets Mistaken for an Illegal Immigrant… and Worse

26 Apr

Hi Everyone!

I know it’s been a long time (we shouldnta left you, without a dope beat to step to, step to, step to… If you recognise those lyrics, well done). Sorry, I really do apologise for the prolonged silence. There is a very simple explanation for this: midterms and paper deadlines. But luckily that ordeal is over now! So I thought I’d tell you a bit about another ordeal I’ve lived through recently; it’s related to my residence, the one, the only, LP.

Part 1: The Rant

There’s a very simple term that truly represents the essence of LP but, due to the certificate of this blog (PG 13) and the fact that grandparents and former professors are reading this, I will simply say that the first syllable rhymes with “sit” and the second rhymes with “toll” and you should pronounce this with a slight lisp.

Moving on, the idea behind our residence is that each building represents a different country, therefore the American house has palm trees outside, the German house looks like Hogwarts castle, the Chinese house has a dragon on the side and my sub-Saharan African house looks, well, it looks like the National Theatre in Kampala to be honest. Could be worse: the Danish building is like a Lego house! But some days I think they’ve taken this whole sub-Saharan African thing a tad far. I know we have regular power cuts in Africa but is it necessary to remind us of those experiences so often? And can someone please inform the director that we haven’t had pit latrines in urban cities like Kampala for years now! Is a toilet seat too much to ask? Must I be mentally transported back to the memorable loo stops taken on cross country drives in Northern Uganda every time I have to pee? I will admit, in my darkest hours, I’ve looked at my ensuite shower and thought… would I? But don’t worry, no matter what le Pen might think, we foreigners aren’t savages!

It is quite amusing to watch newcomers experience LP. Some try to actually clean the kitchen! Hahaaa, amateurs! They will inevitably try to use the ovens, and we institutionalised long-term residents have to inform them that, regretfully, not a single oven works in the entire building. Most things are broken come to think of it. The shower came off the wall in week three and I’ve gotten so used to doing laundry in the dark that I still don’t turn on the light even though it’s been fixed since February! Newcomers will also have to acclimatise to the fact that LP is extremely… orange. (Don’t tell the Dutch but I have a bit of a thing against orange. It’s not a trustworthy colour; it puts you ill at ease. But maybe that’s just me.) Then there’s the fact that the walls are a bit thin; let’s just say that I wasn’t entirely sad when my Chinese neighbour broke up with her boyfriend, and the endless renditions of “Someone Like You” by Adele are totally worth it!

As if we weren’t living in enough of a prison complex already, there are the cleaning ladies to reckon with! I hadn’t known true fear until I met these women. You can hear them approaching from far off, banging on the doors and shouting at the inmates- I mean students. I’m still not sure if it’s French they’re speaking to me, but seeing as my French has got progressively better over the past year, I think I can confirm that it’s not. These women will collect your bin, be it dusk or dawn. They will wake you up at 7 o’clock on Saturday morning. They will walk in on you naked. Will they apologise and shield their eyes? Nope. They will demand your bin. And can you leave it outside your room to be collected and emptied calmly and peacefully with the least possible stress? Pas possible I’m afraid.

But the funniest thing by far that has happened to me here is the arrival of our new night receptionist/security guard. We got off to a bit of a wobbly start to say the least, so here’s the story.

Part 2: The Story

So our previous night receptionist was hardly my best friend. We called him Mumbles because he never talked to you or said good evening, he just mumbled in your general direction. I would come to sorely miss this man.

I first met our new night receptionist at about 1 o’clock on the night before my Political Science midterm. I was revising in a friend’s room in the sous-sol when a man knocked on the door.

“Who could be calling at this un-godly hour?” thought we in a very Austen-esque manner.

We opened the door. There stood a short man in green trousers and a red jacket.

“Did you ask for company?” he enquired, looking at me.

At that very moment, I think we both misunderstood each other in the worst possible way.

I was dressed in my trackies, carrying a cup of tea in one hand and my polsci notes in the other. He looked me up and down, clearly thinking “Well… she doesn’t look like a… you know”.

I looked at his round glasses and black bow-tie and thought “Well he could be a… you know… but shouldn’t he be a bit younger? Who on earth are they letting in these days?!”

My friend, who only speaks English, had no clue what was going on.

Then I spotted his badge which said “Night receptionist”, and the world made a little more sense.

“Ummm no,” I finally replied, “I’m not a visitor, I live here”.

“Can I see your papers?” he asked.

“What, now?” I looked at my watch: 1.30am.

“Yes”

“Okaaay, I suppose I could go get them”

Deciding not to argue I walked up four flights of stairs, found my keys, a letter addressed to me, my “attestation d’hébergement” (proof of lodging) and my passport and returned to the front desk. I presented my papers to him.

“Mais, ne jouez pas avec moi mademoiselle !” he said. (Translation: “Don’t play games with me missy!”).

EXCUSE ME?? GAMES?? AT 1.45 IN THE MORNING? IS HE OFF HIS ROCKER???

“Is there a problem?” I asked in my calmest BBC Radio 4 voice.

“There is no proof that you live here. You could be an illegal immigrant for all I know. I will have to keep your keys and passport until you can bring me proof.”

“What? What about the attestation d’hébergement? It says right here I have the right to stay here until the end of May!”

“No. I need proof of rent.”

Panic set in.

“Wait!” I cried, “Check the records! They have files on me!”

“The office doesn’t open until Monday. Come back then.”

“WHAT? No! I…”

At this point I wish I’d come out with sound, coherent arguments, such as how I couldn’t be an illegal immigrant because as a UK national I am a citizen of the EU, and that it is technically illegal to confiscate someone’s passport unless you are a border control agent. Sadly all I could do was splutter that I really, really needed my passport as ID for my exam that morning. He just shrugged.

I stormed back upstairs, tore my room apart in search of last month’s rent receipt and after 10 minutes search, found it and stomped back downstairs. Our friend the receptionist was looking pretty sheepish.

“It’s okay,” he said, “I’ve found you on the computer”.

“HERE is the rent!” I declared, waving my piece of paper, “Can I have my passport now?”

“Yes…” he passed it over, “Bonsoir!”

I glared at him. Then I went back upstairs to do what all English people do when faced with a crisis: write a letter, with every intention of delivering it to the director the following day.

However, this letter was never delivered. On my arrival in the lobby that morning, who should be there but our dear night-receptionist from just before?

“Bonjour,” he said upon seeing me, and looked down at his feet. “Let me get that for you,” and he opened the front door.

Now this was something I hadn’t encountered in a long time: respect. I had earned respect! I felt like a gangsta, or someone staying in a 5 star hotel! I could get used to this…

So I decided not to rat out our new receptionist and it’s turned out pretty well for me. He will never forget that I live here, he still says good morning and good evening and he still opens the door for me, even today! Yes, even LP has its perks.

Mouton Drinks Paris

19 Feb

Drinking à l’anglaise is near impossible in Paris. Well it is for me at least. If you know me I’m sure you’ve already heard about the kettle fiasco (bought a kettle to make tea and it blew the electricity in the entire room, three electricians came and left nonplussed, had to move out for two days, randomly decided to unplug kettle and the electricity miraculously returned: cold hard proof that France has a conspiracy against tea drinkers). Even if I do manage to make a cup of tea, the water here doesn’t mix right, the milk separates and the microwave makes it taste vaguely of carrot soup. Baileys is notoriously difficult to find (for any fellow Parisians, it’s in the Carrefour at Alésia, right at the back of the liquor section). So I have been reduced to drinking coffee out of mini cups which hold only one and a half gulps of liquid each.

But fear not said she for all is not lost! Heureusement Paris has another drink to offer…

France is the land where the wine flows free. An older, wiser, frencher person than myself once remarked in conversation that once you start drinking expensive wine, it’s impossible to go back to that less-than-10-euro muck don’t you think? I nodded and umm-ed in agreement making a mental note never to offer anyone wine of my own choosing. Because in all honesty, when I first came to Paris I found it very difficult to differentiate between good and bad wine. I can still knock back that 4€ “muck” quite happily! The 95 cent wine from LIDL is pushing it a bit (you know who you are and yes, I’m judging you) but right now, can I really afford the extra 5 euros for a wine which knowing my alcohol tolerance I will barely be able to taste after the second glass? One day when I’m rich and fabulous I will waltz into a restaurant on the Champs-Élysées or somewhere similar and request a bottle of Château Mouton Rothschild 1945 (MOUTON Rothschild geddit?) which, according to the online wine guide terroir-france.com, is the most expensive vintage in France at $28,750 a bottle. Until then, LIDL anyone?

Had a bit of an embarrassing moment when I first went to a French dinner party entre amis. Late, as always, my Kenyan friend and I decided to grab some wine from the corner store. Sometime into the soirée we were sipping our white on the balcony feeling very parisienne and sophistiquée when another friend requested a sip of what we were drinking. “Bleurgh!” she exclaimed “Mais c’est du vinaigre!” (Translation: “Yuk! This is vinegar!”). I sipped it again… it tasted like wine to me! But the rest of the party had by now agreed that it was indeed vinegar. I hung my head in shame (but still finished the wine… I mean vinegar, because once you’ve suffered ouzo vinegar is a piece of cake!).

I have a handy trick for ordering wine in restaurants though. It’s incredibly simple: just ask for “la maison”, the house wine! It’s brilliant! It avoids all the embarrassment implicated in attempting to pronounce the name of some remote French château when all you want is a glass of red! You sound sophisticated (à l’aise quoi!), you don’t have to worry about whether the wine goes with the food or whether it is specialist enough. You will be in no way judged on your choice of wine, in fact you’re complementing the establishment by trusting them to choose for you! They will invariably bore you with the details of the wine: “Ce soir c’est château mumble mumble de la region de blah blah blah l’annee deux mille quelque chose”.  Nod, look at your companion, pretend to carefully consider and say “oui”. Simples!

It really is a bit of an insane circus. All was put back into perspective the other night however. This year our halls have had an influx of a rather wonderful bunch of English people from Kent or Canterbury or somewhere, I’m not quite sure. I’d crashed a gathering with another of my more dubious wines: even I could tell this one was muck. “Does that taste bad?” asked one of them, “Here, add some of this,” and he reached under the bed and produced a bottle of lemonade. I must have looked pretty shocked because he shrugged and added “Well it can hardly get any worse”. Sigh, I’ve really missed my people!