Wednesday, 30 March 2016

If you don't like the way I drive, get off the pavement

If you don't like the way I drive, get off the pavement

Do you remember those few weeks after you’d passed your driving test? Those sweet firsts - the wonky bay parking, the petrol station visit, the multi-storey car park. Of course you don't remember, you were 17.

That was in a different lifetime. These days you can drive with your eyes shut (although hopefully you don’t), you barely think about how to start the car, or reverse, or tackle a big roundabout - all things that are a big deal for a baby driver. 

One of the big barriers for me is, literally, a car park barrier. There is no particular reason for me to be scared, no trauma or bad experience. Yet I am simply terrified that I won’t be able to tackle a simple job of pressing the button, getting a ticket, finding a spot a parking the car.

There are so many things that experienced drivers do on autopilot, but us, novices, have to really think about. First of all approaching the barrier, it has to be the right distance - not to close, so you don't scratch the car, and not too far, so that you can reach the button and get the ticket.

If you are too far and can’t reach the button and can’t reverse, you might just have to do the  most embarrassing thing ever - get out of the car to get it. By the time you are done, the traffic is building up behind you. All those big experienced drivers getting angry, shouting and tooting; and you just want the earth to open and swallow you.

And, of course, there is a possibility that the barrier doesn’t work. You have to find and press the help button and speak to an illiterate security man, who doesn't speak English very well, and is mostly annoyed that you interrupted him from playing Candy Crush. 

Before I passed my driving test and got my own car, Mr Chateauneuf used to drop me off at the station on the way to work, and pick me up on the way home.  Until a couple weeks ago when he told me he had a board meeting the following day. That meant that I had to drive myself to the station and face the scary barrier - for the first time.

What followed next was the worst night sleep of my life. In fact the term ‘sleep’ is used loosely here, it was more on the border of non-existent. 

All the driving horrors you can possibly imagine decided to visit me that night. There was the ghost of roundabouts (I wasn't even scared of those up until then), painting the pictures of me crashing into another car on the roundabout by Waitrose, next to Peterborough station. The stalling zombie dropped by in my dreams and took me though me stalling my car on in rush hour on Bourges   Boulevard and a big truck can crashing into me.

And finally the car park dragon barrier - first the barrier won’t open; then the car wouldn't move once I got the ticket; then there were no spaces. Somewhere around 3am, as the barrier was repeatedly hitting my car, I woke up with a massive headache.

By then I knew that sleep was simply not happening that night. So I got out of bed, found my laptop, painkillers and curled up on the sofa. Two hours, a bucket of tea and endless Google pages later I felt I was finally combatting my fears. 

I learnt that hazard warning lights aren't just a pretty triangle on the dashboard, they can actually be helpful. Or that I can always call the number by the barrier and ask them to help, in case there is a problem. I was feeling much better, I knew I could deal with the barrier and nothing could stop me.

By 5am, armed with freshly gained knowledge and a cup of tea for Mr Chateauneuf, I went back upstairs. I slid back in bed and shut my eyes. Five minutes later my alarm went off.

Mr Chateauneuf rolled over to my side and put his arm around me. ‘’Do you want a lift to the station?” - I heard his sleepy murmur. 

‘’Yes, please’’ - I replied. 

Monday, 21 March 2016

Every girl needs a wife

Every girl needs a wife

For years I have been quietly irritated by the comments on Facebook where girls referred to their female friends as ‘wife’ or ‘wifey’. In fact, they used to annoy me so much, that I would delete them from my ‘feed’ to make sure I never saw them again.

Two years ago, somewhere between Easter and a bout of insanity (I was THAT unhappy with my role at the time), I finally got a new job. It was an unfamiliar industry, a new type of role and an upgraded salary. 

The new position was like nothing I had ever done before - I was working in a private office of a high net worth individual. It’s a world of private jets, numerous properties, countless staff, unlimited resources and great expectations. 

Fortunately for me, the job also came with Charlotte, my new boss’s business PA. She welcomed me with open arms and a box of documents for me to file. (All the personal paperwork that she dealt with had to be filed in the private office).

In the next few months that I was settling in my role, we became friends. Coffee breaks and lunches  quickly became our weekly rituals. And let's face it, nothing pushes girls closer than swapping gossip and paperwork over a glass of wine/ a cup of coffee right in the middle of a working day.

Weeks turned into months, and I began feeling more relaxed. The job no longer felt daunting, I finally found my feet.

And the more I understood the role and its requirements, the more I was beginning to realise that I could easily do flexible hours and work from home a couple of days a week. This was my chance to finally move in with Mr Chateauneuf and away from London.

I started working on a proposal to my boss. It had to be flawless - no question had to go unanswered. I had set up new systems and processes to enable me to be remote and yet for the support to remain seamless. And the important part of my new plan was Charlotte.

When I shared my idea with her, she supported me - with her on my side I knew I could literally do anything. A week later the boss accepted my proposal.

Months flew by. Since I started working from home a couple of days a week, I moved in with Mr Chateauneuf and the boys, we moved offices and I had a really bad hair cut. But one thing remained unchanged - my friendship with Charlotte and her solid support. 

She saved my skin more times than I can remember. There was that cheque to raise to an angry contractor while I was out of the country, an urgent bank transfer to orchestrate, a bigger jet to find and a different island to book for a holiday (because the sand had to be white, not yellow).

The latest near hit was last week, when the new Ferrari I ordered arrived in Estoril blue instead of Topaz blue. At the time I was dealing with a sick pony, tracking down a Chanel dress for the reception the following night and overseeing a shipment of antiques for the new town house. 

Charlotte called Ferrari. I don't know what she told them but the next thing I knew, I received an email from them apologising profusely for the inconvenience caused and promising to deliver the vehicle in the correct colour the following week.

A few days later, over a thank you lunch, I opened my mouth to express my gratitude and ended up saying ’You are my wife and I don't know what I would do without you.’ Both taken aback by my outburst, we laughed. 

And as our mains were cleared and the coffees arrived, I couldn't help but wonder, did I really just call Charlotte my wife? And if she really was my wife, then where did I stand on my girlfriend-wife-concept-hating policy? 

Back in the office I opened the pack Charlotte gave me for filing. And as I began the process of putting the papers into the correct lever arches, I realised just how much she does for me. Not only does she save my skin on a weekly basis, she also made it possible for me to move in with Mr Chateauneuf. Charlotte really was my wife, without her I wouldn't be where I am today.

I finished the filing, logged into Facebook and granted all my girlfriend-wife offenders a virtual pardon. It was official. I was now one of them. I had a wife too.

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

No winter lasts forever

No winter lasts forever

In the midst of winter, I found that there was, within me, an invincible summer.
Albert Camus

It was a long winter for me. Daddy passing away chilled me right through to my heart and turned it into a block of ice. 

Not knowing how to deal with the death of my only surviving parent, whom I adored, I turned into an ice queen and pushed away the people who loved me the most, my family. 

I only allowed myself to cry when children (or any other human being for that matter) were not around. On a couple of occasions, Mr Chateauneuf witnessed my indiscretion of displaying emotions, I got embarrassed and apologised. The more he tried to help, the further I withdrew. Frosty demeanour became a part of my disposition.

January turned into February, and between Mr Chateauneuf being busy and my malfunctioning, we somehow still remembered that we had a week of half term coming up, childfree - both our boys were away for the whole week. 

Not the ones to waste a week, we promptly booked a trip to Prague. It was the break we both needed and it couldn't come soon enough.

Before we knew it, Prague was upon us and we were speeding on the way to Stansted Airport in the early hours. A short flight and a cab ride later we were sitting in a bar in Prague, the tension of the previous weeks slowly leaving our bodies. 

The next couple of days were nothing short of amazing. We wandered the streets of an old town that hadn’t changed much in the past few hundred years; ate local food; drank Czech wine; admired the architecture and on the second night we found ourselves in a cathedral listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. 

On the day three, we woke up to a grey morning, it was snowing. But as pretty as it was outside, neither of us wanted to be out. Tired from two days of non-stop exploring, we decided to stay at the hotel and make the full use of spa facilities and the executive lounge.

A few hours later, bored of Facebook, Twitter and reading, I found myself staring out of the window, watching the snow lovingly covering the square with the white blanket. As I was watching the magic of nature unfold in front of me, I had a flashback to another winter, in a different lifetime. 

I was sitting in my room back in Ukraine, looking out of a window and watching our dog trying to catch snowflakes. Mum was busy in the kitchen, filling the house with the delicious aroma of freshly baked goodies, one of my brothers was watching TV, the other playing computer games, daddy snoozing on the sofa - a perfect winter day, an idyllic family.

My daydream faded and I was back in Prague. Suddenly I needed to get out. I couldn't explain it, some invisible power was pushing me outside.

I looked over at Mr Chateauneuf, who was reading a newspaper, a glass of red in front of him - it made me smile - the man was just too comfortable and no power in this world would shift him from that chair. I kissed him and said I wanted to pop over to the shopping centre across the road - cabin fever.

Once outside, I inhaled the cold air and strolled across the square, snow flurries tickling my face. Something in that feeling was familiar and nostalgic. I knew my grief was surfacing but I couldn't allow it.

Determined to get distracted by retail therapy, I started marching toward the shopping centre, when I heard a laughter. It was a child’s laughter.

I stopped and slowly turned around. It was a little girl, who couldn't have been more than three years old, doing snow angles in the middle of the square with her father. The resemblance between them was striking, the bond obvious. 

She was squealing with laughter and in-between each giggle, she was saying something to her daddy. He was looking at her with so much adoration.  She was his little princess and he was her hero.

I knew that feeling, I was that girl once upon a time. My daddy used to take me sledging, we had lots of snowball fights. One particularly snowy year, he even built me a fortress out of snow in our back garden. I felt like a real princess.

The tears were flowing now, blurring my vision and wrecking my mascara. I lifted my face up in an attempt to calm down, and with the next snow flurry, I felt a touch, a kiss. It was fleeting, a wishful thinking but I wanted to believe that it was daddy, kissing me in the snow. 

I took a deep breath and looked at the happy duo again, this time I smiled. Right in the middle of Prague, in a snow flurry I found my summer.

As I approached the mall and stopped to shake the snow off my coat, I turned around to take one last look at the father and daughter. Something made look up at the hotel where we staying. And there, in the window of the executive lounge on the third floor, stood Mr Chateauneuf. 

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Which label shall I wear today?...

Which label shall I wear today?...

I was flicking through a yellow press publication on the train the other day, when I came across an article about Adult Orphan syndrome.

Ever since daddy passed away I have been repeatedly reminded of my new ‘label’ by various people, who evidently took it upon themselves as a duty to point out the obvious.

The article was worthy of its ‘yellow press’ origins. Having stretched for half a page, it was a piece of writing about nothing, just a painful reminder to me. But annoyingly it stuck with me for days.

Later that week I was card shopping. I needed to pick up a Valentine’s card for Mr Chateauneuf and a couple of birthday cards for family members.

I take card shopping very seriously. A card means something, it says so much about what you think about the person.

So selecting a Valentine’s card for Mr Chateauneuf was no small challenge for me. It required maximum concentration, the right frame of mind (i.e. not immediately after a fight with the man in question) and an enormous card store to shop in - the bigger the better.

To my utter pleasure and delight, Clintons on Cheapside take Valentine’s day seriously and their cards selection splashed out on the whole wall, taking up a whopping 1/4 of the shop. I was in cards heaven.

As I started browsing the love selection, I quickly worked out that the cards were divided into categories of ‘Husband’, ‘Boyfriend’ and ‘Fiance’. There were, of course, other ones, like ‘to my Valentine’ or ‘to the one I love’. For the first time in my professional card shopping career, I got lost. 

I didn't want to get a ‘Boyfriend’ card as it somehow felt tacky and year 7. Other generic ones seemed just too… well, generic. They were sitting there on their shelves, mocking me, challenging me. None of them felt right. In a 1000 sq ft Clintons shop I couldn’t find a card.

I left the store without a purchase and decided to clear my head. Suddenly it felt like the whole world wanted to define me, to give me a label - girlfriend, stepmom, adult orphan…

I couldn't help but wonder, why do we strive for a definition? And if the definition is so important, then who really benefits from it?

I headed for the one place that I knew would cheer me up - L.K. Bennett shoe store. Shoes don’t want to define me, they don't care who I am and what I’m worth. They are simply pretty things that want to be worn. And in return they make me feel taller, slimmer and better; they are real friends.

As I slipped on a new season fern printed leather pair of courts, I felt like my old self again. It dawned on me that it didn't matter what they wanted to call me, it was all about what I thought about myself.

Yes, to the outside world I am a stepmom, a girlfriend, and an adult orphan. But to me, I am a woman who loves, works, writes, shops, has dreams and a mild addiction to laundry products; who doesn't drink ordinary tea but Lady Grey and who is proud of her roots.

I left the store with a new pair of shoes, an upset credit card and a big smile on my face. There was only one thing left to do. I walked into Clintons and picked up a card. It not longer mattered how they labeled it. It was Valentine’s day and I had another excuse to tell Mr Chateauneuf that I loved him. And had a girlfriend, who is fabulous.