Friday, April 27, 2012

So what am I up to, anyway?

Regular readers may recall that I got the news some 7 (?) weeks ago that my contract wasn't being renewed. It seems hard in a way to believe that so much time has passed, and Monday is my official last day of work. One of the things that makes this hard to believe is that I actually haven't been back to work since the 21st of March.

That day, I headed out of the office planning on enjoying my UK break, catching up with Rick, and then fully expecting to head back in again on Tuesday 27th. On the way out of the office, a colleague stopped me and said that he had been asking around to see if anyone else in our organisation would be willing to hire me on temporary research contracts to translate or build up their websites or anything and that basically the feedback he got from everyone was "Who's Gwan?" He told me that I was too quiet and I didn't make enough of an effort to put myself out there and consequently that, although the team I had been working with for the last 2 years had faith in me and knew what I was capable of, to everyone else in the building, I basically didn't exist. This was hard to hear - as are most unpleasant home truths - and I left in tears, although at this stage I had no thought that I would not be returning.

On that Tuesday, I emailed my work and told them I'd take another day's holiday, choosing instead to have a leisurely start to the day before seeing Rick off on his train at about lunchtime. It had been hard to go back to work that first Monday after I received the letter telling me about my contract, but somehow when I woke up on the 28th, it was even harder. I think I'd had the UK trip and Rick's visit to look forward to, and I woke up suddenly feeling like there was nothing left to look forward to any more, no ray of sunshine on the horizon. No-one at work had replied to my email from the day before, and I irrationally felt "no-one cares whether I'm there or not" and, contrary to my usual responsible behaviour, I just didn't go to work, I didn't email, I didn't answer the phone when they called. I crumbled. I went to the doctor for the first of many times over the past 5 weeks, picked up the first of the series of sick notes I've had and retreated into a morass of depression and inactivity.

Each time my week-long sick leave was drawing to a close, I contemplated going back to work with panic, imagining myself walking back in to the - pity? incomprehension? unanswerable questions? - of my colleagues, and I couldn't face it. Nor could I imagine getting through an entire day without what has become a routine afternoon nap. In fact, for the first few days of taking the anti-anxiety medication prescribed to me, I felt like I could barely keep my eyes open for a few hours consecutively, or spit out a coherent sentence in French. I went looking once for the Pôle Emploi, where you have to sign up for unemployment, but after about half an hour out and about, I was too tired and gave up and took the bus home to go back to bed.

Since then, between those many doctor's visits, I've been trying to get back to normal functioning, but it's difficult planning for the future when it seems too hard sometimes to get up and go to the supermarket, let alone research and apply for jobs or contemplate moving cities or countries. I feel guilty about walking out of work and never going back - I wonder who cleaned up my messy desk or whether they all think I just shrugged my shoulders and thought "you're not renewing my contract? Fuck it." I wonder what effect that might have when I need a reference for my next job. I wonder what the next month will bring, now that I am officially unemployed and I need to start dealing with getting unemployment and worrying about how to pay the rent. But mostly, I'm just trying to put one foot in front of the other, to keep getting up in the morning, to not go under.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

In which the legendary NZ ads reach new heights

New Zealand has some pretty awesome ads, including a long and storied history of innovative and amusing slash shocking and horrifying road-safety ads. The question is, why has no-one previously alerted me to this masterpiece?

You know I can't grab your ghost chips! Awesome.

(PS in the "watch next" screen that pops up at the end of the vid you may see one of a shirtless dude which is a video that somehow inexplicably launched a Kiwi meme - "Nek minnit". Watch and be confused...)

If you enjoyed that, or you're nostalgic for these classic Kiwi ads, the link below has a compilation of some of the best over the last 20 years (warning: a lot of them are much more shocking/graphic than the one embedded). It's one of those bits of shared NZ culture - say "It's the same day, David!" or "Good afterble constanoon!" to your nearest Kiwi and they're sure to get the reference while everyone else around looks at you like you're a bit mad (try it some time!)

Friday, April 20, 2012

Flying UK visit

Almost a month ago (!) I popped over to the UK for a quick visit for my sister's birthday, fitting in an overnight trip to Cambridge to see my friend Ruth and her new baby as well. I haven't got around to blogging it until now due to sheer laziness, because lots of photos = lots of time doing the blog, but here we go! The flight, direct from Tours, was fine, except they confiscated both my empty water bottles, and when I asked if that was a new rule, said that they had been doing it since 2003. They got a bit huffy when I pointed out that I had already flown out of French airports three times THIS YEAR without encountering this "rule". Anyway, that at least gave me an excuse to buy Magners cider on the flight rather than paying ridiculous RyanAir prices for bottled water. From Stansted, it's an easy hop by train to Cambridge, where I caught up with Ruth. I hadn't seen her since her wedding, and obviously between not really getting to talk much at someone's wedding and the fact that she's made a whole new mini-person since then, we had a lot of catching up to do. Didn't actually see any of Cambridge, but saw the lovely new house, the lovely new baby (I think I sold Ruth on my theory that all you had to do with baby was pat him like a kitty cat - nothing to do with me being out of my comfort zone there), the lovely new(ish) husband and R's local pub, where I managed to almost knock a table over before we even had a drink! Firmly blaming that on Ruth though, she has a long-standing fetish for sitting on stools, so when some came available shortly after sitting down, she made us move from our comfy couch to the stools and I managed to trip over the fireplace and nearly up-end the table in the process. D'oh! R's lightening reflexes saved most of our drinks though, woohoo!

Me and baby E - I don't look tense *at all* ha ha! I was a bit constantly worried he might die somehow under my charge, but nope!

The next morning, after a bit of a mad dash across one of Cambridge's commons to buy some water before the bus left, it was down to London. The bus was way cheaper than the train and it actually was not bad at all, although obviously takes a bit longer. I got into London about lunchtime (Friday), met my sister and her boyfriend Scott at Embankment and then deposited Jess to get her hair and makeup done before Scott and I headed to his place to drop my bag and get changed for the evening (with strict instructions not to get drunk along the way). Scott's apartment is gorgeous and filled with beautiful real art and antiques, so obviously I was terrified that I was going to come home drunk and destroy everything. Scott put me (mostly) at ease though by pointing out one vase that I was forbidden to break, while the rest was, if not fair game, at least pardonable. Phew!

Chez Scott and Jess... Eeek, so many breakables!

As it happened, there was no time for drinking before heading back to meet up with the glammed-up and gorgeous Jess and on to her birthday party. The champagne and cider was flowing, there was an amazing birthday cake that not only looked like an elephant, but tasted awesome too, and I got to catch up with my uni friend Amber, who moved to London last year (and was meant to visit me last year except she lost her passport) and my cousin Vanessa, who I hadn't seen in years. Good time had by all!

Me and Scott at Jess's birthday

Party Librarians! Someone unfortunately spilled red wine all over Amber's lovely white jacket and blouse later in the evening, oops! (NOT me!)

Birthday girl!

The (homemade) cake! Normally I'm a bit suspicious of novelty cakes, but man, this was moist and tasty and delicious! I'm sorry what with all the drinking I didn't manage to eat more of it!

We were once again blessed with good weather the next day, so we shook off our hangovers and took the bus to Greenwich, a part of London I've never been to before. After a yummy pub lunch, we strolled along the waterfront and checked out the Old Royal Naval College, which has free entry to see the beautiful Painted Hall and chapel.

Me and Jess in Greenwich

Jess and Scott copping a feel of Nelson

The Naval College Chapel is very bijou and beautiful

An amusing crest at the Naval College

The Painted Hall

And then hauled ourselves up the hill to the Royal Observatory, home of the Prime Meridian i.e. 0° longitude and the home of Greenwich Mean Time. Suckers pay to get into the observatory to take pictures on the Prime Meridian, but Scott's inside knowledge lead us around the side, where you can do it for free! There are other bits of the observatory which are free as well, so we spent a bit of time wandering about before visiting Scott's Favourite Tree on the walk back down, where we decided to catch a ferry back into the city.
Jess and I straddle the dateline in a sort of "mad '60s models" style

The Greenwich Observatory. Scott had an interesting story about the ball on top, but I forgot it, sorry!

View over London from the observatory

Once we actually got going, the boat was a nice way to see the city from the water on a lovely day, which I've never done before, but I'll just say this - don't use this mode of transportation if you're ever in a hurry! It took us at least an hour and a half to get from Greenwich to Embankment (I think that's where we got off anyway), most of which was spent in the queue - we were unlucky enough to be about the fourth spot back when they roped off one boat, so we had to wait even longer for the next.

St. Paul's from the boat

Tower Bridge from the boat

Tower Bridge with a ship in front of it - someone will know what ship that is, I'm sure

But still, we were in no hurry and had time for a pint in a pub with the world's smallest toilets before heading to dinner at Kettner's, opened in 1867 by Napoleon III's former chef, where we were treated as VIP guests thanks to a less-than-perfect Valentine's Day outing for Scott and Jess. Since I wasn't there on the Valentine's in question, I was more than happy to benefit from the very attentive service and complementary champagne (not to mention the other bottle of champagne, delicious three-course dinner consisting of goat's cheese, confit duck and chocolate torte, and bottle of Pouilly-Fuissé for dessert, which my generous hosts treated me to). I'm not used the champagne flowing quite so freely, so this weekend was quite the extravagant treat and I felt very spoilt!

Reserved for Taittinger!

More Taittinger love - do you think if I mention it often enough on the blog, they might give me some?? Pleeeeaase?

How about if I artfully foreground it?

I had to crop myself out of this lovely photo of Jess

Me and Jess with her special little birthday cake

We ran into (or in my case, lay on top of) this hideous, hideous Oscar Wilde monument on the way back from the restaurant, which very appropriately has the quote about all of us being in the gutter (but only some of us looking at the stars) on it. I was more gutter than stars, as you can see, and only my commitment to tomfoolery leads me to put it on the blog! 

The trip finished with an early night and a trouble-free run up to Stansted by car in the morning, before getting home, feverishly unpacking and cleaning, and welcoming Rick in the evening. It really was a lovely weekend, so lucky with the weather both in London and when I got back to Tours, and lovely to catch up with a bunch of old friends and meet new people such as Scott, who did a great job welcoming me and even did an early-morning supermarket run to provide me with hangover bacon (two thumbs up!!)

Mmmm hangover bacon!

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sort of appropriately enough for Friday the 13th...

Someone recently told me Bob looks like Salem. I got the reference straight away, of course, but that didn't stop me making fun of them for bringing it up heh heh. It's so true as well, same uber-round head and everything! How did I fail to see this before?!? So who's who?

And, finally, a couple of clips of Salem in action for your viewing pleasure

And in case anyone's wondering, I'm totally owning the fact that I'm sitting at home on a Friday night, drinking wine, playing with my cat and watching clips of Sabrina the Teenage Witch. Sounds way cooler than whatever you're up to :p

Friday, April 06, 2012

Meeting at the mairie

So a couple of weeks ago I had to go to a conference and present a poster on a project I didn't actually work on (I did help make the poster though) because the conference was in English so my colleagues kindly nominated me. Arggh! I think I spoke too fast, particularly for all the French people, and I missed out basically half the poster because I was told 10 minutes and then they changed it to 5. But anyway, they FILMED it (booo) so I can critically assess my performance later, oh joy. On the upside, the presentation was before lunch, so I then got to have nibbles and Vouvray in the ornate salle des fetes.

Anyway, the point of this was that the conference was at the Mairie (town hall) and this reminded me that I toured it for the journees du patrimoine last year but I never got around to putting any photos up. So here's a glimpse inside Tours' Hotel de Ville:

The salle des fetes

Ceiling detail of the salle des fetes

Painting of Descartes in the salle des fetes. The Tours region has connections to some impressive literary figures. I didn't know this, but the town where Descartes was born is now called "Descartes" and is between here and Poitiers. Other portraits on the walls included Balzac, Rabelais and I think one other author with a Tours connection, but I forget who. Maybe Ronsard.

The ceiling also had personifications of the different area chateaux. I forget which one this is meant to be though

Here's where you have to get married if you do it in Tours (and I think you have to get married in the town where at least one of you lives, although I think maybe if you have a significant family connection that might work too. I don't think you can just fetch up in any town in France and get married there though. Not sure)

Salle des mariages again

19th century wedding fresco in the salle des mariages

While we're at it, here's a few more photos I took on the journee du patrimoine, from inside the cathedral cloisters: