You can take a Brit out of Britain, but you can’t take Britishness out of a Brit. In other words, as Michael McIntyre astutely noted, complaining is our national sport – be that whinging about the weather (wholly justifiable here, it’s -7°C in the mornings), lamenting the lack of cheddar cheese in the supermarket (sorry, but emmental is just rubber masquerading as cheese) or fussing over the French aversion to queues (a near-constant source of frustration). The highly-anticipated Vacances de Noël were a welcome respite from all of the above: England was positively balmy compared to freezing France; cheddar cheese was in steady supply; and queues formed naturally. (This is all intended in a very tongue-in-cheek manner; for all my complaints, I do still love France.)
Flybe have a slightly irritating policy whereby you can’t check in online for flights departing from Lyon – but had it not been for that, I would never have been witness to this rather amusing little dialogue:
Child: (looks at neighbouring check-in desk for a flight to Birmingham) Bir-ming-ham
Father: No, Birmingham
Child: (with glee) That’s where the Queen lives!
Father: No, the Queen would only go to Birmingham on official visits. She lives at Buckingham Palace.
On the 22nd, I met up with my Chester friends for our annual Christmas meal; we tried Chez Jules, but unanimously agreed it wasn’t the best place we’d tried over the past few years. It was lovely to catch up with everyone after being away for nigh on four months – and musical chairs round the table ensured we caught up sufficiently!
At the crack of dawn – well, before – the next morning, I caught the train to Cambridge to see Laurence. A combination of sleep and reading killed the time, and before I knew it the train was pulling into Cambridge; just past the ticket gates, Laurence was waiting for me with a pain au chocolat and a hot chocolate. We spent the day meandering through the narrow cobbled streets of Cambridge, pottering around the grounds of a few of the colleges and rounded the afternoon off with a slice of cake at Tom’s Cakes (my doorstop-sized wedge of carrot cake was divine). In the evening, after a mandatory trip to Nando’s, we went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. It was a glorious revival of the wizarding world, and the magpie-esque niffler was utterly adorable.
Christmas Eve rolled round, bringing with it a pre-Christmas present opening session with Laurence and another train ride further south. A relatively low-key festive period then ensued, punctuated by food (and yet more food), presents and a Boxing Day walk along Camber Sands. Christmas dinner is my favourite meal of the year, and this year’s was no exception: turkey, ham, pigs in blankets, roast potatoes and other veggies, followed by mincemeat tart, cheese and a sliver of Christmas cake. Needless to say, I was feeling as stuffed as the turkey by the time I made it to bed.
After a mammoth journey home (post-Christmas traffic, need I say more?) I had another brief catch up with friends before Laurence came to visit. Aside from touring the sales, we visited Chester Zoo, West Kirby and Parkgate, spent NYE watching Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part I and made a delicious owl-shaped cake for Dad’s birthday.
All too soon, it was time to fly back to Lyon and the sub-zero temperatures of the Rhône-Alpes region. Having agreed to assess speaking exams for a colleague’s module (Économie et Société Contemporaine), I spent my first day back studying the relevant sections of the module myself. It was all about the special relationship between the USA and Great Britain, and a lot of it covered issues I’d heard of (e.g. the Suez Crisis) but knew next to nothing about; fortunately, all went smoothly when it came to the exams and there were no calamities. The same cannot be said for the pile of third year Langue et Affaires papers I ploughed through that weekend – as over half of the students had simply left 50% or more of the paper completely blank. Whilst it made marking significantly quicker, I couldn’t help but gawp in disbelief – what sort of final year student leaves an exam paper blank? It was the first, and I hope only, time I gave a student zero for a paper.
Assessments aside, I’ve mostly been sitting at my desk (or huddled under my duvet) planning lessons for this term. A fortnight ago, Olivier organised a tour of the traboules of the Croix Rousse; I’ll save that for another post in the (probably very distant) future. I’ve been making a concentrated effort to eat healthily (i.e. less Haribo, more greens), read more (progressing nicely) and make the most of my remaining time abroad (highly weather-dependent at present). Tomorrow, it’s back to the grind – hopefully weekend can be synonymous with free time this term!