Belle Roche Brocante

My new business is 5 weeks old today! The concept has been years in the “what iffing” and, back in October, I finally took the plunge and decided to give it a go. I’m now the proud online seller of authentic French vintage decorative items at 😀 Quite a change from a career in technology!

It’s been a huge learning curve….getting the website up and running was trickier than expected (my tech skills came in handy, but not as handy as you might expect!), but the end result looks pretty good, and I’ll continue to tweak it. Shopify tells me that I’m in the top 3 online stores that launched on their platform that week 👍

Online marketing is something I’m still getting to grips with, getting good traffic from Google Ads and FaceBook, people are signing up to the newsletter, but SERIOUSLY need to lift my Instagram game and start reaching out to the interiors professions. So, lots to get stuck into in the coming weeks 💪

Wishing you all a happy, healthy & peaceful 2018 xx

On Friendship…..

This is a something I’ve wanted to write about for a while, but struggled with finding the right words, not sure if I could adequately describe what’s in my heart, and whether or not it would come across as self-indulgent….but maybe all blogging is self-indulgent anyway, so, here goes….

Life teaches us that time is precious….sometimes that lesson is delivered in really tough circumstances, perhaps with the loss of someone who is important to us. If we’re lucky, we learn this early, and well, and live our lives accordingly….we love well, wholeheartedly, and we give others that most precious gift, our time….even when it’s at a personal cost, because we are invested in that person, that relationship, that friendship. I am so very, very grateful for the many, many gifts of time from friends, as well as the beautiful, thoughtful acts of kindness and friendship that I’ve been lucky enough to experience. There are moments that I’ll never, ever forget when people showed up for me, had my back and helped me through….not through grand gestures or extravagant acts, but by taking a few minutes to check in, share a laugh or some kind words and, essentially, share that precious thing….time. I truly hope that I have been a good friend in return.

As this year concludes, I’ve come to the incredibly sad realisation that 2 relationships that I truly believed were rock solid, long-standing friendships were not that at all, it’s time to let them go, and it hurts, really hurts. To be honest, I feel like a bit of an eejit, the slow horrible realisation dawning that the gift of my time, and caring, and love, was not really reciprocated….that it was just convenient, or fun, or the best option at the time, useful perhaps, but, essentially, a one-way street, where I’ve ended up feeling let down. Tomorrow is this year’s only super moon, a really good time to let things go. I don’t regret anything, and will continue to throw my whole self into friendships (not sure I have a half-way button!), but maybe with a little more thought for my now somewhat scarred heart.

Sleeping in beachtowels

Ah yes, the menopause….such fun! My experience came earlier than anticipated (at 38/39) due to cervical cancer, and was undiagnosed until it was all over (the symptoms were attributed to my being anxious & depressed post cancer scare…..which, fair enough, I was). So, for me, menopause hit hard, as if I’d run face first into a brick wall, at speed. Or, like PMS, except eating chocolate didn’t seem to help.

The sweating was the worst….I kept a small portable fan on my desk at work (back in the day when we had desks 😂 can’t quite imagine dragging it out of a locker every day and then wandering around with it “not so discreetly” tucked under my arm as I try to find a desk), and would spend a good 15 mins parked in front of it every morning, until my “glow” had calmed down. The temptation to use it like a hairdryer was hard to resist at times 😬 On that point, why oh why are the bathrooms in office buildings the warmest bloody room in the place? It seems to me that it’s the one room where a little fresh air & coolness would be most welcome…..designers, please take note!

The night sweats were a different kettle of fish….not a gentle “glow” as such, more like someone’s just sneaked into the bedroom & tipped a bucket of water over you….several times a night! This will test the limits of even the best waterproof mattress protector, so, stock up! If you’re a minimalist, and subscribe to the “one on the bed, one off the bed and one in the wash” theory of bedlinen, may I gently suggest that you also stock up on beachtowels? After 2 full bedlinen changes in one night, we resorted to sleeping in our beachtowels rather than go through the palaver of a third sheet change…..highly recommended! 👍

The good news is that the sweating bit passes 😅 However, you may find that your chin and upper lip become a bit furrier than they were before…..what new horror is this??!! If you’re “lucky”, you’ll be dark haired, and you can get those suckers lasered off. If you’re blonde…..well, let’s hope laser technology keeps evolving 🤞in the meanwhile, Tweezerman and a good bathroom light will be your friends 👍

Finally, things may dry up a bit in your nether regions….and there’s only so much spit & enthusiasm that’ll ease things along, if you get my drift 🙃 Just buy the lube and/or get a prescription for some oestrogen pessaries…life’s too short for eye-wateringly arid sex, get your glow on!

Diversity policies coming out of our ying yangs…..

That’s a rather excellent quote from a gender diversity debate I attended just over a year ago. It was made by the wonderful Kerryn Phelps as she expressed our shared frustration at how slow progress has been.

I’ve worked in a male-dominant environment throughout my career, most clients were male, as were most colleagues. I quickly got used to being the only female in the room, while resolving to redress the balance any way that I could (for example, mentoring less experienced female colleagues).

For many years, I described myself as “gender blind”, I didn’t focus on gender at work and didn’t expect that it would be an issue. With hindsight, I believe that I was incredibly lucky to have had such positive experiences in my early career….they fostered a confidence that I would lean on later in life. That said, things did happen, but not very often. One very old school, male client (aka the dinosaur) suggested, in a room full of executives whom I was training, that I sit on his knee as there weren’t enough chairs after he joined our session. I ignored him and kept talking. Later, another client told me that I had pretty much “buried the guy” ⚰️ with my “death look” 👹, which is why the dinosaur shut up straight away. I didn’t even know I had a “death look” until then….but I’m glad that I do! 💪👊

Years later, having moved to Australia, my expat friends and I realised pretty quickly that Australia was running waaay behind the rest of the world when it came to gender equality. The stories we heard from Australian working women were nothing short of shocking. Most organisations’ talent pipelines bore this out….women progress to a certain point in their careers, and then…..nothing…..I was fortunate enough to work for a corporate that took this issue seriously, especially in their technology team, where the gender diversity stats were dire. Knowing that I was passionate about advancing talented women, my then boss encouraged my proposal to target our female talent, before their careers stalled, and to make some speculative investments in addressing possible causes.

My proposal was not about “fixing” these women, but making sure that they were getting the right opportunities for face time with senior execs and possible sponsors. It did also include skills development to assist them with career planning and telling their story. It was a huge success….female engagement increased significantly, male perceptions shifted, our talent pipeline looked better than ever, and we learned that we had a much richer and more diverse pool of talent to promote from. A win all round 😀 This was achieved by working on these activities in my free time (I still had my day job as a CIO), supported by a passionate, cross-functional team of volunteers. Then, I got a new boss….who suggested that I step away from “all that gender stuff” as “it’s not a good look and is perceived as that’s all I’m about”. This was while I was running the largest and most successful technology transformation the company had ever undertaken…..what a load of undermining bollocks!

More recently, I’ve been unlucky to work for an organisation that spends LOTS of money on diversity initiatives, but has a toxic, low trust culture where these investments have little hope of really succeeding while the entrenched bad behaviours are accepted and allowed to continue. Not acting quickly and decisively enough to address issues is a failure of leadership and governance. As they say, the tone comes from the top…

So, what have I learned (so far)?

F19C2E4C-10C3-412F-903B-A93E823975B3First and foremost….yes, it’s possible to source interesting, well-priced items in reasonable quantities. Yes, that involves a reasonable amount of digging around in manky cardboard boxes at the crack of dawn…..but that’s what those hand wipes are for! The best sources are the larger, regular markets which attract professional & semi-pro sellers. Yes, I had some lucky finds at some very dodgy markets, but need to consider time/effort trade-off. Have also got a much better idea now about how to identify the better markets (reading between the French lines, so to speak).

Lots of really funky mid-century stuff surfacing, gave me some new inspiration, and lots of slightly bigger pieces that I would have loved to have bought. Definitely need to sort out local transportation & storage….again, starting to refine my thinking 🤔 and btw how brilliant is the TGV?? Australia seriously needs one of those 🚄 Sooo wanted to source some old French linen, but, the one time I found a promising seller, I had to leave early 😐 this is definitely on the list for the next buying trip….

My accent and semi-mangled French are not a disadvantage, and led to lots of friendly banter with brocante sellers. It has also helped when asking for a discount, once you’re polite and not taking the piss. Also, a smile goes a long way 😀 Over the entire trip, the vast majority of French people I met were friendly, helpful & interested, even when they were completed baffled by what I was doing! 🤓 It was also interesting that older women, in particular, were incredibly supportive of my having a go at doing something completely different 👊💪

I’m still not a morning person! Don’t think that’s going to change…no matter how early I get to bed 😴 that said, even though the markets do start super-early, it wasn’t unusual to see sellers pulling up in their vans at 9.30/10.00….so, all is not lost if I don’t get there by 7.00 😅 also figured out that it’s better to give myself more time (not just 24 hours) in a place. There are other sources besides the official markets, so best to have more time to explore up your sleeve. TBH there’s also a need for some time out….lots of travelling, early starts, carrying heavy loads around and speaking another language are pretty tiring (am sure it gets easier once you know where you’re going).


Les Belles Parents

Today is my last day in France. I took my parents in law (“belles parents” in French, which I think sounds nicer 😀) out to lunch to say a huge “Thank You” for allowing me to camp out in their spare bedroom for 3 weeks (considering that my Mum used to say “visitors are like fish, after 3 days, they go off”!).

The talk of the town has been a new restaurant,  L’or Q’idee, which is owned and run by a female chef, Naoelle d’Hainaut, who won France’s Top Chef (like Master Chef) TV show a few years ago. She also has many years of cooking at Le Bristol in Paris under her belt, and it showed. The food was top notch, though my father in law felt that the service was a little slow. This may or may not have had something to do with the fact that he sprung a surprise art auction on us shortly after we sat down, and was therefore in a hurry to get away to buy a painting he had his eye on. He was like a cat on a hot tin roof throughout lunch. When Naoelle walked the room to greet her diners, guess who told her that her food was deserving of a Michelin star, but that the service was too slow??!! 😂😂

My in laws are children of the war, and therefore, nothing is wasted. They especially don’t like to see food wasted (my father in law in particular). Thankfully, Hubby had regaled me with many, many stories of his Dad’s bargain food purchases over the years (for example, trays of fruit that are on life support!)….sell by and use by dates are considered to be interesting information, but not a consideration! When my father in law saw me put some leftover food (which had already been reheated once) into the compost tray, he pounced on it and put it back in the fridge! I had to have a lie down to recover 😂😂 …..and, 3 days later, I removed it from the fridge and snuck it back into the bin 😱😱 My mother in law explained the war time psychology to me, and now I know how to handle leftovers 😉

That said, they still have the occasional “words” about using up stale bread. My father in law takes great pride in using up a baguette, even if it’s so stale, you could hammer in nails with it 😂 This usually ends with my mother in law taking it off him, after he has negotiated for just one slice 😂😂

Both belles parents continue to contribute to their community through volunteer work (at their church, and, teaching French to new arrivals in France), and are very interested in, and support, the arts.

After 60 years of marriage, it is so lovely to see them be playful with each other, laugh together, share interests and comfort each other. Their energy and enthusiasm for life is remarkable, and no doubt, a key factor in their good health.

To wrap up, I am very grateful to my belle maman for the new Hubby handling strategies that I’ve learned by observing her interactions with my belle pere! 😀👍


The other Tour de France

Given that the purpose of this trip is to establish whether or not it’s possible to source sufficient objets to scale the business quickly, research has taken me to  regional France, as well as Paris and its countryside surrounds.

Spent an interesting 2 days in Lyon, loved the place, and they run weekly, well-stocked “Puces” 👍. Can’t say enough nice things about Lyon, and I look forward to more buying visits.

Next was 24 hours in Toulouse…..frankly, I hated the place (crowded, run down, claustrophobic, has clearly been badly managed by the local council), not helped by the fact that their weekly market (which was a handy 1km walk from where I was staying) had been moved due to renovation works (which were not visible….), no one recognised the alleged alternate location I’d read about & no one was answering the market contact number. All in all, a wasted 24 hours, but, at least I now know….which is the whole point of research, eh?

Final stop is Bordeaux, which is where I am tonight. So far, the buildings remind me a little of Edinburgh 👍 Really looking forward to visiting their weekly market tomorrow, and, if I have time, a little street close by the market that has lots of small dealers’ stores. Then, back to Paris in the afternoon…..

The other “B” word…

That is, “bordel”…..commonly used in French to describe an absolutely, feckin’ enormous mess! I learned this word from my father in law maaaany years ago when he was describing Hubby’s technique for loading suitcases into the boot (trunk) of the car 😂😂

Had a character-building bordel experience last Sunday morning after a fab few hours browsing and buying at an awesome brocante. Having secured a painting that he loved, from an artist whose work he collected, father in law decided that it was time to go home for lunch 🙄 Hell hath no fury like an Irishwoman interrupted mid-shopping 😂….anyway, “good girl” kicked in, so l left him guarding our purchases while I trekked over 1km to retrieve the car. This was bordel part 1…..beautiful little French village, totally unprepared for onslaught of cars for brocante, meant that we were parked “some” distance away. It was a lovely morning, so I was happy for the walk. Anyway….get to car & realise that I’ll have to drive in opposite direction to find a spot to turn around to go back & retrieve father in law. Not a problem…..2+ kms later, perform an illegal 7 point turn in someone’s driveway 😅 Tootling back along the road when I come face to face with a Frenchwoman driving one of those enormous (in my view) Chrysler people carriers. Now, we were on a little boreen (Irish for small road), with cars parked all along one side….and nowhere to pass each other…..🙃 So, muggins here decides to reverse enough to allow monster truck to pass……1.5kms later….in reverse….on the “wrong” side of the road (for me), and without hitting a single wing mirror 👍👍 I finally find a spot to pull in so that she could get past, which she did, without so much as a little wave to say “thank you” (which would constitute social death in Ireland btw). So, feeling just a tad annoyed (understatement of the year!!), off I trundle a second time, down the boreen, to collect father in law. Yes, of course, I run into another car, driven by a young, arrogant, French prick (who stared aggressively & swore at me),  and yes, I reversed again…..then gave him the 1 finger salute (in retrospect, blowing kisses at him would have annoyed him more, kicking myself that I didn’t do that….damn!!). Finally returned to father in law, who wasn’t wearing his hearing aid that day & therefore missed all my bordel references, as I tried to get him into the car as quickly as possible while we blocked a car park exit…..what an utter bordel!! 😂😂

The French dinner table

IMG_3099.JPGSurvived not one, but two, family dining occasions this week 😅 French family dining occasions tend to involve multiple, very animated, conversations at once, so it’s a challenge for a less than fluent French speaker to keep up. The secret is to find the person who speaks the slowest and avoid giving yourself whiplash by trying to keep up with everything!! 😂

The first occasion was my niece in law’s 13th Birthday….family lunch in Paris… niece was adopted in Ethiopia when she was 9 months old and is quite the young Parisienne (she loves clothes!), the highlight of the day for me was when her Mum told her that the absolutely best gift she ever received was when she left Ethiopia with my her in her arms. My niece’s face lit up, must admit, there was a tear in my eye 😊

The second occasion was one that I had hoped to avoid…..the Parisian dinner party 😱😱 If you’ve ever seen a French film, you’ll know that it is not sufficient to show up, with a few bottles of something nice, and chat to people. Non, non, non….one’s brain must be fully alert to the “subtext” conversation, primed to respond with lots of witty, well-timed banter….it’s like double entendres on speed! Happily, the other dinner party guests were Hubby’s cousins and in-laws (so, not quite hostile! 😂) and some generous pours of wine lubricated the conversation 🍷 My only faux pas was offering the first guests a glass of champagne before the others arrived…..quelle horreur!! 😱🍾🥂 After an awkward 10 minutes, while we all sat there looking at the bottle 😂 my Mother in law relented and allowed me to serve it!

My Father in law is an absolute art fanatic, so he very kindly brought me to my first ever art auction house in Paris. I fell in love with a piece, and submitted a pre-bid as the sale was the following day. Received an email earlier today advising that my bid was successful! See photo above, it’s titled “The woman with the big heart” and was created in 1966 😉😉

My first countryside flea market is tomorrow morning, so, in a step towards risk mitigation on the driving front, I asked my Father in law if he would accompany me on a test drive to the village in question. So, armed with: Google Maps (hilarious French pronounciation in an Aussie accent….not knocking it….was very, very happy to hear it!!), Father in law’s Michelin map, print out I’d brought with me and the car’s GPS… we set 🚘 The good news is that we found the village (thank you, thank you Google Maps 👍👍), the not so good news is that I had “Poutain” (whore) shouted at me by a very charming French woman. Father in law was anxious that I understand that she was referring to my driving and not me personally 😅😂

I’m writing this while sitting outside a cafe. Have belatedly realised that I was supposed to order at the counter……think I’d better move on before I get shouted at again!! Happy Friday everyone 😀 xx