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Part of the cupola above the tea-room at the P...

Part of the cupola above the tea-room at the Printemps department store in Boulevard Haussmann, Paris (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

English: North sidewalk of the Avenue des Cham...

English: North sidewalk of the Avenue des Champs-Elysées in Paris, at dawn, featuring Christmas decoration lights. Français : Trottoir nord de l’avenue des Champs-Elysées, à Paris, avec ses décorations de Noël. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

‘Granny’s Gone CouchSurfing’… to Paris.

Sandi Dunn London E8


Tel: 07412 394149

Hotel de Ville



‘Granny’s Gone CouchSurfing’… to Paris  

(Mid-winter 2012/ 2013)

1,217 words

Among other clichés, I was a hippy child of the sixties. These days, I’m characterised (written off perhaps) as an ‘elderly’ baby boomer.

Finding myself relatively free of family responsibilities (barring emergency babysitting for my darling grand kids in order that their parents can carry on building up capitalism – unhindered by family needs (sic)) I’m now able to travel and have adventures…and in so doing I’ve discovered the joys of worldwide CouchSurfing.

‘To make meaningful connections with local people whilst travelling’ is CouchSurfing’s founding principle, which chimes nicely with my own worldview. No money changes hands even though one is often offered a room rather than just a couch. The important thing about making CouchSurfing work is ‘give and take’ meaning that members should act as hosts as well as guests (though not necessarily reciprocally).  It’s a ‘what goes around comes around’ philosophy. According to Wikipedia (January 2013), there are over five million CouchSurfers registered and verified on the website.

So, I’m just back from a mid winter, long weekend of CouchSurfing in Paris, where Claudine a feisty secondary school art teacher, in her late 50’s, hosted me for three nights.  Her apartment is in one of those characteristic, purpose built, Parisian blocks, behind a hefty, secure front door conveniently next to Metro Ledru Rollin, near the Bastille.  “I’m up in the maid’s garret on the 6th floor,” she’d replied to my text. “Take the lift to the fifth then walk up.”

Ignoring the lift I ascended the polished oak stairs, stopping on each landing to catch my breath. The staircase wound around the lift in its narrow shaft. It was a tiny caged affair for one plus luggage – typical of these buildings. While perfectly safe I’m reluctant to use them. Anyway, I had only essentials in a small backpack – plus my lightweight, beloved laptop of course!

Arriving at Claudine’s door I found it ajar.  Calling out “bonjour”, I entered. She scuttled down the hallway to greet me with a big welcoming smile. Showing me to her son’s room she sighed, saying: “he’s thirty now – living and teaching in Amsterdam.” In essence the room was a teenager’s room – a shrine of sorts.  Art posters and drawings adorned the walls; a dusty bookshelf revealed the reading taste of a budding intellectual – as her son has turned out to be, she told me with a laugh.

I rummaged for the gift I’d brought, as advised as a nice gesture on the CouchSurfers website. It was a jar of London honey purchased from a beekeeper friend with hives in Finsbury Park. Claudine was impressed.

There were no windows in her attic flat, just skylights. The small living room was cluttered in a bohemian, cosy way with clothes, books, paintings and papers in piles. While Claudine bustled in the kitchenette making tea, Boogie, her cat, mooched and sniffed at various heaps before choosing her bed. Over tea we chatted: luckily Claudine’s English was superior to my French. She issued a warning that as it was school vacation time, she liked to spend much of the day in bed: so please could I try not to wake her in the morning. I took note…

My main reason for visiting Paris was to attend a concert written and conducted by musician friend John Meldrum: A Peace Oratorio, ‘La Vie de Martin Luther King en Chansons’. I’d enjoyed being a member of John’s choir during an earlier sojourn in Paris some years earlier. John, an expat American has lived in Paris for 20 years. While classically trained, his music now is a unique blend of rock, jazz and gospel. His Oratorio was being staged that Saturday evening at the Alhambra Theatre.

I passed my days pleasantly just wandering around, breakfasting in the sumptuous restaurant of department store Printemps Haussmann, under the beautiful, art nouveau, stained-glass cupola, exploring St Paul’s labyrinthine quartier also The Marais – neighbouring medieval areas that survived the modernisation of Paris as carried out by Napoleon the Third’s architect Haussmann.

A large free of charge ice-rink, built for the mid winter season each year, still occupied the large square in front of Hotel de Ville (Paris’ Town Hall); I stopped and hung over the fence to enjoy the antics of some hoody speed skaters spinning and jumping around the main rink. Down the other end, equally entertaining, were the beginners  stumbling around in their own separate area.

As dusk fell I found myself in the Champs-Élysées where a magnificent display of Christmas lighting still lit up its full length.

I invited Claudine to join me for John’s concert. It felt sad not to be a part of it, never the less I sung along especially to the uplifting, rousing numbers. It was a full house. After several encores and much cheering and clapping, we stayed on to mingle with the choir members in the foyer and to drink a celebratory glass of wine with them.

A firm favourite Paris landmark is the unique Shakespeare & Company bohemian bookshop cum community centre opened in 1951 by expat American, George Whitman. George died age 98 in 2011.  I’m so proud to say I’d met him occasionally at his Sunday afternoon tea parties. “Be not inhospitable to strangers lest they be angels in disguise” was his motto and is there written large on a wall inside the shop.  It neatly sums up George’s ideals. His daughter, Silvia Beach Whitman now carries on his work. For decades, bookish, penniless romantics – mostly young American males it seems – have worked here voluntarily sleeping amidst the bookshelves in makeshift bunks, ecstatic to be part of a scene where greats such as Hemingway had once hung out.  Before leaving for home I just had to pop in.  A regular Sunday evening informal, writing group was already in full swing upstairs. So I crept in to partake.

After readings and feedback we repaired to a nearby bar tabac where the more we drank the stronger the ghostly presence of Hemingway, Joyce, Orwell et al, grew. For youths brought up in bland, morally upright, American suburbia, staying and volunteering in this bookshop, in the shadowy wake of the greats, for them is living the dream.

On the way back to Claudine’s I decided not to drink any more as I had to rise early for my bus back to London; but, her neighbour Salome was visiting – a bright young Moroccan woman with perfect English. Improbably, by day she studied electronic engineering while by night she worked as a belly dancer: Sunday was her night off.

Salome was thrilled to learn I was from London; it seemed to hold some cachet for her – though she’d never been. I gave in to more wine… She told us her true desire was to be a belly dancer in London. But, through an admirable sense of duty to her parents she couldn’t do it. “I can’t hurt them,” she explained in response to our urging, “after all the sacrifices they’ve made for my education it’s impossible for me.” Tiddly from the wine I’d resolved not to drink, I joined Claudine in encouraging Salome to follow her dream – after completing her education of course. I gave her my address and phone number “in case you need to CouchSurf”  I said, “while establishing yourself as a belly-dancer in London”… “Well, there are worse things!” I quipped.         End…

1217 words.


English: A UK scholboy wears a traditional gre...

English: A UK scholboy wears a traditional grey school shorts uniform (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Minister for education Gove, should get philosophy and talking about issues on the curriculum for twelve-year olds (as this lad is) in the UK too! And Get British school teachers to show this film to British kids of same age. Teachers in UK rarely talk to kids of this age with respect and wisdom – as equals – as kids would be were they given the chance to voice opinions. UK schooling It is chiefly about the bloody tie and school uniform… and manipulation of the league tables for a few measly GCSEs at end of it all. Either that, or patronising them, OR/and giving detentions etc for ridiculous reasons…. with not much to show for any of it by 16! I mean, after 11 years full-time school they should be able to have opinions and speak as clearly as this 12 year old Egyptian boy at least. I do like his hairstyle…. haha


Hummus For Thought

This video has gone viral on Arab social media and no question as to why.

View original post 53 more words

It is Tuesday morning 18-6-13 @ 7.30.  I am just listening to The BBC Radio 4 Today programme (on every morning 6 – 9 am), I have just placed the following thought on to their FaceBook page: If anyone reading this blog knows the ins and outs of taking out an Islamic ‘mortgage’ please let me know as I want to write about it?  Thanks:
Sandi Dunn Who was that smooth talking (B’stard) mortgage guy on just now egging us all on into another stupid capitalist bubble – never mind the idiocy of paying compound interest. And the Today interviewer was pathetic! It was a commercial on BBC radio in effect!! Isn’t taking on a mortgage the single, most stupid way of housing oneself and family? Why don’t we (friends and family) lend each other interest free money (as it is, now sitting in all our bank accounts) so as to buy or build a house or small apartment outright? Or, borrow from an Islamic bank. Why isn’t The Today programme promoting that idea? Has anyone on this blog any experience of having an Islamic ‘mortgage’?

Sharia compliant Islamic mortgage alternatives from the Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB). Halal banking you can believe in. Visit now”


As sent to Radio 4’s More or Less prog: Please can you look at today’s news story re a Professor Carpenter and his team who states that a baby sleeping with its mum (co sleeping) is more likely to suffer sudden death syndrome or ‘cot’ death than if it had slept in a ‘cot’.   It is particularly worrying as the Government are using his ‘evidence’ to advice mothers.  I heard him speak at length on the Vanessa  show yet he did not say anything that convinced me or most listeners. The debate is on Vanessa Feltz‘s Face Book page and can be heard on Listen again – BBC London radio 21 May 2013 9-12 mid day.

For example he said nothing to explain why  other babies in the study who had also died (but in cots etc) had died…Surely his line  of reasoning would  suggest that the other babies (not co sleeping) who died, died as a  result of sleeping in cots. . so logically we should not be putting them to sleep in cots?? But I did not get the chance to put that to him.

At my phoned in suggestion that it could therefore  be pure coincidence (a red herring) that the  babies  died while co sleeping and that if they had been put to sleep anywhere they may have died  –  for same ‘usual’  mysterious reasons.  He then made a bizarre analogy saying that children may die whether or not a fireguard is placed in front of a fire!

It is an important study for your programme  to look into for we are a pro co sleeping family among many and this is more popular than ever.  There are many references on the Facebook exchange which rubbish this study – also several professional callers in.

Animals seem not to lose their babies by co sleeping.  I believe The Government asked for the survey and will be using the results to give advice to new mothers.  Can you help with this please?


The House - in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington, Hackney...  minus dogs but where, particularly, dogs off lead have become an issue.

The House – in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington, Hackney… minus dogs but where, particularly, dogs off lead have become an issue.


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In my new flat kitchen, some favourite things: a bunch of rainbow coloured tulips, my little teapot (found in Paris market €5) and a pretty jug from Chloe… and my new lamp £5 from flea market on Kingsland High Street….
Photo: In my new flat kitchen, some favourite things: a bunch of  rainbow coloured tulips, my little teapot (found in Paris market €5) and a pretty jug from Chloe… and my new lamp £5 from flea market on Kingsland High Street….






Margaret Thatcher

Margaret Thatcher (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dear Vanessa
 Re Thatcher’s legacy?
Yes the 1970’s were grim but going for global economics as the answer wrecked the quality of life in those countries where our industry was outsourced to  while ordinary people here were shoved onto ‘the sick’ to keep them out of unemployment figures – hence the benefit row today!
Meanwhile.  The council house sell off is a terrible irony in that where I live in NW1 most are now owned by foreign investment companies who are renting them back to the homeless families on council lists at inflated market rents – that the taxpayer pays for – not really very clever is it?
I learned the term ‘Working poor’ around 10 years ago from a Scandinavian friend who said it was a well-known term in their country  to describe life in Britain.
Thatcher’s and Blair’s way has left us the poorest in EU while we are taxed the highest.  We are the worst and most expensively housed, our kids are said  to be two years behind kids  in European schools – especially in 3 r’s and languages, we have the biggest drug use and abuse, the worst NHS in EU  (we came 17th, down with Rumania in WHO figures), worst single parent stats and worst attitude to things like conservation,  insulation and  heating homes with elderly dying early through cold,  worst air quality, causing premature death and lung problems.  Lowest minimum wage,  I could go on!  So, why not read out this list of the reality of  life today in UK  to all the Thatcher admirers as they call in.  Some legacy!
Sandi in Camden

Birthday flowers and cards from twin Grandchildren Aidan & Eleanor

Another birthday week plus International Women’s Day and Mothers’ day…. a roller coaster of emotions – just a bit!!


Elsie@ the Museum of ChildhoodAmelie at the Museum of ChildhoodI spent Sunday afternoon at The Museum of Childhood with Christian (son number 3) and his two gorgeous daughters, Amelie and Elsie

The first photo shows Eslie’s reflection in mirrors.

Brighton Pier 17-02-13  14.54.08 Brighton Palmist. Open for business 17-2-13

Sunny Brighton (London-on-sea) last Sunday…Beach, Pier and a Palmist open for business…..

I also visited the Biba Exhibition at Brighton Museum which was fantastic! On until April 14th. Dont miss it:

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