Special Events

Natural Beauties

There’s nothing better in life than when we feel truly lucky!  The delight comes when there are no expectations set, no worries about missing out, and having an idea about how to acknowledge and experience feelings of gratitude.

Upon coming to Reunion Island, I already felt like I had won the lottery – having found such a great opportunity, which seemed like something ‘out of the blue’.

Within my first week of being here, I heard about the complete solar eclipse which was to darken the island on the 1st of September, 2016.  Best place to see it?  Oh, you know, Central Africa/Reunion Island… and even better still – it was taking place at the New Moon – a time of change and new beginnings in the Lunar Cycle.

My colleagues had organised to attend a special Solar Eclipse Meditation.  I gladly went along.  Not only did we witness the moon passing over the sun, we were also able to connect with ourselves with Tibetan bowl ceremonies, yoga, and affirmations, as well as each other (hugging each and every other attendee at the very end and celebrating such an exciting natural event together).  You couldn’t wipe the smile from my face since I was just so appreciative of the whole experience.

So one can imagine my surprise when September’s Full Moon conjured magma from the depths of Piton de la Fournaise to spill out from one of its many active openings!

My first attraction to La Réunion (since 2010) was its volcano, which sits in the top 3 of the World’s most active. It was my first time EVER seeing a volcanic eruption, having completely missed its eruption of 2014 after my first stay on the island.

We spent a good one and a half hours driving to the site, and caught the sunrise above the clouds as we ascended La Route du Volcan.

The hike from the parking lot to the viewing point was on terrain that appears to be quite dry and rugged.  Up at those heights on the island, one gets a sense of drought, so no surprises when I had flashbacks of hiking in the Flinders Ranges back home!  I had forgotten my handy head lamp, but thanks to impeccable timing, the full moon lit most of the way for me.

So there you have it, two incredible, natural events within less than a month… a friend of mine tells me that all good things come in threes…

Vocabulary

expectation = attente
to miss out = rater
to acknowledge = reconnaître
gratitude = reconnaissance
the lottery = la loterie

out of the blue = inattendu
to darken = assombrir
to take place = avoir lieu
colleague = collègue
gladly = avec plaisir

to connect with oneself = reconnecter avec soi-même
to wipe =  effacer
to conjure = faire apparaitre
depths = profondeurs
to spill out = se répandre

sunrise = lever du soleil
rugged = accidenté
drought = une sécheresse
Flinders Ranges = chaine de montagnes en AUS
handy = pratique

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Wedding Bells in Reunion

Having been a photographer and photographing a lot of weddings, I always knew that organising a wedding is a big task.  Well, when you get married in a foreign country, the number of things to get ready goes through the roof!

There’s all the normal stuff – booking a place for the reception, deciding on the menu, hiring a photographer, getting the suit…. And then there’s the paperwork! After visiting the Town Hall in St Paul to book the date, my wife and I very quickly realised that getting all the papers for the Town Hall would be no small task.  We received a list of the required documents and it was clear we had a lot of work to do.

There were documents that we’d never even heard of! And some that only exist in France! For two of them I had to get a letter from the British embassy explaining that they didn’t exist in England!

After a lot of long-winded overseas phone calls, we reckoned we were on the right track to getting all the things we needed.  But it wasn’t over yet! A month later the papers arrived, but to our dismay, they had got wet somewhere between England and Reunion!!  They weren’t destroyed but we were pretty anxious about whether the Town Hall would accept them with watermarks.  It was a nervous week waiting to hear from the Town Hall for the OK, but finally we heard, with great relief, that everything was fine and we could go ahead and get married.

By Reunion standards, our wedding wasn’t a huge one.  We had 80 guests on the day, but over 50 of them had come from either Mainland France, England or Australia.. So on top of organising our wedding day, we had a lot of people to accommodate.  A few of the English and Australians hadn’t even heard of Reunion, and before they booked their tickets, had to look it up just to see where it is!!

You can’t come to Reunion just for a wedding! There is so much on offer here and we wanted all our friends and family to make the most of their trip and see the real Reunion.  We took them hiking in Mafate, scuba diving at Cap la Houssaye, canyoning in Trou Blanc, paragliding in St Leu and they all got to taste a real rougaill saucisse and sample the local rum!

Vocabulary

wedding = mariage
suit = costume
Town Hall = Mairie
to book = réserver
quickly =  rapidement

embassy = ambassade
long-winded = interminable
to reckon = estimer
on the right track  = sur la bonne voie
dismay = consternation

wet = mouillé
watermarks = tâches d’eau
to go ahead  = avancer
huge = immense
to accommodate = loger

to look something up = rechercher qqch
to make the most of = profiter au maximum
hiking = randonnée
paragliding = parapente
to sample = goûter

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Celebrate Good Times

We celebrated every holiday in my family in true American “go big or go home” fashion. Despite our family being of Greek, Welsh and German heritage, everything was dyed green for St. Patrick’s Day, right down to the butter. My son even had a t-shirt one year that said “I’m not Irish but kiss me anyway.” We had heart-shaped pancakes for Valentine’s Day, dozens of dyed eggs at Easter, and red, white and blue fruit kebabs for the 4th of July. Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Halloween were the highlights of the year and brightened up the otherwise overcast and very rainy fall season of the northwestern United States. Any holiday was a good reason to have a fun, themed meal and to decorate every nook and cranny of the house.

Now that I have my own family, I have tried to perpetuate these festive traditions. It wasn’t always easy in mainland France to find decorations for every holiday, much less the festive spirit, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that it is alive and well in Reunion.

There are party supplies here! And we’re not just talking about candles and a few packs of birthday napkins, but real color coordinated, aisles and aisles of napkins, paper plates, and other decor. Even weddings are color coordinated and boy, do they dress up! In the states we have fireworks for the 4th of July, but here they seem to go off all the time! They really do seem to take parties and celebrations here to the next level; even I don’t feel up to snuff.

I don’t remember the last time I looked at a calendar to see what day of the week it was. When I open the window and hear music blasting, you can bet it’s Friday…sometimes even Thursday. Tents start popping up, lots are being taped off at parks and beaches, and the smell of barbecue chicken fills the air. I thought Americans were the kings of barbecue and too much food, but then I moved here. My puny little picnic consisting of a baguette sandwich and chips is nothing compared to the enormous pots and rice cookers being unloaded from the trunks of cars.

Reunion is a melting pot of cultures, races, religions and customs. The United States is for this mixture as well, and there is always something to celebrate because of it. But more importantly, everyone is welcome to join in. Regardless of your nationality or religious convictions, there’s always enough food, one more noisemaker and another chair someone pulls up when you arrive.

Vocabulary

to go big or go home = faire quelque chose à fond ou pas du tout
Welsh = gallois
heritage = origine
dyed = teint
heart-shaped: forme de cœur

kebabs = brochettes
highlights = temps forts
brightened = ensoleillé
overcast = couvert (météo)
nook and cranny = recoin

pleasantly = agréablement
supplies = fournitures
coordinated = assorti
aisles = rayons
to not feel up to snuff: se sentir inadéquate

blasting = à fond
popping up = poussent comme des champignons
lots = terrains
puny = petit, chétif
unloaded = déchargé

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Don’t Be-leave

I think I have rarely felt as blindsided as I did on the morning of June 24th, the eve of my birthday, when I woke up and realised that Britain had voted to leave the European Union. Emotionally unprepared for such a result, tears rolled down my face as the news sunk in. Later I exchanged messages with other Brits in Reunion and quickly realised we all felt the same. Touchingly, many local friends also sympathised, some of them telling me they felt almost as bereft as I did.

It may come as a surprise to many people in Reunion to realise that British citizens lose their right to vote 15 years after leaving Britain. So here was a referendum that concerned us directly, but in which we couldn’t vote. If the one million disenfranchised British expatriates living in Europe had been able to vote, the referendum’s result would probably have been different.

Now, I may have left Britain in the early 90s, but I haven’t morphed into a ‘foreigner’. I’ve never taken French nationality, and I’ve always tried to retain ties with family and with friends from my formative years in Britain. Nevertheless, I’m also a convinced Europhile: European treaties allowed me to arrive in Reunion, back in the mists of time even before Erasmus existed. And these same treaties have allowed me to live, work (and, unfortunately, pay taxes) on the island. I was even on the list of a mayoral candidate for the municipal elections in 2008. In short, I feel as much European as I do British, and it seemed to me that embracing British, Reunionese, French and European identities has never been incompatible. On the contrary, it has been instrumental in helping me accomplish much on both personal and professional levels.

However, following the outcome of the referendum that apple cart has been thoroughly upset; even if Brexit never goes through, a lot of irrevocable damage has already been done. The referendum result is a political reality that we have to deal with one way or another, and despite a probable ten-year timetable (and £5 billion bill), changes will have to happen. I have to assume that the advantages I have enjoyed as an EU citizen living in another country will end within the next decade. To further complicate the issue, although I grew up in London I am of Scottish heritage, and two-thirds of Scotland voted to Remain. The spectre of a new Scottish Independence referendum, like the one that took place in 2014, hangs over Britain like a sword of Damocles.

A few months after the result, my initial shock over Brexit has subsided, of course. Now, it’s purely a case of wait and see.

Vocabulary

to be blindsided – être pris de court
eve – veille
to sympathise – compâtir
bereft – endeuillé
disenfranchised – privé du droit de vote

to morph into – se métamorphoser
to retain – garder
mists of time – nuit des temps
instrumental – fondamental
outcome – issue

to upset the apple cart – bousculer quelque chose
thoroughly – profondément
to go through – se passer
to deal with – affronter
timetable – calendrier

bill – facture
to assume – admettre
decade – décennie
to be of Scottish heritage – avoir des origines écossaises
to subside – s’estomper

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Eclipse!

On the first of September 2016, La Reunion became one of the few places on Earth where you could witness the annular solar eclipse! An annular eclipse is when the moon is far enough away from the Earth during a solar eclipse, that the outer edge of the sun can still be seen.

The first of September was a Thursday so I was at work at the upper school in St Joseph, I had a group of second-year students to look after during the event. I briefed them on the dangers of looking at the sun, and handed out their glasses. They were really excited all afternoon; jumping around, asking questions. Some were even worried about becoming blind if their glasses became damaged!

The annular eclipse was to pass over central Africa, out over the Indian Ocean and pass over La Reunion early in the afternoon. I reminded the students how lucky they were to be provided with glasses, as it was doubtful that every child in the African continent would be protected against the harmful effects of looking directly at the eclipse.

Back in Saint Joseph, the weather was not great, the sky became overcast late in the morning and it looked like it would not change. All the students gathered outside and looked up at the grey sky. There were groans of disappointment, but we were all still hopeful that the sky clear, even for a second. Twenty minutes passed and the clouds started to disperse just a little. Everyone looked up, hoping that the hole in the clouds would pass between the eclipse and us. And it did! Cheers of joy erupted on the playground! It was like the home team scored the winning goal in the 90th minute!

Every thirty minutes or so another hole would appear in the clouds and the same shouts would sweep over the school! Now this was an interesting way to experience the eclipse!

In total we must have seen it for about a minute all afternoon. I called my wife and James later who were in Saint Paul and Saint Denis respectively, and they told me that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky for them! Ah, well. Maybe next time I’ll have better weather. I think I’ll be about two-hundred…

Vocabulary

few – peu
to witness – témoigner
far away – loin
outer edge – bord extérieur
upper school – lycée

to look after – prendre soin
to hand out – distribuer
to jump – sauter
blind – aveugle
to be provided – bénéficier

harmful – nocif
overcast – couvert
to gather – rassembler
to groan – gémir
hopeful – optimiste

hole – trou
to sweep over – engloutir

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Tropica’dingue

In November 2015 I had the pleasure of partaking in Reunion’s 2nd edition of a very different race the – Tropica’dingue. Those whose who are familiar with this event, know that it roughly translates to lots of crazy people running around looking extremely ridiculous under a hot tropical sun.

It is however, a little more structured than that.

The race is 12kms long, full of obstacles, it’s done in teams and most importantly – everybody has to dress up! Start times are staggered in the aim of reducing human traffic jams at each obstacle. This was even more important for the second edition given that the number of participants had gone up from 900 in 2014 to 3,500 in 2015.

Before getting underway all participants are invited to take part in the official ‘warm-up’. This is a great opportunity to check out everyone’s costume. For me, this is by far the highlight of the day. The effort people go to is truly impressive. This year my team, team ‘Zourite’, decided to dress up as octopi. We were dressed in blue and had a dressmaker design and make a wig in the form of an octopus head equipped with eyes, tentacles and all. We achieved our goal of looking as silly as we could but were still outdone by many others!

The minions were quite a popular theme as were pirates, surfers (with actual surfboards), fireman, cowboys, men in actual nappies, penguin onesies, superheroes and much, much more.

My personal favourite were the Flying Scotsman. No idea if that was their team name but as they passed us during the race, the group of young lads were very proud to show us that they’d respected the tradition of wearing no underwear underneath the kilts!

The aim of the day is to a) have fun, b) dress up and look silly c) have some more fun! The beauty of the Tropica’dingue is that there are no prizes for finishing first. Everyone is just there to muck around. It’s also perfect for those who don’t typically do a lot of sport as you can walk the whole 12kms if you like. And if you really don’t want to complete an obstacle, you can just walk around it and proceed to the next one.

However, the obstacles are what make the race. Some are physically hard and require a good dose of teamwork, others are easy, some are just fun; dancing to loud music in a tent in the middle of nowhere, some are dirty; jumping into an enormous mud bath, but all are downright entertaining.

Anyway, I won’t give too much more away, you’ll just have to sign up for the 3rd edition to find out for yourselves!

Vocabulary

to partake – assister, participer
roughly – à peu près
to dress up – se déguiser
to stagger – étaler
to get underway – se lancer

costume – déguisement
by far – de loin
highlight – temps fort, moment le plus marquant
dressmaker – couturière
wig – perruque

as silly as – aussi débile que
outdone – faire mieux que
nappy – couche
onesie – combinaison intégral
lad – gars

underneath – sous
to muck around – faire l’imbécile
dirty – sale
downright – carrément, franchement
sign-up – s’inscrire

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Boxing Day

In the immortal words of Noddy Holder, it’s Christmas! Or is it?

This episode comes out on Thursday the 24th of December, which for the people of Reunion is Christmas. For us Brits, however, it’s nothing special. No, we celebrate Christmas on the 25th, which is great if you are a parent. You see, we get to send our kids to bed early on the 24th. We don’t have to wait up until midnight, while the kids run around. In fact, in Britain the children want to go to bed earlier. The earlier they sleep, the earlier they can wake up the next morning to open their presents.

This is something I will never understand about Christmas in Reunion. You give gifts to your youngsters at midnight, so they are all excited about their new toys and games, and to punish them you only let them play for an hour or so before sending them to bed!

No, we have to wait until the 25th to exchange our gifts. Don’t feel too sad for us however, because we have something you don’t. Boxing Day!

« What on Earth is Boxing Day? » you all cry! No, it’s not the day that your uncles drink too much Red Label, and get into boxing matches with each other (that’s new years eve, surely). Despite its name, it has nothing to do with the sport of boxing.

Legend goes that back in the 17th century, on the first day back to work after the Christmas festivities, employers would hand their employees Christmas ‘boxes’. Small packages containing their Christmas present. These boxes may have contained their Christmas bonus, presents for their families, or even leftovers from the employers Christmas feast. This tradition has died out, but the bank holiday remains. Nowadays, Boxing Day is celebrated by nursing a hangover, and digesting all that turkey from the day before.

So, I’m going to have a very British Christmas this year. On the 24th I intend to leave out a glass of whisky for Father Christmas, and a carrot for Rudolph. In the evening I will hide small presents in my children’s stockings, then hang them on the tree.

A modest breakfast on the 25th while the children open their presents. Turkey, cranberry, parsnips and stuffing for lunch, and an evening in.

Boxing day will be celebrated just like in Britain. With a couple of paracetamols, and a lot of coffee.

Merry Christmas to you all, and a Happy New Year.

Vocabulary

to come out – sortir
to celebrate – fêter
a youngster – un enfant
however – cependant
despite – malgré

festivities – les fêtes
leftovers – les restes (de nourriture)
a feast – un banquet
a bank holiday – une jour férié
nowadays – de nos jours

to nurse – soigner
a hangover – une gueule de bois
turkey – de la dinde
stockings – les bas
a parsnip – un navet

stuffing – la farce

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The History of Halloween

It’s that time of year again, the 31st of October, Halloween! What is it and why is it so popular in North America, the UK and anglophone countries? Well it originally started as Samhain, (pronounced ‘Saa’’wen’) an old Celtic Pagan festival. The Celts believed it was a day when the fairies and spirits could walk among the living, and disguised their faces so as not to be recognised by these creatures. The name was changed several times over the centuries and as its religious roots developed towards Christianity, from All Saints Day to All Hallows Eve and finally Hallowe’en.

It is probably most widely celebrated in America and this all started in the 19th century when the Irish and Celts exported their traditions over there as they emigrated. The tradition has also continued in the UK and today it is still a popular event there, although now it has been commercialised on both sides of the Atlantic and has largely forgotten its religious roots. Adults and children get involved, participating in games, dressing up, wearing masks and decorating their houses and gardens with witches, ghosts, monsters and other scary figures, with orange, black and green being the predominant colours for the festival.

One of the most iconic and popular symbols of Halloween is the pumpkin. This was first introduced in America, as they substituted the vegetable of choice in the UK which was the turnip, as it was far more accessible in those parts of the world. Pumpkin carving, apple-bobbing and trick-or-treating are some of the popular Halloween activities nowadays. I remember my first night trick-or-treating with my cousins when I was young, I think I modified one of my mums old dresses so I looked like a bat (or more likely a young ‘Prince’ tribute act), and off we went to knock on the neighbours doors, asking for sweets (the ‘treat’) or threatening them with a ‘trick’ (like a squirt with a water pistol) if they didn’t provide! We followed that up with some apple-bobbing where the aim is to lift apples out of a bucket of water using only your mouth or teeth, no hands – which was a great way to wash off that mascara I had on for my bat eyes!

Although not originally very widely celebrated in France, Halloween is slowly becoming more popular, with more and more children dressing up in their favourite costumes and not wanting to miss an opportunity to receive sweets! It remains one of the biggest excuses to dress-up every year for adults too, with the market for fancy dress growing year on year as people tend to go out to party for Halloween in North America, the UK and Ireland. My home city of Derry in Northern Ireland has one of Europe’s biggest Halloween celebrations every year, with a huge carnival and fireworks display. I’ll be spending it in Mafate myself though….so maybe I will hold back on the mascara and bat costume this year!

Vocabulary

fairies – fées
disguised – déguisé
largely – principalement
to dress up – se déguiser
witches – sorcières

pumpkin – citrouille
turnip – navet
carving – sculpture
bat – chauve-souris
knock – frapper

trick – astuce/ruse
bucket – seau
costumes – déguisements
sweets – bon-bons
tend – avoir tendance

fireworks – feu d’artifice

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My First Mountain Race

I remember the very first time I went hiking. I was a 20 year old London girl living the island experience. Reunion was a real eye opener and falling in love with the island took no time: I learned to like beer while watching the sunset with friends who have since been part of my life, I discovered the sounds of Maloya which I love so much, I started appreciating a more laid-back attitude to life and even went on my first strike (which I actually enjoyed at that point). Everything was truly perfect.

And then I went on my first hike, to Mafate. Now, don’t get me wrong, it was a great experience.  But it was also a very confusing one for me. I was young and fit, and expected to march down to Mafate without any trouble, with spare time to have a chicken samosa and Dodo beer break every now and then. The first 15 minutes were ok, and then I just didn’t understand what was happening. I was out of breath, and felt like a one-year old taking her first steps on unknown territory. I actually remember watching my American friend, Bridget, who’d obviously been on hikes before, skip downhill and manoeuvre her New Balance trainers from rock to rock like it was child’s play.

As for me, I could completely understand why they laughed at Christopher Columbus for suggesting the world was round – it’s just so much easier when we’re on a flat surface! But I soldiered on, made it to Mafate, pretended it had been easy so my new boyfriend wouldn’t laugh at me, and drank as much Dodo as I could to forget the fact that I had to go uphill the next day.

So when last week I took part in my very first mountain race, the Cilaos Women Trail, which was 22km long, I couldn’t help but grin at the thought of that very first hike. My friend Cobie, who had had a similarly disastrous first hike and who was also doing the race, and I were both very touched at the thought of how far we had come.

The trail itself was amazing. There was such a good atmosphere, and hearing all these people cheer you on really does keep you going when it gets tough. I twisted my ankle somewhere in between the first and second checkpoints, but still managed to make it to the end, in 3h39. I felt so proud of myself!

I remember, only two years ago, thinking that all these people signing up to the Grand Raid and similar races were mad. I just couldn’t understand why they would put themselves through the physical and psychological strain.

But now I do understand: Reunion does that to you. This little island has the strange capacity to draw you into the most unlikely situations that bring the best out of you. Situations where you see yourself transitioning into someone you never thought you could be. Some say it has something to do with it being a volcanic island, I don’t know. All I know is that I’m glad to have experienced that transition from almost dying of a heart attack on my first hike, to doing the Cilaos Women Trail, and who knows what will come next…

Vocabulary

a real eye opener – un véritable révélation
laid-back attitude – attitude décontractée
actually – en fait
don’t get me wrong – Ne vous méprenez pas
fit – en bonne santé

skip – sauter
soldiered on – persévéré
grin – sourire
tough – difficile
checkpoint – point de contrôle

signing up – enregistrer
strain – tension
glad – heureux

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Christmas. What’s not to Love?

Usually, in English when we say “What’s not to love?” about something, or someone, we mean that they cause us only positive feelings.  The implied answer is “nothing”.  For example, you could say of George Clooney, “He’s glamorous, handsome, supports good causes and he’s stinking rich, what’s not to love?”  However, in this advent season, if I seriously pose the question about Christmas, I come up with rather a long list of things not to love.

First of all, there’s the creeping sense of stress.  This begins in early November when you spot the first chocolate Santa in the supermarket, and builds gradually as you hear people on the tube boasting that they did all their Christmas  shopping on-line in April and now “only need to get a few bits”.   It mounts to a level of utter panic by 22nd December when all you’ve managed to buy is one incense candle and a box of liqueur chocolates,  which you’ll probably eat yourself.

Then there are the crowds.  As I work in Regent Street, which is just off Oxford Street, London’s busiest shopping venue, by the second week in December it is no longer possible to reach the tube station without queuing to walk.  There are even pedestrian marshals with loud speakers yelling commands at the shoppers in order to keep them from falling under a bus.   This is not festive.  This is a dystopian nightmare.

It becomes completely impossible to go and meet a friend for a quiet drink in a local bar or cafe because they are all packed with gangs of people on their “work do” – which is the obligatory office Christmas event.  They wear plastic antlers on their heads and they are all drunk by 6.30 in the evening.  Then, you have to go to your own “work do” when the challenge is to try and avoid all the colleagues you don’t like in case you end up telling them so.  And of course, the same thing applies to the ones you do like, so it’s best not to talk to anyone.

In pre-Christmas UK, if you want to do anything practical at all, such as find a new apartment, or sell a car, or get the hall painted, or speak to someone in any company or government office, you can forget it.  “Oh sorry, love, not before Christmas” they’ll say.   All business is officially suspended from early December until the New Year.

But let’s try and be positive.  There must be something to love about a London Christmas?  Well, there’s the outdoor skating rinks that appear in squares and courtyards of historic buildings.  They are really atmospheric, and you can whizz round on your skates in a magical setting, then fall over and go for a cup of mulled wine.  and then there’s the  perfume ads on the television.  All the women in them – supermodels or film actresses – behave as if they are totally insane, flinging open doors to scream at their lovers, throwing cascades of diamonds off balconies, or twirling around on snowy mountaintops in a ball gown, laughing hysterically.  Christmas has obviously driven them crazy, and I’m really not surprised.

Vocabulary

Handsome – beau
Stinking rich – plein aux as
Advent  – l’avènement
Come up with – fabriquer
Creeping sense – sentiment croissant 

The tube  – le metro å Londres
To boast – vanter
Few bits – deux ou trois trucs
Crowd – foule
Just off – juste à côté de 

Marshals –  les comissaires
Festive – de fete
Work do – soirée d’entreprise
Antlers  – les ramures
Skating rink  – une patinoire 

Whizz – aller à toute vitesse
Mulled wine – vin chaud
Ad – pub
To fling – jeter
Ball gown – robe de bal

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