This is not a Christmas Post.

There are Christmas lights everywhere. The tree is up and decorated, and despite my multiple pleas and threats, it is still lurching towards the fireplace at a rakish angle as if it’s trying to leap inside. Last night I curled up in front of the fire with a glass of Christmas Spirit and a bowl of peanuts and watched the flames flicker in the hearth and the lights twinkle on the tree. But between you, me and the next WordPress post, my heart’s just not in it this year.

Warning: If you are looking for a happy smiley post for Christmas, please stop reading after the photos – this is a “getting something of my chest” post. But rest assured, this is not the final post of the year. 

….So.  As the rest of blogdom posts twinkling lights on Christmas trees and illuminated public places, here are pictures I took of my favourite baubles, kindly provided by Mother Nature a few months ago on a dewy morning in the Alsace. The spider had caught nothing but humidity, which had formed perfect spheres of water, heavy yet strangely delicate on the intricate, perfect web. In each one I could see the upturned image of the world around us – distorted and replicated in each and every bead.

IMG_6685

The spider had taken time and energy to painstakingly construct its web. Instinct and determination had driven it to create an intricate structure. Did it know how fragile its creation was compared to the force of the wind or a passing animal? One movement of my hand would have sufficed to tear a hole in the perfect wholeness of this delicate frame for miniature, crystalline globes. To destroy the entire edifice, sparkling baubles and all. Yet the ephemeral perfection created by nature demanded respect.

IMG_6671

Much in the same way, life is fragile yet sacred. When a child is born, we tend to our offspring, nurture them and use all our forces of persuasion and encouragement to help them shape a fulfilling existence. We discover that love sparks off a reflex to put this small being first, a reflex that awakens us, shaking with fury and adrenalin, when we dream that our child is in danger. Because we are painfully aware that like the spider’s web, all life is fragile and can be destroyed in the blink of an eye.

Today, I look at these photographs in the light of current events that have shocked humanity to its very core and think of the song “Spider’s Web”, by Katie Melua. In it, she sings:

“The line between wrong and right

is the width of a thread on a spider’s web”

This line has been crossed again and again this year, as the world looks on in horror. Along this thread, there are the tears shed across the world for innocent victims of terrorism, executed in cold blood by fanatical murderers who ripped apart the fragile, sacred creation that we call life. Cowards who took up weapons to fire at children as they screamed the name of their God. I cannot hope wondering if they recognized real courage as it stared them in the face – the unarmed teachers who stood between these killers and their pupils.

The terrorists no doubt see submission and fragility in the tears that have flown. They are wrong.

 There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

Washington Irving

With love.

Papounet and Little My, summer 2012.

Papounet and Little My, summer 2012.

“All men have stars, but they are not the same things for different people. For some, who are travelers, the stars are guides. For others they are no more than little lights in the sky. For others, who are scholars, they are problems… But all these stars are silent. You-You alone will have stars as no one else has them… In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars will be laughing when you look at the sky at night..You, only you, will have stars that can laugh! And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me… You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure… It will be as if, in place of the stars, I had given you a great number of little bells that knew how to laugh.”

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, The Little Prince

The Weekly Photo Challenge this week is entitled Gone, But Not Forgotten. This post is in loving memory of Papounet, who would have been eighty years old today.

The Fear Factor: Surviving Parent-Teacher Evenings.

In December I have a parent-teacher evening to attend at the local comp. The word “unenthusiastic” would be an understatement: I am now contemplating the acquisition of a survival bag, brandy flask and stock of cookies for the occasion.

These marathons generally take up to three hours, and use up all my annual stock of British calm. The system is simple: each teacher sits in a room alone. Parents are instructed to write their names on a list outside the rooms for each teacher they want to see, without leaving any lines free. Meetings last five minutes – it’s a bit like speed-dating, but without the romance. The only saving grace for most mothers is getting to see the sports teacher, who is generally fit in every sense of the word.

MM, Ready to join the fray. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

MM, Ready to join the fray. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

If parent-teacher evenings were a TV show, they would be a combination of Benny Hill and Fear Factor. The doors open at the designated time, and parents flood in as if it was Black Friday at Harrod’s. The sooner you are on the lists, the sooner you can get home, and all the parents know it. You chase through the rabbit warren of corridors on different floors to find all the rooms, and when you have written your name on the relevant lists, you pelt back to your first appointment with thirty seconds to spare, only to discover that your name has been struck through because you were not there. This leaves you with a mile-long list of names before the next availability – close to breakfast time. So you chase on to your next appointment, and see that the parent before you has not turned up, so you have been struck off the list again. Get the gist? Bis repetita, ad nauseam, all evening.

Parents share their strategies in hushed whispers. I have tried several. None of them work, and after calculation my mean average time after eight years in comprehensive school corridors is still closer to three hours than two, whatever the strategy used.

This year I observed a new trend in parental strategy: teamwork. Organized couples arrived at five o’clock sharp, equipped with back packs, sports shoes and mobile phones. They shared the list of teachers out equally, pecked each other lovingly on the lips then checked their watches and shot off in separate directions. I suspect that they also had detailed maps, army rations, hydration packs and walkie-talkie wrist watches gleaned from their kids’ cereal packets. Yet three hours later they hadn’t seen the physics teacher, either.

MM prepared twin rockets to send Wondeure Woomane into space, should she be unwise enough to attempt jumping the queue.

MM prepared twin rockets to send Wondeure Woomane into space, should she be unwise enough to attempt jumping the queue. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Then there is the bolder strategy of queue pushing. The most wily queue-pusher is my nemesis, Wondeure Woomane (aka WW). She generally has a file under her arm, and strides purposefully down the corridor like she’s lived there all her life. This confuses everyone long enough for her to sashay into the room and take a seat, whether or not it is her turn. Taking twice the allotted time, she briefs the teacher on how to get the best out of her over-achieving genius. When she finally breezes past the growling posse of parents at the door, their faces betray their hope that her homemade salt dough pendant will swing twice round her neck and throttle her on her way down the corridor.

I should have learned by now, though. I have been attending school meetings with Wondeure Woomane for 15 years. By the time my third contribution to the Franco-British entente cordiale hit infant school, I had become one of those war-scarred veterans who sat in the corner muttering Yoda-like incantations as WW machine-gunned the teacher with her desiderata. Were the school dinners organic? Would the parent whose child had a headlouse breeding facility on his head please put him into quarantine? Oh, and could the  child who had permanently borrowed her offspring’s Himalayan yack wool gloves please return them? She would then get stuck into suggesting everything from vegetable plots to edible paint, class visits to the swimming pool and library, and the organisation of week-long school trips to learn how to build teepees and name an insect at fifty paces.

Wondeure Woomane making suggestions at the PTA.

Wondeure Woomane making suggestions at the PTA meeting. Image: Wikipedia commons.

However, the enthusiasm that Wondeure Woomane showed at school meetings mysteriously waned when the teacher came up trumps with activities for our offspring and asked for helping hands a few weeks later. The excuses she came up with were lamer than Napoleon attempting a handstand. I learned to grit my teeth as she whined that she couldn’t make herself available for the very school outings she had demanded, casting a condescending eye over the other mums then simpering « I’m sorry, I can’t come… I work… » as she gazed flirtatiously up at the teacher though lowered eyelashes. This left we lesser maternal mortals the privilege of accompanying a busload of three year-olds to the swimming pool in the depths of winter. The only exception she ever made was for the end of school trip to meet professional fire fighters. I can’t imagine why.

So wish me luck, guys… and if you read something in the paper about a pedant who choked on her pendant, it wasn’t me. Honest.

Minimalist: The Real Story of Prince Charming.

"Take the money, leave the Prince" - Cinderella, a minimalist feminist.

“Take the money, leave the Prince” – Cinderella, minimalist feminist.

Cinders, the minimalist

Was a mere opportunist.

This girl had already got the gist:

Get money. Disappear in mist.

 

When this story first began

Prince Charming was a fine young man,

But after Cindy R he ran -

And let his life go down the pan.

 

Queen Mother warned of many woes:

« Miss Cinderella picks her nose!

She wears black laddered panty hose,

And on her legs a forest grows! »

 

But Charming yearned to have a whirl

With this obnoxious, haughty girl…

Whilst Cinderella dreamed of pearls

To tangle in her fake blonde curls.

 

He was rich and hot to trot,

So Cinderella hatched a plot

To snare her prince and grab the lot.

She said « yes » quick, and tied the knot.

 

Bright and early the next morning,

Cinders woke as light was dawning.

Scratching her armpits and yawning,

She hid beneath the palace awning.

 

« Time for some fun! » young Cindy said

When Charming staggered out of bed.

Bang! bang! bang! She shot him dead…

and on the floor poor Charming bled.

 

Jumping up and down with glee,

Cindy grabbed the cash to flee.

« Yippee-doo! It’s clear to see

That where there’s muck, there’s brass – for me! »

 

Cindy said, « I have to say

A life of crime does seem to pay.

Hip-hip hurray! Kaloo! Kalay!

I think I’ll do this every day ».

 

This post was inspired by this week’s photo challenge, “Minimalist”. 

Random Reflections on Hair Dye Marketing.

When I sidle up to the hair dye aisle at our local supermarket, it is more by necessity than an overwhelming desire to transform myself into Jessica Rabbit. I’m there because I’m starting to look like a sheepdog that has been put through the tumble drier, and I need functional products that cut the crap and deliver the goods. Cosmetics marketing teams seem to consider my demand to be far too modest for my own good, and I am increasingly flummoxed by their crusade to depict dyeing my hair as an elegant and sensual experience – light years from the reality of squirting a bottle full of chemicals on my head in the family bathroom.

The Food Thing

On my last visit to the hair dye shelf, I twigged that food is one of the main strategies manufacturers use to sell hair dye. My first-world problem of choosing between brown and brown was played out to the music of my stomach, noisily duetting with my neighbour’s rumbling tummy. We made our choices. For MM, “Frosted Chestnut”, finally won the battle with the outsider, “Chocolate Fudge”. My neighbour picked a shade of black called “Blackcurrant” that would probably leave her looking like Morticia Addams dipped headfirst into a vat of Ribena.

No wonder we were hungry: the majority of the colour names referred to food. Licorice, plum, cherry, chilli, paprika or hot chocolate … welcome to a world where you don’t just eat chocolate brownies, you put a liquid imitation of them in your hair and instantly become good enough to eat. The idea of food had simply woken up my happy hormones and titillated my consumer taste buds, making the most inedible of products look appetizing. I will never shop for hair dye before lunch again, because reading about hazelnuts, mango, caramel, burgundy and honey makes me want to dump my basket and run off to raid the cake display.

Gladys always had a brandy to celebrate her "me time"  before she redecorated the bathroom with hair dye.

Gladys always had a brandy to celebrate her “me time” before she redecorated the bathroom with hair dye. She’d let the kids out of the garden shed later.  (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Polly Pout and the Instructions Leaflet

I’m always bemused by the glossy instructions sheet. It stars Polly Pout, a sultry seductress sporting red lipstick and a sulfurous gaze. She is delicate enough to fit both hands and feet into the dwarf-sized rubber gloves, and does not have a single grey hair in her impeccably styled mane. Yep, she looks just like we all do before we dye our hair.

She is also far too young for her hair-dyeing equation to include one child staging a sit-down protest outside the bathroom door and another that has climbed on to the toilet seat and is eyeing you suspiciously, pants around his ankles, waiting for the crucial moment when your hands are covered in gunk to utter those fateful words: “Muuummy, I’ve fiiiinished”.

The marketing message here appears to be that an hour in the bathroom dying our hair is all we need to free the Polly Pout hiding deep inside us. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Although she could star as Bruce Willis’ sidekick in a parody action thriller called “Dye Hard”, Miss Pout will never make it to James Bond girl status as she appears to be all beauty and no brain. Although the instructions clearly state that you should cover your shoulders with a towel before applying the dye, Miss Pout has not only forgotten the towel, but also her clothing. So follow the pictures without reading first at your peril, and don’t forget to lock the front door.

For those who think I'm exaggerating, here is a photo of Polly Pout illustrating points 7 and 8 my instructions leaflet.

For those who think I’m exaggerating, here is a photo I took of Polly Pout illustrating points 7 and 8 in my instructions leaflet.

Glamour and Glove Love

Uber-sexy accessories are the final touch to seduce customers. Back in the noughties, the  rustling pair of transparent gloves stuck to the back of the instructions leaflet were roomy enough to house twin udders. Then the manufacturers down-sized the gloves and put them in a plastic recipient that made your five-year-old go into instant melt-down when he concluded that mummy had stolen his Kinder egg.

Recently, some bright soul down-sized the gloves again and sealed them inside a bag that resists all attempts to be opened (just like its evil counterpart, the sachet of Bee Sweat Extract & Lotus Blossom conditioner). The sleek jet-black gloves it contains are the ideal size for a pre-schooler, and getting my paws into them was like trying to fit Muhammad Ali into Paris Hilton’s swimsuit. So please wake up and smell the peroxide, guys: hands, like other appendages, come in different sizes. I’d hate to have to stain my pristine, unused housework gloves because yours are too small.

The effort to add a bit of sensuality to the mundane experience of hair dye application is much appreciated, but the slippery combination of a satin-feel bottle and undersized, silk-feel gloves was as practical as wearing a sheath dress and high heels to climb the Mont Blanc. The bottle was harder to grasp than French politics, and slipped through my fingers like a two-year-old covered in poster paint.

Thumbs up for the 30 minute wait for the product to work its miracle, though. It gave me ample time to clean up the collateral damage of suspicious brown stains splattered across the bathroom and explain to Little My that although Mummy was swearing like a trooper, had brown ears and was bursting out of her black gloves like Popeye on steroids, with a slap of red lipstick she would be as appetizing as a bowl of frosted chestnuts just in time for Papa’s return from work. Just like Polly Pout.

An Hour a Day Keeps the Junk at Bay.

Oh, boy. The Daily Post has just given me an extra hour in every day. I would have preferred them to use their super powers to repair my toilet flush, or train my dishwasher to fill and empty itself without help, but an extra hour in every day is not to be sniffed at. My part of the deal is to tell WP what I will be doing with my twenty-fifth hour.

Parental duel in the Playmo house bathroom to determine who would clear out the garage.

Parental duel in the Playmo house bathroom to determine who would clear out the garage. Copyright Multifarious Meanderings.

Well, WP, you may be surprised to hear this, but I would use it to clear out the junk from my home. When PF arrives back at the family cave every evening, dragging our daily mammoth behind him, his jaw unhinges at the state of the place. My usual response is that I don’t have enough hours in my day to sift through all our belongings and offer him the zen environment he covets. So my choice has to be an hour sifting through the house. I would even tackle Rugby-boy’s bedroom, where hastily vacated pairs of jeans are stranded helplessly on the floor in the hope that Soldier Ryan will carry them across the minefield of dirty socks to the safe haven of the laundry basket.

I gave it my best shot last week. The wild-haired Febreze Fairy, aka MM, collected a fair amount of junk that was no longer needed for everyday use, and set off to put them in storage. On my arrival in the garage, I contemplated what I have come to see as my personal wailing wall. This teetering tower of repudiated belongings would make Martha Stewart faint in disbelief; it is a real-life Tetris game composed of travel bags, boxes, furniture, books, paperwork, bicycles for garden gnomes, broken tools that will be mended some-day-never, and shoes that were kept for years for a child whose feet only fitted into the awaiting sandals when it was minus ten degrees outside.

I resolved to clear up. The linguist in me argued that it is easy to transform a pile of garbage into a tidy garage – you just remove the letter “b”. But it wasn’t that simple. So I established the following protocol:

1. Open box.

2. Take out object.

3. Put in one of four bags labelled “Keep”, “Throw Away”, “Give” or “Sell”.

4. Deliver offerings to charity shop and dump.

5. Recover sparkling, tidy garage.

6. Congratulate self, go home, pour self large glass of rosé, relax in hot bath.

 

Asleep in the bath after drinking the rosé.

MM was so tired that she drank the rosé but forgot to fill the bath. Copyright: Multifarious Meanderings.

This appears easy enough on paper. Yet when we are faced with the obligation to cut the cord with an inanimate object, we struggle to do so. Our capacity to hoard amazes me. We’ve all said it as we put the offending item back on the shelf: “It could be useful – I just need to glue this leg back on/sew this back on/ find the right lightbulb, ” or “It would be a shame to throw this away –  it cost….. (insert price).” On the rare occasions you succeed, someone will catch you in the act and scream, “You can’t throw that away! *insert name* gave it to me!” as you launch it into the dustbin bag. If and when you finally get these objects to the tip, or drop them off at the local charity shop, you hear the Gollum in the pit of your stomach quietly crying for its abandoned Precious as you leave the premises.

I had battled to keep it all, come hell or high water, when we moved house. As if throwing it away would be a form of abandoning our family history, denying my roots. As if a piece of our life together would disappear along with that broken night-light. Take the example of the kids’ artistic endeavours from infant school. PF got me as far as the dump with them that fateful day, but cracked when he saw MM’s lower lip quivering defiantly as she clutched armfuls of multicoloured, curling masterpieces. “Look, this is you!” I snivelled, holding out the crusty portrait of a three-fingered, melon-headed individual with a frisby-sized belly button neatly positioned below its chin. The paintings earned their space in the van, and have lived in the garage ever since.

A typical example of an object you keep for sentimental reasons. In this case, a key for a door that no longer exists in a town where we don't live.

A typical example of an object you keep for sentimental reasons. In this case, a key for a door that no longer exists in a town where we don’t live. Copyright: Multifarious Meanderings.

Certain boxes contain things that make memories leap out of the dusty corners of your mind and clamour for attention. I picked up a tiny onesie that Rugby-boy once wore. I swear that it whimpered as it saw the awaiting « charity shop » bag, sparking off memories of a tiny bundle of cuteness.  I put it in the bag. Hysterically singing « Let it gooooo, let it goooooooo! » like a Disney Princess on crack, I dug into the pile for the next memory-laden thing I couldn’t bare to get rid of. After heart-wrenching decisions about which items would go from a life sentence in the garage to death row, I found myself with a car full to the brim with things to throw out, but bizarrely, there was still as much junk piled up there as when I had begun.

A trunk beside the dismantled VW engine contains my wedding dress. I suspect that if Little My ever gets married, she probably won’t want to tie the knot in a dress that has vintage caramel stuck to it because her mother 1) missed her mouth at the wedding meal, and 2) was too disorganised to get it to the dry cleaner’s before she got on the plane. I’m not sure though, so I’ll keep it. Who knows… it might be useful for a grandchild’s playdate one day.

Endurance.

This week’s Photo Challenge, titled “Endurance”, really hit home.

This summer, I was in a small street in the busy centre of Cannes. As tourists shoved past each other, eyes glued on their smartphones, a movement caught my attention above their heads. A boring, grey pigeon. My eyes followed it as it headed straight for a nondescript windowsill. It landed softly. To my surprise, the window gently opened and a frail, carefully made-up retired lady appeared. I expected the pigeon to fly away, but it approached fearlessly, as if it had done so all its life.

The lady disappeared, then returned with something small in her hand. Passers-by tutted at me, bashing my legs with their shopping bags in their hurry to consume. I was in their way, mesmerized by an old lady and a bird repeating what appeared to be a long-established tradition above that busy street. A habit, a relationship. Real contact that had existed before I arrived and would do so long after – enduring friendship between a bird and a human who appeared to be paradoxically lonely in all the turmoil of the consumer world.

She sensed I was looking at her, turned her head towards me, and smiled. I pointed to my camera, and she nodded, then returned to her protégé. Here is the result.

IMG_5368