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

Umbilical Cord: The Comeback.

Trachypithecus auratus

MM and Bigfoot back in 1996.

This parenting lark is one crazy ride. One minute you’re cradling a tiny little being in your arms, and the next, he’s morphed into a hulking great thing you tenderly refer to as “Bigfoot”. You find yourself in the car, jammed between the contents of your fridge and a double mattress, aiding and abetting in his departure from the nest.
It felt strangely like the day Bigfoot had started school. The same feelings were bubbling like lava in my abdomen – Pride. Anxiety. Instinct to protect. When we had exhausted all valid excuses for dallying longer in his new abode, we swallowed hard, beamed glassily at him, kissed him goodbye, and walked back down the stairs. The sound of him locking the door was both reassuring and gut wrenching.

Only when we were in the car, driving away, did I feel it.

The tug of that damned umbilical cord.

I swear that I saw PF cut it as I clutched my newborn in my arms. I heard it, too. A sound I have never forgotten, like someone trying to cut through a raw steak with a pair of round-ended school scissors. The symbolic act was accomplished – the physical cord was severed. Yet 18 years later, there we were, driving home down the motorway and discovering a second, invisible umbilical cord that needed cutting, all over again. Bigfoot had gone, and that damned cord was still there. Stronger and longer than a roll of Andrex. For the entire hour’s journey, it silently rolled itself out along the motorway behind us. As slick and  sinuous as licorice lace.

I have been hacking away at my end of it with determination ever since, using basic tools such as caustic self-derision, sharp wit and blunt common sense, but absolutely nothing will sever the bugger. It’s easy to understand why: Umbilical Cord, aka UC, is a determined cow. If she was girl at school, she’d be the one who noticed your hockey bruises in the changing room then prodded maliciously at them as you passed her in the corridor.
So I stoically ignore her as she stabs on the door bell of my mind. I hide. She pushes the letter box open, peers in, and yells through, her voice echoing up the staircase to the Maternal Instinct floor.
“Hey, anyone there? Yoo-hoo, MM, where are you? It’s me, UC. We met 18 years ago at the maternity ward, remember me? Uh… Anyway. I just wanted to say that I think you should check that Bigfoot got home tonight without being beaten up. Maybe he’s been mugged. Or he could have been kidnapped and served up on a bed of marshmallows by a gang of flesh-deprived cougars. After all, he’s a damn good-looking kid. Just saying.”
MM’s Common Sense Official shouts down the stairs that MM is in the bath, and refuses to be baited by such preposterous poppycock. (Yes, MM’s imagination has decided that the CSO is a rather spiffing Martini-drinking gent; a bit like James Bond, but better. So there.) He points out that Bigfoot doesn’t need to be called by his mother every two minutes, and is probably studying. Or watching a film on his laptop. Or out having a drink with his new friends. Or amazing Chosen Counterpart with his pasta-pesto creations. Or even (although highly improbable) doing the cleaning.
Umbilical Cord rolls her eyes, flicks her hair and retaliates, pulling out the heavy artillery. “Oh. My. God…. MM, are you sure he has made new friends? What if he’s alone in front of the TV, crying into a packet of M&Ms ? What if nobody checks on him when he doesn’t turn up for classes, and he’s prostrate on the bathroom floor because he slipped on the soap? You are just suuuuuch a bad mother. You should check if he’s eating right. He’s never too old to get rickets, you know. Then there’s scurvy. Oh, and you should ask if he remembered to send that paper to the bank….”
I drown her in a glass of rosé.
Later, when UC has given up, kicked off her Birkenstocks and gone to bed, I sneak my mobile phone under the covers to send a text message into the darkness: “Goodnight, Bigfoot“. ..and melt with relief when the screen lights up with “You too”.

Turkish Tongue Fu.

The world has gone bananas. The radio spits news of bombs, riots, Ebola, beheadings and conflicts into my kitchen on a daily basis. Meanwhile, social media overflows with videos of people in the Western world throwing buckets of iced water over their heads, screaming and donating money to charity in an interesting cocktail of altruism and narcissism.

In all this madness, one thing made me sit up and laugh out loud at the sheer ludicrousness of what I had just read. Paradoxically, my uncontrollable fit of giggles was set off by a subject that was really no laughing matter. In a speech delivered at the end of July, the deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Bülent Arinç, informed Turkish women that they should refrain from laughing in public to preserve morality. Yet the idea that any normal person could seriously ask anyone else to refrain from laughing, in public or elsewhere, is so ridiculous that in the end, I really don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

A girl smiling or laughing.

An affront to morality? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So forget the cut and thrust of verbal jousting with girlfriends, and learn how to stem that fabulous, fizzy wave of giggles that bubbles up from deep down in your guts, gushing out of your mouth as your milkshake squirts out of your nostrils. (If you want to read a great post about laughter, I recommend this one by the wonderful Becky over at “Becky Says Things”).

Laughter is a deep-seated social reflex that has been evolving in the human brain since we held our first iStone – without laughter, humans would be incapable of living together. Communication and social coherence are necessary for any group of individuals that coexist, and laughter plays a specific role in this basic recipe for a peaceful community by showing that an individual is open, tolerant and not hostile. So asking someone not to laugh is about as realistic as telling them not to scratch their itching nose.

Whilst it is very flattering to think that women are able to stop themselves laughing, maybe Mr Arinç should try it first. I’m sure that he has already experienced an uncontrollable fit of giggles as someone farts stepping off the bus, or walks into a lamp-post because they were too busy admiring their own reflection in a shop window to look where they were going. I would therefore recommend a series of tests, in public, to see how he reacts to basics such as slipping on banana skins, or oversized trousers sliding slowly down a youngster’s legs to reveal oversized underpants, a bit like this unfortunate young man at the local Préfecture when MM got her driving license.

How to quite literally "hang out" in public, and provide an irrepressible fit of the giggles for MM. Photo taken for your eyes only,  at MM's perils and risks.

How to quite literally “hang out” in public, and provide an irrepressible fit of the giggles for MM. Photo taken for your eyes only, at MM’s perils and risks.

Otherwise, we could offer an exchange: girly giggles in public can disappear, but only when men have stopped publicly indulging in their much less appealing instinctive basic behaviors, such as scratching and rearranging their meat and two veg, or absent-minded nose picking and bogey flicking.

I am a bit nonplussed about how a publicly happy woman could be a danger to moral values. If a woman commits the heinous crime of making someone else laugh, will she be taken to court and accused of using tongue fu on innocent male bystanders? Chortling chicas in the street just make it a rather nice place to be – except, perhaps, for the kind of guy who will use any lame excuse to mistreat a woman, blaming it on her because she dared to “tempt” him by laughing in public.

Innocent men could be the victims of chick wit, but (to the best of my knowledge) no-one has ever been killed by the odd joke such as  “How many men does it take to make a chocolate mousse ?  Ten – one to make the mousse and nine to peel the Smarties”.

Domestic abuse in Turkey, however, is no laughing matter, and claims increasing numbers of lives with every year that passes. Anit Sayac, a website commemorating the Turkish victims of domestic violence, reports that domestic violence killed 228 women last year. According to the recent study entitled “Domestic Violence against Women in Turkey”, four in ten women there are beaten by their husbands. More sobering still, courts appear to be disturbingly unconcerned about these crimes – a recent court ruling showed leniency to a man who had stabbed his wife, agreeing that she had “provoked” her husband… by wearing leggings.

So when the accusing finger points, rather than looking at the woman it targets, take a good look at the mentality of the person who is pointing it. Shoulder the responsibility and question the patriarchal system that condones and closes its eyes to abuse, rather than demanding the impossible from women.