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.

 

Sinusitis and Shower Power.

Sinusitis and Shower Power..

MM’s got a double whammy of sinusitis and bronchitis. So I’ve crawled out from under my pile of antibiotics, cortisone and Ventolin to reblog a post from last year describing the thrills and spills of inhabited facial piping.

Please wear a mask when reading to avoid spreading the bugs around cyber space… you can never be too careful!

 

Growing Up: The Art of Role Reversal.

Throughout my childhood, I played with my Lego and Playmobils and sang songs by “The Wombles” with my sisters at the top of my voice. I loved the smell of wet earth after rain fall, jumped in piles of leaves, got tearful at the end of the school term and wondered why I got goose pimples when I heard people singing together. I pushed my finger into the corners of the crisp packet to enjoy the hidden remnants of the stinging salt and vinegar flavour. I wondered if all this would magically stop when I was a grown-up, and waited impatiently for the morning I would awake knowing what I wanted to be and where I wanted to go in life. That day, I would stride out of the door with my briefcase in my hand on my way to my Very Important Job (whatever that would be), pick my kids up from school and expertly manage my life as a super mum and spouse juggling children, work and marriage better than Martha Stewart ever could.

When I was 18, I did not know that at the age of 45 I would still be doing all those things (except becoming wonder woman – but I have a s**t load more fun with all that housework and ironing forgotten). I left home to study French at University, thrilled to be beginning my adult life – even if I only knew that I wanted to get my backside over to France and stay there for ever, it was a good enough start as any. My Dad took me to the railway station to wave me off, and although he did his best to contain his feelings, his emotion seeped into my every pore.

Although I didn’t entirely understand his state of mind at that time, the wheel has turned and today I sure as hell understand. In less time than it takes Flash Gordon to get to planet Mongo, I have grown older and the three kilos of my firstborn baby has morphed into a towering bilingual teen with a Baccalauréat grasped victoriously in his hand. He is ready to fly the coop, raring at the bit to move into his own apartment. He is making plans for the future. I am looking on with a mixture of anxiety, envy and pride. He is now making his own choices, and will maybe remember the looks on our faces as we wish him well in his new abode (at least until he arrives home with his first bag of laundry two weeks later). And one day, his choices may lead him to that very same place we stand as parents today. Wondering where the time has gone. Looking back at his youth, looking forward to his child’s adult life…. and maybe envisaging the moment when he will chase me down the street in my underwear and slippers, clutching an empty packet of crisps in my hand and jumping in leaves as I sing “Remember you’re a Womble” at the top of my voice.

Time Travel and the Sherbet Lemon Tardis.

Roots are funny old things. Even the most hard-headed, independent expatriate girl needs to get back to her sources from time to time. And when MM’s boat started navigating through choppy waters a few months ago, the auto-pilot button for home started flashing. I needed space. My parents and siblings. Littlest Little Sister’s legendary English breakfast. Crumpets. Hugs. Family. My mum’s cooking. Laughter. Beer. Marbles and hopscotch. Fish and chips. Seeing reasonably priced cheddar and baked beans on the supermarket shelf and knowing that I wouldn’t have to hoard it all away because it would still be there tomorrow. Waking up to the sound of seagulls screaming insults at each other on the roof. The smell of the sea, the sight of grey waves crashing over the Cornish coastline. Sherbet Lemons. In a nutshell, the reassuring, familiar flavour of childhood. So I gave in to the temptation and got tickets, and Little My and I jumped on a Ryanair flight and headed for home.

We’ve been back in Cornwall for ten days now. MM is rolling unashamedly in family and familiar surroundings, and is driving her daughter up the proverbial pole with comments that all include the words “when Mummy was your age…”. I’m drinking too much beer, eating my weight in pasties and cheddar and am still running out of the front door to listen to the seagulls. I’m talking all day and sleeping all night. And loving every minute of rediscovering my old stomping ground.

My childhood, in a paper bag.

My childhood, in a paper bag.

Just cross the English Channel, and you change worlds. Since we got off the plane, I have  gone back 30 years in my life. This was best illustrated by the sweet shop, where Little My saw her mother melt into a quivering, nostalgic heap before feverishly purchasing armfuls of pear drops, barley sugars, love hearts and lemon sherbets from a bemused shop assistant. Little My was happy to oblige by sharing a taste-bud revival of my childhood with me, although the flavour didn’t evoke any memories for her. One day it will. Tempted by time travel? Forget the Tardis, and embrace the sherbet lemon. I rocketed back forty years in the blink of an eye. As we sucked on the sweets, I showed her around my home town in a delirious sugar and nostalgia-induced frenzy. The place where her aunt broke her arm waving to the train as we played on the swings. The places we used to play tennis until I invariably lost all the balls in the freezer centre gutter. The pier where I went crabbing with my sisters. The river where I sailed every Friday. The path that skinned my knees and battered my best friend’s bike again and again until I finally managed to cycle in a straight line. The pub where I downed many a pint-too-many.

They can't come in, but feel free to leave them outside the pub door.  Copyright: Multifariousmeanderings.

They can’t come in, but feel free to leave them outside the pub door.
Copyright: Multifariousmeanderings.

Getting back to your roots matters – right down to that greasy, emotional reunion with fish and chips on the rocky shore, hunting for prawns in the rock pools, and taking pics of my favourite winged bad boy, the seagull. I even had the pleasure of an impromptu Punctuation Police intervention with MM’s Mum (aka MMM). Our eyes locked with a malicious glimmer, and we licked our fingertips and banished an army of greengrocer’s apostrophes from a restaurant’s chalkboard menu.

As I relive my childhood memories, Little My is no doubt building her own. This experience will perhaps be one that she will repeat to her children one day.  The very same mundane everything days that comfort me are making my daughter grind to a sudden halt with surprise. Like the tinny ice cream van music, echoing across the valley on our way home from the shops. “What’s that?” she asked, startled. “It sounds like music from a creepy film.” The hot chocolate, marshmallow and whipped cream creation she only thought existed in fairy tales. The women striding confidently around town with their hair dyed bright shades of pink, blue, red and green, like something out of a Dr Seuss book. The mother with a buggy who thanked my daughter for letting her past with a cheery Cornish “Thank you, my darlin’!” and was greeted by a quizzical stare from Little My, who muttered in French, “Only my mum’s allowed to call me that”. The great Cornish conjugation of the verb to be: “I were/ you wuz” made her raise an eyebrow, too.

Challenge accepted!

Challenge accepted!

We started off with a day in Plymouth, or “Big P”, in our family jargon. We first raided the charity shops for appropriate wedding attire – Little Sis is getting hitched at the weekend. The pickings were rich, and I tried on several numbers under Little My’s expert eye (if in doubt about being mutton dressed as lamb, always check out your choice with a pre-teen, whose tolerance level is generally on a par with that of Genghis Kahn with a sore head). After negotiation about skirt length, we chose a simple but feminine knee-length red dress that most definitely puts the “cat” into “catwalk”, then stomped off for more aventures.

As we strolled through Plymouth city centre, it became clear that local behaviour is a far stretch from that of our French locals. Little My tugged on my arm, and I looked down to see incredulous eyes. “Mum !” she hissed, jerking her head sideways. “Why’s that kid on a lead?” I realised that she had never seen a child harness before, and explained the reasoning behind it. Little My looked back at the child as if he was an abandoned labrador tied to a tree at a motorway lay-by.  “Poor kid. He’s not a dog.”

We were both bemused by the predominant need to please customers in shops – so much so, indeed, that customer care seems to have become customer scare since the last time I visited. At the building society, an apologetic bank clerk a with highly visible name badge nervously asked if I would « mind terribly » if she made a phone call whilst I waited for another bank clerk to bring me the paper I had requested. A cashier at the local supermarket asked if I wanted help packing my bag, and carefully passed me each article, one by one. This is a far cry from my experiences in France, and it actually made me uneasy. It was as if the shopping world’s sword of Damocles was teetering above their heads. Then I realised that it was indeed the case – the British customer is king, and has the eerily disconcerting right to drop whoever they wish in the doo-doo. Your shopping receipts all include an invitation to answer the question, « How did we do today ? ». Just a phone call away, eager beavers man the lines and are ready to take your complaint and set up an enquiry, just for you.

Anyway. Enough rambling – I’m off for a pub lunch with the gang. MM management apologizes for the erratic posting of late, and hopes that you enjoyed today’s contribution to the worthy cause of worldwide time-wasting. Please feel free to comment below, and win £1000 of shopping vouchers the right to come back again next time.