Mrs Playmo and the Bucket List.

It has been too long. Way too long. I’m sorry. Mrs Playmo is furious with me – probably because she feels that her fan club is being neglected. Every morning she leans out of the playmo mansion window and reminds me of my blogging responsibilities, and she is right. Much as I was tempted to write a post about my reaction to the B-word,  the T- word and the E-word*, I have decided to offer you a rant-free post. (I am not promising that said post isn’t on its way, but for the moment I’m far too angry to write it down.)  Mrs Playmo is muttering to herself and typing messages in a far corner of the Playmo mansion with the curtains welded shut. She assures me that she does not have French nationality, and as such will soon be an illegal immigrant so needs to do something about it fast.

I don’t know how to explain the screaming absence on my blog. I do admit to my sense of humour having gone on a hiatus, which I attribute to the weariness of the never-ending stream of bad news from around the world. I have been writing, writing and writing some more when work permitted… but somehow, the publish button just didn’t get clicked. Over-analysis? Probably. A permanent trade-off between security and impulsiveness. The monster of incertitude that nibbles away at your confidence. I’m sure you’ve all been there. The posts are there, and they’ll be coming up – just as soon as I have plucked up my courage and rescued them from their virtual limbo in the WordPress departure lounge.

IMG_6896

Mrs Playmo assured her neighbour’s gym-teaching student son that she had indeed run 10km unaided, and needed private stretch and flex lessons to ensure that her glutes would be ready for the next race.

But here I am now – with a catch-up post. Mrs Playmo lifted her bottle of rosé to an whole teetotal year (me, not her) on New Year’s day, and applauded drunkenly as I was interviewed by BBC Radio 5 about my year of abstinence. Then she toasted the first anniversary of the Running Mamma Project, and the 13 kilos that I shed en route. Rugby-boy and I ran our first official 10km race along the Baie des Anges in Nice in January in a respectable time of 1h and 2 minutes. Mrs Playmo was there in my running belt to coach me through, and has since stolen my medal for her kitchen on the grounds that she ran it too.  Even if I got overtaken by most of the fancy dress participants – including Road-runner and an entire shelf of chattering Champagne bottles with hairy legs and trainers – I am very proud of myself – this is, after all, the woman who only ran if her life was in danger.

At the beginning of the year, these small yet radical life changes brought hope – I felt in my bones that 2016 would be a good year. Cautious optimism snowballed into full-blown enthusiasm. Mrs Playmo picked up on this, and waved my passport at me as I made the bed one morning.

“Oy, MM,” she bellowed. “You’ve had this thing since 2010, and it’s still in pristine condition.” She pursed her lips, blew on it, then flapped her claws, coughing.

“Geesh, kiddo, this thing’s got more dust on it than your goddam corkscrew. Are you planning to use it as a doorstop, or what? Don’t you think you should get your butt on a plane sometime soon? I’ll come with you, but we’ve got to get this show on the road.”

She had a point. When I thought back to my last trip anywhere with my passport, it was to go to Little Sis’s wedding in 2013, and I had been so rusty on international travel that I turned the wrong way and would have ended up on the flight to Casablanca if a grinning official hadn’t turned me in the right direction. Mrs Playmo dragged my bucket list out of my bedside table and disappeared into her mansion.

IMG_6412

Mrs Playmo had a vested interest on getting me on a long-haul flight- she is still furious that Ryanair did not provide a free minibar service on the Béziers-Bristol flight, even in Playmo-sized glasses. She needed alcohol badly on her first flight, and spent the entire trip learning the emergency instructions by heart.

We all have a bucket list of sorts. As I mentioned in a post a long time ago, the first items written on MM’s list date back to her childhood, and are 1) meeting Paddington’s Aunt Lucy, and 2) singing “halfway down the stairs” with Kermit’s nephew. When I first read “Paddington” as a child, I was touched by his Aunt Lucy’s courageous decision to send him to London, but one thing disturbed me immensely. Sending a young bear off to the European continent for a better life was a laudable idea, but how on earth would she know that he had arrived safely? I imagined Aunt Lucy, sitting in a tapestry-covered chair, her eyes riveted on Paddington’s framed school portrait and chewing her bear-claws as she waited anxiously for news. I decided there and then that one day I would visit Aunt Lucy at the Home for Retired Bears in Lima, and reassure her that her nephew had arrived safely and had become an international, marmalade sandwich-eating hero.

Never underestimate Mrs Playmo’s powers of persuasion. Forty years later, MM found herself sitting in seat 12C on her way to deepest, darkest Peru, trying to forget how many thousands of feet separated her from the ocean lying somewhere in the darkness below her seat and listening to Rodrigo Amarante (my only source of Spanish vocabulary) in an unsuccessful bid to drown out the raucous singing of Mrs Playmo. She was out of her tree on Air France Merlot, singing La Isla Bonita in her explorer hat and peering around the seat from her vantage point on the folding table to check out the male talent on the Paris-Lima flight. ‘That steward is rather sexy,” she slurred as she made a suggestive wink in his direction.

This was real. I squirmed in anticipation, or as much as I could whilst sandwiched between two sleeping men. I suspected that I may not find Aunt Lucy, but was impatient to finally see the streets of Lima that I had imagined as a child, some Inca ruins, and maybe even a talking llama or two (unless Disney lied to me in ‘The Emporor’s new Groove’).

Watch this space for the next episode, but in the meanwhile… here is a spoiler.

IMG_6878

Now let’s press that publish button.

  • Brexit, Terrorism, Elections.

 

Father Christmas and the Big Girl Knickers.

Mrs Playmo sporting her Big Girl Bustier with her pal BF, aka Badass Fairy, who flies in her Big Girl Knickers because flying ain't for sissies and skirts get wrapped round your ankles.

Mrs Playmo sporting her Big Girl Bustier with her pal BF, aka Badass Fairy, who flies in her Big Girl Knickers (because flying ain’t for sissies and skirts get wrapped round your ankles).

Dear Father Christmas,

I haven’t been to sit on your knee yet this year. I hope that you have been weight training regularly, because even if I’m a mere slip of a girl at my corrected aged of 12 (4+7), I’m still a tad heavier than all the other little girls who sit on your knee in your wooden chalet.

When I saw my eight-year-old student last week, I informed her that I knew where you lived, and that I was going to sit on your lap again before Christmas and tell you what I would like to find under the Christmas tree. Her eyebrows plummeted downwards, and she looked at me with an embarrassed smile. “Uh… but you know, Father Christmas doesn’t exist. It’s the mummies and daddies who give the presents, you know,” she said, stroking my arm to soften the inevitable blow of disappointment.

Of course, I stuck up for you. If J.M. Barry’s theory for fairies had held true for Santa, you would have been a goner a long time ago, despite MM’s desperate clapping. I heard on the radio this week that children now stop believing in you earlier and earlier, and that the average seven-year-old has already acquired a soberingly grown-up attitude towards Christmas. The irony of this is that it’s all your own fault – by coughing up the goods requested on the letters you’ve been sent, you’ve signed your own death warrant. It’s cruel to say, but it’s the mean team in the fruit bowl – Apple, Orange and Blackberry – who give our little ones access to the dark side. Internet makes them grow up much faster than their parents did. It makes their adult life so much longer, and their memories of the magic of Christmas so much more short lived.

I have been a very good girl this year. So what would float MM’s boat for Christmas? Forget the technology – unless Playmobil bring out a mobile phone. Nor do I want any Febreze Fairy paraphernalia – I’m still trying to convince my family that they too can use my magic wand, aka the toilet brush. So please feel free to give the vacuum cleaners, food mixers and sundry other “time-savers” to those men who mistakenly believe that their wives will feel loved when they unwrap the latest in Cinderella technology.

MM with her magic bog brush wand, drawn by Rugby-boy.

MM with her magic bog brush wand, drawn by Rugby-boy.

I remember that I asked you for a Bugatti last year, and you grinned and said that you would see what you could do. Then you quietly opened my emotional underwear drawer behind my back, and put in an old classic of lucid lingerie. A special pair of kecks I refer to as my Big Girl Knickers.

We are all very different when we strip down to our emotional underwear. My usual everyday emotional undergarment is the no-nonsense cotton Marks & Sparks tanga – ideal for a bit of banter, discussing recent events and watching the news. But this year was going to demand a much more elaborate model, and you knew it.

When the shit hits the fan and MM has to strip down to her emotional underwear, the G-string is generally her default programme. The emotional G-string category is designed for those with all the resistance of a chocolate radiator when faced with the merest whiff of stress or sadness, whose emotional undies immediately shrink and get painfully stuck in the most intimate part of their anatomy. A baby squirrel forgetting its lines at the school play is enough to set off the immediate crumpling of MM’s face, making her look like the bonnet of a 2CV after a head-on crash with an articulated truck as she desperately seeks a tissue in her pocket and ends up blowing her nose on a crumpled supermarket receipt.

I have always admired those who adopt the full-length Edwardian corset in emotional situations. They slip it on, lace it up and appear in dignified form to the world, their feelings carefully tarpaulined under a satin sheen, giving a sleekly elegant cover to the ugly fight occurring beneath. Then there are the camouflage boxer-wearers – the no-nonsense undies that say things the way they are, without excessive frills or nonsense. These are the people who remain stoic, and wipe away the occasional rogue tear behind dark sunglasses.

Germaine amazed her friends by the fact that she never cried in public. Little did they know that below her dress, she sported the ultimate in emotional constraint underwear technology.

Germaine amazed her friends by the fact that she never cried in public. Little did they know that below her dress, she sported the ultimate in emotional constraint underwear technology.

And then, at the back of the emotional underwear drawer, there is the Pandora’s box that I always hated to open. I heard its occupant coughing sternly in there sometimes, and reacted by hastily burying it under a thick layer of Marks & Sparks faithfuls and closing the drawer. Meet MM’s Big Girl Knickers, to be pulled on in all GUE’s (Grown Up Emergencies). Those emergencies when crying is not an option, because I will set off a chain reaction with lots of other emotional G-stringers just like me. We are the emotional equivalent of Pringles, because once we pop, we can’t stop.

This year, my new Big Girl Knickers meant new Big Girl Attitude. Taking myself on first, to be able to take on the rest. I pulled them on and wore them to try out Dry January, then to take up running. Then I kind of got to like them, so I took to wearing them more regularly rather than hiding them away.

Wearing my Big Girl Knickers over my running tights is the closest I’ve ever got to being Wonder Woman. To those who could swear that they saw tears on MM’s face this year, the official version is that it was because of my Big Girl Knickers – I pulled those buggers up so high at times that the resulting emotional wedgies brought tears to my eyes.

But the result is there. Those Big Girl Knickers are here to stay. Along with the changes they have brought. So bring on the next pair, Father Christmas.

A very happy Christmas to you all from MM and Mrs Playmo. Thanks to you all for helping to keep us sane and smiling this year.  

A War of Words: The Pen and the Kalashnikov.

 

Bleu, France, Rouge. Mr and Mrs Playmo were very emotional.

Bleu, France, Rouge. Mr and Mrs Playmo were very emotional.

On Sunday morning, I awoke in beautiful, permissive, perverted France. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and went down to the kitchen. I prepared the filter coffee, and put a couple of butter croissants in the oven to warm. Because this is France.

After breakfast, I pulled on my inappropriately tight and short running attire, and went outside to do whatever I pleased, wherever I wished, dressed as I deemed fit, and whether or not my husband agreed. I ran through the vineyards that year after year offer up hectolitres of delicious and ludicrously cheap wine for the “perverted” people who commit the ultimate sin of enjoying the privilege of being alive. I reveled in life, ‘The Eagles of Death Metal’ resonating in my ears and determination coursing though my sinful veins. I appreciated my liberty to stop at a bar on the way home and have a cool drink, or even sip a glass of wine, if I so wished. Even on Sunday, even at ten in the morning, even when others are at church. To talk to complete strangers – male or female, black or white, Muslim, Jewish, Christian or atheist. Because this is France, and France is a free country – whatever any gun-wielding crackpots with the IQ of Smelly Dog’s chew-toy would like to believe.

When I returned home, I read the letter Daesh sent to the French. I read it several times over, and I was struck by the language content as well as the message it contained. This is my reply.

Using words as a weapon 

The written word rocks my everyday life. I work with words all day, in French and in English. When I have finished, I relax with words. I read. I write. I communicate. Language is the basis of all human communication. As you have understood, it can be a terrible weapon when put in the wrong hands. Words influence people, and draw human nature from deep inside us, bubbling to the surface. For any given situation, words can generate pity or malevolence, compassion or hatred, pride or arrogance. It all depends who is wielding the pen and how alert the reader is to the danger of being manipulated.

The outdated hate-mongering on my screen was written in such archaic language that I would have expected it to be delivered to the French President by camel, carrier pigeon or  an exhausted, bare-footed messenger in medieval garb. However, you saw no contradiction in posting it via modern-day communication technology created by the very  “miscreants” you claim to despise. And just to twist your pocket knife a little further into French flesh, you typed it in white print, on a blue background, with a red banner at the top.

The introduction

You begin by explaining that you are writing “in the name of the very misericordious Allah”. This sentence deserves a little time, for two reasons. Firstly, I find it disrespectful and even downright arrogant to claim to represent anyone except oneself, particularly when it is to take responsibility for toting a machine gun in a public place. Most of us get over bleating “He told me to do it” at kindergarten.

Secondly, my dictionary defines the word “misericoridious” as “compassionate, merciful”. I’m not sure that anyone with those values would condone this behaviour, and particularly not in his or her name. How on earth could a “misericordious” God find it ‘merciful’ or ‘compassionate’ to kill and maim innocents? Either ‘he’ has a very twisted view of mercy, or you have interpreted the written word to suit your personal need for violence.

Choose your verb with caution

In the third paragraph, you nicely shoot both yourself and your “cause” in the foot – the ultimate paradox for a terrorist. You claim that Allah is “all powerful”, yet you do not appear to trust “him” to be powerful enough, as you continue to boast that you and your pals have “rescued his religion, his prophet and his allies by humiliating his enemies”.

“Rescued”? Unfortunate choice of verb there. Should we understand that you see “him” as being so fragile that “he” needs YOU to step in and not only speak, but kill on “his” behalf? What “all-powerful” higher entity would need a hoard of self-appointed henchmen wielding hate and Kalashnikovs to be heard by the mere mortal?  

Perverse Pâtisserie? These are called Nuns' Farts in French, so named after a nun farted in the kitchen of the Abbey of Marmoutier and scared another, making her drop some choux pastry into the oil pan.

Perverse Pâtisserie? These are called Nuns’ Farts in French, so named after a nun farted in the kitchen of the Abbey of Marmoutier and scared another, making her drop some choux pastry into the oil pan.

Perversity

Next up, you claim that it is perverted to enjoy life, conveniently ignoring the gross inappropriateness of your own behaviour. What is more perverted? Sipping a cool glass of Pastis with friends on a Parisian terrace, or hiding away at a safe distance as you blow up an eight-year-old child weighed down with explosives on a market place to kill indiscriminately for your “ideals”? Accepting the religious and cultural differences of your population, or attempting to impose your views through terror and violence? (You may remember that a few other people tried that one before you. If you come across Staline, Franco, Mussolini or Hitler in the afterlife, ask them how well it worked out for them.)

You get a kick out of killing innocent civilians. We get pleasure from listening to a rock concert. I find the former far more perverse than the latter. While we’re on the subject of idolizing perverted music, you still have time to change your minds. Just for the record (no pun intended), Bin Laden listened to Western pop cassettes in his hideout, and more specifically, songs by Gaston Ghrenassia, aka Enrico Macias. If one of your spiritual leaders secretly enjoyed listening to a singing, dancing Algerian Jew who lived in France and became an international star, then maybe you should question the legitimacy of your argument.

The oh-so-sultry Enrico Macias, whose music was listened to by none other than Bin Laden.

The oh-so-sultry Enrico Macias, whose music was listened to by none other than Bin Laden.

 

Heroes, Martyrs and Caped Crusaders.

On Friday, your sidekicks were not martyrs, just cowards. There were heroes, though. Real life heroes who tried to shield their loved ones from bullets with their own bodies, those who guided others to safety, or stopped in their flight to safety at the Bataclan to help a pregnant woman who was dangling out of the window, screaming in terror. They acted on instinct – to protect life, not to destroy it.

As we are on the topic of heroes, let’s have a look at the word “crusader”, which you used to describe the French. This noun only really crops up these days when preceded by the word “caped”. Although I really do quite fancy the idea of the French population wearing their superhero knickers over their lycra leggings and walking the streets as a peaceful army composed of Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, Edna in the cartoon “The Incredibles” says we don’t need capes to be heroes, and she’s right.

Edna in "the Incredibles" is very clear about capes. Source: http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/glee/images/3/3b/No_Capes_The_Incredibles_6_Edna.gif/revision/latest?cb=20140603225117

Edna in “The Incredibles” is very clear about capes.
Source: wikia.nocookie.net

France left the 11th century a long time ago, and Paris, far from being the Crusader HQ you make it out to be, is now a place where people of all origins sit together outside bistros on the public squares like the ‘Place de la République’, ‘Place de la Concorde’ et ‘Place de la Bastille’, where they are free to drink alcohol or not, dance or not, show their hair or not.

Love

Last but not least, one word that unfortunately does not appear anywhere in your text is the word “love”. I find this revealing, because from what I can establish, it is a word that appears in all religious texts. Yet you choose to carefully sidestep what should be the main raison d’être of any religion: to teach people to love each other and live together in harmony.

You wanted to create a wave of division and hate, but have only succeeded in provoking, once again, an international tsunami of unity and love. This is France. Multicultural, strong, democratic, beautiful, free France. If freedom is perversion, I will willingly embrace it. Along with all the other ‘perverts’ in this country, I raise my glass to freedom, equality, and fraternity. Cheers.

The Story of Evil Git and the Surprise Car Colectomy.

It is Wednesday morning, and MM is sitting at her kitchen table between the chocolate chip brioche and the Nutella pot with a face longer than a queue for a One Direction concert. She is holding a coffee in her hand, but is dreaming of a big tub of Ben & Jerry’s and a cuddle.

MM should have woken to the sound of her favourite church bells in BFF’s home in the Alsace, where she was going to squeeze her pals in her arms time and time again, see her children blend happily into the group of friends they have had since they were at infant school, and get out into the vineyards with BFF to set the world straight, eat chocolate cake under the wild cherry tree and admire the autumn colours. She had even planned to run with Starman, a pal who shares the running bug.

There are times when MM needs creature comforts.

There are times when MM needs creature comforts.

But Evil Git had planned otherwise. Who is Evil Git, you ask? Come over to the story corner, children, and take a seat. I will do my best to tell this story in my best Joyce Grenfell voice. PN, please stop playing with Linda’s new frilly bed cap, and put that wine and those midget gems down before you throw up in the Playmo box again. Are you all sitting comfortably? then I will begin.

Not so long ago, it was Saturday morning, and MM was on a roll. She was organised, for once, and was ahead of schedule in preparation for PF’s return from Lemur Island the next day. PF is a biologist, and specializes in running off for “business trips” with female colleagues to exotic islands in the middle of nowhere…. Yes, that’s right, PN, that means he gets to play in the mud with his friends, catch crabs, drink beer on the beach, climb up extinct volcanoes, take photos of his bikini-clad colleagues swimming with turtles, watch sunsets, and share his packed lunch with lemurs. Then he returns home with a big smile and bits of smelly, dead crustaceans that he leaves on the kitchen window sill to dry.

As MM strode across the car park towards her trusty Albal, she counted her blessings.  Beautiful blue sky and autumn colours, check. Upcoming arrival of PF and a birthday meal, check. Holiday with friends in the Alsace the next day, check. Life was good – in fact, eerily too good to be true. MM knew perfectly well that the stars were therefore aligned for something to go wrong. And it did. Throwing her shopping bags on the passenger seat, she turned the key in the ignition and was surprised to hear Albal’s engine clatter noisily. She switched the engine off, opened the bonnet and peered in, expecting to find a drunken Jamie Oliver jiving with Nigella Lawson and an entire collection of saucepans. Nowt. Zilch. Nada.

I’m so sorry I left you outside….

So MM checked the oil, checked for disconnected piping, returned to her seat and reverted to kindness, stroking the steering wheel as she apologized to Albal for leaving her on the car park in the dark with no more than the lingering smell of Friday night’s pizzas for company. Starting the engine again, MM bravely attempted driving a few meters in the hope that Albal would roar back into life, but her trusty steed merely clattered again then wheezed asthmatically. I reversed back into my parking slot like a bad-tempered hermit crab and called for help in the form of Bigfoot, our resident mechanical engineer. His eyebrows furrowed, and he disappeared beneath the car. “Have a look at that, Mum”, he said as he wriggled his huge frame back out into the open.

Lying on the floor amongst the dog poo, gravel and leaves, I had a superb view of Albal’s underbelly… and the hastily accomplished visceral surgery carried out by Evil Git, who had taken a saw to the car and carried out the automobile equivalent of an emergency colectomy. In a nifty but relatively neat intervention, he had removed an entire section of the car’s digestive tract and left Albal disembowelled on the tarmac. No wonder she was feeling off-colour.

I felt the disappointment well up, quickly followed by hatred. Now, children. Here comes the cheesy part of today’s story. Hatred is an emotion that MM keeps carefully locked away, because it tends to destroy everything within reach. On Emotion Road, when Hatred hears his neighbour Disappointment whimpering on the pavement, he stomps out of his front door, slams it hard and goes off on a seek and destroy mission. He stamps on the flowers planted by Hope, pees in Optimism’s bird bath, and scribbles angrily over the clearly defined rules on Common Sense’s wall. Then he knocks on the doors of Sarcasm, Self-Pity and Anger before returning home and slamming the door, leaving Positivity to cry with Common Sense on the doorstep. Bad Hatred.

MM's reaction on seeing the state of Albal's underbelly.

MM’s reaction on seeing the state of Albal’s underbelly.

However. Hatred and his horrible henchmen didn’t get much airtime because within hours, MM’s gang of pals here had called to offer a lift to the shops, comforting messages, a car to pick up PF from the railway station, and otherwise salvaged MM’s day. However, If I ever find Evil Git, I will still apply Mrs Playmo’s suggestion to tie him to a chair in public and stuff my pet pythons down his Y-fronts until he has coughed up every penny he has for charity. Cos that’s the way we roll.

Anyway. Back to our story. Another car had suffered at the hands of Evil Git too, so MM called the Gendarmerie. They turned up quickly, and in a very NCIS turn, they whipped out a brush and collected the fingerprints on the bottom of the car door. MM was sorry to disappoint them with the news that they belonged to Bigfoot. They confirmed that the catalytic converter had disappeared – apparently they contain precious metals including platinum, so a few nights of sawing bits off cars can be a very lucrative and addictive business. No shit, Sherlock. This got MM wondering whether Gollum’s ring was actually made of platinum filched from Hobbit cars parked overnight in Middle Earth.

MM spent the afternoon spent filing a complaint with a Gendarme, and gave him a withering look when he enquired why she was holding a pair of trainers in her hand (the answer being that MM’s car had been transformed into a hairdryer on wheels, the gendarmerie is 6km from her home, and silly MM had forgotten her pocket helicopter).

Mr & Mrs Playmo were very sweet and offered to rent me a car whilst Albal was in hospital having her digestive tract repaired. Unfortunately, it was little too small for a family of five and a 28kg golden retriever.

Mr & Mrs Playmo were very sweet and offered to rent me a car whilst Albal was in hospital having her digestive tract repaired. Unfortunately, it was little too small for a family of five and a 28kg golden retriever.

MM’s insurance company were not convinced that MM had not asked someone to steal part of her car two days before she went on holiday, and told her she would have to cough up part of the bill. To no avail, MM pointed out that she had already been the victim of Evil Git, and did not wish to be the victim of her insurance company as well. She added that although her children were being very mature about their holiday potentially going down the pan, the insurance company had the means to make it better for them if they so wished. Translated into basic language, their reply was “Tough luck. Next time, upgrade your cover from ‘bells’ to ‘bells and whistles’“.

So hello house, goodbye holiday. At least I now know that Albal produces luxury, platinum-flavoured farts. Classy bird.

UPROOTED AND UNDILUTED: ZE book!

Mrs Playmo posing for a book picture. Unfortunately she had already finished her umpteenth glass of undiluted Merlot.

Mrs Playmo posing for a book picture. Unfortunately she had already finished her umpteenth glass of undiluted Merlot.

MM is quivering with excitement. Mrs Playmo is nervously chewing her claws and glugging down buckets of rosé at the window of her mansion. Yes, something mysterious is afoot in MM’s world… Want to know more? You know you do. Read on to find out why.

One morning in the not so distant past, I went downstairs in my pj’s to discover Mrs Playmo leaping and bouncing around my laptop keyboard like a Lilliputian on crack. Slopping coffee on the trackpad, she turned a grinning face towards me. “Oy, MM, get yourself over here!” she bellowed. “Fame… at last!” She extended a claw and jabbed excitedly at my laptop screen. “Say yes! Say yes! SAY YES!”

I squinted at my email inbox, and examined its daily crop of messages offering to upsize appendages I don’t have. Gleaming in the midst of all this mediocrity was the gem of a message that had got Mrs Playmo as revved up as Berlusconi on the front row of an underwear catwalk.

Opening it up, I discovered an invitation from a bunch of lovely bloggers to take part in the creation of a book. An expat book. A book to make people snort, giggle and belly laugh, and raise money for charity in the process.

MM after reading the email.

MM after reading the email.

Once I had scraped myself off the floor and leapt around the kitchen singing with Mrs Playmo, we wrote back to say yes, yes, yes and yes.

Because there’s more. Although Mrs Playmo is in this purely for the fame and the alcohol, MM was thrilled to know that all the proceeds from this gobsmackingly entertaining book will be donated to charity.

Uprooted and Undiluted is an anthology of humourous posts by ten nutty and adorable award-winning bloggers living across Europe (details of the motley “U + U crew” will be up shortly on a separate page dedicated to ZE Book). We have got together a concentrated collection of uncensored posts which strip expat life abroad down to its hilarious short and curlies. With this little corker in your pocket, you can travel Europe in style without leaving your seat (and make your neighbour jealous as you giggle your way happily through the pages on the number seven bus).

Are you are tired of the sterile, rose-tinted spectacled vision of classic travel books? Do you long to peruse an honestly refreshing portrayal of life as an expat in Europe that will leave you smiling for the day? If so, prepare to grab a copy of “Uprooted and Undiluted” as soon as it comes out (date to be revealed shortly). Forget the world of tepid armchair tourism, and dive into this palpitating, laugh-a-minute insight into expat daily life, including the dark labyrinths of administrative red tape, the perils of learning the lingo, culinary catastrophes, romantic rendez-vous, expat parties, and lots of other exciting stuff that you just don’t find in mainstream travel literature. Pop it in your bag, and be prepared to explain why you are grinning like a demented demon after reading it. Don’t forget to buy a few more to share the joy with your friends and family at Christmas, for their birthdays, or just because you want to show them up when they laugh so hard that their British Rail coffee comes out through their nostrils in the quiet carriage of the train.

Mr Playmo being told in no uncertain terms that he has the choice between buying a copy of

Mr Playmo being told in no uncertain terms that he has the choice between buying a copy of “Uprooted and Undiluted” or sleeping on the couch.

So those of you who said that you would like to have some of MM’s witterings in print now have the opportunity to (as one would crudely say) put your money where your mouth is.

Now it’s over to you. The new page coming up imminently on the blog is entitled “UPROOTED AND UNDILUTED”, and gives more info about the who, where, when, why and hows of our upcoming masterpiece. Check it out. Anyone who understands the magic of hashtags can use this one : #uprootedandundiluted

I am proud to part of this blogging world initiative, which shows just how wonderful blogging is. Please help us to spread a laugh across the world, and raise money for charity in the process!

Sent from my i-kitchen table, with the help of Mrs Playmo (who jumped on the keyboard to type the bits about herself).

 

Couch to Five K: Gertie Grit and Getting Fit.

One fateful day in the vineyards at the end of January, I decided to prove to myself that I was fit. I was on a roll – after 31 days of abstinence, I had successfully put an end to my equivalent of the Pavlovian reflex, which involved salivating and grabbing a large wine glass and a bowl of peanuts as soon as I heard the cork pop on a bottle of rosé. I’d walked 145 km over the month. It would be a piece of cake. I checked that nobody was looking, and set off. The result was pathetic to say the least – 30 seconds later, I was hugging the nearest tree, consumed by burning lungs, nausea and a stitch as Mrs Playmo tutted and smelly dog looked on in bemusement. I was not fit. The image of myself puffing along out of breath behind a possible future grandchild on a trike (think Damien in “the Omen”) made my mind up. I had to get fit. And to do so, I needed grit.

Grit was the stuff that I brushed out of stinging grazes when I fell off my bike as a child, and also the stuff I needed to get back on the saddle and try again and again until I finally got to the end of the garden path without kissing the tarmac. Gertie Grit had disappeared off the radar as HMS MM entered the murky waters of middle age, and was found gagged and bound on a chair in a corner in the dark side of my mind. She had been taken hostage by my inner bitch, who took a swig of rosé, scratched her navel and informed me that I was far too old and set in my ways to change anything now. That was a red rag to a bull.

So  I downloaded the C25K programme from the NHS website – a nine week programme with three half-hour outings a week that gradually take you from short running and walking intervals to running for 30 minutes non-stop. This is done with the help of a cheerful young lady called Laura, who talks you through what initially feels like a 30-minute survival course for trainee GI’s, apparently impervious to the fact that you are inches from keeling over. Yet believe it or not, seven months later MM has gone from gasping for breath to gasping for a run. So for anyone who has downloaded the app and is tempted to give it a whirl, here is MM’s guide to C25K.

Gladys proudly showed the girls the gravity-defying plastic bra she had stolen from the NASA test lab. It would be ideal for running C25K. Picture from (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gladys proudly showed the girls the gravity-defying plastic bra she had stolen from the NASA test lab. It would be ideal for running C25K. .
Picture from (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Get kitted out.

Running requires very little financial investment (that sinks your first excuse). Girls should acquire the appropriate female scaffolding to restrain the lesser spotted boobs, which already have a natural tendency to migrate southwards. Without control, you’ll either knock yourself out on your first run or they’ll stretch so far that you’ll be able to wrap them around your neck to keep your ears warm by Christmas. You’ll also need trainers – and forget the ones you’ve had in the cupboard since that aborted new year’s resolution you made back in 1984. Embrace new footwear technology – your body will thank you for it. As for the rest, a t-shirt and a pair of leggings will do fine.

  1. Be safe.

This does not mean kitting yourself out with a flick knife, or running with a baseball bat stuck under your knicker elastic. In the unlikely event of being attacked, the smell of a runner’s armpits after 4 kilometers is probably sufficient to put any assailant off. What ‘being safe’ means is simply doing what you expect your teenagers to do – tell someone where you are going, what time you are leaving, and when you will be back. You are more likely to go arse over tit into a hedge than you are to get abducted by aliens, but if you do have a problem then someone should know where you are.

MM tried out her skills at smashing an aggressor's teeth with a baseball bat, before establishing that it was too big to fit in the waistband of her shorts. Picture credit: Par Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions ou Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

MM tried out her skills at smashing an aggressor’s teeth with a baseball bat, before establishing that it was too big to fit in the waistband of her shorts. Picture credit: Par Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions ou Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Get an iPod, phone or MP3 player.

An absolute must, if only to follow the programme and avoid hearing yourself gasping for breath on the way around the run (I scared myself when my headphones fell out – it sounded like I was being chased by a rabid black bear). If you follow the C25K programme, the lovely Laura will chat all the way around and tell you when to run, when to walk, and congratulate you on your achievements. If you are anything like me, you will give up on her when you get bored with the dismal music (I’m sure that Laura didn’t choose it) and are fed up with her not inviting you around for a cuppa and a Hobnob after your run. There are plenty of alternative apps available that let you run the programme using your own music playlist, so go for it – Laura has so many fans that she won’t notice you’ve shelved her. Just one word of warning: for safety, make sure that the volume is low enough to hear cars coming up behind you. Not to mention other runners if you stop for a wee behind a hedge.

  1. Get support and be accountable to somebody.

If, like me, your family reacted to your announcement that you were taking up sport by falling off their chairs laughing, fear not. Sign up to the C25K community on Health Unlocked, a forum full of real people just like you who get beetroot red faces, sweat buckets, fall victim to self-doubt and know how to deal with the gremlins telling you that today’s run can wait until tomorrow. They will give you answers to the things you need to know and don’t dare to ask, like whether you should run in granny pants or G-strings or even go commando under your lycra. They will boot you out of that door with a grin on your face when you were determined you were never going to run again. If you could harness all the positivity generated by this forum, the planet would have a whole new source of energy. So sign up, and get to know people who are all on a quest for better health.

how_i_think_i_look-scaled1000

This is definitely right. But we all look the same, and nobody else really notices. You’re just another nutter wearing trainers. No idea who the pic belongs to but it’s all over cyber space.

  1. Believe.

Believe in yourself. Running is as much about mindset as it is about physical fitness. Cheer yourself on, and do so shamelessly. Don’t compare your achievements to anyone else’s, only to your own expectations. There will be bad runs. But however long it takes you to run that mile, it is still a mile. And however little or however slow you run, you are still running laps around the previous you, who is still sat glumly on the couch holding a glass of wine in one hand and pinching a roll of belly flab with the other.

  1. Forget self-consciousness, and embrace your bloody-mindedness.

Other people will see you, but don’t imagine that they are judging you – to passers-by, you’re just another nutter wearing trainers, and most offer a smile and a supporting comment and not the jeer or insult you were expecting. And the others? Who cares. You don’t know them, and you’ll probably never see them again.

If running isn’t sweaty and messy, you’re not doing it right. You will be bright red. You will scream insults at your iPod because you suspect that Laura has deliberately added thirty seconds to that minute she asked you to run. You will want to give up, but Gertie Grit won’t let you, because if you do, you’ll feel like a failure. Within very little time, you are going to yell at yourself, immune to the stares of OAP’s walking their dogs as you tell yourself you’re an effing wimp and you’re going to bloody well make it to that tree, end of story. And when you finish each run and tick another box, you are going to find yourself whooping, screeching, punching the air and dancing. And you won’t care who is watching. Because you’ve found your grit again. And that’s worth its weight in gold.

Debunking the Myths: Summertime Survival in the South of France.

Quote

Mrs Playmo wisely decided that the only way to enjoy an uncrowded beach was to visit by night with a good book, a torch a crate of rosé. It was a pity that Prince Charming had turned up before she had finished her chapter.

Mrs Playmo wisely decided that the only way to enjoy an uncrowded beach was to visit by night with a good book, a torch and a crate of rosé. It was a pity that Prince Charming had turned up before she had finished her chapter.

The school holidays have arrived and the temperatures have soared outside. A blanket of heat has descended on MM’s Languedoc home. Like every year, I have evaluated the insufficient available space for my angular frame between the frozen peas and the ice cubes, then resigned myself to a period of the year I associate with bored children, het-up neighbours, stifling heat, and water restrictions as the village spring dries up. The insistent scratching of the squads of cicadas camouflaged in the cedar and pine trees around the house does nothing to reduce the feeling of oppression affecting all bar the cat, who melts into a contented black puddle in the shade of the hedge, surveying his world in a lazy trance of warmth.

Behind closed shutters, the locals have gone to ground for the sacrosanct siesta whilst the sun beats down on the façades of their homes, and the streets of the village remain deserted until the temperatures reluctantly go down in the evening.

But not for long. The only nutters prepared to brave the heat have appeared on the horizon, bang on time to break the silence – a long line of metallic turtles shimmering in the heat that rises off the melting tarmac. In MM jargon, the word ‘Turtle’ designates family cars bedecked with roof boxes and bicycles, and crammed with suitcases, parasols and the infamous inflatable crocodile. Inside the air-conditioned beast, mum is sucking lemons for Britain. She glares at her husband. She had told him that there would be a traffic jam on the last leg of the journey, and once again he had preferred to follow the advice of that self-satisfied cow on the GPS. Her husband grimly grips the steering wheel with white-knuckled hands as the youngest child bawls and his sibling sings her favourite track for the 50th time since they woke up on the motorway uttering those words every parent dreads: “Muuummmy, are we there yet?” They are all desperate to arrive on the French coast, yet appear blissfully ignorant that they are en route for a tourist trap. The inflatable crocodile of the tourist season is poised, its jaws open and ready to swallow them and their holiday budget, before spitting them unceremoniously back into the motorway traffic jams.

When people plan a summer holiday in the South of France, the same old clichés pop up behind the rose-tinted spectacles. I’d like to get two of them sorted once and for all. I’m sorry to pop your bubble, but it’s better that you know.

Mr and Mrs Playmo take nothing but their love to the beach here.

Mr and Mrs Playmo take nothing but their love to the beach here.

Myth N°1:  Beach,  parasol,  book, cool drink and sun tan as the children play in the sand.

The reality: First, plan ample time and patience to find a parking spot, and enough cash to pay extortionate fees for the privilege (this does not mean that your car window will not be smashed by thieves: a little like God, the French police can’t be everywhere at the same time). Next, find a space on the beach. This is more difficult than you think if, like me, you do not like your nostrils being assailed by the smell of cigarette smoke, sweaty armpits or sun screen, or are allergic to the proximity of inflatable crocodiles, over-enthusiastic teenagers wielding rackets and balls, or women who yank their bikini bottoms up their bums and sunbathe with their legs wide open (presumably incase an old lady’s Yorkshire catches sight of their untanned crotch on the number seven bus).

 If you wish to be the ultimate bad mum, when the children are bored with playing in the urine-saturated surf, help them to collect cigarette butts to use as makeshift cannons in their sandcastle, and beer tops to decorate the walls – both are as numerous as the sea shells, if not more so. Or bag ’em up and bin them (the cigarette ends and the beer tops, not the kids), and do something for the planet. Then make your offspring’s day by buying them one of the overpriced doughnuts or ice creams sold by the leather-skinned beach vendors sporting little more than tight-fitting cozzies and Colgate smiles. These sun-warmed, edible nurseries for salmonella and sundry other bacterial bad-boys may not only wreck the rest of your holiday, but will give you a chance to sing the praises of the French medical system on Facebook.

MM’s Tips: Spread out your stuff! Bring sufficient beach towels to stake out your own territory. It doesn’t matter if you don’t use it all, but this simple step ensures that you don’t end up with a complete stranger sitting in your lap reading a gossip mag.

If you enjoy people spotting, this is the place for you. Bring a notebook and jot them down. My favorites are those strolling along the water’s edge – the posers that strut through the surf and oggle at bare breasts, the topless wonders glowering at the posers, and the older generation tutting at the bucket and spade mafia who get under their feet (I secretly pray that they will inadvertently tumble into the appropriately grave-sized hole my children have conveniently dug across their path). Oh, and one last (serious) piece of advice: don’t take anything to the beach that you wouldn’t willingly donate to a complete stranger, and keep a close eye on your stuff. Otherwise, you may end up chasing the self-elected new owner of your beach bag down the main road like a screaming banshee, wearing no more than a red face and the bottom half of your bikini (been there, seen that, and got left without the T-shirt -read my topless tale here). For the same reason, don’t leave your car keys in your bag. I put them in Tournesol’s shoe – nobody in their right mind would steal those because even if they managed not to keel over, I’d sniff them out immediately.

Myth N°2. A wonderful three-course meal washed down with a bottle of wine on a restaurant terrace, all at a snip of the price you would have paid at home.

If you don't believe me about the translating skills of local restaurants, have a look at this menu outside a restaurant in Agde. The next page suggests a plateful of

If you don’t believe me about the translating skills of local restaurants, have a look at this menu outside a restaurant in Agde. The next page suggests a plateful of “seawolf” – a translation that could be qualified as a real howler.

TIP: The only way you will achieve this is either by asking the locals, or getting off the beaten track. Wherever you are in France during the holiday season, you can bet your bottom dollar that there are unscrupulous restaurants ready to relieve you of a maximum amount of cash for a minimum amount of effort, and these establishments are most often concentrated in the touristic areas. If they are out on the pavement touting for clients, they aren’t worth their salt. They are closed over the rest of the year, are generally snubbed by locals and only open to make a fast buck in the summer – so do yourself and real local businesses a favour, and either get off the beaten track and ask a local, or buy yourselves a picnic from the local market.

Reality: If you do insist on eating in one of these outfits, then at least you get the fun of reading the menu translation. In our region, very few restaurants are prepared to pay for a good translation of their menu, or (heaven forbid) train their employees to speak foreign languages well enough to explain what the guests can eat. Although my arch enemies, aka Google Translate and Bing, have added a grotesque twist to menus, I freely admit that if I need to cheer myself up I just need to read a few menu boards and I’m chortling again. It’s a laugh a minute. Many restaurants are totally immune to the idea that clients won’t (or rather shouldn’t) buy a meal if they have no idea what they are eating. Worse, they really don’t seem to care as long as their patrons cough up the money and leave.

Don’t forget that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is – many restaurants get their supplies from a huge supplier called “Metro”, where they buy entire pallets of insipid guck that they will then tout as ‘home-made’ on their astoundingly cheap menu board. The chocolate mousse may have been hastily assembled in their kitchen, but it’s about as home-made as MM is organised. If you are lucky, the jug of wine costing you 7 euros actually cost the restaurant owner 2 euros the litre at the local cave coopérative; if you’re unlucky it’s from a plastic bottle of beverage that the average Frenchman would only consider fit to descale the toilet.

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. So now off you go. Happy holidays. And don’t forget a pin to deflate that damned crocodile.

Mrs Playmo illustrating how to deal with the inflatable crocodile.

Mrs Playmo illustrating how to deal with the inflatable crocodile.

Post Scriptum. This should have been an apology post. I have been a very bad blogger recently (MM strikes Beyoncé/Lady Gaga pose) and I have missed you all. I am very, very sorry and feel guilty about dumping everyone with no explanation. This is due to varied factors leading to lack of “me” time, leading to lack of reading and writing time, leading to a severe case of writer’s block. But rest assured that MM is fit, well and a little leaner than before. Mrs Playmo didn’t give me any support whatsoever. (She was too busy having baked bean jacuzzis with Mr Playmo. But that’s another story.) Those who excuse me for my absence will have more information about what I’ve been up to in upcoming posts. Love from MM. Mrs Playmo says hello too, from behind her bucket of rosé.