Happy birthday, P.F…

Happy birthday, mon chéri. I’m sorry it didn’t pan out quite as I had planned.

This is what was planned for your birthday: 

Get up early to make you pancakes for breakfast en amoureux. Make delicious cheesecake, buy gifts for kids to offer and luscious, generous bouquet of red roses. Return home. Cook lasagna and prepare fresh salad.

Decorate cheesecake, then Julie-Andrews my way through the house singing Mary Poppins songs as I shake the sheets out of the window and tidy up odds and ends with the help of a few Walt Disney superbirds chirping on the window ledge, flapping around my head and whistling on the end of my finger. Ask willing children to tidy their rooms and set the table, whilst I shower and slip into suitably feminine attire for your arrival from work. Give beautiful bouquet and children’s gifts. Eat fabulous meal, then pack kids off to their rooms so we can have a quiet moment curled up on the sofa reminiscing about the past and dreaming about the future.

Sounds good, huh? Now…..

This is what actually happened on your birthday.

Got up early and had breakfast en amoureux, kissed you goodbye on doorstep (but not Meg Ryan-style on tiptoes, ‘cos I’m almost as tall as you). Hoped the neighbours didn’t see me in my p.j’s. Heard noises reminiscent of volcanic eruptions and found Bigfoot in downstairs bathroom with digestive problems. Discovered that upstairs bathroom was out of service with blocked waste pipes. Condemned access to upstairs bathroom. Called school to tell them Bigfoot wouldn’t be there today. Uncharitably decided to quite literally cut the crap and tell the secretary that he had the runs when she enquired what the matter was. Now she knows for the next time.

Went shopping, returned home, and realised that lasagna is probably better when it has meat in it. Desperately sought the Nadine de Rothschild/Martha Stewart hybrid waiting to take over somewhere in my inner self, but couldn’t remember where I’d put her (a little like your umbrella. But that’s another story). Opened WordPress site, then resurfaced in real world what felt like five minutes of reading and writing later, except it was actually midday. Pulled on bad-girl-WordPress-addict hair shirt, ate quickly and commenced cheesecake battle. Urgent phone call from neighbour: drove neighbour to garage. Returned. Waved cheerfully to Gargamel out of a sadistic desire to make him reciprocate. He didn’t. You live and learn.

Donned 1940’s perfect housewife pinny and finished cheesecake without dropping any hair in it or dropping it on floor. Informed dog and cat that they would have to learn to open the fridge door if they hoped to eat it before you got home. Looked at clock, screamed. Abandoned huge pile of washing up in sink.

Ran upstairs, ripped off pinny, dragged on blue Super Mario-style dungarees. Spent half an hour attempting to unblock toilet with the aid of a plunger, snake and threatening behaviour. Congratulated self on wide range of bilingual swearwords and imagery around the theme of human dejections, noted this as good subject for unusual WordPress post.  Abandoned plumbing as bad idea, changed clothes, scrubbed hands with green side of sponge and huge quantities of bleach.

Went to school to pick up daughter, leaving a more chirpy Bigfoot loafing on the sofa after a day-long hibernation in bed. Drove to Aldi, bought meat for lasagna, and clapped eyes on last bunch of red roses wilting pathetically at the check-out, cringed. Pelted home. Commandeered help of all three kids to chop onions, hoover the floor, and clear up the Vesuvius of clean laundry on my bed.

Climbed ladder in lane behind house, atttempted in vain to unblock the sewage pipe, singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” under my breath whilst Bigfoot held the ladder. Explained to wide-eyed and perplexed retired neighbour why I was up a ladder behind my house with sewage dripping off my elbow.

Gave up, returned inside. Changed, scrubbed hands and arms again. Finished lasagna and put it in the oven. Turned around to discover forgotten mountain of washing-up from the Great Cheesecake Battle. Washed up, and ripped off pinny to greet you as you returned from a hard day at work, smelling delicately of bleach, bolognese sauce and blocked sewers. Bigfoot proudly presented you with your fabulous gift: vividly-coloured undies to “put some colour in your knicker drawer”.

I hope you enjoyed your evening, mon amour…… Though I say it myself, the lasagna and cheesecake eaten in front of the TV were excellent, even if they didn’t really make up for the clogged up drains.

I love you for so many reasons. We make a great team, and we still laugh ourselves stupid together on a daily basis. But today, I particularly love you for putting up with me the way I am, drowning in a teacup in situations that most other women sail through.  I will never be a Wonderwoman, but hell, at least I’m having fun trying.

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The serial liker.

At my tender beginnings in WordPress, I saw heaps of Gravatars piling up at the bottom of posts, and humbly wondered whether one day I would be gifted enough to have so many people  reading my blog. Eight months later, I am reassured to see the same Gravatars popping up regularly, proof that someone comes back because they enjoy reading my blog. So I’d like to thank the handful of people who read my blog. Also, my heartfelt thanks to the bloggers I follow, whose posts brighten my day.

Why the sudden profusion of thanks, you wonder?

Simple. It’ll probably make worldly-wise bloggers smile, but I have suddenly realised how gullible I had been in believing that everyone has actually read the article they claim to like. I thought everyone did it, and still hope that it is the case for the majority of bloggers.

You see, less than thirty seconds after publishing a post one morning, I was astonished to see an email from WordPress pop up in my mailbox : “So-and-so thinks your post is pretty awesome….” My jaw dropped open, and I quickly opened my blog and found the post, concerned that half of it had got lost in cyber space during the upload. It hadn’t. So how on earth had my mystery visitor read through it so quickly? Was he or she the Flash Gordon of the reading world, motoring their way at speed through the entire contents of the blogosphere before breakfast?

Curious, I returned to the WordPress category in question. There was my article, and my visitor’s Gravatar. I  scrolled through the other posts: in the space of minutes, my famished “reader” had devoured not only my several hundred words of personalised drivel, but also the articles published on the three following blogs. So in conclusion, my reader was not only skimming’s answer to Usain Bolt, but also magnanimously appreciated everyone’s style, managing to read and like all four articles in less time than it takes my cat to rip a bin bag open. Or maybe not. What if……

Yes, indeed. The serial liker had struck again, prowling on WordPress with his trigger-happy approach to the “like” button. Chasing through a category, he blindly clicks on “like” for every post he sees, marking his territory like a dog lifting a leg against fire hydrants in the desperate hope that the scent will lead back to his blog.

That was a little coarse, I know, but please bear with me. I may be a little naïve, but I think it’s a little risky claiming that you “like” a post without actually reading it first. There are several reasons for this, but here are a few:

  • If you don’t read through to the end, you will never see that when you to the end get and discover that there no interest or English understandable in the text is really, you may just look like a serious not very blogger, which new readers lead to your blog will not.
  • You could put your enthusiastic paw print on an article which quickly diverts from an innocuous title into opinions that you would never, ever want to be associated with simply because you haven’t read through to the end. It’s a bit like signing a blank cheque, with your reputation at stake.
  • Last but not least, you could simply peeve another blogger because you have used their blog as a springboard for your own, but left tangible proof that you didn’t  actually read anything. However, I can’t help wondering whether these visitors imagine that all the “likes” on their pages are 100% genuine….

I have decided to start using the widget that informs readers about the blogs I follow. Check them out, I recommend them because I have read them. More importantly, I really do follow them. They are all different and all bring me something new. I look forward to reading them every day.

When I click that I like a post, it means that I have read it, and liked it. Every. Single. Word.

If you have read through to the end of this post, thank you.  Just out of curiosity, I’d like to ask you for a little connivance:

Please leave me a comment at the end, even if it’s just a quick “hello” or a smiley, without clicking on “like”. Just to see who actually read this…. through to the end. I will be proud to visit your blog, I’ll read through to the end of the post, and if I hit that “like” button, you can be sure I meant it.  Promise.

Gargamel.

The interactions between humans whose territories are side by side are fascinating, and have been used as a basis for TV series for donkey’s years. A neighbourhood is a rich microcosm of society that illustrates the best and the worse of human relationships, which remain the same whether its occupants are penned in plush, posh houses for upmarket despotic housewives or popping in and out of the one-up, one-down terraced houses of Coronation Street.

I have never understood how people can live side by side without ever speaking to each other, and I am often struck by the strange impression that the denser the human population is, the more lonely and anonymous people seem to become. This fear of alienation could explain why we have always lived in small towns or villages.

In our microcosm, many of our neighbours are over the age of 70. When I saw my 85-year-old neighbour chuck his cane on the ground then take what felt like light years to kneel down in the dirt and play marbles with my kids, his eyes shining like someone 80 years his junior, I was thrilled. I think we all interact pretty well.

Gargamel and his cat Azrael.

Gargamel and his cat Azrael. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

All, that is, except the one I have come to call “Gargamel”, who always made it obvious that he wants to keep himself to himself. A modus vivendi has evolved, and everyone respects his wish to remain at a distance. Like Molière’s Misanthropist, he flits around people like a moth around a naked lightbulb – fascinated and attracted by the warmth and the light, yet scared he will get burnt in the process. He suspiciously surveys all his neighbours through a carefully crafted hole in his garden wall, muttering incantations. He thought nobody had noticed his look-out point until the day Bigfoot waved cheerfully at him and grinned mischievously before politely calling « Good morning, Monsieur. How are you today ? »

Gargamel goes through all the motions of a happy retiree, but something is missing. He somehow managed to plan everything for his golden age except the one thing you can’t put aside for a rainy day: what the French so nicely call la joie de vivre. Consequently, a black cloud hovers permanently over his head wherever he roams.

You could set your watch by the regularity of his daily routine, executed with military precision. First thing in the morning, he cycles to the bakery with his trouser leg bottoms rolled up and carefully held out of chain’s reach with clean wooden clothes pegs. His trouser legs remain rolled up for the rest of the day, presumably to avoid getting the hems dirty. Then he returns home, tidies away the bike and the bread, and goes for the same walk he goes for every day. Garden, lunch, the news, an afternoon siesta, garden, dinner and the news. Then he spends all night awake because he had already slept all afternoon. The same routine – day in, day out.

The bottle is always half empty in his book, and his upper lip curls with contempt at any form of kindness, optimism or spontaneity: kindness and friendship are merely social tools for sinister Machiavellian plans.  Chewing on a toothpick, he complains in his nasal twang that the world is going to the dogs….. Any occasional, short conversation is closed with a perfunctory « Pfft. Have a good day, and walk in the shade », before he stomps home, his rolled-up trouser bottoms flapping a few inches above his ankles, and perceptible wafts of loneliness and vulnerability trailing behind him.

Always the same remark: “Walk in the shade”. I tried to work out if there was a hidden message in there, to no avail. I have since concluded that it was his credo on life: If you keep out of the sun, you don’t get burnt. If you live life in the shade, nobody bothers you.

Well…. I’m sorry, but although I’m not the type to sing Julie Andrews blockbusters in the garden during your siesta, walking in the shade just ain’t my cup of tea. I’m more a « sunny side up » kind of person. If life is a loaf of bread, I’m the slice of toast that always tries to land butter side up, then get back on the plate in time to see which jam is on the menu today, even if I am covered in dust and dog hair. The Gargamels in life used to sap my energy and make me sad. Now I smile, say hello and goodbye, then get back to the sunny side of the street rather than trying to drag them over with me. You live and learn. But if you need me, you know where I am, and you’re more than welcome to join me….

In at the deep end.

I don’t call my son Bigfoot for nothing: his size 46 feet could easily qualify as flippers. He was spotted as potential competition material last year by the pool trainers, and I’ve been taxiing his Lordship and his collection of swimming paraphernalia back and forth to the local pool for training sessions three times per week ever since.

His two hours of training three times a week first appeared to be very good value, unbeatable at 130 euros for the year. However, I quickly discovered the hidden costs: the pool is 20 minutes’ drive from home, so I hang around whilst he trains to save on two return journeys.

That’s all very well and good, but the wait becomes expensive when the only available activity is to trail around the only other place that is open and has lighting: the nearby shopping mall. After cracking for overpriced imported ginger nuts, chutney and golden syrup once too often, I decided that it was time to bite the bullet and brave the hazardous waters of exercise in the hope of investing less to achieve more.

swimming pool

swimming pool (Photo credit: freefotouk)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Now that my cholesterol level is acceptable and I’ve cleaned up my nutritional act, it would be good to get the remaining carcass back into training and tone it up a bit. Regular readers may however remember that I am about as compatible with exercise as King Kong is with needlepoint embroidery. But in the current context of European crisis, there was a strong argument for reducing spending and increasing health. Could I reverse the trend and be slimmer than my bank account?

So on Friday I reluctantly towed my swimming gear to the pool for the sixth time in three weeks, and endeavoured to avoid swallowing the entire pool as I choked my way up and down it. Two muscley, streamlined poseidons strutted out of the changing rooms, whirled their arms around like windmills then slapped their upper arms in a strange pre-swim ritual before adjusting their googles and their surgically-applied Speedo trunks. Once they were certain that all female eyes within a 10km radius were riveted on them, they plummeted into the pool without a splash and effortlessly cut their way through the water like hot knives through butter, their triceps, biceps and other perfectly honed youth-ceps glistening as they torpedoed through 20 lengths of the pool in the same time I took to swim four.

My chin unhinged and dropped open, letting the chlorine flood in. A woman laughed as she saw me choking, and chuckled “Don’t worry, they’re just pretending they know how to swim!” over her shoulder as she swam past.

As I finished my tenth length of the pool, my low self-esteem was dragging me towards the bottom like a dragnet full of tuna. I was a 2CV who had been overtaken by a Ferrari on the motorway. A tug rather than a Queen Mary of the aquatic world. Hanging on to the side, I gasped like a grounded herring, drowning in self-pity as I tried to massage a cramp in my left calf….and then I saw Bigfoot ploughing his way down the other side of the pool, encouraged by a coach. His back arched out of the turquoise water, his head bobbed rhythmically in and out of the spray, and his arms churned in synchro as he swam the butterfly. His determination to succeed came over loud and clear on my mummy radar. Despite the pain in my leg, I felt the warmth of maternal pride spreading through me and decided to clean my act up.

My smug, self-congratulatory moment was interrupted by the conversation of two young women behind me, who were ruthlessly demolishing the reputation of an unknown victim. “He’s just not motivated, ya know?” complained one of them in a nasal whine.  “Yeah, like your little Buddha’s gonna lose that pot belly of his without making an effort”, replied the nasty sidekick with a voice as smooth as a grater.  “He just hangs on to the end of the pool and says he’s tired. What a wimp”. I turned around, and was greeted by the vision of two tatooed, bikini-clad wonders, hair neatly pinned up on their heads. There was so much waterproof mascara on those eyelashes that I was surprised they hadn’t got tangled up whilst they talked. I secretly hoped that neither of them would spit in the water before I got out of the pool: they were so full of venom, they’d cause serious burns to anyone who swam too close.

They pushed off (in both senses of the term) and paddled delicately towards the deep end, their necks craned high out of the water like submarine telescopes to keep their hair dry. Their victim was a young man who was hanging onto the pool steps, staring sadly at the nearby lifeguard’s perfect physique. He sighed as he saw his torturers approaching.

A boy in a children's swimming pool.

A boy in a children’s swimming pool. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is where doting Dad and his wailing offspring made things fun. As I already explained in “Beach Babes”, there are parents who never realise that their kids are growing up and bubblewrap them against the assaults of real life for years on end.  At the other end of the scale, you have the parents who think their kids are capable of passing their driving test, getting into University then starting a business at the age of four. This guy was one of them. He marched down to the deep end with his tot in tow. A gaudy gold chain snaked through the thick, dark undergrowth sprouting all over his torso, and the smell of his cheap aftershave left people gasping for breath in his wake. This was the ultimate local silverback. He shoved his quivering offspring onto the platform just above the venomous pool princesses, and snapped “Off ya go!” His skinny, shivering child wavered, and looked back at his Dad, who yelled “Come on kid, give it some gumption! Look, Daddy’ll show you how”.

Without waiting, he grabbed the kid’s hand and threw himself into the pool. The impact was worthy of a meteorite hitting the Pacific, and the pool princesses’ hair was drenched in the ensuing nuclear mushroom of spray. His child broke surface beside them, hair plastered over his eyes, and screamed hysterically in their faces. The sad boyfriend’s face split into a huge grin.  In the end, I quite enjoy going to the pool. Roll on tomorrow, I can’t wait!

The new body that cost me peanuts.

Regular readers (this is where I tell my Dad I love him) may remember that three months ago, I was sadly kissing goodbye to my daily peanut fix. After the family doctor’s request for me to pull my socks up and remove some cholesterol from my plumbing, I had a good long think and decided to give real healthy eating a shot.

I decided on a new start for all things gastronomic: goodbye peanuts and fat, hello fruit and veg. The peanuts were given the old heave-ho, and I bade a fond farewell to crisps, cheese, butter, cream, and their pals coconut milk, red meat and charcuterie, who were all shown out of the door with a firm handshake and no bad feelings. The cream was replaced by tins of slim and sexy non-sweetened, evaporated milk: 7% fat instead of the 30% found in crème fraîche. O% fat yoghurt provided me with calcium (there’s no point trading in strong bones and teeth for low cholesterol). I started playing around with new recipes, and even dared to feed my family meals without meat from time to time.

I stayed the course, and after three months navigating in low-fat seas, I am proud to say that it worked – to the tune of a 16% decrease in my cholesterol, which is now below the official threshold. I am proud of myself.

Wonder Woman Crucified for Milk

Strangely enough, the biggest achievement for me was to have kept on track; the proof that I can find motivation if the reason is valid. The prospect of being as skinny as  Wonderwoman and her lycra-clad crowd never motivated me. Yet when I was faced with the uninviting prospect of clogged-up arteries and the possible consequences,  I realised that seeing my kids grow up was the biggest source of motivation I could imagine. Avoiding any health problems which could be considered as self-inflicted became a necessity.

Happily, mother nature has thrown in a little compensation for my good behaviour.  Whilst I was carefully controlling what went into the machine, she was quietly chiselling a pound off here and an inch off there. The bathroom scales were adamant: low-fat eating leads to weight loss. I have dropped 7 kg (just over a stone), and 9 cm have disappeared from my waistline, another 9 from my hips.  Confirmation came in the form of my jeans hanging around my rear end: Houston, we now not only have builder’s bum, hip bones and a waist, but we also have access to the clothing box in the garage with “too fat for this now” scribed on it. And it’s not finished: my skin’s great, and I have bags more energy.

So anyone out there who is looking for a cheap and foolproof way to drop a few pounds, here it is. Forget Fatkins, Poo clan, Fate botchers and the rest of what I call the “pay to delay” diet tribe. You are the key to your own success, you don’t need to pay for miracle books, pills, gadgets, or humiliating meetings. Just decide to put your health first, eat real food, and ignore the rubbish – even if you don’t think you eat that much. Put the car keys away and walk the short trips. The pounds will automatically drop off. It’s a win-win situation. It’s so simple, it’s stupid. It’s all about a permanent change of lifestyle, not just a few weeks before going back to your old habits.

English: Wild Malus sieversii apple

English: Wild Malus sieversii apple (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Last but most definitely not least, the whole family is eating differently now, with lardons and crème fraîche only making temporary appearances on the menu, and red meat and pork pushed out of line for more vegetables, fish and chicken. No children were harmed in this experiment, in fact they are all as lively as ever and still finish their plates before leaving the table.