Virulent valentine.

Whoopee, it’s Valentine’s day. Yahoo. Just feel that enthusiasm oozing out of MM. Tonight the cheesy numbers like engagement rings in champagne glasses will be out in force, and red roses will be clenched between the teeth of ageing “romantics” with beer guts sagging over the dangerously stretched elastic of leopard-skin G-strings, the forgotten price label hanging forlornly over drooping buttocks.  Millions of roses, chocolates and bottles of champagne are being sold all over the world for a romantic non-event, much to the satisfaction of the commercial world’s powers that be. Moi, cynical non-believer? Yes, yes and yes. I am the Valentine’s day Scrooge, and I say “Humbug!” to Valentines consumerism. Oh, yeah, baby.

Somewhere in France, however, there’s a woman who is going to have a huge surprise this evening. The French media have been spreading the word since yesterday after an indiscreet tip-off by “La Française des Jeux” (who of course have no interest whatsoever in blowing their own trumpet). Here’s the lowdown: Mr X won the lottery a few days ago, and decided to keep it secret until tonight, when he will take her to a very expensive restaurant and give her the world’s most original Valentine “gift”: the news that he’s become a multi-millionaire. “Hoooow roooomaaaaaantic!” the media are screaming.  Forget the breathtaking suspense of Charlie Bucket and the golden ticket. French women are holding their breath across the nation to know if tonight is their lucky night, and restaurants will be full of disappointed wives brandishing steak knives or sobbing into handkerchiefs after discovering that they didn’t win in the “2013 housewife discovers rich hubby” stakes.

Love money?

Love money? (Photo credit: robjewitt)

Now I don’t know about you guys, but if P.F’s idea of a Valentine’s gift was to tell me he’d won a stack of dosh, I’d be a little perplexed. After all, it’s a gift that involves zero effort: you just fill in a lottery ticket, add a huge stroke of luck,  and…. pow! A ready-made Valentine’s gift. It would be a bit like P.F handing me a voucher for 20% off at King Merlin’s DIY store, but in his name. Mind you, if he grabbed my hand over a plateful of foie gras, raised his glass and told me the mortgage was paid off, I’d kiss him fore and aft, and loop the loop. If he told me he’d taken a week off work, fobbed the kids off on willing takers and organised a week en amoureux spending the day finishing off all the odds & sods in the house – just him, me and my Super Mario painting dungarees -followed by evenings curled up in front of the fire with a beer and a bowl of dry-roasted peanuts, I’d marry him all over again.

But showing me a photocopy of a huge cheque in his name would frighten the living whatnot’s out of me. What happens to couples who suddenly find themselves bestowed with so much cash? Can Mr X stay true to himself now that he has enough cash to swap the battered Twingo for a Rolls, invest in the stock market, eat caviar for breakfast every day, take up golf and give up his job to tend to a newly acquired three acre garden of rare English roses? What exactly is the gift for Mrs X: being the other half of a very rich husband? Wondering how many of the friends she makes from today onwards are sincere? Having to worry and take out extra insurance incase anyone steals all the expensive, unnecessary junk they never knew they needed and will no doubt acquire within months of cashing the cheque? Even in the unlikely event of Mr X not changing one iota through the effect of all this cash falling from the sky, if I was Mrs X I’d be well worried and tempted to do a runner whilst I still could.

Do you see this as the ultimate romantic gift? Do you venerate Valentine’s day? We’ll be eating “en amoureux” tonight, but not for Valentine’s day: it’s our anniversary. 23 years ago, P.F and I queued in a park outside a restaurant as the snow fell. It was magic, standing in the snow with a Frenchman who had walked into my life and made me feel different. We sat at the table, fought off the man selling red roses, and laughed to see all the couples eating silently around us who had answered the consumerist gong with a strange Pavlovian reflex, but were simply going through the motions. After a Disney-esque heroïne-meets-frog-kisses-frog scenario, he was so happy that he skidded into the kerb on the way home and knackered his car, and was still beaming the next day. Now that’s romantic. So whilst the world goes mad and poor Mrs X discovers her fate tonight, we have something to celebrate: staying together in a mad world that so often drives people apart.

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Operation Clean-O-Patra.

The humble bathtub has bathed in glory throughout time as a religious rite and a social privilege. It was all the rage for the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, and the Hindus still partake in ritual dips in the Ganges (although I’m not sure anyone is any cleaner after immersing themselves in something that looks like Rudyard Kipling’s “great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees”, but with rubbish floating in it rather than nose-pulling crocodiles).

As I got ready for a well-deserved bath on Sunday evening, I was thinking more in terms of the beautiful Queen Cleopatra’s idea of ablution therapy, but was happy to settle for hot water and bubbles instead of asses milk.

Cleopatra

Cleopatra (Photo credit: silkroader)

I had just put an end to a long and tiring Sunday. I had got up that morning to face the result of abandoning my post on the family war front for an entire week: dirty washing had partied madly in corners then gone forth and multiplied, invading the entire house with more enthusiasm and determination than a family of fleas discovering a dogs’ home. It was everywhere: piled forlornly on floors, lurking dangerously under beds, escaping Houdini-like from baskets, draping lamely across bedroom furniture and hanging despondently off chairs.

So I had stiffened that legendary British upper lip, pulled up my sleeves and spent my day waging battle against the evil Lord of Laundropia, a dimension that organised parents have only roamed in their worst nightmares. In the depths of Laundropia, fear clutches your entrails whilst scantily clad, zombie-like children wail and moan “I need soooocks, Muuuuuuuuum” from behind the perilously unstable mountains of filthy clothing. However, I am a fearless and experienced traveller of this particular realm, and the super intervention squad (Candy the washing machine, Desmond the drier, Ivy the iron and myself) had made a cracking job of getting the mutiny under control. I was now gunning for the ultimate reward:  a hot bath and a good book.

Once in the bathroom, however, the only thing I had in common with Cleopatra was an insatiable desire to throw P.F. to the crocodiles. My off-key rendition of The Bangles’ “Walk like an Egyptian” had ground to a halt when I clapped incredulous eyes on a teetering tower of bucket, trowel and other DIY paraphernalia dumped on the side of a bath I had cleaned in a post-flu haze less than 24 hours earlier. To add insult to injury, P.F. had left a generous, crunchy layer of dried plaster and flakes of ancient paint in the bottom of the bath. Although it would no doubt make a cheaper and very efficient alternative to Body Shop exfoliating gel and ensure a rear end smoother than the proverbial baby’s bottom,  I was peeved.

  I suddenly realised who contributed what to the waste pipes getting blocked on such a regular basis. I could, of course, have been more elegant and thanked my family for this opportunity to learn a new trade. After all, two years in a house with waste pipes the diameter of toothpicks has enabled me to evolve from what could be termed a “bog-standard” plumbing philistine to a sharp-shooting John Waynesse of the plumbing world. I can now draw my rubber plunger from its holster before you can say “Febreze”. Yes, I could have said thank you. But I didn’t. I was tired and I wanted my bath.

quack

(Photo credit: Swiv)

I scraped the evidence of P.F’s plastering orgy out of the bath, cleaned it and filled it with hot water and fragrant bubbles. Climbing in, I grabbed my Chosen One from the bath mat (a chick lit charity shop orphan penned by the fabulous hand of Marian Keys). At last, some luxury.

Or so I thought. Any mother knows that it is impossible to have a bath without being interrupted. Within five minutes, my family had rumbled me. The bathroom door shook with what I first thought was Godzilla trying to force the door down. On checking, I established that it was Little My, hell-bent on evicting me from my haven of bubbles, heat and fragrance to give her some clean sheets. After two refusals to get the sheets herself, I said “Ok, sweetheart.  Go downstairs and look for the tall guy with dark hair and blue eyes, and ask him: he’s your father”. This was met with a stony silence from the other side of the door; as I have already discussed in an earlier post, fathers get asked one question: “Where’s Mum?” All the others, ranging from where their school bag is to why men have nipples, are generally for us.

Ten minutes later, a dull throbbing noise started up outside the door, and I swore in my usual feminine way. After finding the sheets, P.F had pulled out one of his favourite toys – a hand-held sander – and seemed intent on boring his way through the bathroom wall. I held out for five minutes, then gave up on the bath and pulled out the plug. Phase two of “Operation Clean-o-Patra” was abandoned: I was no longer in the mood.

Opening the door of the bathroom, I was greeted by a white haze. It looked strangely as if  my home had been hastily transformed into a cocaine dealer’s production line. I followed the foot prints in the generous dusting of plaster dust  on the floor, and was rewarded by the sight of P.F appearing out of the fog with a power tool clutched in his hand, blue eyes beaming out of a powdered, white face. “Had a nice bath, then?” Hmm. Now, let me see……

I’ll leave you what I think is a very original version of “Walk like an Egyptian”. This is what happens when bluegrass country music meets The Bangles, and I think it’s fabulous.

The modern-day mother’s answer to Saturday night fever.

Over the last three days, your humble scribe has experienced heatwaves ranging from thirty-nine to forty-one degrees Celsius. During that period, I closed my eyes and felt the searing heat scorching my skin. You’d love to have been there, huh? Smacks of sun, sea, sand, beach, waves, a good book and a palm tree, right? Wrong. MM was in her bed, tackling an unwanted guest who goes by the name of “Flu”.

“Influenza” sounds very dramatic and ominously Charles Dickens-like. It conjures up theatrical images of beautiful, thermometer-toting 1940’s nurses like my maternal grandmother as they tenderly dabbed at the foreheads of virile heroes languishing in hospital beds. Erratum. It’s actually a scary scientific name for a big bad illness that preys on innocent aspiring writers and their families.

My grandmother, Laura: The beautiful, no-nonsense Welsh nurse who beat Princess Leia to the wacky hairdo.

My grandmother, Laura: The beautiful,  happy, no-nonsense Welsh nurse who beat Princess Leia to the wacky hairdo back in the 30’s.

Influenza could also be a girl’s name. You know, of the double-barrelled Mr and Mrs Tally ho-Whatnot breed. “Hi, I’m Influenza, but my friends call me “Flu” for short”, she says as she breezes into the wine bar, nonchalantly sliding her designer sunglasses over her glossy blond locks and plopping her Burberry bag ostentatiously on the table for all to admire.

If Flu really existed, I have a good idea of who she’d be. You’ve no doubt already had several run-ins with the Flu’s of this world. Flu’s the mean cow at primary school who knew that the hem of your skirt was hooked up in your knicker elastic but didn’t tell you until playtime was over. When you were older, she’s the one who stole your ideas for your creative English essay after you gullibly showed her your essay plan to help her out. (She got a better grade, whilst you learnt two new words at your own expense: “naïvety” and “plagiarism”.) A couple of years further down the line, she hunted down and relentlessly serenaded the only boy you secretly admired. You then sadistically enjoyed every minute of her demise when, in her efforts to be the most beautiful of them all, she tried to achieve a pair of well-defined Dita Van Teese eyebrows with the use of hair removal cream and ended up with no eyebrows at all, making her look more like Gollum than the sophisticated pin-up she’d been planning on. You were satisfied: for once, Flu’s one-upwomanship was her comeuppance.

Just like the female Influenza of my youth, this week’s Flu is a bad girl par excellence. She has rampaged through my body and left the building Elvis-style, leaving me feeling like Selfridges’ door mat after the first day of the Christmas sales. For three days she has possessed my body, ripping the insides of my lungs to shreds with a hacking cough that could double up as a fog horn on HMS Ark Royal.  I beat the Ready Brek kid hands down in the glow department for three days running – I was glowing so strongly that you could practically see me in the dark. My body went into automatic shut-down, and day merged into night as Flu partied and rocked inside my body like an alcohol-soaked teenager on a Project X mission.

I travelled big-style under that drenched quilt, bouncing back and forth between frozen arctic wastes, steaming swedish saunas and tropical beaches washed by heat waves then drenched by tsunamis of sweat. My body was like a slab of meat that is accidentally microwaved on “cook” instead of “defrost”: overcooked on the outside, and frozen in the middle. The horror was only alleviated by the presence of Rugby-Boy, my pyjama-clad guardian angel who appeared out of the haze with cups of tea, a thermometer and paracetamol on a reassuringly frequent basis.

English: Close up of the front of an old Riben...

The Ribena bottle of my childhood (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I am now on the mend, and am growing stronger by the hour thanks to my secret hoard of baked beans and Ribena (more about that here). I will leave you with the opening verse of “Dear Fludence”, a strange parody ofDear Prudence”, by The Beatles. I dreamt it up in a Peggy Lee/Jessica Rabbit fever yesterday. This should be sung in Siouxsie and the Banshees manner, with an appropriately pale Gothic complexion, strange eye-rolling and dislocated arm movements.

“Dear Fludence, won’t you please go away-hey-hey?

Dear Fludence, find some fresh new prey-hey-hey-heeey-yeh….

I’ve got the flu,

I’m feeling blue,

A pile of poo,

Because of you….

Dear Fludence, won’t you please go away..……”

Disclaimers:

1)This post was written under the influence of high temperature, aspirin, English breakfast tea and hot Ribena and should therefore be taken with not just a pinch, but a lorryload of salt. 2) I have no personal issues with anyone who has a double-barrelled surname, buys Burberry’s goods, wears designer sunglasses or has blonde streaks in their hair. Please don’t hit me, I’m sick. 3) In the unlikely event that any reader is unfortunate enough to be called “Influenza”, please accept my apologies and my greatest sympathy.

Why Kindle doesn’t light my fire.

This post is a reply to this week’s Mind the Gap on the Weekly Writing Challenge, which asked the following question:

How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand? 

I am sick today. My kids have kindly passed on the dreaded lurgy to the family head nurse. My lungs are trying their best to turn themselves inside out and escape from a home that is rapidly becoming a sanitorium.

So I’m going to bed. With a book. A real book. I’ve never had a Kindle, and I could never use one, except perhaps as a beer mat. Read on, and find out why.

A statue in front of a Pezenas bookstore that caught my eye (My photo).

When I’ve finished this, I’ll go upstairs to the bookshelf and run my index finger across the spines of my protégés. They are all lined up haphazardly, a mini Manhattan skyline of different heights, sizes, shapes and colours, all jostling together and crying out to be taken in someone’s hands. Each of them contains an escape route:  an imaginary realm and a fabulous plot dreamed up by someone else who has a passion for the written word. I have a vivid imagination, and tend to anthropomorphise my books. They all seem to be holding their breath in the knowledge that the happy winner will be taken everywhere with me – throughout the house, on the bus or train, in the garden. My faithful book will never have a flat battery or break down before I reach the end of the story. Lost in the depths of my handbag, stuffed in my pocket or tucked under my arm, the Chosen One resists the trials and tribulations of being shaken around, dropped or soaked by mischievous children on the beach, and remains with me until I have devoured every last word and returned “him” or “her” to the shelf.

It is difficult to choose between a well-thumbed favourite and the yet-to-be-read orphans that I regularly save from lonely charity shop shelves. Should I pick humour, a classic or a well-thumbed favourite? The choice is always a pleasure. Choosing a book to read is like picking a chocolate from a box: should I take a story with a mellow, lingering storyline? A bitter-sweet or dark suspense? Or a light, airy plot that fizzes and snaps and makes my mind explode with new emotions? Maybe I’ll take a hardback with a soft centre, or a malleable novel that is as easy to read as pouring caramel over vanilla ice cream. Touching books is of paramount importance to me; deciding from a list on a screen makes the book frustratingly anonymous, ephemeral. I often hesitate and continue along the row before returning to my first choice, holding two paperbacks in my hands and dithering.

Once my choice is made, I’ll curl up under my quilt with my book. Books are a sensorial experience, more than the cold Kindle could ever be. First there is the visual pleasure of the cover. The colours, the choice of the illustration. Then I close my eyes, flick the pages below my nose and inhale the smell of the paper.  I rarely pick up on the odor of fresh ink and new paper, a sign that I am generally drawn to comforting books whose ageing paper releases the occasional tell-tale whiff of home and family.

Then I read, playing with the corner of the page and enjoying the suspense of the developments lying in wait on the other side. Since my childhood,  books have been my springboard out of the real world into an imaginary world where I can happily soak up the emotions escaping from the ink on the paper.

One shelf of my personal playground.

One shelf of my personal playground.

One last point before I sneak upstairs to see my babies. A few days ago, I met up with a wonderful friend I hadn’t seen for too many years. When we finally released each other from a long-overdue hug, I religiously took two books from my bag and gave them to her. I had bought one for her six years ago and forgotten to post it. The other was one that she had lent me years back. When she saw it, she clasped it to her heart with tangible emotion. When she was finally able to say something, she explained that the book had been given to her by a friend who had recently passed away. So for many of us, the humble book is much more than just a physical support on which an author places words. It is not just paper and ink,  it is a physical marker of events throughout our lives, a lasting link between people and their pasts. Long live the book.

Wonder Woman and le Franglais.

Just before Christmas, PF nabbed the family car, and hence thwarted my evil plan to use the necessary purchase of pepper corns as an excuse for stocking up on British yummies and buying his Christmas present in the nearby jewellers shop. The next day I turned on the radio and discovered that if I had gone to the jewellers as planned, I would have been rudely interrupted by two numpties in balaclava helmets who had run into the shop and sprayed all its occupants generously with tear gas before smashing the glass cabinets, grabbing all they could fit in their backpacks and running away with it. So hip-hip-hooray for P.F, my loveable and unwitting hero.

However, what really surprised me for just a minute was hearing on the radio how they had left the crime scene: on a scooter. I laughed, as despite my many years in France, when I heard the word “scooter”, I imagined them making a speedy getaway with this:

trotinette

But in French, it’s actually this.

Kymco G3 Mark II.

This event got me wondering about other English words that the French have adopted and now use with great confidence, sometimes describing totally different things than their real English cousins. A thick slathering of French accent apparently makes it convincing enough for the Académie Française to slip it quietly into the French dictionary. English words are made French with an exotic little “le” or “la”, like  “le weekend” and “le burger” (which has so much more gastronomic sex appeal when pronounced “beurre-geurre”). Then there are the “English” nouns that the French have invented by simply by adding a cute little -“ing” to a verb to give it an « oh so charm– ing » lilt.  Like “le parking”: “Excuseuh-me, where eez ze parking?” When you say, “Urr, do you mean the car park?”, you will then be informed with a hurt expression that this is an English term. Si, si, Madame.

Another favourite of mine is “un lifting”, a far more honest vision of a face-lift. When your hairdresser proposes “un brushing”, she’s not going to brush you down like a shedding St Bernard, she’s suggesting a blow-dry.  Also “un jogging” is a difficult one – either a track suit or a jog, depending on the context. When you see a car accident on the autoroute, your passenger will invariably tell you to switch on your “warnings“, with the “w” pronounced in a hard German manner. Hands up who knows what “un living” is? It’s English, and it exists. Si, si. Give up? It is… a piece of furniture. You live and learn.

Tower crane operator cabin

Necessary equipment for a French facelift.

I particularly remember a language quandary at an infant school meeting. I had unwisely arrived late, and ended up sat on a tiny chair beside Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is a frightening mother. (More about her here for anyone who wants more.) She goes to all the meetings, and is always on time. Her kids never lose their fair trade lama hair mittens, but she’s sewn a printed name label into each of them- just in case. She looks elegant all the time, even with her knees jammed behind her ears on an infant school chair. I, on the other hand, am fully paid-up member of the badly-organised mum squad: I sidle in at the last minute, then dig through pockets full of paper tissues and sweet wrappers to find an abandoned colour crayon and a supermarket receipt to jot down the essentials.

The teacher smiled magnanimously at us and said “Of course, your children will need a pair of baskets and one or two sweets, as the weather may be rainy and cold during the day”. I  looked blankly at her, then peered discretely over my neighbour’s shoulder as she diligently recorded everything bar the teacher’s bra size in a dainty notepad she’d pulled from a perfectly organised handbag. She had neatly penned “2 x sweets, plus baskets” with an ultra-feminine pink biro.

I nudged Wonder Woman in the ribs, and politely whispered into her ear. She glared at me; serious parents do not talk when the teacher is explaining Important Stuff. She looked condescendingly down her nose at me before stabbing a perfectly manicured claw at her immaculate handwriting. “Des baskets et deux sweets. It’s  English, after all!” she snarled at me, then turned her attention back to the teacher before she lost Brownie points for not paying attention.

Tagada

Fraises Tagada, alias the French secret weapon against the cold. (Photo credit: hellolapomme)

I switched off and started wondering. Did the French have a secret use for candy? I thought it was just plain edible, but maybe you can be saved by pulling a family-sized bag of fraises tagada out of your anorak pocket after crashing into the freezing depths of the Alps? Set a match to them, and hey presto! An emergency sugar torch to heat everyone up and attract the attention of any superheroes who happen to be flying by. What on earth were the baskets for? Mushroom picking?

Back in the real world, Wonder Woman was gazing at the teacher and thoughtfully sucking the end of her pink biro, much to the delight of the two daddies who had been forced to go there. She nodded her head with knowledgeable approbation as the teacher explained how many pairs of spare knickers we had to provide for the day’s outing. I seriously considered hot-footing it out of the door, hiding behind her Range Rover and mercilessly lapidating her with aniseed balls before she had time to say “Harrods”.

I asked the mother on my right, who appeared less worried about being put in the corner. She had written the word correctly: “sweat”, and amiably pointed to the child sitting beside her.  I finally clicked. Think Rocky working out in the gym. Think Sarkozy running in a park. Ah, ok. A sweat shirt. The baskets turned out to be “basquettes”: laced sports shoes.

That’s your lot for now. I’m off to dream about summer, when we’ll be able to have a barbecue in the sun without hearing the Tramontane wind howling around the house. That’s right, a “Barbe- euh-cul” – which translates from the French as “beard -um- backside“. Bon appetit.

Flangiprop: a miracle remedy.

Daily Prompt: Flangiprop!

Probably the shortest post I’ve ever written….

Invent a definition for the word “flangiprop,” then use the word in a post. 

Are you pulled kicking and screaming through that door by your instinct to devour cake? Does the double chocolate devil on your shoulder get the upper hand every time you clap eyes on an upper crust? If you can’t resist the temptation of the local Pâtisserie, flangiprop is designed for you.

"Like the back of a bus"

Before Flangiprop (Photo credit: Elsie esq.)

You may just be suffering from flanbum, a common affliction affecting mothers seeking solace in sugar. The effect is gradual but becomes quickly visible to those walking behind you. Flanbum sufferers often suspect that they are being followed, only to discover that their gluteus maximus has become silently and generously adorned with a flan-like substance that is soft to the touch and absorbs shocks, but unfortunately remains unattractive. Its low-hanging position can be uncomfortable when running for the bus. 

This is where flangiprop comes in. Flan -GI- Prop does just that: props up the flan with military discipline. Tried and tested by pâtisserie-dependent mothers across the globe, Flangiprop transforms your sagging sandbag butt into a pert derrière that will turn your friends green with envy. Like double-sided sticky tape, it invisibly lifts your assets, giving visible, instant results. Check out the photos, and see for yourself. Coming soon to a retailer near you…..

Rio Carnival, Rio, Brazil

After Flangiprop (Photo credit: TerryGeorge.)