A colourful slap in the kipper from Mother Nature.

Today was programmed for cleaning and tidying the family cave, but I couldn’t resist sneaking into the garden to take a few pictures after the rain. I was literally gobsmacked by the amount of colour and life clamouring to be seen out there.

I’ve had fun reducing some of these photos and creating only glimpses of them. I have realised just how much beauty we miss in the simplest things, and how beautiful they can be.

Here are a few of them, with a special thought for snow-bound fellow blogger Perpetua 🙂 Have a lovely Easter!

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Mug shot musings: the first step towards a French licence.

I have been driving on my UK licence since I came to live in France. My recto-verso sheet of A4 paper follows me everywhere, and the photo card is stashed away in my purse. It is never taken out – not even when the gendarmerie stop me to check my paperwork.  My face of 13 years ago beams out of the accompanying photo card into the depths of my purse, where it brushes shoulders with my French Health insurance card, the hallowed gang of French supermarket loyalty cards, till receipts and packs of stamps. She never sees the light of day.

Never, that is, until I dug her out with horror recently. A series of hilarious posts by Pecora Nera in his refreshingly funny blog “Englishman in Italy” brought up the topic of exchanging his UK licence for a full-blooded, racy Italian version. Thanks to Mr Black Sheep, I woke up to the fact that my own photocard was no longer valid. Not just a little, either. Light years.

I squinted at the photo, and it struck me how the constipated expression we have in photo booths makes us all look like potential villains on our driving licences.  There’s a very fine line between a prison mug shot and passport picture.

Al Capone. Mugshot information from Science an...

Exchange the suit and tie for a roll-neck sweater, put a wig on him, and you have MM Capone’s driving licence. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now I know I should have dealt with this earlier. I had prepared the paperwork nearly a year ago, when I (exceptionally) did a three-point turn over a continuous white line on an empty road, managing to do so a few seconds before a gendarmette (exceptionally) passed by with flashing lights, and hauled me over. When she glared at my dog-eared licence and told me that I should have got it exchanged for a French one within three months of arriving in France, the mustard got up my nose (as they quaintly say here) and I made a HUGE mistake. As Best Female Friend squirmed in the passenger seat and sent me panicked “DON’T DO IT” signals tapped in terse girl morse code on her thighs, I informed Miss Gendarmette with a self-satisfied smirk that the official government site said otherwise. In for a penny, in for a pound, I continued to knock any hope of absolution on the head by telling her that I was entitled to drive on my UK licence until I committed an offence. Which, of course, I had just done. Result: four points off my henceforth obligatory French licence, and a 90 euro fine.

Citroën C4 Gendarmerie model

 Gendarmette’s blue pumpkin with matching blue light (Photo credit: francisco.j.gonzalez)

Nearly a year later, thanks to my anglo-italian Black Sheep friend, I’m finally revving things up to get my pretty pink French licence, which is too big to fit into my purse, cannot be folded, and promises to resist life with MM as well as Paris Hilton could hold out on a Cornish cliff top in a force eleven gale. I hate administrative formalities, and would like to have a multi-pass to cover everything, just like Leeloo Dallas in The Fifth Element. I dream of popping on an orange wig and flashing the card at everyone from the supermarket cashier to the Gendarmerie, saying “MM Dallas, Mooltipass”, as I swan my way through formalities and get on with life.

To sort this palava out, I decided to take the frog by the legs, so to speak, and went to get my passport photos done. It proved to be a difficult mission, as the photo booth’s screen was ominously black. I rounded up the supermarket security guard and the reception desk assistant, and we checked out the machine with an expert eye. A dodgy wire hanging from the ceiling terminated in a three plug socket, dangling dangerously in thin air behind the machine. Although the machine was plugged in, the screen was blank. I suggested kicking it to see if there was a Twix or a can of coke stuck in it somewhere, and the security guard laughed. The assistant wasn’t impressed, though. She inspected her vicious pink nails, wrinkled her pierced nose, and looked at me like I was a pile of particularly ripe camel dung before pulling a large bunch of keys out of her pocket and forcing the maintenance door open, revealing the dusty innards of the machine. “There’s no button to press”, she announced ominously, apparently disappointed by the lack of a huge red flashing light and a sign saying “Press Here To Destroy the World”. She sighed, rolled her eyes, and slammed the door shut in despair. The machine promptly hummed and the lights lit up. I thanked my two apprentice technicians, and watched with amusement as the young lady trotted back to her desk, jangling her keys and zipping up her fake leopard skin fleece.

Now we’re off for stage two: filling in the papers and taking them to the Préfecture. Watch this space…… And if you’re feeling generous, take a minute to pop over here and support MM in the Expat’s Blog Writing Contest! 😉

Happy Birthday, Mr Blog!

Birthday Cake

  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Hi! Pull up a chair and grab a glass of virtual champagne and a handful of peanuts! Mr Blog and I have been scribbling in cyberspace for a whole year now, and boy has time flown by! All in all, a wonderful experience, accompanied by regular readers whose blogs are great reading -from the States to Malaysia, from Serbia to northern Canada. From flower genetics to family fun, from expatriate toilet humour to intrepid home-building in France, from Croatian adventures to the thrills and spills of Italian administration and sausage dogs, your adventures all make a big difference to this peanut-addicted expat lover of the written word….. So a heartfelt thank you to all of you. You pep up my day 🙂

 

M.M.

 

P.S: If you’d like to read a little more about the region I live in, written in true M.M. style,  pop over to read my entry in the Expats Blog Writing Contest. Did that sound like an order? Sorry 😉 If you’re feeling really generous, you can even leave a comment for me. You can find it here. It is open to listed expat blogs all over the worId. Check out the expat blogs for your area, and why not sign up your own blog there?

 

The bad girl in the letter box.

Grab that paper bag and breathe…… In. Out. In. Out. Any other day, I would have be tempted to add “….and shake it all about” before enthusiastically dancing the hokey-pokey, but not today. As I clocked the beautiful weather and the tulip leaves poking out of the earth, my good mood plummeted: I realised with horror that this beautiful weather also announces her arrival. She’ll be back soon. Like every year. Lurking dangerously at the bottom of the letter box and cackling sadistically. Meet CERFA 2042, the evil French income tax form.

Evil Queen

Be afraid. Be very afraid. She may be lurking in your letter box: CERFA, the evil Queen of Tax Administromia. (Photo credit: DoodleDeMoon)

How I long for the British PAYE system. Filling in a form to get money back every year is somehow so much more motivating that having to calculate how much income tax you have to pay to the French state. It’s a bit like having to choose your own poison. So when I pull CERFA out of her tricolour cellophane sarcophagus, I generally scream with a mixture of rage and anxiety at the sight of the A3 recto verso sheet of A-level maths exam, ironically dubbed “the short version” by the powers that be. (Apparently Cerfa’s big brother is called “the full version”: if he ever turns up in my letter box, I’m bailing out in my Tardis.)

Wonder Woman makes short work of the beast: She digs the appropriate paperwork out of well-organised files, fills in the forms with self-satisfied flicking of hair and noisy clicking of perfectly manicured fingernails on her pink calculator, and has the damned thing back in the post before you have time to say “tax office”. But I am not Wonder Woman. So step two kicks in: a state I call “tax form denial”. Whilst Good Sense and Responsibility batter at the door, Cowardice holes up in a paperwork-resistant bunker and pulls out a bar of chocolate to share with her best chum, Procrastination.

Procrastination is a great pal of mine. She and I have been wandering along life’s road together for a long time now; she’s always there to comfort me when something I don’t enjoy rears its ugly head. With her help, I finish all my work well ahead of deadlines for as long as Cerfa is around. I suddenly and inexplicably become an excessively responsible pet owner and take Smelly Dog for very long walks, making sure she gets enough exercise even if it is pouring down with rain. I could even justify cleaning the car with a toothbrush. For a short period, my family is astounded to have a clean home and is perplexed to see me being so enthusiastic about the laundry that I practically rip the clothing off their backs to have an excuse to put a load on to wash. Yes, I admit it: I would rather gouge my own eyes out with a blunt spatula than pamper to the evil Cerfa’s needs.

Pandora's Box Side

Pandora’s Box (Photo credit: yum9me)

By two weeks before the deadline every year, the drawer of my desk becomes my personal Pandora’s Box, and every time I walk past I swear I can hear growling and scratching in its murky depths. I generally give up at this point and hit phase three: “hit the problem before it hits you”. After this date, time strangely accelerates, children mysteriously get sick, and before you know what’s happening you only have a few hours left before the clock strikes midnight, and you are turned into the tax equivalent of a pumpkin. Anyone who has experienced the stress of pounding on their keyboard with sweaty fingers as they try to submit their tax form at the same time as the rest of the French nation (-except Wondeure Woumane, of course, who is already in bed with organic, planet-friendly night cream on her wrinkle-free face-) will understand what I am getting at.

You have to be a hybrid of lawyer, mathematician and accountant with nerves of steel to fill in a French tax form. Before completing this administrative marathon, I make sure that I have not drunk any coffee and put away any sharp objects. Then I get the paperwork together. These receipts, bills, invoices and certificates from the bank are vital if you hope to knock some euros off your tax bill. In my case, this involves emptying drawers and boxes of paperwork located anywhere from the garage to the bedroom, until I emerge clutching my precious paperwork, muttering triumphantly like Gollum after a day looting Tiffany & Co.

First comes the expenses part of the form. If you don’t think that 10% of your salary is enough, you have to do a few complicated mathematic equations based on the power of your car, and the distance travelled. Then it’s time to tally up the value of P.F’s packed lunches for the entire tax year. Followed by the interest paid on the mortgage and the cost of insulating work on the house, and extra paperwork for my freelance work…. By the time I have finished filling in the form and submitting it online, I feel nauseous and light-headed, and have the distinct feeling that the Tax Office know everything there is to know about us bar the content of PF’s Tupperware boxes and the size of his underpants.

The first Captain Underpants book.

Tax forms are a pile of pants.  Does the Tax man wear Captain Underpants undies? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The French government often debate about whether immigrants should be let in, and on what conditions. I’d say it’s easily solved. Give them a sheet of paper detailing a fictitious home, family, income and various additional criteria (childcare, mortgage, work to improve home insulation, free-lance working parent, a pension plan, a given number of children of which one or two study, etc). Give them a calculator and the form, and two days to complete it. If you succeed without the help of humans, alcohol or Prozac, you can stay. Hey presto, immigration problem solved. I’m going into politics…….

Future tense: Lift the barriers.

Today’s photo challenge was to post a photo of something in my present expressing hope for the future. Here it is: the hope that one day, life will be an open road for our children, who will dare to brave the forbidden and question the unjustified limits that may bar their way…..

Freedom.

Lift the barriers.

One in a Million.

Today I got home, grabbed my camera, and shot right out again. Nature had slapped me in the face and got me thinking. Today’s lesson in life, provided courtesy of the flora and fauna of the local vineyards, is as follows: If you are tempted at times to see yourself as plain, ordinary and insignificant in the great scheme of things, think again. You are an essential part of the big picture. You’re one in a million.  Here’s the proof.  Have a beautiful day.

ORDINARY?

                                           ORDINARY?

 

EXTRAORDINARY.

                                             EXTRAORDINARY!

 

My Menagerie.

I really should be working. But up popped this little gem from Daily Prompt in my mail box: “Do you have animals in your life? If yes, what do they mean to you? If not, why have you opted not to?”

As we didn’t have enough on our plates with a home that is a permanent hard-hat area, two jobs and three children, we decided to add a little spice to the family equation and get some pets. Here’s a quick introduction to our menagerie.

Firstly, meet Smelly Dog. Smelly dog is six years old, and she is my best friend whilst I’m working alone at home. She lies on the ground beside me in the kitchen as I type away, and yelps, snorts, whines, growls and twitches her feet as she chases after what I presume to be animals and bad guys in her sleep. I’d love to be able to see her dreams.

She has a soft spot for cheese of any description, and for some reason thinks that rolling herself copiously in animal dung (the stinkier the better) makes her smell good. We go for long walks together, and when I need to talk, she lies her head on my lap, listens patiently, and doesn’t repeat what I tell her to anyone – not even the cat. She defends us ferociously – at least from a distance. Her radar hearing picks up on footsteps before we can see anyone anywhere near the house.  Once the alarm has been rung, she hides behind us and barks protectively. She has a perfect memory, which makes visiting the vet’s a complicated issue – I generally have to cajole her and usually end up carrying 28 kilogrammes of shaking Golden Retriever into the waiting room.

Water: her favourite hobby.

Water: her favourite hobby.

Now meet Murphy. Murphy is my unlucky black cat. We adopted him when his predecessor decided to tackle a truck, and lost the battle. (As my mother rightly said, with a name like “Calamity”, he was doomed from the start anyway.)

Murphy was found on a petrol pump in a box containing 12 kittens. We adopted him from the vet’s when he was three weeks old, along with a stock of bottles and special kitten formula. He looked like a kind of off-beat gremlin. His gut dragged along the ground, and he belched copiously after each bottle. Needless to say, the kids fell in love with him immediately.

It’s just as well, as Murphy carries his name well. Initially chosen because he is the same colour as MM’s favourite Irish stout, his name is now associated more with Murphy’s law, which dictates that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Now aged seven, Murphy takes on a typical resigned look every time we get near the vet’s. Here are a few picks of his various injuries. He has fallen off the roof, been run over by a car, and his face has exploded (see here for that story).  He has probably cost us more than our three children combined in medical fees.

Murphy doesn’t walk – he prances effeminately along on rubbery legs, delicately placing his paws one in front of each other as if he was the feline equivalent of Claudia Schiffer prowling down the kitty-cat walk. Until this year, Murphy hated being cuddled, except when he asked for attention himself.  I swear that if he was human, he would be an ungrateful, sardonic, self-indulgent and narcissistic teenager complete with gothic complexion and a pierced nose. His no-nonsense, no frills realism struck a chord in me. I related to this cat, as I am very much the same most of the time and am not permanently pawing at my family for cuddles.

The only cats P.F ever liked got killed or disappeared. He saw Murphy as a parasite until he exploded (Murphy, not P.F. P.F does explode from time to time,  but figuratively speaking, not literally). The postapocalyptic Murphy is unrecognisable, asking for cuddles, leaping up on to PF’s lap for cuddles, and sleeping between us on the pillow. Miracles apparently happen – with the help of a large dose of anaesthetic.

Murphy doing his legendary impression of a ready-to-roast chicken.

Murphy doing his legendary impression of a ready-to-roast chicken.

Happily, any doubts about him having died during post-explosion surgery and been replaced by an identical cat at the vets have been dispelled by the fact that he continues to eat too much and redecorate the house: Murphy is bulimic, and chooses a different place to throw up each time.  We are laying our bets on Murphy living to a ripe old age and putting that old adage about 9 lives into disrepute.

Then we have the Daltons, P.F’s babies. They are around three feet long, lie curled up together in a big ball, and don’t do much except eat mice and crap. Oh, and help me get rid of unwanted visitors. “Do come in for a coffee. I just have to feed my snakes first” is a very efficient way of finding out just how much those visitors really want to see you…..

Last and not least, there is Jamie the 3rd. Yes, you got it, his two predecessors were sent down the great white telephone to goldfish heaven. Jamie the First appeared in Little My’s water-glass at her uncle and aunt’s wedding in Paris, when the magician unwittingly chose the only child who was in the middle of moving across France to benefit from his Jesus style “fish and water” act.  Little My was thrilled, and was not going to give up her new friend for all the money in the world. When PF suggested that she freed the little chap into the nearby lake, he was told where he could stick his advice in no uncertain terms by a determined little girl with a trembling lower lip. Jamie survived his trip and finally died six months later in his new home in the South of France. Brigitte Bardot would have been proud of the kid.