Risk of Collapse…..

Now this photo challenge grabbed me straight away: Sara Rosso invited photographers to share a picture of a sign, and explain why they used it.

I knew what picture would be just the ticket! This sign stopped me dead in my tracks as I swung around the corner of path winding through a botanical garden on the Côte d’Azur last summer. Ten feet further away on the right of the picture is a cliff overhanging the Med.

The sign post translates into English as follows: “Risk of collapse”. I couldn’t work out whether a sadistic garden employee had it deliberately planted it skew-whiff to scare off visitors, or whether the sign had been irresistibly drawn towards the cliff edge, fatally drawn by the death-threat written on its forehead……..

Needless to say, I didn’t hang about. But first I took the picture of the first inanimate object that unambiguously showed how I often feel …… as a working mother 😀

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Flower Power

Your humble scribe likes flowers and plants – as long as it’s on someone else’s patch. So this morning I was thrilled by an unexpected virtual wander around blogger Kathryn’s beautiful garden on her great blog Vastly Curious, which you can find here. The wisteria blooming out of the screen was so real that it would have any asthmatic reaching out for their inhaler. I was instantly reminded of my love-hate relationship with plants: they love to hate me.

I follow two blogs that talk about plants and flowers in the hope of discovering where I went wrong. Letters and Leaves has a twin passion for plants and literature. She ties her spade and rake to her bike, Macgyver-style, before cycling off with her book to her vegetable plot. I take my horticultural hat off to her, because she not only manages to make things grow, but actually eats what she produces.  I also have a soft spot for “A north east ohio garden”, where John Hric writes with enthusiasm about his day lilies – and the adventure of crossing them to create new flowers. His impatience to see what results from cross-breeding trials is catching, and I am intrigued by the tender way he refers to the “parents” and “grandparents” of each new “baby” he presents.

But put me in charge of John’s garden, and it would be transformed from a lush Garden of Eden to a post-apocalyptic wasteland faster than you can say “Alan Titchmarsh”. I freely admit to being the Grim Reaper of the vegetal vortex. The green finger gene deftly sidestepped me on its way through our family tree. In the same way that my mother just has to look at a plant for it to instantly transform the kitchen window sill into a dense stretch of Amazonian forest, a simple glance from MM is enough to make anything green keel over and die. Plants and I have an unspoken mutual agreement by which anything that isn’t already in the vegetable tray commits herbal hara-kiri within a month of meeting me.

Grim Reaper (advertisement)

“I hoe, I hoe, it’s off to compost you go…” MM’s alternative gardening version of the seven dwarves’ chart buster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My main problem with plants is that they are at our mercy for everything. The thing that worries me the most is that the damned things have a real communication problem. We are told that we should talk to them, but how do they get through to us? They wilt. Plants wilt to communicate every single need across a spectrum going from water to sun through soil, fertilizer, air, company, and warding off evil spirits. Now, If plants could just talk, they’d have a deal. After all, if my kids had been born with leaves instead of mouths, they would be no more than fond memories in the steaming compost heap of my mind by now. (This also explains why I did not name my daughter “Petunia” or “Daisy”; I probably would have watered her to death before her first birthday.)

So we can safely conclude that on the intelligent gift idea scale, giving MM a plant ranks 0/10. As far as good ideas go, it is on a par with asking Myra Hindley around to babysit, accepting Eva Longoria’s kind offer to drop your husband off at the hotel, or temporarily entrusting your piggy bank to Bernie Madoff. Yet despite my gold medal-winning inaptitude to take care of anything green, a strange family rite occurs in this house once a year. Every spring it is the same scenario: 1. PF buys plants.  2. PF charmingly “hides” plants beside the washing line at the bottom of the garden. 3. Children give MM the plants as Mother’s Day offerings. 4. MM digs holes in the garden for them to die in. (That sentence was ambiguous: I am of course referring to the plants and not my children).

Clementine the Mandarine, sole long-term survivor of MM's fruit boot camp. Note Paddington Bear style instructions label around neck. instructions

Clementine the Mandarine, sole long-term survivor of MM’s fruit boot camp. Note Paddington Bear-style instructions label around neck.

“Clementine” the Mandarine is the only long-term surviving contestant in the “who will survive MM” contest – Bernard the Bougainvillea quickly declined into an irreversible coma last year, and went to blossom in the floral fields of horticultural heaven not long after I’d noticed the instructions label hanging forlornly around his withered neck. As I entrusted his mummified remains to the depths of the garden muttering a perfunctory “leaves to humus, dirt to dirt” under my breath, I was elected “bad plant mum of the year” for the umpteenth year running, and informed that next year I wouldn’t be getting any more.

I lived in hope for an entire year that the plants would be replaced by their weight in chocolate, but this year PF set off undeterred once again for the local plant store, where he  gravely elected this year’s unfortunate candidates for MM’s horticultural version of Death Row. He just can’t help himself. You can give the man ten out of ten for determination: Optimism is my husband’s middle name.

Sunday lunchtime thus found MM staring out from behind the floral equivalent of the great wall of China at her beaming offspring. I was relieved to see that the choice of plants has finally moved away from the usual frail and fragile exotica demanding filtered holy water, daily meditation and feng shui-flavoured compost spiked with tropical fruit bat droppings. This year’s candidates are more resistant and realistic plants like dahlias, flowering sage and strawberries. If these don’t survive, I’ll no doubt be getting Triffids next year. I duly thanked my offspring, and went to the garden to dig the graves of my next victims. Here is the macabre scene for Act Two of MM’s tragic Mother’s Day impromptu plant play: “The Death of the Strawberry Sisters”.

The future tombstone of the Strawberry Sisters. I will play "Strawberry fields for ever" at their funeral.

The future tombstone of the Strawberry Sisters. I shall play “Strawberry Fields Forever” at their funeral.

I crouched down on the ground at sunset and levelled with my new recruits to outline their future in MM’s merciless berry boot camp. “The deal is simple: I give you water. You don’t wilt, and you give me strawberries. Any desiderata must be spelled out in stones at your side in simple code – “W” for Water, “S” for Sun, “F” for fertiliser. Last year’s winners were called the Cocktail Commando – a tough tomato trio. They were Solanum Supermen; top-notch tomatoes who followed the vegetable plot to the letter. Now it’s over to you, Strawberry Sisters. I don’t want wilting wallflowers, I want girl power. Berry nice, girls, over to you.”

They didn’t reply. I’m feeling anxious. I’m off to have a word with those weeds now – I can swear I heard them whispering on the sidelines……

MM needs YOU!

English: Uncle Sam recruiting poster.

Yes, I’m talking to you!(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

MM has entered a writing competition! My epistolary efforts and those of 18 other international bloggers were published today, and the overall winner will be announced on Friday. The theme is “Working Abroad”. It has been treated to force ten MM mental machinery, and turned into a description of the French working schedule (or lack thereof) during the month of May.

To read it, click on the link below which will take you to my entry in the most recent Expat’s Blog Writing Contest, called “Maytime Mayhem: The eye of the French working cyclone”.

If you enjoy what you read, please don’t hesitate to leave your comment directly after the text on the same page – comments are taken into consideration to choose the winning entries. Also feel free to share via Twitter and/or Facebook/ carrier pigeon if the fancy takes you. I will, of course, love you all forever and ever, whether or not you choose to read or comment 😀

The Expats blog site is a fabulous platform for expat bloggers all over the world; why not sign your blog up there too?

Link to my competition entry here:

http://www.expatsblog.com/contests/472/maytime-mayhem-eye-of-french-working-cyclone

Have a good read! MM xx

Lavatorial Lingo: The story of a woman who flipped her lid.

I flipped my lid about the family bathroom last night, and any hope for serious blogging today has gone down the pan, for lack of a better term. So today, dear readers, for your eyes only, here is the low-down on MM’s pet peeve. Get yourself a coffee now – this text started out as a small dose of tongue-in-cheek bog breviloquence, then grew into an extended version of verbal diarrhoea. Such is life when one blogs about bogs.

The evening had started off well. I had gone to bed and read a couple of chapters of an old novel from my student days, complete with the Purple Ronnie bookmark it contained back in 1988. It kind of sets the tone for this post.

My super Bottom Burp poem page marker.

My super Purple Ronnie Bottom Burp poem bookmark. An example of the sweetness and light typical of MM in her student days.

I put down the book, switched off the light and carefully laid my sinus-blocked head on the pillow. My gentle slide through Aunty Biotic’s drug-enhanced world into the arms of Morpheus was rudely interrupted by the audible mutterings of my night-time enemy, the evil “Mr B”. In the multiparous mother’s dictionary, “B” is for “Bladder”. Like the ferocious nocturnal predator known as “handus mannus” (found under the common name “the hand” in the female version of the dictionary), a bladder is, of course, masculine, like other things that bother women when they are dropping off to sleep. I ignored him. He pulled hard on the chain and rang a familiar bell in my brain, making me feel annoyingly like a servile Jeeves in a PG Wodehouse bad-bladder-boss-meets-brain scenario. And off we went for another of our futile little debates, that generally run as follows:

Mr B: “Hey! MM! You awake?”

Me: “No”.

Mr B: “You just answered. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, you are awake. I need to go.”

Me: “Bog off. The legs clocked off five minutes ago, and the brain shut down for the night two hours ago. Over and out.”

Mr B: “That’s tough, because I need to go, and I won’t let you sleep till it’s done”.

Me: “Liar. You went ten minutes ago. Put a plug in it, walnut”.

Mr B: ” Wake up and smell the coffee, honey; your pelvic floor has subsided faster than a home-made soufflé. Does 11kgs of babies mean anything to you? Girl, it’s been Armageddon down here since June 2002. And you’re the one who chose Bagels instead of Kegels after hurricane Rugby-boy blew through, remember? Wanna go.”

I heaved myself out of bed, and fumbled down the corridor in the dark – I never switch the lights on, because it wakes me up again and by the time I start dropping off, Mr B starts gushing forth with his demands again. So I dropped myself sighing on to what I thought was a toilet seat in the dark.. and fell an inch further on to cold china.

English: toilet seat up Deutsch: hochgeklappte...

Brr, yuck, yuck. Bog boot camp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no need to be Einstein to work out which gender had visited the loo before me. I have already ranted about this bog bugbear and other household task issues in this post. So here’s the deal, guys: a toilet has a seat. This rather charming definition of the word “seat” could help you understand what this strange contraption is used for: “something designed to support a person in a sitting position, as a chair, bench, or pew; a place on or in which one sits”. This dictionary definition got me thinking: I do like the idea of a pew. I quite fancy a whole new take on lavatorial lingo: meet the pee pew. Or what about a buttock bench, stool stall, poop parlour, cheek chair, or flatulence throne? The possibilities are endless.

I digress. Whatever you choose to call it, a seat is for sitting on. It is not much use to anyone if it is folded up at right angles in a vertical position. Particularly in the dark. Boys, if we girls put the sofa upside down every evening just before you appeared with your beer and the tv remote, you’d howl. So put yourselves in our position and imagine jarring your previously warmed, Mr Men pyjama-unwrapped behind on cold china and not the gentle NASA-style docking you had expected with a room-temperature plastic seat. Then realise as your stomach flops over with disgust that the person before you had probably peed from a respectable height whilst inspecting his shoes or contemplating the ceiling. Sorry guys, but here you have proof of the pud: you cannot do several things at once.

Sitting in the dark, I wondered whether James Bond aimed as precisely once he was behind the toilet door. As special force material rippling with virile instinct and the eye of the tiger, do the super heroes of the male urinary universe whistle and stare gormlessly at the ceiling as they point Percy at the porcelain? Or do they delect in the thrills and spills of dropping a ball of toilet paper in the pan and aiming at their unsuspecting victim with sniper precision for toilet time target practice? (Are soldier household toilets easier to clean than their civilian counterparts? Answers on a postcard, please, bloggers.)

Target (1952 film)

Tim’s wife gives the other side of the story in Closer magazine: “He may have been a sharp shooter on the field, but certainly not in the bathroom.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I can see from my resident brood of men is that a toilet seat is only used when they have longer-lasting duties to attend to (in mother talk, we’d crudely comment that for some dads, it’s the only occasion on which they can claim that they have dropped the kids off at the pool). We always know when you have been there, because the seat is strangely…. down. It is also horribly warm, and the floor is littered with uninteresting reading material such as the DIY shop catalogue or “A guide to snakes”, thus giving away the identity of the person who has – once again – forgotten to walk the toilet brush whilst they were there.

I was mistaken to think that this would all pan out eventually. I have tried to go with the flow, rather than flushing with rage at the idea that you are deliberately yanking my chain. You have brushed off my pleas, guys, even if I do admit that you grudgingly tried to pander to my wishes a few times. But your efforts were sadly no more than flashes in the pan.

So I will no longer keep a lid on my frustration. I have decided on action: a shit, oops, sit-in. Mr B will be delighted to learn that he and I will be occupying the pee pew all day tomorrow in a “pee-ceful” protest against the perils of the open loo seat. I will take my book and my Purple Ronnie page marker with me. And even if the Bog Brigade sniff me out, I won’t be out until tomorrow evening, when I’ve finished my book and got the protest badge of the loo seat imprinted on my buttocks.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Escape

My escape this week is into painkillers and antibiotics. The pictures I have chosen for the Weekly Photo Challenge on the same theme relate the escape theme viewed in different ways…. Hope you enjoy them.

Sinusitis and Shower Power.

I am feeling sorry for myself. True MM tradition dictates that whatever can go wrong will invariably do so at the wrong time, and my health is no exception to the rule: bugs equipped with their equivalent of blaring music, ice boxes, barbecues and gazebos moved stealthily into their comfy new quarters in my sinuses on Sunday evening and have been partying there ever since. It is a bank holiday weekend: nuff said. MM has a head like a lead balloon. Any tilting movement makes me feel like it is going to fall off and crash to the ground, before rolling along like Marie-Antoinette’s bonce on her worst day ever on the Place de la Revolution.

Having sinusitis is a little like having a massive hangover, but without having had the pleasure of getting drunk first.  Let’s just say that my head has been hurting for the last 24 hours. It is sitting on my shoulders, a huge, heavy bowling ball of throbbing pain. My eyes are standing out on sticks like wobbly martian antennae. My nose feels like it is auditioning for a role in Cyrano de Bergerac, and I could swear that my upper teeth are making a bid for freedom, like a herd of enamel horses trying to escape from their reinforced slime enclosure as an out-of tune rendition of Black Beauty is played in the background. I would love to be able to let off some of the pressure in my plumbing, but the taps are welded shut. As my kids would say, “Snot fair”. Quite literally.

Yet this morning, in true MM mode, I was determined not to let my day be wrecked by the lousy bunch of bacteria whooping it up non-stop within my facial piping. I almost imagine them as cute little one-eyed midgets in stripey PJ’s; the evil, bacterial side-kicks of Ken Dodd’s diddy men. Giggling evilly, they are clanging on my twisting facial tubes with miniature, bacteria-sized spanners, and bouncing their offspring up and down on my nerve endings, booting at the inflamed tissue with their bovver boot-clad feet. (I hasten to add at this point that I have only taken aspirin. Honest.)

A shower is a great way to wake up and get your ideas into synch. I shuffled into the bathroom for a shower, determined to make the most out of the beautiful, sunny day that had greeted my puffy eyes when I opened the shutters. I would emerge a new woman: beautiful, germ-ridden and ready for a day in that beautiful sunlight.

Some people sing in the shower, and some people scrape the dead skin off their feet with their finger nails. (Honestly. I saw someone doing this in a public swimming pool, and I didn’t know whether I wanted to drown him or run.) Others dream of their Prince or Princess Charming, winning the pools, writing a block-bluster or walking into the garage to find that someone else has cleaned it up and neatly organised the winter shoes into labelled boxes. (All the aforementioned is true for me – except for the Prince Charming, because I locked him up in the tower years ago and have been exploiting him for attention, beer and chocolate ever since.)

English: shower head Deutsch: Duschkopf mit st...

I bet that Winston Churchill made up his best speeches under the shower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I give myself pep talks in the shower – I coach myself up for my day. Imagine the Rocky equivalent of motherhood with less body hair than Sly Stallone, armed with a bottle of shower gel rather than a machine gun and sporting flabby sidecars on her hips instead of muscle on her arms.

I review everything I need to get ironed out, organised, stopped, started and otherwise dealt with, and for the time that I am under that generous stream of hot water, anything and everything is possible. Life is easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. I am invincible under that shower head, armed with my optimism, my supermarket razor and Bigfoot’s shaving foam. I have even discovered the parallel between washing your hair in the shower and putting on weight. Haven’t you?  It’s simple. It’s clearly mentioned on the bottle that the shampoo gives you “extra body”. It cannot be a coincidence – after years of the stuff running down my body on its way to the plug hole, it has worked. My rear end and thighs have slowly progressed to plumper proportions. Think about it, and wash your hair in the sink next time. Or go for the stuff that says it straightens hair instead – the worst that can happen is to end up with a butt flatter than Jane Birkin’s chest.

Gorilla Scratching Head

MM scratched her head. How could that volume boosting shampoo not only have increased hair growth, but also weight gain? (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway. I digress. Back to our sheep, as they say in France. The hot water and I listed all the important and not so important things I would accomplish today. MM in the shower is an unstoppable force who could solve the Isreali-Palestinian conflict with no more than a deftly aimed spurt of shampoo and a lick of supermarket conditioner as the bath toys look on in admiration. Mountains and mole hills were thus put back in their respective places, and the ruffles of life were smoothed away by the beating warm water. A timetable was drawn up for MM’s busy day. Translations, bills, shopping, kids, cars, cleaning…. Although my head remained fuzzy, the day’s horizon cleared in synch with the diminishing velcro on my shins. Things were looking up. The day was promising.

Then someone knocked on the door. The razor slipped. Our mater familias par excellence bent her head to stem the bleeding on her shin, and swore as the blocked piping complained and her head hurt. I looked through puffy eyes out of the window at the sunny weather outside. Hell, things could be worse…..  This could at least provide a strange and pointless post for my blog. My readers now know that I wash on a regular basis….. pass the aspirin.

Life without literacy.

Reading and writing have always been as essential to me as love, laughter, oxygen and food. It is part and parcel of everyday life; I cannot imagine living without this ability. Life would be hell.

So when I discovered that a friend was illiterate, my stomach overturned. I asked her how she managed. Imagine a world where you have no idea what is written on the paper that you pull out of that envelope. On that packet. How can you live without this essential tool for communication?

My hedgehog book sits beside my bed. A meeting between a child and a novel creates beautiful things.

My hedgehog book sits beside my bed. A meeting between a child and a novel creates beautiful things.

The answer is dependence. That terrible state I never want to be in is her everyday situation. Her husband reads the notes from school to her, and her daughter reads the homework instructions out loud so that she can understand. Her daughter is sweet, understanding and fun. Like her mum. She reads for her mum. Her mother trusts her to tell her the truth. A delicate equation of trust and dependency between a mother and daughter that will continue for as long as they need each other, in a world where a child is the eyes of her parent, reading the news before passing it on. When she grows older, will she filter out the bad stuff, like we do as parents for our children before they know how to read? The necessary role reversal that had occurred so naturally shocked me.

But there is no firewall, nothing and no one to protect her if one day those helping hands suddenly disappeared. This dependence shocks me; how can illiteracy still exist in this day and age? The clock is ticking, and nothing has changed. Time that could be used to make things better is running through the hourglass.

I tried to motivate her. A simultaneous desire to hug her and shake her out of her lethargy and into action. Sign up for classes. You’re so young. Be independent. Rely on yourself. Be proud. Do it. Prove to yourself that you love yourself, and if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the sake of your daughter. Please. Don’t rely on others for something so essential. Respect yourself. React. In this day and age, it is wrong to accept this kind of situation as a fatality.

I have suddenly realised that like so many other things in life, like love, health and happiness, things that I had always considered a basic staple of life are a privilege. That although we grew up in the same world, at the same time, she didn’t get the same chances as me. I have taken a real slap on the face. I am thankful for having parents who refused to let me let go, who cocooned me in a world full of books, literacy, library visits, who encouraged me and pushed me to never be dependent on anyone else. Education is a right. But it is also a privilege.