Why I will never be a Febreze Fairy.

MM, the Fallen Febreze Fairy, as drawn by Rugby-boy.

MM, the Fallen Febreze Fairy, as drawn by Rugby-boy.

PF knows that I am not the kind of woman who hits the Prozac if HMS Bogbrush doesn’t circumnavigate the toilet rim on a daily basis. He will arrive home tonight, and sigh in despair. As his forehead furrows, his eyebrows will lunge towards each other like two caterpillars that are hell-bent on copulating on the end of his nose. (OK, so caterpillars don’t copulate. But I bet they would if they could.)

He often enquires why I’m not houseproud. The only answer that comes to mind immediately is that if I was, he wouldn’t be able to draw hearts in the dust to declare his undying love for me. But there are other reasons why I don’t have “Purgo, ergo sum” tattooed on my forehead. So here is why I will never be a Febreze Fairy, in five easy points.

1)  I am not my mother-in-law.

Don’t get me wrong; I admire her. At my age, she was Martha Stewart with Sophia Loren’s dress sense. I’m not. She attained the paradoxical summits of immaculate fingernails and a spotless home. I won’t. I accidentally knock the shower faucet and drench myself when I clean the bath. She doesn’t. In short, we’re different. So now for the visualisation exercise, PF: 1) Compare me with your mother at my age. 2) Hit your head against the nearest wall. 3) Get over it.

2) The time invested is simply not worth the fleeting result.

I have carried out a detailed feasibility study of this cleaning lark, and I have to inform you that whatever the activity undertaken, all visible evidence disappears in the space of a few hours.

Let’s illustrate this with laundry – a time-waste tragedy in six acts. I have copied this reference document for you from MM’s “Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework” (available from Prozac Publications):

Extract from "Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework" (Prozac Publications).

Extract from “Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework” (Prozac Publications).

Conclusion: Anyone who gets a thrill out of a pile of clean laundry should immediately consult a therapist and enroll for sky-diving lessons.

3)  I want to share the fun.

There are exciting hidden realms in this house just waiting to be explored. The laundry basket and the washing machine are both impatient to get to know more members of my family. They also have a distant cousin called Washing Line who lives at the bottom of the garden – her relationship with me is so insular that she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. She would welcome a visit from you.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind my offspring that the dishwasher has not yet learned how to fill and empty itself. Here’s a helpful hint: the distance from the table to the sink is equal to the distance from the table to the dishwasher (this domestic equation is often referred to as “Kitchen Pythagoras”). You guys should locate the toilet brush, too, or you will literally be up shit creek without a paddle if I ever I go under the wheels of a bus.

4) The looming danger of HWS:  “Hamster Wheel Syndrome”. 

Housework is both futile and ephemeral in this house. I can hear that clock ticking as I run around the wheel in the full knowledge that I’ll be doing the same thing again tomorrow, the day after and the week after. Hoovering a carpet for the second time in ten minutes because the dog has baptised my initial efforts with the saliva-drenched burrs she chewed out off her fur is hardly my idea of a rewarding occupation.

5) Cleaning is asking for trouble.

Maybe we could call it “maternal Murphy’s law”: Cleaning Karma bites you on the bum every time you wriggle your fingers into those Marigold gloves. If you clean the windows, the sky darkens and it immediately rains cats and dogs. Just washed the floor? The cat will throw up on it. Cleaning the bathroom before Rugby-boy returns home from the pitch is about as optimistic as getting out the Wedgwood when King Kong pops round for a cuppa.

DIY is also a common culprit in this equation: please tick the guilt-trip box if you have a) sanded down a wall just after I dusted, or b) rinsed out a paint bucket in the bath I had scrubbed in a rare surge of enthusiasm five minutes earlier.The greatest paradox of cleaning is that it’s only noticed when it’s not been done. I tried doing it regularly for a while, but nobody noticed….. until I stopped doing it.

Someone clever once said something about a great woman being behind every successful man, but I don’t think that being a sharp shooter with the toilet duck was one of the criteria he had in mind. So this Febreze Fairy Failure is off to walk the dog in the sun. If you want to cast a few spells with my magic wand while I’m out, help yourself: it’s beside the toilet on the right.

IMG_9364

The Febreze Fairy popping out for some fresh air (artist: Rugby boy).

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The Expat Birthday Party.

In my early twenties, I au-paired on the Cote d’Azur. The family I worked for were wonderful – they were caring and fun, and had their feet firmly anchored on the ground despite the privileged lifestyle they led. Then one day I accompanied my “charge” to an expat child’s birthday party, and discovered the buttery upper crust of the international expat pie……

We walked through the automatic gate into a child-sized garden party on a lush green lawn. Think Buck’s Palace, without the Queen. The entire knee-high cast of a Shakespearian tragedy was running riot across the garden: Portias, Ophelias and Octavias dressed in designer frocks vied for superiority in the “my daddy’s car is bigger than yours” stakes. I ground my teeth and squeezed Laura’s hand. They had probably all been force-fed Mozart in the womb, followed by a moonlit jacuzzi birth and intensive developmental training with flashcards until they were old enough to enroll for Prodigious & Precocious –the human equivalent of the Kennel Club.

Two groups of adults met my eye: girls my age, grouped together near the children, and a group of meticulously groomed mothers whose hair had been blow-dried and lacquered into submission. They had set up a maternal HQ beside the pool, and were holding tea-cups and hee-hawing beside a teak garden table, their Estée Laudered lips bared to show immaculate white teeth and pink gums. My instinct told me that these ladies were on first name terms with their dentists.

Birthday cake, Hamstead style

Forget chocolate cake with Smarties: this is the ideal birthday cake for the jet-setting expat kid. (Photo credit: dan taylor)

On closer inspection, my doubts were confirmed. Forget the grindstone – the only thing these mothers had ever kept their noses to was the Gucci shop window. Their definition of financial difficulty was getting their Visa gold card jammed in their Hermes purse. They rolled their “r”s and doubled their barrels, and their vowels were longer than Cousin Itt’s hair. Whilst their husbands had good jobs, money and influence, they had embossed invitations to luncheon parties, private swimming pools, masseurs, canine psychotherapists for their chihuahuas and most probably Louis Vuitton nappy disposal bags.

I introduced myself then listened with interest to the battle of one-upwomanship that was being played out centre stage. Two mothers had drawn their superlative swords and were openly competing for their offspring’s superiority in art, music and sport -it was a very amusing maternal equivalent of bragging about penis size. I avoided the temptation to make facetious comments about their budding Einsteins and Beethovens, and took Laura to see birthday girl.

Portia didn’t see us at first – she was busy excavating the contents of her right nostril. She removed her finger from her nose and carefully inspected her catch before popping it into her mouth and chewing it with relish. “Hi! Fishing good?” I enquired. Portia glared at me, snatched the gift from Laura’s hands and ripped off the paper before dumping it unceremoniously on a huge pile of French designer clothing and politically correct hardbacks for precocious readers. A cruel smirk spread across her face. “Oh, a gift that cost a tenner. How cute of you, Laura. Really, you shouldn’t have…..”. A ripple of sardonic laughter ran through the nearby group of children. My jaw dropped. I had never seen such cruelty in five-year-olds.

Portia’s moment of glory as Chief Bad Fairy was interrupted by piercing screams from the bottom of the garden. Ophelia had carried out a nifty putsch on her host’s sparkling new swing, and was defiantly shaking her head at another child who wanted to take a turn. She apparently got a bigger kick out of depriving the others than from the swing itself. As the competitor for her throne whined, Ophelia remained firmly welded to the ropes on the swing and screamed into her struggling au pair’s face.

Pitbee

Ophelia – without her muzzle. (Photo credit: ambiebambie39507)

Glancing up the garden, it was clear that Mumsie had chosen to turn a blind eye. To no avail, the au pair tried again and again to remove the screaming despot from her throne. Ophelia opened her mouth and dived towards the nanny’s arm. With a primitive grunt of victory, she buried her teeth in the awaiting flesh. The pit bull in a party frock then got down from the swing, wiped her mouth on her cardigan and trotted over to her mother. Tugging on her skirt, she pointed at the nanny and tearfully complained to the manager.

Ophelia’s mother looked at her in surprise and registered the sorry state of her nanny’s forearm. I waited with interest to see how she would react. Would she explain that nice kids don’t bite? Make her apologise? Take her home and deprive her of Nutella for the forseeable future? Or just slap her backside? Nope. She turned to the other mothers in desperation, and said “Can you believe it? This is the twelfth nanny we’ve had in a year, and we still haven’t found one Ophelia likes. Can you recommend anyone, girls?”

My jaw dropped for the second time, and Ophelia ran triumphantly back to the swing. As she expertly wrestled Portia’s little brother off the seat, I asked the other nannies what had happened to the previous au pairs. Ophelia’s nanny rubbed her arm and told me that the eleven other nannies had left with enough tooth marks on their skin to play the role of human remains on the beach in the next Jaws film. This was a whole new world for me. Laura grinned, and we went off to find some cake. Cake is a universal value. Cake never lets you down. Long live cake.

Post entered in the DP Weekly Writing Challenge, 8th July 2013.

Urban Street Art

Once upon a (not so long) time, I promised you more pictures of local street art by talented youngsters. Here they are. As atypical parents who like showing their children all the facets life has to offer, we got them to climb over wooden pallets and walk through broken glass and empty aerosol cans into abandoned buildings to discover a whole different kind of art. Needless to say, they loved it. I’ll be back tomorrow with some more writing. Now pull out the popcorn and dim the lights….

These are my own photos. You can visit the artists’ website at  http://www.jeaze-resa.com/

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A Letter to Life

letters

letters (Photo credit: Muffet)

Dear Life,

For the last few days I’ve been feeling down. Let down. Because of you. So I’ve decided to write to you and ask for a little indulgence. I doubt that writing a letter to life’s CEO will do much good, and I know that complaining is a sterile thing to do. But at least I’ll get it off my chest and you’ll know how I feel.

Here’s the low-down: recently you’ve given people I love a hard deal. Once again. Not just small crap, like the car breaking down, or the hamster escaping and getting eaten by the cat. (That’s sad, but people would get over it, even if the hamster didn’t). No, you put your hand in your sackful of life’s surprises and sent them the big one. Serious stuff meaning that these special people and their families have woken up in a scary new world of hospitals, specialists and medication.

My first reaction was to hate you. I wanted to roll on the floor, have a tantrum and scream, “It’s not fair!” I didn’t though, because my Dad was already striding out of a corner of my mind to pick me up off the floor, hug me and tell me that it’s not fair, but life’s not fair.

So I’m writing to ask you to have a good think about what you’re doing, because once again you have picked on people who are good eggs and just don’t deserve this. (I don’t think anyone does, but they most definitely don’t.) You have inadvertently ladled out misfortune to wonderful people who have always taken good care of themselves and others.

Nobody can vote you out of office, and it looks like we’re stuck with you, warts ‘n all. So please think things over carefully before you roll the dice again. Because strangely enough, we all believe in you – whether we call you Life, Destiny or God, we have unconditional faith in the future. You have perhaps noticed that paradoxically, the worse things get, the more we insist on believing. So be warned that when you make things tough for us, we just pull on our boxing gloves, join forces and fight back with the best weapons we have: courage, faith, family, friendship, love and determination.

Call me naïve and childish if you wish, but you don’t have to be the bad guy. Take it all back, put it back in your bag and throw it down the deepest well you can find. You can call it whatever you like, and so will we – a miracle, medical progress, or a stroke of luck, each one of us will interpret it in our own way. But please let these special people get back to living the full, beautiful lives they deserve, and revise your attitude to life. It’s precious.

Thanks for reading. If you want to talk, you know where to find me.

(Very) Sincerely,

MM.

Tuning in to Radio Badger.

My phone startled me out of my work on Sunday. There was a young Frenchman on the line who made an effort to pronounce my name correctly, and politely requested five minutes of my time for a survey to establish which radio stations the French population enjoyed. As I was working on a Sunday too, I felt sorry for him. I decided to break my vow to reply “Bugger off and find yourself another victim”, and said “yes”. (nb: Kathryn, I did you proud! )

Italiano: Radio Marea (1950)

Italiano: Radio Marea (1950) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I think he was surprised by my answer. We are not on the same wavelength about radio stations in my family, leading to regular fighting over the twiddler on the radio. (Yes, I know that word doesn’t exist. Or didn’t. It does now.) We don’t listen at the same volume, either. (I thought that it was older people who needed to turn the volume up high, yet the opposite phenomenon occurs in our home).

NRJ is the kids’ favourite radio station. I can’t stick listening to it most days, although I would maybe admit after a few G&T’s, breathing in a balloon full of helium and sticking a 40 denier stocking over my head that Manu does makes me laugh in the morning.

PF listens to classic FM. This transforms a short family car trip into a long torture session. For my offspring, it is the auditive equivalent of having cocktail sticks slid under their nibbled teenaged nails. The boys whip out the teenager’s equivalent of musical earplugs for instant relief, whilst Little My wrinkles her nose and rolls her eyeballs in despair.

The last time PF did it, we were on our way out for the day. The tinkling piano music in the car deadened my senses and made me feel like I was in an airbus rather than a Citroën. My enthusiasm for the day waned as I saw myself transmogrified into a kind of Alice-banded member of the Parisian bourgeoisie, twin-setting her way across impoverished Provence in her private plane to show little Charles-Henri how lucky he was to be born with a silver ladle stuck up his Burberry-clad rear end.

I tried very hard to resist, but on arrival at our destination, I cracked. Pinching my nose closed, I held my mobile phone skew-whiff in front of my mouth with my little finger sticking out sideways, and launched into a loud Air France trolley dolly announcement. Imagine Pam Ann with a French accent, and you’ve got it (there’s a video for you at the bottom).

“Lay deezeuh andeuh Dgenteulmen. We ‘ave landeed een Lamaloueuh-les-Baings hairporteuh. Ze wezzeur eez fiyn. Pleeaseuh reemaineuh een yor seets unteel ze haircrafteuh ‘as stoppt mooveeng, andeuh be kairefool when openeeng zee over’edd lockeurs. Sank yio fore flyeeng MM hair-lines, an we ‘opeuh to see you agin soon”.

PF tried to look unimpressed, but the laugh escaped along with his opinion that we were all Philistines.

If I’d been alone, I would have tuned in to local radio. Here in the South of France, my radio is set on “Radio Badger” as soon as the kids leave for school. I call it “Radio Badger”, because the first time I came across it, the announcer had run all the words into each other, and combined with his strong accent, “Radio Bleue Hérault” turned into “Radio Blaireau”: “Radio Badger”.

FEMALE CONDITION BY THE EXAMPLE : N°3

The queue of candidates for Radio Badger’s phone-in competition read up on their encyclopedias as they waited for the final clash. (Photo credit: Clapagaré ! (Les chiquitos)

Radio Badger is the bee’s knees for anyone who enjoys observing human nature. The phone-in competitions are hair-raisingly nerve-wracking. Two housewives, both entrenched in the organza-curtained living rooms of their Wimpey homes, clutch their receivers in sweaty, manicured hands as they battle to the death to win one of two prizes. These are usually a Radio Badger watch or a ticket to see one of their geriatric French idols crooning through his false teeth at his last concert in Sète.

What is important to them is to win, because all their friends from the knitting club are listening in and they don’t want eggs Benedict on their faces for the next WI sale. The clock ticks as they hesitate before breathlessly delivering their reply, whether it is the name of the river running through Pezenas or how many Front Populaire strikers enjoyed boeuf bourgignon every Tuesday back in 1935.

This week, both candidates were disappointed. Alice lost the game as she wasn’t able to say who dubbed Columbo’s voice in the French version of the series. Régine won, but she didn’t want the Radio Badger radio because she had already won one a month ago. She didn’t want the latest CD of Maxime Le Forestier, either. She grumbled and said that she would have preferred the Gypsy Kings (no doubt desirous to twirl around her kitchen in her 1950’s pinny, using a pancake pan as a guitar and the washing-up brush as a microphone).

The man organising the competition was a born negotiator and moderator. He suggested phoning back again on another day when she could maybe win what she wanted. After twenty years negotiating with disappointed Languedoc housewives, he could no doubt settle current discord in Turkey by distributing complimentary Radio Badger oven gloves to all concerned. Radio Badger rocks. Before we go back to the studio for the news, here’s Pam Ann, complete with PF’s airbus music.

Photo challenge: Curves.

Curves. They are everywhere. intentional, unintentional. Natural or man-made. In the street. In your plate. In church. In the garden. Here are a few I’ve come across on my travels with Candide Canon. Click to enlarge…..

Kiss and Make Up: Retail Therapy with Little My.

My daughter is a serial shopper, whereas I am as happy about setting foot in a shopping centre as Brigitte Bardot would be with the prospect of a full-time job in a fur coat factory.  So when Little My asked me for an afternoon at the local shopping centre this week, I bit my lip.

Shopping seen by Little My.

Little My’s shopping philosophy: “Shop till you drop”.

It would be easier to convince Robert Mugabe that democracy is a viable form of government than it is to get me to partake in retail therapy. But Little My has had a tough time recently, and deserved a bit of quality time. So I grabbed my bag and set off with my beaming daughter to the nearest shopping mall.

As we walked along chatting, Little My suddenly grabbed my arm and yanked me out of the sunshine into the dark interior of what smelled suspiciously like a brothel. I choked on the unexpected lungful of eau de pong. My eyesight adjusted to the darkness, and I gaped in horror. She had done it again. I was in a “parfumerie” -a high-street den for felines who spend more time in front of the mirror than I spend in front of the fridge; women who pluck their eyebrows, pay to have their pubic hair ripped out by wax-yielding sadists, and touch up their lipstick during their coffee break (presumably incase George Clooney bowls through the door on an unexpected visit). In short, women from another planet who scare the pants off me.

I resisted the temptation to do a runner, and meekly followed my ten-year-old to a make-up stand. Little My was enthusiastically inspecting a strange collection of mud cakes, and started rubbing brown gunk on the back of my hand. “It’s foundation, Mum,” she kindly explained to her cosmetically challenged genitor. As I protested that I knew what it was, a voice piped up at my side. “Are you looking for something in particular, Madame?” Swinging around, I relished seeing the sales girl’s realisation that it would take more than a swish of her magic mascara wand to improve my sagging façade. Her eyes peered out of a generous circle of shimmering, electric blue eyeshadow. Combined with her white shirt and close-fitting black suit, she bore an uncanny resemblance to a penguin wearing Sir Elton John’s glasses.

I'm still standing

Another long day in the make-up department drew to an end as Elton John Penguin sang  “Blue eyes, baby’s got blue eyes…” (Photo credit: rogiro)

After establishing that my skin is dry and that I am allergic to most face creams, she proposed a “bébé crème”. Although this may sound very sexy, elegant and classy to  French women, I found it more reminiscent of blotchy babies’ bums than a beautiful complexion. She reassured me that I had got it all wrong: Blemish Balm Cream is the new Rolls Royce of the make-up world, le must for a flawless complexion.

But what about madame’s allergies? Another black and white apparition hove into sight, also sporting electric blue eye sockets. Cue Jaws film soundtrack. This was a solitary killer whale, cruising the diva-infested depths of the shop in search of prey with the ideal combination of low self-esteem and a high bank balance.

She glowered suspiciously from beneath a mercilessly lacquered black fringe and inspected me from head to foot. Once the customer scan had been completed, “ Tomboy Alert” flashed in red lights in the thought cloud above her head. “If madame has allergies, madame will have to buy a Clinique BB cream,” she snarled, pointing towards what was probably the most expensive brand in the shop. I informed her that you could probably feed a family for three days with the price of one pot. She hitched one nostril upwards in a condescending snarl and wished me a good day, then flicked her fins and glided off into the darkness of the anti-wrinkle cream abyss, where she had spotted an unsuspecting bottom-feeder seeking a solution for facial gravity.

As Elton John Penguin sorted out a tester so that I could blotch in the privacy of my own home, my eyes roamed along the shelves. It’s my problem: I can’t switch off from work. I find spelling and grammar mistakes everywhere I go – see the post about Super Saver Tomato for more about this foible.

Sure enough, there it was, screaming at me:

A pot of BB Crème will be awarded to the person who pot the missing letter.....

A pot of BB Crème will be awarded to the person who spots the missing letter…..

I resisted the temptation to correct it immediately with a red lip liner, and diplomatically suggested checking if the word “beau” required an “x”. Elton John Penguin appeared dubious, and darted off into the seaweed to seek the advice of Killer Whale.  Five minutes later, she tapped me the shoulder, and reassured me that it was fine the way it was…. “because beau is an adverb”. Little My looked at me, and her mouth opened. It was my turn to drag her out of the shop.

“Beau is an adjective, Mummy. And it should have an “x” at the end. Didn’t they go to school?” Little My concluded that although it’s great to know how to apply make-up, it was tragic to have the IQ of a pot of Nivea. I think I enjoy this shopping lark after all…..