Of Royal Babies and Birthday Bilbies.

I don’t usually post twice in a day, but only fools never change their habits. The 22nd of July was a historic date. It is the date of birth of a very important person. I am of course talking about my littlest little sister, LLS, who hit the age of 30 on Monday with both feet firmly anchored in childhood.

However, a lady called Kate decided to give birth in London on the same day, and took the media coverage right away from my littlest little sister’s claim to fame for the day. So for what it’s worth, I’m putting the news out to the world: LLS hit thirty on the 22nd, and she rocks my world more than the royals could ever do. So happy birthday, littlest little sis, I love you!

Littlest little sister didn’t get any of the cool gifts that are lined up for baby Prince (although she would probably welcome the donation of the amount spent instead). I’m not sure she’d appreciate a box containing baby gear and condoms (a thoughtful offering from Finland – if Will & Kate are short of a bob or two, they can apparently upturn the box and use it as a crib), or a £15,000 designer bracelet doubling up as a bum cream dispenser thanks to a nifty little holder. Then there’s the merino wool shawl from New Zealand that took 280 hours to make. (I hope Baby R doesn’t poo in it because it must be bugger to wash. But if they can’t get the stain out, it doesn’t matter – apparently they got the same one for William’s birth. Thumbs up for the imagination in the gifts department, NZ…)

However, Kevin Rudd, Australian Prime Minister, came up trumps with a gift that got me scratching my head: An zoo enclosure named after the Royal babe, and $10,000 worth of research funding in his name to save an endangered species called the bilby. $10,000 doesn’t go far in research, but it’s very generous nonetheless. But why choose the bilby rather than the Northern hairy nosed wombat or the terminally cute Mountain pygmy possum?

Out of curiosity, I googled the little critter. It is a marsupial, and is really rather cute. But what is the link with the Royal baby? Once I’d seen the picture, I couldn’t help wondering if Australia wasn’t quietly poking fun at our Royal family. After all, check out these pictures and judge for yourself: on the left is a Bilby (stuffed), and on the right, Royal Babe’s grandfather (unstuffed, of course).

English: This is a stuffed specimen of the ext...

English: His Royal Highness Prince Charles, Du...

Photo credit for both photos: Wikipedia.

I may have a twisted mind, but I find that there is a disconcerting similarity between these two pictures. My suspicious mind is wondering whether Australia wouldn’t be having a quiet laugh at the Royal family’s expense…..  What do you think?

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MM’s Supermarket Showdown.

I wouldn’t like to be a supermarket cashier. It must be a boring job, day after day. But today, any compassion I had for cashiers disappeared in a puff of half-price supermarket smoke.

Bigfoot, Little My and I were at the “grown-up” supermarket, the one where you bump into people like Earth Daddy and the Dinkies (more about them here). We were on a mission for Perrier and shampoo. As carrying packs of water does nasty things to your fingers, I took a shopping trolley and wheeled it around the store.

We got our handful of items collected off the shelves in no time at all, and got to the tills to discover queues that were depressingly reminiscent of Heathrow’s immigration control. Then I saw it: the oasis of sanity, the spanking-new “scan your own” section. It was gleaming invitingly at the end of the store, its four pristine tills waiting patiently for customers to cheer up their lonely existence. We scooted over to it and started scanning our items with an enthusiastic Little My as chef d’orchestre. Each time she flashed the bar code in front of the optic sensor, she was rewarded with a loud and satisfying “bleep”. I felt warm inside to see how happy she was, and was wondering how we adults lose sight of these small thrills in life when my maternal nirvana was interrupted by a loud scream of horror.

An indignant voice shouted out, “Ah, NON, Madame!!!!!” I lifted my head from the depths of the shopping trolley to find out which poor Madame had committed a sin worthy of such vehement hostility. Had someone tried to leave the supermarket with a saucisson stuffed up each sleeve and a honeydew melon craftily hidden in each cup of a FF cup bra? Was Super Cashier about to save us from a terrorist who was on the point of stealing the day’s haul of money-off tokens?

Calamity Jane (album)

Remove the smile and imagine purple overalls, and you have the ardent defender of scan-your-own territory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t have time to see much, as my field of vision was immediately blocked by a faceful of purple overalls with an official badge pinned over a heavy boob. A pair of hands firmly grabbed my pack of Perrier and launched it unceremoniously back into my trolley. “Madame” was none other than little old me, who had apparently just committed the most heinous sin of the shopper’s universe. Meet MM the criminal, aka Materfamilias la Maudite.

A pair of hostile blue eyes drilled into mine from below disapproving eyebrows. The hands settled at hip level, Calamity Jane-style. Her fingers were twitching, no doubt ready to whip a hand-held scanner from the depths of each pocket and code-bar me into submission if I moved a muscle. “NO TROLLEYS IN THIS AREA, Madame!” the purple lone-ranger yelled at me. “Take your shopping elsewhere! Honestly, some people….”

My children looked on anxiously as my infamous “ancient camel dung” expression slowly appeared on my face. The kids know that this bodes no good for the recipient of my wrath. I levelled with the prison-warder-come-cashier. “Oh, yeah? Says you and whose army?”

“Says Le Règlement, Madame. No trolleys here. It says so here”. She bristled with self-importance and pointed triumphantly at a drooping sheet of paper that was forlornly taped to a sweets display above our heads. Its corners were at half mast, clearly in mourning for the cardboard support that didn’t make it on the long journey from the administration office.

I smiled at her and informed her that the “notice” in question must have been taped there by the Green Giant – she could probably understand that even for a tall person such as MM, it was too high to see, let alone read. I savoured the sight of my vertically challenged aggressor looking up at the sign before she spat “No trolleys!” at me for the second time.

Bigfoot was remarkably elegant, telling Madame that we only had 14 items, and that the recently discovered notice gave an upper limit of 15. Madame said yes, but in a basket, not in a trolley.

English: Carrinho de supermercado adaptado par...

Shopping trolley complete with get-away vehicle for supermarket sinners (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By this point, the mustard was really getting up my nose. Excuse the pun, but I was inches from going off my trolley. Forget Attila the Hun, this was Attila no Fun. She pulled her special badge out of her pocket, waved it ostentatiously across the screen as if it was a VIP pass to the backstage door at Cannes film festival, and stabbed evilly at “cancel” with a nail-bitten index finger.

“I thought this system had been put here to make shopping easier for customers, and for yourselves. Why do you have this rule, anyway?” I enquired. MM lethal humour was bristling on the end of my tongue, ready to be deployed.

She flared her nostrils like a silverback on crack, and bellowed: “Because it’s the rule! We don’t ask why! We obey the rules! That is all! No trolleys, Madame!” She had obviously  been promoted from the status of cashier to the vertiginous heights of Queen of the Scan-your-own Kingdom, yet didn’t feel any need to understand the rules that she enforced with so much breast-beating. She accepted the rules passively without questioning. She had been given power, and she was wielding it as coldly and methodically as Genghis Khan.

I took a deep breath. This conversation was going nowhere, fast. It was time to wrap up and go before the ice cream melted.  “Here’s a little advice for you, sweetheart: if you want to enforce a rule, it’s good to at least know why it exists. It’s healthy to question things – give it a try. Oh, and I’m sure that the little old lady who has to take a shopping trolley for three packs of water will be delighted when she keels over in a queue because you’re too small-minded to bend the rules you can’t explain. Have a good day”.

As a responsible, caring citizen, I felt it necessary to warn the (pleasant) cashier who took care of our shopping afterwards that there was a Rottweiler on the loose without a muzzle and wearing a shop uniform at the scan-your-own section. You can never be too careful: dogs aren’t allowed in supermarkets. It’s no doubt written somewhere in Le Règlement….

Snapshots

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MM is back after a few days away from the ranch. Here are a few pics of what I saw there.  Back to service as usual soon – now I’m going to get my head around all the stuff you lot have written in my absence…..

Beach babes.

The sun battered through the windscreen as we crawled our way at snail pace through the afternoon traffic. People were making their way to the beach on foot, toting lorryloads of parasols, beach mats and toys. A woman in vicious pink flip-flops flapped across the road in front of our car, dragging a screaming child in her wake. She was scantily clad under a tight, crocheted dress, resulting in a disconcerting effect of blancmange trying to escape through a fishnet stocking.

The roundabout was jam-packed with determined holidaymakers and locals, all jousting for a place in the traffic. My muscles crisped as P.F swore in his usual elegant way and threw himself into the battle. I stamped my foot on non-existent brakes in the passenger foot well, grimly realising that just one season driving here would be enough to make my pelvic floor tauter than Paris Hilton’s G-string. Hell, my idea could maybe save the French state millions in postpartum physiotherapy.

P.F is no beginner in the bumper-car game; his studies in Marseille made him a champion of driving in the French vehicular jungle. He pushed dexterously in front of a battered Citroën. The oily, sweaty, and determined local clutching the wheel promptly hit his horn and waved his arms around in indignant French semaphore. P.F. grinned, waved at him and yelled “Thank you, so kind!” out of the window. There was no doubt about it, we were on the infamous Côte d’Azur.

After squeezing the car into a minute parking space, we finally unloaded the kids and beach towels and headed towards the sea. A pocket-sized piece of beach was all that central Juan les Pins had to offer. The remaining 90% of the pristine sand was covered with empty restaurant tables and plastic recliners, all jealously guarded by seasonal pit bulls who were apparently awaiting the improbable arrival of George Clooney and a team of German top-models to break the monotony of their day.

St Raphaël: under all this there is a beach.

We found a space between a family of four and a young couple on the miserably small area left for the population to squabble over. It  strangely resembled a refugee camp, with blankets, parasols and beach tents jostling for space. Laurence of Arabia’s eyebrows would have hit the roof at the amount of rubbish required for the average French family to survive 6 hours on the sand. Whilst towels and a bottle of water sufficed for our beach needs, the rest of the population had brought everything bar the kitchen sink: blankets, tennis rackets, parasols, beach mats, inflatable crocodiles, footballs, sun-tan lotion, half of the shelf at the local magazine kiosk, mobile phones and an icebox full to the brim with victuals. This junk was then distributed over the minimal space available on the sand, hence creating a protective barrier to keep other people at bay.

I hate swimming (I learned how to swim for the same reason that I learned to run: it’s what I would term a survival tactic). However, I have found the ideal activity to avoid getting bored whilst my husband swims to the buoy and back and my kids build multi-storey castle complexes for miles along the beach:  I “people watch”.

“Voyeurism, aha!” I hear you mutter under your breath. Non, non, et non, mon ami! Does anyone remember those “I spy” books? You could tick off multitudes of trains, birds, buildings…. Whatever subject floated your boat, you could buy the book and get ticking. I have my virtual list of beach populations, and check them off every time the kids hit the waves.

“Blancmange in a fish net” arrived, and stripped off to reveal newly imported white flesh wrapped in a mini-bikini and decorated with maori tattoos. She pulled a cigarette out of its box and lit it, then left the fag hanging out of a corner of her mouth, squinting and blowing smoke into her child’s face as she tied his float belt around his waist. She launched him seawards with his bucket and spade, then collapsed on to her towel hissing like a punctured tyre, a copy of Gala magazine clamped between her strassed purple claws.

My trained eye wandered off to investigate further. All my favourites were on the beach, and I almost squealed with the frustration of having forgotten my notepad and pencil to jot everything down. This was the ultimate whammy for my collection.

They were all there. The cool young couple who barely acknowledge each other’s presence, sending text messages (perhaps to each other) between sips of Perrier water. The poser papa with white-framed, Polnareff sunglasses, prancing through the surf and tossing his curly locks in the sea breeze whilst his silent, wiry wife desperately tried to control his gobby offspring. The bored grandparents. The pseudo-philosopher, ostentatiously waving his copy of Bernard-Henri Levy in the air and thoughtfully chewing the end of a brand new pencil. The African selling beach junk, a tower of straw hats listing dangerously on his head. The aspiring pin-up. The English tourist with his beer belly flopping over the elastic of his pink Hawaï trunks. His son, yelling “Did you see a shaaaaaaaark?” at his sister as she emerged from 60 cm of urine-saturated surf wearing matching Barbie flippers, mask and snorkel. The Thai masseur, hoping to be paid for the pleasure of feeling up complete strangers on their beach towels. The ogler, strutting along the water’s edge like Aldo Maccione, ignoring the vast turquoise waters with his head turned at right angles to shamelessly evaluate the boob community on the beach. The topless wonder, breasts sagging like grandfather clock pendulums, checking from behind her heavy Prada sunglasses that the ogler had seen her. Even the sunbathing granny was there, uncomfortably stretched out across the rocks in a grey swimsuit. She was so motionless that when I first saw her, I thought she was a piece of driftwood.

Cool couple in foreground, Poser papa Polnareff in background.

And there were my all-time favourites: The over-concerned parents with the three-year-old they still see as a baby. You know, the frustrated kid with the huge hat, sunglasses and enough buoyancy aids to refloat the Titanic. This child runs more risk of getting lost or injured because he can’t see where he’s going than getting sunburned -he’s so generously smeared in sunscreen that if they tried to pick him up he would shoot out of their grasp into the sea, where his factor 700 Bergasol would bleed into the Mediterranean and kill off more species than the Erika.

Anyone else who indulges in people-watching?  Hands up, folks, don’t be shy! Chances are that if you smiled at any of this, you do it too…..

Post scriptum: This is a post written last year; I am reposting it as a) it went unnoticed and b) I am currently on holiday in the same context, so i would have written about the same topic anyway!

In Hope of Thunder

Summer has arrived with a vengeance – a heavy blanket of dusty heat has descended on us. The cat has melted into a black puddle in the dust and cedar needles. Eyes closed, he is waiting, somewhere between consciousness and sleep, for the evening wind to rise and release him from the sweltering heat.

The shutters on our old building have all creaked closed in unison against the omnipresent heat and glaring sunshine. Behind them, in the gloomy coolness of the thick, nineteenth century walls, the older generation living on either side of us has gone to bed for the sacrosanct siesta until the heat-imposed curfew is over. To my left, memories of the good old days are no doubt being selected and revived in ageing but agile minds. To my right, I suspect that the perfect revenge is being concocted for these idealistic newcomers with too much enthusiasm for their own good.

The washing hangs rigid and still on the line, baking in the heat that rises from the dusty ground. Cicadas scratch away relentlessly in the pine trees behind the house, a constant and audible reminder of the suffocating heat. Towards nightfall, they will grudgingly give way to the nurse toads and frogs and their lazy, night-time concerto of whistles and chattering.

Clouds are gathering now, expanding like sky-born shaving foam. The trees are motionless. Nature seems to be holding its breath in expectation, in the hope of rainfall. “Maybe tonight….” the garden seems to whisper.

I also long to hear the distant rumbles of thunder and see the sky light up tonight. I will get out of bed and pad barefoot down the corridor in the dark, enjoying the basic, primal pleasure of walking on the cool tiles. Then I will step on to the balcony, and watch the storm approach as the pine trees sway in anticipation. My skin will prickle as the chilly storm air hurries past me into the house to announce the imminent arrival of redemption from the heat. I smile: peine perdue, my friend. The sleeping occupants are busy chasing dreams, and will not notice your presence at their sides.

lightning from Hell

Photo credit: phani_astronomy®

I will count in my head after each lightning flash: one elephant, two elephants, three elephants…. before the rumble and crash of the thunder. I will enjoy watching nature’s self-indulgent show as the blue and white streaks rip the night sky from top to bottom, tearing a strip out of the dark blanket wrapped around our world and illuminating the night for a few seconds. I will laugh at Mother Nature as she cheekily switches the lights on and off in this world we mistakenly believe we can control.

When the first drops of rain fall on my face, I will return to bed, and listen to the rain and the soft swishing of the cedar branches as they brush against each other. Goosebumps  will appear on my skin as the thunder rumbles away across the sky towards other awaiting storm lovers.

The plants will silently and gratefully soak up their long-awaited nightcap, and the amphibian concerto will start up again with renewed enthusiasm. I will breathe in the heady smell of wet earth as the cool breeze blows across me. Then I will pull the sheet over myself, smile, and fall asleep again.

FEED ME.

Murphy

Murphy.

Murphy minced his way through the front door, his rubbery legs crisscrossing in a delicate cat walk strut. He sat down at my feet, curled his tail neatly around his butt and stared up at me. A sphinx-like black statue. He meowed delicately – a quiet, meek squeak. His eyes widened, apparently surprised by his pathetic feline performance. He got back up on his paws, stretched lazily and padded around me, rubbing provocatively all around my legs with his black tail stuck up at ninety degrees like a flagpole. Sat down in front of me again. Stared up at me. Then let loose a loud, grating yowl.

FEED ME!

It occurred to me that Murphy doesn’t care much about anything. He can eat stinky cheap cat food at any time of the day or night. He couldn’t give a monkey’s uncle about meal times or his weight. He has no issues with eating week-old leftovers from the kitchen dustbin. He doesn’t care if his bed is covered in hair, and is a nocturnal nomad – he will even swap sleeping places all night without losing his sense of well-being. He rolls in the dust when he feels like it, licks himself clean and starts again. I want to be a cat.

Best of all, he doesn’t care. Nor does he love anyone. No care, no love…. no regrets. No existential dilemmas. No feeling bad about scratching a kid who tried to impose a hug on him. No angst. Just food, sleep and leisure on his own terms. The simplest possible way to exist. We are just the hands who feed him. When he decides. Stroke him. When he decides. He doesn’t have any feelings for us, or for anyone else. I am the cat that walks alone. Feed me, and I will tolerate you. Stop feeding me, and I’ll go elsewhere. He only shows emotion when other animals venture into his territory. Then he renews his vows with the dog and chases the intruder off the property before returning and asking for food.

FEED ME!

Murphy demands again. The yowl has developed into a gravelly and insistent miniature roar that is edged with irritation. I comply. He throws himself at his bowl, and noisily wolfs down his food without the slightest sign of thanks or recognition.  Animal instinct. Then he pads softly into the lounge; curls up in a neat ball on the armchair and transforms into a soft toy. He languorously licks his paws, and inspects me as I open the mail, tut, curse and shred the paper into confetti. His baleful eyes observe me from the depths of a compact black fur ball. Detached and free of emotion. He sniffles and snores as I make phone calls, press stars and hashtags and see my time go by as I wait for a stranger to reply. To give me a solution or to create a new problem.

Murphy’s paws twitch in his sleep. Does he dream? Does he awaken with his stomach flipping over like a greasy egg when he thinks about what lies in wait for him each day? Does he summon up his courage before stretching and stepping out? Does he decide again and again to be a new cat, to stop doing this and start doing that? No, he’s just true to himself. I want to be a cat. Eat. Sleep. Play. Meow.

FEED ME!

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