Rest In Pisces.

Jamie's last resting place.

Jamie’s last resting place.

“Dearly beloved.” It was worthy of a Sicilian funeral. Little My’s Best Female Friend cleared her throat and grinned at her pal from below the syringa tree at the bottom of the garden. The cicadas scratched relentlessly in the hot stillness of the Provençal afternoon. Sitting on one of the garden chairs that the girls had neatly lined up for the funeral, I repressed the urge to laugh at Gargamel, strategically positioned to spy on us through the hole he had crafted in his garden wall.

“Please bring me the deceased”. Little My rose from her chair and shuffled forwards. The recently bereaved goldfish owner was stylishly clad in a frilly black taffeta skirt, a spaghetti strap top and bright green flip-flops. She proffered the lifeless body of Jamie the goldfish,  nestled in the palm of a bright red washing-up glove: the matriarch dictator, alias yours truly, had insisted that Jamie’s state of decay required protection for her hands.

BFF opened a small wooden box, and Little My ceremoniously laid her fishy friend in the bottom. (Sorry, Granny, the box you kindly gave Little My several years ago was the ideal size for a goldfish coffin, and is now buried at the bottom of the garden. We sincerely hope that you bought it from the Salvation Army shop).

The funeral eulogy was short and sweet. “Jamie will be missed. He was a good goldfish. He loved water, and played in it every day. Rest in peace”. BFF flashed a smile at her pal, then they both dissolved into peals of laughter. As Little My peeled off her rubber gloves, she muttered: “Hey, you missed something out!” She spoke into the box. “Marie and Eva are both sorry you died too. Well, they would have been if they’d known, but they’re on holiday”.

BFF passed the miniature coffin to the bereaved owner, and enthusiastically grabbed the garden spade whilst Little My sanctimoniously closed the lid on Jamie’s 18 months of watery existence. The coffin was gently laid at the bottom of the hole dug by the girls earlier that afternoon. BFF shovelled earth over him, then the two friends stamped the earth down and laid pebbles in the form of a cross on the freshly turned earth.

Silence ensued. BFF’s anxious face betrayed the fact that she had noticed Little My’s distress: despite the fun they had derived from this unusual activity, her friend was now feeling sad. She stretched out her hand and gently squeezed Little My’s. The two little girls held hands and looked solemnly down at the grave.

“I’ll miss him,” Little My said with a wobbling voice. BFF didn’t say a word, and put her arm around her pal. I fought the lump that rose in my throat. BFF turned Little My to face her, and stroked her cheek compassionately. As tears welled up in my eyes, BFF said, “Hey, don’t worry. If you miss him, we can always dig him up from time to time”. Now that’s what friends are for.

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One Fish, Two Fish? Dead Fish: Goldfish.

English: An image of a Common goldfish

RIP Jamie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jamie, the kitchen-dwelling goldfish, is no more. He is no doubt at the gates to that great goldfish bowl in the sky, finding out if he will spend the afterlife swimming around Paradise Plaice or grilling with the despicable small fry in the Deep Fat Fryer.

I found him flapping around his tank in distressed circles yesterday morning, bumping clumsily into his Easter Island statue. He then went into a slow tail spin that ended in a soft landing on his pottery fish. Neptune looked on with compassion as Jamie wallowed helplessly on his side like a drunk marooned on a park bench.

As I strode over to check him out, something viscous squished between my toes. Suffice to say that MM now has irrefutable proof that it is indeed unlucky to cross the path of a black cat, particularly if it has confused your kitchen floor with its litter tray overnight. With the relative hindsight of a whole day, MM can also assure French readers that walking in la merde with your left foot does NOT bring you good luck. Even (-or rather, particularly-) if the foot is bare.

Jamie was as off colour as a vibrantly orange goldfish can be, and I prepared myself to inform Little My that her finned friend was in his final death throes. I’m sure that the sensitive readers are no doubt already dewy-eyed, muttering “poor kid” and grabbing a box of paper tissues before continuing this post. Don’t bother. Little My has a very candid approach to life, hence her nickname. I was already sure that I wouldn’t have to deal with histrionics – a fish is a fish. A dying fish, however, is fascinating.

I called my daughter and brought her to the patient’s bedside. Her eyes widened in surprise. She put her hands on her hips, then stooped over the tank and bellowed with authority, “Oy, you! You can’t die now, we just gave you a bigger tank!” The kid is reality on legs. I had to agree with her. He had a groovy tank with fake plants, Neptune and his sidekicks to keep him company, a gravel bed to sleep on, regular food and water changes, and a REAL Easter Island statue (albeit a little one). It was downright ungrateful of him to try to die on us when he had the goldfish equivalent of Bucks Palace all to himself.

Whilst I ruminated about ichthyic ingratitude, Little My scooted over to the cutlery drawer and returned with a spoon. She carefully prodded the prostrate orange comma on the gravel bed. “There! That’s better! See, he’s straight!” Jamie flapped his fins bravely for the sake of appearance, then bellied up like a walrus, eyes bulging and gills heaving.

With the help of her faithful spoon, Little My transferred the patient to an improvised intensive care unit – the kitchen sink, filled with cool water. She gently sprinkled fish flakes over the surface, a little akin to a fisherman’s widow throwing flowers over the choppy black waters of the North Sea.

Operating room in the Elliot Community Hospital

The tender beginnings of goldfish surgery. (Photo credit: Keene and Cheshire County (NH) Historical Photos)

Meanwhile, a rapid diagnosis by a friend online had revealed that Jamie had a problem with his swim bladder. (Bladders are becoming a recurrent leitmotif on this blog.) Thanks to the link she provided, I discovered that all was not lost. The solution was easy: I could feed him a frozen pea to help him digest. I kid ye not. Pea sorbet for bloated bladders. Having no frozen peas available, the only other solution the website proposed was to take the fish to the vet for an operation. I was amazed. Do they operate under water with the help of a surgeon fish? Does the goldfish get the equivalent of an oxygen mask with water in it instead? Or does he have to hold his breath out of water, like in “Finding Nemo”? One day I will grow up. But not now, I’m having way too much fun.

Rugby-boy turned up, and they coached Jamie with enthusiastic fish physiotherapy. Aided by high-tech spoon support, Jamie swam a labourious lap of the kitchen sink, encouraged by raucous applause from my offspring. As Rugby-boy and Little My downed tools, victorious, Jamie rolled his flank sideways and bit the dust. Or rather, chewed gravel. (He’s a fish. Or was.)

“Mum,  I think he’s dead. Can we bury him in the garden?” Two enthusiastic little faces turned towards me. “Can we, Mum? Pleeeease?”

“Of course you can. Just make sure you bury him deep enough, or the cat will find him”.

They appeared satisfied. That was that, then – and family life immediately returned to normal. “What’s for lunch, mum?” The answer was automatic: “I dunno, kids… Anyone for sushi?”

An Open Letter to my Phantom Follower.

The phantom follower.

The phantom follower.

Dear phantom follower,

WordPress recently sent me a mail informing me that you have subscribed to my blog – once again. Although I am flattered by your repeated attentions, I am also somewhat flummoxed. I have lost count of the number of times you have signed up over the last few months. I am at a loss to understand why you feel the need to subscribe on such a regular basis; most people subscribe just the once, not once a week.

I am aware that changes of heart can happen; after all, everyone has probably made the decision to unsubscribe from a blog at some point in their blogging experience. That’s life, after all – a blog that initially has the literary attraction of double chocolate cake can lose its appeal and transform into the reader’s equivalent of rice pudding if the reader and/or the writer’s personal interests evolve in different directions, leading to an inevitable rupture as the two bloggers’ paths each go their separate ways.

Such is life. However, changing your mind then changing it back every other week is a surefire sign that you either have no clear idea what you’re after, or you’re a trouble-maker (bloggers call them “trolls”). I did wonder if you get an inexplicable thrill out of hitting that follow/unfollow button – some kind of very sad attempt to control people’s feelings at the press of a button. Surely not. Maybe you have problems with your eyesight and are confusing it with the “Like” button, but it would be very pretentious of me to suggest that. Oops, too late.

You piqued my interest enough to google you, for the same reason that I google numbers that appear too frequently on my mobile phone. You don’t appear to be a blogger. Herr Google informs me, however, that you have a personal diet plan. This put a new slant on the mystery – maybe your hunger pangs wake you at night, and you subscribe to the same blogs again and again in a desperate attempt to counteract your craving for calories. If this is the case, may I suggest that you open the fridge and succumb to the temptation of a large, creamy yoghurt instead? Alternatively, you could busy yourself with some scrapbooking – apparently it is one of your interests. How do I know? Herr Google relates that you have followed and unfollowed a scrapbooking blog until the blogger was so ired that she posted about you in a name and shame campaign. I won’t be naming you, nor shaming you. The first in case you are looking for free publicity (goodness know why) and the second because error is human and you may just have very bad keyboard skills.

I’m sure you don’t want to drag this kind of bad reputation around. Please feel free to read my post “The serial liker” to get a better idea of my attitude to blogging etiquette. Although technically speaking you are a serial subscriber, you’ll get the general gist. And without wanting to be rude, when you’ve finished reading, please make up your mind and stop sitting on the fence. You are free to sign up and read……. or to have a chocolate biscuit or two in front of the telly instead. I promise I won’t tell Herr Google.

Thank you.

Bloggingly yours,

MM.

Written in response to “The Daily Post”, 13th August: “The Art of the Open Letter”.

A Night in the Jungle.

Tarzan and His Mate

“The next time you want Friday night take-away, ask for something easy”, he muttered. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was rooted to the spot with a strange combination of curiosity and fear. The sleeping dog on the parched wooden platform was blissfully unaware of the lion padding along the branch towards it. The golden beast leapt on to the sun-bleached wooden planks and moved softly in on its prey, leaving a track of huge paw prints in the pollen dust. It sniffed at the dog with obvious pleasure, mane hanging inches above it, and stared down at its unsuspecting lunch with crystalline yellow eyes.

I surveyed my jungle surroundings in a terrified silence. How had I got here? And why on earth hadn’t I applied Mum’s golden rule of spending a penny before I left? My bladder was sending me flood warnings. But moving now would sign my demise, even if I would unwittingly save the dog from becoming exotic cat fodder.

As I damned the minute storage capacity of my bladder, it occurred to me that super heroes never need to pee in moments of dire importance. Indeed, if you check out any action or adventure film, you will see that they are all are award-winning bladder control experts. Have you ever spotted Tarzan lifting his lion skin for a salutary slash against a mango tree before continuing his swing across the jungle? When Bruce Willis battles against the clock in a 24-hour race to save New York from a headcase with a weird accent and an evil laugh, do we ever hear him gasp, “Hang on a tick, guys, I’m gasping for a wee”? Nope, it’s no more probable than seeing Batman sneak behind a gargoyle for a ‘phew’ with a view over Gotham City.

For the super heroines, the same rule applies. No previous childbirth must be a sine qua non condition for feminine superhero status as, obviously, a pelvic floor that has been subjected to the anatomical equivalent of crapping a rugby ball three times in a row could  not fight the scum of the Universe without mandatory pauses written into the script for toilet stops. For all her tomboy attitudes, Calamity Jane is never seen to stoop so low as to squat behind the stables so that she can face the bad guys without crossing her legs. As for modern-day heroines like Lara Croft and Catwoman, I suspect they stopped all liquids for weeks before being literally poured into their outfits. They have been sealed into their attire so tightly that they are technically unable to eat or breathe, let alone go for an intrepid tinkle. Unless, of course, there is a reason behind those knee-length black boots….

Halle Berry as Catwoman in the 2004 film.

Am I alone to harbour doubts about Catwoman’s crouch and her fathomless boots?  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But I digress. The lion continued to delicately inhale the scent of the dog. I glumly realised that I if I didn’t act soon, I would shortly go down in history as the most unusual death in family history. Whereas Einstein and Curie’s descendants could hold revered silences as they remembered their exploits, my grandchildren would be able to guffaw at the after-dinner story of the grandmother they’d never met – the one with a kamikaze bladder that blew itself up. Alternatively, I could move, and go down in the annals as the woman who got her feet tangled up in her underwear as she tried to flee from a hungry lion. I grinned to myself as I imagined the front page headlines:  “Jungle Jo gets knickers in a twist and dies in not so fast food tragedy”.

The lion opened its jaws in a lazy yawn, and the dog opened its eyes. It stared up at the lion, then to my surprise showed complete disinterest, and closed its eyes again. It breathed in, then exhaled in a long, satisfied sigh. The lion lowered its weight to the ground, placed its head gently on the dog’s ebony flank, and fell asleep.

“What the hell?” I said. Or tried to say. My jaw wouldn’t open, no sound came out. A voice behind me said, “Strange phenomenon, hey? Welcome to the park. I can explain, if you like”. Simultaneously, an arm snaked under my T-shirt and around my waist, and to my immense irritation, a warm hand was placed confidently over my navel. I indignantly slapped the hand away. “Woah! Hold your horses, Indiana Jones,” I snarled. “There are limits, sunshine. I’m married, I need to pee, and I’m sure my husband is around here somewhere!” The hand immediately returned and roamed on, undeterred. As I swung around to slap the mystery man I heard the roar behind me. I opened my eyes to flee, and saw folds of crumpled linen. No lion. No jungle. Just strangely familiar bedroom furniture. I registered the sound of the toilet flushing. And PF’s grinning face.

So although I finally got to the bathroom, and escaped from the lion, I never found out how a dog and a lion can be pals. However, poor PF has learned – once again – what happens to a husband who fiddles with his wife’s dreams.

A Tale of Fetid Fridges and Runaway Reptiles

MM is back after a fabulous week away, during which she avidly soaked up friendship, family, fresh air, open spaces and glorious views. Oh, and a few beers too. I slept like a log, surfacing to the sound of cow bells every morning for seven heavenly days.

The return home was gradual, as if we needed weaning out of our holiday stupor. We took the long road home along beautiful country roads. PF whistled happily and I realised that life was fabulous. My brow furrowed: if things are too good to be true, it generally means something is about to go awry.

On our arrival in our neighbourhood, a premonitory sighting of Gargamel did nothing to reassure me. He was parading on his terrace in his underpants, his beer gut drooping petulantly over his knicker elastic. We lowered our heads and headed through the front door to discover a strange smell. My brain ran it though the “least favourite smell” data base and found a match: rotting lemons.

English Electric Refrigerator Ad, 1950

MM proudly presenting the contents of her  fridge on her return from holiday (Photo credit: alsis35 (now at ipernity)

The kitchen was not only smelly, but ominously silent: the characteristic hum of the fridge was missing. A howl of anguish escaped from the living room as technological cold turkey hit Bigfoot. After a week sandwiched between a lake and a field of cows in the back of beyond, he had discovered that the internet was down.

Yes, folks…. Murphy’s Law had struck again. The long-awaited storm had finally arrived to clear the air-shortly after our departure for a holiday. The fuses had promptly blown, and the house had waited patiently in Provençal temperatures until I arrived home to flip the switch… eight days later.

The fridge was full of the food I had planned for our return home, all in varying states of decay. It was modern art: a desolate landscape of yoghurt pots stretched across the top shelf, their bloated lids straining at the seams. Below, a gleaming slab of cheese curled gently at the corners. Milk paraded as cottage cheese in the door, and a family of mummified lemons was hiding in the vegetable tray, each tastefully clad in designer coat of green fur. The carnage continued in the freezer, where a huge joint of wild boar, kept for “a big day”, diffused strong scents of venison, and the individual meals I had prepared for PF swam lengths of a freezer drawer full of water, their curved lids tauter than Rihanna’s buttocks.

If the fridge-freezer fiasco had been the only problem on our return, things would have been fine. But destiny had another trick up her sleeve. Whilst washing the yeast off my hands in the bathroom (tip of the day: frozen yeast grows beautifully in a dark, defrosted freezer tray if there is some warm melted water on the side), I clapped eyes on MG.

MG is short for Matière Grise: Grey Matter. MG is the cleverest of P.F’s four snakes*. He had apparently got through the crack in the tank door with as much ease as Bernard Tapie getting out of a lawsuit. He (MG, not Bernard Tapie) had set up residence between the toilet duck and the floor cloth in my cleaning bucket, his head draped nonchalantly across the scrubbing-brush. His tongue flickered lazily as he gave me the one-over like a drunken old man propped up at the bar in a night club. Before he had time to ask me what a great girl like me was doing covered in yeast in a place like this, I picked him out of the bucket and took him back to the tank…. where Jaypi, the dumbest of the python brotherhood, was waiting. Alone.

There is no need to be Einstein to know that 4 – 2 = 2 runaway reptiles. They had followed MG on his bid for freedom, and were on a jail break jaunt around the house. Little My found overturned picture frames in the living room, and Rugby-boy returned from his room complaining that it had been visited. We spent two hours hunting for them, to no avail: snakes are better at hide and seek than Yvan Colonna**.

The following morning, I was having my first caffeine fix when I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched. Escaped convict number two was inspecting me from his newly acquired luxury home below the dishwasher. As I moved in on him, he gracefully slid out of sight. Not to be deterred, MM dismantled the skirting board, evicted the disgruntled holiday-maker, and returned him to his cell.

Runaway number three had given away his location upstairs by knocking all the shampoo bottles into the bath overnight. My offer to bait him with pictures of Harry Potter was refused by the hunting committee. We finally got Nagini back to Reptile HQ on Monday night, when Little My spotted him curled up on the tumble drier, no doubt waiting for her to fill the bath so that he could have a swim.

Tank security has now been reinforced, and all occupants are counted at bedtime and breakfast. We are sure that they are already planning their next great escape…..

*  In light of a recent event in Canada, I would like to specify that our snakes are legally acquired, one metre long, docile and inoffensive.

** Yvan Colonna is a Corsican nationalist accused of assassination in 1998 who fled and avoided arrest for five years.