Culture

And another Daily Post challenge, but this time it’s a photo! A picture to define culture… Hmm… I have one of those. Taken back home in Cornwall a couple of years ago, this one portrays the great British pub culture, and the age-old conviction that our watering holes are no place for our offspring.

The unfortunate juxtaposition of the dog’s water bowl and the word of warning for thirsty parents outside this pub door was too tempting for words, and I couldn’t resist capturing the moment with Candide Canon. So go to the pub for a shot of British culture, by all means – this establishment kindly provides a bowl of water outside so that our kiddies don’t get thirsty while we’re getting drunk inside. Now that’s what I call good, British decency.

They can't come in, but feel free to leave them outside the pub door.  Copyright: Multifariousmeanderings.

They can’t come in, but feel free to leave them outside the pub door.
Copyright:  Multifarious meanderings.

Roll up, roll up….

 The Daily Prompt caught my eye this time: “As seen on TV. Write a script for a late-night infomercial — where the product is your blog. How do you market yourself? What qualities do you embody that other “products” don’t? What are the benefits of reading your blog?”. Here’s my entry – it was harder than I thought to blow my own trumpet!

MM loves playing with figurines.

MM  has Peter Pan syndrome, and loves playing with figurines.

Do you need a break from 24/7 news and long for an escape route to accompany that glass of Chardonnay and bar of chocolate in the evening? Could you do with a quick fix of humour to blow away the blues? If you’d love to have a good laugh without having to invite friends around for dinner and getting all the washing up to deal with too, then switch off the TV and get over to Multifarious Meanderings to poke some fun at everyday life.

 Penned by an expatriate mother of three who is not only one can short of a six-pack, but is proud of it too, this no-nonsense collection of life’s experiences will titillate your funbuds and leave you with a smile on your face.
Travel through time in MM’s archives, and discover the author’s mishaps as she strives to communicate in the States, finds truffle-hunting dogs under her neighbour’s tractor, copies off Wonder Woman at parent-teacher meetings, examines the perplexing issue of the Lost Sock Dimension, discusses Herr Hormone and his PMT henchmen, and much, much more.
Learn about nature with MM, who gives you the low-down on the migration of the lesser-spotted boob, and reveals the true, grim story behind Larry the Louse’s regular visits to your child’s scalp. Her recent symptom-checker for Peter Pan Syndrome has turned up trumps for many readers, who are now finally able to put a name on their condition and will meet one day in a cyber playgroup to play Lego together.
And there’s more!
MM provides, free of charge:
  • A humourous glimpse of her everyday life in the south of France.
  • The reassurance that things could be worse as you discover MM’s run-ins with the world.
  • An opportunity to chat with some lovely bloggers from all over the world who regularly pass by, and to check out their wonderful blogs too.
  • A reply to your comment on her posts (MM is a blogger who enjoys interacting with her visitors).

So head off to Multifarious Meanderings for an unlimited trial period now, and double, triple or quadruple your order….. It’s all free, fun and without any commitment on your behalf. All you need is five minutes of your time, and your chucklecard number. See you there!

Peter Pan Syndrome: Check Your Symptoms.

Disclaimer:

I have just realised from the high number of search engine results sending readers to this article that the term “Peter Pan Syndrome” is actually a medically recognised term. I would like to underline that I am not a member of the medical profession, that this post is purely humorous, and is not in any way, shape or form a medical diagnostic tool for the condition in question.

At the supermarket, my seven-year-old neighbour had a new figurine in his hand. I didn’t. He waved it at me triumphantly as he walked towards the cheese counter with his mum. My eye strayed to the display of miniature Playmobils, and I tugged at my mum’s sleeve. “Mum, mum, I want one too. Pleeeeease?” I stuck out a trembling lower lip and looked at her through lowered eyelashes. “You haven’t bought me a figurine for ages“. My mum smiled, rolled her eyes, and acquiesced.

You probably see nothing exceptional about this spoilt brat scenario. However, if I add that it was played out just two weeks ago – within spitting distance of my 45th birthday – you may just change your opinion slightly.

My figurine holding my lollipop for me whilst I type my post.

My figurine holding my lollipop for me whilst I type my post.

I have a condition that I have come to call “Peter Pan Syndrome”. As far as I know, there is no cure. This little-understood syndrome has been part of my life since the end of what most adults call childhood. At that moment, although my body continued to age, my mind didn’t. Everyone around me was growing up, and showed worrying symptoms of adulthood. They started doing weird things they’d always hated, like wearing shirts and ties. Partaking in animated political debates. Eating spinach without being threatened with an early bedtime. Watching meaningful, subtitled black and white films played by actors who talked like Pingu.

Meanwhile, I was becoming a kind of human jelly bean: an adult-shaped outer shell harbouring the psychedelic, malleable and gelatinous imagination of a ten-year-old. As everyone else started climbing the respective career ladders they had mysteriously decided on years beforehand, I looked up at them with scared incredulity: was I the only adult who still had no idea what she wanted to be when she grew up?

Now, what about you? Do you show signs of Peter Pan Syndrome?

Here is a small test for a preliminary diagnosis. When you look at this photo, what do you see? Don’t read on yet (only grown-ups cheat).

What do you see?

What do you see? (This is my own photo, and yes… you can.)

  • If you saw a closed gate with a ripped mosquito net, you’re a real grown-up.
  • If you laughed because you saw a little man with a wacky flame hairdo, cute eyes, a zany nose and a padlock mouth, welcome to the club: you’ve got Peter Pan Syndrome.

Read on for further telltale signs that your childhood rules your world:

  •  You check if your shadow really never leaves you and take pictures of it when it gives you legs up to your armpits.
  • Every autumn, you jump in the drifts of fallen leaves and kick them in the air as your embarassed kids look on. You pick up conkers and play secretly with them in your coat pocket, and you’re sad when their shine disappears. You take photos of your feet in piles of leaves, because you know you’re going to miss autumn before it comes back.
  • The choice of family TV viewing is difficult because you want to watch Despicable Me again, and the others give you the choice between a TV documentary about Tibetan yacks or a boy-film full of gun-toting, monosyllabic bad guys. You go into a sulk and go to bed.
  • Your idea of a good evening is pulling on your Mr Men PJ’s, curling up in bed with a bag of Liquorice Allsorts and escaping into your childhood via a favourite story told by one of your favourite authors: Roald Dahl, St Exupery, C.S. Lewis or E. Nesbit.
  • You cherish and stroke the 1952 copy of Peter Pan that your parents gave you when you were small, sniffing the paper and gazing in awe at your clumsy handwriting on the fly cover. Then you remember that J M Barrie invented the name of the girl who moved in on the love of your life, and you trip out on the idea of writing an alternative end to the story, in which Tinkerbell feeds her smarmy, know-it-all nemesis to Captain Hook’s crocodile.
The first picture of my most prized possession: a 1952 edition of Peter Pan given to me by my parents when I was small.

A snapshot of my most prized possession: the 1952 edition of Peter Pan my parents  gave me when I was small.

  • You measure time according to the number of “sleeps” required until the event in question occurs.
  • You still draw ketchup smiles on your fried egg, and use your chips to give it hair. You keep the yolk till last. Then you spike it with your knife, imagine that the running egg yolk is lava coming out of a volcano, and save the remaining inhabitants of Pompeï peas from drowning in it.
  • You open the front door to the infant school carnival posse, and the kids promptly point at your feet and crease up with laughter. You realise that you are wearing your favourite slippers – huge furry monster feet with fake claws on the ends.
  • You love playing Lego and Playmobil with your children, but they kick you out because they have issues with Michael Jackson dangling his son over the balcony, or object to the Indians delivering horses to the castle so that the evil Prince can make his own horsemeat lasagna instead of buying it frozen from Findus. Some kids are such politically correct conformists.

One of my creations, vetoed by the under-tens jury: MJ and his baby on the balcony (my photo).

  • You want to go to Peru one day so that you can to go to the Home for Retired Bears in Lima, and finally get to meet Paddington’s aunt Lucy.
  • Your musical idols are Robin the Frog and Baloo. You sing “Half-way down the stairs” in a squeaky voice to while away the time in traffic jams, and are partial to a group rendition of ‘Mahna-mahna” from the Muppets with your PPS-struck siblings (note to my siblings: I malove-malove you).
  • You still don’t know what you want to be when you grow up. Normal: Peter Pan Syndrome sufferers don’t grow up.

Is there a treatment for Peter Pan Syndrome, you ask? I don’t know… and to be honest, I don’t want one. I can’t imagine life without one foot anchored firmly in childhood. So if you enjoyed this, clap your hands… and say that you believe in fairies.

Pretty in Pink: My New Driving Licence.

The fearless Amazonian MM returns triumphantly from the administrative jungle with Penelope the Pink Permis.

The fearless Amazonian MM returns triumphantly from the administrative jungle with Penelope the Pink Licence.

Drum roll….  Raise your glasses, ladies and gents. MM is finally clutching her French Driving Licence in her sweaty mitts after a long, medically-assisted gestation by the Préfecture.

My French driving licence is pinker than a baboon’s bottom. It’s so pink that Barbie could use it to dress up as a sandwich girl. Talk about girly – it even has sparkly glitter ingrained in the paper. I was almost expecting a Hello Kitty watermark. I have called it Penelope, in homage to the only ultra-pink female personalities I have ever had any respect for: Lady Penelope and Penelope Pittstop.

 Enough gloating. After two months of calling an unmanned phone, I finally got hold of a human being last Friday, who told me that my licence had been waiting for me for two months. They’d just omitted the minor detail of informing me that my marathon was finally over. The road through French beaurocracy to my French licence had been paved with paperwork and involved an exciting wild goose chase in which I sent a medical certificate to the administrative Gods, who promptly sent it to the wrong town, then lost it, then asked me to get it done again, then told me they’d found the old one after all.

The next Monday, MM was at the gate to La Préfecture. The police security guard delved into the bottomless depths of my Mary Poppins hold-all, rummaged reluctantly through the unwelcoming detritus a mother’s handbag always contains, and hastily waved me through.

Inside, Attila the Pun and Bulldog were still manning the reception desk (see here for details). Attila the Pun’s eyesight had apparently gone downhill, as he had a pair of Dumbeldore-style specs on his nose. Bulldog had still not learned how to smile or apply lipstick. Her jowls were quivering in time to her staccato syllables as she gave her visitor some gyp. The word Monsieur peppered every sentence she uttered. “Monsieur, you have to fill in the form…  Monsieur, you will have to come back… Monsieur, you have not understood what I said…” This quintessentially French use of excessive deference to dominate others has always fascinated me. Paradoxically, by dripping with politeness, they actually manage to patronise their opponent into submission: it’s an art form.

Attila the Pun took off his glasses, gave me my ticket, and sent me off to wait my turn at the great administrative cheese counter. He wasn’t as cheerful as the last time. Had he read my blog?

There were a good few people trying to jump the queue. Or maybe they were all colour blind and couldn’t read the writing on the blue tape on the floor, saying that it was rude to butt in on other people who had already gathered dust for hours as they waited their turn.

Then there was the poor man who had ticked all the boxes and photocopied mountains of paperwork. He brandished his ticket triumphantly in the air when his number flashed up on the screen and leapt to his feet if he had just won the pools… then realised that he had forgotten his glasses at home and couldn’t see well enough to sign for the open sesame he had no doubt been waiting for over the last six months.

A vivarium for the lesser spotted civil servant. Note the Hygiaphone in the centre.

A vivarium for the lesser spotted civil servant. Note the Hygiaphone in the centre.

My number was called, and I went to the designated cubicle. A thin-faced man behind the screen pointed at the seat as he hastily glugged down a plastic cup of water. He smiled at me, then yelled, “How can I help you?” I’m sure that he heard himself loud enough, but I had to strain to hear him despite the “Hygiaphone” – a grille in the middle of the screen that is supposed to let the sound through. This term has always had me flummoxed: it implies that it is to stop anything unhygienic happening. Like what? A piece of spinach getting unstuck from between your teeth and flying into the other person’s face? Subjecting them to the residual smell of garlic emanating from your restaurant lunch? In any case, communication was muffled, resulting in lots of shouting, and requiring gallons of water for the poor, parched civil servant on the other side of the glass.

He asked me for my UK licence, typed my name, then said “It’s not ready yet.” His finger hovered over the button that would bring the next person hotfooting to his desk. I suggested that he check under my maiden name, and he said: “Your maiden name isn’t on your passport”. Uh-oh. I was lucky – he asked for my maiden name, typed it in, and gave me my French licence. I left Cerfa’s palace, legal and happy that I didn’t have to go back again for a while.

I’ll round up this post with a little request: Please go over to Pecora Nera’s blog, An Englishman in Italy, to cheer him on.  He started the same quest as me back in April, but he’s dealing with Italian beaurocracy, which is apparently much worse than it is in France.

Especially for Bevchen: French driving licence glitter :-)

Especially for Bevchen: French driving licence glitter 🙂

To read the whole story, here are the three previous episodes:

Mugshot musings: the first step towards a French licence

Into the Jaws of Administromia

Waiting room witterings: a portrait of France

Inter-Atlantic English: A Tale of Fannies, Bums and Boots.

English Dictionaries

English Dictionaries (Photo credit: jovike)

On my arrival in the States, I really thought that apart from a few minor details, we spoke the same language on either side of the big pond. Yet there I was, battling to make myself understood, in desperate need of an UK English-US English dictionary and an aspirin.

The garage forecourt was littered with huge cars, and our host, a drawling, cigar-puffing man who looked like he’s escaped from a 1970’s episode of Dallas, was attempting to fob off a dented Buick on these wet-behind-the-ears European newcomers. Communication was proving difficult, and my enthusiasm was waning.

“Excuse me, ma’am? You wanna put your what in the what?” The heat of the Florida sun beat down on my confused head, and I ruefully rubbed my back as the inhabitant of my uterus made a brave attempt to do a cart-wheel.  I pointed at the huge airbag tacked to my front, where my inside-out tummy button strained at my t-shirt like a nipple on a Zepplin-sized boob.

“I’m expecting a baby in two weeks. I just want a car with a boot big enough for my pushchair,” I sighed. A huge grin split the car saleman’s face in two, followed by a high-pitched hee-haw of a laugh that strangely mismatched his farm-hand physique.

1954 Plymouth Like My First Car

When is a car not a car? When you’re English and the salesman is American (Photo credit: pabear26)

“Ma’am, you want a vee-hikkel with boots?” He looked at me expectantly, eager to hear the next mistake of his unexpected stand-up comedian.

It was my turn to smile at his pronunciation of the word “vehicle”. “Vee-Hikkel” was as funny as the “Alooooominnum” wheel hubs he’d pointed out earlier. Did we really speak the same language?

The huge difference between British and American English was giving me serious trouble. In the UK, elephants have trunks, not cars. Cars have boots. In the US, bonnets are hoods, windscreens are windshields, gear sticks are gear levers, number plates are tags, petrol is gas, tarmac is pavement and pavements are sidewalks. You don’t turn at the junction, you turn at the intersection, where you may have trucks, but not lorries. Buying baby equipment was also confusing: pushchairs are strollers, nappies are diapers, dummies are pacifiers. It was just the beginning of a complete linguistic meltdown.

As I had an alien life form practicing kick boxing on my bladder, I quickly discovered the American terminology for the toilet. The term “rest room” was amusingly evocative of a room providing armchairs for tired old gents, not bog-standard loos. And whilst we’re on the subject, ladies, the inappropriately named “bathroom” does not necessarily contain a bath.

pondering life

Resting in the rest room (Photo credit: Chimpr)

I  blinked when I was told to come to a picnic wearing pants.  I was surprised my friend could believe that I let it all hang out beneath my clothing-I always wear pants. Clean ones, every day, in case I get run over by a double-decker bus and the world gets an unexpected view of my M&S undies. If you go out wearing just your pants in the UK, you’ll get arrested. And cold, too. So a word of warning to any American setting up shack in Britain: If you ask for pants, you’ll get underwear, and if you ask for trousers, you’ll get pants. Oh, and whilst we’re on the subject of underwear, if an American date tells you that he likes wearing suspenders, there’s no need to run… because American suspenders hold up trousers, not lace-topped stockings.

Food is tricky, too… Uh-oh. Maybe I should change that word to “difficult”. I recently asked lovely blogger Jenn, “How’s tricks?” One highly entertaining exchange later, I discovered that  the word “trick” is associated with prostitution in the States. Luckily for me, Jenn has a great sense of humour-check out her blog, called “Mashed Potatoes” (or potato, as we Brits say).

Anyway, back to food. At the burger bar with PF’s colleagues, I ordered chips… and got crisps with my steak. No wonder they looked at me strangely. But not as strangely as the person who grabbed his cigarette packet and rose from the table, telling us that he’d be back in five minutes. My innocent enquiry raised the roof: “Are you off outside to smoke a fag?” Whilst the word “fag” designates a cigarette in the UK… smoking a fag in the US involves beating up a male homosexual. You live and learn.

Moments to Remember - Jayne Mansfield ... &quo...

A tramp who has just fallen flat on her fanny. What a bummer. (Photo credit: marsmet531)

What really unhinged my jaw with astonishment, however, was when a male friend told me that he had fallen flat on his fanny. In the UK, only women have fannies, and they certainly don’t talk about them at the dinner table. A fanny in the States appears to be what we Brits call your bum. Which, in the States, refers to what the English call a tramp. Which in turn, in US English, refers to an easy woman. As you can see from this interesting linguistic exercise, our languages are just not the same.

Traps were everywhere, and MM happily fell into them one after the other. One memorable event was when I asked the person next to me to lend me his rubber…. I was told with a smirk that he didn’t have one, but if he did, he’d gladly give it, but would not want it returned. A good job he didn’t, too: I’ve never seen anyone rub out a mistake on a form with a condom. Apparently, what I wanted is called an “eraser” on the other side of the pond.

Woman in kitchen, 1939

“And today, ladies, we will be learning how to fit a stick of butter into a cup” (Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives)

Measurements were another problem. Particularly for cooking: making a dessert in the US was anything but a piece of cake. Please can someone American explain why you buy sticks of butter, but measure it in cups? I suspect that this measuring system was an evil idea dreamed up by 1950’s men to keep their wives occupied forcing butter sticks into cups all day. Is there some kind of Holy Grail reference vessel for US culinary purposes? If you use a really small cup, do you get a cup cake? (Unless it’s a “small” cup from Starbucks, of course. I could have swum laps in the first “small” coffee I ordered – it would have made a cake big enough to feed the five thousand.) Or do you have cake cup sizes like for women’s bras: “A” for a cup cake, “B” for a cake to share en amoureux, “C” for a family dessert and “D” for a birthday cake?

I gave up, and made friends with the Pillsbury Doughboy. Whatever the size of a cup, I never worked out how I was supposed to squish a rectangular cuboid of butter into it. As they say on the other side of the pond, go figure….. Whatever that means.

Ding dong, Jehovah calling….

"My grandmother and the doorstep deweller," drawn by the little MM, aged 4 (+40).

“My grandmother and the doorstep dweller,” drawn by the little MM, aged 4 (+40).

Nobody ever turns up on my doorstep to sell me anything, be it carpets, frozen food or tickets for the school raffle. Yet last weekend I was surprised to see a gentleman standing patiently outside my door. He was carefully groomed, and was dressed in a shirt, tie and suit. My visitor was dancing an impromptu Foxtrot in the amusing belief that he could avoid getting his smart black trousers covered in dog hair: Smelly Dog had achieved her usual epic guard dog fail, and was surgically attached to his leg, tail wagging and ball in mouth.

Confused, I looked behind him for the hearse, and then checked his pocket for Agent K’s magic sunglasses and zapper pen. (I’d love to have one of those. Just for one day – I’d start with my bank manager, then move on to the Élysée.)

As I reached for the door handle, my eye fell on the black leather satchel and I reached my final diagnosis: In the same way that Avon rings the doorbell with promises to renovate sagging facades with miracle cosmetics, I was opening the door to a door-to-door salesman of spiritual make-overs. This doorstep-dwelling species offers you salvation -trade in your tarnished, sinner’s soul over the doorstep and get a gleaming new stainless one with 50% extra heaven in return.

His blue eyes locked earnestly on to mine. I recognised with a sinking heart that very peculiar expression – a strange combination of a drug addict crossed with a Rottweiler that has just clapped eyes on a sirloin steak.

Now, MM is one of a long line of champions for getting shot of penance pedlars. My maternal Grandmother had pedigree status: when a bible-brandishing visitor announced that he was Jesus, she welcomed him with a booming “Come in! I’m Pontius Pilate”. So I really can’t help it – when I have a visitor intent on saving my soul, I get an irrepressible urge to grab a bottle of gin in one hand and a packet of Marlboro in the other, then jig up and down on the spot in my underwear singing songs from The Life of Brian. Irreverent and rude? No, not at all – anyone who turns up at my home expecting me to discuss my personal beliefs with a complete stranger must presume that I’ve got a very laid-back attitude to life.

The visitor pushed Smelly Dog away with the tip of a well polished shoe. “Hello! I just happened to be in your neighbourhood”. My eyebrows shot skywards. You have to try very hard to “happen” to be in my neighbourhood (the GPS says “go to the end of the Universe, turn left and left again”). Our building is run down and decrepit; the kind of place a well-meaning soul may mistakenly expect to find an ageing hermit with lots of money in need of company. (And yes, that sentence was deliberately ambiguous.)

The hand slipped down to the satchel and unsheathed its weapon. “I’ve brought you some reading,”he beamed, thrusting it towards me. It was of the pseudo biblical variety, with a good satanic twist to give readers a severe case of the collywobbles. I sighed. If I want to read something full of spelling mistakes and badly researched stories, I just have to buy a copy of the local newspaper.

I considered telling him I couldn’t read, then decided against it in case he had a copy of “Learn to read with Jehovah” tucked in his sock.

“That’s very kind of you, but I’ve got plenty to read”. My interlocutor stared back at me. The enthusiasm had waned. “But I’ve brought you hope!” he spluttered. “Oh, I’ve got bags of that inside too, thanks.”

Salt peanuts

Peanuts for a soothed and satisfied soul (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Silence ensued. I sucked air through my teeth and tried to find that legendary cool that the French mistakenly think we Brits possess. Belief is a bit like your privates: it’s highly personal. So you don’t pull it out in public, even if you are proud of it, and you don’t ask anyone else to show you theirs, because it’s…. well….. private. What works for you may not work for me, even if you have the best intentions. Laughter and peanuts do the trick for me, but may not work for anyone else. So in the same way that I don’t hammer people’s doors down to force them to accept a handful of peanuts and a Peter Kay video and invite them to my next Peanut Addicts Anonymous meeting, I don’t expect them to impose their views on me.

So MM smiled her best “not missing you already” smile. “Well, thanks for your visit. Have a good day,” I said, and started closing the door. “Wait! Wait!” He jiggled up and down as Smelly Dog obligingly dribbled on his shoes. “Does anyone else live here?” His eyes darted along the façade of the building, and spotted a figure pulling his bike out of the garage. “Ah, I see someone. Wonderful! Good bye….” The black shoes crunched their way down the gravel, magazine primed and ready to sell hope to Gargamel. I suspected that the end was nigh.

Disclaimer. MMM (M.M’s Mum) says I should put something here to say that this is just my opinion. I (nearly) always do what my mummy says. So: “This is my opinion, and should be taken as such”. Voilà.