UPROOTED AND UNDILUTED: ZE book!

Mrs Playmo posing for a book picture. Unfortunately she had already finished her umpteenth glass of undiluted Merlot.

Mrs Playmo posing for a book picture. Unfortunately she had already finished her umpteenth glass of undiluted Merlot.

MM is quivering with excitement. Mrs Playmo is nervously chewing her claws and glugging down buckets of rosé at the window of her mansion. Yes, something mysterious is afoot in MM’s world… Want to know more? You know you do. Read on to find out why.

One morning in the not so distant past, I went downstairs in my pj’s to discover Mrs Playmo leaping and bouncing around my laptop keyboard like a Lilliputian on crack. Slopping coffee on the trackpad, she turned a grinning face towards me. “Oy, MM, get yourself over here!” she bellowed. “Fame… at last!” She extended a claw and jabbed excitedly at my laptop screen. “Say yes! Say yes! SAY YES!”

I squinted at my email inbox, and examined its daily crop of messages offering to upsize appendages I don’t have. Gleaming in the midst of all this mediocrity was the gem of a message that had got Mrs Playmo as revved up as Berlusconi on the front row of an underwear catwalk.

Opening it up, I discovered an invitation from a bunch of lovely bloggers to take part in the creation of a book. An expat book. A book to make people snort, giggle and belly laugh, and raise money for charity in the process.

MM after reading the email.

MM after reading the email.

Once I had scraped myself off the floor and leapt around the kitchen singing with Mrs Playmo, we wrote back to say yes, yes, yes and yes.

Because there’s more. Although Mrs Playmo is in this purely for the fame and the alcohol, MM was thrilled to know that all the proceeds from this gobsmackingly entertaining book will be donated to charity.

Uprooted and Undiluted is an anthology of humourous posts by ten nutty and adorable award-winning bloggers living across Europe (details of the motley “U + U crew” will be up shortly on a separate page dedicated to ZE Book). We have got together a concentrated collection of uncensored posts which strip expat life abroad down to its hilarious short and curlies. With this little corker in your pocket, you can travel Europe in style without leaving your seat (and make your neighbour jealous as you giggle your way happily through the pages on the number seven bus).

Are you are tired of the sterile, rose-tinted spectacled vision of classic travel books? Do you long to peruse an honestly refreshing portrayal of life as an expat in Europe that will leave you smiling for the day? If so, prepare to grab a copy of “Uprooted and Undiluted” as soon as it comes out (date to be revealed shortly). Forget the world of tepid armchair tourism, and dive into this palpitating, laugh-a-minute insight into expat daily life, including the dark labyrinths of administrative red tape, the perils of learning the lingo, culinary catastrophes, romantic rendez-vous, expat parties, and lots of other exciting stuff that you just don’t find in mainstream travel literature. Pop it in your bag, and be prepared to explain why you are grinning like a demented demon after reading it. Don’t forget to buy a few more to share the joy with your friends and family at Christmas, for their birthdays, or just because you want to show them up when they laugh so hard that their British Rail coffee comes out through their nostrils in the quiet carriage of the train.

Mr Playmo being told in no uncertain terms that he has the choice between buying a copy of

Mr Playmo being told in no uncertain terms that he has the choice between buying a copy of “Uprooted and Undiluted” or sleeping on the couch.

So those of you who said that you would like to have some of MM’s witterings in print now have the opportunity to (as one would crudely say) put your money where your mouth is.

Now it’s over to you. The new page coming up imminently on the blog is entitled “UPROOTED AND UNDILUTED”, and gives more info about the who, where, when, why and hows of our upcoming masterpiece. Check it out. Anyone who understands the magic of hashtags can use this one : #uprootedandundiluted

I am proud to part of this blogging world initiative, which shows just how wonderful blogging is. Please help us to spread a laugh across the world, and raise money for charity in the process!

Sent from my i-kitchen table, with the help of Mrs Playmo (who jumped on the keyboard to type the bits about herself).

 

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Debunking the Myths: Summertime Survival in the South of France.

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Mrs Playmo wisely decided that the only way to enjoy an uncrowded beach was to visit by night with a good book, a torch a crate of rosé. It was a pity that Prince Charming had turned up before she had finished her chapter.

Mrs Playmo wisely decided that the only way to enjoy an uncrowded beach was to visit by night with a good book, a torch and a crate of rosé. It was a pity that Prince Charming had turned up before she had finished her chapter.

The school holidays have arrived and the temperatures have soared outside. A blanket of heat has descended on MM’s Languedoc home. Like every year, I have evaluated the insufficient available space for my angular frame between the frozen peas and the ice cubes, then resigned myself to a period of the year I associate with bored children, het-up neighbours, stifling heat, and water restrictions as the village spring dries up. The insistent scratching of the squads of cicadas camouflaged in the cedar and pine trees around the house does nothing to reduce the feeling of oppression affecting all bar the cat, who melts into a contented black puddle in the shade of the hedge, surveying his world in a lazy trance of warmth.

Behind closed shutters, the locals have gone to ground for the sacrosanct siesta whilst the sun beats down on the façades of their homes, and the streets of the village remain deserted until the temperatures reluctantly go down in the evening.

But not for long. The only nutters prepared to brave the heat have appeared on the horizon, bang on time to break the silence – a long line of metallic turtles shimmering in the heat that rises off the melting tarmac. In MM jargon, the word ‘Turtle’ designates family cars bedecked with roof boxes and bicycles, and crammed with suitcases, parasols and the infamous inflatable crocodile. Inside the air-conditioned beast, mum is sucking lemons for Britain. She glares at her husband. She had told him that there would be a traffic jam on the last leg of the journey, and once again he had preferred to follow the advice of that self-satisfied cow on the GPS. Her husband grimly grips the steering wheel with white-knuckled hands as the youngest child bawls and his sibling sings her favourite track for the 50th time since they woke up on the motorway uttering those words every parent dreads: “Muuummmy, are we there yet?” They are all desperate to arrive on the French coast, yet appear blissfully ignorant that they are en route for a tourist trap. The inflatable crocodile of the tourist season is poised, its jaws open and ready to swallow them and their holiday budget, before spitting them unceremoniously back into the motorway traffic jams.

When people plan a summer holiday in the South of France, the same old clichés pop up behind the rose-tinted spectacles. I’d like to get two of them sorted once and for all. I’m sorry to pop your bubble, but it’s better that you know.

Mr and Mrs Playmo take nothing but their love to the beach here.

Mr and Mrs Playmo take nothing but their love to the beach here.

Myth N°1:  Beach,  parasol,  book, cool drink and sun tan as the children play in the sand.

The reality: First, plan ample time and patience to find a parking spot, and enough cash to pay extortionate fees for the privilege (this does not mean that your car window will not be smashed by thieves: a little like God, the French police can’t be everywhere at the same time). Next, find a space on the beach. This is more difficult than you think if, like me, you do not like your nostrils being assailed by the smell of cigarette smoke, sweaty armpits or sun screen, or are allergic to the proximity of inflatable crocodiles, over-enthusiastic teenagers wielding rackets and balls, or women who yank their bikini bottoms up their bums and sunbathe with their legs wide open (presumably incase an old lady’s Yorkshire catches sight of their untanned crotch on the number seven bus).

 If you wish to be the ultimate bad mum, when the children are bored with playing in the urine-saturated surf, help them to collect cigarette butts to use as makeshift cannons in their sandcastle, and beer tops to decorate the walls – both are as numerous as the sea shells, if not more so. Or bag ’em up and bin them (the cigarette ends and the beer tops, not the kids), and do something for the planet. Then make your offspring’s day by buying them one of the overpriced doughnuts or ice creams sold by the leather-skinned beach vendors sporting little more than tight-fitting cozzies and Colgate smiles. These sun-warmed, edible nurseries for salmonella and sundry other bacterial bad-boys may not only wreck the rest of your holiday, but will give you a chance to sing the praises of the French medical system on Facebook.

MM’s Tips: Spread out your stuff! Bring sufficient beach towels to stake out your own territory. It doesn’t matter if you don’t use it all, but this simple step ensures that you don’t end up with a complete stranger sitting in your lap reading a gossip mag.

If you enjoy people spotting, this is the place for you. Bring a notebook and jot them down. My favorites are those strolling along the water’s edge – the posers that strut through the surf and oggle at bare breasts, the topless wonders glowering at the posers, and the older generation tutting at the bucket and spade mafia who get under their feet (I secretly pray that they will inadvertently tumble into the appropriately grave-sized hole my children have conveniently dug across their path). Oh, and one last (serious) piece of advice: don’t take anything to the beach that you wouldn’t willingly donate to a complete stranger, and keep a close eye on your stuff. Otherwise, you may end up chasing the self-elected new owner of your beach bag down the main road like a screaming banshee, wearing no more than a red face and the bottom half of your bikini (been there, seen that, and got left without the T-shirt -read my topless tale here). For the same reason, don’t leave your car keys in your bag. I put them in Tournesol’s shoe – nobody in their right mind would steal those because even if they managed not to keel over, I’d sniff them out immediately.

Myth N°2. A wonderful three-course meal washed down with a bottle of wine on a restaurant terrace, all at a snip of the price you would have paid at home.

If you don't believe me about the translating skills of local restaurants, have a look at this menu outside a restaurant in Agde. The next page suggests a plateful of

If you don’t believe me about the translating skills of local restaurants, have a look at this menu outside a restaurant in Agde. The next page suggests a plateful of “seawolf” – a translation that could be qualified as a real howler.

TIP: The only way you will achieve this is either by asking the locals, or getting off the beaten track. Wherever you are in France during the holiday season, you can bet your bottom dollar that there are unscrupulous restaurants ready to relieve you of a maximum amount of cash for a minimum amount of effort, and these establishments are most often concentrated in the touristic areas. If they are out on the pavement touting for clients, they aren’t worth their salt. They are closed over the rest of the year, are generally snubbed by locals and only open to make a fast buck in the summer – so do yourself and real local businesses a favour, and either get off the beaten track and ask a local, or buy yourselves a picnic from the local market.

Reality: If you do insist on eating in one of these outfits, then at least you get the fun of reading the menu translation. In our region, very few restaurants are prepared to pay for a good translation of their menu, or (heaven forbid) train their employees to speak foreign languages well enough to explain what the guests can eat. Although my arch enemies, aka Google Translate and Bing, have added a grotesque twist to menus, I freely admit that if I need to cheer myself up I just need to read a few menu boards and I’m chortling again. It’s a laugh a minute. Many restaurants are totally immune to the idea that clients won’t (or rather shouldn’t) buy a meal if they have no idea what they are eating. Worse, they really don’t seem to care as long as their patrons cough up the money and leave.

Don’t forget that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is – many restaurants get their supplies from a huge supplier called “Metro”, where they buy entire pallets of insipid guck that they will then tout as ‘home-made’ on their astoundingly cheap menu board. The chocolate mousse may have been hastily assembled in their kitchen, but it’s about as home-made as MM is organised. If you are lucky, the jug of wine costing you 7 euros actually cost the restaurant owner 2 euros the litre at the local cave coopérative; if you’re unlucky it’s from a plastic bottle of beverage that the average Frenchman would only consider fit to descale the toilet.

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. So now off you go. Happy holidays. And don’t forget a pin to deflate that damned crocodile.

Mrs Playmo illustrating how to deal with the inflatable crocodile.

Mrs Playmo illustrating how to deal with the inflatable crocodile.

Post Scriptum. This should have been an apology post. I have been a very bad blogger recently (MM strikes Beyoncé/Lady Gaga pose) and I have missed you all. I am very, very sorry and feel guilty about dumping everyone with no explanation. This is due to varied factors leading to lack of “me” time, leading to lack of reading and writing time, leading to a severe case of writer’s block. But rest assured that MM is fit, well and a little leaner than before. Mrs Playmo didn’t give me any support whatsoever. (She was too busy having baked bean jacuzzis with Mr Playmo. But that’s another story.) Those who excuse me for my absence will have more information about what I’ve been up to in upcoming posts. Love from MM. Mrs Playmo says hello too, from behind her bucket of rosé. 

 

M.M’s Guide to the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper.

If you are a longterm follower of this blog, you will know that MM is as enthusiastic about shopping as Lindsay Lohan would be about running a tea shop. In order of preference, I would rather rip my toe nails out with a pair of pliers, spend an evening babysitting for Godzilla’s offspring or clean the family car with my tooth brush than set foot in a shopping centre at the height of the summer sales. Why? Because I’m allergic to the LSSS: the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper. She brings me out in spots.

wow-thing

MM emerging from the underground car park and seeing the sales crowd. Note full head and eye protection for a day at the sales (Photo credit: x-ray delta one).

But last weekend, Little My had other plans. She was adamant about her perfect birthday agenda: a day spending her birthday money at the summer sales. With Mummy. So there I was, standing on an escalator that smoothly and irreverently spat me into the throbbing, frantic world of shopaholics. A beaming and febrile twelve year old clutched at me with one hand whilst the other quivered with anticipation over her pocket, ready to unsheathe her wallet and shoot ready cash at the first sight of a bargain.

Her chosen hunting ground was the place I call “the empty parrot cage” – a shopping centre called the “Polygone”. It was the third day of the summer sales, though, and the parrot cage was anything but empty. The air was rife with raw instinct – I swore I could smell it. The serial shopper season was in full swing, and they were hunting in packs, cackling loudly. They swooped past us, multicolored plastic bags dangling from the grasps of their French-manicured claws. Some were perched in lines on benches, pecking at bags of crisps and sipping Diet Coke as they gloated over their pickings (imagine the vultures in the Jungle Book, but more sinister).

Vulture / Buitre

An ageing Solitary Serial Shopper, all made up and ready to nab that size ten from her unsuspecting victim. (Photo credit: . SantiMB .)

How to recognize the LSSS.

The lesser spotted serial shopper looks fragile and dainty, but believe me, kiddo: those dainty little summer dresses hide ruthless machines that have trained to perfection for the Great Battle of the Credit Card. Move over, Lara Croft: these commercial commandos have prepared their offensive with military precision, and taken photos of their goals during strategically planned early morning reconnaissance flights. In the same way that the US Army polish up their weapons, the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper has sharpened her nails with her titanium emery board in preparation for the big day. I suspect that they go to special commercial commando camps, where they hang bat-like from the rafters dressed in pink lycra and do sit-ups in time to “the Eye of the Tiger“, sweat dripping off their elbows as a hairy-chested hybrid of Mr T and Madonna barks instructions at them and points at the photos of dresses blu-tacked to the ceiling.

Modus operandi.

You don’t hear her sneaking up from behind the lingerie display until it’s too late. Her strategy is simple: as your fingers lovingly caress the article you are planning on buying, she will slide between you and it, staring at you with wide, mascara-ed eyes as she breathes “excusez-moi…” in your face. You step backwards, realizing that you have the choice between that or getting a stiletto heel-shaped hole in your big toe. She disappears in a puff of Dior, your vestimentary dream jammed firmly under her armpit. You live and learn. Another well-known strategy to is save valuable time by trying on clothing in the queue for the till and leaving a trail of unwanted items along the way, à la Hansel and Gretel. Any neighbouring woman who blinks in surprise at getting a face full of Serial Shopper’s g-string as she tries on a pair of mini-shorts is rebuked with a hostile glare that could reduce the average human being to a pile of poop, whilst a shy but sexy smirk is reserved for male onlookers.

English: Boxes of Nooma puddings being unloaded.

A Happily Married Serial Shopper supervising her cargo of sales bargains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Subspecies.

Solitary predators hunt alone – these are the most dangerous variety. The misleadingly feminine and delicately perfumed exterior of the Solitary Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper hides the terrifying predator that lies within. These experienced birds have an eagle eye for a bargain, and will not hesitate to elbow less streetwise shoppers in the ribs, stick the corners of their handbags in children’s faces and reduce any inappropriately sandal-clad toes to smithereens in their quest to make it to the last size ten dress before anyone else.

Happily Married comes with her personal bodyguard/bag carrier/fund provider – a commercially depressed, metrosexual other half whose haggard expression induces pity in the most hard-hearted of people. She parks him on a chair outside the cubicle, where he avoids eye contact with the other women. When the LSSS finally extracts herself from the pile of clothing she has shoe-horned into the cubicle with her and twirls in front of the mirror, he fields the question “What do you think?” with caution: he knows that his opinion does not actually have any weight in her decision making, and any suggestion that the shirt is too short or the cleavage too deep will be greeted with flared nostrils and a glare. He is there simply to guard her trophies and go to find a different size or colour if needed.

The queue for the changing rooms is generally three miles long, and usually includes gaggles of Trainee Serial Shoppers. These are the young beginners who no doubt still use their Dolce & Gabbana belt buckles to differentiate between their “droite” and their “gauche”. They remain in a gaggle around the curtain, chewing gum and typing messages to each other on their phones (it’s not cool to talk to each other directly at that age) as they await the appearance of The Friend wearing the bargain of the century. According to the latter’s status in the group, comments will then vary from “Waaaah, so sexxxxxxy!” to “Uh. Yeah. I think it makes your bum look big. Nah, I mean, bigger.

DolceAndGabbana belt fake

Wear a Dolce and Gabbana belt, and instantly have the means to tell your left hand from your right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“And what about the shopper with a girlfriend?” you ask. Well, I’m going to make myself unpopular here, but if she absolutely has to break the solitary rule of serial shopping, the LSSS never goes to the sales with a friend who wears the same size as her. She firmly believes that if she is the Queen Mary, her long-suffering pal is her tug. Only a friend who wears at least two sizes bigger are accepted to carry her bags and approve of her choices. However, said friend should have skin as thick as whale blubber and not expect the same favours in return.

I’ll leave you with this advert from the German internet clothing company Jungstil. It sums up my fears about the Lesser Spotted Sales Shopper perfectly. Be good at the sales. And if you can’t be good, be careful. Very careful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hang off the rafters.

PS. My apologies for the resounding silence since my last post. Life has been throwing all kinds of challenges MM’s way of late, meaning that she lost much of her blogging muchness. My mum always told me that if you have nothing nice to say, it’s best to keep your trap shut – hence the period of silence on this blog. 

 

Loo Roll Logic, or How to Have Fun at the Supermarket.

I am a serial “people spotter”, and supermarkets are a permanent source of amusement for me. Earth Daddy (the free-trade father), Zero Percent (the manically depressed low fat/sugar/carb freak), YFSM (Young Free & Single Male) and the rest of the Saturday Shopper crew have me rolling in the supermarket aisles every time.

This week, I decided to embrace the zen attitude of the weekday lunchtime shop, and met a completely different shopping population. The store was quiet and strangely devoid of the usual screaming toddlers teetering over the brink of the trolley with torrents of snot and half-chewed cookie drooling down their chins.

1953--shop as a family--by Bill Fleming

Earth Daddy, Wonder Woman and their irreproachable offspring shopping at Intermarché, where Earth Daddy finally found the rat poison he needed to deal with the neighbour’s cat. (Photo credit: x-ray delta one)

I coasted through the aisles with my squeaky trolley and played “Shopper’s I spy”. Retired lady with headscarf sifting through the cut-price bargains on the bottom shelf of the deli section? Check. Night-shift workers with bags under their eyes hunting down their brunch? Check. Spotty teens playing truant from the local school? Check. Zero Percent reading the small print on the diet yoghurt pot? Check.

I ambled over to the fruit and veg section in hope of a blog-worthy sight, and was rewarded by the sight of a well-dressed gent who was picking cucumbers off the display one after the other. He prodded them and eyed them suspiciously before waving one of them at his wife, who acquiesced with a brief nod of the head and went back to rummaging feverishly through the bags of salad.

It was at that moment that I was distracted by a supermarket sound I love more than any other – the sound of someone singing along to the tannoy system. From behind the lettuce display, a deep voice with a strong French accent was purring:

“And eef you ‘ave a minoot whay don’t wee goh…?

Tolk abowt eet, zomwear onli wee noh?

Ziiiiis cood be zee end of everysii-ing

Zo whay don’t wee goh

Zomwear onli wee noh?”

Peering through the foliage, I spotted the vegetable virtuoso. The bearded young man was serenading the bunches of radishes as he inspected them one by one, happily oblivious to the fact that the entire store could hear him. His version of Coldplay made the song, as well as grocery shopping, a damn sight sexier. He bounded away with his radishes and dropped them into his basket before pointing in the air and informing his girlfriend: “Let’s go. I hate love songs in supermarkets.” His secret would be safe with me – once I’d put it on my blog.

Woman wearing gas mask in chamber

Gladys realized that her lotus flower-scented loo roll was no match for the collateral damage caused by Roger’s Vindaloo take-away. (Photo credit: State Library of Victoria Collections)

I mooched off to the toilet paper aisle for the weekly truckload of toilet paper and raised a perplexed eyebrow at the range of vile colours on offer. I just don’t get the point of the insipid pastel shades of pink, apricot, blue and green, which remind me of hand-knitted cardigans at the local old people’s home. There is nothing delicate or elegant about the role of the roll. And as for perfumed loo roll… Depending on who has just vacated the premises, you would have to insert an entire roll up each nostril to even notice the fragrance.

Just as I was leaving with my monster pack of bog standard white, my jaw unhinged at the sight of transparent twin packs of individually wrapped toilet rolls. In MM’s humble abode, a twin pack of bog roll would have the life expectancy of a Mars bar tossed on to the raft of the Medusa. Squinting closer, I discovered that these porcelain potty pin-ups weren’t just soft, strong and very long: you could roll this stuff out at Cannes to replace the red carpet. More importantly, these ultra-cushioned stars of the sanitaires beat the crap out of their pale pink neighbours with the raciest colours I have ever seen for the wee pee pew, including apple green, velvet-black and… dark brown.

Who on earth buys brown toilet paper? My curiosity was piqued. I parked up, grabbed a box of washing powder and pretended to read the back of it as people came and went, impatient to see who the mystery buyer could be. If my loo-roll logic was correct, it would be a high-earning, middle-aged bachelor who lives in a minimalist designer flat and reads philosophy on his spotlessly clean toilet, before carefully tearing a single sheet of paper from the Stark bog roll holder gleaming on the wall.

After ten minutes, I gave up waiting for confirmation. In my haste, I had overlooked the fact that someone who pays nearly two euros per individually wrapped chocolate-brown loo roll 1) wouldn’t be shopping until much later that evening, and 2) probably doesn’t buy loo roll very often, because he spends all his time working to pay for the bloody stuff. Never mind. Better luck next week.

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Caught With His Hand In The Cootchie Jar!

Internationally, the French have a certain reputation for being somewhat hot to trot. Perhaps not as much so as the Italians (as Berlusconi has proved again and again), but as far as infidelity goes, French politicians are high up on the scandal scale. The last remarkable ding-a-ling ding-dong concerned Dominic Strauss-Kahn, after he somehow managed to mistake the cleaning lady for his wife in a hotel room. So when French President François Hollande was caught with his hand in the cootchie cookie jar this week, nobody should really have been surprised.

Cookie Monster Sesame Street

The Cootchie Monster (Photo credits: Giphy)

When a French personality is caught with his trousers down, the first people to enthusiastically bare all about the ins and outs of his relationship with another member of France’s high-society quagmire are generally the French tabloids and gossip magazines. This motley crew vie for attention on the kiosk shelves, all scraping the bottom of the barrel with shocking, tacky titles just like like the one I deliberately chose for this post. They reassure Mr and Mrs Average that even rich, famous, and influential people suffer from hair loss, get fat, are badly dressed or rampantly unfaithful (or both). These magazines include a garish rag called Closer, a magazine I refuse to even touch in the doctor’s waiting room in case I catch some nasty disease (like the inability to write a correct sentence, or an inexplicable need to spy on my neighbours with my Canon and a zoom lens).

This week, Closer magazine orchestrated its own big break – after years of sitting it out on waiting room tables and being perused by sun-bathing bimbos seeking to live the high life by people-press proxy, this people magazine finally had a real audience. Their front page was flashed across TV screens all over the world. The magazine was even read with interest by people who wouldn’t usually be seen dead reading a publication based on compromising photographs and texts containing words of two syllables or less.

It caused such a kerfuffle that I even came across a new term on Google this morning: “Closergate”. My jaw dropped. To quote a well-known tennis man, “you cannot be serious!” Watergate was a political earthquake. In comparison, “Closergate” is no more than a fart in the tepid French bathtub of mediocrity, and will have zero impact on anything except François Hollande’s credibility and popularity, which is at an all-time low anyway.

So what’s the big deal? Monsieur le Président eez ‘aveeng an affaire. And not just any affair – that wouldn’t sell enough copies. An « affaire extra-conjugale » – an extra-marital relationship.

“Well, whoopee doo, another French politician having sex. Tell me something new,” MM grunted into her coffee. “Mon Dieu! Quelle horreur!”, screamed a large proportion of the French population, a huge grin on their faces, before rushing out of the door to fight tooth and nail for the last copy, lock themselves in the bathroom and check out the photos of François escaping from his golden cage and biking across Paris for a night with his “secret” lover.

Paris Match

Public Figure? Got a secret? See how long you can safeguard it.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, I’m sorry to be a party-pooper, but President Hollande is not married, so unless you have a very flexible definition of the word “conjugal”, this is not an extra-conjugal relationship. However, Mr Hollande did invite his partner to shack up with him at the Elysée when he was elected, thus putting her both in the limelight and in the taxpayers’ budget, and ipso facto making her France’s first lady – married or not. She has her own page on the Elysée website, and her own press team (who are no doubt now drawing strawers for the next press conference). Seen in this light, even someone with lorryloads of flegme britannique could perceive his behaviour as somewhat inappropriate. Poor wee Val has been dragged through the mud – by a Prince Charming with eyes bigger than his belly who has bitten off more than he can chew. Her recent tweet was unambiguous: “I chose an ugly man so I didn’t have to worry. #All men are bastards”. Who can blame her?

Caught “with his hand in the sack,” as the French say, Monsieur le Président is now indignantly bleating for “the respect of his private life” by the media. He’s just like everyone else, of course: Joe Bloggs the President. I couldn’t agree more – just like him, any humble citizen who is regularly seen leaving his home and knocking at a lady’s door in the middle of the night will eventually end up getting rumbled. Although we mere mortals don’t get international coverage, you can bet your bottom dollar that immeasurable numbers of unfaithful spouses have been named and shamed by the greatest and most unforgiving media network out: the village grapevine.

I would show some compassion, Mr Hollande, but I’m sure that you cringed and laughed along with the rest of the world – admit it, you did – when Clinton got egg on his face during “Monicagate”. (There is an opportunity for crude wordplay there, but I will behave.) You were in France when Chirac’s infidelity was brought to light, and again when Mitterand’s illegitimate daughter was mercilessly tracked down by the media and pulled out of anonymity. You saw how much private life President Sarkozy didn’t get. Incidentally, I don’t recall hearing you screaming indignantly to defend your previous rival DSK’s rights to privacy when details of his (very) personal life were copiously smeared all over the media not so long ago, either.

Your naive belief that the media should treat you differently is touching, and even concerning. As President, you’re being watched 24/7 by the very same media you welcomed with open arms and used as a legitimate means to blow your own trumpet in the run-up to your election. So… I have bad news for you, François. Yes, there are mean people out there who were waiting to see you trip up. Yes, they are enjoying it, and yes, they will make happily make money and forge a sad reputation out of your misery. That’s the way the leadership cookie crumbles, cupcake. You can’t have your brioche and eat it.

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Ten Beret Good Things to Know About France and the French.

This is the title of my entry in the writing contest run by Expats Blog, which has just gone on-line and closes at 21h GMT on 20th December. To get your dose of MM fun today, please click on the link below.

Ten Beret Good Things to Know About France and the French.

Although I don’t generally run after trophies, I must admit that if my little blog was awarded a gold, silver or bronze award, I’d be a very chuffed cookie. So if what you read there floats your boat, I would be eternally grateful (and tell you lots of stories, and share my sweets and playmos with you at bloggers’ playtime for ever and ever, amen) if you could leave a comment in the little box below the article – success is directly dependent upon the number and quality of comments for each entry. There’s an email verification on comments, so if you comment don’t forget to confirm that it’s really you who wrote.

Still wondering how important it is for MM that you take part? It’s this important.

Story Time: The Topless Tale.

All right, children. It’s time to put your things away and come over to the story corner. My last post sparked off some requests to elucidate the mystery of my half-naked sprint down a public road. So here’s your story, boys and girls, told in true Jackanory form with my best Joyce Grenfell Infant school teacher voice.

Quiet, now. Elaine and BW, please put those midget gems away, or I will have to confiscate them. PN, please stop fiddling with Mrs Sensible’s feet, or I’ll send you to the corner again… and no, I’m afraid you can’t sit beside OAC for story time today, because last week you dared her to bring home-made limoncello to school in her Thomas the Tank Engine flask, and you passed it round while we listened to WWN’s story about camping with  black bears. You don’t want to clean up the vomit in the Lego box again, now, do you? Fine. Now, children. Are you sitting comfortably? Then we will begin…

Once upon a time, before childbirth increased her waistline and diminished her neurones, MM was a wild young thing. She accidentally kicked a sexy Frenchman’s leg several times during a slide show about the Irish coastline, fell head over heels in love, and resolved to follow in his wake wherever he roamed…. Yes, that’s right, Tric, just like a seagull following the spill from a deep-sea trawler.

So when PF announced that he was to study for four years in the South of France, MM bravely slathered herself in goose fat and struck out across the English Channel behind him in an admirable quest to survive on no more than love, French wine and precarious TOEFL teaching contracts.

Old Sydney March 19, 1950. Bathing costumes ha...

MM posing with the girls before chasing PF across the English Channel (Photo credit: Alpa)

One of the advantages of their situation was the closeness to the beach. At weekends, MM traded in her suit and text books for a bikini and a towel, and she and PF drove to the beach in their faithful VW to partake in a tad of sunshine and a quick dip in the urine-saturated surf of the Med.

That fateful day, they parked up at the beach. MM cheerfully said “hello” to the holiday maker sitting on his deck chair at the side of the road – many people did this (-sitting in a chair, not saying hello-) because bad guys sometimes broke into their RV’s in their absence. MM should have taken this as an omen.

Our lovebirds wandered through the dunes to the beach, which was already teeming with  examples of humanity at its best. Do you like the beach? MM didn’t. She only ever seemed to see oily, sunburnt beer guts toppling over lycra swimming trunks, and bored children with a dual carriageway of fluorescent, sand-encrusted snot running down their faces trying to draw circles in the sand with their own urine. Poor MM.

Now, have you ever noticed that tourists on a beach are like buffalo at a watering hole? The closer you get to the water’s edge, the higher the density is. So clever MM and PF stretched their towels out at the top of the beach to avoid the crush. They planted the parasol at a rakish angle, then stripped off. And this is where MM made her biggest mistake. She tidied up. I shouldn’t tell you this, children, but tidying up can sometimes have terrible consequences in life. And in MM’s case, putting all her belongings into her rucksack and neatly closing the top was a very silly thing to do.

Our couple hot-footed it through the hoards of sunbathers before the soles of their feet burnt to a crisp and the insides of their nostrils were scorched by the cocktail of nicotine and Ambre Solaire fumes. They ducked under the waves and swam out to sea, scampily scantily dressed… No, TAC, MM didn’t have her bikini top on. Why? Well, because MM was an eternal optimist, and didn’t want white lines messing up her non-existent tan.

Suddenly, from her privileged vantage point suctioned to PF’s back, MM was horrified to see two olive-skinned young men appear from the dunes and sit down under her parasol. She grabbed PF’s ears and pointed his face North before blowing the whistle on the beach space invaders, dismounting and scrambling to save her belongings.

Pamela Anderson as C.J. Parker.

Pamela Anderson showing off her integrated buoyancy aids.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Now, children. Who has watched Baywatch on TV? Who remembers Pamela Anderson, running up the beach with her buoyancy aids bouncing in her swimsuit and her designer rubber ring tucked under her arm?… Ah, well done, Duncanr; you do. Well, they cheated when they filmed it, because running up a sandy beach is about as easy as swimming across a pool full of baked beans wearing a ball gown and a pair of lead-lined Doc Martins. By the time MM and PF had got to the top of the beach, dodging inert bodies, screaming kids, sand castles and inflatable crocodiles in a half-naked impression of the Normandy landings, the bag and its thieves were disappearing through the dunes towards the road.

Dripping and furious, our anti-heroes gave the 100 m dash their best shot, PF taking the lead. A coach load of tourists applauded MM as she pelted barefoot down the burning asphalt, gesticulating and screaming like a banshee. It was only when she was awarded an enthusiastic thumbs-up from a car driver awaiting a parking space that she realised that her feet were not the only bit of her that was bare.

The thieves had disappeared into the labyrinth of dunes on the other side of the road, and PF returned for an emergency summit on the side of the road. A master plan was put into action. As PF continued to comb the dunes with all the determination of Hollande sniffing out something new to tax, a red-faced MM jogged back to her car. The sunbathing RV-dweller was surprised to be faced with a scantily dressed English girl asking him to intervene if a complete stranger tried to disappear with her car, keys, papers, clothing, cheque book, credit card, and house keys. Beaming vacantly at a point a few inches below MM’s chin (those were the days), the tourist assured MM’s onboard lactation facility that he would be happy to help.

MM then returned to the hunt. After 30 minutes, the bag was found, hidden in the shrubbery at the bottom of a tree. Empty bags belonging to other victims were littered around the ground. The contents had been rifled and the untraceable stuff had disappeared – MM’s watch and the hard cash.

So the moral of this story is…. don’t take anything to the beach with you that you wouldn’t donate to a complete stranger. And never leave your keys in your bag, children… or you might have to hitch-hike home… in your underwear.

The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking

(Photo credit: c@rljones [modelling])