Ugly Sister Syndrome.

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A photo I took in Nîmes last year: “A pair of shoes can sometimes change our lives. Cinderella.”

Summer has arrived with a vengeance in the Languedoc. The cat has resumed its favourite pastime of soaking up heat in a lazy heap on the wall. Luis the Nightingale is in fine fettle, warbling opera to his offspring throughout the night. Greasy fingers have been ceremoniously licked clean at The First Barbecue. And MM has come out in a cold sweat as she observes her summer dresses  and wonders whether she will pair them up with bare feet or a pair of trainers.

Welcome to the world of big-footed girls – the ones who spend all summer in size-too-small sandals and know the ugly step-sisters’ side of the Cinderella story by heart. Do you have hands like shovels that are too big to fit into the gloves in the dye box? Are the trouser legs too short on that pair of trousers you covet so much? Do you get tutted at by girls who “can’t see through you” at the cinema, and mutter under your breath that you will get your revenge when you are the only person tall enough pass them the last six-pack of girly drink off the top shelf at the supermarket? If so, the odds are on that you too suffer from Ugly Sister Syndrome.

MM has been a fully signed-up member of the anti-Cinderella brigade since her childhood. The brothers Grimm claim that when Prince C turned up with Cinder’s shoe, her sisters chopped off their own toes in a desperate attempt to fit inside it.  Big feet are synonymous of nastiness, frumpiness and spinsterhood in this sinister tale, whilst small feet rhyme with femininity, fairy godmothers, vertiginous social ascension and a Prince Charming to sweep you away to be a social handbag in a gilded cage.

What happened to the ugly sisters at the end of the story?  I have an idea of how their story ends:

They felt fat, frumpy and Dame Edna-like, in the full knowledge that without fitting into that damned glass slipper, they didn’t have a hope in hell of getting anywhere in Fairytaleland. They never found girly shoes their own size and, unable to leave the house for social functions, ended up living as manic-depressive hermits, binge-drinking Bordeaux out of their size nine trainers and throwing darts at the official portrait of Cinders and Charming. The End.

I remember the moment I realized that I would never be a delicate female. My mother had taken us to the theatre to watch Coppélia. I don’t remember much of the experience except my fascination with the ballerinas, and the huge ball of despair that knotted my stomach as I watched ‘real’ girls who didn’t scab their knees falling off their bikes, didn’t climb trees, held themselves beautifully and had small, delicate feet laced into minute satin slippers with pink ribbons shimmering around slim ankles. Their long, straight hair was tied into a neat, well-behaved bun on their heads. They were everything that I was not.

ballerina

If the ballet dancers had been like Taylor Swift, I wouldn’t have cried on my way home from Coppélia.

Sitting glumly on the bus on the way home, I looked down at my feet in their Clarks lace-up shoes, clocked my untidy tomboy reflection in the dirty bus window, and burst into tears. When my mother asked me why, the only answer I could find was: “I want to be a ballet dancer.” She took it at face value, but that wasn’t what I meant. I yearned to be feminine and delicate. I had realised that somewhere deep down inside the resilient tomboy there was a girl, but she could never be that kind of girl. It hurt. I got over it soon enough, because everyone knows that you can’t make a tree house or sail Mirror dinghies in a tutu. But that tomboy complex still surfaces on a regular basis. Particularly when I have to buy shoes – every ugly step-sister’s nightmare.

I took my boys with me to the shoe shop last year, and challenged them to find me a pair of shoes. Bigfoot stuffed a brogue into my hand – not at all what I was expecting. He reassured me that they would look beautiful with my trousers and top – he was obviously thinking in terms of a high-power business woman, but MM’s head was already busily conjuring up a hybrid of Madame Doubtfire and Mary Poppins.

Sadista the saleswoman glided up from the depths of the slipper section – petite, with perfect make-up and tiny feet. She tipped her head back to look up at me and simpered, “How can I help you?”

And that was when the Ugly Sister Syndrome kicked in. I looked around, and suddenly felt out of my depth in enemy, girly territory. I was Goliath Girl, trampling around in a field full of Lilliputians – an Alice who had bitten off more Wonderland cake than she could chew.  Panic rose in my throat and my bold confidence disappeared in a puff of shoe deodorant. I made a last ditch attempt to appear calm and unruffled, and silence suddenly reigned in the store as an unnaturally loud and strangled “Do you have this shoe in a size 9?” echoed around its walls. Bargain-hunting predators paused and swivelled their carefully lacquered heads to locate the whereabouts of Queen Kong in the undergrowth of the commercial jungle.

 

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“Queen Kong wanted that last pair of size 9 Jimmy Choos, but Rulah the big-footed Jungle Goddess wasn’t going to give them up without a fight.”

Sadista smirked and drummed her manicured claws on a shoe box. “These stop at a size 8, just like in most stores, for most shoes.” She drew in her breath, and I prepared to jam the box lid between her coral pink glossed lips sideways if she dared to add, “… for most women.

“May I suggest that you try mail order?” she rattled at high volume, looking at my feet with an amused smile twitching at the corners of her mouth. Bigfoot glared down at her. ‘She’ll try the size eight anyway,” he barked.

Five minutes later, Sadista trotted back with the shoes. I tried hard to fit my foot into that shoe, really, I did. But there was nothing doing. It was like trying to shoehorn a Hummer into a dog’s kennel. It would have been easier to get Sylvester Stallone into Paris Hilton’s G-string than fit my Patagonian-sized plates of meat inside those size eights.

I handed the box back. “Cinderella’s sister won’t be wearing those to the ball, then.” She looked at me in confusion. I spared my sons the embarrassment of developing my argument. They knew that unlike MM, Sadista had never suffered the humiliation of spotting a pair of garish size nine heels in a shop window and eagerly pushing open the door to what she hoped to be an unexpected haven for big-footed girls, only to be greeted by a confused transvestite who, judging by the expression on her face, was far more surprised than I was.

So we all smiled. I hooked each hand through the teenaged arm that appeared on either side of me, tapped the heels of my size-too-small red sandals together and tripped out of the shop with my heroes. Not quite Julie Andrews’ magic red shoes, but they’d do the job for as long as my apprentice Prince Charmings had my back.

RAWR FOR RARA!

“We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.” George W. Bush.

I often reiterate my firm belief that the best things in life are both free and priceless. The friendship that results from blogging is one of these things – from a jumble of words in cyberspace emerges the miracle of communication, complicity and trust linking human beings across the globe who smile, laugh and cry together.

Recently, this friendship was essential to me after a death in my family  – I shed hot, humble and grateful tears when I saw the support and concern expressed by my blogging friends. This is proof that blogging friendship is anything but virtual – it is a real, reliable rock to which I willingly clung. So thank you. (MM wipes nose on sparkly Diva dress.)

Today, I am asking you to extend that support to a fellow blogger.

On your travels around the blogosphere, it is highly probable that you have bumped into Rara. Rara is the world’s most beautiful dino-blogger. She doesn’t roar, she RAWRS. She knows how to write like no other dino-human, but she doesn’t stop at that. Rara has an incredible talent for creating a lasting relationship with her readers. She is sweet, kind, fun, optimistic, creative and just downright rawr-some. I never saw the slightest trace of negativity on her blog -she boosted my day and inundated my soul with optimism. Yup, all that.

Until this weekend, when I discovered a post that made me choke up and cry. It was a good-bye post. Rara has been accused of theft, and is in jail until her court hearing. You can call me naive if you wish, but I can only base my opinion of Rara on what I have read and my contact with her… and it simply doesn’t add up.

Rara has helped me in the past. So what could I do to help her? I wanted to rent a T-Rex to save her from jail and bite her accuser on the butt, but all the T-Rex stock was already taken. I can’t pay her bail.

T-Rex Dinosaur

A T-Rex like this one would do just fine (Photo credit: Scott Kinmartin).

But I can write. So I sat down with my notepaper and wrote a letter to Rara. Words are like hot chocolate, but better. They have the power to soothe, to nurture hope and smiles. A letter is warm. Reassuring. It offers an escape route you can travel again and again. Friendship. Humour. The simple fact that someone, somewhere, has taken a few minutes to write that letter can momentarily make life better: it tells the recipient that he or she is not just anyone, but really somebody for someone.

So if you can do one thing today, please be that someone for a blogger who is not just somebody, but really something.  If you know Rara, please write her a few lines. If you don’t know Rara, write her a few lines tooTHE ADDRESS CAN BE FOUND HERE.

The best things in life are free – and support and friendship among bloggers is one of those miraculous, precious things. Alone, each of us is just one person. But add us together, and we can make a big difference for one person and her family – today, that person is RARA.

Those who can make a financial donation to help, or send a care parcel to her husband Grayson and their cats, are welcome to do so. Follow the above link to Rara’s blog for more details.

 

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How to Embrace Your Inner Bitch.

Farmer Farthing over at the Asylum recently described how a run-in with a bottle of vodka awoke the Kraken within. I nodded in sympathy. Everybody has one.

Once again, Mrs Playmo had failed to put her Inner Bitch on a lead.

Once again, Mrs Playmo had failed to put her Inner Bitch on a lead.

Meet your Inner Bitch.

She’s raw, she’s rough and she makes Ridley Scott’s Alien look as scary as Yogi Bear. We are brought up to ignore her, yet we don’t listen to her often enough. She tells us what we don’t want to hear – she’s our inner voice, our gut feeling, our deep-seated instinct.

Inner Bitch is Gollum’s little sister,  jealously guarding your most secret fears. Naked, unkempt and rebellious, she keeps away from the light, crouching in the corners of your mind and flitting through the dark shadows of your consciousness. At nightfall, she grabs her bag, slams the door and gets the lift to your mind. She parties drunkenly in your dreams and lets rip with her high-pitched screams, appealing to you through the mists of sleep to say things her way. You refuse. As the day dawns, she stomps back to her cave, where she kicks off her scruffy Doc Martins, crouches on the floor in her underwear and flicks cigarette ash into a dirty coffee cup. She mutters obscenities and calls you a loser as she observes you smiling through gritted teeth at someone she wishes you would hang upside down off the nearest lamp-post with their underwear on their heads. If only you would listen to her…

My genetic heritage has rewarded me with 1) an exploded brillo pad growing on my head and 2) a multifarious character combining four contradictory elements: English stoicism, Scottish candour, Irish hot-headedness and Welsh stubbornness.

A rare picture of the author to prove that I'm not kidding about the brillo pad. My kids call me Chewbacca.

A rare shot of the author, fondly referred to as  “Chewbacca” by her offspring. Just to prove that I’m not kidding about the brillo pad…

Below this thick coat of hair there is an ideal habitat for my drooling, rabid inner bitch, who is waiting for that one ideal moment to rear her ugly head, known as

The Fuckwit Vortex

We’ve all been sucked into the fuckwit vortex at some point in our lives. Fuckwit is a term I first read in Helen Fielding’s book Bridget Jones’ Diary, and describes a fool or an idiot. We all know a fuckwit, and we are all somebody else’s fuckwit, no matter how hard we try.

For reasons that elude you, someone, consciously or not, is doing their best to goad your Inner Bitch into a conflict. You put on your best deadpan face in the full knowledge that she is foaming at the mouth. Seething and bubbling like a lake of lava behind your mask of self-control. You visualise the words “Off” “Water” “A” “Back” “Duck’s”, and “Wrongs” “Right” “Two” “Make” “A” “Don’t”, and encourage yourself to assemble them in the right order and repeat as necessary until symptoms subside. This “ignore it and it will go away” policy, otherwise known as putting your head in the sand, doesn’t work every time. But fear not, dear reader. We have a secret weapon:

The two-way fuckwit filter

A fuckwit filter, also known as taking a step back, filters the majority of negative fuckwit frequency input. This substantially reduces the amount that reaches Inner Bitch in her cave. When the negative vibes attain her, she bounds up to the access hatch with wild eyes, hair flying and saliva dripping off her chin, only to be caught in the fuckwit filter.

1953 Ad, E Z Kleen Air Filters

If the fuckwit filter could be bought, it would look like this.(Photo credit: classic_film)

Oh frabjous day! Caloo, calay! The fuckwit filter saves the day! Or not. Overpowering the inner bitch, muzzling her and putting her back in her cage cannot work for ever. So here is another simple method:

Embrace your inner bitch.

Accommodate her voice and modulate it into a polite form. You can even tinge it with a touch of humour to spice it up if you so wish – this is commonly called sarcasm. Watch the grin spread across your inner bitches face. She will clap her hands with glee, leap into her armchair and grab a bucket of popcorn to enjoy the show, because you finally gave her some air space. Amaze yourself as you deliver a softer version of her first draft. Like in music, you can choose the beat and the melody : hard rock, love song, folk or blues. John Lennon, Metallica or the Muppets: the choice is yours and yours only.

This does however demand a great amount of self-control. It is often confused with the very dangerous third option:

Letting the bitch loose.

Woe betide the girl who lets Inner Bitch run amok – if she escapes into the room, she can cause more havoc than Samantha Fox running around the Vatican in her birthday suit.

This often happens when events are taken over by the only other threat to humanity: Herr Hormone and his henchmen (more about him here). When the bitch hooks up with Herr Hormone, she explodes out of your mouth like Godzilla with a skinful of Jack Daniels and steroids. She rips the truths out of your innards, whizzes them together and vomits them into the room, then returns to her cave and punches the hell out of your stomach wall. This is the worst possible option, because irreparable damage occurs and feelings are hurt. Including yours. From now on you are alone with Inner Bitch, and neither of you will gain any more than solitude from the escapade.

Little Bitch

This girl let her inner bitch escape. She was immediately devoured with ketchup and her shoes were given to Oxfam. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So get in touch with your inner bitch, but don’t confuse it with being a bitch. The first is good for you, the second is self-destructive. Inner Bitch really is your best friend. If she is happy, so are you: it’s a win-win situation. Just remember to put her on a lead when you take her out for a walk.

My thanks to Farmer Farthing, aka Welly Girl, for inspiring this post. Welly Girl is a terminally good egg: a ray of sunshine in any grey day. Her blog is a fabulous cocktail of fun, fiction and reality checks. She has a refreshingly different way to cut the proverbial crap, and you should check her out here and now at farmerfarthing.com

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Grammar Paranoia and the Double Negative Dilemma

Hello, everybody. My name is Joanna, and I suffer from Grammar Paranoia.

I had a fit today. The potential error beamed out of the screen at me like a beacon, gloating at my lack of perspicacity. I immediately showed the typical first symptoms: increased heart rate, shivering, and battering my forehead with the palm of my hand. Then I broke out in a cold sweat. I dropped everything I was doing, and trawled through grammar guides, gnawing anxiously at my fingernails as my stomach did somersaults. Should I really have written “Me, Beyoncé and the hideous hag”? Wouldn’t “Beyoncé, the hideous Hag and I” have been better? (At least I hadn’t forgotten the comma that saves Beyoncé from being a hideous hag. Or does it?) Welcome to the mess I call my brain.

Grammar police

An example of what MM is capable of doing. (Photo credit: the_munificent_sasquatch)

As I have already mentioned on this blog, I am a fully paid-up member of the Punctuation Police. I come out in spots and start muttering obscenities under my breath when I spot a greengrocer’s apostrophe. I tell shop owners in hushed tones that there is a spelling mistake “just here“, whilst my children burn up with embarrassment – they don’t understand that a spelling mistake is as embarrassing as having a bogey hanging out of your nostril. So when I find a mistake in my own writing, I chew off my own arms in despair.

The grammar guides were formal: “I” is used for a subject, and “ME” for an object. So why did my instinct say “ME”? Before my parents threw out the telly, the first BBC educational programme I used to watch as a child was called “You and Me“. Could the BBC have knowingly given their programme a name that was a grammatical minefield? Wouldn’t the Grammar Gestapo have screamed blue murder and burned their dictionaries in front of the BBC’s offices if it had been wrong?

My grammar paranoia turned into an internet hunt using the term “me and you”. It resulted in an impressive list of references to films, books and songs, including that great song, “Me and You and a Dog Named Blue“. I doubt it would have been a hit if he’d sung “You and I and a dog named Blue”. And what about Me and Mrs Jones? Would they still have had a “thing” going on if he’d waffled, “Mrs Jones and I are having a spiffing little fling” instead?

This set me off on a new track about the liberties that the music and film world take by breaking grammatical rules. One of these things is the extremely common double negative. There ain’t no getting rid of that dang double negative. No, siree.

When I switch on the radio and sashay my way around the kitchen, everything goes fine until that fateful moment when the singer spits out that double negative, and I spit my coffee over the hob. Puff Daddy drives me nuts with his eyebrow-raising title “Can’t nobody hold me down“. Nor will I waste any time listening to Justin Timberlake whimpering “I ain’t got no money, I ain’t got no car…” in his song “The way I are”. (I’m sure there must be some deep, philosophical explanation for that conjugation of the verb “to be” apart from it maybe rhyming with “car”, but I ain’t got no time to look, as Justin would say). And last but not least… tadaaaah… our friend Beyoncé. Not only is she the “most beautiful mother in the world”, but she achieves an absolute best of four negatives in her song “Get me bodied”. (Whatever that means. I’ve heard of disembodied, but not bodied). “I ain’t worried, doing me tonight, a little sweat ain’t never hurt nobody“. OK, we’ll take your word for it, Mrs B.

Beyonce Awesome Reaction

Beyoncé during her Olympic quadruple negative exploit (Photo credits: Giphy)

Yet modern-day singers are just continuing an age-old tradition – some of the best singers in history sang to us in double negatives. When Louis Armstrong warbled “I ain’t got nobody”, nobody got their grammar knickers in a twist about the fact that two negatives make a positive, so if he “didn’t have nobody”, he actually had somebody.

It’s too late for me. I’ve tried, tried and tried again, but when I hear Mick Jagger singing that he can’t get no satisfaction, I feel like washing his cavernous mouth out with soap and sending him to bed with a grammar book. If I’d been at Islington Green School when they asked the pupils to sing for Pink Floyd, I’m pretty sure that my mother would have tied me to a chair at home then hammered some sense into the authors with a heavy copy of the Oxford English Dictionary.

Imagine being a copy editor way back then and finding the lyrics of “Another Brick in the Wall” in your inbox. I would have needed a double dose of Xanax just to get over the opening line, “We don’t need no education, we don’t need no thought control”. If Joe Bloggs had written these lyrics instead of Pink Floyd, his masterpiece of bad grammar would have been arrested and put in Pedant’s Prison on multiple charges of taking the English language in vain.

I’ve scratched my head a lot about this, and have decided that singers sacrifice good language use to achieve a familiar, “boy next-door who’s just fallen out of the pub and thrown up beside you on the pavement” style of speaking. So, snot fair. We bloggers ain’t got no right to artistic licence wiv grammar, but them singers duz.

I have gone back to my post and changed the title to something less worrying. I’m sure that Muphry’s Law will apply here, and someone will find at least one mistake somewhere in my diatribe about other people’s mistakes. So be it. A little humility ain’t never hurt nobody. Now I’m off for a little lie down – I ain’t got no energy left.

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A Beginner’s Guide to Sod’s Law and Handbag Voodoos.

English: From Mal Corvus Witchcraft & Folklore...

One of the rare voodoos I do not have in my handbag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When kids turn up at the door to sell me raffle tickets, my eyes glaze over. I dutifully buy a ticket in the full knowledge that I will never win the basket of goodies, let alone the holiday in Ibiza with massages and breakfast in bed. (That sentence was ambiguous. You wouldn’t get the two simultaneously, of course. They never give prizes like that in PTA raffles.) I’ve also got used to the idea that as I scratch the free game card at the supermarket cash-out and read “LOST”, I will invariably hear Wonder Woman squeal with delight as she wins Prince Charming, a Mercedes-Benz and an all-expenses paid shopping trip to Milan at the next till down.

I don’t have any issues with that. After all, I do win more often than Wonder Woman in more incongruous stakes. Like the day two gypsies stole just one bag amidst thousands on the beach, leaving a one lucky young lady miles from home with no worldly possessions other than her bikini bottoms. As regular readers know, the winner was … me. Here are a few more examples of my wins in what I call “the reverse luck stakes” .

  • When a car travelling down the M27 hit the central reservation and flipped up in the air like a giant tiddly-wink before slowly tumbling out of the sky into oncoming traffic, its driver (or should I say “pilot”) probably glimpsed the determined face of a girl who was muttering obscenities as she floored the accelerator and willed her VW Beetle to get the hell out of his landing strip. That girl was me.
  • When I was taken to watch my first (and last) football match, I didn’t see any football. I witnessed the worst stadium-related tragedy in the history of British sport instead.
  • When our local budding arsonist decided that setting light to wheelie bins was no longer enough to satisfy what would could be described as a burning desire for flames, he gave in to temptation and set light to one of the hundreds of cars parked along our avenue. Technically speaking, the car wasn’t mine… it was on loan from my employer.
  • To crown it all, breaking news: PF is presently stuck on an island somewhere off the coast of Africa because the local petrol stations have gone on strike. No petrol, no boat. No boat, no airport. If the family silverback doesn’t manage to get on the plane home next week, I will end up corresponding with a disgruntled, long-haired, modern-day Robinson Crusoe dressed in zebu skin who has shacked up in the trunk of a baobab tree and is sharing bananas with the pet lemur on his shoulder.
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle

PF calling MM from Baobab HQ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have drawn the conclusion that the slimmer the chances of misfortune are for others, the more likely the predicament becomes for me. These “reverse luck stakes” lead me to check the sky from time to time in case there is a block of frozen airline waste beelining through the stratosphere with my name on it. After all, if only five people have been hit by these urine-saturated meteorites over the last 40 years in the UK, that means that I run a pretty high chance of going down in family history as the girl who was clocked on the head by St Peter’s giant frozen kidney stone.

Sod’s law is intricately linked to another law of possibilities that I call the “handbag voodoo law”. Handbag voodoos are all the things you cart around in your bag that you never seem to need. This lorryload of crap seems to protect you from the wrath of the sod’s law gods, who vent their spleen on you as soon as you leave any of said “useless items” at home.

When my kids were small, I would chuck a spare change of clothes for them into my bottomless handbag. It would fester in the collection of biscuit crumbs, keys, supermarket receipts and biros for months on end until I finally emptied my bag and strode out of the door with my child, forgetting the change of clothes. This immediately sparked the demon on my child’s shoulder into action, and they would promptly either pee their pants, drop their drink down their fronts or throw up.

My mobile phone never rings until I forget it at home. I invariably return to snotty messages from school saying that my child has a temperature and that they couldn’t contact me. The “handbag voodoo” law applies to many other things: Aspirin. Tissues. Biros. Hair bands. Gloves. Elastoplast. Sunglasses. Hand cream. Screwdrivers… The list is endless, and yesterday’s missing handbag voodoo was the lip balm. It had knocked around in my bag until the lid fell off months ago and it ended up welded to my checkbook. So I made the mistake of chucking it away and not replacing it.

English: Gladrags and handbags! A giant handba...

A bag big enough to contain all necessary handbag voodoos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast forward to yesterday, when MM was kicking her heels on the beach with Smelly Dog for the day whilst Bigfoot jumped through hoops for the French military service. The Sod’s Law Gods inspected the contents of my handbag, got their heads together and handed things over to Zeus. The wind picked up, and sand and salt stung my face and dried out my lips. Within two hours, I felt as dried out and wrinkled as a sun-dried tomato and was licking my lips more often than Hugh Hefner at a lingerie show.

So when I got home, I ran to the bathroom, stuck my hand in the cupboard and pulled out the first lip balm I saw. I hastily slathered a huge, comforting layer of it all over my stinging, smarting lips, then hit the sack.

Now. Remember those reverse luck stakes? There is little chance of anyone being allergic to lip balm. Within this group, there is an infinitely small percentage of people who could physically react to a hypoallergenic, plant-based one. That person appears to be me. I woke up looking like a cross between Angelina Jolie and a Dunlop tyre, and have been yelling at Smelly Dog all day as I can no longer whistle.

Looking on the bright side of things, I won’t scare my husband, because he’s stuck under a baobab with the entire cast of “Madagascar”. Come to think of it, lip balm is a damn sight cheaper than Botox injections. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to rub it on my wrinkles.

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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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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.