Mrs Playmo and the Bucket List.

It has been too long. Way too long. I’m sorry. Mrs Playmo is furious with me – probably because she feels that her fan club is being neglected. Every morning she leans out of the playmo mansion window and reminds me of my blogging responsibilities, and she is right. Much as I was tempted to write a post about my reaction to the B-word,  the T- word and the E-word*, I have decided to offer you a rant-free post. (I am not promising that said post isn’t on its way, but for the moment I’m far too angry to write it down.)  Mrs Playmo is muttering to herself and typing messages in a far corner of the Playmo mansion with the curtains welded shut. She assures me that she does not have French nationality, and as such will soon be an illegal immigrant so needs to do something about it fast.

I don’t know how to explain the screaming absence on my blog. I do admit to my sense of humour having gone on a hiatus, which I attribute to the weariness of the never-ending stream of bad news from around the world. I have been writing, writing and writing some more when work permitted… but somehow, the publish button just didn’t get clicked. Over-analysis? Probably. A permanent trade-off between security and impulsiveness. The monster of incertitude that nibbles away at your confidence. I’m sure you’ve all been there. The posts are there, and they’ll be coming up – just as soon as I have plucked up my courage and rescued them from their virtual limbo in the WordPress departure lounge.

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Mrs Playmo assured her neighbour’s gym-teaching student son that she had indeed run 10km unaided, and needed private stretch and flex lessons to ensure that her glutes would be ready for the next race.

But here I am now – with a catch-up post. Mrs Playmo lifted her bottle of rosé to an whole teetotal year (me, not her) on New Year’s day, and applauded drunkenly as I was interviewed by BBC Radio 5 about my year of abstinence. Then she toasted the first anniversary of the Running Mamma Project, and the 13 kilos that I shed en route. Rugby-boy and I ran our first official 10km race along the Baie des Anges in Nice in January in a respectable time of 1h and 2 minutes. Mrs Playmo was there in my running belt to coach me through, and has since stolen my medal for her kitchen on the grounds that she ran it too.  Even if I got overtaken by most of the fancy dress participants – including Road-runner and an entire shelf of chattering Champagne bottles with hairy legs and trainers – I am very proud of myself – this is, after all, the woman who only ran if her life was in danger.

At the beginning of the year, these small yet radical life changes brought hope – I felt in my bones that 2016 would be a good year. Cautious optimism snowballed into full-blown enthusiasm. Mrs Playmo picked up on this, and waved my passport at me as I made the bed one morning.

“Oy, MM,” she bellowed. “You’ve had this thing since 2010, and it’s still in pristine condition.” She pursed her lips, blew on it, then flapped her claws, coughing.

“Geesh, kiddo, this thing’s got more dust on it than your goddam corkscrew. Are you planning to use it as a doorstop, or what? Don’t you think you should get your butt on a plane sometime soon? I’ll come with you, but we’ve got to get this show on the road.”

She had a point. When I thought back to my last trip anywhere with my passport, it was to go to Little Sis’s wedding in 2013, and I had been so rusty on international travel that I turned the wrong way and would have ended up on the flight to Casablanca if a grinning official hadn’t turned me in the right direction. Mrs Playmo dragged my bucket list out of my bedside table and disappeared into her mansion.

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Mrs Playmo had a vested interest on getting me on a long-haul flight- she is still furious that Ryanair did not provide a free minibar service on the Béziers-Bristol flight, even in Playmo-sized glasses. She needed alcohol badly on her first flight, and spent the entire trip learning the emergency instructions by heart.

We all have a bucket list of sorts. As I mentioned in a post a long time ago, the first items written on MM’s list date back to her childhood, and are 1) meeting Paddington’s Aunt Lucy, and 2) singing “halfway down the stairs” with Kermit’s nephew. When I first read “Paddington” as a child, I was touched by his Aunt Lucy’s courageous decision to send him to London, but one thing disturbed me immensely. Sending a young bear off to the European continent for a better life was a laudable idea, but how on earth would she know that he had arrived safely? I imagined Aunt Lucy, sitting in a tapestry-covered chair, her eyes riveted on Paddington’s framed school portrait and chewing her bear-claws as she waited anxiously for news. I decided there and then that one day I would visit Aunt Lucy at the Home for Retired Bears in Lima, and reassure her that her nephew had arrived safely and had become an international, marmalade sandwich-eating hero.

Never underestimate Mrs Playmo’s powers of persuasion. Forty years later, MM found herself sitting in seat 12C on her way to deepest, darkest Peru, trying to forget how many thousands of feet separated her from the ocean lying somewhere in the darkness below her seat and listening to Rodrigo Amarante (my only source of Spanish vocabulary) in an unsuccessful bid to drown out the raucous singing of Mrs Playmo. She was out of her tree on Air France Merlot, singing La Isla Bonita in her explorer hat and peering around the seat from her vantage point on the folding table to check out the male talent on the Paris-Lima flight. ‘That steward is rather sexy,” she slurred as she made a suggestive wink in his direction.

This was real. I squirmed in anticipation, or as much as I could whilst sandwiched between two sleeping men. I suspected that I may not find Aunt Lucy, but was impatient to finally see the streets of Lima that I had imagined as a child, some Inca ruins, and maybe even a talking llama or two (unless Disney lied to me in ‘The Emporor’s new Groove’).

Watch this space for the next episode, but in the meanwhile… here is a spoiler.

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Now let’s press that publish button.

  • Brexit, Terrorism, Elections.

 

Father Christmas and the Big Girl Knickers.

Mrs Playmo sporting her Big Girl Bustier with her pal BF, aka Badass Fairy, who flies in her Big Girl Knickers because flying ain't for sissies and skirts get wrapped round your ankles.

Mrs Playmo sporting her Big Girl Bustier with her pal BF, aka Badass Fairy, who flies in her Big Girl Knickers (because flying ain’t for sissies and skirts get wrapped round your ankles).

Dear Father Christmas,

I haven’t been to sit on your knee yet this year. I hope that you have been weight training regularly, because even if I’m a mere slip of a girl at my corrected aged of 12 (4+7), I’m still a tad heavier than all the other little girls who sit on your knee in your wooden chalet.

When I saw my eight-year-old student last week, I informed her that I knew where you lived, and that I was going to sit on your lap again before Christmas and tell you what I would like to find under the Christmas tree. Her eyebrows plummeted downwards, and she looked at me with an embarrassed smile. “Uh… but you know, Father Christmas doesn’t exist. It’s the mummies and daddies who give the presents, you know,” she said, stroking my arm to soften the inevitable blow of disappointment.

Of course, I stuck up for you. If J.M. Barry’s theory for fairies had held true for Santa, you would have been a goner a long time ago, despite MM’s desperate clapping. I heard on the radio this week that children now stop believing in you earlier and earlier, and that the average seven-year-old has already acquired a soberingly grown-up attitude towards Christmas. The irony of this is that it’s all your own fault – by coughing up the goods requested on the letters you’ve been sent, you’ve signed your own death warrant. It’s cruel to say, but it’s the mean team in the fruit bowl – Apple, Orange and Blackberry – who give our little ones access to the dark side. Internet makes them grow up much faster than their parents did. It makes their adult life so much longer, and their memories of the magic of Christmas so much more short lived.

I have been a very good girl this year. So what would float MM’s boat for Christmas? Forget the technology – unless Playmobil bring out a mobile phone. Nor do I want any Febreze Fairy paraphernalia – I’m still trying to convince my family that they too can use my magic wand, aka the toilet brush. So please feel free to give the vacuum cleaners, food mixers and sundry other “time-savers” to those men who mistakenly believe that their wives will feel loved when they unwrap the latest in Cinderella technology.

MM with her magic bog brush wand, drawn by Rugby-boy.

MM with her magic bog brush wand, drawn by Rugby-boy.

I remember that I asked you for a Bugatti last year, and you grinned and said that you would see what you could do. Then you quietly opened my emotional underwear drawer behind my back, and put in an old classic of lucid lingerie. A special pair of kecks I refer to as my Big Girl Knickers.

We are all very different when we strip down to our emotional underwear. My usual everyday emotional undergarment is the no-nonsense cotton Marks & Sparks tanga – ideal for a bit of banter, discussing recent events and watching the news. But this year was going to demand a much more elaborate model, and you knew it.

When the shit hits the fan and MM has to strip down to her emotional underwear, the G-string is generally her default programme. The emotional G-string category is designed for those with all the resistance of a chocolate radiator when faced with the merest whiff of stress or sadness, whose emotional undies immediately shrink and get painfully stuck in the most intimate part of their anatomy. A baby squirrel forgetting its lines at the school play is enough to set off the immediate crumpling of MM’s face, making her look like the bonnet of a 2CV after a head-on crash with an articulated truck as she desperately seeks a tissue in her pocket and ends up blowing her nose on a crumpled supermarket receipt.

I have always admired those who adopt the full-length Edwardian corset in emotional situations. They slip it on, lace it up and appear in dignified form to the world, their feelings carefully tarpaulined under a satin sheen, giving a sleekly elegant cover to the ugly fight occurring beneath. Then there are the camouflage boxer-wearers – the no-nonsense undies that say things the way they are, without excessive frills or nonsense. These are the people who remain stoic, and wipe away the occasional rogue tear behind dark sunglasses.

Germaine amazed her friends by the fact that she never cried in public. Little did they know that below her dress, she sported the ultimate in emotional constraint underwear technology.

Germaine amazed her friends by the fact that she never cried in public. Little did they know that below her dress, she sported the ultimate in emotional constraint underwear technology.

And then, at the back of the emotional underwear drawer, there is the Pandora’s box that I always hated to open. I heard its occupant coughing sternly in there sometimes, and reacted by hastily burying it under a thick layer of Marks & Sparks faithfuls and closing the drawer. Meet MM’s Big Girl Knickers, to be pulled on in all GUE’s (Grown Up Emergencies). Those emergencies when crying is not an option, because I will set off a chain reaction with lots of other emotional G-stringers just like me. We are the emotional equivalent of Pringles, because once we pop, we can’t stop.

This year, my new Big Girl Knickers meant new Big Girl Attitude. Taking myself on first, to be able to take on the rest. I pulled them on and wore them to try out Dry January, then to take up running. Then I kind of got to like them, so I took to wearing them more regularly rather than hiding them away.

Wearing my Big Girl Knickers over my running tights is the closest I’ve ever got to being Wonder Woman. To those who could swear that they saw tears on MM’s face this year, the official version is that it was because of my Big Girl Knickers – I pulled those buggers up so high at times that the resulting emotional wedgies brought tears to my eyes.

But the result is there. Those Big Girl Knickers are here to stay. Along with the changes they have brought. So bring on the next pair, Father Christmas.

A very happy Christmas to you all from MM and Mrs Playmo. Thanks to you all for helping to keep us sane and smiling this year.  

A War of Words: The Pen and the Kalashnikov.

 

Bleu, France, Rouge. Mr and Mrs Playmo were very emotional.

Bleu, France, Rouge. Mr and Mrs Playmo were very emotional.

On Sunday morning, I awoke in beautiful, permissive, perverted France. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and went down to the kitchen. I prepared the filter coffee, and put a couple of butter croissants in the oven to warm. Because this is France.

After breakfast, I pulled on my inappropriately tight and short running attire, and went outside to do whatever I pleased, wherever I wished, dressed as I deemed fit, and whether or not my husband agreed. I ran through the vineyards that year after year offer up hectolitres of delicious and ludicrously cheap wine for the “perverted” people who commit the ultimate sin of enjoying the privilege of being alive. I reveled in life, ‘The Eagles of Death Metal’ resonating in my ears and determination coursing though my sinful veins. I appreciated my liberty to stop at a bar on the way home and have a cool drink, or even sip a glass of wine, if I so wished. Even on Sunday, even at ten in the morning, even when others are at church. To talk to complete strangers – male or female, black or white, Muslim, Jewish, Christian or atheist. Because this is France, and France is a free country – whatever any gun-wielding crackpots with the IQ of Smelly Dog’s chew-toy would like to believe.

When I returned home, I read the letter Daesh sent to the French. I read it several times over, and I was struck by the language content as well as the message it contained. This is my reply.

Using words as a weapon 

The written word rocks my everyday life. I work with words all day, in French and in English. When I have finished, I relax with words. I read. I write. I communicate. Language is the basis of all human communication. As you have understood, it can be a terrible weapon when put in the wrong hands. Words influence people, and draw human nature from deep inside us, bubbling to the surface. For any given situation, words can generate pity or malevolence, compassion or hatred, pride or arrogance. It all depends who is wielding the pen and how alert the reader is to the danger of being manipulated.

The outdated hate-mongering on my screen was written in such archaic language that I would have expected it to be delivered to the French President by camel, carrier pigeon or  an exhausted, bare-footed messenger in medieval garb. However, you saw no contradiction in posting it via modern-day communication technology created by the very  “miscreants” you claim to despise. And just to twist your pocket knife a little further into French flesh, you typed it in white print, on a blue background, with a red banner at the top.

The introduction

You begin by explaining that you are writing “in the name of the very misericordious Allah”. This sentence deserves a little time, for two reasons. Firstly, I find it disrespectful and even downright arrogant to claim to represent anyone except oneself, particularly when it is to take responsibility for toting a machine gun in a public place. Most of us get over bleating “He told me to do it” at kindergarten.

Secondly, my dictionary defines the word “misericoridious” as “compassionate, merciful”. I’m not sure that anyone with those values would condone this behaviour, and particularly not in his or her name. How on earth could a “misericordious” God find it ‘merciful’ or ‘compassionate’ to kill and maim innocents? Either ‘he’ has a very twisted view of mercy, or you have interpreted the written word to suit your personal need for violence.

Choose your verb with caution

In the third paragraph, you nicely shoot both yourself and your “cause” in the foot – the ultimate paradox for a terrorist. You claim that Allah is “all powerful”, yet you do not appear to trust “him” to be powerful enough, as you continue to boast that you and your pals have “rescued his religion, his prophet and his allies by humiliating his enemies”.

“Rescued”? Unfortunate choice of verb there. Should we understand that you see “him” as being so fragile that “he” needs YOU to step in and not only speak, but kill on “his” behalf? What “all-powerful” higher entity would need a hoard of self-appointed henchmen wielding hate and Kalashnikovs to be heard by the mere mortal?  

Perverse Pâtisserie? These are called Nuns' Farts in French, so named after a nun farted in the kitchen of the Abbey of Marmoutier and scared another, making her drop some choux pastry into the oil pan.

Perverse Pâtisserie? These are called Nuns’ Farts in French, so named after a nun farted in the kitchen of the Abbey of Marmoutier and scared another, making her drop some choux pastry into the oil pan.

Perversity

Next up, you claim that it is perverted to enjoy life, conveniently ignoring the gross inappropriateness of your own behaviour. What is more perverted? Sipping a cool glass of Pastis with friends on a Parisian terrace, or hiding away at a safe distance as you blow up an eight-year-old child weighed down with explosives on a market place to kill indiscriminately for your “ideals”? Accepting the religious and cultural differences of your population, or attempting to impose your views through terror and violence? (You may remember that a few other people tried that one before you. If you come across Staline, Franco, Mussolini or Hitler in the afterlife, ask them how well it worked out for them.)

You get a kick out of killing innocent civilians. We get pleasure from listening to a rock concert. I find the former far more perverse than the latter. While we’re on the subject of idolizing perverted music, you still have time to change your minds. Just for the record (no pun intended), Bin Laden listened to Western pop cassettes in his hideout, and more specifically, songs by Gaston Ghrenassia, aka Enrico Macias. If one of your spiritual leaders secretly enjoyed listening to a singing, dancing Algerian Jew who lived in France and became an international star, then maybe you should question the legitimacy of your argument.

The oh-so-sultry Enrico Macias, whose music was listened to by none other than Bin Laden.

The oh-so-sultry Enrico Macias, whose music was listened to by none other than Bin Laden.

 

Heroes, Martyrs and Caped Crusaders.

On Friday, your sidekicks were not martyrs, just cowards. There were heroes, though. Real life heroes who tried to shield their loved ones from bullets with their own bodies, those who guided others to safety, or stopped in their flight to safety at the Bataclan to help a pregnant woman who was dangling out of the window, screaming in terror. They acted on instinct – to protect life, not to destroy it.

As we are on the topic of heroes, let’s have a look at the word “crusader”, which you used to describe the French. This noun only really crops up these days when preceded by the word “caped”. Although I really do quite fancy the idea of the French population wearing their superhero knickers over their lycra leggings and walking the streets as a peaceful army composed of Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, Edna in the cartoon “The Incredibles” says we don’t need capes to be heroes, and she’s right.

Edna in "the Incredibles" is very clear about capes. Source: http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/glee/images/3/3b/No_Capes_The_Incredibles_6_Edna.gif/revision/latest?cb=20140603225117

Edna in “The Incredibles” is very clear about capes.
Source: wikia.nocookie.net

France left the 11th century a long time ago, and Paris, far from being the Crusader HQ you make it out to be, is now a place where people of all origins sit together outside bistros on the public squares like the ‘Place de la République’, ‘Place de la Concorde’ et ‘Place de la Bastille’, where they are free to drink alcohol or not, dance or not, show their hair or not.

Love

Last but not least, one word that unfortunately does not appear anywhere in your text is the word “love”. I find this revealing, because from what I can establish, it is a word that appears in all religious texts. Yet you choose to carefully sidestep what should be the main raison d’être of any religion: to teach people to love each other and live together in harmony.

You wanted to create a wave of division and hate, but have only succeeded in provoking, once again, an international tsunami of unity and love. This is France. Multicultural, strong, democratic, beautiful, free France. If freedom is perversion, I will willingly embrace it. Along with all the other ‘perverts’ in this country, I raise my glass to freedom, equality, and fraternity. Cheers.

Couch to Five K: Gertie Grit and Getting Fit.

One fateful day in the vineyards at the end of January, I decided to prove to myself that I was fit. I was on a roll – after 31 days of abstinence, I had successfully put an end to my equivalent of the Pavlovian reflex, which involved salivating and grabbing a large wine glass and a bowl of peanuts as soon as I heard the cork pop on a bottle of rosé. I’d walked 145 km over the month. It would be a piece of cake. I checked that nobody was looking, and set off. The result was pathetic to say the least – 30 seconds later, I was hugging the nearest tree, consumed by burning lungs, nausea and a stitch as Mrs Playmo tutted and smelly dog looked on in bemusement. I was not fit. The image of myself puffing along out of breath behind a possible future grandchild on a trike (think Damien in “the Omen”) made my mind up. I had to get fit. And to do so, I needed grit.

Grit was the stuff that I brushed out of stinging grazes when I fell off my bike as a child, and also the stuff I needed to get back on the saddle and try again and again until I finally got to the end of the garden path without kissing the tarmac. Gertie Grit had disappeared off the radar as HMS MM entered the murky waters of middle age, and was found gagged and bound on a chair in a corner in the dark side of my mind. She had been taken hostage by my inner bitch, who took a swig of rosé, scratched her navel and informed me that I was far too old and set in my ways to change anything now. That was a red rag to a bull.

So  I downloaded the C25K programme from the NHS website – a nine week programme with three half-hour outings a week that gradually take you from short running and walking intervals to running for 30 minutes non-stop. This is done with the help of a cheerful young lady called Laura, who talks you through what initially feels like a 30-minute survival course for trainee GI’s, apparently impervious to the fact that you are inches from keeling over. Yet believe it or not, seven months later MM has gone from gasping for breath to gasping for a run. So for anyone who has downloaded the app and is tempted to give it a whirl, here is MM’s guide to C25K.

Gladys proudly showed the girls the gravity-defying plastic bra she had stolen from the NASA test lab. It would be ideal for running C25K. Picture from (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gladys proudly showed the girls the gravity-defying plastic bra she had stolen from the NASA test lab. It would be ideal for running C25K. .
Picture from (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Get kitted out.

Running requires very little financial investment (that sinks your first excuse). Girls should acquire the appropriate female scaffolding to restrain the lesser spotted boobs, which already have a natural tendency to migrate southwards. Without control, you’ll either knock yourself out on your first run or they’ll stretch so far that you’ll be able to wrap them around your neck to keep your ears warm by Christmas. You’ll also need trainers – and forget the ones you’ve had in the cupboard since that aborted new year’s resolution you made back in 1984. Embrace new footwear technology – your body will thank you for it. As for the rest, a t-shirt and a pair of leggings will do fine.

  1. Be safe.

This does not mean kitting yourself out with a flick knife, or running with a baseball bat stuck under your knicker elastic. In the unlikely event of being attacked, the smell of a runner’s armpits after 4 kilometers is probably sufficient to put any assailant off. What ‘being safe’ means is simply doing what you expect your teenagers to do – tell someone where you are going, what time you are leaving, and when you will be back. You are more likely to go arse over tit into a hedge than you are to get abducted by aliens, but if you do have a problem then someone should know where you are.

MM tried out her skills at smashing an aggressor's teeth with a baseball bat, before establishing that it was too big to fit in the waistband of her shorts. Picture credit: Par Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions ou Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

MM tried out her skills at smashing an aggressor’s teeth with a baseball bat, before establishing that it was too big to fit in the waistband of her shorts. Picture credit: Par Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions ou Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Get an iPod, phone or MP3 player.

An absolute must, if only to follow the programme and avoid hearing yourself gasping for breath on the way around the run (I scared myself when my headphones fell out – it sounded like I was being chased by a rabid black bear). If you follow the C25K programme, the lovely Laura will chat all the way around and tell you when to run, when to walk, and congratulate you on your achievements. If you are anything like me, you will give up on her when you get bored with the dismal music (I’m sure that Laura didn’t choose it) and are fed up with her not inviting you around for a cuppa and a Hobnob after your run. There are plenty of alternative apps available that let you run the programme using your own music playlist, so go for it – Laura has so many fans that she won’t notice you’ve shelved her. Just one word of warning: for safety, make sure that the volume is low enough to hear cars coming up behind you. Not to mention other runners if you stop for a wee behind a hedge.

  1. Get support and be accountable to somebody.

If, like me, your family reacted to your announcement that you were taking up sport by falling off their chairs laughing, fear not. Sign up to the C25K community on Health Unlocked, a forum full of real people just like you who get beetroot red faces, sweat buckets, fall victim to self-doubt and know how to deal with the gremlins telling you that today’s run can wait until tomorrow. They will give you answers to the things you need to know and don’t dare to ask, like whether you should run in granny pants or G-strings or even go commando under your lycra. They will boot you out of that door with a grin on your face when you were determined you were never going to run again. If you could harness all the positivity generated by this forum, the planet would have a whole new source of energy. So sign up, and get to know people who are all on a quest for better health.

how_i_think_i_look-scaled1000

This is definitely right. But we all look the same, and nobody else really notices. You’re just another nutter wearing trainers. No idea who the pic belongs to but it’s all over cyber space.

  1. Believe.

Believe in yourself. Running is as much about mindset as it is about physical fitness. Cheer yourself on, and do so shamelessly. Don’t compare your achievements to anyone else’s, only to your own expectations. There will be bad runs. But however long it takes you to run that mile, it is still a mile. And however little or however slow you run, you are still running laps around the previous you, who is still sat glumly on the couch holding a glass of wine in one hand and pinching a roll of belly flab with the other.

  1. Forget self-consciousness, and embrace your bloody-mindedness.

Other people will see you, but don’t imagine that they are judging you – to passers-by, you’re just another nutter wearing trainers, and most offer a smile and a supporting comment and not the jeer or insult you were expecting. And the others? Who cares. You don’t know them, and you’ll probably never see them again.

If running isn’t sweaty and messy, you’re not doing it right. You will be bright red. You will scream insults at your iPod because you suspect that Laura has deliberately added thirty seconds to that minute she asked you to run. You will want to give up, but Gertie Grit won’t let you, because if you do, you’ll feel like a failure. Within very little time, you are going to yell at yourself, immune to the stares of OAP’s walking their dogs as you tell yourself you’re an effing wimp and you’re going to bloody well make it to that tree, end of story. And when you finish each run and tick another box, you are going to find yourself whooping, screeching, punching the air and dancing. And you won’t care who is watching. Because you’ve found your grit again. And that’s worth its weight in gold.

Multifarious Musings from Outside the Comfort Zone.

A non-writing author is a monster courting insanity. It appears to be true of bloggers too. I can already hear the rumble of discontent and the budding debate about how, when and indeed if a blogger could or should be considered a writer… but this blogger is propped up in her bed, coffee cup at hand, and her Sunday morning neurones don’t want to go down that road.

Kafka’s words have been leaping out of the screen at me for weeks – I came across them on a crowded Google image screen during a hectic day at work, and put them carefully on my desktop as a reminder that I needed to give myself some writing time. I have been away from the blog for a while – although I have written many posts in my head during my thrice-weekly sallies outdoors, the hamster wheel of self-employment has been turning far too fast for me to find blogging time since the beginning of the year – both a blessing and a frustration for a self-proclaimed “word nerd”.

We are all multifaceted, and MM is no exception. We constantly evolve and as we do, we sometimes ask ourselves if there isn’t something more to life than our immediate comfort zone. We occasionally feel an inexplicable and insatiable need to empty the closet of our mind and refill it with new things, yet cannot bring ourselves to banish certain comforts. So we package them up carefully, put them away on a shelf for future reference, then turn towards exploring personal change and renewal with the reassurance that we have not burnt all our bridges behind us.

A need to challenge and test myself reared its head at the end of 2014. Waking up to the same old me peering over the edge of the reassuringly comfy slipper of my life every morning, whilst pleasant and reassuring, had also become strangely predictable, tarnished by my frustration of being unable to eliminate the small, niggling imperfections that are constantly putting a grain of sand in the otherwise perfect machinery. Papounet often laughed and said, ‘Happiness is the spacetime between two mishaps”: life is never perfect, and there will always be something providing the legendary cloud on the horizon. This links up nicely with the candid wisdom of MMD (MM’s Dad – love you, Dad, ‘cos I know you’re reading this -) when I whined “It’s not fair!” as a child: “Yeah. Well, life’s not fair.”

A whole year has gone by since Papounet died, and the jam-jar moments continue. A jam-jar moment is what happens when the sight of a trivial everyday object, such as a half-empty pot of blueberry jam, opens the floodgates on the dam holding back a lake of memories and emotion. Yet losing people you love teaches you unexpected lessons that make you a stronger person. For me, this lesson was that although we are all relatively anonymous and unimportant in life’s great plan, we all make a lasting impact – good or bad – on more people than we imagine. Papounet, Grandma, Uncley, Rick, Grandpop, Auntie Laura, Mamie and many other people I loved who are no longer here today had helped me to kick existentialist ass – we do play an essential role in other people’s lives, whether it is intended or not. I remember taking this photo of a poster last summer at the gardens of Heligan, one of my family’s favourite haunts in my home region; I realised at that moment that although people disappear, they remain very much alive in my everyday life.

IMG_5461

I am currently reading a book that illustrates this beautifully – written by the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James. (When I said I was stepping out of my comfort zone, my parents will probably agree that this is a prime example.) Called “The Lent Factor”, it takes a fascinating approach to Lent and describes 40 people he refers to as his “travelling companions”. All deceased, they influenced his life in one way or another. He illustrates through the chapters how people, even those we meet fleetingly, can affect our vision of life and our relationships with others: “They are all part of my personal pantheon. They have all joined with and crossed and belonged to each other through their influence on me and what I believe and the person I have become.” We are, indeed, very much the product of our interactions with others, and in turn, we can affect what others become, often without knowing it.

Losing someone who had this effect on our lives is also a reminder that each day should be savoured as if it were the last, and this feeling has been reinforced for me as I see the world around me dive into a spiral of unfathomable evil resulting from a twisted, blinkered vision of humanity. But in my immediate bubble, all is well. So one year after Papounet’s death, I pulled on my trainers and took his memory for a run. As I jogged through the vineyards, I felt the sun on my face, admired the bright expanse of yellow rapeseed set against the mountains and the blue sky and the gnarled fingers of the vines awaiting the summer, and told him how happy I was. That life is good. That we have not, will not and cannot ever forget him. That we have no idea how much time we have here on this earth, but that we all have the choice to leave a positive trace for someone behind us to keep and build on. Just like he did.

 

Fifty Shades of Greek Goddess.

A marble lady nonchalantly strutting her stuff (and showing her butt) for the public in Nîmes, France.

A marble lady nonchalantly strutting her stuff (and showing her butt) for the public in Nîmes, France.

It was a normal evening in the Mars family household on Mount Olympus. The twins were fighting on the floor as Rhea Silvia reached for the bottle of grappa and topped up her glass.

“For the love of Venus, put that down, boys. What a pair of animals; anyone would think you’d been brought up by wolves… No, Rommy darling, it’s not a cheese slicer. It’s called a lyre, and it’s a present from Aunty Aphrodite. Put it down, please – she’ll be harping on about it for years if you break it”.

“Lyre, lyre, pants on fire!” The twins dissolved into hysterical laughter. Rhea rolled her eyeballs and downed her glass in three large gulps. Wiping her mouth on her forearm, she thought back to the romantic pre-partum era. It had seemed a good idea at the time to seduce the God of War, but she had suddenly woken up to the hard reality of life in a villa with six snotty toddlers and an award-winning muffin top, only to discover that Mars had a worrying penchant for going into battle wearing her rara skirts.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a deep, virile voice booming “Hi, honey, I’m home!” and the sound of the front door slamming shut. Rhea Silvia languidly draped her naked body across the sofa and set her features in what she hoped to be a sultry pout. “Gerroff! Daddy’s home!” she hissed through clenched teeth as she tried to shake off the two whining, naked infants fastened to her ankles.

Mars stomped across the carpet, his armour glistening in the light of the lava lamp, and threw his sword on the sofa. “By Jupiter, what a day!” His eyes roved over her feminine curves, surveying the galb of her calves, her plump thighs and dimpled rear before hungrily devouring the sight of the flab riding sidecar on her hips and finally coming to rest on her generous belly roll. The corners of his mouth twitched into a smirk. “Didn’t have time to get dressed this morning, then?” he enquired, eyebrows arched in mock surprise. Rhea ran a hand slowly through her hair and peered demurely out from behind her fringe. “Is that a Mars Bar in your pocket, or are you pleased to see me?” she murmured as he approached.

You may have guessed from the above text that MM has been wandering around a museum looking at the antique equivalent of eye candy again. I am a sucker for museums and art galleries, and am particularly fond of mummies, paintings and sculpted marble bottoms. Whilst bespectacled art boffins strike poses with notebooks and reverentially peruse the paintings for unique perspectives, technical brush strokes and ingenuous lighting techniques, MM is quietly writing alternative titles and scenarios in her head for every work of art she sees. The tale above is one such example – incidentally, Rhea Silvia’s real story turned out to be much sadder than mine. Here is the painting that inspired MM’s ‘Fifty Shades of Greek Goddess », actually called « Le Retour de Mars » by Nicolas-René Jollain, (1732-1804), and found at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Nîmes.

A very bad photo of "Le retour de Mars" by Nicolas-René Jollain.

A very bad photo of “Le retour de Mars” by Nicolas-René Jollain.

When I see paintings of women, I am struck by the candid and honest portrayal of the female physique, and by the models’ evident pride to be the way mother nature intended them to be, rather than the cocktail-stick morphology many women try to attain today through draconian diets and exercise plans. These paintings graced the walls of men and women who spent hours admiring what they perceived as opulent beauty. What would they have made of the photo-shopped, latex knicker-toting toothpicks in the Pirelli calendar? Or the miserable, emaciated models that mince down the designer catwalk as makeshift human coathangers for clothing, applauded by rows of high-society fashionistas who can spend a fortune attempting to look like they’ve never eaten a decent meal in their lives? The women staring out of those paintings are calm and proud of their curves, yet many women today look in the mirror and heave a sigh of frustration when they see the same thing. Curves used to be a sign of wealth, health and abundance of food, yet today, more means less, and many of our female role models are no more than skin and bones as they throw money into cellulite treatment, liposuction and miracle diets.

I made this realisation before Christmas, when my muffin top suddenly mutated and morphed into something similar to Mrs Mars’ belly. In what appears to be an overnight putsch, Muffin Top was superceded by a new, terrible enemy: Sinister Soufflé, the dark and dangerous lardlord of the middle-aged darknesses, who had risen overnight and was waiting for me the next morning, unapologetically drooping over the top of my pyjamas like a rabid blancmange.

Yup, this would be it. Muffin top has mutated into Sinister Soufflé.  Photo source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMaker_Faire_San_Mateo_2008_0022.JPG

Yup, this would be it. Muffin top has mutated into Sinister Soufflé.
Photo credit: Dvortygirl. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMaker_Faire_San_Mateo_2008_0022.JPG

Sinister Soufflé’s evil counterpart, Tefla the scales, had been silenced many months earlier by a dead battery. Her last attempts to charm me into replacing it were touching – every time I stepped onto her glass surface, she flashed up a chirpy « Lo », which I immediately interpreted as meaning that that my weight was nothing worry about. Since then she had been gathering dust below the laundry basket.

Tefla was kitted out with a new battery, and as I looked at the double zero awaiting me, the pit of my stomach reacted just like it does at the sight of the online banking screen after Christmas. You know you have to do it, but you also know you’re going to feel awful.

I will not go into the facts and figures; suffice to say that Tefla and a tape measure confirmed that I had far too much flab. After having exhausted all the possible excuses, ranging from food allergies to being possessed by evil spirits intent on avenging an unknown enemy I had drunk under the table in a previous life, I was left with the conclusion that I had noone and nothing to blame but myself.

That was when I stopped and wondered what was going on beneath the roll of belly fat. Mrs Mars may have been curvaceous and opulent, but she was also happily oblivious to the mecanics going on below her skin, and probably thought that Gluteus Maximus was no more than a legionary with a huge appetite. Pinching Sinister Soufflé, I imagined Larry the liver, who gritted his teeth and processed my lorryload of peanuts and generous serving of wine every evening without fail, and Marcel the Muscle, who was softening up by the minute from lack of exercise. Imagining my blood swooshing through veins that were perhaps slowly clogging up with cholesterol, I realised that what was important wasn’t getting rid of the muffin top, but simply being healthy. This provided a whole new slant on the body fat issue: Muffin Top and the sidekicks riding sidecar on my hips were a symptom, not the condition. That meant forgetting the word “diet”, which I negatively associate with deprivation and frustration, and focussing on getting healthy. If it (-and I-) worked out, I’d feel good (cue James Brown) and a trimmer figure would hopefully be a pleasant by-product.

If I wanted to stop the trend, I had to stop filling my face with rosé and peanuts every evening, and take more exercise – until ten weeks ago, the only crunch I approved of was wrapped in paper and could be polished off in five minutes flat. So I struck alcohol and the associated nibbles off my daily menu for a month, and added a daily 5K walk in the countryside with a delighted Smelly Dog and grumpy Mrs Playmo. Dry January became dry February, then dry March. My walks in the country are slowly becoming more jog than walk. That pair of jeans I had kept at the back of the cupboard “just in case” is no longer too small, and Tefla has just confirmed an eleven pound loss. Most importantly, I feel good (na-na-na-na-na-na-nah). Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a clean toga and a lyre before PF rolls in from work.

Mr Playmo’s Post Scriptum.

Mrs Playmo told me off this morning. A shrill voice cut through the darkness of the bedroom and split my eardrums. “Oy, MM! Get up and get summat posted on your blog! I’ll be the laughing stock of Playmobilia if you don’t get a shift on!”

I crawled from the warmth of the quilt, stumbled across the bedroom and peered through the window into Mrs Playmo’s mansion. She was tucked up in her double bed beside Mr Playmo, clutching an oversized mug in one hand and a kleenex tissue in the other. The sulfurous glare she launched in my direction would have stopped a testosterone-packed grizzly dead in its tracks.

“Here, I’ll even give you the photos. Just do it, okay? Now off you go, I’m having a lie in. Thanks to you, I’ve got a cold.” I considered telling Mrs Playmo that when I’d told her to chill out, I wasn’t expecting her to take my advice literally and indulge in a snow bath, then decided against it.  “Oh, and yes please, we’ll have some fresh coffee and croissants. Ta muchly.” With that, she disappeared under the quilt.

Mrs Playmo's "Orange Weather Alert".

Mrs Playmo’s “Orange Weather Alert”.

I didn't expect Mrs Playmo to interpret my suggestion to "chill out" quite  so literally.

I didn’t expect Mrs Playmo to interpret my suggestion to “chill out” quite so literally.

So without further ado, here is the Mrs Playmo update. The conclusion of the intricately woven web of deceit Mrs Playmo wove throughout the month of January is that happily, all’s well that ends well.

Mr Playmo did indeed take a break – but neither he nor Mrs Playmo expected things to go so far. Here is Mr Playmo’s story…

“After hearing of Genevieve’s escapades with Eric, I wrote her a note telling her that I needed to get away and deal with a raw, animal need to hide away and lick my wounds. But as a vicar, it is difficult to find a place where nobody can find you – I’m always tracked down by my parishioners. Particularly that awful Shacklebottom woman, always wanting to repent for the umpteenth time before she runs off with someone else.

P.F’s camera bag had been left beside our Playmo mansion, and I climbed inside and revelled in the comforting darkness as I tried to make sense of what was happening to me.

I fell asleep, and awoke to the sound of waves. When I climbed out of the camera bag, I fell and got a faceful of sand. Standing up, I saw what happens when you take rash decisions: karma bites you on the backside. I’d wanted to distance myself from Genevieve’s exploits, and ended up marooned on an island somewhere off the coast of Africa for three weeks on a self-imposed boy-only trip with PF. 

Coconut trees stretched along to my right, and waves lapped the beach. PF’s business trip appeared to involve spending most of his day digging holes in the mud, and the rest playing around with lemurs, swimming with turtles and taking pictures of bats the size of seagulls. Genevieve was right when she said that those humans may have knees that bend, but they’re still very strange.

Sunset over Mr Playmo's island in the Mozambique Channel.

Sunset over Mr Playmo’s island in the Mozambique Channel.

Mr Playmo was flummoxed by the size of the bamboo shoots.

Mr Playmo was flummoxed by the size of the bamboo shoots.

Mr Playmo admiring the sea from a shipwrecked coconut.

Mr Playmo admiring the sea from a shipwrecked coconut.

I climbed on a beached coconut and realized that I would have liked Genevieve to be there with me. She would have hoisted herself on the back of one of those fruit bats and hiked a ride – she’s one strong-minded woman. Her only failing is her penchant for rosé and Tupperware, which she thinks I haven’t noticed. She may not be perfect, but then again, who is, and who wants perfect, anyway? What defines perfection? If she does pole dance, as that Eric said, maybe I should go and check it out. That makes her one perfectly original vicar’s wife.

Back on the plane, I planned my romantic return. PF was no help in this – he said that MM was impervious to all the usual romantic stuff and that he’d given up years ago, as apart form Playmobil figurines, the things that made her smile couldn’t be bought – like hearing someone fart at a funeral, reading in the bath, photographing a beautiful sunset, rubbing wet paint between her fingers or seeing red swirly things under her eyelids after she’d rubbed her eyes. In comparison, Genevieve wasn’t as complicated as I thought.

So when I got home, I gave Mrs Playmo a bouquet of Chupa Chups and asked her to show me her pole dance. She agreed, wiping her nose on her sleeve, and yanked her underwear into place.

I must dash now – we’re going to admire one of those sunsets P.F. told me about. But first we are off to deliver a plateful of laxative chocolate muffins for Shacklebottom. We’ve decided it’s time she loosened up a bit.”

One of those sunsets that PF told us about.

My eternal thanks to the patient PF, who agreed to take Mr Playmo with him to the Mozambique Channel, and made the day for a gang of children who were delighted to see a grown-up taking pictures of a Playmobil sitting on a coconut.