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.

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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.

 

Waxing Lyrical

This article is not for the faint-hearted. Anyone who is reading this over breakfast or objects to humoristic rhetoric about hair removal in personal places is encouraged to go and read something about cookery, flower-arranging or how to remove stains from garden furniture elsewhere on WordPress now. You have been warned. I doubt I’ll get “freshly pressed”: I’ll get over it.

Those of you who have continued reading: thank you for sparing a little time in your hectic schedule to read my blatherings about what I could only describe as a hairy experience.

I think everyone has an unofficial bucket list of things they’d like to do some day. I am no exception to the rule, and have a list of various “unachievables” like giving up peanuts, spending an hour reading in the bath without a member of my family trying to bust the door down, inventing cool, affordable, disposable clothing for kids and meeting my heroes (Kermit’s nephew and Sir Winston Churchill) in the afterlife. Until last night, my list also included trying out home waxing kits to tame bikini bottom overgrowth.

A long-distant memory of hair-removal cream and the disastrous results it procured after an “uh-oh” moment way back in 1992 got me curious to trying out the waxing experience. Having already given birth three times without pain relief, I am not a sissy. Yet I will not wax my bikini line a second time without a general anaesthetic, a bottle of Chardonnay, and a pencil clamped between my teeth. What the manufacturers omit to mention on the box is that yes, you do end up going hairless – but from the self-inflicted pain.

Gladys told Janet that she didn't understand  why had her husband asked her to wax poor Pussy. Photo credit: Imperial War Museum.

Gladys told Janet that she didn’t understand – why had her husband asked her to wax poor Pussy? Photo credit: Imperial War Museum.

Once I had successfully baited P.F and the kids with chocolate and a T.V. screen last night, I surreptitiously sneaked off to my bedroom and locked the door. I had decided it was time to take control of what the English coarsely describe as “the short and curlies” before running the risk of embarrassing my squad of under-18’s at the pool.

I pulled the kit out of the box and carefully read the suspiciously reassuring instructions leaflet. The whole thing looked cool, blue and refreshing. The packaging announced this to be a “cool effect, reduced pain” experience and the fresh blue and white illustrations supported this theory, although I was somewhat dubious about the three ice cubes, piled one on top of the other. The instructions announced that their miracle wipes prepared the skin then cooled it off afterwards, which had me nonplussed. Hey, Mr beauty company communicator. I know I’m splitting hairs here, but if my skin is supposed to be adequately prepared by wipe 1, why would it need cooling off with wipe 2 afterwards, huh? Would you be hiding something from me, perchance?

First step: “rub the strip gently between your hands to warm the wax”. After ten minutes of rubbing frantically like a boy scout attempting to light an evening fire in the Cornish summer mizzle, the wax was still hard as cement. As I didn’t have a blowtorch handy, I grabbed my phone and called my pal Emmamuse, a successful traveller of the waxing world. She laughed and unceremoniously barked, “sit on them, it works every time”. It did.

Five minutes later, I eyed the strips of blue guck welded to the tops of my thighs with horror, and wondered why I always felt obliged to give these things a whirl despite my gut instinct audibly screaming that it was a bad idea.

Shortly afterwards, my eyes were watering with the pain. My conclusion was the following: there should be a law against selling beauty products to people with a pain threshold. The pain of waxing your bikini line is probably the equivalent of gouging your own eyes out with a potato peeler, walking over burning charcoal in freshly pedicured feet or washing your hair in a sink full of piranhas. It would be number ten on my personal pain assessment range, going from one (being hit in the head with the T.V. remote as Bigfoot changes position on the sofa) to ten: ripping out your own body hair with the bright blue goo some male inventor decided to cutely describe as “wax”.

With one strip of wax still glued to their left thighs, the girls resolved to abandon anything with the prefix "Brazilian" for life. Photo credit: Imperial War Museum, London.

With one strip of wax still glued to their left thighs, the girls resolved to abandon anything “Brazilian” for life. Photo credit: Imperial War Museum, London.

As I took a breather before attacking strip number two, I tried to fathom out why on earth anyone would want to PAY someone to rip their hair out by the roots for them. The only clear advantage that I could see is the fact that when someone else yanks that strip off with all the enthusiasm of Bigfoot ripping open a family-sized bag of Maltesers, there’s diddly-squat you can do about it except lie back, grit your teeth and think of Britain. Apart from the fact that you have paid, and when half of the hair has been uprooted you can hardly pelt out of the door with the other half escaping from your knicker elastic like spring regrowth in the Amazonian rainforest.

But at home, you can’t chicken out either once you’ve glued the damned thing firmly onto your anatomy, and the idea of spending all summer with it hanging out of your bikini bottom kind of forces you to pull the damned thing off. I pulled tentatively on strip number two, trying to coax it away. This brought back memories of trying to tease the elastoplast off my arm on the way home from primary school before tearing the thing off in one sudden movement, my eyes smarting with tears as it ripped out all the hair in a clearly defined rectangle. Yank this thing off your lower abdomen, and you see stars whilst the entire neighbourhood mistakenly presumes that you have taken up opera singing as a pastime.

The remaining wax strips are supposed to be for my armpits. I think I’ll put a bit of jam on them and hang them in the kitchen to catch flies instead.

This post was written way back in 2012, and I’m reposting it today for the fun after reading a hysterical post by Barbed Words, entitled “Big girls don’t cry…. Unless they’re waxing their bikini line”

Attempted Murder.

On yesterday’s walk, Mrs Playmo was showing serious signs of mental imbalance. I told her, and she rightfully retorted, “Well, that’s rich coming from someone who shares her time between singing out of tune and talking to a Playmobil, setting it up in compromising photo shoots and even telling the world about it!” She had a point.

As we turned a corner, she began to cackle with laughter and pointed a claw at the tree on her left. ‘Look! Murder!” I looked at her blankly. She sighed, then stopped and laughed again, uncontrollably this time. Her arm shook as she pointed right, at another tree.

“ATTEMPTED MURDER!” She squawked raucously before rolling on the floor, helpless with laughter. I looked more closely, and finally understood. Here are the photos for you – a virtual packet of Midget Gems to anyone who gets her joke.

The tree on the left... "MURDER"

The tree on the left… “MURDER”

The tree on the right: "attempted murder".

The tree on the right: “attempted murder”.

Little did I realize how well-timed her joke would prove to be. Mrs Playmo was drunk – so drunk that if you cracked a match whilst she was exhaling, you’d get free sunburn.

“That damned Eric,” she babbled, taking huge gulps of rosé from her hip flask. I stared at her. “I thought you like him? Giving him the eye over your Chupa Chups, and all that…”

Mrs Playmo leveled with me and sighed, blasting wine fumes into my unwilling nostrils.

“You don’t get it, do you? That ratbag was blackmailing me. It was a trap! Shacklebottom ratted on me to the police, and good old Eric decided to get to know her better. You know the old line: Wanna come round to my place and check out my truncheon?”

She shook her head sadly.  “I should have seen it coming. Boy, I’m a low-wattage lightbulb at times”. She stopped to fish her knickers out from between her buttocks then set out again, stamping her feet glumly in the mud.

“Shacklebutt and Eric devised a plan together. I should have known – she always puts evil twists in the church pantomime. Eric had to get to know me better, seduce me if he could, and get some incriminating evidence to blackmail me. Then they’d share the cash and run away together. Poor Marcel… The woman’s a goddam man-eater… Anyway, that’s how Eric ended up at the Cabbage Patch Pole Dance Dive with a camera, wig and glasses a few Fridays ago.”

I stared at her, incredulous. “What, you mean you’ve been unfaithful to Mr Playmo?” I gasped. Mrs P burst into tears. “Noooooooo!” She sobbed. “I couldn’t! I love him too much!”

Wiping her nose on my sleeve, she added “…. and I like handbags, rosé and Tupperware parties. That’s life. Had to finance it somehow.”

“Where were you off to on that Friday night?” I insisted, staring into her bloodshot eyes.

“I was delivering the cash to Eric,” she said calmly. “It was either that or he put the photos inside Mr Playmo’s bible for maximum impact at mass on Sunday.”

We walked for a while, feet squelching in the mud. “Is it all over now?” I ventured. “I mean, you gave Eric the money, and he gave you the photos. That’s it, right?”

The look Mrs Playmo gave me could have shrivelled Rocco Siffredi’s appendage to the size of a peanut. “As if!” She snapped. The evil runt went to see Mr Playmo and told him about our meeting, how nice he found me, and how much he enjoyed my pole dancing. Poor Mr P….” Tears began to stream down her cheeks.

“Mr Playmo sent me a text message asking me to meet him at the beach and to chose my weapon well. He brought a Chupa Chups, and said he’d heard it was good to sweeten bad guys up, but he didn’t want to hit me with it. When I got home, I found the incriminating picture of me on the bed, with a rose and a letter saying he needed a break, and was going away for a few days…. That was on Sunday – I haven’t seen him since….”

She dissolved into tears, and blew her nose so hard I was surprised she didn’t turn inside out.

“I’ve got it all sorted now, anyway. At least, I’ve got Eric sorted. I’d like to give you the photo for today’s blog post – I got Marcel to take the picture. He helped me – just two little slow punctures, and poor old Eric needed a mechanic. There’s only one in the village who will go out to the country lanes… and that’s Marcel. Shucks. Life sucks.”

She passed me this photo.

Putting out the fire....

Putting out the fire….

I stared at Mrs Playmo. “No. You didn’t…. clock him on the head with a fire extinguisher, did you?”

“No, much better,” she said, breezily taking a swig from her hip flask. “I had an opportunity to extinguish that “flame of passion” he’d talked about when I first met him. Amazing bad luck, really, the ambulance man said so too. He really shouldn’t have smoked his cigarette so close to that petrol leak on the ground… Now stop gawping at me like that. Close your mouth please – looks like an open sewer in there. Let’s go home and see if Mr Playmo’s back.”

I did as I as told, and as we walked as I considered sending her story to Quentin Tarantino for his next film scenario.

 

 

 

Catching up….

Mrs Playmo and I are very sorry for the resounding silence. We have no excuse for not having posted, except for very bad organisation skills (please note that Mrs P and I are in this together, even if she can only type by jumping up and down on the keyboard).

We are still going strong, moving our respective rumps and taking pictures, but we haven’t had time to upload and describe our antics of late. There have also been a few days when it was so windy that Mrs Playmo either refused to come out of my photo bag, or couldn’t stand up for the photo because she got blown over all the time. I tried to convince her that everyone had already seen her knickers anyway, but to no avail.

So here is a resumé of her intrepid adventures to get you up to date. Grab the popcorn and dim the lights, folks …

Mrs Playmo particularly enjoyed the Museum in Nîmes, and insisted on posing as an alligator hunter in the hope of being spotted in time for the casting of the next Crocodile Dundee film.

Mrs Playmo particularly enjoyed the Museum in Nîmes, and insisted on posing as an alligator hunter in the hope of being spotted in time for the casting of the next Crocodile Dundee film.

Amelia Shufflebottom's daughter made a brave bid to avenge her mother, but was caught red-handed as she tried to do a runner with Mrs Playmo's carpet bag.

Amelia Shacklebottom’s daughter made a brave bid to avenge her mother, but was caught red-handed as she tried to do a runner with Mrs Playmo’s carpet-bag.

Mrs Playmo always pushes in and forces he musical choices on me. She has a distinct preference for Tom Jones, and leaps around the vineyards yelling "What's new pussycat".

Mrs Playmo always pushes in and forces her musical choices on me. She has a distinct preference for Tom Jones, and leaps around the vineyards yelling “What’s new pussy cat”.

Unbeknown to Mrs Playmo, Prince Charming had survived her New Year's Eve plot to get rid of him. In her drunken stupor, she had forgotten to remove the champagne bucket she had jammed onto his head before burying him in the sand. Luckily, she had followed Mrs Sensible's Wet Wooden Spoon Self-Defence course in a hidden location in Italy.

Unbeknown to Mrs Playmo, Prince Charming had survived her sinister New Year’s Eve plot to get rid of him. In her drunken stupor, she had forgotten to remove the champagne bucket she had jammed on his head before burying him in the sand. Luckily, she had followed Mrs Sensible’s Wet Wooden Spoon Self-Defence course in a hidden training camp run by a black sheep in Italy. He was soon heading off to the horizon as fast as his horse could take him.

Ok, during the interval, here’s the advertising: for more about Mrs Sensible, check out PN’s blog at http://englishmaninitaly.org

Now, dim lights…. Andra, stop wriggling. And Gypsy, that’s my popcorn.

It was cold that day.... Mrs Playmo checking in the cave for any signs of a bear who could spare her a bit of fur to make a coat.

It was cold that day…. Mrs Playmo checking in the cave for any signs of a bear who could spare her a bit of fur to make a coat.

Mrs Playmo thought she could pass this one off as her tight-rope walking on the Eiffel tower. I admit that it was a dangerous exploit given the gusts of wind, she would have fallen into the local irrigation canal.

Mrs Playmo thought she could pass this one off as intrepid tight-rope walking on the Eiffel tower. I do admit that it was a dangerous exploit, though:  given the gusts of wind, she could have fallen into the local irrigation canal.

My two-year-old nephew fell in love with Bigfoot's old bulldozer and carted it around everywhere with him. They got on like a house on fire - like him, Mrs P never misses an opportunity to dig up a bit of dirt.

My two-year-old nephew fell in love with Bigfoot’s old bulldozer and carted it around everywhere with him. They got on like a house on fire – like him, Mrs P never misses an opportunity to dig up a bit of dirt.

An inconclusive attempt at harpooning whales in Aigues-Mortes.

An inconclusive attempt at harpooning whales in Aigues-Mortes.

Mr Playmo had sent a crypted message to Mrs Playmo: "Meet you on the beach. Choose your weapon carefully". When he turned up with a lollipop and said something about sweetening up baddies before hitting them over the head, a bell rang in Mrs P's mind. A danger bell.

Mr Playmo had sent a cryptic message to Mrs Playmo: “Meet you on the beach. Choose your weapon carefully”. When he turned up with a lollipop and said something about sweetening up baddies before hitting them over the head, a danger bell rang in Mrs P’s mind. Had Eric spilled the beans?

After a very heated argument with Mr Playmo on the beach, Mrs P insisted that she wanted to visit the torture chamber museum in Carcassonne to get a few ideas. I told her that her cooking was ample punishment for her husband.

After a very heated argument with Mr Playmo on the beach, Mrs P insisted that she wanted to visit the torture chamber museum in Carcassonne to get a few ideas. I told her that her cooking was ample punishment for her husband. She didn’t get her own way, but she did get the satisfaction of seeing me get laughed at by the builders working on the house opposite when I took this photo.

There you go, folks. Back to normal tomorrow for the last two days of the challenge….

Day 12: Small Pleasures

Mrs Playmo enjoying the small pleasures in life with Smelly Dog, whose head appears to make a very good impromptu slide.

Mrs Playmo enjoying the small things in life with Smelly Dog, whose head appears to make a n excellent makeshift slide.

Day twelve’s walk started off quietly. Mrs Playmo and I were still shell-shocked from recent events, and the subdued, mellow sunlight bathing the vineyards seemed to echo our state of mind.

After a few hundred meters, Mrs Playmo asked why we were being so mopey. We were, she argued, wasting precious time. “Life’s there to be lived, honey-bun!” she chirped before scaling Smelly Dog’s leg. She clambered dangerously along the furry backbone, a female equivalent of Indiana Jones on the roof of a train, and hoisted herself on to Smelly Dog’s skull. Sitting between the two floppy ears, she yelled “Yeeeee- ha!” and pointed into the distance before pulling hard on them and bellowing, “Onwards, and forwards, my faithful steed. To infinity… and beyond!”

I had a sneaky feeling that she had combined John Wayne, Napoleon and Buzz Lightyear in her head. As far as I was concerned, she looked uncannily like Alice astride the Bandersnatch, with a truckload of attitude and a black corset. She attained the result she had hoped for: I laughed.

Letting go of Smelly Dog’s ears, she slid down her steed’s nose and landed neatly on her feet, her face flushed with pleasure. “Ta – daaaah!” She eyed me from head to toe, sniffed and added: “C’mon. You might have given up the rosé, but your muffin top is still drooping for Britain. Lets walk.” So we did.

For those who are new to the blog, check out this post to understand what this is all about.

Day 11: Sticks and Stones may Break my Bones…

…but cartoons will never hurt me. Today’s post will not be neither short nor sweet. Day eleven was one of the most sobering days of my life. We walked more than we have walked on any day of this challenge, with a conviction in each step that went beyond anything I have ever felt before.

Mrs Playmo and I went to Montpellier that day to march in the memory of those killed in the recent attacks in Paris. The anger and pain of the French is palpable. The distress, horror, incomprehension and the deep sorrow that I see on faces every day have turned my stomach and placed a brick in its depths since last week, when obscurantism defied the very principles on which France is based.

One of the 100,000 people walking on Sunday shows her commitment to freedom of expression.

One of the 100,000 people walking on Sunday shows her commitment to freedom of expression.

Tears have been shed for the victims. And also for the values at the very core of France, attacked by cowards who do not understand that freedom of speech is necessary for all societies, because everything can and should be criticised. A world that cannot question itself and others cannot evolve.

I suspect that the liberation of France was the last time this kind of turnout was seen across the nation. The overwhelming solidarity of the walkers was the biggest raspberry that anyone could blow at fundamentalist puppets and those pulling their strings. The crowd was made up of Muslims, Christians, Jews. Adults, children, old-aged couples with walking sticks, people in wheelchairs. All together, spontaneously applauding. On our arrival at the Place du Peyrou, I looked back and saw the dense black column of citizens, stretching away below Montpellier’s mini Arc de Triomphe with its flag at half mast, and disappearing on the horizon. A soprano took the microphone and starting singing the Marseillaise, and the collective voice of tens of thousands of people of all origins rose to the sky. They lifted pens, pencils, signs, fists and flags and bellowed that anthem with pride. Because beyond all their differences, they had one thing in common: they were all proud of France and the values it defends.

This scenario was repeated across France, with nearly four million people out in the street to show that they are all standing tall. It was echoed on an international scale. Forty representatives of other countries joined President Hollande –  many of whom had conveniently forgotten the attitude to the freedom of speech in their own countries.

In the media, in everyday conversations, on social networks and on blogs, I see people using their right to voice their opinions. Many have said that the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo “asked for it”. To those who maintain that if you deliberately provoke, you get what you deserve, I would reply that satire is part and parcel of a normal society, and that nothing justifies killing for a drawing, however provocative it may be. I also ask the simple question: In what kind of world do they wish their children to grow up?

The famous 1831 caricature of Louis Philippe t...

The famous 1831 caricature of Louis Philippe turning into a pear would mirror the deterioration of his popularity. (Honoré Daumier, after Charles Philipon who was jailed for the original.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The satirical press has been a small but essential part of journalism for centuries. In 1831, Charles Philippon’s sketch transformed the face of King Louis-Philippe into a pear in four pictures. It landed him in prison for insulting the King – but even at that time in French history, no death penalty was applied for his cartooning “crime”. Philippon noted the impact his cartoon had on the French population:

“What I had foreseen happened. The people, seized by a mocking image, a simple image design and simple shape , began to imitate this wherever he found a way to make charcoal image smearing, scratching a pear. Pears soon covered all the walls of Paris and spread to all parts of the walls of France. ”

(Source: Charles Philippon, Lettres du 7 juillet 1846 à Roslje, Carteret, op. cit., p. 126).

The caricature is a direct and unambiguous form of public communication; it can be understood quickly by everyone and produces an immediate reaction. Political caricatures have always existed, and it is inevitable that someone’s nose will be put out of joint. But as artist Bob Mankoff from the New Yorker pointed out in a recent cartoon, a culturally, ethnically, religiously, and politically correct cartoon is no more than a blank page.

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Before claiming that cartoonists should bow to the demands of extremists who cannot accept criticism in any form, please imagine the day where political correctness and fear of reprisal removes all satire from the world in a bid to avoid insulting political figures, or attracting the ire of regimes, movements, and religions. Because not only journalists are concerned by this. All types of art are in danger of censorship, and your personal liberty is in danger as a result. If fear of reprisal leads to the international satirical press going under ground, what will they take down next with their Kalashnikov?

Books penned across the centuries contain satire or criticise religion, politics or culture. Could we burn Aesop’s fables, works written by Chaucer, Rabelais, Voltaire, Swift, Fielding, Poe, Dickens, Carroll, Twain, Wodehouse,  Shaw and Orwell, to name but a few, in the name of political correctness? You can forget Dr Seuss, Lewis Carroll, Hergé and Goscinny for your kids, too. Kiss goodbye to The Chaser, The Onion, Fritz the Cat and Private Eye. What about film and theatre? Goodbye Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Exit Shakespeare and Molière, Casino Royale, Douglas Adams, The Clockwork Orange. Oh, and those TV chat shows you loved so much for their irreverent sarcasm about current issues – Yes Minister, Seinfeld, Have I got News for You, This Hour Has 22 minutes, Not the Nine o’clock News..? Could they all be sacrificed for fear of awakening obscurantist monsters who don’t believe that politics, culture and religion can be laughed at?

The same applies to artists and singers – were hit men sent to silence Lily Allen when she sang “F**k You”, described by music critics as a direct attack on George W. Bush? Was Pink Floyd ever censored?

The crucial question of the right to expression and the use of censorship also concerns you, Joe Blogger. You can lay out your opinion on your blog, unless you hate-monger there, without being censored in any way. Except in some countries, where bloggers who brave their government’s control over the freedom of expression risk weekly flogging and even death penalties for expressing their opinion online. Should they have “put a lid on it” in the face of oppression? Should we refrain from pointing a finger at the absurd, criticizing what must be criticised, through fear of reprisal by those who have recognized that the pen may just be mightier than the sword? No. In the words of Franklin Roosevelt, translated into French on a piece of cardboard held above the crowd in front of me,  “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither”.

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Now France is not only mourning, but thinking and debating. Many of those advocating freedom of speech appear to have rapidly changed their version on social media to “I’m all for freedom of speech as long as you don’t vote for….”  I watched in horror as discussions became debates then mud-slinging matches, and virtual and real friends “unfriended” each other as they discovered that their personal (or rather political) convictions were not the same. Yet we all have the right to speak. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words, and pictures, will never hurt me. I’ll wrap these musings up with the words of Voltaire, who said:

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”.

 Vive la liberté, et vive la France.

 Erratum: The quote attributed to Roosevelt should actually be attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who was the first person to say it back in 1755. Roosevelt used the quote in a 1941 speech, and has henceforth been wrongly quoted as its author by many, including me. Mea Culpa.