Daily Prompt: Vice.

I love listening to seagulls. The way they cry in a blustering winter sky can reduce me to tears – it takes me right back to my childhood, when I woke up every morning to the sound of their plaintive call above my attic bedroom.

But in town, they are awful creatures. They crap on everything, whether it moves or not. They attack tourists eating fish and chips, beat up postmen on their rounds, and have even been rumoured to pick on small dogs.

Today’s daily prompt asks for photos showing vice, and I immediately thought of my seagull pals. Here are a few snaps showing how lofty (haha), arrogant, self-important, proud and defiant they are.

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PS. If you haven’t been yet, please head over here and support my entry in the Expats Blog writing contest, “Ten Beret God Things to Know about France and the French” before it’s too late!

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Story Time: The Topless Tale.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pamela Anderson as C.J. Parker.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Pros And Cons Of Hitch Hiking

(Photo credit: c@rljones [modelling])

Snapshots

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MM is back after a few days away from the ranch. Here are a few pics of what I saw there.  Back to service as usual soon – now I’m going to get my head around all the stuff you lot have written in my absence…..

Beach babes.

The sun battered through the windscreen as we crawled our way at snail pace through the afternoon traffic. People were making their way to the beach on foot, toting lorryloads of parasols, beach mats and toys. A woman in vicious pink flip-flops flapped across the road in front of our car, dragging a screaming child in her wake. She was scantily clad under a tight, crocheted dress, resulting in a disconcerting effect of blancmange trying to escape through a fishnet stocking.

The roundabout was jam-packed with determined holidaymakers and locals, all jousting for a place in the traffic. My muscles crisped as P.F swore in his usual elegant way and threw himself into the battle. I stamped my foot on non-existent brakes in the passenger foot well, grimly realising that just one season driving here would be enough to make my pelvic floor tauter than Paris Hilton’s G-string. Hell, my idea could maybe save the French state millions in postpartum physiotherapy.

P.F is no beginner in the bumper-car game; his studies in Marseille made him a champion of driving in the French vehicular jungle. He pushed dexterously in front of a battered Citroën. The oily, sweaty, and determined local clutching the wheel promptly hit his horn and waved his arms around in indignant French semaphore. P.F. grinned, waved at him and yelled “Thank you, so kind!” out of the window. There was no doubt about it, we were on the infamous Côte d’Azur.

After squeezing the car into a minute parking space, we finally unloaded the kids and beach towels and headed towards the sea. A pocket-sized piece of beach was all that central Juan les Pins had to offer. The remaining 90% of the pristine sand was covered with empty restaurant tables and plastic recliners, all jealously guarded by seasonal pit bulls who were apparently awaiting the improbable arrival of George Clooney and a team of German top-models to break the monotony of their day.

St Raphaël: under all this there is a beach.

We found a space between a family of four and a young couple on the miserably small area left for the population to squabble over. It  strangely resembled a refugee camp, with blankets, parasols and beach tents jostling for space. Laurence of Arabia’s eyebrows would have hit the roof at the amount of rubbish required for the average French family to survive 6 hours on the sand. Whilst towels and a bottle of water sufficed for our beach needs, the rest of the population had brought everything bar the kitchen sink: blankets, tennis rackets, parasols, beach mats, inflatable crocodiles, footballs, sun-tan lotion, half of the shelf at the local magazine kiosk, mobile phones and an icebox full to the brim with victuals. This junk was then distributed over the minimal space available on the sand, hence creating a protective barrier to keep other people at bay.

I hate swimming (I learned how to swim for the same reason that I learned to run: it’s what I would term a survival tactic). However, I have found the ideal activity to avoid getting bored whilst my husband swims to the buoy and back and my kids build multi-storey castle complexes for miles along the beach:  I “people watch”.

“Voyeurism, aha!” I hear you mutter under your breath. Non, non, et non, mon ami! Does anyone remember those “I spy” books? You could tick off multitudes of trains, birds, buildings…. Whatever subject floated your boat, you could buy the book and get ticking. I have my virtual list of beach populations, and check them off every time the kids hit the waves.

“Blancmange in a fish net” arrived, and stripped off to reveal newly imported white flesh wrapped in a mini-bikini and decorated with maori tattoos. She pulled a cigarette out of its box and lit it, then left the fag hanging out of a corner of her mouth, squinting and blowing smoke into her child’s face as she tied his float belt around his waist. She launched him seawards with his bucket and spade, then collapsed on to her towel hissing like a punctured tyre, a copy of Gala magazine clamped between her strassed purple claws.

My trained eye wandered off to investigate further. All my favourites were on the beach, and I almost squealed with the frustration of having forgotten my notepad and pencil to jot everything down. This was the ultimate whammy for my collection.

They were all there. The cool young couple who barely acknowledge each other’s presence, sending text messages (perhaps to each other) between sips of Perrier water. The poser papa with white-framed, Polnareff sunglasses, prancing through the surf and tossing his curly locks in the sea breeze whilst his silent, wiry wife desperately tried to control his gobby offspring. The bored grandparents. The pseudo-philosopher, ostentatiously waving his copy of Bernard-Henri Levy in the air and thoughtfully chewing the end of a brand new pencil. The African selling beach junk, a tower of straw hats listing dangerously on his head. The aspiring pin-up. The English tourist with his beer belly flopping over the elastic of his pink Hawaï trunks. His son, yelling “Did you see a shaaaaaaaark?” at his sister as she emerged from 60 cm of urine-saturated surf wearing matching Barbie flippers, mask and snorkel. The Thai masseur, hoping to be paid for the pleasure of feeling up complete strangers on their beach towels. The ogler, strutting along the water’s edge like Aldo Maccione, ignoring the vast turquoise waters with his head turned at right angles to shamelessly evaluate the boob community on the beach. The topless wonder, breasts sagging like grandfather clock pendulums, checking from behind her heavy Prada sunglasses that the ogler had seen her. Even the sunbathing granny was there, uncomfortably stretched out across the rocks in a grey swimsuit. She was so motionless that when I first saw her, I thought she was a piece of driftwood.

Cool couple in foreground, Poser papa Polnareff in background.

And there were my all-time favourites: The over-concerned parents with the three-year-old they still see as a baby. You know, the frustrated kid with the huge hat, sunglasses and enough buoyancy aids to refloat the Titanic. This child runs more risk of getting lost or injured because he can’t see where he’s going than getting sunburned -he’s so generously smeared in sunscreen that if they tried to pick him up he would shoot out of their grasp into the sea, where his factor 700 Bergasol would bleed into the Mediterranean and kill off more species than the Erika.

Anyone else who indulges in people-watching?  Hands up, folks, don’t be shy! Chances are that if you smiled at any of this, you do it too…..

Post scriptum: This is a post written last year; I am reposting it as a) it went unnoticed and b) I am currently on holiday in the same context, so i would have written about the same topic anyway!