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.  

This is not a Christmas Post.

There are Christmas lights everywhere. The tree is up and decorated, and despite my multiple pleas and threats, it is still lurching towards the fireplace at a rakish angle as if it’s trying to leap inside. Last night I curled up in front of the fire with a glass of Christmas Spirit and a bowl of peanuts and watched the flames flicker in the hearth and the lights twinkle on the tree. But between you, me and the next WordPress post, my heart’s just not in it this year.

Warning: If you are looking for a happy smiley post for Christmas, please stop reading after the photos – this is a “getting something of my chest” post. But rest assured, this is not the final post of the year. 

….So.  As the rest of blogdom posts twinkling lights on Christmas trees and illuminated public places, here are pictures I took of my favourite baubles, kindly provided by Mother Nature a few months ago on a dewy morning in the Alsace. The spider had caught nothing but humidity, which had formed perfect spheres of water, heavy yet strangely delicate on the intricate, perfect web. In each one I could see the upturned image of the world around us – distorted and replicated in each and every bead.

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The spider had taken time and energy to painstakingly construct its web. Instinct and determination had driven it to create an intricate structure. Did it know how fragile its creation was compared to the force of the wind or a passing animal? One movement of my hand would have sufficed to tear a hole in the perfect wholeness of this delicate frame for miniature, crystalline globes. To destroy the entire edifice, sparkling baubles and all. Yet the ephemeral perfection created by nature demanded respect.

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Much in the same way, life is fragile yet sacred. When a child is born, we tend to our offspring, nurture them and use all our forces of persuasion and encouragement to help them shape a fulfilling existence. We discover that love sparks off a reflex to put this small being first, a reflex that awakens us, shaking with fury and adrenalin, when we dream that our child is in danger. Because we are painfully aware that like the spider’s web, all life is fragile and can be destroyed in the blink of an eye.

Today, I look at these photographs in the light of current events that have shocked humanity to its very core and think of the song “Spider’s Web”, by Katie Melua. In it, she sings:

“The line between wrong and right

is the width of a thread on a spider’s web”

This line has been crossed again and again this year, as the world looks on in horror. Along this thread, there are the tears shed across the world for innocent victims of terrorism, executed in cold blood by fanatical murderers who ripped apart the fragile, sacred creation that we call life. Cowards who took up weapons to fire at children as they screamed the name of their God. I cannot help wondering if they recognized real courage as it stared them in the face – the unarmed teachers who stood between these killers and their pupils.

The terrorists no doubt see submission and fragility in the tears that have flowed. They are wrong.

 There is a sacredness in tears. They are not the mark of weakness, but of power. They speak more eloquently than ten thousand tongues. They are the messengers of overwhelming grief, of deep contrition, and of unspeakable love.

Washington Irving

Lizzy and Larry Lobster’s Yuletide Jacuzzi.

Lobsters

Lobsters (Photo credit: Foomandoonian)

Christmas is at our place this year, and MM’s age-old fear has resurfaced… Cooking For The French. My stomach is turning somersaults at the idea of cooking for my in-laws (or “the Outlaws”, as I fondly call them).  Don’t get me wrong: they are adorable with me, and reassure me that my food is wonderful -(in other words, edible-) every time I cook for them.

The problem is mine, and mine only – my gastronomic inferiority complex sticks to me like Spotted Dick and custard to last night’s dishes. Just the thought of getting it wrong paralyses me. Wondeure Woomane, my nemesis, manages to simultaneousy slip into something feminine, clean the house and set a table with matching napkins, individual name settings and decorations made by Tibetan monks. She somehow manages to control events in the kitchen (presumably via thought transmission to the cooker) whilst she perches delicately on the sofa with her glass of Crémant, beaming like the Bell Rock lighthouse as she modestly accepts praise for her Christmas tree, then discusses poverty and hunger in the third world in hushed tones as her foie gras and smoked salmon chill in the fridge.

I, on the other hand, am wild-eyed and dishevelled as my guests arrive, having stuck my finger through my tights, my dress covered with smelly dog’s hair, and gravy stains on my top. Later, as my guests await the starter in the living room, I can be found entrenched in the kitchen, glugging down a large glass of white wine as I stare dismally at a main dish that has either done a Phoenix on me or is so undercooked that it could make a break for freedom off the plate.

Despite my doubtful track record in the festive gastronomy stakes, I pulled out my 1940’s cookery book this week – the cookery bible that PF’s great-aunt Renée gave me many years ago. I treasure it. As I turned the pages, the memories of her and the “oldies” inevitably tumbled out, and a lump big enough to remind me of my run-ins with bechamel sauce formed in my throat. Then I remembered PF’s granny’s comment at our wedding, and toughened up. “Make sure you feed my grandson properly,” she had whispered in my ear as she meaningfully pressed a cookery book into my hands. Welcome to the family, kiddo.

I was looking for a fish recipe to please PF, who had been gnawing on his favourite festive bone of contention: seafood. MM doesn’t cook seafood, and he knows it – it’s the Holy Grail of Gallic gastronomy, and as such, is unattainable for our family table. So like any self-respecting (-albeit big-) kid, PF demands it every year. This is how I found myself reading page 262 of Renée’s recipe book and wondering if I’d picked up a guide for budding torture fanatics by mistake. I gawped in horror at the recipe: “Take six small, live lobsters. Cut them energetically into slices (not too thick) and throw them into a pan containing boiling butter and oil”.

Now let’s get this straight. I’m no Brigitte Bardot as far as food is concerned. Living in France has knocked all cute bunny sentiment out of me, and I have absolutely no issues with eating Bambi, Thumper or the handsome Prince (-before his transformation, obviously-) with whatever sauce and sides are on the menu. I can munch snails, look on as the butcher decapitates pheasants, and even gobble baby boars marinated in wine with as much enthusiastic grunting as Obelix. But the idea of sawing Lizzie and Larry Lobster into bite-sized chunks and chucking them into boiling oil makes me feel like a seafood fiend. Halibut Hindley – the domestic equivalent of Hannibal the Cannibal.

Later, at the fish stand, I stared at the semi-comatose lobsters stranded on a bed of ice. As they semaphored SOS messages at me with their frozen little antennae and legs and blew bubbles of distress, all I could think of was this:

A French housewife pointed at Larry and Lizzie the lobsters on the fishmonger’s display, had them sealed in a plastic bag sarcophage then drove them home for their sad demise, no doubt orchestrated with the help of a woman’s weekly magazine recipe page and an axe. MM turned her back on the sorry scene and went home.

I  trawled the net in search of humane lobster sacrifice technique. Top French chefs on Youtube recommended throwing the live lobster into a vat of boiling water and cooking it alive. The image of Larry and Lizzie swirling in a boiling jacuzzi decided me: there would be no live lobsters coming here for Christmas.

So MM has copped out and bought two packets of frozen lobster tails. Call me yellow-bellied if you wish, but life’s hard enough without having a torture session on my conscience too.

Now let’s get that recipe sorted. I wish you all a calm, relaxing and fulfilling Christmas with those you love. And when you tuck into your turkey tomorrow, spare a thought for Lizzie and Larry…

My Letter to Father Christmas.

... Mitzi Gaynor flaunts her tree!

MM waiting for Father Christmas (Photo credit: x-ray delta one)

Dear Father Christmas,

I know I’m technically too old to write to you, but if you add the two numbers in my age together it makes nine, so please hear me out.

You noticed me last weekend. I was peeping anxiously through the frosted panes of your wooden cabin, and talking in hushed tones with my daughter, Little My. You were trying to reassure a little boy who was screaming uncontrollably on your knees and beating hell out of your shins with his heels. His eyes were wide with terror, whilst yours were watering from the pain. But you managed to force a smile, and his grandmother laughed and took photos with her telephone. I bet she has a coat made of Dalmatian puppies at home.

As I watched children wander in and out of your cabin, I wondered if Mother Christmas has to serve you a large whisky and several mince pies to get over your emotions when you kick off your boots at the end of each long day spent in that artificial winter wonderland of tinsel, spray snow and canned music. Although you must get lovely children coming to visit, I reckon you have a fair deal of spoilt brats too, and there must be times when you have an overriding desire to let a rabid Rudolf loose in the shopping centre on a seek-and-destroy mission.

I told Little My that it’s a good job you’re not on the same contract as Tinkerbell, or you’d be a gonner by now, with all the kids who have said they don’t believe in you. I met a six-year-old recently who had already cracked the Christmas Code. My cheerful enquiry about what she had ordered from you was met with incredulity, and disdain dripped off her like fat off a spit-roasted duck as she coolly enquired, “Didn’t you know that it’s the grown-ups who buy the presents?”

Like many other primary school children, she is gunning for a gift from the mean team that hangs out in the fruit bowl  – Blackberry, Orange and Apple. She did not appear the slightest bit sad that your warm, reassuring light had gone out in her young existence, and I was flummoxed; when Little My realised that you didn’t exist, hot tears of frustration had poured down her face as she whispered, “Can we rewind to yesterday, please?” I felt so badly for her, torn between wanting to grow up and retaining the comfort of childhood.

You interrupted my thoughts and smiled at us through your beard, beckoning graciously to my daughter with a white, glove-clad hand. Except it wasn’t Little My who was hesitating about coming to sit on your lap. It was me. And although Little My was encouraging me to go and talk to you, I decided I wouldn’t show her up (or break your legs).

The last time I sat on your lap and asked you for something, it was in 2009. (My age at that time was 41: adjusted age 4+1= 5.) You listened patiently, nodding your head, then gave me a piece of gingerbread. Your kind eyes sparkled as you said that I hadn’t reversed PF’s car into a street bench on purpose, and that the evil detector on the car had no doubt deliberately omitted to tell me that the bench was there, just to get me into trouble before Christmas. Then you let me down gently, telling me that your elves didn’t know how to make bumpers for cars, and that even if they did, it would be too big to fit down the chimney. But I felt better, and I had a sneaking feeling that you enjoyed having a big girl sitting on your lap for a change.

Gladys looked through the instructions for the part about ramming the Hoover down Robert's throat. (image  Jaes Vaughan, Flikr)

Gladys looked through the instructions for the part about ramming the Hoover down Robert’s throat. (photo credit: x-ray delta one)

You may have noticed that for the moment I have not asked you for anything: as a (fake) grown-up, I now have the liberty to buy my own playmobils. Apart from that, with age I have come to realise that the important things in life cannot be bought or made by elves and put into a Christmas stocking. They must be earned and maintained: love, laughter, trust and respect being just a few.

I do however have a few Christmas wishes. I don’t want any Domestic Goddess accessories, so feel free to give them to someone who will actually use them. However, If your old magic still works please could you sort out the following:

  • Health, happiness and serenity for everyone. Please bring good news and a peaceful, joyful break for those who have uninvited guests called Illness, Uncertainty or Sorrow for Christmas.
  • An intravenous drip of lucidity, humility and common sense for the leaders of nations who are slowly but surely stifling freedom of expression and reducing human rights for their citizens, and a well-aimed kick in the nether regions of any religious representatives, whatever their persuasion, who use their position to extol the virtues of hatred and preach intolerance under the guise of Godly goodness.
  • The long-term loan of a few elves during your low season (ten months) to do the housework, clean the car and go to the bottle bank. They would have full board and lodgings, and be able to play in the garden in the summer. That way you’ll have time to get your head around next year’s delivery schedule. It’s a win-win situation.

Thank you for reading, Father Christmas. A very Merry Christmas to you.

Love,

MM.