Five Things You Should Know Before You Marry a Biologist.

Please excuse the deafening silence. MM has hardly touched the ground over the last two weeks. Service will be back to normal soon. Or as normal as it gets around here.

If you have fallen for the charms of a biologist and you’re thinking about spending the rest of your life with him or her, here are a few things to consider before you say “yes”.

1. Biologists can get attached to the species they study. 

This is illustrated by the fact that like any other housewife, I said good morning to the Daltons this morning as I passed their tank. The Daltons are our snakes. Snakes are not cute or cuddly, and don’t get attached to you in any way (apart from wrapping themselves around your arm). Whilst other housewives brush their Westies and give the rabbit a carrot, I pick up snake poo and defrost mice. As I dangled dead rodents over the Daltons’ heads, it occurred to me that the plumber is coming this week to deal with the burst pipe beside their tank. I’d have to check if he was scared of snakes before I let him in. I often forget that the Daltons are there, and realise too late that my visitor is velcroed to the wall several feet behind me, eyes wide with terror as he or she points a quaking finger at the tank.

 "MM resolved to be clearer the next time PF asked her what she wanted him to bring back from his travels.  Rex certainly kept the children quieter than the stuffed toy she had ordered."

“MM resolved to be clearer the next time PF asked her what she wanted him to bring back from his business trip. However, it had to be said that Rex was certainly better at keeping the children quiet than the stuffed lion she had ordered.”

2. Biologists are a fountain of knowledge about nature. 

… and will willingly spout about it if you ask. It’s not just a job, it’s a 24/7 passion – and it’s infectious. A family visit to a zoo or a natural history museum requires rations for a week, camping gear and sleeping bags because PF explains the life cycle, knicker size and favourite TV programmes of every beast we clap eyes on. Any of you who have seen the wonder in a child’s eyes as they see a butterfly emerging from its cocoon should imagine a grown-up man doing the same. PF regularly runs in from the garden, muttering under his breath, and bombs back out with my camera. A cicada’s entry into the world last year seemed almost as fascinating to him as the birth of his own offspring.

3. Biologists never switch off. 

They read scientific articles in bed, correct their students’ exam papers at the kitchen table, and manage to find the only two hour-long TV documentary about traffic management in travelling dung beetle communities. Like little kids, they will find the remains of an insect during a family walk and insist on wrapping it carefully in a paper hanky and bringing it home to find out what it is. If it is unusual or rare, expect it to take pride of place on the kitchen window sill. Your biologist will only remember it once you have entrusted it to its final resting place in the kitchen bin. Childbirth is an event that is too cool for words – on top of the new daddy emotion, PF also got to see a placenta and umbilical cord, for realBiologist daddies don’t just cut the cord. They carefully inspect it when the nurse is looking the other way.

4. Biologists’ children inevitably get bitten by the bug.

I finally got my salad spinner back yesterday after my children hijacked it for use as a temporary hotel for a gang of huge, homeless tadpoles. Having a biologist parent can also cause problems at school: Little My went off her biology teacher recently when she told the class that all cells have a nucleus. Little My begged to differ, and the teacher laughed at her. No doubt eyeing her teacher as if she was an overripe heap of camel dung, Little My informed her that eukaryotic cells have a nucleus, but prokaryotic cells don’t. I suspect that my daughter’s homework will be handled like live ammunition from now on.

If the tadpoles survive, I'll have a good stock of potential Prince Charmings.

If our tadpoles survive, this is what they will turn into. I’ll have a good stock of potential Prince Charmings this year.

5. Biologist “business trips” are unlike all others.

Husbands in films go on business trips. They call from a tastefully decorated designer bedroom in a high-tech hotel somewhere in the vibrant centre of the business vortex to reassure their perfectly manicured spouses (usually prowling around their bedrooms wearing lipstick and cougar nighties) before going out to sign a corporate deal. They return home with perfume, silk underwear and Belgian chocolates.

For a biologist’s spouse, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. Forget Richard Gere, and imagine a hybrid of Richard Attenborough and Man Friday. The last time PF went away, he eventually called me from an island lost somewhere off the African coast. I was clad in my Bob the Builder dungarees and was attacking the sewer from hell with my latest weapon, caustic soda (my eternal thanks to my hero, Papounet, whose miracle remedy has saved me from getting covered in raw sewage and paying huge fees to the local plumber). PF babbled enthusiastically about his hut on stilts boasting all mod cons (running cold water, a noisy fan and a mosquito net), mud, mangroves, crabs, baobab trees, multi-coloured geckos, fruit bats the size of seagulls and sandwich-stealing lemurs. Then told me he had to run – he was invited out for a meal beside the lagoon. Ok, honey, shit happens (in our house, whilst he’s away). He’d come home eventually – with a fridge magnet, sea shells, soggy, cast-off crab exoskeletons to put on the window sill, and a toy lemur. Cos that’s the way we roll.

Saturday Pick ‘n’ Mix.

copyright Multifarious meanderings, 2013

Pick ‘n’ mix  in our village shop.

As Forrest Gump so rightly said, “life is a like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get”.  If every day was a bag of sweets, Monday would be dark, chewy liquorice, and Friday would be those fizzy flying saucers that get stuck behind your teeth. Saturday is definitely a pick ‘n’ mix day, because I never know what to expect.  So to cheer up your day, drum roll….. here is a selection of excerpts from MM’s Saturday.

It was my turn to drive Little My and her pals to aerial dance class on Saturday morning. Imagine a sports hall full of little girls harnessed to long ropes dangling from the ceiling. They swing around at speed, twisting and turning in response to instructions barked at them by a frustratingly lithe and delicate dance teacher. (I think she is capable of licking the backs of her own knees – my perineum and I are still cringing after seeing her do the splits last year.)

Watching the girls twirling around has the same effect on my stomach as a Chinese take-out after one pint too many at the pub. So I dropped off Tarzanette and the liana girls and attempted a hasty get-away. I say “attempted” because when they built the local sports hall, the architect insisted on putting the heavy entrance door directly in the pathway of the Tramontane wind. I suspect that he had a collection of severed fingers to complete. When the Tramontane is blowing, it is as easy to shift that door as it would be to evict a housewife who has just discovered Brad Pitt picking up a pack of loo roll at her local coop.

This is how I practically knocked out the poor father who was leaving the building just behind me: the door slipped from my fingers and flew into the poor man’s face. I apologised, and told him that we were living in the French equivalent of the third world. He laughed and said that in the third world they didn’t have gyms, let alone doors that blow into your face.

We promptly forgot about our respective shopping missions, and chatted. He told me that he works for the SNCF – the French rail company. In the restaurant carriage. I stared at him with wide eyes. I had finally met the SNCF Sandwich Man. My mouth promptly took over proceedings through what I term “the gob-jerk reflex”. For some reason, my ideas bypass the “moderation” stage that they normally go through before hitting the verbal production stage. My thoughts about the SNCF sandwich, bottled up for years, spouted out of my mouth as my brain looked on in horror.

I couldn't find a picture that did justice to the SNCF sandwich, so I made my own.

I couldn’t find a picture that did justice to the SNCF sandwich, so I made one – just for you. Bon appetit.

“Are you serious? I never thought a Frenchman would ever be able to sell that stuff to another human being and call it food. I mean, don’t your gastronomic genes rebel every time you sell one? Does your conscience wake you up in a cold sweat at night? Do the spirits of deceased French chefs scrawl sinister threats on your kitchen wall with ketchup? Geesh, even the English wouldn’t classify it as edible, let alone call it a sandwich. I’d have to pay someone to eat it. Honestly, I’m shocked.”

Sandwich Man laughed, and admitted that he didn’t eat them himself. He said that he liked his job because complete strangers come out of their shells and communicate with each other in his universe, before returning to their seats and reverting to a self-imposed silence, headphones on ears or noses in books. He was proud to be part of a mechanism that brought people together. I liked Sandwich Man’s vision of life.

Later, back on the ranch, I found a disgruntled PF in the garden. He was putting the finishing touches to a carefully constructed scaffold for the execution of 12 trembling tomato plants that had almost cost him a 90 euro fine. He had been obliged to fight a dexterous verbal duel with a pretentious whippersnapper of a gendarme who seemed to think that his new blue uniform gave him superhero eyesight and a licence to bill. PF was bristling with contempt. How could this mere kid accuse him of not having stopped at the stop sign? He was bloody miles away! Indignation oozed out of every pore at the injustice of it all as he patted down the earth around his new recruits. He strode purposefully towards the house to water Clementine, and was promptly drenched by two mischievous children hanging out of an upstairs window clutching bottles of water.

Not long after, a howl of anguish emerged from the bathroom. Regular readers are familiar with my hate-hate relationship with loos, and particularly with the toilet seat, which has not yet learned to lower itself after the visit of the UPB (Upright Peeing Brigade). Well, the joint corrosive effect of years of cleaning products and the bad aiming of the male firing squad had led the toilet seat to make its last salutary protest. It had broken its moorings with the porcelain, leaving a male member of my tribe (couldn’t resist that one) dancing cheek-to-china. Revenge is sweet on occasions; the French expression, “the waterer has been watered” has never been more appropriate.

It was 6 pm; the local toilet seat mecca was to close in 30 minutes. I pelted down the stairs and grabbed the car keys, but was intercepted by the evil lord PF, who had a Sinister Alternative Plan. He stabbed an insistent finger at the pile of garden refuse he had already put in the car boot. I told him that the dump had closed half an hour earlier. Evil warlord insisted. We went to the dump.

Wurzel Gummage is French, and he organises weddings.

Worzel Gummidge is French, and he organises weddings.

On the return trip from the closed dump, we drove past a Provençal remake of a royal wedding. Forget the horse and carriage: Worzel Gummidge was at the wheel of a tractor pulling two newly weds in a beautifully decorated trailer. Evil warlord was suddenly overcome by a bout of romantic nostalgia, and suggested with dewy eyes that we should do it all over again. He was mightily miffed to be informed that this princess didn’t marry princes who went to closed dumps rather than buying a new loo seat. I even asked him to stop so that I could run alongside the tractor and inform the young lady that one day in the not too distant future, she would end up with a car full of garden rubbish and all the family females condemned to sitting on cold china all weekend, just because her prince charming refused to accept that she knew the opening times of the local dump better than he did. Moral of the story: never get between MM and a new loo seat.

Lavatorial Lingo: The story of a woman who flipped her lid.

I flipped my lid about the family bathroom last night, and any hope for serious blogging today has gone down the pan, for lack of a better term. So today, dear readers, for your eyes only, here is the low-down on MM’s pet peeve. Get yourself a coffee now – this text started out as a small dose of tongue-in-cheek bog breviloquence, then grew into an extended version of verbal diarrhoea. Such is life when one blogs about bogs.

The evening had started off well. I had gone to bed and read a couple of chapters of an old novel from my student days, complete with the Purple Ronnie bookmark it contained back in 1988. It kind of sets the tone for this post.

My super Bottom Burp poem page marker.

My super Purple Ronnie Bottom Burp poem bookmark. An example of the sweetness and light typical of MM in her student days.

I put down the book, switched off the light and carefully laid my sinus-blocked head on the pillow. My gentle slide through Aunty Biotic’s drug-enhanced world into the arms of Morpheus was rudely interrupted by the audible mutterings of my night-time enemy, the evil “Mr B”. In the multiparous mother’s dictionary, “B” is for “Bladder”. Like the ferocious nocturnal predator known as “handus mannus” (found under the common name “the hand” in the female version of the dictionary), a bladder is, of course, masculine, like other things that bother women when they are dropping off to sleep. I ignored him. He pulled hard on the chain and rang a familiar bell in my brain, making me feel annoyingly like a servile Jeeves in a PG Wodehouse bad-bladder-boss-meets-brain scenario. And off we went for another of our futile little debates, that generally run as follows:

Mr B: “Hey! MM! You awake?”

Me: “No”.

Mr B: “You just answered. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, you are awake. I need to go.”

Me: “Bog off. The legs clocked off five minutes ago, and the brain shut down for the night two hours ago. Over and out.”

Mr B: “That’s tough, because I need to go, and I won’t let you sleep till it’s done”.

Me: “Liar. You went ten minutes ago. Put a plug in it, walnut”.

Mr B: ” Wake up and smell the coffee, honey; your pelvic floor has subsided faster than a home-made soufflé. Does 11kgs of babies mean anything to you? Girl, it’s been Armageddon down here since June 2002. And you’re the one who chose Bagels instead of Kegels after hurricane Rugby-boy blew through, remember? Wanna go.”

I heaved myself out of bed, and fumbled down the corridor in the dark – I never switch the lights on, because it wakes me up again and by the time I start dropping off, Mr B starts gushing forth with his demands again. So I dropped myself sighing on to what I thought was a toilet seat in the dark.. and fell an inch further on to cold china.

English: toilet seat up Deutsch: hochgeklappte...

Brr, yuck, yuck. Bog boot camp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no need to be Einstein to work out which gender had visited the loo before me. I have already ranted about this bog bugbear and other household task issues in this post. So here’s the deal, guys: a toilet has a seat. This rather charming definition of the word “seat” could help you understand what this strange contraption is used for: “something designed to support a person in a sitting position, as a chair, bench, or pew; a place on or in which one sits”. This dictionary definition got me thinking: I do like the idea of a pew. I quite fancy a whole new take on lavatorial lingo: meet the pee pew. Or what about a buttock bench, stool stall, poop parlour, cheek chair, or flatulence throne? The possibilities are endless.

I digress. Whatever you choose to call it, a seat is for sitting on. It is not much use to anyone if it is folded up at right angles in a vertical position. Particularly in the dark. Boys, if we girls put the sofa upside down every evening just before you appeared with your beer and the tv remote, you’d howl. So put yourselves in our position and imagine jarring your previously warmed, Mr Men pyjama-unwrapped behind on cold china and not the gentle NASA-style docking you had expected with a room-temperature plastic seat. Then realise as your stomach flops over with disgust that the person before you had probably peed from a respectable height whilst inspecting his shoes or contemplating the ceiling. Sorry guys, but here you have proof of the pud: you cannot do several things at once.

Sitting in the dark, I wondered whether James Bond aimed as precisely once he was behind the toilet door. As special force material rippling with virile instinct and the eye of the tiger, do the super heroes of the male urinary universe whistle and stare gormlessly at the ceiling as they point Percy at the porcelain? Or do they delect in the thrills and spills of dropping a ball of toilet paper in the pan and aiming at their unsuspecting victim with sniper precision for toilet time target practice? (Are soldier household toilets easier to clean than their civilian counterparts? Answers on a postcard, please, bloggers.)

Target (1952 film)

Tim’s wife gives the other side of the story in Closer magazine: “He may have been a sharp shooter on the field, but certainly not in the bathroom.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I can see from my resident brood of men is that a toilet seat is only used when they have longer-lasting duties to attend to (in mother talk, we’d crudely comment that for some dads, it’s the only occasion on which they can claim that they have dropped the kids off at the pool). We always know when you have been there, because the seat is strangely…. down. It is also horribly warm, and the floor is littered with uninteresting reading material such as the DIY shop catalogue or “A guide to snakes”, thus giving away the identity of the person who has – once again – forgotten to walk the toilet brush whilst they were there.

I was mistaken to think that this would all pan out eventually. I have tried to go with the flow, rather than flushing with rage at the idea that you are deliberately yanking my chain. You have brushed off my pleas, guys, even if I do admit that you grudgingly tried to pander to my wishes a few times. But your efforts were sadly no more than flashes in the pan.

So I will no longer keep a lid on my frustration. I have decided on action: a shit, oops, sit-in. Mr B will be delighted to learn that he and I will be occupying the pee pew all day tomorrow in a “pee-ceful” protest against the perils of the open loo seat. I will take my book and my Purple Ronnie page marker with me. And even if the Bog Brigade sniff me out, I won’t be out until tomorrow evening, when I’ve finished my book and got the protest badge of the loo seat imprinted on my buttocks.

In The Doghouse.

In French, there is a great expression : « Qui aime bien, châtie bien ». This directly translates as « the more you love someone, the harder you are on them », but it is generally translated into the English expression « spare the rod and spoil the child ».  This is particularly true in my case, and on the rare occasions that I’m in a paddy with P.F, my revenge can be terrible. Before we got married, I was so mad with him that I waited until he was fast asleep then took a handful of shaving gel and gently smoothed it up his lower leg before shaving a strip wide enough for a Boeing to land on along the length of his shin. Needless to say, he couldn’t wear shorts for a while. Other favourites include drawing on him with marker pen and putting ochre coloured pine cones that strangely resembled cat poo under the quilt on his side of the bed. M.M is one volatile chick: get her angry at your peril.

 

One weekend back in December, P.F was in the dog house for reasons that will not be explained here, but have nothing to do with buxom blondes, betting or swapping my mother for six camels. I was so majorly miffed that when I stopped the car at a red light and saw a beaming bride in the car next to me on her way to her wedding, I was inches from dragging her out of the back seat and telling her to hitch up her soft, ivory silk meringue and run as fast as her legs could carry her in the opposite direction. Yep, I was mad.

 

My revenge tactics have mellowed with time and three children, so come evening, I decided to gather up the three P’s ( my pride, my pillow and my PJ’s) and relocate with them to my daughter’s bedroom. The classic withdrawal tactic, in every sense of the word.

 

Contemporary rendering of a poster from the Un...

 

I would remain there until I found the infamous flegme britannique the French mistakenly think is part of my genetic make-up. This term has nothing to do with coughing up phlegm, as we could believe. It in fact refers to the British reputation for being cool, calm and collected, having a stiff upper lip, and otherwise keeping our emotions in check, with dignity, whilst the world goes to pot around us. You know, the behaviour associated with the handlebar moustache-toting, G&T drinking, croquet-playing colonial Brit who is capable of walking on a mine, picking up the leg that’s been blown off and popping it under his arm saying « I’ll sew it back on later, old boy. Now, shall we join Brenda and Rory for a cup of tea? ».

 

Taking refuge in Little My’s lair was not my most original solution for revenge, but getting mad had made me tired, the leather sofa was cold, and smelly dog’s basket was too small for the two of us. Little My was delighted to have company, and we had a girly nail-varnish session before tucking ourselves into bed. After the light had been switched off, we chatted for a while. The subject was fear, on her initiative. It was the second time she had asked me what my biggest fear is, apparently not having believed my initial reply a few months before that parents aren’t scared of anything, because it’s our job not to be sissies. We grab our trusty swords and barge right into battle, defending our kids from everything from monsters under the bed to Gargamel’s bad moods and zombies climbing up the façade of the house. Like the wish you make when you get the biggest bit of the wish-bone in Sunday’s roast chicken, I was going to keep it for myself. But Little My was intent on sniffing out my Achilles heel, and went about it with more determination than Rupert Murdoch on a hunt for a headline.

 

Joan of Arc

M.M escorting Little My to school in full Maternal defender garb. (Photo credit: brx0)

 

She insisted, her little voice carrying clearly through the dark, stable as a rock and pitched with seriousness. I deftly returned the ball with another question: what was her worst fear? Her answer surprised me : « Being the last survivor of our family. I’d hate it if you were all gone and I was on my own ». We’d already been down this road once as we drove through the winding Esterel mountains (see here for details).

 

Dammit, I thought, as I snuggled her in my arms under the Babar quilt.  In the end we both have the same fear, that of outliving those we love. Our reasons were different, though; a ten-year-old imagines the terrifying concept of being alone. Parents imagine the suffocating pain of not having been able to protect their child.  So I finally bit the bullet, and admitted to Little My that my biggest fear is to outlive my children. She was satisfied, said goodnight, and the page was turned.

 

The very next day, a young man entered Sandy Hook school and killed twenty children and six adults in a senseless killing spree. I thought of the parents and families of these twenty-six victims, for whom my own fear has become a reality. Our overwhelming instinct, the pit-of-the-stomach, primitive impulse of parents to see our offspring survive and have a chance to grow old, is frustratingly not enough to protect them in the world we have built for them. I yearn for a world where I can believe in the reassuring, story-book normality of being parents who can disappear from the picture knowing that their children have become self-sufficient adults. Unrealistic, yes. Puerile, yes. I miss that time when I had no knowledge of how unfair life can be, when my memory was untouched by the knowledge that humanity can be so cruel and twisted.

 

Then came the sudden, sobering realisation that petty squabbles and momentarily distancing yourself from someone close is a reckless thing to do, as it would be terrible to never be able to say it didn’t matter.  So now however mad I am, I’m sleeping in my bed. Time to check out some tribal patterns to shave on P.F’s shins, I guess…