An Hour a Day Keeps the Junk at Bay.

Oh, boy. The Daily Post has just given me an extra hour in every day. I would have preferred them to use their super powers to repair my toilet flush, or train my dishwasher to fill and empty itself without help, but an extra hour in every day is not to be sniffed at. My part of the deal is to tell WP what I will be doing with my twenty-fifth hour.

Parental duel in the Playmo house bathroom to determine who would clear out the garage.

Parental duel in the Playmo house bathroom to determine who would clear out the garage. Copyright Multifarious Meanderings.

Well, WP, you may be surprised to hear this, but I would use it to clear out the junk from my home. When PF arrives back at the family cave every evening, dragging our daily mammoth behind him, his jaw unhinges at the state of the place. My usual response is that I don’t have enough hours in my day to sift through all our belongings and offer him the zen environment he covets. So my choice has to be an hour sifting through the house. I would even tackle Rugby-boy’s bedroom, where hastily vacated pairs of jeans are stranded helplessly on the floor in the hope that Soldier Ryan will carry them across the minefield of dirty socks to the safe haven of the laundry basket.

I gave it my best shot last week. The wild-haired Febreze Fairy, aka MM, collected a fair amount of junk that was no longer needed for everyday use, and set off to put them in storage. On my arrival in the garage, I contemplated what I have come to see as my personal wailing wall. This teetering tower of repudiated belongings would make Martha Stewart faint in disbelief; it is a real-life Tetris game composed of travel bags, boxes, furniture, books, paperwork, bicycles for garden gnomes, broken tools that will be mended some-day-never, and shoes that were kept for years for a child whose feet only fitted into the awaiting sandals when it was minus ten degrees outside.

I resolved to clear up. The linguist in me argued that it is easy to transform a pile of garbage into a tidy garage – you just remove the letter “b”. But it wasn’t that simple. So I established the following protocol:

1. Open box.

2. Take out object.

3. Put in one of four bags labelled “Keep”, “Throw Away”, “Give” or “Sell”.

4. Deliver offerings to charity shop and dump.

5. Recover sparkling, tidy garage.

6. Congratulate self, go home, pour self large glass of rosé, relax in hot bath.

 

Asleep in the bath after drinking the rosé.

MM was so tired that she drank the rosé but forgot to fill the bath. Copyright: Multifarious Meanderings.

This appears easy enough on paper. Yet when we are faced with the obligation to cut the cord with an inanimate object, we struggle to do so. Our capacity to hoard amazes me. We’ve all said it as we put the offending item back on the shelf: “It could be useful – I just need to glue this leg back on/sew this back on/ find the right lightbulb, ” or “It would be a shame to throw this away –  it cost….. (insert price).” On the rare occasions you succeed, someone will catch you in the act and scream, “You can’t throw that away! *insert name* gave it to me!” as you launch it into the dustbin bag. If and when you finally get these objects to the tip, or drop them off at the local charity shop, you hear the Gollum in the pit of your stomach quietly crying for its abandoned Precious as you leave the premises.

I had battled to keep it all, come hell or high water, when we moved house. As if throwing it away would be a form of abandoning our family history, denying my roots. As if a piece of our life together would disappear along with that broken night-light. Take the example of the kids’ artistic endeavours from infant school. PF got me as far as the dump with them that fateful day, but cracked when he saw MM’s lower lip quivering defiantly as she clutched armfuls of multicoloured, curling masterpieces. “Look, this is you!” I snivelled, holding out the crusty portrait of a three-fingered, melon-headed individual with a frisby-sized belly button neatly positioned below its chin. The paintings earned their space in the van, and have lived in the garage ever since.

A typical example of an object you keep for sentimental reasons. In this case, a key for a door that no longer exists in a town where we don't live.

A typical example of an object you keep for sentimental reasons. In this case, a key for a door that no longer exists in a town where we don’t live. Copyright: Multifarious Meanderings.

Certain boxes contain things that make memories leap out of the dusty corners of your mind and clamour for attention. I picked up a tiny onesie that Rugby-boy once wore. I swear that it whimpered as it saw the awaiting « charity shop » bag, sparking off memories of a tiny bundle of cuteness.  I put it in the bag. Hysterically singing « Let it gooooo, let it goooooooo! » like a Disney Princess on crack, I dug into the pile for the next memory-laden thing I couldn’t bare to get rid of. After heart-wrenching decisions about which items would go from a life sentence in the garage to death row, I found myself with a car full to the brim with things to throw out, but bizarrely, there was still as much junk piled up there as when I had begun.

A trunk beside the dismantled VW engine contains my wedding dress. I suspect that if Little My ever gets married, she probably won’t want to tie the knot in a dress that has vintage caramel stuck to it because her mother 1) missed her mouth at the wedding meal, and 2) was too disorganised to get it to the dry cleaner’s before she got on the plane. I’m not sure though, so I’ll keep it. Who knows… it might be useful for a grandchild’s playdate one day.

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Endurance.

This week’s Photo Challenge, titled “Endurance”, really hit home.

This summer, I was in a small street in the busy centre of Cannes. As tourists shoved past each other, eyes glued on their smartphones, a movement caught my attention above their heads. A boring, grey pigeon. My eyes followed it as it headed straight for a nondescript windowsill. It landed softly. To my surprise, the window gently opened and a frail, carefully made-up retired lady appeared. I expected the pigeon to fly away, but it approached fearlessly, as if it had done so all its life.

The lady disappeared, then returned with something small in her hand. Passers-by tutted at me, bashing my legs with their shopping bags in their hurry to consume. I was in their way, mesmerized by an old lady and a bird repeating what appeared to be a long-established tradition above that busy street. A habit, a relationship. Real contact that had existed before I arrived and would do so long after – enduring friendship between a bird and a human who appeared to be paradoxically lonely in all the turmoil of the consumer world.

She sensed I was looking at her, turned her head towards me, and smiled. I pointed to my camera, and she nodded, then returned to her protégé. Here is the result.

IMG_5368

A Resounding Silence.

The sun tried its best to pierce its way through the heavy clouds that were brooding over the graveyard. Starlings argued in the bare branches of the tree nearby, an irreverent yet timely reminder of life. A sudden gust of wind blew across the line of children, ruffling their hair. One of the boys absent-mindedly ran his fingers through his fringe, then scuffed at the gravel with the point of his shoe.

“Where shall we put it?” The girls moved forward and gently moved two wreaths apart to make room for the plant. Crouching down, they slid the flower-pot on to the tomb, then placed the handwritten card in the leaves and stepped back, feet crunching on the gravel.

Six pairs of eyes looked down at sneaker-covered feet, then up towards the soft, grey, impenetrable sky. I did likewise – like them, I could not bring myself to focus on the sea of white flowers before me. How I wished the sky had been blue. How I wished that the sky had brought more hope that this.

The momentary silence was uncomfortable. Eleven-year-olds are never this silent, and one of the boys answered their unspoken need to justify it by clearing his throat and quietly saying, “I guess it’s time for a minute of silence”. Heads nodded, hands were clasped  together.

Silence ensued. The silence of six children contemplating another child’s grave is unlike any other. It was at this moment that I understood the concept of a “resounding” silence; by definition, silence is devoid of noise, yet silence can speak volumes. The children’s silence communicated so much – feelings and emotions tumbled out of that silence and seeped into me through each and every pore.

The silence spoke. It said that the children had taken yet another step into the hard reality of life, a reality that we parents try to protect them from for as long as we can. It explained that their rounded, pre-teen shoulders were feeling the unfamiliar weight of sadness. The silence reassured me, telling me that they were more mature and more resilient than I had imagined. It was a sad silence that expressed their feelings for the friend who had lost his little brother. It was an angry silence that screamed that life was unfair. It was a frightened silence that asked fate to spare them from the same experience in the future. And a comforting silence that wrapped itself around them and embraced their friendship.

In this roaring silence, a tiny, isolated sound caught my attention. Then another. Light, crisp, clean, almost imperceptible. I would never have heard this sound without the silence. The children noticed the sound too, and their eyes sought its source. The sky had stopped brooding, the tension had disappeared. The first raindrops were falling gently on the ribbons decorating the wreaths.

A voice interrupted the silence. “Ok, I think that’s enough. Wow, it felt like ten minutes.” A nervous giggle rippled through the group. Then they moved. Shoulders were squared, their faces cleared, and determined expressions replaced the worry that had been there seconds before. “Right. Where are we taking him to cheer him up?”

The silence was over.

Post written in response to the Weekly Writing Challenge: the sound of silence.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Habit.

The Weekly Photo Challenge asked for pictures of our habits, so here’s one of mine: Playing with Playmobils. Admittedly, (and luckily for my kids) I don’t do it every day.

Little My recently informed me that she had grown out of her Playmobil house. I protested hotly; she saw through all my lame excuses and kindly told me that if I wanted, I could keep it in my bedroom. I did. Partly because she may want to continue playing with it one day, and partly because… well… I enjoy creating alternative scenarios and taking photos of them.

PF was amused to find me playing quietly there after lunch today – the ideal occupation for a Sunday afternoon inside as the wind wails around the house. Here are a few of my creations over the years, depicting true life in Playmobilia (as opposed to the politically correct stuff our kids churn out). Hope you enjoy them.

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Culture

And another Daily Post challenge, but this time it’s a photo! A picture to define culture… Hmm… I have one of those. Taken back home in Cornwall a couple of years ago, this one portrays the great British pub culture, and the age-old conviction that our watering holes are no place for our offspring.

The unfortunate juxtaposition of the dog’s water bowl and the word of warning for thirsty parents outside this pub door was too tempting for words, and I couldn’t resist capturing the moment with Candide Canon. So go to the pub for a shot of British culture, by all means – this establishment kindly provides a bowl of water outside so that our kiddies don’t get thirsty while we’re getting drunk inside. Now that’s what I call good, British decency.

They can't come in, but feel free to leave them outside the pub door.  Copyright: Multifariousmeanderings.

They can’t come in, but feel free to leave them outside the pub door.
Copyright:  Multifarious meanderings.

An Open Letter to my Phantom Follower.

The phantom follower.

The phantom follower.

Dear phantom follower,

WordPress recently sent me a mail informing me that you have subscribed to my blog – once again. Although I am flattered by your repeated attentions, I am also somewhat flummoxed. I have lost count of the number of times you have signed up over the last few months. I am at a loss to understand why you feel the need to subscribe on such a regular basis; most people subscribe just the once, not once a week.

I am aware that changes of heart can happen; after all, everyone has probably made the decision to unsubscribe from a blog at some point in their blogging experience. That’s life, after all – a blog that initially has the literary attraction of double chocolate cake can lose its appeal and transform into the reader’s equivalent of rice pudding if the reader and/or the writer’s personal interests evolve in different directions, leading to an inevitable rupture as the two bloggers’ paths each go their separate ways.

Such is life. However, changing your mind then changing it back every other week is a surefire sign that you either have no clear idea what you’re after, or you’re a trouble-maker (bloggers call them “trolls”). I did wonder if you get an inexplicable thrill out of hitting that follow/unfollow button – some kind of very sad attempt to control people’s feelings at the press of a button. Surely not. Maybe you have problems with your eyesight and are confusing it with the “Like” button, but it would be very pretentious of me to suggest that. Oops, too late.

You piqued my interest enough to google you, for the same reason that I google numbers that appear too frequently on my mobile phone. You don’t appear to be a blogger. Herr Google informs me, however, that you have a personal diet plan. This put a new slant on the mystery – maybe your hunger pangs wake you at night, and you subscribe to the same blogs again and again in a desperate attempt to counteract your craving for calories. If this is the case, may I suggest that you open the fridge and succumb to the temptation of a large, creamy yoghurt instead? Alternatively, you could busy yourself with some scrapbooking – apparently it is one of your interests. How do I know? Herr Google relates that you have followed and unfollowed a scrapbooking blog until the blogger was so ired that she posted about you in a name and shame campaign. I won’t be naming you, nor shaming you. The first in case you are looking for free publicity (goodness know why) and the second because error is human and you may just have very bad keyboard skills.

I’m sure you don’t want to drag this kind of bad reputation around. Please feel free to read my post “The serial liker” to get a better idea of my attitude to blogging etiquette. Although technically speaking you are a serial subscriber, you’ll get the general gist. And without wanting to be rude, when you’ve finished reading, please make up your mind and stop sitting on the fence. You are free to sign up and read……. or to have a chocolate biscuit or two in front of the telly instead. I promise I won’t tell Herr Google.

Thank you.

Bloggingly yours,

MM.

Written in response to “The Daily Post”, 13th August: “The Art of the Open Letter”.

My Menagerie.

I really should be working. But up popped this little gem from Daily Prompt in my mail box: “Do you have animals in your life? If yes, what do they mean to you? If not, why have you opted not to?”

As we didn’t have enough on our plates with a home that is a permanent hard-hat area, two jobs and three children, we decided to add a little spice to the family equation and get some pets. Here’s a quick introduction to our menagerie.

Firstly, meet Smelly Dog. Smelly dog is six years old, and she is my best friend whilst I’m working alone at home. She lies on the ground beside me in the kitchen as I type away, and yelps, snorts, whines, growls and twitches her feet as she chases after what I presume to be animals and bad guys in her sleep. I’d love to be able to see her dreams.

She has a soft spot for cheese of any description, and for some reason thinks that rolling herself copiously in animal dung (the stinkier the better) makes her smell good. We go for long walks together, and when I need to talk, she lies her head on my lap, listens patiently, and doesn’t repeat what I tell her to anyone – not even the cat. She defends us ferociously – at least from a distance. Her radar hearing picks up on footsteps before we can see anyone anywhere near the house.  Once the alarm has been rung, she hides behind us and barks protectively. She has a perfect memory, which makes visiting the vet’s a complicated issue – I generally have to cajole her and usually end up carrying 28 kilogrammes of shaking Golden Retriever into the waiting room.

Water: her favourite hobby.

Water: her favourite hobby.

Now meet Murphy. Murphy is my unlucky black cat. We adopted him when his predecessor decided to tackle a truck, and lost the battle. (As my mother rightly said, with a name like “Calamity”, he was doomed from the start anyway.)

Murphy was found on a petrol pump in a box containing 12 kittens. We adopted him from the vet’s when he was three weeks old, along with a stock of bottles and special kitten formula. He looked like a kind of off-beat gremlin. His gut dragged along the ground, and he belched copiously after each bottle. Needless to say, the kids fell in love with him immediately.

It’s just as well, as Murphy carries his name well. Initially chosen because he is the same colour as MM’s favourite Irish stout, his name is now associated more with Murphy’s law, which dictates that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Now aged seven, Murphy takes on a typical resigned look every time we get near the vet’s. Here are a few picks of his various injuries. He has fallen off the roof, been run over by a car, and his face has exploded (see here for that story).  He has probably cost us more than our three children combined in medical fees.

Murphy doesn’t walk – he prances effeminately along on rubbery legs, delicately placing his paws one in front of each other as if he was the feline equivalent of Claudia Schiffer prowling down the kitty-cat walk. Until this year, Murphy hated being cuddled, except when he asked for attention himself.  I swear that if he was human, he would be an ungrateful, sardonic, self-indulgent and narcissistic teenager complete with gothic complexion and a pierced nose. His no-nonsense, no frills realism struck a chord in me. I related to this cat, as I am very much the same most of the time and am not permanently pawing at my family for cuddles.

The only cats P.F ever liked got killed or disappeared. He saw Murphy as a parasite until he exploded (Murphy, not P.F. P.F does explode from time to time,  but figuratively speaking, not literally). The postapocalyptic Murphy is unrecognisable, asking for cuddles, leaping up on to PF’s lap for cuddles, and sleeping between us on the pillow. Miracles apparently happen – with the help of a large dose of anaesthetic.

Murphy doing his legendary impression of a ready-to-roast chicken.

Murphy doing his legendary impression of a ready-to-roast chicken.

Happily, any doubts about him having died during post-explosion surgery and been replaced by an identical cat at the vets have been dispelled by the fact that he continues to eat too much and redecorate the house: Murphy is bulimic, and chooses a different place to throw up each time.  We are laying our bets on Murphy living to a ripe old age and putting that old adage about 9 lives into disrepute.

Then we have the Daltons, P.F’s babies. They are around three feet long, lie curled up together in a big ball, and don’t do much except eat mice and crap. Oh, and help me get rid of unwanted visitors. “Do come in for a coffee. I just have to feed my snakes first” is a very efficient way of finding out just how much those visitors really want to see you…..

Last and not least, there is Jamie the 3rd. Yes, you got it, his two predecessors were sent down the great white telephone to goldfish heaven. Jamie the First appeared in Little My’s water-glass at her uncle and aunt’s wedding in Paris, when the magician unwittingly chose the only child who was in the middle of moving across France to benefit from his Jesus style “fish and water” act.  Little My was thrilled, and was not going to give up her new friend for all the money in the world. When PF suggested that she freed the little chap into the nearby lake, he was told where he could stick his advice in no uncertain terms by a determined little girl with a trembling lower lip. Jamie survived his trip and finally died six months later in his new home in the South of France. Brigitte Bardot would have been proud of the kid.