A Beginner’s Guide to Sod’s Law and Handbag Voodoos.

English: From Mal Corvus Witchcraft & Folklore...

One of the rare voodoos I do not have in my handbag. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When kids turn up at the door to sell me raffle tickets, my eyes glaze over. I dutifully buy a ticket in the full knowledge that I will never win the basket of goodies, let alone the holiday in Ibiza with massages and breakfast in bed. (That sentence was ambiguous. You wouldn’t get the two simultaneously, of course. They never give prizes like that in PTA raffles.) I’ve also got used to the idea that as I scratch the free game card at the supermarket cash-out and read “LOST”, I will invariably hear Wonder Woman squeal with delight as she wins Prince Charming, a Mercedes-Benz and an all-expenses paid shopping trip to Milan at the next till down.

I don’t have any issues with that. After all, I do win more often than Wonder Woman in more incongruous stakes. Like the day two gypsies stole just one bag amidst thousands on the beach, leaving a one lucky young lady miles from home with no worldly possessions other than her bikini bottoms. As regular readers know, the winner was … me. Here are a few more examples of my wins in what I call “the reverse luck stakes” .

  • When a car travelling down the M27 hit the central reservation and flipped up in the air like a giant tiddly-wink before slowly tumbling out of the sky into oncoming traffic, its driver (or should I say “pilot”) probably glimpsed the determined face of a girl who was muttering obscenities as she floored the accelerator and willed her VW Beetle to get the hell out of his landing strip. That girl was me.
  • When I was taken to watch my first (and last) football match, I didn’t see any football. I witnessed the worst stadium-related tragedy in the history of British sport instead.
  • When our local budding arsonist decided that setting light to wheelie bins was no longer enough to satisfy what would could be described as a burning desire for flames, he gave in to temptation and set light to one of the hundreds of cars parked along our avenue. Technically speaking, the car wasn’t mine… it was on loan from my employer.
  • To crown it all, breaking news: PF is presently stuck on an island somewhere off the coast of Africa because the local petrol stations have gone on strike. No petrol, no boat. No boat, no airport. If the family silverback doesn’t manage to get on the plane home next week, I will end up corresponding with a disgruntled, long-haired, modern-day Robinson Crusoe dressed in zebu skin who has shacked up in the trunk of a baobab tree and is sharing bananas with the pet lemur on his shoulder.
Tarzan, Lord of the Jungle

PF calling MM from Baobab HQ (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have drawn the conclusion that the slimmer the chances of misfortune are for others, the more likely the predicament becomes for me. These “reverse luck stakes” lead me to check the sky from time to time in case there is a block of frozen airline waste beelining through the stratosphere with my name on it. After all, if only five people have been hit by these urine-saturated meteorites over the last 40 years in the UK, that means that I run a pretty high chance of going down in family history as the girl who was clocked on the head by St Peter’s giant frozen kidney stone.

Sod’s law is intricately linked to another law of possibilities that I call the “handbag voodoo law”. Handbag voodoos are all the things you cart around in your bag that you never seem to need. This lorryload of crap seems to protect you from the wrath of the sod’s law gods, who vent their spleen on you as soon as you leave any of said “useless items” at home.

When my kids were small, I would chuck a spare change of clothes for them into my bottomless handbag. It would fester in the collection of biscuit crumbs, keys, supermarket receipts and biros for months on end until I finally emptied my bag and strode out of the door with my child, forgetting the change of clothes. This immediately sparked the demon on my child’s shoulder into action, and they would promptly either pee their pants, drop their drink down their fronts or throw up.

My mobile phone never rings until I forget it at home. I invariably return to snotty messages from school saying that my child has a temperature and that they couldn’t contact me. The “handbag voodoo” law applies to many other things: Aspirin. Tissues. Biros. Hair bands. Gloves. Elastoplast. Sunglasses. Hand cream. Screwdrivers… The list is endless, and yesterday’s missing handbag voodoo was the lip balm. It had knocked around in my bag until the lid fell off months ago and it ended up welded to my checkbook. So I made the mistake of chucking it away and not replacing it.

English: Gladrags and handbags! A giant handba...

A bag big enough to contain all necessary handbag voodoos (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Fast forward to yesterday, when MM was kicking her heels on the beach with Smelly Dog for the day whilst Bigfoot jumped through hoops for the French military service. The Sod’s Law Gods inspected the contents of my handbag, got their heads together and handed things over to Zeus. The wind picked up, and sand and salt stung my face and dried out my lips. Within two hours, I felt as dried out and wrinkled as a sun-dried tomato and was licking my lips more often than Hugh Hefner at a lingerie show.

So when I got home, I ran to the bathroom, stuck my hand in the cupboard and pulled out the first lip balm I saw. I hastily slathered a huge, comforting layer of it all over my stinging, smarting lips, then hit the sack.

Now. Remember those reverse luck stakes? There is little chance of anyone being allergic to lip balm. Within this group, there is an infinitely small percentage of people who could physically react to a hypoallergenic, plant-based one. That person appears to be me. I woke up looking like a cross between Angelina Jolie and a Dunlop tyre, and have been yelling at Smelly Dog all day as I can no longer whistle.

Looking on the bright side of things, I won’t scare my husband, because he’s stuck under a baobab with the entire cast of “Madagascar”. Come to think of it, lip balm is a damn sight cheaper than Botox injections. So if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to rub it on my wrinkles.

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A Tale of Fetid Fridges and Runaway Reptiles

MM is back after a fabulous week away, during which she avidly soaked up friendship, family, fresh air, open spaces and glorious views. Oh, and a few beers too. I slept like a log, surfacing to the sound of cow bells every morning for seven heavenly days.

The return home was gradual, as if we needed weaning out of our holiday stupor. We took the long road home along beautiful country roads. PF whistled happily and I realised that life was fabulous. My brow furrowed: if things are too good to be true, it generally means something is about to go awry.

On our arrival in our neighbourhood, a premonitory sighting of Gargamel did nothing to reassure me. He was parading on his terrace in his underpants, his beer gut drooping petulantly over his knicker elastic. We lowered our heads and headed through the front door to discover a strange smell. My brain ran it though the “least favourite smell” data base and found a match: rotting lemons.

English Electric Refrigerator Ad, 1950

MM proudly presenting the contents of her  fridge on her return from holiday (Photo credit: alsis35 (now at ipernity)

The kitchen was not only smelly, but ominously silent: the characteristic hum of the fridge was missing. A howl of anguish escaped from the living room as technological cold turkey hit Bigfoot. After a week sandwiched between a lake and a field of cows in the back of beyond, he had discovered that the internet was down.

Yes, folks…. Murphy’s Law had struck again. The long-awaited storm had finally arrived to clear the air-shortly after our departure for a holiday. The fuses had promptly blown, and the house had waited patiently in Provençal temperatures until I arrived home to flip the switch… eight days later.

The fridge was full of the food I had planned for our return home, all in varying states of decay. It was modern art: a desolate landscape of yoghurt pots stretched across the top shelf, their bloated lids straining at the seams. Below, a gleaming slab of cheese curled gently at the corners. Milk paraded as cottage cheese in the door, and a family of mummified lemons was hiding in the vegetable tray, each tastefully clad in designer coat of green fur. The carnage continued in the freezer, where a huge joint of wild boar, kept for “a big day”, diffused strong scents of venison, and the individual meals I had prepared for PF swam lengths of a freezer drawer full of water, their curved lids tauter than Rihanna’s buttocks.

If the fridge-freezer fiasco had been the only problem on our return, things would have been fine. But destiny had another trick up her sleeve. Whilst washing the yeast off my hands in the bathroom (tip of the day: frozen yeast grows beautifully in a dark, defrosted freezer tray if there is some warm melted water on the side), I clapped eyes on MG.

MG is short for Matière Grise: Grey Matter. MG is the cleverest of P.F’s four snakes*. He had apparently got through the crack in the tank door with as much ease as Bernard Tapie getting out of a lawsuit. He (MG, not Bernard Tapie) had set up residence between the toilet duck and the floor cloth in my cleaning bucket, his head draped nonchalantly across the scrubbing-brush. His tongue flickered lazily as he gave me the one-over like a drunken old man propped up at the bar in a night club. Before he had time to ask me what a great girl like me was doing covered in yeast in a place like this, I picked him out of the bucket and took him back to the tank…. where Jaypi, the dumbest of the python brotherhood, was waiting. Alone.

There is no need to be Einstein to know that 4 – 2 = 2 runaway reptiles. They had followed MG on his bid for freedom, and were on a jail break jaunt around the house. Little My found overturned picture frames in the living room, and Rugby-boy returned from his room complaining that it had been visited. We spent two hours hunting for them, to no avail: snakes are better at hide and seek than Yvan Colonna**.

The following morning, I was having my first caffeine fix when I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched. Escaped convict number two was inspecting me from his newly acquired luxury home below the dishwasher. As I moved in on him, he gracefully slid out of sight. Not to be deterred, MM dismantled the skirting board, evicted the disgruntled holiday-maker, and returned him to his cell.

Runaway number three had given away his location upstairs by knocking all the shampoo bottles into the bath overnight. My offer to bait him with pictures of Harry Potter was refused by the hunting committee. We finally got Nagini back to Reptile HQ on Monday night, when Little My spotted him curled up on the tumble drier, no doubt waiting for her to fill the bath so that he could have a swim.

Tank security has now been reinforced, and all occupants are counted at bedtime and breakfast. We are sure that they are already planning their next great escape…..

*  In light of a recent event in Canada, I would like to specify that our snakes are legally acquired, one metre long, docile and inoffensive.

** Yvan Colonna is a Corsican nationalist accused of assassination in 1998 who fled and avoided arrest for five years. 

The story of MM, Helga and the flying car.

I haven’t done a WordPress challenge for ages, but today’s challenge struck a chord: “Share a time when you narrowly avoided disaster.” This is a post I wrote a long time ago about a hair-raising experience in my VW that would have cost me my life if I’d been a few seconds later on my schedule.  

I bought Helga when I finished my degree. My grandfather had left me some money a long time before “to give me a good start in life”. And the best way I could get where I wanted to go – France – was with four wheels.  When I answered the small ad, I literally cracked for this shiny VW with her generous curves, round eyes and military green sheen. I could have sworn I saw her chrome bumper smiling at me in the Norfolk sunshine. Her left-hand drive made her the ideal companion, and the price was more than affordable. How could I resist?

Helga has accompanied us everywhere on our travels except for the U.S, meaning that she’s probably had as many number plates as James Bond had passports. Our obstinacy to keep her has resulted in the car equivalent of cosmetic surgery and a heart transplant over the years. After more than twenty years of TLC, “Helga” the 32 year-old VW Beetle still purrs and shines her way through the local countryside; she has become a collector’s item that makes girls go wobbly at the knees, and Bigfoot knows it. He has his eagle eye on her for his student days, but he’ll have to push his mother off a cliff first.

Dean Jones in The Love Bug.

How Bigfoot imagines he will be with his Love bug (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Helga and I have had some pretty hair-raising experiences together. One close shave in particular made Helga my lucky star: that day back in 1991 when I had an encounter with a flying car as I chugged down the motorway between Portsmouth and Southampton on my way home from work. I kid ye not. What happens when wheels that are turning too fast on a motorway hit loose gravel? They skid. That’s how the Fiat Uno travelling in the opposite direction walloped headfirst into the crash barrier then flipped neatly up into the sky before my eyes like a giant white tiddlywink. It was one of those slow-motion moments you see in Starsky and Hutch, except this was real life.

I blinked as I saw the white car roof sparkling in the blue sky, and my stomach tightened into a knot. Would I be able to choose the yellow brick road and not the bright lights after being reduced to a pulp by Fiat’s failed aeronautical trial? I’d always loved watching the Wizard of Oz. I was relieved that I wasn’t wearing my stripy socks – it’ be just my style to be found with my legs sticking out from under the wreck like the Wicked Witch. And come to think of it, now that I was inches from discovering whether God really existed, I wouldn’t even be able to tell my parents. Dammit, Janet.

I peered through the seagull shit adorning Helga’s windscreen. The car was now falling and turned to show its strangely clean underbelly as it started its descent. I wondered who the occupant was, and if time had suddenly frozen for them in the same way as they viewed the motorway and their lives from a whole new perspective…. “Ladies and gentlemen, we have an unplanned stop on the M27. If you haven’t fastened your seatbelts, it’s too late now. Your landing will be cushioned courtesy of Helga the Beetle and her faithful companion”.

29F Penelope Pitstop

MM is always classy and shows self control whatever the situation. (Photo credit: Fred Seibert)

As the car disappeared out of my field of vision above Helga’s roof, I stopped gaping, hit the accelerator, and willed Helga to awaken the girl racer hopefully lurking somewhere in her innards. Lots of things went through my head. Unsurprisingly, what I presumed were my last thoughts were neither poetic nor philosophical:

1) Would my man find the steak I’d taken out of the freezer before it went off if I never made it home?

2) Why didn’t my “O” level maths curriculum include how to use the estimated weight, trajectory, speed and curve factors of a falling object to calculate its impact with a car travelling at a fixed speed of 80km with a slow acceleration and a petrified driver at the wheel?

3) Of all the stupid ways I could have imagined dying, I’d never have thought of this one: 10/10 for imagination, destiny. I’ve always enjoyed making people smile, but this time the last laugh’s really on me – this is going to be the most entertaining demise on our family tree.

4) I should have called my parents last night. You never know when you’re going to have a Chicken Licken moment and have the sky fall on your head. Or a car.

5) Was that last red light in central Portsmouth responsible for all this? If it had been green I would have been in the position of the car in front of me, which was accelerating as the driver looked in his rear view mirror……

Pulled back to real life, albeit perhaps not for long, I looked in my rear-view mirror to see the car behind me braking, it’s driver looking anxiously upwards.

A little like a bad take in a 1950’s disaster film, the car dropped out of the sky between our two vehicles and slammed bumper first into the tarmac before executing a neat double somersault and landing on its four wheels, neatly parked and smoking gently on the hard shoulder. Whilst I parked Helga, the driver behind me had done the same and was talking to the occupant, no doubt asking how he had gone from being Mr Ordinary to an incongruous mixture of Evel Knievel and Dick Dastardly in the space of seconds.

Dick Dastardly

Dick Dastardly, test pilot for the Fiat Punto.(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My knees had turned to jelly; I wobbled my way to the little orange phone on the side of the road, called the emergency services, then followed their advice and sat in Helga, gabbling to myself and counting my blessings until I had stopped shaking. The driver of the car behind me was a nurse, and took care of our newfound pilot until the ambulance arrived. He had got out of the car, and was stumbling around the hard shoulder saying “my elbow hurts, and my wife is gonna kill me”. I don’t think he realized just how lucky he was to envisage the luxury of being told off by his wife.

The following morning I arrived at work, where one of my colleagues was moaning about her husband. She had planned to come to work in her new car, but her husband had test driven it a little too fast after leaving the garage showroom.  He had ended up with a broken elbow after a spectacular view of the M27 and a cute little VW Beetle that he almost squashed on landing……. It’s a small world.

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