Multifarious Musings from Outside the Comfort Zone.

A non-writing author is a monster courting insanity. It appears to be true of bloggers too. I can already hear the rumble of discontent and the budding debate about how, when and indeed if a blogger could or should be considered a writer… but this blogger is propped up in her bed, coffee cup at hand, and her Sunday morning neurones don’t want to go down that road.

Kafka’s words have been leaping out of the screen at me for weeks – I came across them on a crowded Google image screen during a hectic day at work, and put them carefully on my desktop as a reminder that I needed to give myself some writing time. I have been away from the blog for a while – although I have written many posts in my head during my thrice-weekly sallies outdoors, the hamster wheel of self-employment has been turning far too fast for me to find blogging time since the beginning of the year – both a blessing and a frustration for a self-proclaimed “word nerd”.

We are all multifaceted, and MM is no exception. We constantly evolve and as we do, we sometimes ask ourselves if there isn’t something more to life than our immediate comfort zone. We occasionally feel an inexplicable and insatiable need to empty the closet of our mind and refill it with new things, yet cannot bring ourselves to banish certain comforts. So we package them up carefully, put them away on a shelf for future reference, then turn towards exploring personal change and renewal with the reassurance that we have not burnt all our bridges behind us.

A need to challenge and test myself reared its head at the end of 2014. Waking up to the same old me peering over the edge of the reassuringly comfy slipper of my life every morning, whilst pleasant and reassuring, had also become strangely predictable, tarnished by my frustration of being unable to eliminate the small, niggling imperfections that are constantly putting a grain of sand in the otherwise perfect machinery. Papounet often laughed and said, ‘Happiness is the spacetime between two mishaps”: life is never perfect, and there will always be something providing the legendary cloud on the horizon. This links up nicely with the candid wisdom of MMD (MM’s Dad – love you, Dad, ‘cos I know you’re reading this -) when I whined “It’s not fair!” as a child: “Yeah. Well, life’s not fair.”

A whole year has gone by since Papounet died, and the jam-jar moments continue. A jam-jar moment is what happens when the sight of a trivial everyday object, such as a half-empty pot of blueberry jam, opens the floodgates on the dam holding back a lake of memories and emotion. Yet losing people you love teaches you unexpected lessons that make you a stronger person. For me, this lesson was that although we are all relatively anonymous and unimportant in life’s great plan, we all make a lasting impact – good or bad – on more people than we imagine. Papounet, Grandma, Uncley, Rick, Grandpop, Auntie Laura, Mamie and many other people I loved who are no longer here today had helped me to kick existentialist ass – we do play an essential role in other people’s lives, whether it is intended or not. I remember taking this photo of a poster last summer at the gardens of Heligan, one of my family’s favourite haunts in my home region; I realised at that moment that although people disappear, they remain very much alive in my everyday life.

IMG_5461

I am currently reading a book that illustrates this beautifully – written by the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James. (When I said I was stepping out of my comfort zone, my parents will probably agree that this is a prime example.) Called “The Lent Factor”, it takes a fascinating approach to Lent and describes 40 people he refers to as his “travelling companions”. All deceased, they influenced his life in one way or another. He illustrates through the chapters how people, even those we meet fleetingly, can affect our vision of life and our relationships with others: “They are all part of my personal pantheon. They have all joined with and crossed and belonged to each other through their influence on me and what I believe and the person I have become.” We are, indeed, very much the product of our interactions with others, and in turn, we can affect what others become, often without knowing it.

Losing someone who had this effect on our lives is also a reminder that each day should be savoured as if it were the last, and this feeling has been reinforced for me as I see the world around me dive into a spiral of unfathomable evil resulting from a twisted, blinkered vision of humanity. But in my immediate bubble, all is well. So one year after Papounet’s death, I pulled on my trainers and took his memory for a run. As I jogged through the vineyards, I felt the sun on my face, admired the bright expanse of yellow rapeseed set against the mountains and the blue sky and the gnarled fingers of the vines awaiting the summer, and told him how happy I was. That life is good. That we have not, will not and cannot ever forget him. That we have no idea how much time we have here on this earth, but that we all have the choice to leave a positive trace for someone behind us to keep and build on. Just like he did.

 

Advertisements

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.

IMG_6685

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.

IMG_6671

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

The Fear Factor: Surviving Parent-Teacher Evenings.

In December I have a parent-teacher evening to attend at the local comp. The word “unenthusiastic” would be an understatement: I am now contemplating the acquisition of a survival bag, brandy flask and stock of cookies for the occasion.

These marathons generally take up to three hours, and use up all my annual stock of British calm. The system is simple: each teacher sits in a room alone. Parents are instructed to write their names on a list outside the rooms for each teacher they want to see, without leaving any lines free. Meetings last five minutes – it’s a bit like speed-dating, but without the romance. The only saving grace for most mothers is getting to see the sports teacher, who is generally fit in every sense of the word.

MM, Ready to join the fray. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

MM, Ready to join the fray. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

If parent-teacher evenings were a TV show, they would be a combination of Benny Hill and Fear Factor. The doors open at the designated time, and parents flood in as if it was Black Friday at Harrod’s. The sooner you are on the lists, the sooner you can get home, and all the parents know it. You chase through the rabbit warren of corridors on different floors to find all the rooms, and when you have written your name on the relevant lists, you pelt back to your first appointment with thirty seconds to spare, only to discover that your name has been struck through because you were not there. This leaves you with a mile-long list of names before the next availability – close to breakfast time. So you chase on to your next appointment, and see that the parent before you has not turned up, so you have been struck off the list again. Get the gist? Bis repetita, ad nauseam, all evening.

Parents share their strategies in hushed whispers. I have tried several. None of them work, and after calculation my mean average time after eight years in comprehensive school corridors is still closer to three hours than two, whatever the strategy used.

This year I observed a new trend in parental strategy: teamwork. Organized couples arrived at five o’clock sharp, equipped with back packs, sports shoes and mobile phones. They shared the list of teachers out equally, pecked each other lovingly on the lips then checked their watches and shot off in separate directions. I suspect that they also had detailed maps, army rations, hydration packs and walkie-talkie wrist watches gleaned from their kids’ cereal packets. Yet three hours later they hadn’t seen the physics teacher, either.

MM prepared twin rockets to send Wondeure Woomane into space, should she be unwise enough to attempt jumping the queue.

MM prepared twin rockets to send Wondeure Woomane into space, should she be unwise enough to attempt jumping the queue. Photo credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Then there is the bolder strategy of queue pushing. The most wily queue-pusher is my nemesis, Wondeure Woomane (aka WW). She generally has a file under her arm, and strides purposefully down the corridor like she’s lived there all her life. This confuses everyone long enough for her to sashay into the room and take a seat, whether or not it is her turn. Taking twice the allotted time, she briefs the teacher on how to get the best out of her over-achieving genius. When she finally breezes past the growling posse of parents at the door, their faces betray their hope that her homemade salt dough pendant will swing twice round her neck and throttle her on her way down the corridor.

I should have learned by now, though. I have been attending school meetings with Wondeure Woomane for 15 years. By the time my third contribution to the Franco-British entente cordiale hit infant school, I had become one of those war-scarred veterans who sat in the corner muttering Yoda-like incantations as WW machine-gunned the teacher with her desiderata. Were the school dinners organic? Would the parent whose child had a headlouse breeding facility on his head please put him into quarantine? Oh, and could the  child who had permanently borrowed her offspring’s Himalayan yack wool gloves please return them? She would then get stuck into suggesting everything from vegetable plots to edible paint, class visits to the swimming pool and library, and the organisation of week-long school trips to learn how to build teepees and name an insect at fifty paces.

Wondeure Woomane making suggestions at the PTA.

Wondeure Woomane making suggestions at the PTA meeting. Image: Wikipedia commons.

However, the enthusiasm that Wondeure Woomane showed at school meetings mysteriously waned when the teacher came up trumps with activities for our offspring and asked for helping hands a few weeks later. The excuses she came up with were lamer than Napoleon attempting a handstand. I learned to grit my teeth as she whined that she couldn’t make herself available for the very school outings she had demanded, casting a condescending eye over the other mums then simpering « I’m sorry, I can’t come… I work… » as she gazed flirtatiously up at the teacher though lowered eyelashes. This left we lesser maternal mortals the privilege of accompanying a busload of three year-olds to the swimming pool in the depths of winter. The only exception she ever made was for the end of school trip to meet professional fire fighters. I can’t imagine why.

So wish me luck, guys… and if you read something in the paper about a pedant who choked on her pendant, it wasn’t me. Honest.

Random Reflections on Hair Dye Marketing.

When I sidle up to the hair dye aisle at our local supermarket, it is more by necessity than an overwhelming desire to transform myself into Jessica Rabbit. I’m there because I’m starting to look like a sheepdog that has been put through the tumble drier, and I need functional products that cut the crap and deliver the goods. Cosmetics marketing teams seem to consider my demand to be far too modest for my own good, and I am increasingly flummoxed by their crusade to depict dyeing my hair as an elegant and sensual experience – light years from the reality of squirting a bottle full of chemicals on my head in the family bathroom.

The Food Thing

On my last visit to the hair dye shelf, I twigged that food is one of the main strategies manufacturers use to sell hair dye. My first-world problem of choosing between brown and brown was played out to the music of my stomach, noisily duetting with my neighbour’s rumbling tummy. We made our choices. For MM, “Frosted Chestnut”, finally won the battle with the outsider, “Chocolate Fudge”. My neighbour picked a shade of black called “Blackcurrant” that would probably leave her looking like Morticia Addams dipped headfirst into a vat of Ribena.

No wonder we were hungry: the majority of the colour names referred to food. Licorice, plum, cherry, chilli, paprika or hot chocolate … welcome to a world where you don’t just eat chocolate brownies, you put a liquid imitation of them in your hair and instantly become good enough to eat. The idea of food had simply woken up my happy hormones and titillated my consumer taste buds, making the most inedible of products look appetizing. I will never shop for hair dye before lunch again, because reading about hazelnuts, mango, caramel, burgundy and honey makes me want to dump my basket and run off to raid the cake display.

Gladys always had a brandy to celebrate her

Gladys always had a brandy to celebrate her “me time” before she redecorated the bathroom with hair dye. She’d let the kids out of the garden shed later.  (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Polly Pout and the Instructions Leaflet

I’m always bemused by the glossy instructions sheet. It stars Polly Pout, a sultry seductress sporting red lipstick and a sulfurous gaze. She is delicate enough to fit both hands and feet into the dwarf-sized rubber gloves, and does not have a single grey hair in her impeccably styled mane. Yep, she looks just like we all do before we dye our hair.

She is also far too young for her hair-dyeing equation to include one child staging a sit-down protest outside the bathroom door and another that has climbed on to the toilet seat and is eyeing you suspiciously, pants around his ankles, waiting for the crucial moment when your hands are covered in gunk to utter those fateful words: “Muuummy, I’ve fiiiinished”.

The marketing message here appears to be that an hour in the bathroom dying our hair is all we need to free the Polly Pout hiding deep inside us. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Although she could star as Bruce Willis’ sidekick in a parody action thriller called “Dye Hard”, Miss Pout will never make it to James Bond girl status as she appears to be all beauty and no brain. Although the instructions clearly state that you should cover your shoulders with a towel before applying the dye, Miss Pout has not only forgotten the towel, but also her clothing. So follow the pictures without reading first at your peril, and don’t forget to lock the front door.

For those who think I'm exaggerating, here is a photo of Polly Pout illustrating points 7 and 8 my instructions leaflet.

For those who think I’m exaggerating, here is a photo I took of Polly Pout illustrating points 7 and 8 in my instructions leaflet.

Glamour and Glove Love

Uber-sexy accessories are the final touch to seduce customers. Back in the noughties, the  rustling pair of transparent gloves stuck to the back of the instructions leaflet were roomy enough to house twin udders. Then the manufacturers down-sized the gloves and put them in a plastic recipient that made your five-year-old go into instant melt-down when he concluded that mummy had stolen his Kinder egg.

Recently, some bright soul down-sized the gloves again and sealed them inside a bag that resists all attempts to be opened (just like its evil counterpart, the sachet of Bee Sweat Extract & Lotus Blossom conditioner). The sleek jet-black gloves it contains are the ideal size for a pre-schooler, and getting my paws into them was like trying to fit Muhammad Ali into Paris Hilton’s swimsuit. So please wake up and smell the peroxide, guys: hands, like other appendages, come in different sizes. I’d hate to have to stain my pristine, unused housework gloves because yours are too small.

The effort to add a bit of sensuality to the mundane experience of hair dye application is much appreciated, but the slippery combination of a satin-feel bottle and undersized, silk-feel gloves was as practical as wearing a sheath dress and high heels to climb the Mont Blanc. The bottle was harder to grasp than French politics, and slipped through my fingers like a two-year-old covered in poster paint.

Thumbs up for the 30 minute wait for the product to work its miracle, though. It gave me ample time to clean up the collateral damage of suspicious brown stains splattered across the bathroom and explain to Little My that although Mummy was swearing like a trooper, had brown ears and was bursting out of her black gloves like Popeye on steroids, with a slap of red lipstick she would be as appetizing as a bowl of frosted chestnuts just in time for Papa’s return from work. Just like Polly Pout.

Umbilical Cord: The Comeback.

Trachypithecus auratus

MM and Bigfoot back in 1996.

This parenting lark is one crazy ride. One minute you’re cradling a tiny little being in your arms, and the next, he’s morphed into a hulking great thing you tenderly refer to as “Bigfoot”. You find yourself in the car, jammed between the contents of your fridge and a double mattress, aiding and abetting in his departure from the nest.
It felt strangely like the day Bigfoot had started school. The same feelings were bubbling like lava in my abdomen – Pride. Anxiety. Instinct to protect. When we had exhausted all valid excuses for dallying longer in his new abode, we swallowed hard, beamed glassily at him, kissed him goodbye, and walked back down the stairs. The sound of him locking the door was both reassuring and gut wrenching.

Only when we were in the car, driving away, did I feel it.

The tug of that damned umbilical cord.

I swear that I saw PF cut it as I clutched my newborn in my arms. I heard it, too. A sound I have never forgotten, like someone trying to cut through a raw steak with a pair of round-ended school scissors. The symbolic act was accomplished – the physical cord was severed. Yet 18 years later, there we were, driving home down the motorway and discovering a second, invisible umbilical cord that needed cutting, all over again. Bigfoot had gone, and that damned cord was still there. Stronger and longer than a roll of Andrex. For the entire hour’s journey, it silently rolled itself out along the motorway behind us. As slick and  sinuous as licorice lace.

I have been hacking away at my end of it with determination ever since, using basic tools such as caustic self-derision, sharp wit and blunt common sense, but absolutely nothing will sever the bugger. It’s easy to understand why: Umbilical Cord, aka UC, is a determined cow. If she was girl at school, she’d be the one who noticed your hockey bruises in the changing room then prodded maliciously at them as you passed her in the corridor.
So I stoically ignore her as she stabs on the door bell of my mind. I hide. She pushes the letter box open, peers in, and yells through, her voice echoing up the staircase to the Maternal Instinct floor.
“Hey, anyone there? Yoo-hoo, MM, where are you? It’s me, UC. We met 18 years ago at the maternity ward, remember me? Uh… Anyway. I just wanted to say that I think you should check that Bigfoot got home tonight without being beaten up. Maybe he’s been mugged. Or he could have been kidnapped and served up on a bed of marshmallows by a gang of flesh-deprived cougars. After all, he’s a damn good-looking kid. Just saying.”
MM’s Common Sense Official shouts down the stairs that MM is in the bath, and refuses to be baited by such preposterous poppycock. (Yes, MM’s imagination has decided that the CSO is a rather spiffing Martini-drinking gent; a bit like James Bond, but better. So there.) He points out that Bigfoot doesn’t need to be called by his mother every two minutes, and is probably studying. Or watching a film on his laptop. Or out having a drink with his new friends. Or amazing Chosen Counterpart with his pasta-pesto creations. Or even (although highly improbable) doing the cleaning.
Umbilical Cord rolls her eyes, flicks her hair and retaliates, pulling out the heavy artillery. “Oh. My. God…. MM, are you sure he has made new friends? What if he’s alone in front of the TV, crying into a packet of M&Ms ? What if nobody checks on him when he doesn’t turn up for classes, and he’s prostrate on the bathroom floor because he slipped on the soap? You are just suuuuuch a bad mother. You should check if he’s eating right. He’s never too old to get rickets, you know. Then there’s scurvy. Oh, and you should ask if he remembered to send that paper to the bank….”
I drown her in a glass of rosé.
Later, when UC has given up, kicked off her Birkenstocks and gone to bed, I sneak my mobile phone under the covers to send a text message into the darkness: “Goodnight, Bigfoot“. ..and melt with relief when the screen lights up with “You too”.

Growing Up: The Art of Role Reversal.

Throughout my childhood, I played with my Lego and Playmobils and sang songs by “The Wombles” with my sisters at the top of my voice. I loved the smell of wet earth after rain fall, jumped in piles of leaves, got tearful at the end of the school term and wondered why I got goose pimples when I heard people singing together. I pushed my finger into the corners of the crisp packet to enjoy the hidden remnants of the stinging salt and vinegar flavour. I wondered if all this would magically stop when I was a grown-up, and waited impatiently for the morning I would awake knowing what I wanted to be and where I wanted to go in life. That day, I would stride out of the door with my briefcase in my hand on my way to my Very Important Job (whatever that would be), pick my kids up from school and expertly manage my life as a super mum and spouse juggling children, work and marriage better than Martha Stewart ever could.

When I was 18, I did not know that at the age of 45 I would still be doing all those things (except becoming wonder woman – but I have a s**t load more fun with all that housework and ironing forgotten). I left home to study French at University, thrilled to be beginning my adult life – even if I only knew that I wanted to get my backside over to France and stay there for ever, it was a good enough start as any. My Dad took me to the railway station to wave me off, and although he did his best to contain his feelings, his emotion seeped into my every pore.

Although I didn’t entirely understand his state of mind at that time, the wheel has turned and today I sure as hell understand. In less time than it takes Flash Gordon to get to planet Mongo, I have grown older and the three kilos of my firstborn baby has morphed into a towering bilingual teen with a Baccalauréat grasped victoriously in his hand. He is ready to fly the coop, raring at the bit to move into his own apartment. He is making plans for the future. I am looking on with a mixture of anxiety, envy and pride. He is now making his own choices, and will maybe remember the looks on our faces as we wish him well in his new abode (at least until he arrives home with his first bag of laundry two weeks later). And one day, his choices may lead him to that very same place we stand as parents today. Wondering where the time has gone. Looking back at his youth, looking forward to his child’s adult life…. and maybe envisaging the moment when he will chase me down the street in my underwear and slippers, clutching an empty packet of crisps in my hand and jumping in leaves as I sing “Remember you’re a Womble” at the top of my voice.

Time Travel and the Sherbet Lemon Tardis.

Roots are funny old things. Even the most hard-headed, independent expatriate girl needs to get back to her sources from time to time. And when MM’s boat started navigating through choppy waters a few months ago, the auto-pilot button for home started flashing. I needed space. My parents and siblings. Littlest Little Sister’s legendary English breakfast. Crumpets. Hugs. Family. My mum’s cooking. Laughter. Beer. Marbles and hopscotch. Fish and chips. Seeing reasonably priced cheddar and baked beans on the supermarket shelf and knowing that I wouldn’t have to hoard it all away because it would still be there tomorrow. Waking up to the sound of seagulls screaming insults at each other on the roof. The smell of the sea, the sight of grey waves crashing over the Cornish coastline. Sherbet Lemons. In a nutshell, the reassuring, familiar flavour of childhood. So I gave in to the temptation and got tickets, and Little My and I jumped on a Ryanair flight and headed for home.

We’ve been back in Cornwall for ten days now. MM is rolling unashamedly in family and familiar surroundings, and is driving her daughter up the proverbial pole with comments that all include the words “when Mummy was your age…”. I’m drinking too much beer, eating my weight in pasties and cheddar and am still running out of the front door to listen to the seagulls. I’m talking all day and sleeping all night. And loving every minute of rediscovering my old stomping ground.

My childhood, in a paper bag.

My childhood, in a paper bag.

Just cross the English Channel, and you change worlds. Since we got off the plane, I have  gone back 30 years in my life. This was best illustrated by the sweet shop, where Little My saw her mother melt into a quivering, nostalgic heap before feverishly purchasing armfuls of pear drops, barley sugars, love hearts and lemon sherbets from a bemused shop assistant. Little My was happy to oblige by sharing a taste-bud revival of my childhood with me, although the flavour didn’t evoke any memories for her. One day it will. Tempted by time travel? Forget the Tardis, and embrace the sherbet lemon. I rocketed back forty years in the blink of an eye. As we sucked on the sweets, I showed her around my home town in a delirious sugar and nostalgia-induced frenzy. The place where her aunt broke her arm waving to the train as we played on the swings. The places we used to play tennis until I invariably lost all the balls in the freezer centre gutter. The pier where I went crabbing with my sisters. The river where I sailed every Friday. The path that skinned my knees and battered my best friend’s bike again and again until I finally managed to cycle in a straight line. The pub where I downed many a pint-too-many.

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: Multifariousmeanderings.

Getting back to your roots matters – right down to that greasy, emotional reunion with fish and chips on the rocky shore, hunting for prawns in the rock pools, and taking pics of my favourite winged bad boy, the seagull. I even had the pleasure of an impromptu Punctuation Police intervention with MM’s Mum (aka MMM). Our eyes locked with a malicious glimmer, and we licked our fingertips and banished an army of greengrocer’s apostrophes from a restaurant’s chalkboard menu.

As I relive my childhood memories, Little My is no doubt building her own. This experience will perhaps be one that she will repeat to her children one day.  The very same mundane everything days that comfort me are making my daughter grind to a sudden halt with surprise. Like the tinny ice cream van music, echoing across the valley on our way home from the shops. “What’s that?” she asked, startled. “It sounds like music from a creepy film.” The hot chocolate, marshmallow and whipped cream creation she only thought existed in fairy tales. The women striding confidently around town with their hair dyed bright shades of pink, blue, red and green, like something out of a Dr Seuss book. The mother with a buggy who thanked my daughter for letting her past with a cheery Cornish “Thank you, my darlin’!” and was greeted by a quizzical stare from Little My, who muttered in French, “Only my mum’s allowed to call me that”. The great Cornish conjugation of the verb to be: “I were/ you wuz” made her raise an eyebrow, too.

Challenge accepted!

Challenge accepted!

We started off with a day in Plymouth, or “Big P”, in our family jargon. We first raided the charity shops for appropriate wedding attire – Little Sis is getting hitched at the weekend. The pickings were rich, and I tried on several numbers under Little My’s expert eye (if in doubt about being mutton dressed as lamb, always check out your choice with a pre-teen, whose tolerance level is generally on a par with that of Genghis Kahn with a sore head). After negotiation about skirt length, we chose a simple but feminine knee-length red dress that most definitely puts the “cat” into “catwalk”, then stomped off for more aventures.

As we strolled through Plymouth city centre, it became clear that local behaviour is a far stretch from that of our French locals. Little My tugged on my arm, and I looked down to see incredulous eyes. “Mum !” she hissed, jerking her head sideways. “Why’s that kid on a lead?” I realised that she had never seen a child harness before, and explained the reasoning behind it. Little My looked back at the child as if he was an abandoned labrador tied to a tree at a motorway lay-by.  “Poor kid. He’s not a dog.”

We were both bemused by the predominant need to please customers in shops – so much so, indeed, that customer care seems to have become customer scare since the last time I visited. At the building society, an apologetic bank clerk a with highly visible name badge nervously asked if I would « mind terribly » if she made a phone call whilst I waited for another bank clerk to bring me the paper I had requested. A cashier at the local supermarket asked if I wanted help packing my bag, and carefully passed me each article, one by one. This is a far cry from my experiences in France, and it actually made me uneasy. It was as if the shopping world’s sword of Damocles was teetering above their heads. Then I realised that it was indeed the case – the British customer is king, and has the eerily disconcerting right to drop whoever they wish in the doo-doo. Your shopping receipts all include an invitation to answer the question, « How did we do today ? ». Just a phone call away, eager beavers man the lines and are ready to take your complaint and set up an enquiry, just for you.

Anyway. Enough rambling – I’m off for a pub lunch with the gang. MM management apologizes for the erratic posting of late, and hopes that you enjoyed today’s contribution to the worthy cause of worldwide time-wasting. Please feel free to comment below, and win £1000 of shopping vouchers the right to come back again next time.