Gizmo, the Smarty-Pants Phone.

English: "Stripe" Gremlin figure, le...

Never get water on Gizmo the smart phone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Three weeks before my birthday, Norbert the Nokia kindly decided that I no longer needed the bottom row of keys, lined up like baby teeth at the bottom of my handset. From that moment onwards, I was condemned to only phoning the numbers that were already stashed away in Norbert’s memory, and I crossed my fingers that he would not suffer from amnesia as well as paralysed digits.

But that’s not all. I also had to get my head around a texting world that was devoid of the letters W, X, C, V,  B, M, and N. Texting became as easy as simultaneously whistling and cleaning your false teeth – it was like playing Scrabble with half the letters missing from the box. By the time I had found a synonym that did not need any of the missing letters, the person I was supposed to pick up at the bus stop had given up and walked home.

The major disadvantage of being deprived of these letters was that I was suddenly incapable of refusing anything to my children at distance, as I had no way to type the word “no” in a text message, whatever language I used. The absence of an immediate refusal was therefore interpreted as a tacit consent.

I can hear you all from here. “Why didn’t you just phone them?” I hear you ask. Simple. Using a phone to talk with parents went out with the arc (even if this was the only viable argument they had for buying the thing). When we parents call our offspring, we are generally greeted by the answering machine – taking a call from your mother on the school bus is as high on the humiliation scale as showing a pimple on your backside to your family GP.

Description unavailable

Gertrude and Doris enjoyed calling their children on their mobiles and muttering “I am your Mother” through their gas masks. (Photo credit: Foxtongue)

A teenager’s mobile phone could be defined as an alarm clock that allows its owner to play games, communicate with friends (by text message only), listen to music and avoid being spoken to by the kid in your class who wants to go out with you when waiting alone at the bus stop. It is also an ideal means to reverse those parent – offspring roles and keep constant track of your genitors – a bit like Argos transmitters on migratory birds. When I leave the house at the weekend, I have approximately ten minutes of freedom before the tracking squad kicks in with regular calls demanding where I am and what time I will be back. This makes me feel like a fifteen-year-old girl who’s been caught sneaking out the back door in her sister’s high heels and sequined boob tube when I’m just on a mission to fill the fridge for the second time in three days.

Anyway, I digress. When PF, Bigfoot, Little My and Rugby Boy took me off to choose my new phone for my birthday, I was a happy cookie. My offspring pointed excitedly at ultra thin phones – the technological equivalent of Paris Hilton after a run-in with a steam roller. The things just oozed sexiness, and when I saw the price label I realised why – they’d had enough microchip surgery to keep them looking young until the next model elbowed them off the telecommunications catwalk into early retirement six months later.

A salesman cruised around the corner and mooched over to us. Flashing a pearly white smile, he smoothly ran off the characteristics of the über-sexy model in his hand. When he stopped for breath, I asked, “So, does it phone?” He drew himself up to his full height – somewhere around my belly button. “Yes, madame. You can also takes pictures and videos, surf the web, get the weather all over the world, the news…” When he had finished, I asked: “Does it do the washing-up and bring me breakfast in bed too?”

He blinked. I explained that although it may appear strange, I don’t have an internet package for my phone – I actually enjoy the freedom of not being followed by social media and emails when I’m out. I just needed a phone that phones. I pointed behind him to a bright red candy-bar that could survive being dropped in the Atlantic, thrown off a cliff and run over by a tank. This little beauty had probably been designed by Playschool, and would survive well after the scorpions had kicked the bucket in the Apocalypse. I quickly found myself imagining the scene – I would tuck it under my lycra knicker elastic and be the new Lara Croft, albeit with less generous boobs and extra padding on my bottom half, bounding around the scorched remains of the earth. Yeah. The only girl with a phone that would work to call the President when the other survivor, Bruce Willis, got the network up and running…

The iStone: at the cutting edge of technology.

The iStone: at the cutting edge of technology.

Little My shook her head and dragged me out of my dream to show me another phone. Her siblings agreed: this was the real McCoy. And ever since, I have been the adoptive mother of Gizmo. Gizmo is a smart phone who is too big to fit in my jeans pocket but small enough to disappear in my handbag. He’s not just a smart phone, he’s a smarty-pants phone. His insatiable need for attention has driven me to lobotomise him by depriving him of his lifeline to the internet router after more disturbances than I care to mention. A night with a teething child is probably more restful than a night with a phone that pops its cheek at you through the dark every time someone on the other side of the world posts a picture of their lunch on Facebook.

Gizmo is obviously a man – he is very touchy-feely, and constantly requests stroking and TLC. Like a Gremlin, Gizmo must be kept away from water at all costs. Whereas I could just wipe my hands on my jeans and press the button to take a call with Norbert when I was peeling the spuds, Gizmo has to wait until I’ve washed and dried my hands before I can tend to his needs. When he rings in my pocket and it’s raining, I find myself reassuring him that I will release him from the dark just as soon as I find a dry place to stand. The idea of him getting covered in warts, and evil baby smart phones popping up all over the place scares the hell out of me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go… Gizmo’s ringing.

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Guidelines for a Harmonious Home.

Domestic Diva Depression.

Domestic Diva Depression (care of MM Playmo productions).

 

Ok, kids, let’s get this straight. Since I became a mother I have discovered a side to me I had never imagined in my wildest dreams. The amazing ability to give you the piece of chocolate I got with my coffee. A capacity to wake up, get up and clear up your vomit at 3 am and even soothe you back to sleep afterwards.  The willpower to drive 60 km back to the zoo to rescue your favourite toy from a night with the monkeys. I have covered for you when you’ve cheated on eating your veggies. I’ve even run for you, something I usually only reserve as a solution for urgent predicaments like being chased by a three-headed monster.

 

But today, when I walked into your bedrooms, something happened. Somehow, that blind instinct to clear up behind you backfired then disappeared in a puff of smoke, leaving me wondering why, oh why, I’ve been so downright passive for so long. Any burglar breaking into our house would take one look, presume that someone got there before him, and leave.

 

Being a cool kind of mum, I’ve thought this over and have drawn up a short list of helpful comments for your future assignment: clearing up after yourselves.

 

Sorting out the escape kit

The pile of dirty laundry had become difficult to handle for the boys after Mum decided to go on strike (Photo credit: theirhistory)

 

1. CLOTHING.

 

In this house, clothing mysteriously takes over each and every room. Orphaned socks sob inconsolably in baskets, prowl dangerously under the beds and scream to be released from the depths of hastily deserted, concertina-ed trouser legs. Forgotten pullovers drape casually over armchairs, shoes pile up at the door like a modern-day mecca.

 

You know what? Contrary to common belief, clothing is incapable of clearing itself away. The underwear, shirts, jeans and pullovers that you leave on your bedroom floor will not miraculously drag themselves through the door like Private Ryan, crawl down the corridor and clamber, exhausted, into the laundry basket for salvation…. however long you wait. I was curious enough to do the experiment myself: after leaving the clothing on your respective floors for an entire week, the only direct result to be reported was a mini-Kilimanjaro in each bedroom, and three children who stoically mountaineered though the debris to their beds but strangely had nothing left to wear.

 

I would also like to stress the importance of picking up the piles of carefully folded clothing on the bottom stair, and taking them upstairs to the relevant rooms. Yes, another scientifically designed “Mum test” has proved that in the case of clothing piles being neatly and equally distributed over the width of two consecutive steps, the average family member somehow still manages to step over them and climb the stairs empty-handed (the alternative theory being that folded laundry is merely visible to the person who folded it, dexterously dematerializing on the arrival of any other human being, but this is much more difficult to prove).

 

Please bear in mind that any clean, folded clothing found abandoned on the bedroom floor as a last-ditch attempt to get back to previous more “enlightening” activities such as TV or texting to (officially ex-) girlfriends will result in a maternal desire to burn the aforementioned articles and innocently claim that they have been eaten by the washing machine.

 

2. THE BATHROOM.

 

Unlike the universe, a roll of toilet paper cannot be argued to be infinite, and it is really not cool at all to finish the roll and leave the cardboard tube for the next person. FORWARD PLANNING, guys…. Think about it. It’s either that, or you get woken up by a snarling genitor screaming for loo roll at 6.30 am.

 

English: Two cats in a bathroom; Moxie attacks...

Yeah, sure. It was the cat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

And now, a special request to male members of the family (sorry, I couldn’t resist that one…): As we so nicely say in England, “If you sprinkle when you tinkle, be a sweetie: wipe the seatie”. Strangely enough, we girls don’t miss the target, yet we’re the ones who get to clear up after you guys, who seem to confuse part of your anatomy with a pressure hose. It would also be an added bonus to female members of the family if you could put the seat back down and flush: Innocent mothers who go to the loo in the dark to avoid waking the entire house generally jar their backs falling the extra unexpected centimetre and scream when they hit cold porcelain with their pyjama-warmed behinds.

 

3. THE KITCHEN.

 

a) If you know how to get things out of a fridge or a cupboard, then you know how to put them back.

 

b) Here’s a bit of Kitchen Pythagoras: The distance from the table to the sink is equal to the distance between the table and the dishwasher. Just to remind you: take a straight line south from the tap, then follow through left to the dishwasher door, which opens and gratefully accepts all donations. Please realise that if there had ever been a gas leak in the dishwasher, I would have died years ago given the amount of time I spend with my head stuck inside it.

 

c) Note about reactions on seeing full cupboards and fridge.

 

  • RIGHT: “Wow, thanks Mum! We’ve got food for the entire week!”

 

  • WRONG: “what do you mean, that was meant for lunch on Wednesday? School canteen was crap today.”

 

4. ELECTRICAL HOUSEHOLD EQUIPMENT.

 

All our electrical equipment has been thoroughly house trained, so please feel free to create a lasting relationship with any member of our menagerie. Take the vacuum cleaner for a walk through your bedroom; he will be delighted to discover the unknown territory underneath your beds, and will happily eat the monsters lurking there so that they don’t devour you as you sleep. A vacuum cleaner is a bit like a man; you can easily turn him both on and off, and all you have to do is fill his stomach to hear him purr with pleasure.

 

A vacuum cleaner from AEG

It’s the household equivalent of Nike: Just Do It.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Likewise, the tumble drier does not bite, and when she politely requires assistance by beeping gently, a gentle push on her door will suffice to remove the contents of her tum, hence relieving her of the laundry equivalent of constipation and filling your drawers with clean, fragrant clothing. It’s a win-win situation.

 

So, my darlings, there you have it. If you have any questions, I’m chilling out with a glass of rosé in the vegetable tray…

 

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Stone-Age Mamma and the Mystery of Everybody Else’s Parents.

If I rubbed my teapot one day and the Yorkshire Brew genie popped out to offer me three wishes, it’d be easy. My first wish would be to kick cancer’s butt off the face of the earth. The second to pay off my mortgage. And the third would be to finally meet “Everybody Else’s Parents.”

Our kids all have the same friend, although bizarrely the gender and age varies enormously. Said friend is called “Everybody Else.” You may have met Everybody Else, but never his or her mysterious, generous and philanthropic genitors. Everyone Else lives in a childhood Nirvana – a teenager’s heaven where his or her every wish is the adult’s desire. Strapped for cash? Need a ride to the cinema? Feel an insatiable desire to respond to that Pavlovian reflex set off by the announcement of a new Play Station? Look no further: Everybody Else’s parents are ready and willing to grant their child’s every wish.

These parents are the summom bonum of parenting. They are an ode to educational endeavor; pioneers of parental prowess. They are in synchrony with their kids – so much so, in fact, that they seem to know what their offspring need before they even know it themselves. Walk into the Everybody Else household, and weep: these guys are in osmosis to such an extent that they are inches from melting into a pulsating, lime-green pool of happiness.

Caveman Couple
MM and PF, stone-aged parents, on their way to the butchers to buy a pound of mammoth for dinner (Photo credit: San Diego Shooter)

Now for a little history. Everybody Else’s Parents have been out doing us mere mortals in the parenting stakes since Neolithic times. At that time, PF and MM’s forbearers still had callouses on their knuckles from ambling along on all fours and forcing their kids to be self-respecting, independent hunter-gatherers who checked the pelt of the bear for parasites before they attempted to kill it with their home-made daggers. In the cave next-door, however, Everybody Else’s parents were already at the cutting-edge of flintstone parenting. They were the first to have a cart with square wheels and a matching turbo-charged dino parked outside their cave entrance. They ordered take-out mammoth every weekend and sent their kids to flint-chipping workshops at the local geek’s cave, dressed in the latest designer bearskins. The entire family watched blockbusters like “Menhir Black” on their stone tablets, and were the first to tote the stone-age ancestor of Steve Job’s technological wizardry – the iStone.

Throughout the ages, MM and PF’s ancestors kicked out against consumerism as a basis for parenting, and refused to keep up with Everybody Else’s Parents. Perfection being in the eye of the beholder, our creations are only too happy to point out that although we have progressed to communicating, standing upright and eating with cutlery, we have not evolved as much as they would have liked.

The iStone, little-known ancestor of the iPhone.

I have been measured with Everybody Else’s parental yardstick since my kids were old enough to clamour their indignation about our parental decisions. We are the most unhip, untrendy, tight-fisted, screwed-up old parents in the whole damned universe. If Victorian parents existed in France, that would be us, with a twist of Dickensian malevolence for good measure (I have a real Miss Havisham side to me, letting them see their cake but not eat it, whereas PF is a more Fagin type, forcing his kids to help out around our family hovel).

Now. Everybody Else is a charming kid, despite an upbringing with all the laxity of a eucalyptus suppository. He is never tired, despite the fact that his ultra-cool parents allow him to go out drinking late on school days, and always does his homework late at night in his bed because they allow him to exercise his thumbs on the Play Station soon as he gets home until well after dinner. Everybody Else’s girfriend has been sleeping over for the last three years and has even been encouraged her to come and live with them.

In comparison, of course, we do not cut the mustard.

We do not stand by the door jangling our keys when our kids want to go out to a friend’s house, whereas Everybody Else’s parents are generally scratching at the door like beagles that have picked up on the scent of game as soon as their teen twitches a Prada-clad toe. My general reaction is to ask them to look down, and show them the cheapest and healthiest method of transport ever: feet.

Beef Up Foreign Food Inspection

Trying to convince MM that frozen IKEA desserts are edible (Photo credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com)

Food is another bone of contention. Whilst I am no Nigella Lawson, I scrupulously read the ingredients on the rare cakes and biscuits I buy. The rule of thumb is that if you can’t pronounce it, you shouldn’t eat it. This puts my children in a different world to Everybody Else, who is rumoured to open the kitchen cupboard on his return from school to choose from overflowing shelves of chocolate, snacks and sweets that no doubt glow in the dark. Everybody Else’s Parents allow their kids to slob out in the rooms alone and eat an entire family packet of M&M’s each until three in the morning, whereas we round up all our kids and watch a film or a documentary together. Shock. Horror.

I have kept an eye out for these parents at every parent-teacher meeting, and casually questioned the genitors of other teens, but to no avail. Everybody Else’s parents never show up. I have a possible explanation for this – as they selflessly fund the most recent technology, driving lessons, cars, generous allowances and designer clothes for their fringe-flicking progeny, they obviously work 24/7 – they are probably dental surgeons or lawyers by day, with a sideline in bank-robbing at night.

So until the Yorkshire Brew genie proves otherwise, I will presume that Everybody Else’s Parents are as mythical as the legendary Prince Charming. But that’s another story, folks…

The Secret Diary of a Smug Married.

Bridget Jones is back. She has apparently gone full-circle, and is now Mark Darcy-less once again. The question is, am I going to read a third serving of Bridget?

I really don’t know. I remember loving the first two books. Then a few years and three births later, I picked up the first book again, and realised that my initial sympathy for the misunderstood, nicotine-addicted bachelorette had not only waned, but had been replaced by a sneaking desire to slip into the pages and stick her oversized knickers over her head. After a day knee-deep in toys, trying to deal with the laundry equivalent of Vesuvius whilst a newborn baby mistook my nipples for chewing gum, a wailing, incontinent two-year-old clung to my shins and my five-year-old cut up the magazine I had bought in a feverish moment of optimism two months before, the last thing I needed to read about when I had five minutes barricaded in the loo was a singleton wino whining because she was alone with a bottle of wine and the TV remote.

Many years further down the line, I must admit that I am curious to know what kind of mother Bridget became. Did she finally realise how lucky she had been to be able to fall out of bed after a full night’s sleep and have a shower without a posse of screaming under-fives trying to batter the door down? We will never know. Not only is Mark Darcy dead (no more Colin Firth for the next film, sniff), but the novel starts when Bridget is 51 and widowed; we will never see Bridget testing the water as the Smug Married she detested so much. So without wishing to step on Helen Fielding’s toes, here is an extract from “The Secret Diary of a Smug Married” – an example of what really happens after being swept off your feet by your personal Mark Darcy.

Tupperware advertisement featuring a Joe Stein...

Wonder Woman, the ultimate Smug Married, admiring her stolen collection of Tupperware Trophies. (Photo credit: State Library and Archives of Florida)

  FRIDAY.

6.15 a.m. Dream involving a beach, a book and a huge Italian ice cream interrupted by two-year-old peeling open eyelid and saying, “Bekfust.”

6.30 a.m. Test pain threshold by stepping on Lego brick in the dark. Track down reluctant school-age offspring hibernating under quilts. Stagger downstairs. Trip over cat. Find coffee jug. Cat bites foot. Pour coffee. Cat bites other foot. Feed cat. Drink coffee.

6.45 a.m. Husband appears, requests specific item of clothing. Establish that said garment is still in sodden, wet ball inside washing machine. Make secret wish to transform into hybrid of Adriana Karambeu and Martha Stewart who wakes up with perfectly toned body, brushed hair and perfect make-up, and always finds the right lids for her Tupperware boxes.

7 a.m. Step on bathroom scales, see with pleasure that weight is still “LO”. Push scales lovingly back into place, vow never to change the batteries again. Run downstairs and polish off remaining pain au chocolat on kitchen work top. Congratulate self for altruistic act, thus ensuring that thieving, bulimic cat will not be sick on floor and children will not argue at breakfast table.

7.45 a.m. Leave for school with eight-year-old, five-year-old and two-year-old. Spot Wonder Woman carrying cake box. With sinking stomach, remember promise to make cake for infant school cake stand.

8 a.m.  Kiss child number one good bye. Buy Wonder Woman’s overpriced organic carrot cake as soon as it arrives on Junior school cake stand.

8.15 a.m. Drop off child number two at infant school. Cheerfully hand over home-made carrot cake. Magnanimously inform teacher that you are available to accompany children on school trip to local fire station. Teacher declines and expresses delight at unexpected mass of mothers ready to make time for school activities. Roll eyes. Explain that line-up of firefighters is somewhat more attractive prospect for 30-something mothers than traipsing to library in pouring rain. Recommend giving priority to mothers who may decide against attending further winter swimming pool sessions to dry and dress 25 shivering five-year-olds in five minutes.

8.20 a.m. Leave school having secured place on school trip.

1950s Modern Kitchen, Automatic Dishwasher, 1953

“…and Mummy’s left enough room for you too, unless you go and wash your hands NOW”. (Photo credit: classic_film)

8.30 a.m. Clear collateral damage from breakfast and emerge from kitchen to find two-year-old recreating M&M’s scene from E.T using cat food and enthusiastic family feline.

9.30 a.m. Switch into professional person mode and work on laptop as two-year-old remains miraculously quiet in corner.

10.30 a.m. Discover reason for offspring’s silence: Little My has thoughtfully illustrated and coloured each page of sibling’s library book. Play figurines and fight with daughter over casting Prince Charming as broom-pusher and Cinderella as heroine on horseback.

11.45 a.m. Realise that PF’s sodden clothing is still waiting in machine. Drag into back yard, hang it on the line. Hide underwear behind sheets just in case neighbour has underwear fetish.

12.30 p.m. Open fridge. Regret self-satisfied purchase of healthy stuff for lunch at supermarket instead of the chips and pizza seen in other mums’ baskets. Stare at phone and will it to ring with invitation for calorie-loaded lunch and bottle of wine. Phone remains mute. Push salad to back of fridge. Eat fish fingers and pasta with Little My.

1 p.m. Attempt telephone conversation with insurance company. Reassure person on other end of line that it is not her you are telling her to stop picking her nose, but your two-year-old.

1.15 p.m. Cuddle child to sleep.

1.45 p.m. Awaken dribbling into pillow beside snoring child.

3.45 p.m. Lift head from work, realise that child is still asleep and siblings will be released from class in 20 minutes. Recognise sound of rain on window. Run outside to get soaking laundry, put in washing machine on full spin. Wake up two-year-old with cheerful “Let’s get dressed!”

4.10 p.m. Arrive at school to collect children with red-eyed, triumphant child wearing Fairy Queen costume, rain coat and Wellington boots. Nod head modestly at congratulations for wonderful cake with fingers crossed behind back. Make mental note to ask Wonder Woman for recipe incase anyone asks for it.

5.30 p.m. Homework vortex. Faced with suspicious face of oldest child, acknowledge inadequate mastering of rocket science (aka primary school maths), and agree that sub-standard mother trailing meagre literary excuse for University education cannot understand said subject of genius. Invite child to consult the Oracle, aka his genitor, on his return from the land of the living.

6.30 p.m. Return of family silver back. Cook dinner with a little wine (wine in glass, not in dinner).

Dan

The Tooth Fairy’s husband (Photo credit: obscene_pickle)

7.30 p.m.  Write letter to Tooth Fairy after epic tooth fairy fail on previous night : “Dear Tooth Fairy. Mum is sorry about last night. She swept up my tooth with the bread crumbs by mistake. But it was a pretty tooth. If you want it, Mum says it’s in the wheelie bin.” Consider asking Tooth Fairy’s husband to brandish magic wand at crack of dawn for a change. Decide against this: karma may bite Tooth Fairy on backside if husband interprets the notion of waving magic wand differently than intended.

8 p.m. Argue over choice of film. Wish self was Bridget Jones alone on sofa with bottle of Chardonnay and TV remote.

10 p.m. Throw self headfirst on bed in dark yelling “Geronimooooo!!!!!!!!!”. Find bed surprisingly lumpy. Bed says “ouch” and giggles. Make mental note to check if children are hiding in bed before repeating exercise. Feel like smug married. Enjoy.

10.30 p.m. In dark, husband enquires about item of clothing. Realise that it is still in sodden ball  in the washing machine.

The Final Curtain

Try as I might, and much to PF’s amusement, I have never managed to avoid shedding an emotional tear or ten when faced with a pint-sized line-up of singing pumpkins, wise men or flowers at primary school events. I’m a soppy so-and-so, and being reminded that my kids are growing up way too fast kicks me viciously in the lacrimals each and every time.

Needless to say, there is nothing delicate or feminine about an MM going into emotional melt-down. Unlike the delicate mums who roll their eyes towards the ceiling to subdue the solitary tear in each rimmelled eye, my face generally crumples up like a 2CV in a motorway pile-up. I then reach into my pocket for a tissue, realise that I used up the last one to clean my hands after I dripped diesel on my fingers at the petrol pump, and end up with a choice between my sleeve or a vintage shopping list.

Kleenex logo

Kleenex: my trusty sponsor for thirteen years. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This year I was proud to get away with red eyes and a large lump in my throat. Thirteen years of primary school for my children had flashed by in what felt like the blink of an eye, and before I knew what had hit me, I was in the playground for the last junior school concert I would attend for one of my offspring.

Wonder Woman had already set up residence in the front row with her groupies, and was impatiently drumming her perfect nails on her video recorder (which, needless to say, had both a fully charged battery and a memory card). I will miss seeing her and her immaculately groomed kids. For those of you who don’t know her, Wonder Woman is the misunderstood matriarch of the maternal mafia. She’s the one who lurks by the refreshments stand at the school fête to police the access to her organic carrot cake. When you battle up the hill to school on your battered old egg-beater of a bike, Wonder Woman is the one who overtakes you with a sadistic, self-satisfied smirk, comfortably perched on her electric broomstick bike as she glides up the hill like a sinister, modern-day version of Mary Poppins. And at the concert, Wonder Woman was the one who had attacked her kid with a pair of curling tongs, making her look like a crossbreed of Orphan Annie and a Crufts contestant.

A hybrid of Orphan Annie and a Crufts contestant.

As I can see you wondering, here’s a hybrid of Orphan Annie and a Crufts contestant, courtesy of Little My and Smelly Dog.

The show began. A member of staff started battering at her glockenspiel as if it had done her an injustice in an earlier life. The beaming music teacher gesticulated wildly in front of the class, and stabbed her finger energetically at Annie Cruft, who obligingly broke into a warbling, off-key rendition of a Polynesian lullaby.

It took me a while to spot Little My in the sea of costumed children. My daughter was hiding in the back row, swaying imperceptibly in her Hawaiian dancer costume. My throat tightened as I glumly realised that this moment was soon to be archived in the family records under “Primary”. A wave of emotion welled up in me, but it was nipped in the bud by the wonderful sight of a miniature Speedy Gonzales. He was singing half-heartedly in the second row, gazing into oblivion from the shade of his sombrero as he absent-mindedly ferreted in his nostril in search of an afternoon snack.

The show was fantastic  – except for one vahiné who ended up in tears when her safety-pin let her (and her grass skirt) down mid-tamuré, it all went smoothly. The children had come a long way since the infant school gigs where baby squirrels seized up in a panic attack, dropped their papier-mâché nuts and ran off screaming into the arms of embarrassed mummy squirrels in the back row.

Speedy Gonzales (film)

Now you know what Speedy gets up to under that hat. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The spectators were fun viewing, too. A small child danced in a happy trance in the no-mans land of trailing cables and maracas between the pupils and the parental posse. An adult tutted, turned and stared malevolently at the kid who was kicking the back of his seat.  Beaming grandparents took photographs. A child loudly announced that he wanted to pee and stumbled his way along the row of seats with his embarrassed father, who tripped over the tripod of the man who was filming the show just when he’d made it through the jungle of legs.

As the cast lined up to a standing parental ovation, babies wailed and grandmothers wiped away proud tears. Speedy Gonzales wiped his finger on his trousers. My face tried to fold into maternal origami, and I swear I saw Wonder Woman rolling her mascara-ed eyes towards the ceiling to catch the tears. Annie Cruft waved enthusiastically to the audience with one hand and readjusted her knickers with the other as the curtain fell on my Primary parenting years. It was time for us to start a new chapter in life….. but only after one last slice of Wonder Woman’s organic carrot cake.

Happy Birthday, Bigfoot.

Seventeen years ago, you changed my life for ever. You lay on my stomach and looked at me as your father nursed his nail-indented hand and the football team of nurses waited impatiently to complete their birthing routine before the next mother arrived in the maternity ward. Your eyes sought mine and locked on, and we were a team. No screams or tears from either of us. The rest of the world disappeared, and I have never forgotten that first soul-searching look, your impressive calm. In the space of a few seconds, you read me like a book. We’d only just met, but we’d been together forever.

I came into your room this morning to wish you a happy birthday. I noticed again that when you sleep, your expression is the same as when you slept in the maternity ward.

I thought back to that day. I cannot describe the fear I felt. You were four, and when the specialist told you to play in the waiting room whilst she Continue reading

Rest In Pisces.

Jamie's last resting place.

Jamie’s last resting place.

“Dearly beloved.” It was worthy of a Sicilian funeral. Little My’s Best Female Friend cleared her throat and grinned at her pal from below the syringa tree at the bottom of the garden. The cicadas scratched relentlessly in the hot stillness of the Provençal afternoon. Sitting on one of the garden chairs that the girls had neatly lined up for the funeral, I repressed the urge to laugh at Gargamel, strategically positioned to spy on us through the hole he had crafted in his garden wall.

“Please bring me the deceased”. Little My rose from her chair and shuffled forwards. The recently bereaved goldfish owner was stylishly clad in a frilly black taffeta skirt, a spaghetti strap top and bright green flip-flops. She proffered the lifeless body of Jamie the goldfish,  nestled in the palm of a bright red washing-up glove: the matriarch dictator, alias yours truly, had insisted that Jamie’s state of decay required protection for her hands.

BFF opened a small wooden box, and Little My ceremoniously laid her fishy friend in the bottom. (Sorry, Granny, the box you kindly gave Little My several years ago was the ideal size for a goldfish coffin, and is now buried at the bottom of the garden. We sincerely hope that you bought it from the Salvation Army shop).

The funeral eulogy was short and sweet. “Jamie will be missed. He was a good goldfish. He loved water, and played in it every day. Rest in peace”. BFF flashed a smile at her pal, then they both dissolved into peals of laughter. As Little My peeled off her rubber gloves, she muttered: “Hey, you missed something out!” She spoke into the box. “Marie and Eva are both sorry you died too. Well, they would have been if they’d known, but they’re on holiday”.

BFF passed the miniature coffin to the bereaved owner, and enthusiastically grabbed the garden spade whilst Little My sanctimoniously closed the lid on Jamie’s 18 months of watery existence. The coffin was gently laid at the bottom of the hole dug by the girls earlier that afternoon. BFF shovelled earth over him, then the two friends stamped the earth down and laid pebbles in the form of a cross on the freshly turned earth.

Silence ensued. BFF’s anxious face betrayed the fact that she had noticed Little My’s distress: despite the fun they had derived from this unusual activity, her friend was now feeling sad. She stretched out her hand and gently squeezed Little My’s. The two little girls held hands and looked solemnly down at the grave.

“I’ll miss him,” Little My said with a wobbling voice. BFF didn’t say a word, and put her arm around her pal. I fought the lump that rose in my throat. BFF turned Little My to face her, and stroked her cheek compassionately. As tears welled up in my eyes, BFF said, “Hey, don’t worry. If you miss him, we can always dig him up from time to time”. Now that’s what friends are for.

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. 

MM’s Supermarket Showdown.

I wouldn’t like to be a supermarket cashier. It must be a boring job, day after day. But today, any compassion I had for cashiers disappeared in a puff of half-price supermarket smoke.

Bigfoot, Little My and I were at the “grown-up” supermarket, the one where you bump into people like Earth Daddy and the Dinkies (more about them here). We were on a mission for Perrier and shampoo. As carrying packs of water does nasty things to your fingers, I took a shopping trolley and wheeled it around the store.

We got our handful of items collected off the shelves in no time at all, and got to the tills to discover queues that were depressingly reminiscent of Heathrow’s immigration control. Then I saw it: the oasis of sanity, the spanking-new “scan your own” section. It was gleaming invitingly at the end of the store, its four pristine tills waiting patiently for customers to cheer up their lonely existence. We scooted over to it and started scanning our items with an enthusiastic Little My as chef d’orchestre. Each time she flashed the bar code in front of the optic sensor, she was rewarded with a loud and satisfying “bleep”. I felt warm inside to see how happy she was, and was wondering how we adults lose sight of these small thrills in life when my maternal nirvana was interrupted by a loud scream of horror.

An indignant voice shouted out, “Ah, NON, Madame!!!!!” I lifted my head from the depths of the shopping trolley to find out which poor Madame had committed a sin worthy of such vehement hostility. Had someone tried to leave the supermarket with a saucisson stuffed up each sleeve and a honeydew melon craftily hidden in each cup of a FF cup bra? Was Super Cashier about to save us from a terrorist who was on the point of stealing the day’s haul of money-off tokens?

Calamity Jane (album)

Remove the smile and imagine purple overalls, and you have the ardent defender of scan-your-own territory. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I didn’t have time to see much, as my field of vision was immediately blocked by a faceful of purple overalls with an official badge pinned over a heavy boob. A pair of hands firmly grabbed my pack of Perrier and launched it unceremoniously back into my trolley. “Madame” was none other than little old me, who had apparently just committed the most heinous sin of the shopper’s universe. Meet MM the criminal, aka Materfamilias la Maudite.

A pair of hostile blue eyes drilled into mine from below disapproving eyebrows. The hands settled at hip level, Calamity Jane-style. Her fingers were twitching, no doubt ready to whip a hand-held scanner from the depths of each pocket and code-bar me into submission if I moved a muscle. “NO TROLLEYS IN THIS AREA, Madame!” the purple lone-ranger yelled at me. “Take your shopping elsewhere! Honestly, some people….”

My children looked on anxiously as my infamous “ancient camel dung” expression slowly appeared on my face. The kids know that this bodes no good for the recipient of my wrath. I levelled with the prison-warder-come-cashier. “Oh, yeah? Says you and whose army?”

“Says Le Règlement, Madame. No trolleys here. It says so here”. She bristled with self-importance and pointed triumphantly at a drooping sheet of paper that was forlornly taped to a sweets display above our heads. Its corners were at half mast, clearly in mourning for the cardboard support that didn’t make it on the long journey from the administration office.

I smiled at her and informed her that the “notice” in question must have been taped there by the Green Giant – she could probably understand that even for a tall person such as MM, it was too high to see, let alone read. I savoured the sight of my vertically challenged aggressor looking up at the sign before she spat “No trolleys!” at me for the second time.

Bigfoot was remarkably elegant, telling Madame that we only had 14 items, and that the recently discovered notice gave an upper limit of 15. Madame said yes, but in a basket, not in a trolley.

English: Carrinho de supermercado adaptado par...

Shopping trolley complete with get-away vehicle for supermarket sinners (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

By this point, the mustard was really getting up my nose. Excuse the pun, but I was inches from going off my trolley. Forget Attila the Hun, this was Attila no Fun. She pulled her special badge out of her pocket, waved it ostentatiously across the screen as if it was a VIP pass to the backstage door at Cannes film festival, and stabbed evilly at “cancel” with a nail-bitten index finger.

“I thought this system had been put here to make shopping easier for customers, and for yourselves. Why do you have this rule, anyway?” I enquired. MM lethal humour was bristling on the end of my tongue, ready to be deployed.

She flared her nostrils like a silverback on crack, and bellowed: “Because it’s the rule! We don’t ask why! We obey the rules! That is all! No trolleys, Madame!” She had obviously  been promoted from the status of cashier to the vertiginous heights of Queen of the Scan-your-own Kingdom, yet didn’t feel any need to understand the rules that she enforced with so much breast-beating. She accepted the rules passively without questioning. She had been given power, and she was wielding it as coldly and methodically as Genghis Khan.

I took a deep breath. This conversation was going nowhere, fast. It was time to wrap up and go before the ice cream melted.  “Here’s a little advice for you, sweetheart: if you want to enforce a rule, it’s good to at least know why it exists. It’s healthy to question things – give it a try. Oh, and I’m sure that the little old lady who has to take a shopping trolley for three packs of water will be delighted when she keels over in a queue because you’re too small-minded to bend the rules you can’t explain. Have a good day”.

As a responsible, caring citizen, I felt it necessary to warn the (pleasant) cashier who took care of our shopping afterwards that there was a Rottweiler on the loose without a muzzle and wearing a shop uniform at the scan-your-own section. You can never be too careful: dogs aren’t allowed in supermarkets. It’s no doubt written somewhere in Le Règlement….

Why I will never be a Febreze Fairy.

MM, the Fallen Febreze Fairy, as drawn by Rugby-boy.

MM, the Fallen Febreze Fairy, as drawn by Rugby-boy.

PF knows that I am not the kind of woman who hits the Prozac if HMS Bogbrush doesn’t circumnavigate the toilet rim on a daily basis. He will arrive home tonight, and sigh in despair. As his forehead furrows, his eyebrows will lunge towards each other like two caterpillars that are hell-bent on copulating on the end of his nose. (OK, so caterpillars don’t copulate. But I bet they would if they could.)

He often enquires why I’m not houseproud. The only answer that comes to mind immediately is that if I was, he wouldn’t be able to draw hearts in the dust to declare his undying love for me. But there are other reasons why I don’t have “Purgo, ergo sum” tattooed on my forehead. So here is why I will never be a Febreze Fairy, in five easy points.

1)  I am not my mother-in-law.

Don’t get me wrong; I admire her. At my age, she was Martha Stewart with Sophia Loren’s dress sense. I’m not. She attained the paradoxical summits of immaculate fingernails and a spotless home. I won’t. I accidentally knock the shower faucet and drench myself when I clean the bath. She doesn’t. In short, we’re different. So now for the visualisation exercise, PF: 1) Compare me with your mother at my age. 2) Hit your head against the nearest wall. 3) Get over it.

2) The time invested is simply not worth the fleeting result.

I have carried out a detailed feasibility study of this cleaning lark, and I have to inform you that whatever the activity undertaken, all visible evidence disappears in the space of a few hours.

Let’s illustrate this with laundry – a time-waste tragedy in six acts. I have copied this reference document for you from MM’s “Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework” (available from Prozac Publications):

Extract from "Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework" (Prozac Publications).

Extract from “Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework” (Prozac Publications).

Conclusion: Anyone who gets a thrill out of a pile of clean laundry should immediately consult a therapist and enroll for sky-diving lessons.

3)  I want to share the fun.

There are exciting hidden realms in this house just waiting to be explored. The laundry basket and the washing machine are both impatient to get to know more members of my family. They also have a distant cousin called Washing Line who lives at the bottom of the garden – her relationship with me is so insular that she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. She would welcome a visit from you.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind my offspring that the dishwasher has not yet learned how to fill and empty itself. Here’s a helpful hint: the distance from the table to the sink is equal to the distance from the table to the dishwasher (this domestic equation is often referred to as “Kitchen Pythagoras”). You guys should locate the toilet brush, too, or you will literally be up shit creek without a paddle if I ever I go under the wheels of a bus.

4) The looming danger of HWS:  “Hamster Wheel Syndrome”. 

Housework is both futile and ephemeral in this house. I can hear that clock ticking as I run around the wheel in the full knowledge that I’ll be doing the same thing again tomorrow, the day after and the week after. Hoovering a carpet for the second time in ten minutes because the dog has baptised my initial efforts with the saliva-drenched burrs she chewed out off her fur is hardly my idea of a rewarding occupation.

5) Cleaning is asking for trouble.

Maybe we could call it “maternal Murphy’s law”: Cleaning Karma bites you on the bum every time you wriggle your fingers into those Marigold gloves. If you clean the windows, the sky darkens and it immediately rains cats and dogs. Just washed the floor? The cat will throw up on it. Cleaning the bathroom before Rugby-boy returns home from the pitch is about as optimistic as getting out the Wedgwood when King Kong pops round for a cuppa.

DIY is also a common culprit in this equation: please tick the guilt-trip box if you have a) sanded down a wall just after I dusted, or b) rinsed out a paint bucket in the bath I had scrubbed in a rare surge of enthusiasm five minutes earlier.The greatest paradox of cleaning is that it’s only noticed when it’s not been done. I tried doing it regularly for a while, but nobody noticed….. until I stopped doing it.

Someone clever once said something about a great woman being behind every successful man, but I don’t think that being a sharp shooter with the toilet duck was one of the criteria he had in mind. So this Febreze Fairy Failure is off to walk the dog in the sun. If you want to cast a few spells with my magic wand while I’m out, help yourself: it’s beside the toilet on the right.

IMG_9364

The Febreze Fairy popping out for some fresh air (artist: Rugby boy).