A War of Words: The Pen and the Kalashnikov.

 

Bleu, France, Rouge. Mr and Mrs Playmo were very emotional.

Bleu, France, Rouge. Mr and Mrs Playmo were very emotional.

On Sunday morning, I awoke in beautiful, permissive, perverted France. I swung my legs over the side of the bed and went down to the kitchen. I prepared the filter coffee, and put a couple of butter croissants in the oven to warm. Because this is France.

After breakfast, I pulled on my inappropriately tight and short running attire, and went outside to do whatever I pleased, wherever I wished, dressed as I deemed fit, and whether or not my husband agreed. I ran through the vineyards that year after year offer up hectolitres of delicious and ludicrously cheap wine for the “perverted” people who commit the ultimate sin of enjoying the privilege of being alive. I reveled in life, ‘The Eagles of Death Metal’ resonating in my ears and determination coursing though my sinful veins. I appreciated my liberty to stop at a bar on the way home and have a cool drink, or even sip a glass of wine, if I so wished. Even on Sunday, even at ten in the morning, even when others are at church. To talk to complete strangers – male or female, black or white, Muslim, Jewish, Christian or atheist. Because this is France, and France is a free country – whatever any gun-wielding crackpots with the IQ of Smelly Dog’s chew-toy would like to believe.

When I returned home, I read the letter Daesh sent to the French. I read it several times over, and I was struck by the language content as well as the message it contained. This is my reply.

Using words as a weapon 

The written word rocks my everyday life. I work with words all day, in French and in English. When I have finished, I relax with words. I read. I write. I communicate. Language is the basis of all human communication. As you have understood, it can be a terrible weapon when put in the wrong hands. Words influence people, and draw human nature from deep inside us, bubbling to the surface. For any given situation, words can generate pity or malevolence, compassion or hatred, pride or arrogance. It all depends who is wielding the pen and how alert the reader is to the danger of being manipulated.

The outdated hate-mongering on my screen was written in such archaic language that I would have expected it to be delivered to the French President by camel, carrier pigeon or  an exhausted, bare-footed messenger in medieval garb. However, you saw no contradiction in posting it via modern-day communication technology created by the very  “miscreants” you claim to despise. And just to twist your pocket knife a little further into French flesh, you typed it in white print, on a blue background, with a red banner at the top.

The introduction

You begin by explaining that you are writing “in the name of the very misericordious Allah”. This sentence deserves a little time, for two reasons. Firstly, I find it disrespectful and even downright arrogant to claim to represent anyone except oneself, particularly when it is to take responsibility for toting a machine gun in a public place. Most of us get over bleating “He told me to do it” at kindergarten.

Secondly, my dictionary defines the word “misericoridious” as “compassionate, merciful”. I’m not sure that anyone with those values would condone this behaviour, and particularly not in his or her name. How on earth could a “misericordious” God find it ‘merciful’ or ‘compassionate’ to kill and maim innocents? Either ‘he’ has a very twisted view of mercy, or you have interpreted the written word to suit your personal need for violence.

Choose your verb with caution

In the third paragraph, you nicely shoot both yourself and your “cause” in the foot – the ultimate paradox for a terrorist. You claim that Allah is “all powerful”, yet you do not appear to trust “him” to be powerful enough, as you continue to boast that you and your pals have “rescued his religion, his prophet and his allies by humiliating his enemies”.

“Rescued”? Unfortunate choice of verb there. Should we understand that you see “him” as being so fragile that “he” needs YOU to step in and not only speak, but kill on “his” behalf? What “all-powerful” higher entity would need a hoard of self-appointed henchmen wielding hate and Kalashnikovs to be heard by the mere mortal?  

Perverse Pâtisserie? These are called Nuns' Farts in French, so named after a nun farted in the kitchen of the Abbey of Marmoutier and scared another, making her drop some choux pastry into the oil pan.

Perverse Pâtisserie? These are called Nuns’ Farts in French, so named after a nun farted in the kitchen of the Abbey of Marmoutier and scared another, making her drop some choux pastry into the oil pan.

Perversity

Next up, you claim that it is perverted to enjoy life, conveniently ignoring the gross inappropriateness of your own behaviour. What is more perverted? Sipping a cool glass of Pastis with friends on a Parisian terrace, or hiding away at a safe distance as you blow up an eight-year-old child weighed down with explosives on a market place to kill indiscriminately for your “ideals”? Accepting the religious and cultural differences of your population, or attempting to impose your views through terror and violence? (You may remember that a few other people tried that one before you. If you come across Staline, Franco, Mussolini or Hitler in the afterlife, ask them how well it worked out for them.)

You get a kick out of killing innocent civilians. We get pleasure from listening to a rock concert. I find the former far more perverse than the latter. While we’re on the subject of idolizing perverted music, you still have time to change your minds. Just for the record (no pun intended), Bin Laden listened to Western pop cassettes in his hideout, and more specifically, songs by Gaston Ghrenassia, aka Enrico Macias. If one of your spiritual leaders secretly enjoyed listening to a singing, dancing Algerian Jew who lived in France and became an international star, then maybe you should question the legitimacy of your argument.

The oh-so-sultry Enrico Macias, whose music was listened to by none other than Bin Laden.

The oh-so-sultry Enrico Macias, whose music was listened to by none other than Bin Laden.

 

Heroes, Martyrs and Caped Crusaders.

On Friday, your sidekicks were not martyrs, just cowards. There were heroes, though. Real life heroes who tried to shield their loved ones from bullets with their own bodies, those who guided others to safety, or stopped in their flight to safety at the Bataclan to help a pregnant woman who was dangling out of the window, screaming in terror. They acted on instinct – to protect life, not to destroy it.

As we are on the topic of heroes, let’s have a look at the word “crusader”, which you used to describe the French. This noun only really crops up these days when preceded by the word “caped”. Although I really do quite fancy the idea of the French population wearing their superhero knickers over their lycra leggings and walking the streets as a peaceful army composed of Batman, Robin, Superman, Wonder Woman and Captain Marvel, Edna in the cartoon “The Incredibles” says we don’t need capes to be heroes, and she’s right.

Edna in "the Incredibles" is very clear about capes. Source: http://vignette2.wikia.nocookie.net/glee/images/3/3b/No_Capes_The_Incredibles_6_Edna.gif/revision/latest?cb=20140603225117

Edna in “The Incredibles” is very clear about capes.
Source: wikia.nocookie.net

France left the 11th century a long time ago, and Paris, far from being the Crusader HQ you make it out to be, is now a place where people of all origins sit together outside bistros on the public squares like the ‘Place de la République’, ‘Place de la Concorde’ et ‘Place de la Bastille’, where they are free to drink alcohol or not, dance or not, show their hair or not.

Love

Last but not least, one word that unfortunately does not appear anywhere in your text is the word “love”. I find this revealing, because from what I can establish, it is a word that appears in all religious texts. Yet you choose to carefully sidestep what should be the main raison d’être of any religion: to teach people to love each other and live together in harmony.

You wanted to create a wave of division and hate, but have only succeeded in provoking, once again, an international tsunami of unity and love. This is France. Multicultural, strong, democratic, beautiful, free France. If freedom is perversion, I will willingly embrace it. Along with all the other ‘perverts’ in this country, I raise my glass to freedom, equality, and fraternity. Cheers.

Debunking the Myths: Summertime Survival in the South of France.

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Mrs Playmo wisely decided that the only way to enjoy an uncrowded beach was to visit by night with a good book, a torch a crate of rosé. It was a pity that Prince Charming had turned up before she had finished her chapter.

Mrs Playmo wisely decided that the only way to enjoy an uncrowded beach was to visit by night with a good book, a torch and a crate of rosé. It was a pity that Prince Charming had turned up before she had finished her chapter.

The school holidays have arrived and the temperatures have soared outside. A blanket of heat has descended on MM’s Languedoc home. Like every year, I have evaluated the insufficient available space for my angular frame between the frozen peas and the ice cubes, then resigned myself to a period of the year I associate with bored children, het-up neighbours, stifling heat, and water restrictions as the village spring dries up. The insistent scratching of the squads of cicadas camouflaged in the cedar and pine trees around the house does nothing to reduce the feeling of oppression affecting all bar the cat, who melts into a contented black puddle in the shade of the hedge, surveying his world in a lazy trance of warmth.

Behind closed shutters, the locals have gone to ground for the sacrosanct siesta whilst the sun beats down on the façades of their homes, and the streets of the village remain deserted until the temperatures reluctantly go down in the evening.

But not for long. The only nutters prepared to brave the heat have appeared on the horizon, bang on time to break the silence – a long line of metallic turtles shimmering in the heat that rises off the melting tarmac. In MM jargon, the word ‘Turtle’ designates family cars bedecked with roof boxes and bicycles, and crammed with suitcases, parasols and the infamous inflatable crocodile. Inside the air-conditioned beast, mum is sucking lemons for Britain. She glares at her husband. She had told him that there would be a traffic jam on the last leg of the journey, and once again he had preferred to follow the advice of that self-satisfied cow on the GPS. Her husband grimly grips the steering wheel with white-knuckled hands as the youngest child bawls and his sibling sings her favourite track for the 50th time since they woke up on the motorway uttering those words every parent dreads: “Muuummmy, are we there yet?” They are all desperate to arrive on the French coast, yet appear blissfully ignorant that they are en route for a tourist trap. The inflatable crocodile of the tourist season is poised, its jaws open and ready to swallow them and their holiday budget, before spitting them unceremoniously back into the motorway traffic jams.

When people plan a summer holiday in the South of France, the same old clichés pop up behind the rose-tinted spectacles. I’d like to get two of them sorted once and for all. I’m sorry to pop your bubble, but it’s better that you know.

Mr and Mrs Playmo take nothing but their love to the beach here.

Mr and Mrs Playmo take nothing but their love to the beach here.

Myth N°1:  Beach,  parasol,  book, cool drink and sun tan as the children play in the sand.

The reality: First, plan ample time and patience to find a parking spot, and enough cash to pay extortionate fees for the privilege (this does not mean that your car window will not be smashed by thieves: a little like God, the French police can’t be everywhere at the same time). Next, find a space on the beach. This is more difficult than you think if, like me, you do not like your nostrils being assailed by the smell of cigarette smoke, sweaty armpits or sun screen, or are allergic to the proximity of inflatable crocodiles, over-enthusiastic teenagers wielding rackets and balls, or women who yank their bikini bottoms up their bums and sunbathe with their legs wide open (presumably incase an old lady’s Yorkshire catches sight of their untanned crotch on the number seven bus).

 If you wish to be the ultimate bad mum, when the children are bored with playing in the urine-saturated surf, help them to collect cigarette butts to use as makeshift cannons in their sandcastle, and beer tops to decorate the walls – both are as numerous as the sea shells, if not more so. Or bag ’em up and bin them (the cigarette ends and the beer tops, not the kids), and do something for the planet. Then make your offspring’s day by buying them one of the overpriced doughnuts or ice creams sold by the leather-skinned beach vendors sporting little more than tight-fitting cozzies and Colgate smiles. These sun-warmed, edible nurseries for salmonella and sundry other bacterial bad-boys may not only wreck the rest of your holiday, but will give you a chance to sing the praises of the French medical system on Facebook.

MM’s Tips: Spread out your stuff! Bring sufficient beach towels to stake out your own territory. It doesn’t matter if you don’t use it all, but this simple step ensures that you don’t end up with a complete stranger sitting in your lap reading a gossip mag.

If you enjoy people spotting, this is the place for you. Bring a notebook and jot them down. My favorites are those strolling along the water’s edge – the posers that strut through the surf and oggle at bare breasts, the topless wonders glowering at the posers, and the older generation tutting at the bucket and spade mafia who get under their feet (I secretly pray that they will inadvertently tumble into the appropriately grave-sized hole my children have conveniently dug across their path). Oh, and one last (serious) piece of advice: don’t take anything to the beach that you wouldn’t willingly donate to a complete stranger, and keep a close eye on your stuff. Otherwise, you may end up chasing the self-elected new owner of your beach bag down the main road like a screaming banshee, wearing no more than a red face and the bottom half of your bikini (been there, seen that, and got left without the T-shirt -read my topless tale here). For the same reason, don’t leave your car keys in your bag. I put them in Tournesol’s shoe – nobody in their right mind would steal those because even if they managed not to keel over, I’d sniff them out immediately.

Myth N°2. A wonderful three-course meal washed down with a bottle of wine on a restaurant terrace, all at a snip of the price you would have paid at home.

If you don't believe me about the translating skills of local restaurants, have a look at this menu outside a restaurant in Agde. The next page suggests a plateful of

If you don’t believe me about the translating skills of local restaurants, have a look at this menu outside a restaurant in Agde. The next page suggests a plateful of “seawolf” – a translation that could be qualified as a real howler.

TIP: The only way you will achieve this is either by asking the locals, or getting off the beaten track. Wherever you are in France during the holiday season, you can bet your bottom dollar that there are unscrupulous restaurants ready to relieve you of a maximum amount of cash for a minimum amount of effort, and these establishments are most often concentrated in the touristic areas. If they are out on the pavement touting for clients, they aren’t worth their salt. They are closed over the rest of the year, are generally snubbed by locals and only open to make a fast buck in the summer – so do yourself and real local businesses a favour, and either get off the beaten track and ask a local, or buy yourselves a picnic from the local market.

Reality: If you do insist on eating in one of these outfits, then at least you get the fun of reading the menu translation. In our region, very few restaurants are prepared to pay for a good translation of their menu, or (heaven forbid) train their employees to speak foreign languages well enough to explain what the guests can eat. Although my arch enemies, aka Google Translate and Bing, have added a grotesque twist to menus, I freely admit that if I need to cheer myself up I just need to read a few menu boards and I’m chortling again. It’s a laugh a minute. Many restaurants are totally immune to the idea that clients won’t (or rather shouldn’t) buy a meal if they have no idea what they are eating. Worse, they really don’t seem to care as long as their patrons cough up the money and leave.

Don’t forget that if it looks too good to be true, it probably is – many restaurants get their supplies from a huge supplier called “Metro”, where they buy entire pallets of insipid guck that they will then tout as ‘home-made’ on their astoundingly cheap menu board. The chocolate mousse may have been hastily assembled in their kitchen, but it’s about as home-made as MM is organised. If you are lucky, the jug of wine costing you 7 euros actually cost the restaurant owner 2 euros the litre at the local cave coopérative; if you’re unlucky it’s from a plastic bottle of beverage that the average Frenchman would only consider fit to descale the toilet.

Forewarned is forearmed, as they say. So now off you go. Happy holidays. And don’t forget a pin to deflate that damned crocodile.

Mrs Playmo illustrating how to deal with the inflatable crocodile.

Mrs Playmo illustrating how to deal with the inflatable crocodile.

Post Scriptum. This should have been an apology post. I have been a very bad blogger recently (MM strikes Beyoncé/Lady Gaga pose) and I have missed you all. I am very, very sorry and feel guilty about dumping everyone with no explanation. This is due to varied factors leading to lack of “me” time, leading to lack of reading and writing time, leading to a severe case of writer’s block. But rest assured that MM is fit, well and a little leaner than before. Mrs Playmo didn’t give me any support whatsoever. (She was too busy having baked bean jacuzzis with Mr Playmo. But that’s another story.) Those who excuse me for my absence will have more information about what I’ve been up to in upcoming posts. Love from MM. Mrs Playmo says hello too, from behind her bucket of rosé. 

 

Day 11: Sticks and Stones may Break my Bones…

…but cartoons will never hurt me. Today’s post will not be neither short nor sweet. Day eleven was one of the most sobering days of my life. We walked more than we have walked on any day of this challenge, with a conviction in each step that went beyond anything I have ever felt before.

Mrs Playmo and I went to Montpellier that day to march in the memory of those killed in the recent attacks in Paris. The anger and pain of the French is palpable. The distress, horror, incomprehension and the deep sorrow that I see on faces every day have turned my stomach and placed a brick in its depths since last week, when obscurantism defied the very principles on which France is based.

One of the 100,000 people walking on Sunday shows her commitment to freedom of expression.

One of the 100,000 people walking on Sunday shows her commitment to freedom of expression.

Tears have been shed for the victims. And also for the values at the very core of France, attacked by cowards who do not understand that freedom of speech is necessary for all societies, because everything can and should be criticised. A world that cannot question itself and others cannot evolve.

I suspect that the liberation of France was the last time this kind of turnout was seen across the nation. The overwhelming solidarity of the walkers was the biggest raspberry that anyone could blow at fundamentalist puppets and those pulling their strings. The crowd was made up of Muslims, Christians, Jews. Adults, children, old-aged couples with walking sticks, people in wheelchairs. All together, spontaneously applauding. On our arrival at the Place du Peyrou, I looked back and saw the dense black column of citizens, stretching away below Montpellier’s mini Arc de Triomphe with its flag at half mast, and disappearing on the horizon. A soprano took the microphone and starting singing the Marseillaise, and the collective voice of tens of thousands of people of all origins rose to the sky. They lifted pens, pencils, signs, fists and flags and bellowed that anthem with pride. Because beyond all their differences, they had one thing in common: they were all proud of France and the values it defends.

This scenario was repeated across France, with nearly four million people out in the street to show that they are all standing tall. It was echoed on an international scale. Forty representatives of other countries joined President Hollande –  many of whom had conveniently forgotten the attitude to the freedom of speech in their own countries.

In the media, in everyday conversations, on social networks and on blogs, I see people using their right to voice their opinions. Many have said that the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo “asked for it”. To those who maintain that if you deliberately provoke, you get what you deserve, I would reply that satire is part and parcel of a normal society, and that nothing justifies killing for a drawing, however provocative it may be. I also ask the simple question: In what kind of world do they wish their children to grow up?

The famous 1831 caricature of Louis Philippe t...

The famous 1831 caricature of Louis Philippe turning into a pear would mirror the deterioration of his popularity. (Honoré Daumier, after Charles Philipon who was jailed for the original.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The satirical press has been a small but essential part of journalism for centuries. In 1831, Charles Philippon’s sketch transformed the face of King Louis-Philippe into a pear in four pictures. It landed him in prison for insulting the King – but even at that time in French history, no death penalty was applied for his cartooning “crime”. Philippon noted the impact his cartoon had on the French population:

“What I had foreseen happened. The people, seized by a mocking image, a simple image design and simple shape , began to imitate this wherever he found a way to make charcoal image smearing, scratching a pear. Pears soon covered all the walls of Paris and spread to all parts of the walls of France. ”

(Source: Charles Philippon, Lettres du 7 juillet 1846 à Roslje, Carteret, op. cit., p. 126).

The caricature is a direct and unambiguous form of public communication; it can be understood quickly by everyone and produces an immediate reaction. Political caricatures have always existed, and it is inevitable that someone’s nose will be put out of joint. But as artist Bob Mankoff from the New Yorker pointed out in a recent cartoon, a culturally, ethnically, religiously, and politically correct cartoon is no more than a blank page.

IMG_7878

Before claiming that cartoonists should bow to the demands of extremists who cannot accept criticism in any form, please imagine the day where political correctness and fear of reprisal removes all satire from the world in a bid to avoid insulting political figures, or attracting the ire of regimes, movements, and religions. Because not only journalists are concerned by this. All types of art are in danger of censorship, and your personal liberty is in danger as a result. If fear of reprisal leads to the international satirical press going under ground, what will they take down next with their Kalashnikov?

Books penned across the centuries contain satire or criticise religion, politics or culture. Could we burn Aesop’s fables, works written by Chaucer, Rabelais, Voltaire, Swift, Fielding, Poe, Dickens, Carroll, Twain, Wodehouse,  Shaw and Orwell, to name but a few, in the name of political correctness? You can forget Dr Seuss, Lewis Carroll, Hergé and Goscinny for your kids, too. Kiss goodbye to The Chaser, The Onion, Fritz the Cat and Private Eye. What about film and theatre? Goodbye Monty Python’s Life of Brian. Exit Shakespeare and Molière, Casino Royale, Douglas Adams, The Clockwork Orange. Oh, and those TV chat shows you loved so much for their irreverent sarcasm about current issues – Yes Minister, Seinfeld, Have I got News for You, This Hour Has 22 minutes, Not the Nine o’clock News..? Could they all be sacrificed for fear of awakening obscurantist monsters who don’t believe that politics, culture and religion can be laughed at?

The same applies to artists and singers – were hit men sent to silence Lily Allen when she sang “F**k You”, described by music critics as a direct attack on George W. Bush? Was Pink Floyd ever censored?

The crucial question of the right to expression and the use of censorship also concerns you, Joe Blogger. You can lay out your opinion on your blog, unless you hate-monger there, without being censored in any way. Except in some countries, where bloggers who brave their government’s control over the freedom of expression risk weekly flogging and even death penalties for expressing their opinion online. Should they have “put a lid on it” in the face of oppression? Should we refrain from pointing a finger at the absurd, criticizing what must be criticised, through fear of reprisal by those who have recognized that the pen may just be mightier than the sword? No. In the words of Franklin Roosevelt, translated into French on a piece of cardboard held above the crowd in front of me,  “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither”.

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Now France is not only mourning, but thinking and debating. Many of those advocating freedom of speech appear to have rapidly changed their version on social media to “I’m all for freedom of speech as long as you don’t vote for….”  I watched in horror as discussions became debates then mud-slinging matches, and virtual and real friends “unfriended” each other as they discovered that their personal (or rather political) convictions were not the same. Yet we all have the right to speak. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words, and pictures, will never hurt me. I’ll wrap these musings up with the words of Voltaire, who said:

“I do not agree with what you have to say, but I’ll defend to the death your right to say it”.

 Vive la liberté, et vive la France.

 Erratum: The quote attributed to Roosevelt should actually be attributed to Benjamin Franklin, who was the first person to say it back in 1755. Roosevelt used the quote in a 1941 speech, and has henceforth been wrongly quoted as its author by many, including me. Mea Culpa.

Blogging around the world: Multifarious Meanderings

Blogging around the world: Multifarious Meanderings.

Rochelle from Unwilling Expat contacted me just before the family storm hit, and asked me if I’d like to answer a few questions on her blog. I naturally shied out of the limelight leapt at the opportunity, and talked so much and so fast that the poor woman will never be the same again. Bonus of this interview: a rare photo of MM in all her spine-chilling glory.

Rochelle is a wonderful “blogess” (copyrighted word invented by Rochelle) who lives in Sicily. She’s a feisty Australian expat with a good eye for a beautiful photo. She blogs about literature, life in Sicily, writing, her love for her Antipodes home and even traces around cyberspace to introduce us to other blogs and bloggers.

So I recommend checking her blog out!

 

Loo Roll Logic, or How to Have Fun at the Supermarket.

I am a serial “people spotter”, and supermarkets are a permanent source of amusement for me. Earth Daddy (the free-trade father), Zero Percent (the manically depressed low fat/sugar/carb freak), YFSM (Young Free & Single Male) and the rest of the Saturday Shopper crew have me rolling in the supermarket aisles every time.

This week, I decided to embrace the zen attitude of the weekday lunchtime shop, and met a completely different shopping population. The store was quiet and strangely devoid of the usual screaming toddlers teetering over the brink of the trolley with torrents of snot and half-chewed cookie drooling down their chins.

1953--shop as a family--by Bill Fleming

Earth Daddy, Wonder Woman and their irreproachable offspring shopping at Intermarché, where Earth Daddy finally found the rat poison he needed to deal with the neighbour’s cat. (Photo credit: x-ray delta one)

I coasted through the aisles with my squeaky trolley and played “Shopper’s I spy”. Retired lady with headscarf sifting through the cut-price bargains on the bottom shelf of the deli section? Check. Night-shift workers with bags under their eyes hunting down their brunch? Check. Spotty teens playing truant from the local school? Check. Zero Percent reading the small print on the diet yoghurt pot? Check.

I ambled over to the fruit and veg section in hope of a blog-worthy sight, and was rewarded by the sight of a well-dressed gent who was picking cucumbers off the display one after the other. He prodded them and eyed them suspiciously before waving one of them at his wife, who acquiesced with a brief nod of the head and went back to rummaging feverishly through the bags of salad.

It was at that moment that I was distracted by a supermarket sound I love more than any other – the sound of someone singing along to the tannoy system. From behind the lettuce display, a deep voice with a strong French accent was purring:

“And eef you ‘ave a minoot whay don’t wee goh…?

Tolk abowt eet, zomwear onli wee noh?

Ziiiiis cood be zee end of everysii-ing

Zo whay don’t wee goh

Zomwear onli wee noh?”

Peering through the foliage, I spotted the vegetable virtuoso. The bearded young man was serenading the bunches of radishes as he inspected them one by one, happily oblivious to the fact that the entire store could hear him. His version of Coldplay made the song, as well as grocery shopping, a damn sight sexier. He bounded away with his radishes and dropped them into his basket before pointing in the air and informing his girlfriend: “Let’s go. I hate love songs in supermarkets.” His secret would be safe with me – once I’d put it on my blog.

Woman wearing gas mask in chamber

Gladys realized that her lotus flower-scented loo roll was no match for the collateral damage caused by Roger’s Vindaloo take-away. (Photo credit: State Library of Victoria Collections)

I mooched off to the toilet paper aisle for the weekly truckload of toilet paper and raised a perplexed eyebrow at the range of vile colours on offer. I just don’t get the point of the insipid pastel shades of pink, apricot, blue and green, which remind me of hand-knitted cardigans at the local old people’s home. There is nothing delicate or elegant about the role of the roll. And as for perfumed loo roll… Depending on who has just vacated the premises, you would have to insert an entire roll up each nostril to even notice the fragrance.

Just as I was leaving with my monster pack of bog standard white, my jaw unhinged at the sight of transparent twin packs of individually wrapped toilet rolls. In MM’s humble abode, a twin pack of bog roll would have the life expectancy of a Mars bar tossed on to the raft of the Medusa. Squinting closer, I discovered that these porcelain potty pin-ups weren’t just soft, strong and very long: you could roll this stuff out at Cannes to replace the red carpet. More importantly, these ultra-cushioned stars of the sanitaires beat the crap out of their pale pink neighbours with the raciest colours I have ever seen for the wee pee pew, including apple green, velvet-black and… dark brown.

Who on earth buys brown toilet paper? My curiosity was piqued. I parked up, grabbed a box of washing powder and pretended to read the back of it as people came and went, impatient to see who the mystery buyer could be. If my loo-roll logic was correct, it would be a high-earning, middle-aged bachelor who lives in a minimalist designer flat and reads philosophy on his spotlessly clean toilet, before carefully tearing a single sheet of paper from the Stark bog roll holder gleaming on the wall.

After ten minutes, I gave up waiting for confirmation. In my haste, I had overlooked the fact that someone who pays nearly two euros per individually wrapped chocolate-brown loo roll 1) wouldn’t be shopping until much later that evening, and 2) probably doesn’t buy loo roll very often, because he spends all his time working to pay for the bloody stuff. Never mind. Better luck next week.

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Caught With His Hand In The Cootchie Jar!

Internationally, the French have a certain reputation for being somewhat hot to trot. Perhaps not as much so as the Italians (as Berlusconi has proved again and again), but as far as infidelity goes, French politicians are high up on the scandal scale. The last remarkable ding-a-ling ding-dong concerned Dominic Strauss-Kahn, after he somehow managed to mistake the cleaning lady for his wife in a hotel room. So when French President François Hollande was caught with his hand in the cootchie cookie jar this week, nobody should really have been surprised.

Cookie Monster Sesame Street

The Cootchie Monster (Photo credits: Giphy)

When a French personality is caught with his trousers down, the first people to enthusiastically bare all about the ins and outs of his relationship with another member of France’s high-society quagmire are generally the French tabloids and gossip magazines. This motley crew vie for attention on the kiosk shelves, all scraping the bottom of the barrel with shocking, tacky titles just like like the one I deliberately chose for this post. They reassure Mr and Mrs Average that even rich, famous, and influential people suffer from hair loss, get fat, are badly dressed or rampantly unfaithful (or both). These magazines include a garish rag called Closer, a magazine I refuse to even touch in the doctor’s waiting room in case I catch some nasty disease (like the inability to write a correct sentence, or an inexplicable need to spy on my neighbours with my Canon and a zoom lens).

This week, Closer magazine orchestrated its own big break – after years of sitting it out on waiting room tables and being perused by sun-bathing bimbos seeking to live the high life by people-press proxy, this people magazine finally had a real audience. Their front page was flashed across TV screens all over the world. The magazine was even read with interest by people who wouldn’t usually be seen dead reading a publication based on compromising photographs and texts containing words of two syllables or less.

It caused such a kerfuffle that I even came across a new term on Google this morning: “Closergate”. My jaw dropped. To quote a well-known tennis man, “you cannot be serious!” Watergate was a political earthquake. In comparison, “Closergate” is no more than a fart in the tepid French bathtub of mediocrity, and will have zero impact on anything except François Hollande’s credibility and popularity, which is at an all-time low anyway.

So what’s the big deal? Monsieur le Président eez ‘aveeng an affaire. And not just any affair – that wouldn’t sell enough copies. An « affaire extra-conjugale » – an extra-marital relationship.

“Well, whoopee doo, another French politician having sex. Tell me something new,” MM grunted into her coffee. “Mon Dieu! Quelle horreur!”, screamed a large proportion of the French population, a huge grin on their faces, before rushing out of the door to fight tooth and nail for the last copy, lock themselves in the bathroom and check out the photos of François escaping from his golden cage and biking across Paris for a night with his “secret” lover.

Paris Match

Public Figure? Got a secret? See how long you can safeguard it.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, I’m sorry to be a party-pooper, but President Hollande is not married, so unless you have a very flexible definition of the word “conjugal”, this is not an extra-conjugal relationship. However, Mr Hollande did invite his partner to shack up with him at the Elysée when he was elected, thus putting her both in the limelight and in the taxpayers’ budget, and ipso facto making her France’s first lady – married or not. She has her own page on the Elysée website, and her own press team (who are no doubt now drawing strawers for the next press conference). Seen in this light, even someone with lorryloads of flegme britannique could perceive his behaviour as somewhat inappropriate. Poor wee Val has been dragged through the mud – by a Prince Charming with eyes bigger than his belly who has bitten off more than he can chew. Her recent tweet was unambiguous: “I chose an ugly man so I didn’t have to worry. #All men are bastards”. Who can blame her?

Caught “with his hand in the sack,” as the French say, Monsieur le Président is now indignantly bleating for “the respect of his private life” by the media. He’s just like everyone else, of course: Joe Bloggs the President. I couldn’t agree more – just like him, any humble citizen who is regularly seen leaving his home and knocking at a lady’s door in the middle of the night will eventually end up getting rumbled. Although we mere mortals don’t get international coverage, you can bet your bottom dollar that immeasurable numbers of unfaithful spouses have been named and shamed by the greatest and most unforgiving media network out: the village grapevine.

I would show some compassion, Mr Hollande, but I’m sure that you cringed and laughed along with the rest of the world – admit it, you did – when Clinton got egg on his face during “Monicagate”. (There is an opportunity for crude wordplay there, but I will behave.) You were in France when Chirac’s infidelity was brought to light, and again when Mitterand’s illegitimate daughter was mercilessly tracked down by the media and pulled out of anonymity. You saw how much private life President Sarkozy didn’t get. Incidentally, I don’t recall hearing you screaming indignantly to defend your previous rival DSK’s rights to privacy when details of his (very) personal life were copiously smeared all over the media not so long ago, either.

Your naive belief that the media should treat you differently is touching, and even concerning. As President, you’re being watched 24/7 by the very same media you welcomed with open arms and used as a legitimate means to blow your own trumpet in the run-up to your election. So… I have bad news for you, François. Yes, there are mean people out there who were waiting to see you trip up. Yes, they are enjoying it, and yes, they will make happily make money and forge a sad reputation out of your misery. That’s the way the leadership cookie crumbles, cupcake. You can’t have your brioche and eat it.

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Ten Beret Good Things to Know About France and the French.

This is the title of my entry in the writing contest run by Expats Blog, which has just gone on-line and closes at 21h GMT on 20th December. To get your dose of MM fun today, please click on the link below.

Ten Beret Good Things to Know About France and the French.

Although I don’t generally run after trophies, I must admit that if my little blog was awarded a gold, silver or bronze award, I’d be a very chuffed cookie. So if what you read there floats your boat, I would be eternally grateful (and tell you lots of stories, and share my sweets and playmos with you at bloggers’ playtime for ever and ever, amen) if you could leave a comment in the little box below the article – success is directly dependent upon the number and quality of comments for each entry. There’s an email verification on comments, so if you comment don’t forget to confirm that it’s really you who wrote.

Still wondering how important it is for MM that you take part? It’s this important.