Fifty Shades of Greek Goddess.

A marble lady nonchalantly strutting her stuff (and showing her butt) for the public in Nîmes, France.

A marble lady nonchalantly strutting her stuff (and showing her butt) for the public in Nîmes, France.

It was a normal evening in the Mars family household on Mount Olympus. The twins were fighting on the floor as Rhea Silvia reached for the bottle of grappa and topped up her glass.

“For the love of Venus, put that down, boys. What a pair of animals; anyone would think you’d been brought up by wolves… No, Rommy darling, it’s not a cheese slicer. It’s called a lyre, and it’s a present from Aunty Aphrodite. Put it down, please – she’ll be harping on about it for years if you break it”.

“Lyre, lyre, pants on fire!” The twins dissolved into hysterical laughter. Rhea rolled her eyeballs and downed her glass in three large gulps. Wiping her mouth on her forearm, she thought back to the romantic pre-partum era. It had seemed a good idea at the time to seduce the God of War, but she had suddenly woken up to the hard reality of life in a villa with six snotty toddlers and an award-winning muffin top, only to discover that Mars had a worrying penchant for going into battle wearing her rara skirts.

Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of a deep, virile voice booming “Hi, honey, I’m home!” and the sound of the front door slamming shut. Rhea Silvia languidly draped her naked body across the sofa and set her features in what she hoped to be a sultry pout. “Gerroff! Daddy’s home!” she hissed through clenched teeth as she tried to shake off the two whining, naked infants fastened to her ankles.

Mars stomped across the carpet, his armour glistening in the light of the lava lamp, and threw his sword on the sofa. “By Jupiter, what a day!” His eyes roved over her feminine curves, surveying the galb of her calves, her plump thighs and dimpled rear before hungrily devouring the sight of the flab riding sidecar on her hips and finally coming to rest on her generous belly roll. The corners of his mouth twitched into a smirk. “Didn’t have time to get dressed this morning, then?” he enquired, eyebrows arched in mock surprise. Rhea ran a hand slowly through her hair and peered demurely out from behind her fringe. “Is that a Mars Bar in your pocket, or are you pleased to see me?” she murmured as he approached.

You may have guessed from the above text that MM has been wandering around a museum looking at the antique equivalent of eye candy again. I am a sucker for museums and art galleries, and am particularly fond of mummies, paintings and sculpted marble bottoms. Whilst bespectacled art boffins strike poses with notebooks and reverentially peruse the paintings for unique perspectives, technical brush strokes and ingenuous lighting techniques, MM is quietly writing alternative titles and scenarios in her head for every work of art she sees. The tale above is one such example – incidentally, Rhea Silvia’s real story turned out to be much sadder than mine. Here is the painting that inspired MM’s ‘Fifty Shades of Greek Goddess », actually called « Le Retour de Mars » by Nicolas-René Jollain, (1732-1804), and found at the Musée des Beaux Arts in Nîmes.

A very bad photo of "Le retour de Mars" by Nicolas-René Jollain.

A very bad photo of “Le retour de Mars” by Nicolas-René Jollain.

When I see paintings of women, I am struck by the candid and honest portrayal of the female physique, and by the models’ evident pride to be the way mother nature intended them to be, rather than the cocktail-stick morphology many women try to attain today through draconian diets and exercise plans. These paintings graced the walls of men and women who spent hours admiring what they perceived as opulent beauty. What would they have made of the photo-shopped, latex knicker-toting toothpicks in the Pirelli calendar? Or the miserable, emaciated models that mince down the designer catwalk as makeshift human coathangers for clothing, applauded by rows of high-society fashionistas who can spend a fortune attempting to look like they’ve never eaten a decent meal in their lives? The women staring out of those paintings are calm and proud of their curves, yet many women today look in the mirror and heave a sigh of frustration when they see the same thing. Curves used to be a sign of wealth, health and abundance of food, yet today, more means less, and many of our female role models are no more than skin and bones as they throw money into cellulite treatment, liposuction and miracle diets.

I made this realisation before Christmas, when my muffin top suddenly mutated and morphed into something similar to Mrs Mars’ belly. In what appears to be an overnight putsch, Muffin Top was superceded by a new, terrible enemy: Sinister Soufflé, the dark and dangerous lardlord of the middle-aged darknesses, who had risen overnight and was waiting for me the next morning, unapologetically drooping over the top of my pyjamas like a rabid blancmange.

Yup, this would be it. Muffin top has mutated into Sinister Soufflé.  Photo source: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMaker_Faire_San_Mateo_2008_0022.JPG

Yup, this would be it. Muffin top has mutated into Sinister Soufflé.
Photo credit: Dvortygirl. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AMaker_Faire_San_Mateo_2008_0022.JPG

Sinister Soufflé’s evil counterpart, Tefla the scales, had been silenced many months earlier by a dead battery. Her last attempts to charm me into replacing it were touching – every time I stepped onto her glass surface, she flashed up a chirpy « Lo », which I immediately interpreted as meaning that that my weight was nothing worry about. Since then she had been gathering dust below the laundry basket.

Tefla was kitted out with a new battery, and as I looked at the double zero awaiting me, the pit of my stomach reacted just like it does at the sight of the online banking screen after Christmas. You know you have to do it, but you also know you’re going to feel awful.

I will not go into the facts and figures; suffice to say that Tefla and a tape measure confirmed that I had far too much flab. After having exhausted all the possible excuses, ranging from food allergies to being possessed by evil spirits intent on avenging an unknown enemy I had drunk under the table in a previous life, I was left with the conclusion that I had noone and nothing to blame but myself.

That was when I stopped and wondered what was going on beneath the roll of belly fat. Mrs Mars may have been curvaceous and opulent, but she was also happily oblivious to the mecanics going on below her skin, and probably thought that Gluteus Maximus was no more than a legionary with a huge appetite. Pinching Sinister Soufflé, I imagined Larry the liver, who gritted his teeth and processed my lorryload of peanuts and generous serving of wine every evening without fail, and Marcel the Muscle, who was softening up by the minute from lack of exercise. Imagining my blood swooshing through veins that were perhaps slowly clogging up with cholesterol, I realised that what was important wasn’t getting rid of the muffin top, but simply being healthy. This provided a whole new slant on the body fat issue: Muffin Top and the sidekicks riding sidecar on my hips were a symptom, not the condition. That meant forgetting the word “diet”, which I negatively associate with deprivation and frustration, and focussing on getting healthy. If it (-and I-) worked out, I’d feel good (cue James Brown) and a trimmer figure would hopefully be a pleasant by-product.

If I wanted to stop the trend, I had to stop filling my face with rosé and peanuts every evening, and take more exercise – until ten weeks ago, the only crunch I approved of was wrapped in paper and could be polished off in five minutes flat. So I struck alcohol and the associated nibbles off my daily menu for a month, and added a daily 5K walk in the countryside with a delighted Smelly Dog and grumpy Mrs Playmo. Dry January became dry February, then dry March. My walks in the country are slowly becoming more jog than walk. That pair of jeans I had kept at the back of the cupboard “just in case” is no longer too small, and Tefla has just confirmed an eleven pound loss. Most importantly, I feel good (na-na-na-na-na-na-nah). Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to find a clean toga and a lyre before PF rolls in from work.

The Dry January Experience.

One of the many alcohol-themed pictures decorating my kitchen. This one was given to me by a girlfriend who knows me all too well.

One of the many alcohol-themed pictures decorating my kitchen. This one was given to me by a girlfriend who knows me all too well.

Just over a month ago, I opened the fridge, and the bottle of chilled rosé winked provocatively at me from beside the orange juice carton. My hand wavered on its way to the juice, and all willpower promptly dissolved. Once poured into a delicate stemmed glass, the rosé provided the illusion of a luxurious reward for the end of my day.

Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not exactly the female answer to Gérard Depardieu. Lindsay Lohan could drink me under the table within minutes. I’m a typical example of the mother who reaches for her first glass of rosé whilst simultaneously burning dinner, tripping over the dog, emptying the washing machine and resolving conflicts between her offspring.

That evening, I was irritated to see that “wine o’clock” had become an automatic reflex that wasn’t so much a pleasure as a habit. Many people have told me that if you can’t do without something on a daily basis, it is an addiction. I have often wondered if that means I need therapy because I cannot go to bed without having cleaned my ears with cotton buds. Or if I should consult a counsellor from “Peanut Addicts Anonymous” for my daily fix of Arachis hypogaea. When exactly does a daily habit become an addiction?

I didn’t find an answer to my question on internet, but I did find Alcohol Concern’s website, and a challenge called “Dry January”: no alcohol for one month. I liked the idea – an opportunity to prove to myself that I really did have more self-control than a golden retriever discovering a tennis ball machine in the back garden. If I was addicted, I’d be clawing my way up the curtains in despair within days.

So I signed up. I apologise to Dry January, because I cheated and used my parents’ UK postcode. Please forgive me, DJ, and consider letting non-UK residents take part without having to lie through their teeth next year. We expats in wine-growing countries could add a whole new slant to your statistics: here in France, a litre of droolingly drinkable plonk costs less than petrol in the UK, giving us a temptation rating equal to that of a four-year-old left to his own devices in a Cadbury’s warehouse.

Gladys showed the collateral damage caused to her provençale villa after inviting her English pals to try a selection of best wines in the village.

Gladys showed the collateral damage caused to her Provençal villa after inviting her English pals to try a selection of the best wines in the village. Image credit: Wikipedia Creative Commons.

Over the month, I regularly read Dry January’s Facebook page, a real source of inspiration. My resolve was considerably strengthened by the determination and solidarity of those taking part – the challenge worked a charm because people can encourage each other and be accountable to each other. Being accompanied is clearly a key factor to successfully achieve any major life change.

To multiply the accountability factor, I made the promise to you lot, my super blogger pals, who checked out my daily exploits and kept me on track… because I promised, and I hate looking like a loser. And finally, I swore an oath of abstinence to P.F. and my three bemused offspring who (for once) were stumped for words before falling off their chairs and rolling on the floor laughing.

The aim

The aim was simple on paper: give up alcohol for one month. As I’m an eternal optimist, I added an hour of exercise every day for good measure. I have been terminally allergic to sport for all my adult life, and it was as good a time as any to gently get back on track. Having never worked out the interest of paying for the privilege of running on a treadmill in a giant cage full of lycra-clad, poney-tail swishing hamsters with gadgets strapped to their arms and leads sticking out of their ears, I decided to get outside with Smelly Dog and explore. It doesn’t cost a penny, and you don’t have to inhale the smell of other people’s armpits or suffer the humiliation of being thrown off the running machine.

We quickly worked out a circuit through the local vineyards (that’s what you could term Dry January karma). Once we had established that we weren’t going to give up, we invested in a pedometer. We shunned the über-sexy “name and shame” gadgets that shamelessly broadcast everything bar your knicker size and the number of times you fart as you wheeze your way around the local park, and went for a cheap and monastic version that keeps our modest accomplishments (distance, number of steps and walking time) to itself.

Result? We have walked over 203,000 steps, or 145km (90 miles) over the month. Walking is amazingly good for the soul, particularly when attempting abstinence for the first time in 12 years. Excuse the pun, but motivating music, sunshine and great countryside are ideal to lift a trainee teetotaler’s spirits.

So, how did the abstinence go?

The first week, I surfed the virtuosity wave. I was a disdainful diva when faced with a glass of wine, even declining champagne on the beach to toast in the new year. By the middle of the second week, however, the saintly queen of self-control and restraint was glowering, Gollum-like, over her glass of Perrier and lime, as she observed a grinning PF savouring his evening beer.

Ch-ch-ch-ch- changes….

Once I had got through the first two weeks, I started to notice the first benefits of the experience. The first, blatantly obvious change was in weight and volume. I’m not talking about myself here, but the recycling bag. I never thought I could feel virtuous at the local dump, and it had bugger all to do with the environment.

The recycling run, before Dry January. Photo credit: Annabel Symington.

The recycling run, before Dry January.
Photo credit: Annabel Symington.

I was in bed snoring shamelessly before ten and was awake before the alarm at 6.15. My skin was looking better. I had more energy, and was smug to see that I could still exercise a little discipline over myself. I was half–way there – so it would be silly to crack now. I had a spring in my step I hadn’t felt for a very long time.

I was fitter, too. Although weight loss wasn’t a decisive factor for me, I have lost 5 lb and banished two inches of muffin top from my waistline, which is definitely better than a slap in the face with a wet kipper. Like many other people on Dry January’s page, my problem was the inexplicable need to substitute one treat for another – let’s face it, if you replace half bottle of wine by a bucket of cocoa and a family-sized bar of Dairy Milk every evening, you’re not likely to see your waistline shrink much.

A mystery is solved…

However, the most unexpected effect of stopping alcohol was a surprise: my multiple dashes to the loo mysteriously ceased. I used to blame it on the coffee, but discovered mid-January that I had been barking up the wrong tree. Alcohol is a diuretic. It sends a message to your kidneys telling them to empty your body of any water it comes across,  gagging and holding hostage a hormone called vasopressin who would otherwise be telling your kidneys to absorb water on arrival. Without this message, your bladder does a Hoover Dam impression every ten minutes. So the next time you’re at the pub and you see people dashing for the loo every ten minutes, you now know why: when Herr Hormone’s away, the bladder plays.

I was eating less rubbish. Here again, alcohol was the culprit: it opens up your appetite and makes you reach for those salty nibbles. The salt makes you thirsty, so you head for the fridge and fill up your glass, then the alcohol presses the « hungry button »…. bis repetita, ad nauseam. Less alcohol = less nibbles. Less nibbles = less fat + less cholesterol + less weight. Not exactly rocket science, but a winning equation nevertheless.

So what’s next, you ask ?

I’ve got used to this new routine. I am now capable of looking at the bottle of wine that has been in the fridge since December… and leaving it there. And there it will stay. I’ll be sticking to my lime & Perrier… for the moment.

I can’t see myself stopping the outdoor activity, simply because it makes me feel good. So here’s the deal… C25K. Couch to 5K. I have had the podcasts on my computer for light years, and now that I’ve got my body used to regular activity, I want to give it a go. So lift your glass of whatever to me as I try to move from my two factory setting speeds, stop and start, to three: stop, start, and run. One day at a time.

Mrs Playmo sobering up in the stream after drinking an entire bottle of champagne to celebrate my completion of Dry January.

Mrs Playmo sobering up in the stream after drinking an entire bottle of champagne to celebrate my completion of Dry January.

Grateful thanks to all who followed Mrs Playmo’s adventures this month. The conclusion is coming up soon… we are currently trying to track down Mr Playmo, who has disappeared without a trace….

Day 12: Small Pleasures

Mrs Playmo enjoying the small pleasures in life with Smelly Dog, whose head appears to make a very good impromptu slide.

Mrs Playmo enjoying the small things in life with Smelly Dog, whose head appears to make a n excellent makeshift slide.

Day twelve’s walk started off quietly. Mrs Playmo and I were still shell-shocked from recent events, and the subdued, mellow sunlight bathing the vineyards seemed to echo our state of mind.

After a few hundred meters, Mrs Playmo asked why we were being so mopey. We were, she argued, wasting precious time. “Life’s there to be lived, honey-bun!” she chirped before scaling Smelly Dog’s leg. She clambered dangerously along the furry backbone, a female equivalent of Indiana Jones on the roof of a train, and hoisted herself on to Smelly Dog’s skull. Sitting between the two floppy ears, she yelled “Yeeeee- ha!” and pointed into the distance before pulling hard on them and bellowing, “Onwards, and forwards, my faithful steed. To infinity… and beyond!”

I had a sneaky feeling that she had combined John Wayne, Napoleon and Buzz Lightyear in her head. As far as I was concerned, she looked uncannily like Alice astride the Bandersnatch, with a truckload of attitude and a black corset. She attained the result she had hoped for: I laughed.

Letting go of Smelly Dog’s ears, she slid down her steed’s nose and landed neatly on her feet, her face flushed with pleasure. “Ta – daaaah!” She eyed me from head to toe, sniffed and added: “C’mon. You might have given up the rosé, but your muffin top is still drooping for Britain. Lets walk.” So we did.

For those who are new to the blog, check out this post to understand what this is all about.

Sinusitis and Shower Power.

Sinusitis and Shower Power..

MM’s got a double whammy of sinusitis and bronchitis. So I’ve crawled out from under my pile of antibiotics, cortisone and Ventolin to reblog a post from last year describing the thrills and spills of inhabited facial piping.

Please wear a mask when reading to avoid spreading the bugs around cyber space… you can never be too careful!

 

“Sinus,” the Award-winning Snail.

Today, MM comes to you in snail form. Call me Sinus, the blogging snail. I am sliding aimlessly around the house with my eyes poking out on sticks. My head is my shell – a football full of snot teetering dangerously above my field of vision, wobbling heavily and threatening to make me keel over and sink like the Titanic every time I move. A blanket of fudge has set up home between my brain and my skull, and is slowly expanding – or so it feels. My upper teeth are rearing at the bit, in a desperate attempt to bolt from their paddock and charge out to pastures new. Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of chronic sinusitis, which reduces happy bloggers to gibbering wrecks.

English: The white-lipped snail (Cepaea horten...

Sunny Sinus, alias MM, creeping up the stairs.  (Cepaea hortensis). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, in this world of mucosal morosity, there is a little light shining. I recently got a lovely note from Scripting Happiness, telling me that she has nominated me for the Sunshine Award. My first reaction was to grin – even snotty snails need recognition as much as the next man. My second was to feel a huge stab of bloggery angst, pull on my bad-girl-WordPress-blogger-hair-shirt and feel as guilty as Smelly Dog did when she ate the blackcurrant tart with Murphy the cat.

You see, I’ve had lots of nominations from other lovely bloggers, and although I said thank you, I never posted about them. Please accept my apologies – I really, truly appreciate being appreciated and I love you bloggers right back (although I’ll keep my germs to myself). But if I answer my backlog of awards now, I’ll have to batten down the hatches and dribble mucus on my keyboard for weeks on end.

So here is what I suggest. Awards generally ask you to write ten things about yourself, so I will put ten things here about myself.

Then I’d like to twist the award rules slightly, as I should then nominate a number of blogs. The problem is that there are so many, I’d feel awful about limiting my list. So I’m going to ask YOU to present YOUR blog in the comments section. Yes, YOU. I want this post to be a “get up, get down groove, move and get to know each other’s blogs post”. Deal?

Ten random facts about MM.

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1. I transform into Sinus the Snail on a regular basis because of bad facial plumbing. But you already know that.

2. I firmly believe that the best things in life are free, and that people look in all the wrong places for happiness. Most often it’s sitting right in front of you for the taking, in the form of a beautiful view, a good belly laugh with your children, or a stomp in the leaves.

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3. I want to be a writer when I grow up. I want to write stuff to make big girls laugh out loud on the train when they’re travelling alone so that they make other people smile too. But I don’t know when I’m supposed to grow up.

4. I am addicted to salted peanuts. I did give up, for six months, then someone put a bowl of them on the table and all those peanuts got together and pleaded for me to eat them. Honest.

5. I once chased gypsies along the main road wearing nothing but my bikini bottoms, and screaming like a banshee. They ran faster than me, and they had the bag containing my clothes and my car keys.

6. I love singing Mahna-Mahna from the Muppets, and I can’t listen to choirs singing without getting goosebumps and bawling my eyes out.

7. I once hid behind a curtain and scoffed petits fours with Miss Tahiti. We had great fun, but I was on look-out duty because she wasn’t allowed any of the stuff on the buffet. That’s what you call girl power.

8. I have worked as a trouser inspector. I inspected, but there were no men inside them.

9. When I was in my early twenties, I gate-crashed Richard Branson’s birthday party in my VW Beetle by mistake. He waved very kindly and ushered us in as PF muttered “Who’s that prat?”. I remind him who that rich prat was every time I top up his Virgin mobile card.

10. I have discovered a whole new fabulous gang of friends since I entered the wonderful world of blogging, and would like you all to know what a difference you all make to my day. Yup, sappy, but true.

Now it’s your turn!

Sinusitis and Shower Power.

I am feeling sorry for myself. True MM tradition dictates that whatever can go wrong will invariably do so at the wrong time, and my health is no exception to the rule: bugs equipped with their equivalent of blaring music, ice boxes, barbecues and gazebos moved stealthily into their comfy new quarters in my sinuses on Sunday evening and have been partying there ever since. It is a bank holiday weekend: nuff said. MM has a head like a lead balloon. Any tilting movement makes me feel like it is going to fall off and crash to the ground, before rolling along like Marie-Antoinette’s bonce on her worst day ever on the Place de la Revolution.

Having sinusitis is a little like having a massive hangover, but without having had the pleasure of getting drunk first.  Let’s just say that my head has been hurting for the last 24 hours. It is sitting on my shoulders, a huge, heavy bowling ball of throbbing pain. My eyes are standing out on sticks like wobbly martian antennae. My nose feels like it is auditioning for a role in Cyrano de Bergerac, and I could swear that my upper teeth are making a bid for freedom, like a herd of enamel horses trying to escape from their reinforced slime enclosure as an out-of tune rendition of Black Beauty is played in the background. I would love to be able to let off some of the pressure in my plumbing, but the taps are welded shut. As my kids would say, “Snot fair”. Quite literally.

Yet this morning, in true MM mode, I was determined not to let my day be wrecked by the lousy bunch of bacteria whooping it up non-stop within my facial piping. I almost imagine them as cute little one-eyed midgets in stripey PJ’s; the evil, bacterial side-kicks of Ken Dodd’s diddy men. Giggling evilly, they are clanging on my twisting facial tubes with miniature, bacteria-sized spanners, and bouncing their offspring up and down on my nerve endings, booting at the inflamed tissue with their bovver boot-clad feet. (I hasten to add at this point that I have only taken aspirin. Honest.)

A shower is a great way to wake up and get your ideas into synch. I shuffled into the bathroom for a shower, determined to make the most out of the beautiful, sunny day that had greeted my puffy eyes when I opened the shutters. I would emerge a new woman: beautiful, germ-ridden and ready for a day in that beautiful sunlight.

Some people sing in the shower, and some people scrape the dead skin off their feet with their finger nails. (Honestly. I saw someone doing this in a public swimming pool, and I didn’t know whether I wanted to drown him or run.) Others dream of their Prince or Princess Charming, winning the pools, writing a block-bluster or walking into the garage to find that someone else has cleaned it up and neatly organised the winter shoes into labelled boxes. (All the aforementioned is true for me – except for the Prince Charming, because I locked him up in the tower years ago and have been exploiting him for attention, beer and chocolate ever since.)

English: shower head Deutsch: Duschkopf mit st...

I bet that Winston Churchill made up his best speeches under the shower. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I give myself pep talks in the shower – I coach myself up for my day. Imagine the Rocky equivalent of motherhood with less body hair than Sly Stallone, armed with a bottle of shower gel rather than a machine gun and sporting flabby sidecars on her hips instead of muscle on her arms.

I review everything I need to get ironed out, organised, stopped, started and otherwise dealt with, and for the time that I am under that generous stream of hot water, anything and everything is possible. Life is easy, peasy, lemon squeezy. I am invincible under that shower head, armed with my optimism, my supermarket razor and Bigfoot’s shaving foam. I have even discovered the parallel between washing your hair in the shower and putting on weight. Haven’t you?  It’s simple. It’s clearly mentioned on the bottle that the shampoo gives you “extra body”. It cannot be a coincidence – after years of the stuff running down my body on its way to the plug hole, it has worked. My rear end and thighs have slowly progressed to plumper proportions. Think about it, and wash your hair in the sink next time. Or go for the stuff that says it straightens hair instead – the worst that can happen is to end up with a butt flatter than Jane Birkin’s chest.

Gorilla Scratching Head

MM scratched her head. How could that volume boosting shampoo not only have increased hair growth, but also weight gain? (Photo credit: Wikipedia) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Anyway. I digress. Back to our sheep, as they say in France. The hot water and I listed all the important and not so important things I would accomplish today. MM in the shower is an unstoppable force who could solve the Isreali-Palestinian conflict with no more than a deftly aimed spurt of shampoo and a lick of supermarket conditioner as the bath toys look on in admiration. Mountains and mole hills were thus put back in their respective places, and the ruffles of life were smoothed away by the beating warm water. A timetable was drawn up for MM’s busy day. Translations, bills, shopping, kids, cars, cleaning…. Although my head remained fuzzy, the day’s horizon cleared in synch with the diminishing velcro on my shins. Things were looking up. The day was promising.

Then someone knocked on the door. The razor slipped. Our mater familias par excellence bent her head to stem the bleeding on her shin, and swore as the blocked piping complained and her head hurt. I looked through puffy eyes out of the window at the sunny weather outside. Hell, things could be worse…..  This could at least provide a strange and pointless post for my blog. My readers now know that I wash on a regular basis….. pass the aspirin.

Life without literacy.

Reading and writing have always been as essential to me as love, laughter, oxygen and food. It is part and parcel of everyday life; I cannot imagine living without this ability. Life would be hell.

So when I discovered that a friend was illiterate, my stomach overturned. I asked her how she managed. Imagine a world where you have no idea what is written on the paper that you pull out of that envelope. On that packet. How can you live without this essential tool for communication?

My hedgehog book sits beside my bed. A meeting between a child and a novel creates beautiful things.

My hedgehog book sits beside my bed. A meeting between a child and a novel creates beautiful things.

The answer is dependence. That terrible state I never want to be in is her everyday situation. Her husband reads the notes from school to her, and her daughter reads the homework instructions out loud so that she can understand. Her daughter is sweet, understanding and fun. Like her mum. She reads for her mum. Her mother trusts her to tell her the truth. A delicate equation of trust and dependency between a mother and daughter that will continue for as long as they need each other, in a world where a child is the eyes of her parent, reading the news before passing it on. When she grows older, will she filter out the bad stuff, like we do as parents for our children before they know how to read? The necessary role reversal that had occurred so naturally shocked me.

But there is no firewall, nothing and no one to protect her if one day those helping hands suddenly disappeared. This dependence shocks me; how can illiteracy still exist in this day and age? The clock is ticking, and nothing has changed. Time that could be used to make things better is running through the hourglass.

I tried to motivate her. A simultaneous desire to hug her and shake her out of her lethargy and into action. Sign up for classes. You’re so young. Be independent. Rely on yourself. Be proud. Do it. Prove to yourself that you love yourself, and if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the sake of your daughter. Please. Don’t rely on others for something so essential. Respect yourself. React. In this day and age, it is wrong to accept this kind of situation as a fatality.

I have suddenly realised that like so many other things in life, like love, health and happiness, things that I had always considered a basic staple of life are a privilege. That although we grew up in the same world, at the same time, she didn’t get the same chances as me. I have taken a real slap on the face. I am thankful for having parents who refused to let me let go, who cocooned me in a world full of books, literacy, library visits, who encouraged me and pushed me to never be dependent on anyone else. Education is a right. But it is also a privilege.