The Story of Evil Git and the Surprise Car Colectomy.

It is Wednesday morning, and MM is sitting at her kitchen table between the chocolate chip brioche and the Nutella pot with a face longer than a queue for a One Direction concert. She is holding a coffee in her hand, but is dreaming of a big tub of Ben & Jerry’s and a cuddle.

MM should have woken to the sound of her favourite church bells in BFF’s home in the Alsace, where she was going to squeeze her pals in her arms time and time again, see her children blend happily into the group of friends they have had since they were at infant school, and get out into the vineyards with BFF to set the world straight, eat chocolate cake under the wild cherry tree and admire the autumn colours. She had even planned to run with Starman, a pal who shares the running bug.

There are times when MM needs creature comforts.

There are times when MM needs creature comforts.

But Evil Git had planned otherwise. Who is Evil Git, you ask? Come over to the story corner, children, and take a seat. I will do my best to tell this story in my best Joyce Grenfell voice. PN, please stop playing with Linda’s new frilly bed cap, and put that wine and those midget gems down before you throw up in the Playmo box again. Are you all sitting comfortably? then I will begin.

Not so long ago, it was Saturday morning, and MM was on a roll. She was organised, for once, and was ahead of schedule in preparation for PF’s return from Lemur Island the next day. PF is a biologist, and specializes in running off for “business trips” with female colleagues to exotic islands in the middle of nowhere…. Yes, that’s right, PN, that means he gets to play in the mud with his friends, catch crabs, drink beer on the beach, climb up extinct volcanoes, take photos of his bikini-clad colleagues swimming with turtles, watch sunsets, and share his packed lunch with lemurs. Then he returns home with a big smile and bits of smelly, dead crustaceans that he leaves on the kitchen window sill to dry.

As MM strode across the car park towards her trusty Albal, she counted her blessings.  Beautiful blue sky and autumn colours, check. Upcoming arrival of PF and a birthday meal, check. Holiday with friends in the Alsace the next day, check. Life was good – in fact, eerily too good to be true. MM knew perfectly well that the stars were therefore aligned for something to go wrong. And it did. Throwing her shopping bags on the passenger seat, she turned the key in the ignition and was surprised to hear Albal’s engine clatter noisily. She switched the engine off, opened the bonnet and peered in, expecting to find a drunken Jamie Oliver jiving with Nigella Lawson and an entire collection of saucepans. Nowt. Zilch. Nada.

I’m so sorry I left you outside….

So MM checked the oil, checked for disconnected piping, returned to her seat and reverted to kindness, stroking the steering wheel as she apologized to Albal for leaving her on the car park in the dark with no more than the lingering smell of Friday night’s pizzas for company. Starting the engine again, MM bravely attempted driving a few meters in the hope that Albal would roar back into life, but her trusty steed merely clattered again then wheezed asthmatically. I reversed back into my parking slot like a bad-tempered hermit crab and called for help in the form of Bigfoot, our resident mechanical engineer. His eyebrows furrowed, and he disappeared beneath the car. “Have a look at that, Mum”, he said as he wriggled his huge frame back out into the open.

Lying on the floor amongst the dog poo, gravel and leaves, I had a superb view of Albal’s underbelly… and the hastily accomplished visceral surgery carried out by Evil Git, who had taken a saw to the car and carried out the automobile equivalent of an emergency colectomy. In a nifty but relatively neat intervention, he had removed an entire section of the car’s digestive tract and left Albal disembowelled on the tarmac. No wonder she was feeling off-colour.

I felt the disappointment well up, quickly followed by hatred. Now, children. Here comes the cheesy part of today’s story. Hatred is an emotion that MM keeps carefully locked away, because it tends to destroy everything within reach. On Emotion Road, when Hatred hears his neighbour Disappointment whimpering on the pavement, he stomps out of his front door, slams it hard and goes off on a seek and destroy mission. He stamps on the flowers planted by Hope, pees in Optimism’s bird bath, and scribbles angrily over the clearly defined rules on Common Sense’s wall. Then he knocks on the doors of Sarcasm, Self-Pity and Anger before returning home and slamming the door, leaving Positivity to cry with Common Sense on the doorstep. Bad Hatred.

MM's reaction on seeing the state of Albal's underbelly.

MM’s reaction on seeing the state of Albal’s underbelly.

However. Hatred and his horrible henchmen didn’t get much airtime because within hours, MM’s gang of pals here had called to offer a lift to the shops, comforting messages, a car to pick up PF from the railway station, and otherwise salvaged MM’s day. However, If I ever find Evil Git, I will still apply Mrs Playmo’s suggestion to tie him to a chair in public and stuff my pet pythons down his Y-fronts until he has coughed up every penny he has for charity. Cos that’s the way we roll.

Anyway. Back to our story. Another car had suffered at the hands of Evil Git too, so MM called the Gendarmerie. They turned up quickly, and in a very NCIS turn, they whipped out a brush and collected the fingerprints on the bottom of the car door. MM was sorry to disappoint them with the news that they belonged to Bigfoot. They confirmed that the catalytic converter had disappeared – apparently they contain precious metals including platinum, so a few nights of sawing bits off cars can be a very lucrative and addictive business. No shit, Sherlock. This got MM wondering whether Gollum’s ring was actually made of platinum filched from Hobbit cars parked overnight in Middle Earth.

MM spent the afternoon spent filing a complaint with a Gendarme, and gave him a withering look when he enquired why she was holding a pair of trainers in her hand (the answer being that MM’s car had been transformed into a hairdryer on wheels, the gendarmerie is 6km from her home, and silly MM had forgotten her pocket helicopter).

Mr & Mrs Playmo were very sweet and offered to rent me a car whilst Albal was in hospital having her digestive tract repaired. Unfortunately, it was little too small for a family of five and a 28kg golden retriever.

Mr & Mrs Playmo were very sweet and offered to rent me a car whilst Albal was in hospital having her digestive tract repaired. Unfortunately, it was little too small for a family of five and a 28kg golden retriever.

MM’s insurance company were not convinced that MM had not asked someone to steal part of her car two days before she went on holiday, and told her she would have to cough up part of the bill. To no avail, MM pointed out that she had already been the victim of Evil Git, and did not wish to be the victim of her insurance company as well. She added that although her children were being very mature about their holiday potentially going down the pan, the insurance company had the means to make it better for them if they so wished. Translated into basic language, their reply was “Tough luck. Next time, upgrade your cover from ‘bells’ to ‘bells and whistles’“.

So hello house, goodbye holiday. At least I now know that Albal produces luxury, platinum-flavoured farts. Classy bird.

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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. 

 

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.