Time Travel and the Sherbet Lemon Tardis.

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

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

My childhood, in a paper bag.

My childhood, in a paper bag.

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

They can't come in, but feel free to leave them outside the pub door.  Copyright: Multifariousmeanderings.

They can’t come in, but feel free to leave them outside the pub door.
Copyright: Multifariousmeanderings.

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

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

Challenge accepted!

Challenge accepted!

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

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

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

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

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Guidelines for a Harmonious Home.

Domestic Diva Depression.

Domestic Diva Depression (care of MM Playmo productions).

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sorting out the escape kit

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

 

1. CLOTHING.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2. THE BATHROOM.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

3. THE KITCHEN.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

4. ELECTRICAL HOUSEHOLD EQUIPMENT.

 

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

 

A vacuum cleaner from AEG

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

 

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

 

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

 

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In The Doghouse.

In French, there is a great expression : « Qui aime bien, châtie bien ». This directly translates as « the more you love someone, the harder you are on them », but it is generally translated into the English expression « spare the rod and spoil the child ».  This is particularly true in my case, and on the rare occasions that I’m in a paddy with P.F, my revenge can be terrible. Before we got married, I was so mad with him that I waited until he was fast asleep then took a handful of shaving gel and gently smoothed it up his lower leg before shaving a strip wide enough for a Boeing to land on along the length of his shin. Needless to say, he couldn’t wear shorts for a while. Other favourites include drawing on him with marker pen and putting ochre coloured pine cones that strangely resembled cat poo under the quilt on his side of the bed. M.M is one volatile chick: get her angry at your peril.

 

One weekend back in December, P.F was in the dog house for reasons that will not be explained here, but have nothing to do with buxom blondes, betting or swapping my mother for six camels. I was so majorly miffed that when I stopped the car at a red light and saw a beaming bride in the car next to me on her way to her wedding, I was inches from dragging her out of the back seat and telling her to hitch up her soft, ivory silk meringue and run as fast as her legs could carry her in the opposite direction. Yep, I was mad.

 

My revenge tactics have mellowed with time and three children, so come evening, I decided to gather up the three P’s ( my pride, my pillow and my PJ’s) and relocate with them to my daughter’s bedroom. The classic withdrawal tactic, in every sense of the word.

 

Contemporary rendering of a poster from the Un...

 

I would remain there until I found the infamous flegme britannique the French mistakenly think is part of my genetic make-up. This term has nothing to do with coughing up phlegm, as we could believe. It in fact refers to the British reputation for being cool, calm and collected, having a stiff upper lip, and otherwise keeping our emotions in check, with dignity, whilst the world goes to pot around us. You know, the behaviour associated with the handlebar moustache-toting, G&T drinking, croquet-playing colonial Brit who is capable of walking on a mine, picking up the leg that’s been blown off and popping it under his arm saying « I’ll sew it back on later, old boy. Now, shall we join Brenda and Rory for a cup of tea? ».

 

Taking refuge in Little My’s lair was not my most original solution for revenge, but getting mad had made me tired, the leather sofa was cold, and smelly dog’s basket was too small for the two of us. Little My was delighted to have company, and we had a girly nail-varnish session before tucking ourselves into bed. After the light had been switched off, we chatted for a while. The subject was fear, on her initiative. It was the second time she had asked me what my biggest fear is, apparently not having believed my initial reply a few months before that parents aren’t scared of anything, because it’s our job not to be sissies. We grab our trusty swords and barge right into battle, defending our kids from everything from monsters under the bed to Gargamel’s bad moods and zombies climbing up the façade of the house. Like the wish you make when you get the biggest bit of the wish-bone in Sunday’s roast chicken, I was going to keep it for myself. But Little My was intent on sniffing out my Achilles heel, and went about it with more determination than Rupert Murdoch on a hunt for a headline.

 

Joan of Arc

M.M escorting Little My to school in full Maternal defender garb. (Photo credit: brx0)

 

She insisted, her little voice carrying clearly through the dark, stable as a rock and pitched with seriousness. I deftly returned the ball with another question: what was her worst fear? Her answer surprised me : « Being the last survivor of our family. I’d hate it if you were all gone and I was on my own ». We’d already been down this road once as we drove through the winding Esterel mountains (see here for details).

 

Dammit, I thought, as I snuggled her in my arms under the Babar quilt.  In the end we both have the same fear, that of outliving those we love. Our reasons were different, though; a ten-year-old imagines the terrifying concept of being alone. Parents imagine the suffocating pain of not having been able to protect their child.  So I finally bit the bullet, and admitted to Little My that my biggest fear is to outlive my children. She was satisfied, said goodnight, and the page was turned.

 

The very next day, a young man entered Sandy Hook school and killed twenty children and six adults in a senseless killing spree. I thought of the parents and families of these twenty-six victims, for whom my own fear has become a reality. Our overwhelming instinct, the pit-of-the-stomach, primitive impulse of parents to see our offspring survive and have a chance to grow old, is frustratingly not enough to protect them in the world we have built for them. I yearn for a world where I can believe in the reassuring, story-book normality of being parents who can disappear from the picture knowing that their children have become self-sufficient adults. Unrealistic, yes. Puerile, yes. I miss that time when I had no knowledge of how unfair life can be, when my memory was untouched by the knowledge that humanity can be so cruel and twisted.

 

Then came the sudden, sobering realisation that petty squabbles and momentarily distancing yourself from someone close is a reckless thing to do, as it would be terrible to never be able to say it didn’t matter.  So now however mad I am, I’m sleeping in my bed. Time to check out some tribal patterns to shave on P.F’s shins, I guess…

 

A view with a room.

One of the things I love about blogging is the interaction with other bloggers. “Homesick and Heatstruck” recently published a bittersweet description of her balcony in Dubai, in which she describes not only the environment she sees from it, but also the sounds and the smells that invade her senses, and the thoughts and feelings that assail her there as an expat girl far from home. She suggested that I do a similar post to share with her. The view from my balcony is completely different. So here it is, H&H!

IMG_6780

Little My on her balcony this morning. © Multifarious meanderings

Little My has the best bedroom in the joint, in so far that she has a real Romeo and Juliette -style balcony. Any budding Cyrano had better watch his step, though; the first poor soul that dares climb up there to recite poetry to my daughter may well find himself facing her disgruntled father, armed with a Black & Decker drill.

Juliette Little My was on her balcony this morning when I sneaked up on her and took this snap. She was soaking up the view and the first rays of sunshine. Arms resting on the black wrought iron and eyes fixed on the horizon, she was dreaming as the wooden shutters with flaking grey paint creaked gently beside her in the spring breeze.

She had just watered her new babies – two garden boxes of delicately coloured, overtly feminine carnations. I pointed enthusiastically at the garish, fun pansies at the garden nursery yesterday, but Little My had already been seduced by their girly neighbours with frilly leaves and was enthusiastically cooing “Ooh, Mamaaaaan, elles sont trop belles!” I couldn’t say no.

I joined my daughter outside, and turned my face to the sun. Closing my eyes, I enjoyed that childhood thrill of seeing nothing but red through my eyelids as I basked in the sunshine. Closing your eyes accentuates the smells and the sounds around you. The smells: fresh earth as PF gardened below, wood smoke as the neighbours burned their garden cuttings, the aroma of fresh coffee wafting out of the neighbour’s open door. The sounds: Bigfoot and Rugby-boy laughing as they threw the rugby ball to and fro. The occasional blaring of car horns on the village bridge, signalling the presence of intrepid baguette hunters returning home from the boulangerie in their battered Citroëns. Smelly dog growling suspiciously at the sound of footsteps, perceptible only to her, as morning walkers wandered down the lane.

The loudest noise by far was the staccato of sparrows, finches and blue tits chirping indignantly in the huge cedar tree. I opened my eyes and saw why: the magpies were winding them up, balanced high in the tree and machine-gunning them with their raucous, rasping chatter.

The branches of the cedar tree practically touch the windows of our house, and the morning chorus usually wakes me long before the alarm goes off. As spring moves on, the sound of nature increases until it becomes part and parcel of life inside the house – particularly at night. We have a pair of nightingales that nest nearby every year, and soon they will be back. They aren’t called nightingales for nothing. Firstly, Mr Nightingale sings to seduce Madame nightingale. Daddy nightingale sings perfectly, and very loudly, from the branch in front of my bedroom window…. All bloody night. Every night, until the sun comes up to put us out of our misery. Last year, he did it for six long weeks, and only stopped once his kids had their pilot’s licences, Biggles goggles firmly strapped to their heads for take-off.

Now I love birdsong, don’t get me wrong. But a little like having Pavarotti rehearsing La Traviata at the end of your bed at three in the morning, you can get too much of a good thing. After two weeks of constant nocturnal birdsong, even David Attenborough would end up having visions of nightingales on skewers turning over a hot camp fire. I can hear you all telling me I’m a fiend. Well, listen to this and imagine listening to it all night, then think it over.

My other favourites are the owls – at the end of the post there’s a picture we took of the cute little guy who got hooted through to independence by his mum and dad last year. He was sitting on the wall and scared the pants off me when he glared at me on my way home from the boulangerie one evening.

In May the midwife toad chorus starts up, echoing back and forth along the stream as soon as night falls. I love that time of year, sleeping with the windows open and listening to the wind in the branches and the concert of toads, owls and crickets. I feel like I’m on a Disney Princess trip every time, and secretly hope that I’m going to open my eyes to see a frog playing a banjo on my windowsill.

Then the cicadas will kick in for the sultry, hot summer afternoons. And we’ll have to keep an eye out for the bats: they find their way in, but can’t find their way out. The cat goes mad, Rugby-boy laughs himself stupid, and Bigfoot runs around in circles filming the thing.

So there you go. Hope you enjoyed the view from M.M’s pad. I’m sending birdsong your way, H&H, and hope that this post gave you a bit of a hoot until you get some real birdsong to listen to.

Tawny owl baby- last year's recruit for the local wildlife brigade. © Multifarious meanderings

Tawny owl baby- last year’s recruit for the local wildlife brigade. © Multifarious meanderings