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.

Couch to Five K: Gertie Grit and Getting Fit.

One fateful day in the vineyards at the end of January, I decided to prove to myself that I was fit. I was on a roll – after 31 days of abstinence, I had successfully put an end to my equivalent of the Pavlovian reflex, which involved salivating and grabbing a large wine glass and a bowl of peanuts as soon as I heard the cork pop on a bottle of rosé. I’d walked 145 km over the month. It would be a piece of cake. I checked that nobody was looking, and set off. The result was pathetic to say the least – 30 seconds later, I was hugging the nearest tree, consumed by burning lungs, nausea and a stitch as Mrs Playmo tutted and smelly dog looked on in bemusement. I was not fit. The image of myself puffing along out of breath behind a possible future grandchild on a trike (think Damien in “the Omen”) made my mind up. I had to get fit. And to do so, I needed grit.

Grit was the stuff that I brushed out of stinging grazes when I fell off my bike as a child, and also the stuff I needed to get back on the saddle and try again and again until I finally got to the end of the garden path without kissing the tarmac. Gertie Grit had disappeared off the radar as HMS MM entered the murky waters of middle age, and was found gagged and bound on a chair in a corner in the dark side of my mind. She had been taken hostage by my inner bitch, who took a swig of rosé, scratched her navel and informed me that I was far too old and set in my ways to change anything now. That was a red rag to a bull.

So  I downloaded the C25K programme from the NHS website – a nine week programme with three half-hour outings a week that gradually take you from short running and walking intervals to running for 30 minutes non-stop. This is done with the help of a cheerful young lady called Laura, who talks you through what initially feels like a 30-minute survival course for trainee GI’s, apparently impervious to the fact that you are inches from keeling over. Yet believe it or not, seven months later MM has gone from gasping for breath to gasping for a run. So for anyone who has downloaded the app and is tempted to give it a whirl, here is MM’s guide to C25K.

Gladys proudly showed the girls the gravity-defying plastic bra she had stolen from the NASA test lab. It would be ideal for running C25K. Picture from (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Gladys proudly showed the girls the gravity-defying plastic bra she had stolen from the NASA test lab. It would be ideal for running C25K. .
Picture from (U.S. National Archives and Records Administration) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Get kitted out.

Running requires very little financial investment (that sinks your first excuse). Girls should acquire the appropriate female scaffolding to restrain the lesser spotted boobs, which already have a natural tendency to migrate southwards. Without control, you’ll either knock yourself out on your first run or they’ll stretch so far that you’ll be able to wrap them around your neck to keep your ears warm by Christmas. You’ll also need trainers – and forget the ones you’ve had in the cupboard since that aborted new year’s resolution you made back in 1984. Embrace new footwear technology – your body will thank you for it. As for the rest, a t-shirt and a pair of leggings will do fine.

  1. Be safe.

This does not mean kitting yourself out with a flick knife, or running with a baseball bat stuck under your knicker elastic. In the unlikely event of being attacked, the smell of a runner’s armpits after 4 kilometers is probably sufficient to put any assailant off. What ‘being safe’ means is simply doing what you expect your teenagers to do – tell someone where you are going, what time you are leaving, and when you will be back. You are more likely to go arse over tit into a hedge than you are to get abducted by aliens, but if you do have a problem then someone should know where you are.

MM tried out her skills at smashing an aggressor's teeth with a baseball bat, before establishing that it was too big to fit in the waistband of her shorts. Picture credit: Par Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions ou Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

MM tried out her skills at smashing an aggressor’s teeth with a baseball bat, before establishing that it was too big to fit in the waistband of her shorts. Picture credit: Par Center for Jewish History, NYC [No restrictions ou Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

  1. Get an iPod, phone or MP3 player.

An absolute must, if only to follow the programme and avoid hearing yourself gasping for breath on the way around the run (I scared myself when my headphones fell out – it sounded like I was being chased by a rabid black bear). If you follow the C25K programme, the lovely Laura will chat all the way around and tell you when to run, when to walk, and congratulate you on your achievements. If you are anything like me, you will give up on her when you get bored with the dismal music (I’m sure that Laura didn’t choose it) and are fed up with her not inviting you around for a cuppa and a Hobnob after your run. There are plenty of alternative apps available that let you run the programme using your own music playlist, so go for it – Laura has so many fans that she won’t notice you’ve shelved her. Just one word of warning: for safety, make sure that the volume is low enough to hear cars coming up behind you. Not to mention other runners if you stop for a wee behind a hedge.

  1. Get support and be accountable to somebody.

If, like me, your family reacted to your announcement that you were taking up sport by falling off their chairs laughing, fear not. Sign up to the C25K community on Health Unlocked, a forum full of real people just like you who get beetroot red faces, sweat buckets, fall victim to self-doubt and know how to deal with the gremlins telling you that today’s run can wait until tomorrow. They will give you answers to the things you need to know and don’t dare to ask, like whether you should run in granny pants or G-strings or even go commando under your lycra. They will boot you out of that door with a grin on your face when you were determined you were never going to run again. If you could harness all the positivity generated by this forum, the planet would have a whole new source of energy. So sign up, and get to know people who are all on a quest for better health.

how_i_think_i_look-scaled1000

This is definitely right. But we all look the same, and nobody else really notices. You’re just another nutter wearing trainers. No idea who the pic belongs to but it’s all over cyber space.

  1. Believe.

Believe in yourself. Running is as much about mindset as it is about physical fitness. Cheer yourself on, and do so shamelessly. Don’t compare your achievements to anyone else’s, only to your own expectations. There will be bad runs. But however long it takes you to run that mile, it is still a mile. And however little or however slow you run, you are still running laps around the previous you, who is still sat glumly on the couch holding a glass of wine in one hand and pinching a roll of belly flab with the other.

  1. Forget self-consciousness, and embrace your bloody-mindedness.

Other people will see you, but don’t imagine that they are judging you – to passers-by, you’re just another nutter wearing trainers, and most offer a smile and a supporting comment and not the jeer or insult you were expecting. And the others? Who cares. You don’t know them, and you’ll probably never see them again.

If running isn’t sweaty and messy, you’re not doing it right. You will be bright red. You will scream insults at your iPod because you suspect that Laura has deliberately added thirty seconds to that minute she asked you to run. You will want to give up, but Gertie Grit won’t let you, because if you do, you’ll feel like a failure. Within very little time, you are going to yell at yourself, immune to the stares of OAP’s walking their dogs as you tell yourself you’re an effing wimp and you’re going to bloody well make it to that tree, end of story. And when you finish each run and tick another box, you are going to find yourself whooping, screeching, punching the air and dancing. And you won’t care who is watching. Because you’ve found your grit again. And that’s worth its weight in gold.

Multifarious Musings from Outside the Comfort Zone.

A non-writing author is a monster courting insanity. It appears to be true of bloggers too. I can already hear the rumble of discontent and the budding debate about how, when and indeed if a blogger could or should be considered a writer… but this blogger is propped up in her bed, coffee cup at hand, and her Sunday morning neurones don’t want to go down that road.

Kafka’s words have been leaping out of the screen at me for weeks – I came across them on a crowded Google image screen during a hectic day at work, and put them carefully on my desktop as a reminder that I needed to give myself some writing time. I have been away from the blog for a while – although I have written many posts in my head during my thrice-weekly sallies outdoors, the hamster wheel of self-employment has been turning far too fast for me to find blogging time since the beginning of the year – both a blessing and a frustration for a self-proclaimed “word nerd”.

We are all multifaceted, and MM is no exception. We constantly evolve and as we do, we sometimes ask ourselves if there isn’t something more to life than our immediate comfort zone. We occasionally feel an inexplicable and insatiable need to empty the closet of our mind and refill it with new things, yet cannot bring ourselves to banish certain comforts. So we package them up carefully, put them away on a shelf for future reference, then turn towards exploring personal change and renewal with the reassurance that we have not burnt all our bridges behind us.

A need to challenge and test myself reared its head at the end of 2014. Waking up to the same old me peering over the edge of the reassuringly comfy slipper of my life every morning, whilst pleasant and reassuring, had also become strangely predictable, tarnished by my frustration of being unable to eliminate the small, niggling imperfections that are constantly putting a grain of sand in the otherwise perfect machinery. Papounet often laughed and said, ‘Happiness is the spacetime between two mishaps”: life is never perfect, and there will always be something providing the legendary cloud on the horizon. This links up nicely with the candid wisdom of MMD (MM’s Dad – love you, Dad, ‘cos I know you’re reading this -) when I whined “It’s not fair!” as a child: “Yeah. Well, life’s not fair.”

A whole year has gone by since Papounet died, and the jam-jar moments continue. A jam-jar moment is what happens when the sight of a trivial everyday object, such as a half-empty pot of blueberry jam, opens the floodgates on the dam holding back a lake of memories and emotion. Yet losing people you love teaches you unexpected lessons that make you a stronger person. For me, this lesson was that although we are all relatively anonymous and unimportant in life’s great plan, we all make a lasting impact – good or bad – on more people than we imagine. Papounet, Grandma, Uncley, Rick, Grandpop, Auntie Laura, Mamie and many other people I loved who are no longer here today had helped me to kick existentialist ass – we do play an essential role in other people’s lives, whether it is intended or not. I remember taking this photo of a poster last summer at the gardens of Heligan, one of my family’s favourite haunts in my home region; I realised at that moment that although people disappear, they remain very much alive in my everyday life.

IMG_5461

I am currently reading a book that illustrates this beautifully – written by the Bishop of Norwich, Graham James. (When I said I was stepping out of my comfort zone, my parents will probably agree that this is a prime example.) Called “The Lent Factor”, it takes a fascinating approach to Lent and describes 40 people he refers to as his “travelling companions”. All deceased, they influenced his life in one way or another. He illustrates through the chapters how people, even those we meet fleetingly, can affect our vision of life and our relationships with others: “They are all part of my personal pantheon. They have all joined with and crossed and belonged to each other through their influence on me and what I believe and the person I have become.” We are, indeed, very much the product of our interactions with others, and in turn, we can affect what others become, often without knowing it.

Losing someone who had this effect on our lives is also a reminder that each day should be savoured as if it were the last, and this feeling has been reinforced for me as I see the world around me dive into a spiral of unfathomable evil resulting from a twisted, blinkered vision of humanity. But in my immediate bubble, all is well. So one year after Papounet’s death, I pulled on my trainers and took his memory for a run. As I jogged through the vineyards, I felt the sun on my face, admired the bright expanse of yellow rapeseed set against the mountains and the blue sky and the gnarled fingers of the vines awaiting the summer, and told him how happy I was. That life is good. That we have not, will not and cannot ever forget him. That we have no idea how much time we have here on this earth, but that we all have the choice to leave a positive trace for someone behind us to keep and build on. Just like he did.

 

Waxing Lyrical

This article is not for the faint-hearted. Anyone who is reading this over breakfast or objects to humoristic rhetoric about hair removal in personal places is encouraged to go and read something about cookery, flower-arranging or how to remove stains from garden furniture elsewhere on WordPress now. You have been warned. I doubt I’ll get “freshly pressed”: I’ll get over it.

Those of you who have continued reading: thank you for sparing a little time in your hectic schedule to read my blatherings about what I could only describe as a hairy experience.

I think everyone has an unofficial bucket list of things they’d like to do some day. I am no exception to the rule, and have a list of various “unachievables” like giving up peanuts, spending an hour reading in the bath without a member of my family trying to bust the door down, inventing cool, affordable, disposable clothing for kids and meeting my heroes (Kermit’s nephew and Sir Winston Churchill) in the afterlife. Until last night, my list also included trying out home waxing kits to tame bikini bottom overgrowth.

A long-distant memory of hair-removal cream and the disastrous results it procured after an “uh-oh” moment way back in 1992 got me curious to trying out the waxing experience. Having already given birth three times without pain relief, I am not a sissy. Yet I will not wax my bikini line a second time without a general anaesthetic, a bottle of Chardonnay, and a pencil clamped between my teeth. What the manufacturers omit to mention on the box is that yes, you do end up going hairless – but from the self-inflicted pain.

Gladys told Janet that she didn't understand  why had her husband asked her to wax poor Pussy. Photo credit: Imperial War Museum.

Gladys told Janet that she didn’t understand – why had her husband asked her to wax poor Pussy? Photo credit: Imperial War Museum.

Once I had successfully baited P.F and the kids with chocolate and a T.V. screen last night, I surreptitiously sneaked off to my bedroom and locked the door. I had decided it was time to take control of what the English coarsely describe as “the short and curlies” before running the risk of embarrassing my squad of under-18’s at the pool.

I pulled the kit out of the box and carefully read the suspiciously reassuring instructions leaflet. The whole thing looked cool, blue and refreshing. The packaging announced this to be a “cool effect, reduced pain” experience and the fresh blue and white illustrations supported this theory, although I was somewhat dubious about the three ice cubes, piled one on top of the other. The instructions announced that their miracle wipes prepared the skin then cooled it off afterwards, which had me nonplussed. Hey, Mr beauty company communicator. I know I’m splitting hairs here, but if my skin is supposed to be adequately prepared by wipe 1, why would it need cooling off with wipe 2 afterwards, huh? Would you be hiding something from me, perchance?

First step: “rub the strip gently between your hands to warm the wax”. After ten minutes of rubbing frantically like a boy scout attempting to light an evening fire in the Cornish summer mizzle, the wax was still hard as cement. As I didn’t have a blowtorch handy, I grabbed my phone and called my pal Emmamuse, a successful traveller of the waxing world. She laughed and unceremoniously barked, “sit on them, it works every time”. It did.

Five minutes later, I eyed the strips of blue guck welded to the tops of my thighs with horror, and wondered why I always felt obliged to give these things a whirl despite my gut instinct audibly screaming that it was a bad idea.

Shortly afterwards, my eyes were watering with the pain. My conclusion was the following: there should be a law against selling beauty products to people with a pain threshold. The pain of waxing your bikini line is probably the equivalent of gouging your own eyes out with a potato peeler, walking over burning charcoal in freshly pedicured feet or washing your hair in a sink full of piranhas. It would be number ten on my personal pain assessment range, going from one (being hit in the head with the T.V. remote as Bigfoot changes position on the sofa) to ten: ripping out your own body hair with the bright blue goo some male inventor decided to cutely describe as “wax”.

With one strip of wax still glued to their left thighs, the girls resolved to abandon anything with the prefix "Brazilian" for life. Photo credit: Imperial War Museum, London.

With one strip of wax still glued to their left thighs, the girls resolved to abandon anything “Brazilian” for life. Photo credit: Imperial War Museum, London.

As I took a breather before attacking strip number two, I tried to fathom out why on earth anyone would want to PAY someone to rip their hair out by the roots for them. The only clear advantage that I could see is the fact that when someone else yanks that strip off with all the enthusiasm of Bigfoot ripping open a family-sized bag of Maltesers, there’s diddly-squat you can do about it except lie back, grit your teeth and think of Britain. Apart from the fact that you have paid, and when half of the hair has been uprooted you can hardly pelt out of the door with the other half escaping from your knicker elastic like spring regrowth in the Amazonian rainforest.

But at home, you can’t chicken out either once you’ve glued the damned thing firmly onto your anatomy, and the idea of spending all summer with it hanging out of your bikini bottom kind of forces you to pull the damned thing off. I pulled tentatively on strip number two, trying to coax it away. This brought back memories of trying to tease the elastoplast off my arm on the way home from primary school before tearing the thing off in one sudden movement, my eyes smarting with tears as it ripped out all the hair in a clearly defined rectangle. Yank this thing off your lower abdomen, and you see stars whilst the entire neighbourhood mistakenly presumes that you have taken up opera singing as a pastime.

The remaining wax strips are supposed to be for my armpits. I think I’ll put a bit of jam on them and hang them in the kitchen to catch flies instead.

This post was written way back in 2012, and I’m reposting it today for the fun after reading a hysterical post by Barbed Words, entitled “Big girls don’t cry…. Unless they’re waxing their bikini line”

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….

Attempted Murder.

On yesterday’s walk, Mrs Playmo was showing serious signs of mental imbalance. I told her, and she rightfully retorted, “Well, that’s rich coming from someone who shares her time between singing out of tune and talking to a Playmobil, setting it up in compromising photo shoots and even telling the world about it!” She had a point.

As we turned a corner, she began to cackle with laughter and pointed a claw at the tree on her left. ‘Look! Murder!” I looked at her blankly. She sighed, then stopped and laughed again, uncontrollably this time. Her arm shook as she pointed right, at another tree.

“ATTEMPTED MURDER!” She squawked raucously before rolling on the floor, helpless with laughter. I looked more closely, and finally understood. Here are the photos for you – a virtual packet of Midget Gems to anyone who gets her joke.

The tree on the left... "MURDER"

The tree on the left… “MURDER”

The tree on the right: "attempted murder".

The tree on the right: “attempted murder”.

Little did I realize how well-timed her joke would prove to be. Mrs Playmo was drunk – so drunk that if you cracked a match whilst she was exhaling, you’d get free sunburn.

“That damned Eric,” she babbled, taking huge gulps of rosé from her hip flask. I stared at her. “I thought you like him? Giving him the eye over your Chupa Chups, and all that…”

Mrs Playmo leveled with me and sighed, blasting wine fumes into my unwilling nostrils.

“You don’t get it, do you? That ratbag was blackmailing me. It was a trap! Shacklebottom ratted on me to the police, and good old Eric decided to get to know her better. You know the old line: Wanna come round to my place and check out my truncheon?”

She shook her head sadly.  “I should have seen it coming. Boy, I’m a low-wattage lightbulb at times”. She stopped to fish her knickers out from between her buttocks then set out again, stamping her feet glumly in the mud.

“Shacklebutt and Eric devised a plan together. I should have known – she always puts evil twists in the church pantomime. Eric had to get to know me better, seduce me if he could, and get some incriminating evidence to blackmail me. Then they’d share the cash and run away together. Poor Marcel… The woman’s a goddam man-eater… Anyway, that’s how Eric ended up at the Cabbage Patch Pole Dance Dive with a camera, wig and glasses a few Fridays ago.”

I stared at her, incredulous. “What, you mean you’ve been unfaithful to Mr Playmo?” I gasped. Mrs P burst into tears. “Noooooooo!” She sobbed. “I couldn’t! I love him too much!”

Wiping her nose on my sleeve, she added “…. and I like handbags, rosé and Tupperware parties. That’s life. Had to finance it somehow.”

“Where were you off to on that Friday night?” I insisted, staring into her bloodshot eyes.

“I was delivering the cash to Eric,” she said calmly. “It was either that or he put the photos inside Mr Playmo’s bible for maximum impact at mass on Sunday.”

We walked for a while, feet squelching in the mud. “Is it all over now?” I ventured. “I mean, you gave Eric the money, and he gave you the photos. That’s it, right?”

The look Mrs Playmo gave me could have shrivelled Rocco Siffredi’s appendage to the size of a peanut. “As if!” She snapped. The evil runt went to see Mr Playmo and told him about our meeting, how nice he found me, and how much he enjoyed my pole dancing. Poor Mr P….” Tears began to stream down her cheeks.

“Mr Playmo sent me a text message asking me to meet him at the beach and to chose my weapon well. He brought a Chupa Chups, and said he’d heard it was good to sweeten bad guys up, but he didn’t want to hit me with it. When I got home, I found the incriminating picture of me on the bed, with a rose and a letter saying he needed a break, and was going away for a few days…. That was on Sunday – I haven’t seen him since….”

She dissolved into tears, and blew her nose so hard I was surprised she didn’t turn inside out.

“I’ve got it all sorted now, anyway. At least, I’ve got Eric sorted. I’d like to give you the photo for today’s blog post – I got Marcel to take the picture. He helped me – just two little slow punctures, and poor old Eric needed a mechanic. There’s only one in the village who will go out to the country lanes… and that’s Marcel. Shucks. Life sucks.”

She passed me this photo.

Putting out the fire....

Putting out the fire….

I stared at Mrs Playmo. “No. You didn’t…. clock him on the head with a fire extinguisher, did you?”

“No, much better,” she said, breezily taking a swig from her hip flask. “I had an opportunity to extinguish that “flame of passion” he’d talked about when I first met him. Amazing bad luck, really, the ambulance man said so too. He really shouldn’t have smoked his cigarette so close to that petrol leak on the ground… Now stop gawping at me like that. Close your mouth please – looks like an open sewer in there. Let’s go home and see if Mr Playmo’s back.”

I did as I as told, and as we walked as I considered sending her story to Quentin Tarantino for his next film scenario.

 

 

 

Catching up….

Mrs Playmo and I are very sorry for the resounding silence. We have no excuse for not having posted, except for very bad organisation skills (please note that Mrs P and I are in this together, even if she can only type by jumping up and down on the keyboard).

We are still going strong, moving our respective rumps and taking pictures, but we haven’t had time to upload and describe our antics of late. There have also been a few days when it was so windy that Mrs Playmo either refused to come out of my photo bag, or couldn’t stand up for the photo because she got blown over all the time. I tried to convince her that everyone had already seen her knickers anyway, but to no avail.

So here is a resumé of her intrepid adventures to get you up to date. Grab the popcorn and dim the lights, folks …

Mrs Playmo particularly enjoyed the Museum in Nîmes, and insisted on posing as an alligator hunter in the hope of being spotted in time for the casting of the next Crocodile Dundee film.

Mrs Playmo particularly enjoyed the Museum in Nîmes, and insisted on posing as an alligator hunter in the hope of being spotted in time for the casting of the next Crocodile Dundee film.

Amelia Shufflebottom's daughter made a brave bid to avenge her mother, but was caught red-handed as she tried to do a runner with Mrs Playmo's carpet bag.

Amelia Shacklebottom’s daughter made a brave bid to avenge her mother, but was caught red-handed as she tried to do a runner with Mrs Playmo’s carpet-bag.

Mrs Playmo always pushes in and forces he musical choices on me. She has a distinct preference for Tom Jones, and leaps around the vineyards yelling "What's new pussycat".

Mrs Playmo always pushes in and forces her musical choices on me. She has a distinct preference for Tom Jones, and leaps around the vineyards yelling “What’s new pussy cat”.

Unbeknown to Mrs Playmo, Prince Charming had survived her New Year's Eve plot to get rid of him. In her drunken stupor, she had forgotten to remove the champagne bucket she had jammed onto his head before burying him in the sand. Luckily, she had followed Mrs Sensible's Wet Wooden Spoon Self-Defence course in a hidden location in Italy.

Unbeknown to Mrs Playmo, Prince Charming had survived her sinister New Year’s Eve plot to get rid of him. In her drunken stupor, she had forgotten to remove the champagne bucket she had jammed on his head before burying him in the sand. Luckily, she had followed Mrs Sensible’s Wet Wooden Spoon Self-Defence course in a hidden training camp run by a black sheep in Italy. He was soon heading off to the horizon as fast as his horse could take him.

Ok, during the interval, here’s the advertising: for more about Mrs Sensible, check out PN’s blog at http://englishmaninitaly.org

Now, dim lights…. Andra, stop wriggling. And Gypsy, that’s my popcorn.

It was cold that day.... Mrs Playmo checking in the cave for any signs of a bear who could spare her a bit of fur to make a coat.

It was cold that day…. Mrs Playmo checking in the cave for any signs of a bear who could spare her a bit of fur to make a coat.

Mrs Playmo thought she could pass this one off as her tight-rope walking on the Eiffel tower. I admit that it was a dangerous exploit given the gusts of wind, she would have fallen into the local irrigation canal.

Mrs Playmo thought she could pass this one off as intrepid tight-rope walking on the Eiffel tower. I do admit that it was a dangerous exploit, though:  given the gusts of wind, she could have fallen into the local irrigation canal.

My two-year-old nephew fell in love with Bigfoot's old bulldozer and carted it around everywhere with him. They got on like a house on fire - like him, Mrs P never misses an opportunity to dig up a bit of dirt.

My two-year-old nephew fell in love with Bigfoot’s old bulldozer and carted it around everywhere with him. They got on like a house on fire – like him, Mrs P never misses an opportunity to dig up a bit of dirt.

An inconclusive attempt at harpooning whales in Aigues-Mortes.

An inconclusive attempt at harpooning whales in Aigues-Mortes.

Mr Playmo had sent a crypted message to Mrs Playmo: "Meet you on the beach. Choose your weapon carefully". When he turned up with a lollipop and said something about sweetening up baddies before hitting them over the head, a bell rang in Mrs P's mind. A danger bell.

Mr Playmo had sent a cryptic message to Mrs Playmo: “Meet you on the beach. Choose your weapon carefully”. When he turned up with a lollipop and said something about sweetening up baddies before hitting them over the head, a danger bell rang in Mrs P’s mind. Had Eric spilled the beans?

After a very heated argument with Mr Playmo on the beach, Mrs P insisted that she wanted to visit the torture chamber museum in Carcassonne to get a few ideas. I told her that her cooking was ample punishment for her husband.

After a very heated argument with Mr Playmo on the beach, Mrs P insisted that she wanted to visit the torture chamber museum in Carcassonne to get a few ideas. I told her that her cooking was ample punishment for her husband. She didn’t get her own way, but she did get the satisfaction of seeing me get laughed at by the builders working on the house opposite when I took this photo.

There you go, folks. Back to normal tomorrow for the last two days of the challenge….