Five Things You Should Know Before You Marry a Biologist.

Please excuse the deafening silence. MM has hardly touched the ground over the last two weeks. Service will be back to normal soon. Or as normal as it gets around here.

If you have fallen for the charms of a biologist and you’re thinking about spending the rest of your life with him or her, here are a few things to consider before you say “yes”.

1. Biologists can get attached to the species they study. 

This is illustrated by the fact that like any other housewife, I said good morning to the Daltons this morning as I passed their tank. The Daltons are our snakes. Snakes are not cute or cuddly, and don’t get attached to you in any way (apart from wrapping themselves around your arm). Whilst other housewives brush their Westies and give the rabbit a carrot, I pick up snake poo and defrost mice. As I dangled dead rodents over the Daltons’ heads, it occurred to me that the plumber is coming this week to deal with the burst pipe beside their tank. I’d have to check if he was scared of snakes before I let him in. I often forget that the Daltons are there, and realise too late that my visitor is velcroed to the wall several feet behind me, eyes wide with terror as he or she points a quaking finger at the tank.

 "MM resolved to be clearer the next time PF asked her what she wanted him to bring back from his travels.  Rex certainly kept the children quieter than the stuffed toy she had ordered."

“MM resolved to be clearer the next time PF asked her what she wanted him to bring back from his business trip. However, it had to be said that Rex was certainly better at keeping the children quiet than the stuffed lion she had ordered.”

2. Biologists are a fountain of knowledge about nature. 

… and will willingly spout about it if you ask. It’s not just a job, it’s a 24/7 passion – and it’s infectious. A family visit to a zoo or a natural history museum requires rations for a week, camping gear and sleeping bags because PF explains the life cycle, knicker size and favourite TV programmes of every beast we clap eyes on. Any of you who have seen the wonder in a child’s eyes as they see a butterfly emerging from its cocoon should imagine a grown-up man doing the same. PF regularly runs in from the garden, muttering under his breath, and bombs back out with my camera. A cicada’s entry into the world last year seemed almost as fascinating to him as the birth of his own offspring.

3. Biologists never switch off. 

They read scientific articles in bed, correct their students’ exam papers at the kitchen table, and manage to find the only two hour-long TV documentary about traffic management in travelling dung beetle communities. Like little kids, they will find the remains of an insect during a family walk and insist on wrapping it carefully in a paper hanky and bringing it home to find out what it is. If it is unusual or rare, expect it to take pride of place on the kitchen window sill. Your biologist will only remember it once you have entrusted it to its final resting place in the kitchen bin. Childbirth is an event that is too cool for words – on top of the new daddy emotion, PF also got to see a placenta and umbilical cord, for realBiologist daddies don’t just cut the cord. They carefully inspect it when the nurse is looking the other way.

4. Biologists’ children inevitably get bitten by the bug.

I finally got my salad spinner back yesterday after my children hijacked it for use as a temporary hotel for a gang of huge, homeless tadpoles. Having a biologist parent can also cause problems at school: Little My went off her biology teacher recently when she told the class that all cells have a nucleus. Little My begged to differ, and the teacher laughed at her. No doubt eyeing her teacher as if she was an overripe heap of camel dung, Little My informed her that eukaryotic cells have a nucleus, but prokaryotic cells don’t. I suspect that my daughter’s homework will be handled like live ammunition from now on.

If the tadpoles survive, I'll have a good stock of potential Prince Charmings.

If our tadpoles survive, this is what they will turn into. I’ll have a good stock of potential Prince Charmings this year.

5. Biologist “business trips” are unlike all others.

Husbands in films go on business trips. They call from a tastefully decorated designer bedroom in a high-tech hotel somewhere in the vibrant centre of the business vortex to reassure their perfectly manicured spouses (usually prowling around their bedrooms wearing lipstick and cougar nighties) before going out to sign a corporate deal. They return home with perfume, silk underwear and Belgian chocolates.

For a biologist’s spouse, it’s a whole different kettle of fish. Forget Richard Gere, and imagine a hybrid of Richard Attenborough and Man Friday. The last time PF went away, he eventually called me from an island lost somewhere off the African coast. I was clad in my Bob the Builder dungarees and was attacking the sewer from hell with my latest weapon, caustic soda (my eternal thanks to my hero, Papounet, whose miracle remedy has saved me from getting covered in raw sewage and paying huge fees to the local plumber). PF babbled enthusiastically about his hut on stilts boasting all mod cons (running cold water, a noisy fan and a mosquito net), mud, mangroves, crabs, baobab trees, multi-coloured geckos, fruit bats the size of seagulls and sandwich-stealing lemurs. Then told me he had to run – he was invited out for a meal beside the lagoon. Ok, honey, shit happens (in our house, whilst he’s away). He’d come home eventually – with a fridge magnet, sea shells, soggy, cast-off crab exoskeletons to put on the window sill, and a toy lemur. Cos that’s the way we roll.

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Saturday Pick ‘n’ Mix.

copyright Multifarious meanderings, 2013

Pick ‘n’ mix  in our village shop.

As Forrest Gump so rightly said, “life is a like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get”.  If every day was a bag of sweets, Monday would be dark, chewy liquorice, and Friday would be those fizzy flying saucers that get stuck behind your teeth. Saturday is definitely a pick ‘n’ mix day, because I never know what to expect.  So to cheer up your day, drum roll….. here is a selection of excerpts from MM’s Saturday.

It was my turn to drive Little My and her pals to aerial dance class on Saturday morning. Imagine a sports hall full of little girls harnessed to long ropes dangling from the ceiling. They swing around at speed, twisting and turning in response to instructions barked at them by a frustratingly lithe and delicate dance teacher. (I think she is capable of licking the backs of her own knees – my perineum and I are still cringing after seeing her do the splits last year.)

Watching the girls twirling around has the same effect on my stomach as a Chinese take-out after one pint too many at the pub. So I dropped off Tarzanette and the liana girls and attempted a hasty get-away. I say “attempted” because when they built the local sports hall, the architect insisted on putting the heavy entrance door directly in the pathway of the Tramontane wind. I suspect that he had a collection of severed fingers to complete. When the Tramontane is blowing, it is as easy to shift that door as it would be to evict a housewife who has just discovered Brad Pitt picking up a pack of loo roll at her local coop.

This is how I practically knocked out the poor father who was leaving the building just behind me: the door slipped from my fingers and flew into the poor man’s face. I apologised, and told him that we were living in the French equivalent of the third world. He laughed and said that in the third world they didn’t have gyms, let alone doors that blow into your face.

We promptly forgot about our respective shopping missions, and chatted. He told me that he works for the SNCF – the French rail company. In the restaurant carriage. I stared at him with wide eyes. I had finally met the SNCF Sandwich Man. My mouth promptly took over proceedings through what I term “the gob-jerk reflex”. For some reason, my ideas bypass the “moderation” stage that they normally go through before hitting the verbal production stage. My thoughts about the SNCF sandwich, bottled up for years, spouted out of my mouth as my brain looked on in horror.

I couldn't find a picture that did justice to the SNCF sandwich, so I made my own.

I couldn’t find a picture that did justice to the SNCF sandwich, so I made one – just for you. Bon appetit.

“Are you serious? I never thought a Frenchman would ever be able to sell that stuff to another human being and call it food. I mean, don’t your gastronomic genes rebel every time you sell one? Does your conscience wake you up in a cold sweat at night? Do the spirits of deceased French chefs scrawl sinister threats on your kitchen wall with ketchup? Geesh, even the English wouldn’t classify it as edible, let alone call it a sandwich. I’d have to pay someone to eat it. Honestly, I’m shocked.”

Sandwich Man laughed, and admitted that he didn’t eat them himself. He said that he liked his job because complete strangers come out of their shells and communicate with each other in his universe, before returning to their seats and reverting to a self-imposed silence, headphones on ears or noses in books. He was proud to be part of a mechanism that brought people together. I liked Sandwich Man’s vision of life.

Later, back on the ranch, I found a disgruntled PF in the garden. He was putting the finishing touches to a carefully constructed scaffold for the execution of 12 trembling tomato plants that had almost cost him a 90 euro fine. He had been obliged to fight a dexterous verbal duel with a pretentious whippersnapper of a gendarme who seemed to think that his new blue uniform gave him superhero eyesight and a licence to bill. PF was bristling with contempt. How could this mere kid accuse him of not having stopped at the stop sign? He was bloody miles away! Indignation oozed out of every pore at the injustice of it all as he patted down the earth around his new recruits. He strode purposefully towards the house to water Clementine, and was promptly drenched by two mischievous children hanging out of an upstairs window clutching bottles of water.

Not long after, a howl of anguish emerged from the bathroom. Regular readers are familiar with my hate-hate relationship with loos, and particularly with the toilet seat, which has not yet learned to lower itself after the visit of the UPB (Upright Peeing Brigade). Well, the joint corrosive effect of years of cleaning products and the bad aiming of the male firing squad had led the toilet seat to make its last salutary protest. It had broken its moorings with the porcelain, leaving a male member of my tribe (couldn’t resist that one) dancing cheek-to-china. Revenge is sweet on occasions; the French expression, “the waterer has been watered” has never been more appropriate.

It was 6 pm; the local toilet seat mecca was to close in 30 minutes. I pelted down the stairs and grabbed the car keys, but was intercepted by the evil lord PF, who had a Sinister Alternative Plan. He stabbed an insistent finger at the pile of garden refuse he had already put in the car boot. I told him that the dump had closed half an hour earlier. Evil warlord insisted. We went to the dump.

Wurzel Gummage is French, and he organises weddings.

Worzel Gummidge is French, and he organises weddings.

On the return trip from the closed dump, we drove past a Provençal remake of a royal wedding. Forget the horse and carriage: Worzel Gummidge was at the wheel of a tractor pulling two newly weds in a beautifully decorated trailer. Evil warlord was suddenly overcome by a bout of romantic nostalgia, and suggested with dewy eyes that we should do it all over again. He was mightily miffed to be informed that this princess didn’t marry princes who went to closed dumps rather than buying a new loo seat. I even asked him to stop so that I could run alongside the tractor and inform the young lady that one day in the not too distant future, she would end up with a car full of garden rubbish and all the family females condemned to sitting on cold china all weekend, just because her prince charming refused to accept that she knew the opening times of the local dump better than he did. Moral of the story: never get between MM and a new loo seat.

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…

 

Happy birthday, P.F…

Happy birthday, mon chéri. I’m sorry it didn’t pan out quite as I had planned.

This is what was planned for your birthday: 

Get up early to make you pancakes for breakfast en amoureux. Make delicious cheesecake, buy gifts for kids to offer and luscious, generous bouquet of red roses. Return home. Cook lasagna and prepare fresh salad.

Decorate cheesecake, then Julie-Andrews my way through the house singing Mary Poppins songs as I shake the sheets out of the window and tidy up odds and ends with the help of a few Walt Disney superbirds chirping on the window ledge, flapping around my head and whistling on the end of my finger. Ask willing children to tidy their rooms and set the table, whilst I shower and slip into suitably feminine attire for your arrival from work. Give beautiful bouquet and children’s gifts. Eat fabulous meal, then pack kids off to their rooms so we can have a quiet moment curled up on the sofa reminiscing about the past and dreaming about the future.

Sounds good, huh? Now…..

This is what actually happened on your birthday.

Got up early and had breakfast en amoureux, kissed you goodbye on doorstep (but not Meg Ryan-style on tiptoes, ‘cos I’m almost as tall as you). Hoped the neighbours didn’t see me in my p.j’s. Heard noises reminiscent of volcanic eruptions and found Bigfoot in downstairs bathroom with digestive problems. Discovered that upstairs bathroom was out of service with blocked waste pipes. Condemned access to upstairs bathroom. Called school to tell them Bigfoot wouldn’t be there today. Uncharitably decided to quite literally cut the crap and tell the secretary that he had the runs when she enquired what the matter was. Now she knows for the next time.

Went shopping, returned home, and realised that lasagna is probably better when it has meat in it. Desperately sought the Nadine de Rothschild/Martha Stewart hybrid waiting to take over somewhere in my inner self, but couldn’t remember where I’d put her (a little like your umbrella. But that’s another story). Opened WordPress site, then resurfaced in real world what felt like five minutes of reading and writing later, except it was actually midday. Pulled on bad-girl-WordPress-addict hair shirt, ate quickly and commenced cheesecake battle. Urgent phone call from neighbour: drove neighbour to garage. Returned. Waved cheerfully to Gargamel out of a sadistic desire to make him reciprocate. He didn’t. You live and learn.

Donned 1940’s perfect housewife pinny and finished cheesecake without dropping any hair in it or dropping it on floor. Informed dog and cat that they would have to learn to open the fridge door if they hoped to eat it before you got home. Looked at clock, screamed. Abandoned huge pile of washing up in sink.

Ran upstairs, ripped off pinny, dragged on blue Super Mario-style dungarees. Spent half an hour attempting to unblock toilet with the aid of a plunger, snake and threatening behaviour. Congratulated self on wide range of bilingual swearwords and imagery around the theme of human dejections, noted this as good subject for unusual WordPress post.  Abandoned plumbing as bad idea, changed clothes, scrubbed hands with green side of sponge and huge quantities of bleach.

Went to school to pick up daughter, leaving a more chirpy Bigfoot loafing on the sofa after a day-long hibernation in bed. Drove to Aldi, bought meat for lasagna, and clapped eyes on last bunch of red roses wilting pathetically at the check-out, cringed. Pelted home. Commandeered help of all three kids to chop onions, hoover the floor, and clear up the Vesuvius of clean laundry on my bed.

Climbed ladder in lane behind house, atttempted in vain to unblock the sewage pipe, singing Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” under my breath whilst Bigfoot held the ladder. Explained to wide-eyed and perplexed retired neighbour why I was up a ladder behind my house with sewage dripping off my elbow.

Gave up, returned inside. Changed, scrubbed hands and arms again. Finished lasagna and put it in the oven. Turned around to discover forgotten mountain of washing-up from the Great Cheesecake Battle. Washed up, and ripped off pinny to greet you as you returned from a hard day at work, smelling delicately of bleach, bolognese sauce and blocked sewers. Bigfoot proudly presented you with your fabulous gift: vividly-coloured undies to “put some colour in your knicker drawer”.

I hope you enjoyed your evening, mon amour…… Though I say it myself, the lasagna and cheesecake eaten in front of the TV were excellent, even if they didn’t really make up for the clogged up drains.

I love you for so many reasons. We make a great team, and we still laugh ourselves stupid together on a daily basis. But today, I particularly love you for putting up with me the way I am, drowning in a teacup in situations that most other women sail through.  I will never be a Wonderwoman, but hell, at least I’m having fun trying.