Why Kindle doesn’t light my fire.

This post is a reply to this week’s Mind the Gap on the Weekly Writing Challenge, which asked the following question:

How do you prefer to read, with an eReader like a Kindle or Nook, or with an old school paperback in hand? 

I am sick today. My kids have kindly passed on the dreaded lurgy to the family head nurse. My lungs are trying their best to turn themselves inside out and escape from a home that is rapidly becoming a sanitorium.

So I’m going to bed. With a book. A real book. I’ve never had a Kindle, and I could never use one, except perhaps as a beer mat. Read on, and find out why.

A statue in front of a Pezenas bookstore that caught my eye (My photo).

When I’ve finished this, I’ll go upstairs to the bookshelf and run my index finger across the spines of my protégés. They are all lined up haphazardly, a mini Manhattan skyline of different heights, sizes, shapes and colours, all jostling together and crying out to be taken in someone’s hands. Each of them contains an escape route:  an imaginary realm and a fabulous plot dreamed up by someone else who has a passion for the written word. I have a vivid imagination, and tend to anthropomorphise my books. They all seem to be holding their breath in the knowledge that the happy winner will be taken everywhere with me – throughout the house, on the bus or train, in the garden. My faithful book will never have a flat battery or break down before I reach the end of the story. Lost in the depths of my handbag, stuffed in my pocket or tucked under my arm, the Chosen One resists the trials and tribulations of being shaken around, dropped or soaked by mischievous children on the beach, and remains with me until I have devoured every last word and returned “him” or “her” to the shelf.

It is difficult to choose between a well-thumbed favourite and the yet-to-be-read orphans that I regularly save from lonely charity shop shelves. Should I pick humour, a classic or a well-thumbed favourite? The choice is always a pleasure. Choosing a book to read is like picking a chocolate from a box: should I take a story with a mellow, lingering storyline? A bitter-sweet or dark suspense? Or a light, airy plot that fizzes and snaps and makes my mind explode with new emotions? Maybe I’ll take a hardback with a soft centre, or a malleable novel that is as easy to read as pouring caramel over vanilla ice cream. Touching books is of paramount importance to me; deciding from a list on a screen makes the book frustratingly anonymous, ephemeral. I often hesitate and continue along the row before returning to my first choice, holding two paperbacks in my hands and dithering.

Once my choice is made, I’ll curl up under my quilt with my book. Books are a sensorial experience, more than the cold Kindle could ever be. First there is the visual pleasure of the cover. The colours, the choice of the illustration. Then I close my eyes, flick the pages below my nose and inhale the smell of the paper.  I rarely pick up on the odor of fresh ink and new paper, a sign that I am generally drawn to comforting books whose ageing paper releases the occasional tell-tale whiff of home and family.

Then I read, playing with the corner of the page and enjoying the suspense of the developments lying in wait on the other side. Since my childhood,  books have been my springboard out of the real world into an imaginary world where I can happily soak up the emotions escaping from the ink on the paper.

One shelf of my personal playground.

One shelf of my personal playground.

One last point before I sneak upstairs to see my babies. A few days ago, I met up with a wonderful friend I hadn’t seen for too many years. When we finally released each other from a long-overdue hug, I religiously took two books from my bag and gave them to her. I had bought one for her six years ago and forgotten to post it. The other was one that she had lent me years back. When she saw it, she clasped it to her heart with tangible emotion. When she was finally able to say something, she explained that the book had been given to her by a friend who had recently passed away. So for many of us, the humble book is much more than just a physical support on which an author places words. It is not just paper and ink,  it is a physical marker of events throughout our lives, a lasting link between people and their pasts. Long live the book.

Flangiprop: a miracle remedy.

Daily Prompt: Flangiprop!

Probably the shortest post I’ve ever written….

Invent a definition for the word “flangiprop,” then use the word in a post. 

Are you pulled kicking and screaming through that door by your instinct to devour cake? Does the double chocolate devil on your shoulder get the upper hand every time you clap eyes on an upper crust? If you can’t resist the temptation of the local Pâtisserie, flangiprop is designed for you.

"Like the back of a bus"

Before Flangiprop (Photo credit: Elsie esq.)

You may just be suffering from flanbum, a common affliction affecting mothers seeking solace in sugar. The effect is gradual but becomes quickly visible to those walking behind you. Flanbum sufferers often suspect that they are being followed, only to discover that their gluteus maximus has become silently and generously adorned with a flan-like substance that is soft to the touch and absorbs shocks, but unfortunately remains unattractive. Its low-hanging position can be uncomfortable when running for the bus. 

This is where flangiprop comes in. Flan -GI- Prop does just that: props up the flan with military discipline. Tried and tested by pâtisserie-dependent mothers across the globe, Flangiprop transforms your sagging sandbag butt into a pert derrière that will turn your friends green with envy. Like double-sided sticky tape, it invisibly lifts your assets, giving visible, instant results. Check out the photos, and see for yourself. Coming soon to a retailer near you…..

Rio Carnival, Rio, Brazil

After Flangiprop (Photo credit: TerryGeorge.)

Nesting and migration in the lesser-spotted boob.

Driving down the motorway yesterday on my way to the nearest metropolis, I flicked on the radio. As usual, it was tuned into my children’s favourite station, NRJ.  As I tailed along behind a lorry, the garrulous and entertaining Manu informed his listeners that he had discovered a blog.

“Whoopee”!! I thought. A fun blog address where we can check out something cool, like the breathtakingly exciting adventures of an Inuit Eskimo hunting in sub-zero temperatures, dressed in caribou skin undies and armed with no more than a hand-sharpened teaspoon and a rubber band. But the blog in question was that of a Spanish young lady who takes a photo of her cleavage and publishes it every day.

Booby Trap in a hotel room?

Somebody has already written the book. Dammit, Janet. (Photo credit: firepile)

I am not going to start beating my breast about booby blogs – each to his or her own. I did however wonder what written content can go with these photos. Maybe the author had written about the history of the bosom, investigated the social importance of the maternal breast, examined the impact of Jane Birkin’s ironing board and Lolo Ferrari’s airbags on their respective careers, or written a titillating (ar-hum) off-beat story about her mammaries entitled “A Tale of Two Titties”, “Bosom Buddies”, or “Booby Trap”. Had she posted something interesting or fun alongside the photo of her cleavage?

Google translate was formal: the written content was a recipe combining breasts (presumably not chicken), slices of chorizo sausage and potatoes. Fun for some, but maybe not sufficiently thrilling content to captivate hoards of followers for long.

I have therefore written an alternative post for her next cleavage photo, to be read out loud à la Richard Attenborough. So here goes. Drum roll, please….. My apologies to my parents, who are muttering “she’ll never change” and reaching for their dark glasses and balaclava helmets.

Nesting and migration in boobus mammarius.

The lesser-spotted boobus mammarius, commonly known as the boob, is a parasite that develops during early human adolescence. Couples remain faithful throughout life, and fix themselves to the upper part of the female human anatomy (henceforth referred to as the host) where they slowly develop until reaching maturity.

Boobs come in all sizes, and for reasons unknown to womankind they do not seem to follow the rule of symmetry. Thus, one is generally observed to be plumper than the other. Further research is necessary to establish whether this size difference entails the dominance of one boob over the other in decision-making situations such as migration.

Nesting

Boobs nest in a lace-lined contraption provided by the host, commonly called a bra. The nest can also be referred to in host language as an over-shoulder boulder holder, an upper-decker, a double-barrelled slingshot or a flopper stopper.

Candy

Nesting boobs in their natural habitat. In this case, the host has attempted to retain them using candy as a bait. Note dominant boob on right. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It is thought that this high altitude nesting site was chosen by the first generations of boobs in a bid to stay out of the reach of their most ferocious predator, handus mannus (commonly called “The Hand” in host language). This species generally prowls at night, preying on innocent boobs as they sleep. Fortunately, the host provides round-the-clock protection and has been observed to be unusually aggressive in a bid to provide safe haven for her protégées.

Unexpected movements of the female host, such as running to save screaming offspring, can occasionally result in boobs falling out of their nests. The host’s aid is necessary for them to regain safe haven, as the boob is only capable of downward movement (see migration, below).

Like many other parasites, they return the favour to their host in the form of basic functions. These include attracting a mate, feeding any offspring, and serving as a decoy to attract attention whilst the host’s eyes convey a message to a third party.

Migration

Like the bald eagle, boobs are monogamous. They therefore begin their slow migration south together after approximately forty years of faithfulness to their nesting site. There is still a hot debate over why boobs migrate south, and three main schools of thought have appeared. One theory suggests that migration is the boob equivalent of retiring to the Costa Brava after their numerous years of loyal service. Other researchers propose a socio-economic argument, namely that boobs migrate in a bid to join their distant relative, biggus bottomus, whose more generous proportions and wider horizons may tempt less realistic boobs southwards for a better lifestyle. Another theory describes the irresistible pull of gravity; this appears to be the most plausible explanation to date.

cleavage

Migrating boobs. (Photo credit: DMWCarol)

Boob migration unfortunately occurs at a time where the host has become dependent on her companions. She therefore attempts to delay migration by nourishing them with expensive creams and tempting them with a luxury nest known as the Wonderbra. However, the drawback of this method is that it also attracts any handus mannus roaming in the area. Despite these baiting efforts, boobs generally escape at nightfall and continue their slow, imperceptible migration south.

Sadly, after decades of excruciatingly slow progress, few boobs successfully cross the dreaded Checkpoint Bellybutton on the waistline frontier, and many give up the fight. Unlike salmon, they are unable to return to their birthplace, and are forced to set up a new nest in the arid wastelands of the belly region. Further studies could investigate the new techniques they develop to survive in this new, more oxygenated climate.

Disclaimer: To clear up any confusion, none of the boobs pictured here are mine.

Super Saver Tomato and the Punctuation Police.

My heart goes out to foreign learners of my native language. English grammar stinks. So does punctuation. I am a punisher for punctuation, a grammar geek, and a stickler for spelling. Yet when I point out glaringly obvious mistakes on billboards and hoardings to my offspring, they roll their eyes at me and tell me to wake up and smell the coffee. Who cares as long as the message can be understood? The inaccurate use of quotation marks, capital letters, apostrophes, commas and exclamation marks is not deemed to be a punishable offence by Bigfoot and his generation, whatever the language concerned. His mother, on the other hand, would happily bludgeon the culprits into oblivion with a hardback copy of English Grammar in Use.

Imagine a world without correct spelling, grammar and punctuation. Admittedly, we would live in a better place where nobody would be frustrated or unfaithful, as the absence of the dashing dash would mean that extra-marital sex would disappear and only extra marital sex would remain. A win-win situation. On the other hand, be careful how you suggest that dinner is ready – without a comma, the suggestion « Why don’t we eat, John?»  becomes a matter of life or death for the person concerned.

My sad condition started out as an amused smile at the greengrocer’s apostrophe, until the latter turned into a major source of irritation for me. I took to hesitating in front of stores, unsure whether to quietly pull out a marker pen or call the Punctuation Police. Nobody else seemed to be unduly affected by this affront to the Grammar Gods. People continued walking by whilst I stood there, fighting with my punctuation principles.

You know what I’m talking about: those lurid fluorescent signs outside high street shops selling “BEST BANANA’S”, and “super saver tomato’s”. Who on earth is super saver tomato? Is he Batman’s new organic sidekick, devoid of capitals? What a pity that the sentence is not completed with his activity (“Super saver tomato’s on his way for lunch with Wonder Woman!”) or the unwanted belongings that are presumably for sale (“Super saver tomato’s underpants at cut price until 5pm tomorrow!”).

Super Saver Tomato, drawn by Rugby-boy.

Super Saver Tomato, drawn by Rugby-boy.

After years of teaching English as a foreign language, I finally gave in to the temptation and set up as a copy editor. I have been happily sticking my snout into scientific documents ever since, sniffing out rogue prepositions and tracking down perfunctory punctuation with more enthusiasm than a pig hunting for truffles. I see my job as the linguistic equivalent of cosmetic surgery, and I love it: give me the written equivalent of Elephant Man, and I’ll do my best to turn it into Brad Pitt.

However, I sometimes have problems switching off at the end of the day. This occasionally leads to frustration when it comes to reading in bed, my number two hobby. (Number one is writing – variety is the spice of life.) I recently snuggled up under my quilt with a promisingly well-thumbed Chick Lit novel I’d found in a charity shop. Within two chapters I was swearing blue murder at the rash of bad punctuation running riot throughout the pages. I grumbled audibly, wondering who the hell had edited the English in this book, or whether it had been edited at all. I fiddled with the corner of the page and my vivid imagination took off. I imagined the editor, drinking direct from the Chardonnay bottle as he picked out the odd spelling mistake or typographic error in the script. Then, no doubt tired of fiddling around, he must have grabbed a box of punctuation marks and magnanimously tipped it over the document like a trainee pizzaiolo attacking an unsuspecting Napoletana with an entire tin of capers. The commas scattered away into the different pages like cockroaches trying to find a quiet, damp corner to hide in, and the damage was done.

I told you I had a vivid imagination. In any case, the readability of what promised to be an excellent storyline, suddenly became somewhat, compromised; because the text was mined, with badly placed, punctuation. Ok, so I’ve exaggerated a tad, but you get, what, I mean….

The last straw was the herd of brackets rampaging across each page, giving me the uneasy feeling that the narrator was schizophrenic. The numerous asides thrown into the text made her look like her own sidekick. I threw the book on the floor, where it has remained to this day.

So spare a thought for poor old punctuation he’s having a tough time of it whether on the street or in published form. (Garnish this sentence with both punctuation and parsimony, if you please.) The day punctuation dies, we will have a heavy sentence to face.

No pain, no flame.

It’s strange how a song sometimes pops into your head and you promptly start singing something you don’t remember having ever heard. Yesterday, my ageing database dug a 1917 blockbuster entitled “Keep the home fires burning” out from the bottom of the sweet jar I fondly refer to as my memory. How it got there is still a mystery to me, and I’ll be in touch with my parents soon to ask them whether my grandparents listened to it (it’s either that, or I’m a reincarnation of Rosie the Riveter).

The song oozes with patriotism and terminally stiff British upper lips. It was aired on the radio as the Brits sent their lads off to both world wars, encouraging their families to keep calm, drink tea and carry on until their heroes returned from the battle front. It would merit some black and white film footage featuring a dashing young RAF pilot with a carefully waxed handlebar moustache, kissing his perfectly chignoned pin-up goodbye through the open train window. The girl dabs delicately at her eyes with a spotless lace hanky, then fiddles anxiously with the shiny buttons of his jacket, and cranes upwards for a last lingering kiss on her hero’s lips whispering “Now just you take care, old boy…I love you so much, Roderick…. I’ll tend the fire whilst you’re gone”. Our hero swallows hard, his Adam’s apple bobbing up and down with the emotion as he utters a manly “Tally ho… it’s just toodle-pip for now, my darling” and slips a box of matches into her hand. The train whistle blows and….. damn it. Get back on track, M.M.

1942 ... how to kiss!

Our hero practicing the perfect goodbye kiss (Photo credit: x-ray delta one)

Anyway. When Ivor Novello and Lena Guilbert Ford wrote this song, I don’t think they imagined for even a fleeting second that nearly a hundred years later an Englishwoman would be singing it hysterically at the top of her voice, interspersed by bilingual effing and blinding as she battled with an egg box, a pile of soggy wood and a box of matches somewhere in a cold house in the South of France. Did they know just how frigging hard it is to keep a home fire burning?

P.F and I had always dreamt of a fireplace, with warm flames flickering inside it. I recklessly added a St Bernard to my request, so that I could prop myself up on something warm whilst I read in front of the fireplace. P.F drew the line at anything that big, so I got a Golden Retriever – I suppose I should be happy, as a Chihuahua wouldn’t have survived long with me lying on top of it.

We decided to bite the bullet this summer, after two winters of insufficient and excruciatingly expensive electric heating. We would install a wood fireplace insert in our humble abode and stop financing the French electricity board. We would heat our entire home that way. We would save money and be as snug as the proverbial bugs in a rug, curled up in front of the blazing hearth as the winter set in outside the house. We were optimistic. Little did I know how far I had underestimated the effort required: There was going to be a whole **** load of work involved. No pain, no flame.

First we had to buy the material. A huge silver caterpillar was ordered from King Merlin, houdinied into Albal, brought home, then stuffed up the chimney flue with much puffing and swearing. Hoisting a new chimney onto the roof as P.F and Bigfoot enthusiastically gallavanted 10 metres above ground level was a good test for my oh-so-British calm. The only fun bit was the thrilling surge of power when I realised that if I didn’t tell P.F who was walking below, he would chuck the old chimney on top of Gargamel as he walked underneath.

We found an insert in the local small ads. The white marble surround almost cost us number one child as well as the 100 euros when the seller, obviously one can short of a six-pack, pulled a gun on Bigfoot on our arrival in his garden because “he looked like a gypsy”.

After much dust, sweat, swearing, screaming, sulking and injured fingers, the great day arrived. It was done. Houston, we had fire. We pulled out the Champagne and petit fours  beer and pretzels, and admired the flames dancing within the beast’s innards.

IMG_0882

The (almost) finished result. Awaiting delivery of St Bernard.

Ever since, I have become a cavewoman. Keeping the home fire burning has become a primitive reflex, an obsession. I run through the house screaming to check on my baby, because if the thing goes out it’s a bugger to get started again. I know which newspapers burn best. We are eating more eggs, not because we like them but because egg boxes are part of my foolproof method to light a fire. I get the shopping done at high speed and try to jump the queue, waving my club at everyone and explaining that I have to get back to my cave and tend the fire before the damned thing goes out. I’m already blasé at the idea of running outside to get wood in the rain, and every time I clean out the drawer at the bottom of the stove I wonder how many guys working in crematoriums can face cleaning out more ashes when they get home.

Last night I picked up Little My from school and she said I smelled like a barbecue. Glancing down at my soot-stained clothing, I had to admit I was the only parent who looked like she’d just climbed out of a Welsh coal-pit. When P.F got home, he kissed me hello then absent-mindedly wiped a black stain off my cheek – I looked as if I’d spent my day as an extra in the film version of Zola’s “Germinal”.

So forget the RAF pilot and the pin-up at the station. I’ll settle for a sooty kiss from P.F.  Even if it’s more a case of Bob the Builder than Roderick the RAF pilot, he is nevertheless my hero for courageously fighting the battle against the electricity bill. Now if you’ll just excuse me, it’s time to stoke the fire…..

If you have enjoyed your read, pop by and vote for MM before 14th December in the France expat blog award 2012!

P.S Hearthfelt heartfelt thanks to all those who have voted for Multifarious meanderings on the Expat Blog Awards. If you haven’t done so yet, you still have time to vote for Multifarious meanderings HERE! If you think the blog is worth it’s salt, take a minute to say so, now, because voting closes at 10.00 GMT on 15th December.

Tomboy tales.

Here is today’s confession : I enjoy dressing up in women’s clothing. Sometimes I play it light, with a dress and a pair of flat pumps, and occasionally I go the whole hog by adding a well-cut jacket, tights and a pair of heels. I even go so far as putting on make-up and jewellery and doing my hair on occasions. I turn this way and that, inspect myself from all angles, then get changed before my resident Fashion Police tells me I’m too old/my skirt’s too short/ the occasion’s not right (see this article for more on my fashion advice team).

Warrior Gaze

Perfect hair and make-up for a night out on the tiles (Photo credit: Will Merydith)

Just in case you are about to check out my « About » page for any changes, or wondering if you got the wrong blog address, please stay tuned in to Multifarious Meanderings. I am indeed a woman. I just don’t behave like one. When offered a drink, I go for a beer. I don’t like the colour pink, and I don’t cry delicately like Miss France does. I don’t wear red nail varnish because I think it makes me look like Mrs Doubtfire. I have no idea how to put on make-up without ending up looking like a cross between an Amazonian hunter and a Bois de Boulogne cougar. I have hands like shovels and feet so big they would turn the average Patagonian girl green with envy. My handbag is no more than a survival kit for the entire family and does not contain anything even vaguely resembling make-up (more details for brave readers here). But I’m tall, and I’ve come to enjoy it. After all, there is nothing more satisfying than the supermarket power trip of getting the last box of PG tips off the top shelf for a Frenchman who comes up to your belly button.

I suppose it’s too late now; I have always been a tomboy. Whilst other little girls in my class joined the Brownies then attended ballet classes, I climbed trees with my sisters, played hockey and sailed dinghies. Thanks to the unpleasant comments of other girls in the neighbourhood, I finally realised that clothing had other functions than simply protecting limbs from grazes and bruises when I was in my early teens. I didn’t care: you can’t sail in a skirt.

I would try to grow my hair from time to time, then got annoyed with it getting in my face and sidled off to the hairdresser’s. I always returned to see my father’s face light up at my short back and sides, and my mother roll her eyeballs in mock despair. The expression on my Mum’s face the day she saw me in a wedding dress will stay with me all my life; delight combined with a tangible fear that I’d trip over it before I got to sign the register. A close friend said, « Oooh, look….  your Dad’s all emotional because you’re getting married! » She was a little nonplussed when I told her that he was probably emotional because it was the first time he’d seen me in a dress since I was ten years old.

When I went to University, I finally grew my hair long and occasionally « dressed up as a girl ». Most times it turned sour, the most memorable occasion being a Cinderella-style outing with my BMF (Best Male Friend) who had a «”his and hers » invitation to a classy military dinner dance. I reminded him that I was a very dangerous choice if he wanted someone who didn’t put their foot in it at official functions. He insisted, so I reluctantly agreed and started getting my head around the logistics of looking like a girl.

Being a dainty size 9, finding girly shoes was about as easy as resolving the israeli-palestinian conflict. After drawing a blank in all the “normal” shoe shops, I finally bought a pair of impossibly high black heels in a shop where I suspected only transvestites shopped. I practiced crossing my room in them every evening for a week until I considered I could remain upright long enough to avoid attracting the attention of the local police. I borrowed a fabulously feminine 1940’s blue silk ball gown off a friend.

Cinderella - Prince Charming & Cinderella

P.F and M.M in a parallel universe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

On The Big Night, a girlfriend attacked me with a hairbrush and her collection of  war paint, and when I finally looked in the mirror I didn’t recognise myself. I set off on foot from my University digs, teetering self-consciously towards the street. The ground suddenly seemed too far away. I made a mental note not to drink if I wanted to get home without resorting to my hands and knees. I could do it.

Yet when I saw the last pumpkin to the ball waiting at the bus stop, the real me took over. That stupid student reflex reared its head: if you see a bus, run. I promptly forgot about the stilts I had strapped on my feet, stuffed my purse into my cleavage, hooked up armfuls of ball gown and sprinted for the bus.  I should have known better: only Cinderella managed to lose one shoe and escape with the other. My ankle twisted, and I ended up sprawled inelegantly across the pavement with my tights ripped, cursing like a sailor as I tried to keep the blood from staining the dress. The bus driver kindly scooped me up and plopped me onto a seat, transformed from aspiring princess to a sad pile of Grandma’s old curtains with a skew-whiff chignon dropped on top. He gave me an elastoplast at the next red light, and gallantly dropped me off right in front of my chaperon’s door.

The ensuing evening was a nightmare as my ankle doubled in size. We ended up driving to the local A&E unit, where BMF insisted on carrying me from the car to reception. The staff blinked, some dewy-eyed and others perplexed at the sight of BMF in his uniform, a ballgown-clad, barefoot M.M yelling “Put me down, do you know how much I weigh?” from over his shoulder. We must have looked like an offbeat Prince Charming and Cinderella on their way to a fancy-dress party.

That was the day I decided that I can only ever dress up as a girl inside the house. I don’t know where BMF is now, or what he’s doing, but I doubt he will have forgotten that evening either. I just hope he changed his recruitment criteria for any future official dinner dates, or chances are he’ll still be single.

Flying in the face of technology.

P.F and I are slowly but surely becoming what the French term  “décroissant”. Although this word conjures up the image of a gallic breakfast reversing off the kitchen table, it actually describes someone who refuses to keep up with the Jones’.

Extreme décroissants push things as far throwing out their car, TV and fridge. We’re not that masochistic, yet slowly but surely, I am backing away from much of the intrusive technology I first saw as salutary. I kept up with progress for a while, but now it has overtaken me and is jogging down the road several miles in front of me, with my offspring chasing full pelt behind. You can have too much of a good thing, and personally, I’ve reached saturation level: funnily enough, I have discovered that I have a relatively low tolerance level for high-tech gadgets. A little like eating ice cream three times a day, seven days a week, being permanently available to the world and his brother inevitably became a drag.

That’s how I recently decided to pack in my “smart” phone and its high-tech communication deal, along with all those sophisticated, modern-day bells and whistles for a phone that …. well …… phones. No more, no less. My “smart” phone was in fact way too smart for me. I found it more smart ass than smart; it made me feel inadequate. It told me off for using up too much memory, pretended it had no network when I needed to phone, and snidely reminded me that as thirty days had gone by I should get my act together and save all my contacts (I never established what I was saving them from, but thirty days down the line it was probably too late anyway).

Within two years I had limited my efforts to learning how to send text messages, take photos, read Facebook and news updates, and make phone calls (this is one up on P.F, who still obstinately refuses to learn how to type a text message on the grounds that he still knows how to speak).

Whilst bored to tears on a long road trip, I even accidentally managed to set up my phone to receive my emails whilst trying to get rid of something else. It obligingly woke me up all night for weeks on end with spam from mail order catalogues until I implored Bigfoot to put me out of my misery and give it the kiss of death. I chose to remain happily oblivious to its remaining capacities, which remained dormant until an ecstatic Rugby boy inherited it, irritatingly taming the beast within ten minutes of its adoption.

Bigfoot has caustically dubbed P.F’s basic communication tool “a phone box”. His own phone (which he deems to be “ancient” at the grand old age of two)  is apparently capable of everything bar dancing and emptying the dustbin, and seems to require more tender loving care than a newborn. The visible panic attack when he thinks that he has mislaid baby Sam (Sung) is touching, and I can only hope that he will be as attentive to his offspring one day. Our status as retrograde, back-pedalling, old-fashioned and frumpy K-shoe-wearing excuses for modern-day parents gives us the privilege to rule out the acquisition of an iPhone. Whatever the peer pressure may be, I see no reasonable grounds to justify my teenager wandering around with a toy costing the equivalent of four trolleys of family grub in his pocket. Sorry, kiddo. We need the cash for our Zimmer frames.

Caveman Couple

P.F and M.M out in the urban jungle on the hunt for a mammoth for the family BBQ (Photo credit: San Diego Shooter)

My phone bill has decreased dramatically, and I feel strangely liberated by the fact that social networks don’t follow me outside the house and take my attention away from the things I missed before. Ironically, so many people seem to miss out on real contact with real people because their noses are glued to their Facebook pages.

I think I made a wise move.  After all, the more complicated things are, the more things can go wrong with them. A perfect example of this is Albal, our newfangled Citroën people-carrier (I call her Albal because she’s kitchen foil colour. I know, I need help, but I’m happy this way. Honest). If I invested as much money in myself as we do in that car, I’d be a whole new woman.

Albal is currently at the garage for some very expensive TLC, simply because her central locking system has thrown a paddy. I suspect her of fancying the mechanic, because she’s always finding some excuse to go there and flutter her headlamps at him. She’s a modern girl, with all sorts of electronic gadgets which would be more at home on the Starship Enterprise.

NCC-1701-C

Albal, alias the Starship Enterprise  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She is also the most talkative car I’ve ever come across,  squeaking with happiness when I lock her, and coyly flickering her indicators at me in the supermarket car park when I return with my overflowing trolley. She also has an infuriating habit of flashing supercilious advice up on the dashboard which is either as obvious as a slap in the face with a wet kipper, or simply a case of closing the barn door after the horse has bolted. You know the type, like “It’s cold out, watch out for ice” when you’re shivering in the driver’s seat, or saying “Gee, it looks like the fuel levels getting low! Too bad that you’re in the middle of nowhere and you only have ten litres left, huh?”, or (my favourite) “Your tyre’s punctured, better stop” (I was lost between two vineyards in the middle of nowhere, and could clearly hear the air hissing out of the tyre after driving over a screw big enough to have dropped off the Titanic).

Helga, our 31 year-old Volkswagen, has never done that to us: she’s the mechanical equivalent of Lego. She lets loose with a contented roar when you hit the accelerator, and the suspension squeaks like it’s full of hyped–up hamsters as you go over the bumps in the road. Park up, press the button down, squeeze the handle, slam the door, hey presto. Locked car. No gadgets, no gizmos. But just like Marks & Sparks bras, Helga never lets a girl down.

Anyway, time to get back to the real world now. I have to dig out those matching bear-skin outfits for P.F and I to wear for Christmas lunch.

A pain in the neck.

Here’s the winner of this week’s incongruous comment competition: “Take your clothes off: I want you topless in the room next-door in five minutes”.

I won't be doing this anymore.....

Anyone who thinks this post is going to be about middle-aged bedroom antics is going to be sorely disappointed. There’ll be no necking for me for a while, even if P.F appears in the kitchen dressed in leopard-skin undies with a glass of bubbly in each hand and a red rose clenched between his teeth. My neck is stiffer than the legendary British upper lip, due to two badly-behaved cervical vertebrae that have hatched a dastardly plan to transform me into a pathetically rigid excuse for a human being sporting bags under the eyes that could double up as post office sacks.

You know you’re getting old when the order to undress comes from a lady in a white lab coat. I felt ridiculously self-conscious as I tried to keep my balance on a platform that wiggled and slid around beneath my feet.  The machinery clunked and shuddered its way around me taking clichés of my innards as the technician barked instructions at me. I sternly reminded myself that I had already given birth in front of complete strangers and had not given a damn about who was watching, but still felt as embarrassed as a teenager in the school shower room.

If I was in this situation, it was because I had finally given up pretending it didn’t hurt. For nights on end I had gritted my teeth in the dark and pondered over the irony of the great idiom “to be a pain in the neck”. It didn’t take the linguist in me long to start thinking up all the expressions using the names of body parts in the English language, and more particularly, the neck. When you’re stranded on your back in bed like a beached whale, incapable of moving and condemned to hearing the rest of the planet happily snoring around you, there’s nothing better to do than exercise your neurones, encouraging them to do something other than scream that you have passed your maximum pain threshold.

Removed from school

Removed from school (Photo credit: theirhistory)

“Neck and neck”, “in this neck of the woods”, “to neck”, “to stick your neck out”, “to put your neck on the line”, “to risk your neck”…. when I had exhausted all the available linguistic options ten days later, I gave up and practically crawled to the doctor’s surgery. I pooh-poohed the idea of structural problems with a brave grin, informing her that everything in there was made in Great Britain: stainless, gleaming, top-notch bone merchandise strengthened by decades of cheddar consumption and reinforced by the little bottles of milk with silver tops and straws that were served daily throughout my stint in primary school. Every time I think of that period of my life, I feel like humming the Hovis bread advert and developing a broad Geordie accent.

However, I was wrong, and the doctor was right. As we left the building, I opened the envelope and peered at the results. Medical vocabulary is fun – I think that one day I’ll write the alternative medical dictionary. My results were clearly printed, short and to the point. “Conclusion: Discopathy”. I  joked to Emmamuse that if I’d been asked what it was on the previous day, I would have guessed it was a severe allergy to nightclubs.  But despite this attempt at humour, my legendary and indestructible flagship, HMS Optimism, had taken a fatal blow and was listing dangerously in the oily, black waters of self-pity.

I poignantly remembered a character from a favourite childhood musical sadly saying, “the mere mention of the unmentionable makes me immeasurably morose and melancholy”. Yup, seeing the first signs of getting old sucks. Any hope to become a contortionist or a pole dancer could henceforth be shelved along with other unattainables like having a bath without one of my offspring asking if I’ve finished yet, toting a tidy handbag and being woman enough to wax my bikini line without having downed three G&T’s beforehand.

We turned right, walked for two minutes and raided our favourite charity shop before heading home. This necessary therapy cost the princely sum of two euros and was both immediate and painless: the purchase of two warm, brightly-coloured scarves and sharing a refreshing dose of laughter. In the car, I asked Emmamuse whether one day we’d have to change our name from “The Emmamuses” (see “The charity shop hop” for more details) to “The Arthritis Sisters”. We decided that whatever curses Mother Nature thows our way, we will always be the Emmamuses. And in the mean time, I’ll happily kiss any ground walked on by the inventor of the anti-inflammatory.

Have a “nice” day!

Love

Love (Photo credit: praram)

This morning I got up, woke my kids up, and took them to school. Between emptying the washing machine and filling the tumble dryer, I called a friend to check if she was ok, because I knew she had a tough day in store. Then I sorted out a run to the supermarket with my retired neighbour: we both hate the food shopping ritual, but we always manage to have a whale of a time when we go together.

When I got home, I dumped my shopping bags on the table and switched on the radio, just in time to hear that today is apparently « national kindness day » in France. I was surprised, in the same way as when it was « Women’s day »  (I couldn’t help wondering if the 364 others had been bagged for « Mens’ days »).

However commendable this initiative may be, I wonder if I am alone in finding it depressingly inane to ask people to think about their fellow-man on one particular day of the year. Doesn’t this imply that the instigators of this « kindness day » consider that society today is overtly individualistic and selfish? Hardly a positive view of humanity….

The word « gentil » in French means « kind » or « nice » (a word my mum hates and always asked me to replace by a « real adjective », and I agree. Sorry, Mum). However, it is also used in a much more pejorative form, implying that a person is one can short of a six-pack; in other words, simple-minded or lacking in intelligence. I have always wondered whether this double-barrelled definition linking kindness with stupidity hides a Gallic conviction that if you are kind, you’re going to have the wool pulled over your eyes and be considered a gullible twerp within very little time.

The French personality in this neck of the woods is direct, latin, and passionate, and this sugarcoated, over-the-top and Care-Bearish  « show-everyone-you-love-them-day» concept just doesn’t seem right here. I see smiles everywhere, every day, and people gladly communicate if you send the right signals. Some people are so anxious to get their message through that the conversations are spiced up with regular squeezing of hands and prodding of arms, making the interlocutor feel like an unripe melon on the local market place. However, the same passion can apply to those who don’t send positive signals and want to be left alone, and it’s their right.

There are of course the ones who don’t give a monkey’s uncle about anyone else unless the latter can provide something interesting.  Today, these unscrupulous individuals may even presume that as it’s « kindness day », other people will have to roll out the red carpet for them. Imagine the scene in the crowded supermarket car park:

Q. « Excuse me, sir, but I sincerely believe I was waiting for this parking space before you arrived. And you know, today is « national kindness day ». So would you mind terribly if I took the space and you found another one ?»

A. « If it’s national kindness day today, then you can be kind and back off, before I am generous enough to give you a broken nose. Oh, and for what it’s worth, thanks for the parking space ».

Ok, I’m exaggerating a tad (although I have actually seen the exact same thing happen in a car park here) but I don’t think that the people really concerned by this initiative will bother making an effort today.

Forrest Gump (character)

Forrest Gump (character) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As for those who aren’t bad eggs as such, but just don’t seem to see or need the gazillions of people milling around them in over the course of their everyday lives, why bother being a hypocrite for just one day? Someone who prefers to barricade himself within the comfort of his headphones in the bus after a long day at work rather than talk with strangers isn’t going to make an exception. Let’s face it, not everyone sitting on a park bench is a potential Forrest Gump with a box of chocolates to share and breathtaking stories to tell – and less and less people in our urban jungle are interested enough to hang around to find out when the last bus home rounds the corner.

The other thing that I object to with this «special day» business is the underlying implication that on the other days of the year, it simply doesn’t matter. People who are kind do it automatically, I think.  And those who aren’t kind react in the same way – they are naturally either unpleasant or simply anesthetized against other people’s needs from an early age.

I was laughing with my neighbour yesterday about « neighbourhood day », the date when French neighbours all over the nation are supposed to get together in the street for a huge party. Every day is neighbourhood day in our building: not a day goes past without a quick coffee, a chat, or finding a bag of homegrown vegetables hanging on the kitchen door handle. We all watch out for each other. Ok, all except for Gargamel, who would rather gouge his own eyes out with his garden trowel than partake in mundane chat. So we just let him be.

So I suppose that what I’m trying to say is that people don’t change. You either have the happy, people-orientated, look-out-for-others instinct, or you don’t. And if you don’t, then it’s certainly not « special days » spun by the media that will change you….

Handbag horrors.

The last time I told Bigfoot to look in my handbag for something, a mixture of terror and disgust crossed his face.  He passed me my bag, muttering  « Here. You do it ». He was right to be concerned : it’s a bottomless pit containing so much junk that even Ali Baba would pale at the idea of opening it.

This sad state of affairs led me to wonder recently about the poor person who would be obliged to rummage through my handbag for a source of my identity if I was ever run over by a double-decker bus. So out of pure curiosity, I emptied my bag this morning to get an idea. And here’s the verdict. Before anyone finally discovers the passport and driving licence buried beneath the accumulated rubble of my daily activities, he or she will first discover the following exotic sundries:

Three screwed up paper handkerchiefs. A handful of Halloween sweet wrappers. Several supermarket receipts. One plastic toy cow, covered in sand. A foam dart from Rugby-boy’s toy. Two shopping lists. One mobile phone. One pair of sunglasses. Three chapsticks. A pile of visiting cards. An entire family of tampons. A cheque book, two credit cards and my tatty leather purse. A flier for a recently discovered book store. My blood test results and a phone bill that never made it to the domestic goddess filing cabinet. Keys. Lots of them.  Little My’s cardigan. A silk scarf. The envelope containing the cheque for the phone bill, which screams helplessly from the depths of its sarcophagus every time I walk past a letter box. Oh, and the crumbs from the baguette I balance over the top of all the aforementioned junk on the walk home from school every day. A handbag therefore betrays the age and lifestyle of its owner; it is a blueprint of a woman’s very existence.

I never had that handbag that other girls danced around at school discos when I was young. I was a tomboy, so my pockets were big enough for the only things I had to put anywhere: my hands.  I didn’t have much in common with the other lesser-spotted teenaged birds and thus avoided dragging make-up, hairbrush and other Barbie equipment around with me. Yet I was shortly to discover the sinister reality of the working world: career-girl clothes have fake pockets. I couldn’t jam everything into my sensible brown leather briefcase, however hard I tried. I was therefore dragged, kicking and screaming, into the handbag world: the only solution for my keys, money, and papers.

A few years later, I upgraded to a larger, mini rucksack-style model and added the first time mother’s kit to the equation. Baby wipes, a spare nappy, plastic bags, an emergency jar of baby food, a Tommy Tippee and a gum soother joined the phone and filofax in the swelling ranks of « just incase » items inside The Bag. As my family grew, I began to feel an increasing need for a Mary Poppins number which would mysteriously ingurgitate my ever-increasing quantity of rubbish. My brothers-in-law came up trumps last year when they offered me a fabulous carpet-bag tribute to Perfidious Albion with a Union Jack printed on the side. It has a huge appetite and happily swallows absolutely everything I throw inside it.

Beware of the handbag. Despite its innocent appearance, it can get you into serious trouble. Come on, hands up… who else has already come out in a cold sweat at security controls out there?

My all-time best was at a Swiss airport, many years ago. I had flu, and was doped up to the eyeballs with paracetamol in a bid to lower my temperature. I said goodbye to P.F and the children, and queued for the plane that would take me home to Britain for my grandmother’s funeral. In a desperate bid to stem the welling tears, I started rummaging through my bag for my passport. My stomach promptly did a somersault as my fingers traced around the outline of Bigfoot’s black plastic toy pistol, which I had confiscated, then promptly forgotten, the day before.

Dropping it in the bin was out of the question, unless I fancied creating bedlam and checking out the airport police offices instead of attending Grandma’s funeral. I coughed nervously and eyed the electric blue-lashed girl behind the counter, wondering if she was the type to press a panic button and scream hysterically. Feeling like a repentant Ma Baker, the only thing I found to say was « I’m going to take something out of my bag and put it on the counter. Please don’t scream, it’s not a real one ». She looked at it with wide eyes, and said « I’m very sorry, you can’t take weapons on the flight ». No shit, Sherlock. After five minutes of phone calls and grumbling from the huge queue growing behind me, Bigfoot’s gun was taken off to the lost and found desk. And as far as I know, that’s where it still is today…..