Random Reflections on Hair Dye Marketing.

When I sidle up to the hair dye aisle at our local supermarket, it is more by necessity than an overwhelming desire to transform myself into Jessica Rabbit. I’m there because I’m starting to look like a sheepdog that has been put through the tumble drier, and I need functional products that cut the crap and deliver the goods. Cosmetics marketing teams seem to consider my demand to be far too modest for my own good, and I am increasingly flummoxed by their crusade to depict dyeing my hair as an elegant and sensual experience – light years from the reality of squirting a bottle full of chemicals on my head in the family bathroom.

The Food Thing

On my last visit to the hair dye shelf, I twigged that food is one of the main strategies manufacturers use to sell hair dye. My first-world problem of choosing between brown and brown was played out to the music of my stomach, noisily duetting with my neighbour’s rumbling tummy. We made our choices. For MM, “Frosted Chestnut”, finally won the battle with the outsider, “Chocolate Fudge”. My neighbour picked a shade of black called “Blackcurrant” that would probably leave her looking like Morticia Addams dipped headfirst into a vat of Ribena.

No wonder we were hungry: the majority of the colour names referred to food. Licorice, plum, cherry, chilli, paprika or hot chocolate … welcome to a world where you don’t just eat chocolate brownies, you put a liquid imitation of them in your hair and instantly become good enough to eat. The idea of food had simply woken up my happy hormones and titillated my consumer taste buds, making the most inedible of products look appetizing. I will never shop for hair dye before lunch again, because reading about hazelnuts, mango, caramel, burgundy and honey makes me want to dump my basket and run off to raid the cake display.

Gladys always had a brandy to celebrate her

Gladys always had a brandy to celebrate her “me time” before she redecorated the bathroom with hair dye. She’d let the kids out of the garden shed later.  (Source: Wikimedia commons)

Polly Pout and the Instructions Leaflet

I’m always bemused by the glossy instructions sheet. It stars Polly Pout, a sultry seductress sporting red lipstick and a sulfurous gaze. She is delicate enough to fit both hands and feet into the dwarf-sized rubber gloves, and does not have a single grey hair in her impeccably styled mane. Yep, she looks just like we all do before we dye our hair.

She is also far too young for her hair-dyeing equation to include one child staging a sit-down protest outside the bathroom door and another that has climbed on to the toilet seat and is eyeing you suspiciously, pants around his ankles, waiting for the crucial moment when your hands are covered in gunk to utter those fateful words: “Muuummy, I’ve fiiiinished”.

The marketing message here appears to be that an hour in the bathroom dying our hair is all we need to free the Polly Pout hiding deep inside us. I wouldn’t recommend it, though. Although she could star as Bruce Willis’ sidekick in a parody action thriller called “Dye Hard”, Miss Pout will never make it to James Bond girl status as she appears to be all beauty and no brain. Although the instructions clearly state that you should cover your shoulders with a towel before applying the dye, Miss Pout has not only forgotten the towel, but also her clothing. So follow the pictures without reading first at your peril, and don’t forget to lock the front door.

For those who think I'm exaggerating, here is a photo of Polly Pout illustrating points 7 and 8 my instructions leaflet.

For those who think I’m exaggerating, here is a photo I took of Polly Pout illustrating points 7 and 8 in my instructions leaflet.

Glamour and Glove Love

Uber-sexy accessories are the final touch to seduce customers. Back in the noughties, the  rustling pair of transparent gloves stuck to the back of the instructions leaflet were roomy enough to house twin udders. Then the manufacturers down-sized the gloves and put them in a plastic recipient that made your five-year-old go into instant melt-down when he concluded that mummy had stolen his Kinder egg.

Recently, some bright soul down-sized the gloves again and sealed them inside a bag that resists all attempts to be opened (just like its evil counterpart, the sachet of Bee Sweat Extract & Lotus Blossom conditioner). The sleek jet-black gloves it contains are the ideal size for a pre-schooler, and getting my paws into them was like trying to fit Muhammad Ali into Paris Hilton’s swimsuit. So please wake up and smell the peroxide, guys: hands, like other appendages, come in different sizes. I’d hate to have to stain my pristine, unused housework gloves because yours are too small.

The effort to add a bit of sensuality to the mundane experience of hair dye application is much appreciated, but the slippery combination of a satin-feel bottle and undersized, silk-feel gloves was as practical as wearing a sheath dress and high heels to climb the Mont Blanc. The bottle was harder to grasp than French politics, and slipped through my fingers like a two-year-old covered in poster paint.

Thumbs up for the 30 minute wait for the product to work its miracle, though. It gave me ample time to clean up the collateral damage of suspicious brown stains splattered across the bathroom and explain to Little My that although Mummy was swearing like a trooper, had brown ears and was bursting out of her black gloves like Popeye on steroids, with a slap of red lipstick she would be as appetizing as a bowl of frosted chestnuts just in time for Papa’s return from work. Just like Polly Pout.

Guidelines for a Harmonious Home.

Domestic Diva Depression.

Domestic Diva Depression (care of MM Playmo productions).

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

Sorting out the escape kit

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

 

1. CLOTHING.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

2. THE BATHROOM.

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

 

3. THE KITCHEN.

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

4. ELECTRICAL HOUSEHOLD EQUIPMENT.

 

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

 

A vacuum cleaner from AEG

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

 

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

 

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

 

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The Day MM Pooh-poohed the New Year.

I’m a self-confessed New Year party pooper. Call me cynical if you will, but I don’t do New Year celebrations. Much my teenaged offspring’s disgust, I don’t party, get drunk, sing Auld Lang Syne, kiss strangers at midnight or wear silly hats. I will happily settle for a nicer than normal meal with my family, then switch off my mobile phone and toddle off to bed so that I can make the most out of the following day, when we generally have the world to ourselves as the rest of France either gets over its hangover or feeds its face once again. But this year, Karma decided to bite me on the bum for pooh-poohing the New Year, and this is how it happened.

English: Bulldog

MM at a New Year’s eve knees-up (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I woke up happy and hang-over free on New Year’s day. After a leisurely breakfast with PF, I power-showered myself into positive thinking for the day. I congratulated myself on the fact that I was a practical woman who can change a wheel and paint a ceiling. Come to think of it, my eagle eye had spotted that the bath plughole was not draining fast enough during my power shower…

Three years ago, MM and PF were silly enough to buy an old house with waste pipes the diameter of your average toothpick. You could have driven a Sherman tank down the  waste pipes in our previous house – a luxury compared to the congested B-road network we have in our current bathroom. The equivalent of three narrow Cornish lanes join together in a pint-sized spaghetti junction, hastily assembled and buried forever in a cement sarcophagus by the previous owner of the house. Needless to say, when this particular junction gets blocked, the traffic backs up further than anything you can see on the M25 at rush hour, with wet and smelly consequences that must be avoided at all costs. But I could deal with that – easy peesy, lemon-squeezy.  I’d already proved my prowess as a bog-standard plumber.

And THAT was when MM made the mistake of biting off more than she could chew. Pride comes before a fall, and Karma was ready to bite me on the bum with a crap surprise she had waiting in the pipeline. Cue theme music to “the Good, the Bad and the Ugly” to get you in the mood:

As the rest of France was settling down to their starters on the New Year’s ritual gastronomic frenzy of oyster/salmon/foie gras quaffing, MM was peering down the open washing machine waste pipe – the only available access to the lost tunnels of Sewage City. Grasping a coiled, 10m long snake in her right hand, MM was a hybrid of Calamity Jane and Indiana Jones: a mean, clean, bog-busting machine.

For those of you who are happily unsavvy about the plumbing world, the snake ( – or the “ferret”, as the French nicely call it -) is a basic necessity for unblocking pipes. This long, flexible, metal rod can go where no woman has ever gone (nor would ever wish to go): through the murky labyrinth of stinky pipes stretching from your bathroom to the rat-infested sewers below.

In theory, Mr Snake blasts his way through the blockage in the pipe, and dislodges it. The pipe then belches loudly and sends up fumes that make Indian take-away burps smell like cherry blossom, then MM tidies up her equipment and gets back to more feminine activities. In theory.

In reality, MM looked for her rubber gloves, and couldn’t find them anywhere because PF had tidied them up so well they’d disappeared. Rather than acknowledging that reality was tapping her on the shoulder, MM unwisely decided that she would go for it anyway, equipped with two old t-shirts and her inimitable optimism: having power-showered all self-doubt into oblivion, she was certain that this would be sorted in five minutes flat because she was simply the master of the Universe.

Calamity Jane (film)

MM, Snake Charmer and Master of the Plumbing Universe.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

45 minutes later, MM was feeling flushed (for lack of a better word), squashed in the small space behind the washer with no more than her heaving stomach for company. Battering away at the constipated pipe with Sammy the snake, I coolly enquired if a few prunes would do the job. A little while later, PF popped his head around the door and grinned as I swore copiously at the plumbing in both French and English. I finally realised that whilst I was probing the innards of the waste pipes, the rest of France was dipping their crudités in tapenade. I promptly lost my cool, and angrily yanked the flexible rod back out of the pipe.

Now flexible rods, being flexible, tend to have a life of their own when pulled at speed from a confined pipe. That’s how MM ended up redecorating herself, the floor and the bathroom tiles with modern, albeit odorant, art. Bang on time, Little My opened the bathroom door and wrinkled her nose delicately as she contemplated her mother, who was splattered from head to foot in raw sewage and looked like she’d been mud wrestling with hippos at the local water treatment plant.  I suspect that I have put her off Nutella for ever.

I attacked everything in sight with bleach (rest in peace, black t-shirt). I had a second, (not so power) shower. I sat down to lunch with wild eyes and frizzy hair, stinking of bleach. The plug hole still drains slowly. But looking on the bright side of things, if you start the year up to your eyeballs in shit, things can only get better.

The Secret Diary of a Smug Married.

Bridget Jones is back. She has apparently gone full-circle, and is now Mark Darcy-less once again. The question is, am I going to read a third serving of Bridget?

I really don’t know. I remember loving the first two books. Then a few years and three births later, I picked up the first book again, and realised that my initial sympathy for the misunderstood, nicotine-addicted bachelorette had not only waned, but had been replaced by a sneaking desire to slip into the pages and stick her oversized knickers over her head. After a day knee-deep in toys, trying to deal with the laundry equivalent of Vesuvius whilst a newborn baby mistook my nipples for chewing gum, a wailing, incontinent two-year-old clung to my shins and my five-year-old cut up the magazine I had bought in a feverish moment of optimism two months before, the last thing I needed to read about when I had five minutes barricaded in the loo was a singleton wino whining because she was alone with a bottle of wine and the TV remote.

Many years further down the line, I must admit that I am curious to know what kind of mother Bridget became. Did she finally realise how lucky she had been to be able to fall out of bed after a full night’s sleep and have a shower without a posse of screaming under-fives trying to batter the door down? We will never know. Not only is Mark Darcy dead (no more Colin Firth for the next film, sniff), but the novel starts when Bridget is 51 and widowed; we will never see Bridget testing the water as the Smug Married she detested so much. So without wishing to step on Helen Fielding’s toes, here is an extract from “The Secret Diary of a Smug Married” – an example of what really happens after being swept off your feet by your personal Mark Darcy.

Tupperware advertisement featuring a Joe Stein...

Wonder Woman, the ultimate Smug Married, admiring her stolen collection of Tupperware Trophies. (Photo credit: State Library and Archives of Florida)

  FRIDAY.

6.15 a.m. Dream involving a beach, a book and a huge Italian ice cream interrupted by two-year-old peeling open eyelid and saying, “Bekfust.”

6.30 a.m. Test pain threshold by stepping on Lego brick in the dark. Track down reluctant school-age offspring hibernating under quilts. Stagger downstairs. Trip over cat. Find coffee jug. Cat bites foot. Pour coffee. Cat bites other foot. Feed cat. Drink coffee.

6.45 a.m. Husband appears, requests specific item of clothing. Establish that said garment is still in sodden, wet ball inside washing machine. Make secret wish to transform into hybrid of Adriana Karambeu and Martha Stewart who wakes up with perfectly toned body, brushed hair and perfect make-up, and always finds the right lids for her Tupperware boxes.

7 a.m. Step on bathroom scales, see with pleasure that weight is still “LO”. Push scales lovingly back into place, vow never to change the batteries again. Run downstairs and polish off remaining pain au chocolat on kitchen work top. Congratulate self for altruistic act, thus ensuring that thieving, bulimic cat will not be sick on floor and children will not argue at breakfast table.

7.45 a.m. Leave for school with eight-year-old, five-year-old and two-year-old. Spot Wonder Woman carrying cake box. With sinking stomach, remember promise to make cake for infant school cake stand.

8 a.m.  Kiss child number one good bye. Buy Wonder Woman’s overpriced organic carrot cake as soon as it arrives on Junior school cake stand.

8.15 a.m. Drop off child number two at infant school. Cheerfully hand over home-made carrot cake. Magnanimously inform teacher that you are available to accompany children on school trip to local fire station. Teacher declines and expresses delight at unexpected mass of mothers ready to make time for school activities. Roll eyes. Explain that line-up of firefighters is somewhat more attractive prospect for 30-something mothers than traipsing to library in pouring rain. Recommend giving priority to mothers who may decide against attending further winter swimming pool sessions to dry and dress 25 shivering five-year-olds in five minutes.

8.20 a.m. Leave school having secured place on school trip.

1950s Modern Kitchen, Automatic Dishwasher, 1953

“…and Mummy’s left enough room for you too, unless you go and wash your hands NOW”. (Photo credit: classic_film)

8.30 a.m. Clear collateral damage from breakfast and emerge from kitchen to find two-year-old recreating M&M’s scene from E.T using cat food and enthusiastic family feline.

9.30 a.m. Switch into professional person mode and work on laptop as two-year-old remains miraculously quiet in corner.

10.30 a.m. Discover reason for offspring’s silence: Little My has thoughtfully illustrated and coloured each page of sibling’s library book. Play figurines and fight with daughter over casting Prince Charming as broom-pusher and Cinderella as heroine on horseback.

11.45 a.m. Realise that PF’s sodden clothing is still waiting in machine. Drag into back yard, hang it on the line. Hide underwear behind sheets just in case neighbour has underwear fetish.

12.30 p.m. Open fridge. Regret self-satisfied purchase of healthy stuff for lunch at supermarket instead of the chips and pizza seen in other mums’ baskets. Stare at phone and will it to ring with invitation for calorie-loaded lunch and bottle of wine. Phone remains mute. Push salad to back of fridge. Eat fish fingers and pasta with Little My.

1 p.m. Attempt telephone conversation with insurance company. Reassure person on other end of line that it is not her you are telling her to stop picking her nose, but your two-year-old.

1.15 p.m. Cuddle child to sleep.

1.45 p.m. Awaken dribbling into pillow beside snoring child.

3.45 p.m. Lift head from work, realise that child is still asleep and siblings will be released from class in 20 minutes. Recognise sound of rain on window. Run outside to get soaking laundry, put in washing machine on full spin. Wake up two-year-old with cheerful “Let’s get dressed!”

4.10 p.m. Arrive at school to collect children with red-eyed, triumphant child wearing Fairy Queen costume, rain coat and Wellington boots. Nod head modestly at congratulations for wonderful cake with fingers crossed behind back. Make mental note to ask Wonder Woman for recipe incase anyone asks for it.

5.30 p.m. Homework vortex. Faced with suspicious face of oldest child, acknowledge inadequate mastering of rocket science (aka primary school maths), and agree that sub-standard mother trailing meagre literary excuse for University education cannot understand said subject of genius. Invite child to consult the Oracle, aka his genitor, on his return from the land of the living.

6.30 p.m. Return of family silver back. Cook dinner with a little wine (wine in glass, not in dinner).

Dan

The Tooth Fairy’s husband (Photo credit: obscene_pickle)

7.30 p.m.  Write letter to Tooth Fairy after epic tooth fairy fail on previous night : “Dear Tooth Fairy. Mum is sorry about last night. She swept up my tooth with the bread crumbs by mistake. But it was a pretty tooth. If you want it, Mum says it’s in the wheelie bin.” Consider asking Tooth Fairy’s husband to brandish magic wand at crack of dawn for a change. Decide against this: karma may bite Tooth Fairy on backside if husband interprets the notion of waving magic wand differently than intended.

8 p.m. Argue over choice of film. Wish self was Bridget Jones alone on sofa with bottle of Chardonnay and TV remote.

10 p.m. Throw self headfirst on bed in dark yelling “Geronimooooo!!!!!!!!!”. Find bed surprisingly lumpy. Bed says “ouch” and giggles. Make mental note to check if children are hiding in bed before repeating exercise. Feel like smug married. Enjoy.

10.30 p.m. In dark, husband enquires about item of clothing. Realise that it is still in sodden ball  in the washing machine.

Flower Power

Your humble scribe likes flowers and plants – as long as it’s on someone else’s patch. So this morning I was thrilled by an unexpected virtual wander around blogger Kathryn’s beautiful garden on her great blog Vastly Curious, which you can find here. The wisteria blooming out of the screen was so real that it would have any asthmatic reaching out for their inhaler. I was instantly reminded of my love-hate relationship with plants: they love to hate me.

I follow two blogs that talk about plants and flowers in the hope of discovering where I went wrong. Letters and Leaves has a twin passion for plants and literature. She ties her spade and rake to her bike, Macgyver-style, before cycling off with her book to her vegetable plot. I take my horticultural hat off to her, because she not only manages to make things grow, but actually eats what she produces.  I also have a soft spot for “A north east ohio garden”, where John Hric writes with enthusiasm about his day lilies – and the adventure of crossing them to create new flowers. His impatience to see what results from cross-breeding trials is catching, and I am intrigued by the tender way he refers to the “parents” and “grandparents” of each new “baby” he presents.

But put me in charge of John’s garden, and it would be transformed from a lush Garden of Eden to a post-apocalyptic wasteland faster than you can say “Alan Titchmarsh”. I freely admit to being the Grim Reaper of the vegetal vortex. The green finger gene deftly sidestepped me on its way through our family tree. In the same way that my mother just has to look at a plant for it to instantly transform the kitchen window sill into a dense stretch of Amazonian forest, a simple glance from MM is enough to make anything green keel over and die. Plants and I have an unspoken mutual agreement by which anything that isn’t already in the vegetable tray commits herbal hara-kiri within a month of meeting me.

Grim Reaper (advertisement)

“I hoe, I hoe, it’s off to compost you go…” MM’s alternative gardening version of the seven dwarves’ chart buster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My main problem with plants is that they are at our mercy for everything. The thing that worries me the most is that the damned things have a real communication problem. We are told that we should talk to them, but how do they get through to us? They wilt. Plants wilt to communicate every single need across a spectrum going from water to sun through soil, fertilizer, air, company, and warding off evil spirits. Now, If plants could just talk, they’d have a deal. After all, if my kids had been born with leaves instead of mouths, they would be no more than fond memories in the steaming compost heap of my mind by now. (This also explains why I did not name my daughter “Petunia” or “Daisy”; I probably would have watered her to death before her first birthday.)

So we can safely conclude that on the intelligent gift idea scale, giving MM a plant ranks 0/10. As far as good ideas go, it is on a par with asking Myra Hindley around to babysit, accepting Eva Longoria’s kind offer to drop your husband off at the hotel, or temporarily entrusting your piggy bank to Bernie Madoff. Yet despite my gold medal-winning inaptitude to take care of anything green, a strange family rite occurs in this house once a year. Every spring it is the same scenario: 1. PF buys plants.  2. PF charmingly “hides” plants beside the washing line at the bottom of the garden. 3. Children give MM the plants as Mother’s Day offerings. 4. MM digs holes in the garden for them to die in. (That sentence was ambiguous: I am of course referring to the plants and not my children).

Clementine the Mandarine, sole long-term survivor of MM's fruit boot camp. Note Paddington Bear style instructions label around neck. instructions

Clementine the Mandarine, sole long-term survivor of MM’s fruit boot camp. Note Paddington Bear-style instructions label around neck.

“Clementine” the Mandarine is the only long-term surviving contestant in the “who will survive MM” contest – Bernard the Bougainvillea quickly declined into an irreversible coma last year, and went to blossom in the floral fields of horticultural heaven not long after I’d noticed the instructions label hanging forlornly around his withered neck. As I entrusted his mummified remains to the depths of the garden muttering a perfunctory “leaves to humus, dirt to dirt” under my breath, I was elected “bad plant mum of the year” for the umpteenth year running, and informed that next year I wouldn’t be getting any more.

I lived in hope for an entire year that the plants would be replaced by their weight in chocolate, but this year PF set off undeterred once again for the local plant store, where he  gravely elected this year’s unfortunate candidates for MM’s horticultural version of Death Row. He just can’t help himself. You can give the man ten out of ten for determination: Optimism is my husband’s middle name.

Sunday lunchtime thus found MM staring out from behind the floral equivalent of the great wall of China at her beaming offspring. I was relieved to see that the choice of plants has finally moved away from the usual frail and fragile exotica demanding filtered holy water, daily meditation and feng shui-flavoured compost spiked with tropical fruit bat droppings. This year’s candidates are more resistant and realistic plants like dahlias, flowering sage and strawberries. If these don’t survive, I’ll no doubt be getting Triffids next year. I duly thanked my offspring, and went to the garden to dig the graves of my next victims. Here is the macabre scene for Act Two of MM’s tragic Mother’s Day impromptu plant play: “The Death of the Strawberry Sisters”.

The future tombstone of the Strawberry Sisters. I will play "Strawberry fields for ever" at their funeral.

The future tombstone of the Strawberry Sisters. I shall play “Strawberry Fields Forever” at their funeral.

I crouched down on the ground at sunset and levelled with my new recruits to outline their future in MM’s merciless berry boot camp. “The deal is simple: I give you water. You don’t wilt, and you give me strawberries. Any desiderata must be spelled out in stones at your side in simple code – “W” for Water, “S” for Sun, “F” for fertiliser. Last year’s winners were called the Cocktail Commando – a tough tomato trio. They were Solanum Supermen; top-notch tomatoes who followed the vegetable plot to the letter. Now it’s over to you, Strawberry Sisters. I don’t want wilting wallflowers, I want girl power. Berry nice, girls, over to you.”

They didn’t reply. I’m feeling anxious. I’m off to have a word with those weeds now – I can swear I heard them whispering on the sidelines……

Madame Cougar and the green-eyed monster.

Since last night, a green-eyed monster has been gnawing away at me. Sitting on my shoulder, it has been whispering maliciously into my ear. Driving me wild with its insidious suggestions. Its name is Jealousy.

The Lady and the Monster

The Lady and the Monster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It all started before dinner, when Bigfoot put his size eleven in it right up to the ankle (as you can see, we don’t call our number one son « Bigfoot » for nothing).  He looked slyly at me over his glass, and a smirk spread slowly across his face. “Did Dad tell you what happened to him today?” To my surprise, P.F started to wriggle uncomfortably beside me, muttering “I told you not to tell your mum”. Bigfoot’s smile widened and his eyes sparkled with mischief as they probed my startled face. I intercepted his hand and slapped it away as it descended on the bowl of Pringles. “Spit it out, Buster!”

Bigfoot was more than happy to deliver the goods, with a few extra bells and whistles to make the story better. P.F had been shamelessly chatted up on his way home from work. Not only had his decrepid old genitor scored, but he had been obliged to fight off not one, not two, not three, but an entire pride of four sex-deprived cougars with his bare hands as he waited innocently for the tram. As my chin hit the coffee table, Bigfoot’s hand shot out and grabbed a huge wedge of crisps that he victoriously crammed into his mouth before settling into his armchair for the parental showdown, which promised to be better entertainment than Kramer Vs Kramer and Rocky rolled into one.

I turned to a now amused PF for an explanation. He explained that as he waited at the bus stop, a pack of four vixens started peering around the partition at him. (Bus stops are apparently a rich hunting ground for city-dwelling cougars in search of fresh prey. You live and learn.) Then they went to the ticket machine one by one, checking him out as they did so. Then one stopped to tell him what beautiful eyes he had. At this point in the story, my stomach flipped over like a greasy fried egg. The woman had then continued to tell him that she was sure he had women falling at his feet non-stop because of those gorgeous blue eyes. And that it was just incredible how much he looks like French actor Thierry L’Hermitte. At this point, the greasy egg in my stomach attempted to flop out of the scorching pan that was burning a hole in my solar plexus. I gingerly enquired how my hero had replied to her sassy, pseudo-sensual soliloquy.  “Well, I said: Thank you, someone’s already said that”. I roared in protest, resisting the temptation to crack him over the head with my beer bottle. “Hey! It wasn’t just somebody, it was your bloody wife, sunshine!

Thanks to Quill, Mose, Kate & Willow ...

Drooling in anticipation, the cougar on the number seven bus casually flicked her tail and asked her unsuspecting victim if this seat was taken. (Photo credit: Corvidaceous).

But it wasn’t over yet. Our bus stop babe was on a merciless, no holds-barred hunt for a man, and as her fellow felines looked on approvingly from the suburban equivalent of the pampa grasses, she went for his emotional jugular with her best shot – a petulant, bitter and heart-wrenching “… but men like you are never single”.

I was seething with anger. In my head, I was there, living the moment. The anti-heroine of a sordid story of bus-stop seduction. Children giggled with their mothers, teenagers listened to music on their headphones and parents returned home to the family cave from a hard day hunting their daily pay check. A prowling tigress was circling her prey, preparing to pounce on the father of my children – my sidekick, my friend, my lover, my…. ok, that’s enough Mills & Boon. What is more, she was doing so with all the alacrity and finesse of a pot-bellied French politician in a bath towel stalking an unsuspecting cleaning lady as she cleans under the bed.

I hated her to hell and back. The brassy, audacious, toadying ratbag. How could she blatantly make eyes at my husband? She had no excuse – after all, the fact that he’s married is written all over the fourth finger of his left hand. And as she said herself, if it looks to good to be true, it probably is. Hell, didn’t she know that the only other females I allow to look at him are his daughter and his mother? My jaw unhinged in silence as I gaped at her barefaced cheek, and marvelled at the surging rage that had torn through my guts at the mere idea of a rival trying to push in and pinch my husband – even for five minutes at the bus stop – after twenty years of marriage. Oh, yes…. jealously is still alive and kicking. And it was Mrs Cougar I wanted to kick. Right into the middle of next week.

PF smiled and told me it was no big deal. As I expected, he attempted to sooth my ruffled feathers by telling me that just like the nubile young students who have fluttered their Rimmelled windscreen-wipers at Môôôsieur in the past, Madame Cougar was as big as bus, smelled like a skunk, had one eye in the middle of her forehead and was otherwise no competition whatsoever for my Nefertiti-esque beauty, charm, wit and style.

He can read me like a book. He grinned at me, stroked my arm and said,  “Don’t worry. I did the same as Bruce Willis in that film we watched together: I showed her my hand and waggled my wedding ring finger at her.” Oh, boy. If I’d been there, fingers would waggled too. But not the same ones. Before I proceeded to hang her upside-down off the nearest lamp post with her leopardskin print knickers over her head and a feather duster stuck in their place. So hands off, honey. He’s already been spoken for – by me…… and my green-eyed monster.

A life in the day of M.M.

This morning was just wonderful. Spring provided the perfect awakening, courtesy of birds arguing noisily on the cedar branch in front of our bedroom window. P.F had offered himself the luxury of a “lie-in” until 6.30 and would go to work by car instead of taking the bus, giving us time for a leisurely breakfast with the boys. We waved Bigfoot off to the lycée and sneaked upstairs to wake Little My, who pretended to be grumpy but was obviously delighted to be woken up by a grinning parental posse.

As P.F left the house, he waved happily at the open window in a spontaneous Prince Charming moment and yelled, “Au revoir, Princesse!” I looked suspiciously behind me, half expecting to find Elle Macpherson pouting over my shoulder in one of her designer silk nighties. Nope, “Princesse” was apparently me – complete with my very unprincess-like Mr Men P.J.s, garish purple bed socks and lurid orange and red dressing gown. I was gobstruck by this touching sign of unconditional love – as far as I could see, all I needed was curlers in my hair and a fag hanging out of the corner of my mouth to qualify as Dame Edna Everage’s look-alike.

Dame Edna

Dame Edna. A real princess. (Photo credit: Eva Rinaldi Celebrity and Live Music Photographer)

As the car left, Little My charged into my bedroom wearing her Hawaiian costume for carnival this afternoon. We giggled as I gave her a crash course in dancing the Hula. Rugby-boy kissed me goodbye and sauntered off to the bus stop. I looked out of the window at the improving weather and the tulips opening in the garden, and heaved a happy sigh. The beginning of my day had been a smooth, rolling carpet of excellence. Life was perfect.

Suspiciously so. I furrowed my brow. Something fishy was going on – my days never usually start like that. The usual morning in our household is somewhat animated, and generally goes as follows:

1) Get out of bed just after P.F. runs out of the door at 6.45 and gets the bus by the skin of his teeth.  2) Observe Rugby-boy as he looks for his shoes and discovers that he has “forgotten” that he needs a cheque for the canteen. 3) Deal with a grumpy, half-awake Bigfoot who can’t find his favourite jeans, generally because he kicked them under the bed in true teenager style the night before. 4) Discover that the cat has thrown up in the staircase and that the dishwasher still hasn’t learned to fill and empty itself overnight. 5) Wake up a grouchy Little My who is muttering below her quilt, resolutely anchored to the mattress. 6) Reassure offspring that the remains of the two-day-old baguette really are edible if toasted and disguised with generous slatherings of Nutella.

I therefore immediately suspected that this morning’s euphoria was doomed to be short-lived. My intuition was correct: the positive train of thought that had set out at 6.30 courtesy of Rapture Railways was rudely drawn to an emergency halt at Reality Central two hours later by a terse call from P.F. He was nine kilometers away, but he might as well have been in a snow drift in Alaska. Albal, our aluminium foil-coloured people carrier, had suffered from acute indigestion on the motorway, and had gone into a mechanical coma just as she got to the motorway exit. Oh, the irony of it all: my steely stead had bitten the dust less than twenty-four hours after the death of the Iron Lady in London.

A photo of Sébastien Loeb at the 2005 Wales Ra...

Albal seems to think that Monsieur Mécano is Sabastien Loeb  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Albal was rapidly towed off to her favourite massage parlour garage. I immediately smelled a rat; as I have already described in a previous post, I suspect Albal of having a serious crush on the garage mechanic. Monsieur Mécano is not your average French mechanic featuring builder’s bum and a beer gut on either side of his anatomy; he’s young and fit (in every sense of the word), and wears a snazzy red and white Citroën outfit that would be more at home on a Formula One race track than on the windy forecourt of a provençal village garage. Albal has apparently succumbed to his charm, and is constantly blowing fuses as an excuse to get him to manhandle her headlamps. Whilst he tickles her inner sanctum with his outsized spanner, P.F. and I get to play gooseberry and foot the bill.

So I’ve dusted off Helga, my faithful green VW, and put her back in service until Monsieur Mécano has diagnosed the cause of Albal’s suffering. Affaire à suivre……..

Post Scriptum

Monsieur Mécano has shaken his head and announced that Albal is in seriously bad shape.  She has bust her timing belt – so much for staying in trim, Miss Albal.