Ode to a birth scene scriptwriter.

Thirteen years ago, I was sitting in my bed eating bananas and vanilla ice cream and soaking up my three-year-old’s delight at discovering that his baby brother had shifted from my stomach to his cot whilst he was asleep.

Luckily, mini-Bigfoot was unaware of the collateral damage that Rugby-boy had left behind him in his haste to check out the world: a bleak, perineal Hiroshima, roped off below the sheets with crime scene tape and plastic cones. Rugby-boy is a kid who decides and acts without further ado. His birth was no exception, and he achieved an average cruising speed of one kilogram per hour to be on time for his first scrum with life.

CRIME SCENE DO NOT CROSS / @CSI?cafe

The aftermath below the sheets….. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For those of you who are worrying about getting a tear-jerking, blow-by-blow account of the sad demise of my pelvic floor, fear not. I have no desire to put anyone off having children, as there is so much more to discover after birth. The delights of an overnight transformation into a cross between Lolo Ferrari and a Friesian cow, for example. Discovering that you too can be a night owl, albeit a reluctant one. Learning how to single-handedly unfold a stroller in the rain with one hand, screaming child under your arm and Tesco’s shopping bag clenched between your teeth. Dealing with toddlers who have no issues with incontinence in public. The list is endless.

However, I do have one small request for any scriptwriters who could be reading this: Can you get a real woman to write the birth bits in your films and TV series, please? You know, someone who has actually been through the reproductive equivalent of crapping a watermelon at least once in her life without the help of gas, epidurals or being hit over the head with a heavy object?

The image you give of childbirth is far from the reality of things. In films, the episode begins with our pregnant heroine walking across the tidy room without a whining two-year-old clamped to her leg. She serves herself a glass of San Pelligrino, then dramatically clutches her perfectly round stomach, tastefully encased in designer maternity clothes. There are no visible stretch marks, and no extra weight is to be seen anywhere on her delicate frame. She isn’t wearing an engineering feat of a bra designed to transport two fully-grown elephants under a Chinook helicopter, and her ankles show no signs of containing enough water to top up the local council’s swimming pool. Her toe nails are both cut and varnished – schoolboy error, Mr Scriptwriter. Everyone knows that from six months onwards, pregnant women cannot reach their feet without having previous training in either yoga or contortion. So excuse me guys, but your scenario is already a bit shaky.

English: View of Hoover Dam with jet-flow gate...

Ship ahoy….. breaking waters. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“Oh, honey, my waters have broken!” she bleats to a husband who is not at work, not painting the garden shed and not surgically attached to his pillow with drool at one in the morning.  Whilst all she had to do was think about giving birth for the flood gates to blow like the Hoover Dam, my amniotic sacs were all so resistant that they could have been patented by Pirelli.

“Honey”, alias SSOH (Seriously Significant Other Half) immediately carries his wimpering wife (henceforth referred to as “WW”) into the car – mysteriously devoid of plastic toys, DIY material and food wrappings – and takes her to the maternity ward.  Compare this with my three successive gems for each birth: “Just let me have a shave and a shower first”, “Are you kidding? I’ve only just got into bed….”, or “Great! I’m so excited! Home births are cool. Want a cup of tea?”

Back to our model couple. SSOH drives to hospital whilst WW moans  “It’s coming! It’s coming!” At no point does she burst into hysterical tears, insult him, or underline the fact that giving birth is the only time in your life when you understand that biologically speaking,  you really are an animal. Mother Nature takes over, and there is nothing you can do about it except step back and let her get on with the show. I never thought I had a real muscle in my body until my uterus came out of the closet and showed me what it was made of. If my biceps could work as efficiently, I’d be a force to be reckoned with. It’s the Arnold Schwarzenegger of M.M’s organ mafia. A lean, mean muscle machine so efficient that after Rugby Boy’s birth I asked the midwife to check that it was really just a placenta and not my entire innards that had followed him out backstage.

English: PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii (May 4, 2007) - ...

What a uterus really looks like (photo credit: Wikipedia)

Back to our perfect couple, who arrive in hospital and get immediate service from doting staff. WW gets a wheelchair and a private lift, and does not have to stand in the public lift like M.M, muttering obscenities in English as bewildered French strangers clutching bunches of flowers look on.

Now comes the bit I love in films. Cue sappy music. WW dons sexy gown with delicate black print that ties up at the back then exchanges romantic niceties with SSOH, confirming their everlasting love and underlining what wonderful parents they are going to be. (Easy: they know full well that we will never see the episode thirteen years later when a teenaged John Junior sniffs glue with his pregnant girlfriend behind the garden shed.)

The nurse gently interrupts their poetic pukesome pre-parental prelude and reminds WW that she has to push. Obviously, this is something you do on command in films. Personally, when the midwife had the bad idea to tell me not to push, I told her to push off: One of the few joys of childbirth is that it is the only time you can not only insult complete strangers and lacerate your husband’s palms with your fingernails, but you get away with it too. I informed her that my body had been taken over by alien forces and would be doing what it bloody well wanted to do until further notice. Maintaining that a birthing mother can switch pushing on and off on demand is as ridiculous as saying that you can stop a runaway steamroller rolling down an embankment using no more than optimism and a tooth pick.

WW pushes twice on demand, accompanied by unconvincing and dramatic moaning, and Perfect Offspring is born. PO is suspiciously clean, has dry hair and appears to be rather oversized for a newborn, although WW no doubt has a luxury womb stretching up to her tonsils and equipped with fridge, wide-screen T.V and politically correct toys to get him in the starting blocks for Montessori schooling. WW clutches her offspring and beams gormlessly at her tearful, emotional husband. She is perfectly made up, has beautiful hair, is not dripping with sweat and is not threatening to alleviate her child’s genitor of his reproductive appendages with the obstetrician’s torture kit in a bid to avoid making the same mistake again.

So sorry, guys, but there are a few major discrepancies with real life that need seeing to before you have a watertight birthing scenario. Let me know if you need a scriptwriter. In the meanwhile, I’d happily go back ten years in time and sign to do it all again. But my way, not yours.

Operation Clean-O-Patra.

The humble bathtub has bathed in glory throughout time as a religious rite and a social privilege. It was all the rage for the Greeks, Romans and Egyptians, and the Hindus still partake in ritual dips in the Ganges (although I’m not sure anyone is any cleaner after immersing themselves in something that looks like Rudyard Kipling’s “great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever trees”, but with rubbish floating in it rather than nose-pulling crocodiles).

As I got ready for a well-deserved bath on Sunday evening, I was thinking more in terms of the beautiful Queen Cleopatra’s idea of ablution therapy, but was happy to settle for hot water and bubbles instead of asses milk.

Cleopatra

Cleopatra (Photo credit: silkroader)

I had just put an end to a long and tiring Sunday. I had got up that morning to face the result of abandoning my post on the family war front for an entire week: dirty washing had partied madly in corners then gone forth and multiplied, invading the entire house with more enthusiasm and determination than a family of fleas discovering a dogs’ home. It was everywhere: piled forlornly on floors, lurking dangerously under beds, escaping Houdini-like from baskets, draping lamely across bedroom furniture and hanging despondently off chairs.

So I had stiffened that legendary British upper lip, pulled up my sleeves and spent my day waging battle against the evil Lord of Laundropia, a dimension that organised parents have only roamed in their worst nightmares. In the depths of Laundropia, fear clutches your entrails whilst scantily clad, zombie-like children wail and moan “I need soooocks, Muuuuuuuuum” from behind the perilously unstable mountains of filthy clothing. However, I am a fearless and experienced traveller of this particular realm, and the super intervention squad (Candy the washing machine, Desmond the drier, Ivy the iron and myself) had made a cracking job of getting the mutiny under control. I was now gunning for the ultimate reward:  a hot bath and a good book.

Once in the bathroom, however, the only thing I had in common with Cleopatra was an insatiable desire to throw P.F. to the crocodiles. My off-key rendition of The Bangles’ “Walk like an Egyptian” had ground to a halt when I clapped incredulous eyes on a teetering tower of bucket, trowel and other DIY paraphernalia dumped on the side of a bath I had cleaned in a post-flu haze less than 24 hours earlier. To add insult to injury, P.F. had left a generous, crunchy layer of dried plaster and flakes of ancient paint in the bottom of the bath. Although it would no doubt make a cheaper and very efficient alternative to Body Shop exfoliating gel and ensure a rear end smoother than the proverbial baby’s bottom,  I was peeved.

  I suddenly realised who contributed what to the waste pipes getting blocked on such a regular basis. I could, of course, have been more elegant and thanked my family for this opportunity to learn a new trade. After all, two years in a house with waste pipes the diameter of toothpicks has enabled me to evolve from what could be termed a “bog-standard” plumbing philistine to a sharp-shooting John Waynesse of the plumbing world. I can now draw my rubber plunger from its holster before you can say “Febreze”. Yes, I could have said thank you. But I didn’t. I was tired and I wanted my bath.

quack

(Photo credit: Swiv)

I scraped the evidence of P.F’s plastering orgy out of the bath, cleaned it and filled it with hot water and fragrant bubbles. Climbing in, I grabbed my Chosen One from the bath mat (a chick lit charity shop orphan penned by the fabulous hand of Marian Keys). At last, some luxury.

Or so I thought. Any mother knows that it is impossible to have a bath without being interrupted. Within five minutes, my family had rumbled me. The bathroom door shook with what I first thought was Godzilla trying to force the door down. On checking, I established that it was Little My, hell-bent on evicting me from my haven of bubbles, heat and fragrance to give her some clean sheets. After two refusals to get the sheets herself, I said “Ok, sweetheart.  Go downstairs and look for the tall guy with dark hair and blue eyes, and ask him: he’s your father”. This was met with a stony silence from the other side of the door; as I have already discussed in an earlier post, fathers get asked one question: “Where’s Mum?” All the others, ranging from where their school bag is to why men have nipples, are generally for us.

Ten minutes later, a dull throbbing noise started up outside the door, and I swore in my usual feminine way. After finding the sheets, P.F had pulled out one of his favourite toys – a hand-held sander – and seemed intent on boring his way through the bathroom wall. I held out for five minutes, then gave up on the bath and pulled out the plug. Phase two of “Operation Clean-o-Patra” was abandoned: I was no longer in the mood.

Opening the door of the bathroom, I was greeted by a white haze. It looked strangely as if  my home had been hastily transformed into a cocaine dealer’s production line. I followed the foot prints in the generous dusting of plaster dust  on the floor, and was rewarded by the sight of P.F appearing out of the fog with a power tool clutched in his hand, blue eyes beaming out of a powdered, white face. “Had a nice bath, then?” Hmm. Now, let me see……

I’ll leave you what I think is a very original version of “Walk like an Egyptian”. This is what happens when bluegrass country music meets The Bangles, and I think it’s fabulous.

Wonder Woman and le Franglais.

Just before Christmas, PF nabbed the family car, and hence thwarted my evil plan to use the necessary purchase of pepper corns as an excuse for stocking up on British yummies and buying his Christmas present in the nearby jewellers shop. The next day I turned on the radio and discovered that if I had gone to the jewellers as planned, I would have been rudely interrupted by two numpties in balaclava helmets who had run into the shop and sprayed all its occupants generously with tear gas before smashing the glass cabinets, grabbing all they could fit in their backpacks and running away with it. So hip-hip-hooray for P.F, my loveable and unwitting hero.

However, what really surprised me for just a minute was hearing on the radio how they had left the crime scene: on a scooter. I laughed, as despite my many years in France, when I heard the word “scooter”, I imagined them making a speedy getaway with this:

trotinette

But in French, it’s actually this.

Kymco G3 Mark II.

This event got me wondering about other English words that the French have adopted and now use with great confidence, sometimes describing totally different things than their real English cousins. A thick slathering of French accent apparently makes it convincing enough for the Académie Française to slip it quietly into the French dictionary. English words are made French with an exotic little “le” or “la”, like  “le weekend” and “le burger” (which has so much more gastronomic sex appeal when pronounced “beurre-geurre”). Then there are the “English” nouns that the French have invented by simply by adding a cute little -“ing” to a verb to give it an « oh so charm– ing » lilt.  Like “le parking”: “Excuseuh-me, where eez ze parking?” When you say, “Urr, do you mean the car park?”, you will then be informed with a hurt expression that this is an English term. Si, si, Madame.

Another favourite of mine is “un lifting”, a far more honest vision of a face-lift. When your hairdresser proposes “un brushing”, she’s not going to brush you down like a shedding St Bernard, she’s suggesting a blow-dry.  Also “un jogging” is a difficult one – either a track suit or a jog, depending on the context. When you see a car accident on the autoroute, your passenger will invariably tell you to switch on your “warnings“, with the “w” pronounced in a hard German manner. Hands up who knows what “un living” is? It’s English, and it exists. Si, si. Give up? It is… a piece of furniture. You live and learn.

Tower crane operator cabin

Necessary equipment for a French facelift.

I particularly remember a language quandary at an infant school meeting. I had unwisely arrived late, and ended up sat on a tiny chair beside Wonder Woman. Wonder Woman is a frightening mother. (More about her here for anyone who wants more.) She goes to all the meetings, and is always on time. Her kids never lose their fair trade lama hair mittens, but she’s sewn a printed name label into each of them- just in case. She looks elegant all the time, even with her knees jammed behind her ears on an infant school chair. I, on the other hand, am fully paid-up member of the badly-organised mum squad: I sidle in at the last minute, then dig through pockets full of paper tissues and sweet wrappers to find an abandoned colour crayon and a supermarket receipt to jot down the essentials.

The teacher smiled magnanimously at us and said “Of course, your children will need a pair of baskets and one or two sweets, as the weather may be rainy and cold during the day”. I  looked blankly at her, then peered discretely over my neighbour’s shoulder as she diligently recorded everything bar the teacher’s bra size in a dainty notepad she’d pulled from a perfectly organised handbag. She had neatly penned “2 x sweets, plus baskets” with an ultra-feminine pink biro.

I nudged Wonder Woman in the ribs, and politely whispered into her ear. She glared at me; serious parents do not talk when the teacher is explaining Important Stuff. She looked condescendingly down her nose at me before stabbing a perfectly manicured claw at her immaculate handwriting. “Des baskets et deux sweets. It’s  English, after all!” she snarled at me, then turned her attention back to the teacher before she lost Brownie points for not paying attention.

Tagada

Fraises Tagada, alias the French secret weapon against the cold. (Photo credit: hellolapomme)

I switched off and started wondering. Did the French have a secret use for candy? I thought it was just plain edible, but maybe you can be saved by pulling a family-sized bag of fraises tagada out of your anorak pocket after crashing into the freezing depths of the Alps? Set a match to them, and hey presto! An emergency sugar torch to heat everyone up and attract the attention of any superheroes who happen to be flying by. What on earth were the baskets for? Mushroom picking?

Back in the real world, Wonder Woman was gazing at the teacher and thoughtfully sucking the end of her pink biro, much to the delight of the two daddies who had been forced to go there. She nodded her head with knowledgeable approbation as the teacher explained how many pairs of spare knickers we had to provide for the day’s outing. I seriously considered hot-footing it out of the door, hiding behind her Range Rover and mercilessly lapidating her with aniseed balls before she had time to say “Harrods”.

I asked the mother on my right, who appeared less worried about being put in the corner. She had written the word correctly: “sweat”, and amiably pointed to the child sitting beside her.  I finally clicked. Think Rocky working out in the gym. Think Sarkozy running in a park. Ah, ok. A sweat shirt. The baskets turned out to be “basquettes”: laced sports shoes.

That’s your lot for now. I’m off to dream about summer, when we’ll be able to have a barbecue in the sun without hearing the Tramontane wind howling around the house. That’s right, a “Barbe- euh-cul” – which translates from the French as “beard -um- backside“. Bon appetit.

The true story of Larry the Louse.

If I’d had a BBC nature programme microphone on me, I’m sure I would have heard it scream louder than I did. The six-legged beast froze, then scuttled across the comb and ended the show with a failed attempt to hide in the closely-packed metal teeth. I squished Larry the Louse with my nail and burst into an improvised parody of Thin Lizzy, but my rendition of “The lice are back in town” didn’t do much to boost Little My’s morale.

An adult monkey, the Olive Baboon (Papio anubi...

M.M heartlessly evicting tenants from Little My’s hair (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We carefully picked our weapon from the arsenal in the bathroom cupboard. As I gingerly squirted the chemical concoction over my daughter’s long blonde mane, I realised with relief that she had never seen a close up of her tenant. Just as well, or she would have been running down the road screaming.

Larry, alias Pediculus humanus capitis, is a sheer masterpiece with his three pairs of legs, each equipped with claws and thumbs. Forget your measly six-pack; Larry has seven, neatly lined up along his streamlined abdomen. Add to this enviable physique a face like a Klingon, a pair of antennae and a retractable mouthpiece that folds neatly away inside his head after feeding off your kid’s head, and you have something that makes Ridley Scott’s Alien look as scary as Yogi Bear.

Larry’s offspring only emerge from their cocoons when they consider that the temperature around them is right, probably licking the end of a claw and poking it out of the breathing hole that their mamma kindly left them to see if it’s warm enough to go out to play. Within ten hours they are in the starting blocks for procreation, no doubt already aware of the chemical sword of Damocles hanging over their heads. Reproduction in lice appears to be the six-legged equivalent of square-dancing, and Larry and his chums partner-swap their way around the clock, only taking breaks to carefully glue three to five of their future offspring per day to your child’s hair with something so efficient that the empty cocoon can remain there for years afterwards. Researchers are looking into the use of spider silk for medical applications – so why hasn’t anyone seen the potential of nit glue for false teeth?

Dolly the Sheep

Dolly. Proof that we can clone a sheep but are powerless against lice (Photo credit: micha.hb)

Back in the bathroom, I got angry at the injustice of it all. We can get from one side of the world to the other in the space of a day. We have harnessed the power of wind, water and sun. Climbed Everest. Invented antibiotics and vaccinations, eradicated smallpox. Sent a dog then reams of astronauts and satellites into space. Cloned a sheep. So why can’t we get shot of the lousy louse? Lice are tiny, and have hung out on the human head since the dawn of time. They can’t fly, can’t jump, and can’t make evil plans to take over the universe. This should make them sitting ducks. So how come we can’t nuke the nits?

Then it dawned on me that maybe someone, somewhere, doesn’t want them to disappear. I squinted at the price label on the box, and realised that getting rid of head lice for good would severely cut the profits of companies who know damn well which side their bread is buttered. As long as head lice exist, there’ll be hysterical mothers queuing to buy their overpriced nit napalm.

Al Capone Vector Image

After the hitman, meet the nitman. Seen anyone like this hanging around outside school lately? (Photo credit: Vectorportal)

A conspiracy theory started to take shape in my mind as I slid the comb through the post-conflict zone, collecting the cadavers of Larry and his louts. The picture slowly assembled in my mind: Al Capone-style “nit men” wearing dark glasses and trench coats, sent incognito by the pharmaceutical companies to school gates around the world. The brims of their Fedora hats pulled down over their eyes, they pull their hands out of their deep pockets and cheerfully tousle the hair of a passing child with a gloved hand before disappearing as silently as they had arrived, leaving no other trace than the wafts of lavender essence billowing behind them…..

Time to go; I think I’m losing the plot. I’m off to run the nit comb through Little My’s hair before we get abducted by six-legged aliens with retractable mouthparts. They’re coming to take me away, ha-ha, they’re coming to take me away…..

Two other articles I enjoyed on the same same subject:

The best thing since sliced bread: “Candy”, the queen of my humble abode.

Daily post really must stop tempting me. Today, they gave us our daily bread with the following question:

Most of us have heard the saying, “That’s the best thing since sliced bread!” What do you think is actually the best thing since sliced bread?

This got me thinking, and here’s the result….

“Candy”, the queen of my humble abode.  

All the Fashion

(Photo credit: Amarand Agasi)

I can hear you all sighing and saying “Here we go…. TV, computer and mobile phones”. Well, no. Although I am sure they have revolutionised our lives, they has also landed us with kids who are connected to their mobile phones by invisible umbilical cords, use books as door-stops and think that the most famous navigator in history is Internet Explorer. So no, communication technology is not the best thing since sliced bread.

“That’s all very well and good”, you say, “… so stop hedging, and answer the question”. My reply is probably going to have some laughing, whilst others will be beating their feminist breasts and seeking out my IP address in the firm intention to send me my Women’s Lib subscription pack. Nevertheless, I’m going to slap on my under-50’s housewife hat and give you my answer:  The fully-automatic washing machine. Oh, yeah. Mine is called Candy, and she positively rocks this joint.

So why is Candy my heroine? How can a simple washing machine make humanity’s day?

Simple. Whilst some American families were already enjoying the luxury of the very first electric washing machines in 1928, here in Europe we had hand-powered dinosaurs or simply washed by hand, with the added thrill of putting our fingers through the wrangler along with little Johnny’s long johns. Washing the laundry was the household equivalent of a triathlon until the first excruciatingly expensive but fully-automated washing machines were ripped off the shelves by hysterical homemakers in 1947.

The lack of reliable contraception most probably leading to a large family, I’m therefore guessing that the average mother spent three-quarters of her day washing the laundry, giving her biceps that would make Rambo go pale with envy. Her fingertips looked like a bag of prunes, she sweated like a horse and had back pains that must have made childbirth feel like a holiday in the tropics in comparison. I suspect that many a child thought twice about dropping his dinner down his front faced with the strength and nervous exhaustion of a mother who had spent most of her day hoisting sodden sheets in and out of cold water.

Now let’s have a look at this situation today, boys and girls. (Yep, in this modern day and age, the boys are concerned too.) Hands up those of you who just have to press the button on a miracle machine and still manage to have Mount Etna in dirty laundry towering in the corner of the bathroom? Does clean laundry spill out of a basket that is progressively pillaged by kids wearing nothing but their underwear and a pair of headphones? And last but definitely not least, who hasn’t experienced that bottomless vortex when the washing machine splutters and dies and the repair man can’t get the spare part for the next three weeks?

A modern-day Playmobil laundry drama.

A modern-day laundry drama, played out in true MM style. Little My does not like playing Playmobil with me. (My own photo:  Not to be pinched, ta muchly.)

I have a vivid memory of such an incident as the mother of three small children. I defiantly blocked the exit to our home with my 6-week old baby in my arms as her two-year old brother hung on to my legs, beamed and said “Pipi, Mamma!” before peeing copiously into his last change of clothing and leaving me stranded in a pool of urine.

The repair man clocked the regulation “recent mother” shoulder badge of newborn’s milk spew on my shoulder and looked anxiously at my haggard face as I hung baby Little My over my arm, face pitched dangerously towards his sports shoes.

“I do realise how difficult it must be for you with three young children,” he mumbled. I eyeballed him, and fiddled quietly with the door keys in my hand. He quickly realised that I was inches from swallowing the key and forcing him to strip off and trample my laundry in the family tub until a solution was found.  If he wanted to leave the flat in one piece, he’d have to think fast.

“I’ll just call my boss and see if we can lend you a machine, Madame”. Whilst he called, I watched my six-year-old happily playing in the colourful multitude of damp washing draped artistically over the furniture. He chased his imaginary enemy from one makeshift sheet-tent to the other, using the elasticated corners of the sheets as a hiding place for his get-away jeep and chocolate spread sandwich.

“It’s all organised, Madame, we’ll bring you a replacement machine tomorrow at ten”, our Messiah announced with a relieved grin.  Mini-Bigfoot pointed his imaginary gun at him, and said “Bang. You’re dead”.

“Thank you so much”, I replied sweetly. I opened the door then watched him gingerly avoid the puddle of pee and flee down the stairs as my soaking wet two-year-old waved a cheerful goodbye from the landing. I was saved from disaster. Yep, the fully-automated washing machine is most definitely the best thing since sliced bread.

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.

Little My’s list.

The windscreen wipers squeaked across the windscreen as we wound our way through the Esterel massif on the N7. This road has fantastic views, but has always scared the proverbial crap out of me – particularly at night. The numerous twists and turns have been responsible for many upturned stomachs on our family car trips, and I remain convinced to this day that if Charles De Gaulle had ever had the pleasure to test out being a passenger in the back of a Citroën DS on this road, like I did once, he would never have chosen it as his presidential car. Its hydraulic suspension makes you feel like you’re on a mattress full of blancmange, and it must have made even the merest ride down the Champs Elysée feel like a roller coaster experience.

On our left, oak trees were outlined against the late evening sky. On our right, a dwarf-sized concrete kerb separated us from the darkening depths of the valley. Every so often, we passed engraved marble slabs and flowers marking the spots where unfortunate drivers had come off the road and pitched over the edge.

Estérel

Bigfoot cheerfully pointed out the car wrecks dotted throughout the vegetation. Then my father-in-law soberly reminded P.F that he should keep an eye out for wild boar; they often cross the road in the dark, no doubt on their way out to join their pals guzzling the acorns, apples and other niceties that fall off trees in the region. Drivers who try to avoid them sometimes end up leaving the road and getting a one-way ticket to the local cemetery. My personal rule, which I hope I will never have to apply on that particular road, is hit and run: hit the beast, then run to get it in the freezer.

Little My listened in as I agreed how terrible it would be for three generations of the same family to fall in the canyon just because a boar had crossed the road without using the green cross code.

Little My

Little My (Photo credit: nhojjohn58)

I could hear the audible sound of wheels whirring in her brain, and frantically crossed my fingers, toes and everything else I had two of that her jaw was not on the point of moving. She has always planned things well in advance, and asks lots of questions about things I never gave a second thought to at her age. This has led to some very interesting (although occasionally badly timed) questions. She is very interested in death, which linked with her down-to-earth personality and concern to plan ahead, was about to give me a smile.

As I had feared, a little voice jettisoned out of the dark behind me and slammed into my eardrums.

« Mum, what will happen to me if I’m the sole survivor? Who will look after me? » she demanded. P.F gripped the wheel and peered into the darkness with renewed attention. I could have sworn I saw the corners of his mouth twitching with the beginning of a smarmy smile, and made a mental note to get my revenge. As everyone knows, questions to Dad begin and end with « Where’s Mum? ». Mums get all the other questions:  the ones about life, death, the universe, and why men have nipples.

« Well, ….. » I waited a few seconds to see how her French grandparents would react, but neither leapt into action. My personal suspicion is that one had happily missed the comment whilst the other had wisely decided to keep quiet and revel in my perilous parental predicament.

I drew in my breath, and explained to my potential Orphan Annie that as far as I knew, French law made provisions for family members to take care of young children who outlive their parents.  « Ah, I see ».

Two bends in the road later, she piped up again, and her next question was fired at me with all the subtlety of a loosely-bowelled hippo letting off steam in a monastery. « Can I choose who I live with? »  I squirmed in discomfort, anxiously eying the dark precipice on my right. « Well, I don’t see why not… Judges generally try to go along with the children’s wishes as much as they can, so if you’d eaten all your vegetables at the canteen before the hearing, they’d probably agree ».

« Yeeeeeeeesssss ! Cooooool ! », exploded noisily from the back seat of the car.

The remainder of the journey was spent listening to Little My as she ran through an impressive list of criteria (which happily had nothing to do with money, power or influence) before going on to the impact of various factors ranging from native languages to the availability of beefburgers. When we reached home, she had solemnly decided on our successors, should we ever meet with an untimely end. I hope that the lucky winners, as well as the runner-up (who is being kept on a back burner just in case the first choice doesn’t pan out as expected), will never have to discover that their names are on her list. If they ever do, I hope that they will cook her roast wild boar to avenge our deaths from time to time. And for those who are curious, I’m not telling – I have promised my daughter that I’ll be as silent as the grave.

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…..

Happy birthday, P.F…

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

This is what was planned for your birthday: 

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

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

Sounds good, huh? Now…..

This is what actually happened on your birthday.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A lousy day.

Being awake at 4 am is boring. As I lay awake in the dark listening to P.F’s gentle snore, I tried to relax every muscle in my body, but to no avail. My mind began to fill with those great thoughts that stop you going back to sleep – somehow, the night magnifies simple things and turns them into stomach-curdling obstacles.

After almost turning myself inside out in an effort to repress a long series of sneezes, my nose started running. That was it, time to get up.  I gingerly negotiated my way down the staircase in the dark, hoping that Rugby boy’s mummy radar wouldn’t pick up on my early morning movement. As I stumbled across the entrance hall, smelly dog’s basket creaked then resumed silence: a sure sign that it was too early to get up, even for our resident canine.

Yesterday morning had been so much more fun. Rugby boy had sidled up to me at the breakfast table and stuffed his finger under my nose, asking “Mum, is that a head louse?” Yeurch. It was. I stuck his head under the shower, grabbed a fine-toothed comb and attempted to run it through his thick locks (this is where I thank my maternal grandmother for her contribution to our great capillary heritage, wonderful most days but a nightmare when inhabited). After three swipes, I told him: “Son of mine, you have several generations of the same family on holiday in there, complete with buckets and spades, caravans and ice boxes. They’re having a cool time. But not for long”.

Five minutes later I marched into the chemists, flustered and dishevelled. I have a gift for always ending up with the assistant who doesn’t smile, no doubt to conserve her wrinkle-free complexion and perfect make-up. Her nose did however wrinkle daintily when she saw me approach the anti-headlouse artillery, and she withdrew to a safe distance. “Can I help you?”

“Ur, yes. I’d like something extremely chemical and bad for the planet to nuke all the lice on my son’s head into oblivion”, I said, hoping to get a smile out of her. I shouldn’t have bothered: someone had already eaten her porridge before I arrived. “How long has he had lice?” emerged from tightened lips. I stared at her in disbelief. “I have no idea, they didn’t tell me when me met at the breakfast table this morning, and as his head is European, no one stamped their passports on arrival”, I snarled back.  I grabbed three boxes of the most dangerous looking product, slammed them on the counter, paid, and bolted home.

Description unavailable

Description unavailable (Photo credit: Julia Manzerova)

The following two hours involved oily slimy goo, nit combs and appropriately impressed “ooohs” at the huge quantities of louse cadavers we recovered from the capillary equivalent of Piccadilly Circus during the Christmas shopping rush. Then followed the stripping of beds, washing of pillows and quilts, vacuuming of mattresses…..

Happily enough, after a minute examination of her scalp, Little My appears to have escaped the same lousy predicament. I threw a bottle of potent goo on my head, and have been itching from the allergy ever since.