Happy Birthday, Bigfoot.

Seventeen years ago, you changed my life for ever. You lay on my stomach and looked at me as your father nursed his nail-indented hand and the football team of nurses waited impatiently to complete their birthing routine before the next mother arrived in the maternity ward. Your eyes sought mine and locked on, and we were a team. No screams or tears from either of us. The rest of the world disappeared, and I have never forgotten that first soul-searching look, your impressive calm. In the space of a few seconds, you read me like a book. We’d only just met, but we’d been together forever.

I came into your room this morning to wish you a happy birthday. I noticed again that when you sleep, your expression is the same as when you slept in the maternity ward.

I thought back to that day. I cannot describe the fear I felt. You were four, and when the specialist told you to play in the waiting room whilst she Continue reading

Rest In Pisces.

Jamie's last resting place.

Jamie’s last resting place.

“Dearly beloved.” It was worthy of a Sicilian funeral. Little My’s Best Female Friend cleared her throat and grinned at her pal from below the syringa tree at the bottom of the garden. The cicadas scratched relentlessly in the hot stillness of the Provençal afternoon. Sitting on one of the garden chairs that the girls had neatly lined up for the funeral, I repressed the urge to laugh at Gargamel, strategically positioned to spy on us through the hole he had crafted in his garden wall.

“Please bring me the deceased”. Little My rose from her chair and shuffled forwards. The recently bereaved goldfish owner was stylishly clad in a frilly black taffeta skirt, a spaghetti strap top and bright green flip-flops. She proffered the lifeless body of Jamie the goldfish,  nestled in the palm of a bright red washing-up glove: the matriarch dictator, alias yours truly, had insisted that Jamie’s state of decay required protection for her hands.

BFF opened a small wooden box, and Little My ceremoniously laid her fishy friend in the bottom. (Sorry, Granny, the box you kindly gave Little My several years ago was the ideal size for a goldfish coffin, and is now buried at the bottom of the garden. We sincerely hope that you bought it from the Salvation Army shop).

The funeral eulogy was short and sweet. “Jamie will be missed. He was a good goldfish. He loved water, and played in it every day. Rest in peace”. BFF flashed a smile at her pal, then they both dissolved into peals of laughter. As Little My peeled off her rubber gloves, she muttered: “Hey, you missed something out!” She spoke into the box. “Marie and Eva are both sorry you died too. Well, they would have been if they’d known, but they’re on holiday”.

BFF passed the miniature coffin to the bereaved owner, and enthusiastically grabbed the garden spade whilst Little My sanctimoniously closed the lid on Jamie’s 18 months of watery existence. The coffin was gently laid at the bottom of the hole dug by the girls earlier that afternoon. BFF shovelled earth over him, then the two friends stamped the earth down and laid pebbles in the form of a cross on the freshly turned earth.

Silence ensued. BFF’s anxious face betrayed the fact that she had noticed Little My’s distress: despite the fun they had derived from this unusual activity, her friend was now feeling sad. She stretched out her hand and gently squeezed Little My’s. The two little girls held hands and looked solemnly down at the grave.

“I’ll miss him,” Little My said with a wobbling voice. BFF didn’t say a word, and put her arm around her pal. I fought the lump that rose in my throat. BFF turned Little My to face her, and stroked her cheek compassionately. As tears welled up in my eyes, BFF said, “Hey, don’t worry. If you miss him, we can always dig him up from time to time”. Now that’s what friends are for.

One Fish, Two Fish? Dead Fish: Goldfish.

English: An image of a Common goldfish

RIP Jamie (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Jamie, the kitchen-dwelling goldfish, is no more. He is no doubt at the gates to that great goldfish bowl in the sky, finding out if he will spend the afterlife swimming around Paradise Plaice or grilling with the despicable small fry in the Deep Fat Fryer.

I found him flapping around his tank in distressed circles yesterday morning, bumping clumsily into his Easter Island statue. He then went into a slow tail spin that ended in a soft landing on his pottery fish. Neptune looked on with compassion as Jamie wallowed helplessly on his side like a drunk marooned on a park bench.

As I strode over to check him out, something viscous squished between my toes. Suffice to say that MM now has irrefutable proof that it is indeed unlucky to cross the path of a black cat, particularly if it has confused your kitchen floor with its litter tray overnight. With the relative hindsight of a whole day, MM can also assure French readers that walking in la merde with your left foot does NOT bring you good luck. Even (-or rather, particularly-) if the foot is bare.

Jamie was as off colour as a vibrantly orange goldfish can be, and I prepared myself to inform Little My that her finned friend was in his final death throes. I’m sure that the sensitive readers are no doubt already dewy-eyed, muttering “poor kid” and grabbing a box of paper tissues before continuing this post. Don’t bother. Little My has a very candid approach to life, hence her nickname. I was already sure that I wouldn’t have to deal with histrionics – a fish is a fish. A dying fish, however, is fascinating.

I called my daughter and brought her to the patient’s bedside. Her eyes widened in surprise. She put her hands on her hips, then stooped over the tank and bellowed with authority, “Oy, you! You can’t die now, we just gave you a bigger tank!” The kid is reality on legs. I had to agree with her. He had a groovy tank with fake plants, Neptune and his sidekicks to keep him company, a gravel bed to sleep on, regular food and water changes, and a REAL Easter Island statue (albeit a little one). It was downright ungrateful of him to try to die on us when he had the goldfish equivalent of Bucks Palace all to himself.

Whilst I ruminated about ichthyic ingratitude, Little My scooted over to the cutlery drawer and returned with a spoon. She carefully prodded the prostrate orange comma on the gravel bed. “There! That’s better! See, he’s straight!” Jamie flapped his fins bravely for the sake of appearance, then bellied up like a walrus, eyes bulging and gills heaving.

With the help of her faithful spoon, Little My transferred the patient to an improvised intensive care unit – the kitchen sink, filled with cool water. She gently sprinkled fish flakes over the surface, a little akin to a fisherman’s widow throwing flowers over the choppy black waters of the North Sea.

Operating room in the Elliot Community Hospital

The tender beginnings of goldfish surgery. (Photo credit: Keene and Cheshire County (NH) Historical Photos)

Meanwhile, a rapid diagnosis by a friend online had revealed that Jamie had a problem with his swim bladder. (Bladders are becoming a recurrent leitmotif on this blog.) Thanks to the link she provided, I discovered that all was not lost. The solution was easy: I could feed him a frozen pea to help him digest. I kid ye not. Pea sorbet for bloated bladders. Having no frozen peas available, the only other solution the website proposed was to take the fish to the vet for an operation. I was amazed. Do they operate under water with the help of a surgeon fish? Does the goldfish get the equivalent of an oxygen mask with water in it instead? Or does he have to hold his breath out of water, like in “Finding Nemo”? One day I will grow up. But not now, I’m having way too much fun.

Rugby-boy turned up, and they coached Jamie with enthusiastic fish physiotherapy. Aided by high-tech spoon support, Jamie swam a labourious lap of the kitchen sink, encouraged by raucous applause from my offspring. As Rugby-boy and Little My downed tools, victorious, Jamie rolled his flank sideways and bit the dust. Or rather, chewed gravel. (He’s a fish. Or was.)

“Mum,  I think he’s dead. Can we bury him in the garden?” Two enthusiastic little faces turned towards me. “Can we, Mum? Pleeeease?”

“Of course you can. Just make sure you bury him deep enough, or the cat will find him”.

They appeared satisfied. That was that, then – and family life immediately returned to normal. “What’s for lunch, mum?” The answer was automatic: “I dunno, kids… Anyone for sushi?”

Why I will never be a Febreze Fairy.

MM, the Fallen Febreze Fairy, as drawn by Rugby-boy.

MM, the Fallen Febreze Fairy, as drawn by Rugby-boy.

PF knows that I am not the kind of woman who hits the Prozac if HMS Bogbrush doesn’t circumnavigate the toilet rim on a daily basis. He will arrive home tonight, and sigh in despair. As his forehead furrows, his eyebrows will lunge towards each other like two caterpillars that are hell-bent on copulating on the end of his nose. (OK, so caterpillars don’t copulate. But I bet they would if they could.)

He often enquires why I’m not houseproud. The only answer that comes to mind immediately is that if I was, he wouldn’t be able to draw hearts in the dust to declare his undying love for me. But there are other reasons why I don’t have “Purgo, ergo sum” tattooed on my forehead. So here is why I will never be a Febreze Fairy, in five easy points.

1)  I am not my mother-in-law.

Don’t get me wrong; I admire her. At my age, she was Martha Stewart with Sophia Loren’s dress sense. I’m not. She attained the paradoxical summits of immaculate fingernails and a spotless home. I won’t. I accidentally knock the shower faucet and drench myself when I clean the bath. She doesn’t. In short, we’re different. So now for the visualisation exercise, PF: 1) Compare me with your mother at my age. 2) Hit your head against the nearest wall. 3) Get over it.

2) The time invested is simply not worth the fleeting result.

I have carried out a detailed feasibility study of this cleaning lark, and I have to inform you that whatever the activity undertaken, all visible evidence disappears in the space of a few hours.

Let’s illustrate this with laundry – a time-waste tragedy in six acts. I have copied this reference document for you from MM’s “Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework” (available from Prozac Publications):

Extract from "Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework" (Prozac Publications).

Extract from “Welcome to the Hamster Wheel: The Dark Side of Housework” (Prozac Publications).

Conclusion: Anyone who gets a thrill out of a pile of clean laundry should immediately consult a therapist and enroll for sky-diving lessons.

3)  I want to share the fun.

There are exciting hidden realms in this house just waiting to be explored. The laundry basket and the washing machine are both impatient to get to know more members of my family. They also have a distant cousin called Washing Line who lives at the bottom of the garden – her relationship with me is so insular that she is suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. She would welcome a visit from you.

I would also like to take this opportunity to remind my offspring that the dishwasher has not yet learned how to fill and empty itself. Here’s a helpful hint: the distance from the table to the sink is equal to the distance from the table to the dishwasher (this domestic equation is often referred to as “Kitchen Pythagoras”). You guys should locate the toilet brush, too, or you will literally be up shit creek without a paddle if I ever I go under the wheels of a bus.

4) The looming danger of HWS:  “Hamster Wheel Syndrome”. 

Housework is both futile and ephemeral in this house. I can hear that clock ticking as I run around the wheel in the full knowledge that I’ll be doing the same thing again tomorrow, the day after and the week after. Hoovering a carpet for the second time in ten minutes because the dog has baptised my initial efforts with the saliva-drenched burrs she chewed out off her fur is hardly my idea of a rewarding occupation.

5) Cleaning is asking for trouble.

Maybe we could call it “maternal Murphy’s law”: Cleaning Karma bites you on the bum every time you wriggle your fingers into those Marigold gloves. If you clean the windows, the sky darkens and it immediately rains cats and dogs. Just washed the floor? The cat will throw up on it. Cleaning the bathroom before Rugby-boy returns home from the pitch is about as optimistic as getting out the Wedgwood when King Kong pops round for a cuppa.

DIY is also a common culprit in this equation: please tick the guilt-trip box if you have a) sanded down a wall just after I dusted, or b) rinsed out a paint bucket in the bath I had scrubbed in a rare surge of enthusiasm five minutes earlier.The greatest paradox of cleaning is that it’s only noticed when it’s not been done. I tried doing it regularly for a while, but nobody noticed….. until I stopped doing it.

Someone clever once said something about a great woman being behind every successful man, but I don’t think that being a sharp shooter with the toilet duck was one of the criteria he had in mind. So this Febreze Fairy Failure is off to walk the dog in the sun. If you want to cast a few spells with my magic wand while I’m out, help yourself: it’s beside the toilet on the right.

IMG_9364

The Febreze Fairy popping out for some fresh air (artist: Rugby boy).

The Expat Birthday Party.

In my early twenties, I au-paired on the Cote d’Azur. The family I worked for were wonderful – they were caring and fun, and had their feet firmly anchored on the ground despite the privileged lifestyle they led. Then one day I accompanied my “charge” to an expat child’s birthday party, and discovered the buttery upper crust of the international expat pie……

We walked through the automatic gate into a child-sized garden party on a lush green lawn. Think Buck’s Palace, without the Queen. The entire knee-high cast of a Shakespearian tragedy was running riot across the garden: Portias, Ophelias and Octavias dressed in designer frocks vied for superiority in the “my daddy’s car is bigger than yours” stakes. I ground my teeth and squeezed Laura’s hand. They had probably all been force-fed Mozart in the womb, followed by a moonlit jacuzzi birth and intensive developmental training with flashcards until they were old enough to enroll for Prodigious & Precocious –the human equivalent of the Kennel Club.

Two groups of adults met my eye: girls my age, grouped together near the children, and a group of meticulously groomed mothers whose hair had been blow-dried and lacquered into submission. They had set up a maternal HQ beside the pool, and were holding tea-cups and hee-hawing beside a teak garden table, their Estée Laudered lips bared to show immaculate white teeth and pink gums. My instinct told me that these ladies were on first name terms with their dentists.

Birthday cake, Hamstead style

Forget chocolate cake with Smarties: this is the ideal birthday cake for the jet-setting expat kid. (Photo credit: dan taylor)

On closer inspection, my doubts were confirmed. Forget the grindstone – the only thing these mothers had ever kept their noses to was the Gucci shop window. Their definition of financial difficulty was getting their Visa gold card jammed in their Hermes purse. They rolled their “r”s and doubled their barrels, and their vowels were longer than Cousin Itt’s hair. Whilst their husbands had good jobs, money and influence, they had embossed invitations to luncheon parties, private swimming pools, masseurs, canine psychotherapists for their chihuahuas and most probably Louis Vuitton nappy disposal bags.

I introduced myself then listened with interest to the battle of one-upwomanship that was being played out centre stage. Two mothers had drawn their superlative swords and were openly competing for their offspring’s superiority in art, music and sport -it was a very amusing maternal equivalent of bragging about penis size. I avoided the temptation to make facetious comments about their budding Einsteins and Beethovens, and took Laura to see birthday girl.

Portia didn’t see us at first – she was busy excavating the contents of her right nostril. She removed her finger from her nose and carefully inspected her catch before popping it into her mouth and chewing it with relish. “Hi! Fishing good?” I enquired. Portia glared at me, snatched the gift from Laura’s hands and ripped off the paper before dumping it unceremoniously on a huge pile of French designer clothing and politically correct hardbacks for precocious readers. A cruel smirk spread across her face. “Oh, a gift that cost a tenner. How cute of you, Laura. Really, you shouldn’t have…..”. A ripple of sardonic laughter ran through the nearby group of children. My jaw dropped. I had never seen such cruelty in five-year-olds.

Portia’s moment of glory as Chief Bad Fairy was interrupted by piercing screams from the bottom of the garden. Ophelia had carried out a nifty putsch on her host’s sparkling new swing, and was defiantly shaking her head at another child who wanted to take a turn. She apparently got a bigger kick out of depriving the others than from the swing itself. As the competitor for her throne whined, Ophelia remained firmly welded to the ropes on the swing and screamed into her struggling au pair’s face.

Pitbee

Ophelia – without her muzzle. (Photo credit: ambiebambie39507)

Glancing up the garden, it was clear that Mumsie had chosen to turn a blind eye. To no avail, the au pair tried again and again to remove the screaming despot from her throne. Ophelia opened her mouth and dived towards the nanny’s arm. With a primitive grunt of victory, she buried her teeth in the awaiting flesh. The pit bull in a party frock then got down from the swing, wiped her mouth on her cardigan and trotted over to her mother. Tugging on her skirt, she pointed at the nanny and tearfully complained to the manager.

Ophelia’s mother looked at her in surprise and registered the sorry state of her nanny’s forearm. I waited with interest to see how she would react. Would she explain that nice kids don’t bite? Make her apologise? Take her home and deprive her of Nutella for the forseeable future? Or just slap her backside? Nope. She turned to the other mothers in desperation, and said “Can you believe it? This is the twelfth nanny we’ve had in a year, and we still haven’t found one Ophelia likes. Can you recommend anyone, girls?”

My jaw dropped for the second time, and Ophelia ran triumphantly back to the swing. As she expertly wrestled Portia’s little brother off the seat, I asked the other nannies what had happened to the previous au pairs. Ophelia’s nanny rubbed her arm and told me that the eleven other nannies had left with enough tooth marks on their skin to play the role of human remains on the beach in the next Jaws film. This was a whole new world for me. Laura grinned, and we went off to find some cake. Cake is a universal value. Cake never lets you down. Long live cake.

Post entered in the DP Weekly Writing Challenge, 8th July 2013.

Kiss and Make Up: Retail Therapy with Little My.

My daughter is a serial shopper, whereas I am as happy about setting foot in a shopping centre as Brigitte Bardot would be with the prospect of a full-time job in a fur coat factory.  So when Little My asked me for an afternoon at the local shopping centre this week, I bit my lip.

Shopping seen by Little My.

Little My’s shopping philosophy: “Shop till you drop”.

It would be easier to convince Robert Mugabe that democracy is a viable form of government than it is to get me to partake in retail therapy. But Little My has had a tough time recently, and deserved a bit of quality time. So I grabbed my bag and set off with my beaming daughter to the nearest shopping mall.

As we walked along chatting, Little My suddenly grabbed my arm and yanked me out of the sunshine into the dark interior of what smelled suspiciously like a brothel. I choked on the unexpected lungful of eau de pong. My eyesight adjusted to the darkness, and I gaped in horror. She had done it again. I was in a “parfumerie” -a high-street den for felines who spend more time in front of the mirror than I spend in front of the fridge; women who pluck their eyebrows, pay to have their pubic hair ripped out by wax-yielding sadists, and touch up their lipstick during their coffee break (presumably incase George Clooney bowls through the door on an unexpected visit). In short, women from another planet who scare the pants off me.

I resisted the temptation to do a runner, and meekly followed my ten-year-old to a make-up stand. Little My was enthusiastically inspecting a strange collection of mud cakes, and started rubbing brown gunk on the back of my hand. “It’s foundation, Mum,” she kindly explained to her cosmetically challenged genitor. As I protested that I knew what it was, a voice piped up at my side. “Are you looking for something in particular, Madame?” Swinging around, I relished seeing the sales girl’s realisation that it would take more than a swish of her magic mascara wand to improve my sagging façade. Her eyes peered out of a generous circle of shimmering, electric blue eyeshadow. Combined with her white shirt and close-fitting black suit, she bore an uncanny resemblance to a penguin wearing Sir Elton John’s glasses.

I'm still standing

Another long day in the make-up department drew to an end as Elton John Penguin sang  “Blue eyes, baby’s got blue eyes…” (Photo credit: rogiro)

After establishing that my skin is dry and that I am allergic to most face creams, she proposed a “bébé crème”. Although this may sound very sexy, elegant and classy to  French women, I found it more reminiscent of blotchy babies’ bums than a beautiful complexion. She reassured me that I had got it all wrong: Blemish Balm Cream is the new Rolls Royce of the make-up world, le must for a flawless complexion.

But what about madame’s allergies? Another black and white apparition hove into sight, also sporting electric blue eye sockets. Cue Jaws film soundtrack. This was a solitary killer whale, cruising the diva-infested depths of the shop in search of prey with the ideal combination of low self-esteem and a high bank balance.

She glowered suspiciously from beneath a mercilessly lacquered black fringe and inspected me from head to foot. Once the customer scan had been completed, “ Tomboy Alert” flashed in red lights in the thought cloud above her head. “If madame has allergies, madame will have to buy a Clinique BB cream,” she snarled, pointing towards what was probably the most expensive brand in the shop. I informed her that you could probably feed a family for three days with the price of one pot. She hitched one nostril upwards in a condescending snarl and wished me a good day, then flicked her fins and glided off into the darkness of the anti-wrinkle cream abyss, where she had spotted an unsuspecting bottom-feeder seeking a solution for facial gravity.

As Elton John Penguin sorted out a tester so that I could blotch in the privacy of my own home, my eyes roamed along the shelves. It’s my problem: I can’t switch off from work. I find spelling and grammar mistakes everywhere I go – see the post about Super Saver Tomato for more about this foible.

Sure enough, there it was, screaming at me:

A pot of BB Crème will be awarded to the person who pot the missing letter.....

A pot of BB Crème will be awarded to the person who spots the missing letter…..

I resisted the temptation to correct it immediately with a red lip liner, and diplomatically suggested checking if the word “beau” required an “x”. Elton John Penguin appeared dubious, and darted off into the seaweed to seek the advice of Killer Whale.  Five minutes later, she tapped me the shoulder, and reassured me that it was fine the way it was…. “because beau is an adverb”. Little My looked at me, and her mouth opened. It was my turn to drag her out of the shop.

“Beau is an adjective, Mummy. And it should have an “x” at the end. Didn’t they go to school?” Little My concluded that although it’s great to know how to apply make-up, it was tragic to have the IQ of a pot of Nivea. I think I enjoy this shopping lark after all…..

Saturday Pick ‘n’ Mix.

copyright Multifarious meanderings, 2013

Pick ‘n’ mix  in our village shop.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wurzel Gummage is French, and he organises weddings.

Worzel Gummidge is French, and he organises weddings.

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

Lavatorial Lingo: The story of a woman who flipped her lid.

I flipped my lid about the family bathroom last night, and any hope for serious blogging today has gone down the pan, for lack of a better term. So today, dear readers, for your eyes only, here is the low-down on MM’s pet peeve. Get yourself a coffee now – this text started out as a small dose of tongue-in-cheek bog breviloquence, then grew into an extended version of verbal diarrhoea. Such is life when one blogs about bogs.

The evening had started off well. I had gone to bed and read a couple of chapters of an old novel from my student days, complete with the Purple Ronnie bookmark it contained back in 1988. It kind of sets the tone for this post.

My super Bottom Burp poem page marker.

My super Purple Ronnie Bottom Burp poem bookmark. An example of the sweetness and light typical of MM in her student days.

I put down the book, switched off the light and carefully laid my sinus-blocked head on the pillow. My gentle slide through Aunty Biotic’s drug-enhanced world into the arms of Morpheus was rudely interrupted by the audible mutterings of my night-time enemy, the evil “Mr B”. In the multiparous mother’s dictionary, “B” is for “Bladder”. Like the ferocious nocturnal predator known as “handus mannus” (found under the common name “the hand” in the female version of the dictionary), a bladder is, of course, masculine, like other things that bother women when they are dropping off to sleep. I ignored him. He pulled hard on the chain and rang a familiar bell in my brain, making me feel annoyingly like a servile Jeeves in a PG Wodehouse bad-bladder-boss-meets-brain scenario. And off we went for another of our futile little debates, that generally run as follows:

Mr B: “Hey! MM! You awake?”

Me: “No”.

Mr B: “You just answered. Post hoc ergo propter hoc, you are awake. I need to go.”

Me: “Bog off. The legs clocked off five minutes ago, and the brain shut down for the night two hours ago. Over and out.”

Mr B: “That’s tough, because I need to go, and I won’t let you sleep till it’s done”.

Me: “Liar. You went ten minutes ago. Put a plug in it, walnut”.

Mr B: ” Wake up and smell the coffee, honey; your pelvic floor has subsided faster than a home-made soufflé. Does 11kgs of babies mean anything to you? Girl, it’s been Armageddon down here since June 2002. And you’re the one who chose Bagels instead of Kegels after hurricane Rugby-boy blew through, remember? Wanna go.”

I heaved myself out of bed, and fumbled down the corridor in the dark – I never switch the lights on, because it wakes me up again and by the time I start dropping off, Mr B starts gushing forth with his demands again. So I dropped myself sighing on to what I thought was a toilet seat in the dark.. and fell an inch further on to cold china.

English: toilet seat up Deutsch: hochgeklappte...

Brr, yuck, yuck. Bog boot camp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

There is no need to be Einstein to work out which gender had visited the loo before me. I have already ranted about this bog bugbear and other household task issues in this post. So here’s the deal, guys: a toilet has a seat. This rather charming definition of the word “seat” could help you understand what this strange contraption is used for: “something designed to support a person in a sitting position, as a chair, bench, or pew; a place on or in which one sits”. This dictionary definition got me thinking: I do like the idea of a pew. I quite fancy a whole new take on lavatorial lingo: meet the pee pew. Or what about a buttock bench, stool stall, poop parlour, cheek chair, or flatulence throne? The possibilities are endless.

I digress. Whatever you choose to call it, a seat is for sitting on. It is not much use to anyone if it is folded up at right angles in a vertical position. Particularly in the dark. Boys, if we girls put the sofa upside down every evening just before you appeared with your beer and the tv remote, you’d howl. So put yourselves in our position and imagine jarring your previously warmed, Mr Men pyjama-unwrapped behind on cold china and not the gentle NASA-style docking you had expected with a room-temperature plastic seat. Then realise as your stomach flops over with disgust that the person before you had probably peed from a respectable height whilst inspecting his shoes or contemplating the ceiling. Sorry guys, but here you have proof of the pud: you cannot do several things at once.

Sitting in the dark, I wondered whether James Bond aimed as precisely once he was behind the toilet door. As special force material rippling with virile instinct and the eye of the tiger, do the super heroes of the male urinary universe whistle and stare gormlessly at the ceiling as they point Percy at the porcelain? Or do they delect in the thrills and spills of dropping a ball of toilet paper in the pan and aiming at their unsuspecting victim with sniper precision for toilet time target practice? (Are soldier household toilets easier to clean than their civilian counterparts? Answers on a postcard, please, bloggers.)

Target (1952 film)

Tim’s wife gives the other side of the story in Closer magazine: “He may have been a sharp shooter on the field, but certainly not in the bathroom.” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What I can see from my resident brood of men is that a toilet seat is only used when they have longer-lasting duties to attend to (in mother talk, we’d crudely comment that for some dads, it’s the only occasion on which they can claim that they have dropped the kids off at the pool). We always know when you have been there, because the seat is strangely…. down. It is also horribly warm, and the floor is littered with uninteresting reading material such as the DIY shop catalogue or “A guide to snakes”, thus giving away the identity of the person who has – once again – forgotten to walk the toilet brush whilst they were there.

I was mistaken to think that this would all pan out eventually. I have tried to go with the flow, rather than flushing with rage at the idea that you are deliberately yanking my chain. You have brushed off my pleas, guys, even if I do admit that you grudgingly tried to pander to my wishes a few times. But your efforts were sadly no more than flashes in the pan.

So I will no longer keep a lid on my frustration. I have decided on action: a shit, oops, sit-in. Mr B will be delighted to learn that he and I will be occupying the pee pew all day tomorrow in a “pee-ceful” protest against the perils of the open loo seat. I will take my book and my Purple Ronnie page marker with me. And even if the Bog Brigade sniff me out, I won’t be out until tomorrow evening, when I’ve finished my book and got the protest badge of the loo seat imprinted on my buttocks.

Life without literacy.

Reading and writing have always been as essential to me as love, laughter, oxygen and food. It is part and parcel of everyday life; I cannot imagine living without this ability. Life would be hell.

So when I discovered that a friend was illiterate, my stomach overturned. I asked her how she managed. Imagine a world where you have no idea what is written on the paper that you pull out of that envelope. On that packet. How can you live without this essential tool for communication?

My hedgehog book sits beside my bed. A meeting between a child and a novel creates beautiful things.

My hedgehog book sits beside my bed. A meeting between a child and a novel creates beautiful things.

The answer is dependence. That terrible state I never want to be in is her everyday situation. Her husband reads the notes from school to her, and her daughter reads the homework instructions out loud so that she can understand. Her daughter is sweet, understanding and fun. Like her mum. She reads for her mum. Her mother trusts her to tell her the truth. A delicate equation of trust and dependency between a mother and daughter that will continue for as long as they need each other, in a world where a child is the eyes of her parent, reading the news before passing it on. When she grows older, will she filter out the bad stuff, like we do as parents for our children before they know how to read? The necessary role reversal that had occurred so naturally shocked me.

But there is no firewall, nothing and no one to protect her if one day those helping hands suddenly disappeared. This dependence shocks me; how can illiteracy still exist in this day and age? The clock is ticking, and nothing has changed. Time that could be used to make things better is running through the hourglass.

I tried to motivate her. A simultaneous desire to hug her and shake her out of her lethargy and into action. Sign up for classes. You’re so young. Be independent. Rely on yourself. Be proud. Do it. Prove to yourself that you love yourself, and if you can’t do it for yourself, do it for the sake of your daughter. Please. Don’t rely on others for something so essential. Respect yourself. React. In this day and age, it is wrong to accept this kind of situation as a fatality.

I have suddenly realised that like so many other things in life, like love, health and happiness, things that I had always considered a basic staple of life are a privilege. That although we grew up in the same world, at the same time, she didn’t get the same chances as me. I have taken a real slap on the face. I am thankful for having parents who refused to let me let go, who cocooned me in a world full of books, literacy, library visits, who encouraged me and pushed me to never be dependent on anyone else. Education is a right. But it is also a privilege.

Shopping Sociology with Earth Daddy and the Dinkies.

It is common procedure to open the fridge within my house within two days of raiding the the supermarket and discover that it is barer than John Malkovich’s scalp. Feed a teenager the entire contents of the cupboard, and within two hours he will be rubbing round your legs like a famished tomcat, wailing that he is starving. Buy him a packet of cereal and it disappears within two days. Teenagers appear to believe in the Kellogg’s equivalent of the magic porridge pot: why is the box incapable of renewing its own contents?

That’s how I found myself wheeling my trolley around Intermarché for the umpteenth time yesterday. As usual, I had the one with the squeaky wheel. As usual, I had forgotten my list on the kitchen table. And as usual, all my favourite categories of shopper were there.

Giant Shopping Basket Feb 2006

An ideal shopping trolley for MM’s family (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Show me the contents of your trolley, and I’ll tell you who you are. Here are a few of the species I met:

Earth Daddy. Earth Daddy is married to my nemesis, Wonder Woman, who is a regular victim of my ire and bad faith on this blog. As she spends her free time at Primary school meetings in the evening, making smarmy little asides to ensure everyone knows that she is on first name terms with the teacher, Earth Daddy does the shopping with his children. He trips enthusiastically down the aisles in his designer cotton clothes, filling his trolley with whole grains, granary bread, Ryvita and Scandinavian yoghurt that has never seen a pesticide, but has made a generous contribution to the hole in the ozone layer after travelling to the South of France by plane and truck. An appropriately sleeping baby is bandaged tastefully to his chest with so much naturally dyed swathing that he looks disturbingly like a child-friendly remake of “The Mummy”.

Baby’s big sister generally has a very tasteful name like Clementine or Prune. (Classy kids in France are apparently named after fruit. Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow is actually French; she called her kid Apple.) Clementine/Prune/Banana’s education doesn’t stop when they shop, as Earth Daddy believes in taking every opportunity to brainwash his child inform Clementine about the best possible choices in life. So he stopped at the chocolate shelf as Clementine enthusiastically pointed to a well-known brand of Swiss chocolate that we all know is made with milk from purple cows then wrapped in the aluminium foil by underpaid but happy marmots.

Milka in der Breiten Straße Potsdam

The purple cow meets a chocoholic fan (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

She enquired whether they could buy it, and Earth Daddy laughed indulgently. Scratching his designer stubble, he said that she could of course have some chocolate, but he was going to show her something better. I was curious, and tailgated my politically correct suspect and his cargo of organic bran like an off-beat Sherlock Holmes. Earth Daddy homed in on his destination, and beamed as he explained the concept of fair trade to his bemused offspring. I’m not sure she bought the idea, but he bought the chocolate anyway.

The stressed mother and her assortment of screaming kids are reassuringly normal.  They remind me of that family planning advert with the kid having a tantrum (check it out at the end of the post). Whilst a toddler with streams of yellow snot running down its face eats his way through a packet of biscuits in the seat of the trolley, a sibling imprisoned between the packets of pasta and disposable nappies tramples on the fresh fruit with one foot and hangs the rest of her body over the side, screaming “Muuum, want that, want thaaaat!” Stressed mother is haggard, determined and inches from sticking a price label on each kid’s forehead and leaving them on the discount shelf. 

Zero percent is generally female, appears depressed and is on a permanent guilt trip. Her relationship with food is borderline obsessive; she suspiciously reads every last letter of the packaging. She hunts down zero percent yoghurt, zero percent coke and beef that was no doubt gleaned from liposuctioned cattle on a health farm. Her trolley is so light you are surprised it doesn’t float up in the air before she gets to the till and disappear with her hanging on to it like Mary Poppins on helium.

Hot-air-balloon

Zero Percent on her way home with her stash of light food produce (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The alcoholic OAP wanders slowly to the wine shelf in espadrilles, sagging trousers, baggy jumper and a felt cap covered with dog hair. His trolley contains two five-litre plastic containers of red wine, two packs of goats cheese and two baguettes. He beams congenially at everyone when he forgets his credit card number twice in a row, then waves goodbye before using the trolley as an impromptu Zimmer frame. He probably won’t see another human being until he does the same shop in a week’s time.

The DINKIES (Dual Income, No KIddieS) are the ones who need a stepladder to access the expensive rare breed of imported Italian pasta on the top shelf whilst you are mining  for the last packet of supermarket brand macaroni in the murky depths of the bottom shelf. Miss DINKIE wrinkles her nose on seeing any of the above supermarket population categories, and goes into anaphylactic shock on contact with children. She can be observed at the toiletries dept, suspiciously sniffing at shampoo bottles whilst her bored boyfriend looks on.

The YFSM: Young, Free & Single MaleEasily identified by the contents of his basket: pizzas, chocolate, pasta sauce, pies, frozen chips and a pack of beer. Heart-wrenching examples are the cute ones who have packets of Petit Prince biscuits and M&M’s to eat in front of the TV. I generally avoid queuing beside a YFSM, as I get inexplicable pangs of jealousy at the idea of being able to not only have the remote for myself, but eat as much rubbish as I like without being told off.

There are more categories to be covered, such as the retired lovebirds, but this post is getting way too long. So I’ll pass the talking stick on to you: who are your favourite shoppers? Here is that advert I promised you, complete with an epic Earth Daddy fail.