Five Things You Should Know Before You Marry a Biologist.

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Biologists are a fountain of knowledge about nature. 

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

3. Biologists never switch off. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Tale of Fetid Fridges and Runaway Reptiles

MM is back after a fabulous week away, during which she avidly soaked up friendship, family, fresh air, open spaces and glorious views. Oh, and a few beers too. I slept like a log, surfacing to the sound of cow bells every morning for seven heavenly days.

The return home was gradual, as if we needed weaning out of our holiday stupor. We took the long road home along beautiful country roads. PF whistled happily and I realised that life was fabulous. My brow furrowed: if things are too good to be true, it generally means something is about to go awry.

On our arrival in our neighbourhood, a premonitory sighting of Gargamel did nothing to reassure me. He was parading on his terrace in his underpants, his beer gut drooping petulantly over his knicker elastic. We lowered our heads and headed through the front door to discover a strange smell. My brain ran it though the “least favourite smell” data base and found a match: rotting lemons.

English Electric Refrigerator Ad, 1950

MM proudly presenting the contents of her  fridge on her return from holiday (Photo credit: alsis35 (now at ipernity)

The kitchen was not only smelly, but ominously silent: the characteristic hum of the fridge was missing. A howl of anguish escaped from the living room as technological cold turkey hit Bigfoot. After a week sandwiched between a lake and a field of cows in the back of beyond, he had discovered that the internet was down.

Yes, folks…. Murphy’s Law had struck again. The long-awaited storm had finally arrived to clear the air-shortly after our departure for a holiday. The fuses had promptly blown, and the house had waited patiently in Provençal temperatures until I arrived home to flip the switch… eight days later.

The fridge was full of the food I had planned for our return home, all in varying states of decay. It was modern art: a desolate landscape of yoghurt pots stretched across the top shelf, their bloated lids straining at the seams. Below, a gleaming slab of cheese curled gently at the corners. Milk paraded as cottage cheese in the door, and a family of mummified lemons was hiding in the vegetable tray, each tastefully clad in designer coat of green fur. The carnage continued in the freezer, where a huge joint of wild boar, kept for “a big day”, diffused strong scents of venison, and the individual meals I had prepared for PF swam lengths of a freezer drawer full of water, their curved lids tauter than Rihanna’s buttocks.

If the fridge-freezer fiasco had been the only problem on our return, things would have been fine. But destiny had another trick up her sleeve. Whilst washing the yeast off my hands in the bathroom (tip of the day: frozen yeast grows beautifully in a dark, defrosted freezer tray if there is some warm melted water on the side), I clapped eyes on MG.

MG is short for Matière Grise: Grey Matter. MG is the cleverest of P.F’s four snakes*. He had apparently got through the crack in the tank door with as much ease as Bernard Tapie getting out of a lawsuit. He (MG, not Bernard Tapie) had set up residence between the toilet duck and the floor cloth in my cleaning bucket, his head draped nonchalantly across the scrubbing-brush. His tongue flickered lazily as he gave me the one-over like a drunken old man propped up at the bar in a night club. Before he had time to ask me what a great girl like me was doing covered in yeast in a place like this, I picked him out of the bucket and took him back to the tank…. where Jaypi, the dumbest of the python brotherhood, was waiting. Alone.

There is no need to be Einstein to know that 4 – 2 = 2 runaway reptiles. They had followed MG on his bid for freedom, and were on a jail break jaunt around the house. Little My found overturned picture frames in the living room, and Rugby-boy returned from his room complaining that it had been visited. We spent two hours hunting for them, to no avail: snakes are better at hide and seek than Yvan Colonna**.

The following morning, I was having my first caffeine fix when I had the distinct feeling that I was being watched. Escaped convict number two was inspecting me from his newly acquired luxury home below the dishwasher. As I moved in on him, he gracefully slid out of sight. Not to be deterred, MM dismantled the skirting board, evicted the disgruntled holiday-maker, and returned him to his cell.

Runaway number three had given away his location upstairs by knocking all the shampoo bottles into the bath overnight. My offer to bait him with pictures of Harry Potter was refused by the hunting committee. We finally got Nagini back to Reptile HQ on Monday night, when Little My spotted him curled up on the tumble drier, no doubt waiting for her to fill the bath so that he could have a swim.

Tank security has now been reinforced, and all occupants are counted at bedtime and breakfast. We are sure that they are already planning their next great escape…..

*  In light of a recent event in Canada, I would like to specify that our snakes are legally acquired, one metre long, docile and inoffensive.

** Yvan Colonna is a Corsican nationalist accused of assassination in 1998 who fled and avoided arrest for five years. 

My Menagerie.

I really should be working. But up popped this little gem from Daily Prompt in my mail box: “Do you have animals in your life? If yes, what do they mean to you? If not, why have you opted not to?”

As we didn’t have enough on our plates with a home that is a permanent hard-hat area, two jobs and three children, we decided to add a little spice to the family equation and get some pets. Here’s a quick introduction to our menagerie.

Firstly, meet Smelly Dog. Smelly dog is six years old, and she is my best friend whilst I’m working alone at home. She lies on the ground beside me in the kitchen as I type away, and yelps, snorts, whines, growls and twitches her feet as she chases after what I presume to be animals and bad guys in her sleep. I’d love to be able to see her dreams.

She has a soft spot for cheese of any description, and for some reason thinks that rolling herself copiously in animal dung (the stinkier the better) makes her smell good. We go for long walks together, and when I need to talk, she lies her head on my lap, listens patiently, and doesn’t repeat what I tell her to anyone – not even the cat. She defends us ferociously – at least from a distance. Her radar hearing picks up on footsteps before we can see anyone anywhere near the house.  Once the alarm has been rung, she hides behind us and barks protectively. She has a perfect memory, which makes visiting the vet’s a complicated issue – I generally have to cajole her and usually end up carrying 28 kilogrammes of shaking Golden Retriever into the waiting room.

Water: her favourite hobby.

Water: her favourite hobby.

Now meet Murphy. Murphy is my unlucky black cat. We adopted him when his predecessor decided to tackle a truck, and lost the battle. (As my mother rightly said, with a name like “Calamity”, he was doomed from the start anyway.)

Murphy was found on a petrol pump in a box containing 12 kittens. We adopted him from the vet’s when he was three weeks old, along with a stock of bottles and special kitten formula. He looked like a kind of off-beat gremlin. His gut dragged along the ground, and he belched copiously after each bottle. Needless to say, the kids fell in love with him immediately.

It’s just as well, as Murphy carries his name well. Initially chosen because he is the same colour as MM’s favourite Irish stout, his name is now associated more with Murphy’s law, which dictates that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. Now aged seven, Murphy takes on a typical resigned look every time we get near the vet’s. Here are a few picks of his various injuries. He has fallen off the roof, been run over by a car, and his face has exploded (see here for that story).  He has probably cost us more than our three children combined in medical fees.

Murphy doesn’t walk – he prances effeminately along on rubbery legs, delicately placing his paws one in front of each other as if he was the feline equivalent of Claudia Schiffer prowling down the kitty-cat walk. Until this year, Murphy hated being cuddled, except when he asked for attention himself.  I swear that if he was human, he would be an ungrateful, sardonic, self-indulgent and narcissistic teenager complete with gothic complexion and a pierced nose. His no-nonsense, no frills realism struck a chord in me. I related to this cat, as I am very much the same most of the time and am not permanently pawing at my family for cuddles.

The only cats P.F ever liked got killed or disappeared. He saw Murphy as a parasite until he exploded (Murphy, not P.F. P.F does explode from time to time,  but figuratively speaking, not literally). The postapocalyptic Murphy is unrecognisable, asking for cuddles, leaping up on to PF’s lap for cuddles, and sleeping between us on the pillow. Miracles apparently happen – with the help of a large dose of anaesthetic.

Murphy doing his legendary impression of a ready-to-roast chicken.

Murphy doing his legendary impression of a ready-to-roast chicken.

Happily, any doubts about him having died during post-explosion surgery and been replaced by an identical cat at the vets have been dispelled by the fact that he continues to eat too much and redecorate the house: Murphy is bulimic, and chooses a different place to throw up each time.  We are laying our bets on Murphy living to a ripe old age and putting that old adage about 9 lives into disrepute.

Then we have the Daltons, P.F’s babies. They are around three feet long, lie curled up together in a big ball, and don’t do much except eat mice and crap. Oh, and help me get rid of unwanted visitors. “Do come in for a coffee. I just have to feed my snakes first” is a very efficient way of finding out just how much those visitors really want to see you…..

Last and not least, there is Jamie the 3rd. Yes, you got it, his two predecessors were sent down the great white telephone to goldfish heaven. Jamie the First appeared in Little My’s water-glass at her uncle and aunt’s wedding in Paris, when the magician unwittingly chose the only child who was in the middle of moving across France to benefit from his Jesus style “fish and water” act.  Little My was thrilled, and was not going to give up her new friend for all the money in the world. When PF suggested that she freed the little chap into the nearby lake, he was told where he could stick his advice in no uncertain terms by a determined little girl with a trembling lower lip. Jamie survived his trip and finally died six months later in his new home in the South of France. Brigitte Bardot would have been proud of the kid.