M.M’s Guide to the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper.

If you are a longterm follower of this blog, you will know that MM is as enthusiastic about shopping as Lindsay Lohan would be about running a tea shop. In order of preference, I would rather rip my toe nails out with a pair of pliers, spend an evening babysitting for Godzilla’s offspring or clean the family car with my tooth brush than set foot in a shopping centre at the height of the summer sales. Why? Because I’m allergic to the LSSS: the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper. She brings me out in spots.

wow-thing

MM emerging from the underground car park and seeing the sales crowd. Note full head and eye protection for a day at the sales (Photo credit: x-ray delta one).

But last weekend, Little My had other plans. She was adamant about her perfect birthday agenda: a day spending her birthday money at the summer sales. With Mummy. So there I was, standing on an escalator that smoothly and irreverently spat me into the throbbing, frantic world of shopaholics. A beaming and febrile twelve year old clutched at me with one hand whilst the other quivered with anticipation over her pocket, ready to unsheathe her wallet and shoot ready cash at the first sight of a bargain.

Her chosen hunting ground was the place I call “the empty parrot cage” – a shopping centre called the “Polygone”. It was the third day of the summer sales, though, and the parrot cage was anything but empty. The air was rife with raw instinct – I swore I could smell it. The serial shopper season was in full swing, and they were hunting in packs, cackling loudly. They swooped past us, multicolored plastic bags dangling from the grasps of their French-manicured claws. Some were perched in lines on benches, pecking at bags of crisps and sipping Diet Coke as they gloated over their pickings (imagine the vultures in the Jungle Book, but more sinister).

Vulture / Buitre

An ageing Solitary Serial Shopper, all made up and ready to nab that size ten from her unsuspecting victim. (Photo credit: . SantiMB .)

How to recognize the LSSS.

The lesser spotted serial shopper looks fragile and dainty, but believe me, kiddo: those dainty little summer dresses hide ruthless machines that have trained to perfection for the Great Battle of the Credit Card. Move over, Lara Croft: these commercial commandos have prepared their offensive with military precision, and taken photos of their goals during strategically planned early morning reconnaissance flights. In the same way that the US Army polish up their weapons, the Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper has sharpened her nails with her titanium emery board in preparation for the big day. I suspect that they go to special commercial commando camps, where they hang bat-like from the rafters dressed in pink lycra and do sit-ups in time to “the Eye of the Tiger“, sweat dripping off their elbows as a hairy-chested hybrid of Mr T and Madonna barks instructions at them and points at the photos of dresses blu-tacked to the ceiling.

Modus operandi.

You don’t hear her sneaking up from behind the lingerie display until it’s too late. Her strategy is simple: as your fingers lovingly caress the article you are planning on buying, she will slide between you and it, staring at you with wide, mascara-ed eyes as she breathes “excusez-moi…” in your face. You step backwards, realizing that you have the choice between that or getting a stiletto heel-shaped hole in your big toe. She disappears in a puff of Dior, your vestimentary dream jammed firmly under her armpit. You live and learn. Another well-known strategy to is save valuable time by trying on clothing in the queue for the till and leaving a trail of unwanted items along the way, à la Hansel and Gretel. Any neighbouring woman who blinks in surprise at getting a face full of Serial Shopper’s g-string as she tries on a pair of mini-shorts is rebuked with a hostile glare that could reduce the average human being to a pile of poop, whilst a shy but sexy smirk is reserved for male onlookers.

English: Boxes of Nooma puddings being unloaded.

A Happily Married Serial Shopper supervising her cargo of sales bargains. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Subspecies.

Solitary predators hunt alone – these are the most dangerous variety. The misleadingly feminine and delicately perfumed exterior of the Solitary Lesser Spotted Serial Shopper hides the terrifying predator that lies within. These experienced birds have an eagle eye for a bargain, and will not hesitate to elbow less streetwise shoppers in the ribs, stick the corners of their handbags in children’s faces and reduce any inappropriately sandal-clad toes to smithereens in their quest to make it to the last size ten dress before anyone else.

Happily Married comes with her personal bodyguard/bag carrier/fund provider – a commercially depressed, metrosexual other half whose haggard expression induces pity in the most hard-hearted of people. She parks him on a chair outside the cubicle, where he avoids eye contact with the other women. When the LSSS finally extracts herself from the pile of clothing she has shoe-horned into the cubicle with her and twirls in front of the mirror, he fields the question “What do you think?” with caution: he knows that his opinion does not actually have any weight in her decision making, and any suggestion that the shirt is too short or the cleavage too deep will be greeted with flared nostrils and a glare. He is there simply to guard her trophies and go to find a different size or colour if needed.

The queue for the changing rooms is generally three miles long, and usually includes gaggles of Trainee Serial Shoppers. These are the young beginners who no doubt still use their Dolce & Gabbana belt buckles to differentiate between their “droite” and their “gauche”. They remain in a gaggle around the curtain, chewing gum and typing messages to each other on their phones (it’s not cool to talk to each other directly at that age) as they await the appearance of The Friend wearing the bargain of the century. According to the latter’s status in the group, comments will then vary from “Waaaah, so sexxxxxxy!” to “Uh. Yeah. I think it makes your bum look big. Nah, I mean, bigger.

DolceAndGabbana belt fake

Wear a Dolce and Gabbana belt, and instantly have the means to tell your left hand from your right (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“And what about the shopper with a girlfriend?” you ask. Well, I’m going to make myself unpopular here, but if she absolutely has to break the solitary rule of serial shopping, the LSSS never goes to the sales with a friend who wears the same size as her. She firmly believes that if she is the Queen Mary, her long-suffering pal is her tug. Only a friend who wears at least two sizes bigger are accepted to carry her bags and approve of her choices. However, said friend should have skin as thick as whale blubber and not expect the same favours in return.

I’ll leave you with this advert from the German internet clothing company Jungstil. It sums up my fears about the Lesser Spotted Sales Shopper perfectly. Be good at the sales. And if you can’t be good, be careful. Very careful. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to hang off the rafters.

PS. My apologies for the resounding silence since my last post. Life has been throwing all kinds of challenges MM’s way of late, meaning that she lost much of her blogging muchness. My mum always told me that if you have nothing nice to say, it’s best to keep your trap shut – hence the period of silence on this blog. 

 

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Loo Roll Logic, or How to Have Fun at the Supermarket.

I am a serial “people spotter”, and supermarkets are a permanent source of amusement for me. Earth Daddy (the free-trade father), Zero Percent (the manically depressed low fat/sugar/carb freak), YFSM (Young Free & Single Male) and the rest of the Saturday Shopper crew have me rolling in the supermarket aisles every time.

This week, I decided to embrace the zen attitude of the weekday lunchtime shop, and met a completely different shopping population. The store was quiet and strangely devoid of the usual screaming toddlers teetering over the brink of the trolley with torrents of snot and half-chewed cookie drooling down their chins.

1953--shop as a family--by Bill Fleming

Earth Daddy, Wonder Woman and their irreproachable offspring shopping at Intermarché, where Earth Daddy finally found the rat poison he needed to deal with the neighbour’s cat. (Photo credit: x-ray delta one)

I coasted through the aisles with my squeaky trolley and played “Shopper’s I spy”. Retired lady with headscarf sifting through the cut-price bargains on the bottom shelf of the deli section? Check. Night-shift workers with bags under their eyes hunting down their brunch? Check. Spotty teens playing truant from the local school? Check. Zero Percent reading the small print on the diet yoghurt pot? Check.

I ambled over to the fruit and veg section in hope of a blog-worthy sight, and was rewarded by the sight of a well-dressed gent who was picking cucumbers off the display one after the other. He prodded them and eyed them suspiciously before waving one of them at his wife, who acquiesced with a brief nod of the head and went back to rummaging feverishly through the bags of salad.

It was at that moment that I was distracted by a supermarket sound I love more than any other – the sound of someone singing along to the tannoy system. From behind the lettuce display, a deep voice with a strong French accent was purring:

“And eef you ‘ave a minoot whay don’t wee goh…?

Tolk abowt eet, zomwear onli wee noh?

Ziiiiis cood be zee end of everysii-ing

Zo whay don’t wee goh

Zomwear onli wee noh?”

Peering through the foliage, I spotted the vegetable virtuoso. The bearded young man was serenading the bunches of radishes as he inspected them one by one, happily oblivious to the fact that the entire store could hear him. His version of Coldplay made the song, as well as grocery shopping, a damn sight sexier. He bounded away with his radishes and dropped them into his basket before pointing in the air and informing his girlfriend: “Let’s go. I hate love songs in supermarkets.” His secret would be safe with me – once I’d put it on my blog.

Woman wearing gas mask in chamber

Gladys realized that her lotus flower-scented loo roll was no match for the collateral damage caused by Roger’s Vindaloo take-away. (Photo credit: State Library of Victoria Collections)

I mooched off to the toilet paper aisle for the weekly truckload of toilet paper and raised a perplexed eyebrow at the range of vile colours on offer. I just don’t get the point of the insipid pastel shades of pink, apricot, blue and green, which remind me of hand-knitted cardigans at the local old people’s home. There is nothing delicate or elegant about the role of the roll. And as for perfumed loo roll… Depending on who has just vacated the premises, you would have to insert an entire roll up each nostril to even notice the fragrance.

Just as I was leaving with my monster pack of bog standard white, my jaw unhinged at the sight of transparent twin packs of individually wrapped toilet rolls. In MM’s humble abode, a twin pack of bog roll would have the life expectancy of a Mars bar tossed on to the raft of the Medusa. Squinting closer, I discovered that these porcelain potty pin-ups weren’t just soft, strong and very long: you could roll this stuff out at Cannes to replace the red carpet. More importantly, these ultra-cushioned stars of the sanitaires beat the crap out of their pale pink neighbours with the raciest colours I have ever seen for the wee pee pew, including apple green, velvet-black and… dark brown.

Who on earth buys brown toilet paper? My curiosity was piqued. I parked up, grabbed a box of washing powder and pretended to read the back of it as people came and went, impatient to see who the mystery buyer could be. If my loo-roll logic was correct, it would be a high-earning, middle-aged bachelor who lives in a minimalist designer flat and reads philosophy on his spotlessly clean toilet, before carefully tearing a single sheet of paper from the Stark bog roll holder gleaming on the wall.

After ten minutes, I gave up waiting for confirmation. In my haste, I had overlooked the fact that someone who pays nearly two euros per individually wrapped chocolate-brown loo roll 1) wouldn’t be shopping until much later that evening, and 2) probably doesn’t buy loo roll very often, because he spends all his time working to pay for the bloody stuff. Never mind. Better luck next week.

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A Letter to Papounet.

Check, Papounet....Little My playing with you last summer.

Check, Papounet….Little My playing with you last summer.

Dear Papounet,

Since you passed away, I keep finding myself talking to you out loud. The stray cat you used to feed comes running every time, and your neighbours must think I’m one can short of a six-pack as I chat with thin air. I’m writing to you on my blog, because you were a regular reader – you even wrote “MM” on the last envelope I received from you. Knowing you, you are already hooked up to St Peter’s internet router with a glass of punch in your hand, because that’s the kind of person you were.

I hope that you found your eulogy acceptable. I wrote my own eulogy for fun once, but I never thought I’d have to write a real one – why did it have to be for you? None of us wanted corny, tear-jerking crap, so I put a dose of MM humour in there, and we managed to raise a laugh at your funeral. I’m sure that the vicar will get over it. (That, and the assorted platters of cold meat we cheerfully offered him afterwards – the resident font frog nearly keeled over with shock, and we had to revive her with a glass of orange juice. In all the kerfuffle, we had forgotten that it was Good Friday. I can hear you laughing from here.)

Grief is a weird thing – we’re new at this game. I You’ve been gone for exactly thirteen days, and the feelings are still raw. Your favourite magazines are still in a neat pile, and your armchair has been literally shouting into the room for attention. Nobody has moved your favourite cup. Everything has changed, yet in appearance, nothing has changed. Life appears to be suspended in mid-air, waiting for you to walk back in and slam the door.

Yesterday, the wind whipped through the olive branches as I pegged the laundry out to dry, coaxing a silver ripple out of the leaves on its journey to freedom. I pulled the flannel from the tangled pile, and the tears welled up.

I angrily wiped them away and lectured myself. Who cries for a flannel?

I do.

I’ve become an emotional crumple zone. PF had been surprised to see me cry when I saw the pot of your favourite jam sitting on the breakfast table. Ordinary, everyday things now spark off a wave of feelings – inanimate objects have suddenly and inexplicably started yelling your name at me, whispering memories into my ear.

Like the flannel. I pegged it on the line and stared at it. The last time I had held it, I was joking with you in the hospital room. I had taken the flannel, a basin of hot water, some soap and the nail clippers, and took care of your feet. As I trimmed your toenails, you recounted the history of the scars on your toes. A nurse came in, and you asked her to take me on. I enquired if there was anyone she didn’t like on the ward today, and offered her the nail clippings to put into their coffee. She declined. You grinned.

Shortly afterwards, PF called and asked me to give you a hug and a kiss. So I carefully snuggled up on your shoulder and you put your arms around me. I kissed the warmth of your neck, and told you that it was from your son. Then I blew a gentle raspberry on your skin, and it tickled. You laughed out loud. I stood up, took my bag and promised that I would return with PF and your grandchildren, and you promised that you would wait for us. I turned in the doorway and told you to fight, flexing my biceps. You pulled a face, and did likewise. I blew you a kiss, and you said good-bye. I cried on the motorway – you had never called me “ma fille” – “my daughter” – before that day.

I kept my promise, and you kept yours. It will take us some time to adjust to life without you. For the moment, life is a bowl of toenail clippings – you would have enjoyed learning that expression. I’m proud to have known you, Papounet… and I know you’re still here with us.

Love,

MM.

How to Embrace Your Inner Bitch.

Farmer Farthing over at the Asylum recently described how a run-in with a bottle of vodka awoke the Kraken within. I nodded in sympathy. Everybody has one.

Once again, Mrs Playmo had failed to put her Inner Bitch on a lead.

Once again, Mrs Playmo had failed to put her Inner Bitch on a lead.

Meet your Inner Bitch.

She’s raw, she’s rough and she makes Ridley Scott’s Alien look as scary as Yogi Bear. We are brought up to ignore her, yet we don’t listen to her often enough. She tells us what we don’t want to hear – she’s our inner voice, our gut feeling, our deep-seated instinct.

Inner Bitch is Gollum’s little sister,  jealously guarding your most secret fears. Naked, unkempt and rebellious, she keeps away from the light, crouching in the corners of your mind and flitting through the dark shadows of your consciousness. At nightfall, she grabs her bag, slams the door and gets the lift to your mind. She parties drunkenly in your dreams and lets rip with her high-pitched screams, appealing to you through the mists of sleep to say things her way. You refuse. As the day dawns, she stomps back to her cave, where she kicks off her scruffy Doc Martins, crouches on the floor in her underwear and flicks cigarette ash into a dirty coffee cup. She mutters obscenities and calls you a loser as she observes you smiling through gritted teeth at someone she wishes you would hang upside down off the nearest lamp-post with their underwear on their heads. If only you would listen to her…

My genetic heritage has rewarded me with 1) an exploded brillo pad growing on my head and 2) a multifarious character combining four contradictory elements: English stoicism, Scottish candour, Irish hot-headedness and Welsh stubbornness.

A rare picture of the author to prove that I'm not kidding about the brillo pad. My kids call me Chewbacca.

A rare shot of the author, fondly referred to as  “Chewbacca” by her offspring. Just to prove that I’m not kidding about the brillo pad…

Below this thick coat of hair there is an ideal habitat for my drooling, rabid inner bitch, who is waiting for that one ideal moment to rear her ugly head, known as

The Fuckwit Vortex

We’ve all been sucked into the fuckwit vortex at some point in our lives. Fuckwit is a term I first read in Helen Fielding’s book Bridget Jones’ Diary, and describes a fool or an idiot. We all know a fuckwit, and we are all somebody else’s fuckwit, no matter how hard we try.

For reasons that elude you, someone, consciously or not, is doing their best to goad your Inner Bitch into a conflict. You put on your best deadpan face in the full knowledge that she is foaming at the mouth. Seething and bubbling like a lake of lava behind your mask of self-control. You visualise the words “Off” “Water” “A” “Back” “Duck’s”, and “Wrongs” “Right” “Two” “Make” “A” “Don’t”, and encourage yourself to assemble them in the right order and repeat as necessary until symptoms subside. This “ignore it and it will go away” policy, otherwise known as putting your head in the sand, doesn’t work every time. But fear not, dear reader. We have a secret weapon:

The two-way fuckwit filter

A fuckwit filter, also known as taking a step back, filters the majority of negative fuckwit frequency input. This substantially reduces the amount that reaches Inner Bitch in her cave. When the negative vibes attain her, she bounds up to the access hatch with wild eyes, hair flying and saliva dripping off her chin, only to be caught in the fuckwit filter.

1953 Ad, E Z Kleen Air Filters

If the fuckwit filter could be bought, it would look like this.(Photo credit: classic_film)

Oh frabjous day! Caloo, calay! The fuckwit filter saves the day! Or not. Overpowering the inner bitch, muzzling her and putting her back in her cage cannot work for ever. So here is another simple method:

Embrace your inner bitch.

Accommodate her voice and modulate it into a polite form. You can even tinge it with a touch of humour to spice it up if you so wish – this is commonly called sarcasm. Watch the grin spread across your inner bitches face. She will clap her hands with glee, leap into her armchair and grab a bucket of popcorn to enjoy the show, because you finally gave her some air space. Amaze yourself as you deliver a softer version of her first draft. Like in music, you can choose the beat and the melody : hard rock, love song, folk or blues. John Lennon, Metallica or the Muppets: the choice is yours and yours only.

This does however demand a great amount of self-control. It is often confused with the very dangerous third option:

Letting the bitch loose.

Woe betide the girl who lets Inner Bitch run amok – if she escapes into the room, she can cause more havoc than Samantha Fox running around the Vatican in her birthday suit.

This often happens when events are taken over by the only other threat to humanity: Herr Hormone and his henchmen (more about him here). When the bitch hooks up with Herr Hormone, she explodes out of your mouth like Godzilla with a skinful of Jack Daniels and steroids. She rips the truths out of your innards, whizzes them together and vomits them into the room, then returns to her cave and punches the hell out of your stomach wall. This is the worst possible option, because irreparable damage occurs and feelings are hurt. Including yours. From now on you are alone with Inner Bitch, and neither of you will gain any more than solitude from the escapade.

Little Bitch

This girl let her inner bitch escape. She was immediately devoured with ketchup and her shoes were given to Oxfam. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So get in touch with your inner bitch, but don’t confuse it with being a bitch. The first is good for you, the second is self-destructive. Inner Bitch really is your best friend. If she is happy, so are you: it’s a win-win situation. Just remember to put her on a lead when you take her out for a walk.

My thanks to Farmer Farthing, aka Welly Girl, for inspiring this post. Welly Girl is a terminally good egg: a ray of sunshine in any grey day. Her blog is a fabulous cocktail of fun, fiction and reality checks. She has a refreshingly different way to cut the proverbial crap, and you should check her out here and now at farmerfarthing.com

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Vladimir and The Big Bad Wolf.

The Sochi Winter Games are well under way, and Mr Putin’s appearance as a bare-chested moral crusader wearing his underpants over his lycra ski-pants has backfired on him to a greater extent than anyone could have ever imagined. President Obama was far from being alone in declining his invitation to the party, and even President Hollande waived the opportunity to try on one of those gay, rainbow-coloured track suit tops.

The world is now scrutinizing the Sochi games, and Internet is full of fun yet lucid messages such as this one from the Canadian Institute for Diversity and Inclusion:

Some athletes sported rainbow-coloured accessories for the opening ceremony, and Google adopted the same colours for their home page, quoting the values of the Olympic Charter below it: “The practice of sport is a human right. Every individual must have the possibility of practicing sport, without discrimination of any kind and in the Olympic spirit, which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.”

Values that Mr Putin immediately transgressed with a cool “welcome” to any gay visitors, requesting them to “leave the children in peace” during their visit, and refrain from “homosexual and pedophile propaganda”.

When inviting high-profile international athletes to your winter sporting event, telling them not to touch your kids probably isn’t the best ice-breaker to kick off your party. I have serious doubts that any athletes came to the Winter Games with the plan of converting Russia’s youth to anything at all – be it brussels sprouts or homosexuality – after years of intensive training for a unique opportunity to prove their sporting skills. However, by conflating homosexuals and pedophiles, Mr Putin has shown his true colours: 50 shades of darkness.

It’s not the first or the last time that a politician has used stories about the bogeyman to gain the support of the population. Your desire to “protect” Russia’s children from the big bad wolf of permissive society may be touching for some, but there are a few things that you seem to have forgotten in your haste to prove to the rest of the world what a good moral guardian you are. These have a much more direct impact on Russian children than foreign athletes who you believe could simultaneously promote their sexuality and ski down the Sochi slopes. 

So instead of scaring your kids with gay monster stories, I’d suggest sorting out a few other more pressing issues that have been pointed out by UNICEF and the world Health Organisation, among others.

Like child pornography and prostitution. Whilst you are barking up the wrong tree, children in Russia (and particularly migrant populations) are being exploited in organised prostitution. Whilst you point an accusing finger at your visitors, you forget that you have no current legislation condemning the simple possession of child pornography in your own country. 

Then there’s the human trafficking and child labour. In the child labour rankings, Russia sadly boasts the 69th place in a list of 197 countries exploiting children, and iconsidered to pose an “extreme risk” alongside China. According to the Maplecroft child labour index 2014, Russia is “lagging” in the battle against child labour and trafficking. The report describes the increasing presence of children working in shops, on construction sites and in agriculture, where they use dangerous machinery and harmful pesticides. 

Peter, Ivan and Sasha realize that they have c...

The arrival of international athletes at Sochi, told by uncle Vlad. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Russia’s rates of infant, child and maternal mortality are among the highest in Eastern Europe, and the country has the highest incidence of AIDS after mainland Africa. HIV transmission is mainly fuelled by the heterosexual community, meaning that more and more children are being born to HIV–infected mothers.

Living conditions and education could do with some investment, too – Unicef describe a “dramatic increase in the number of children living on the streets or in institutions”, and deplore declining investments in national education, lowering school enrollment rates and preschool availability, falling school completion rates, and less opportunities for poor children in rural areas to access education.

Last but not least, over 650,000 Russian children are registered orphans, yet an estimated  66-95% of all of these children are considered social orphans, meaning that one or more of their birth parents are still alive. If the State believes there is a problem, they simply take custody of the child. Many of those with serious handicaps spend their childhood in orphanages, then get put into adult asylums. New laws are in the pipeline to remove children from their gay parents, irrelevant of whether they are well-cared for or not, potentially sending more children into orphanages when they have absolutely no need to be there.

Will the real big bad wolf please stand up?

“There is no monopoly in common sense

On either side of the political fence.

We share the same biology,

Regardless of ideology.

Believe me when I say to you

I hope the Russians love their children too.”

Sting.

 

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Gizmo, the Smarty-Pants Phone.

English: "Stripe" Gremlin figure, le...

Never get water on Gizmo the smart phone. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Three weeks before my birthday, Norbert the Nokia kindly decided that I no longer needed the bottom row of keys, lined up like baby teeth at the bottom of my handset. From that moment onwards, I was condemned to only phoning the numbers that were already stashed away in Norbert’s memory, and I crossed my fingers that he would not suffer from amnesia as well as paralysed digits.

But that’s not all. I also had to get my head around a texting world that was devoid of the letters W, X, C, V,  B, M, and N. Texting became as easy as simultaneously whistling and cleaning your false teeth – it was like playing Scrabble with half the letters missing from the box. By the time I had found a synonym that did not need any of the missing letters, the person I was supposed to pick up at the bus stop had given up and walked home.

The major disadvantage of being deprived of these letters was that I was suddenly incapable of refusing anything to my children at distance, as I had no way to type the word “no” in a text message, whatever language I used. The absence of an immediate refusal was therefore interpreted as a tacit consent.

I can hear you all from here. “Why didn’t you just phone them?” I hear you ask. Simple. Using a phone to talk with parents went out with the arc (even if this was the only viable argument they had for buying the thing). When we parents call our offspring, we are generally greeted by the answering machine – taking a call from your mother on the school bus is as high on the humiliation scale as showing a pimple on your backside to your family GP.

Description unavailable

Gertrude and Doris enjoyed calling their children on their mobiles and muttering “I am your Mother” through their gas masks. (Photo credit: Foxtongue)

A teenager’s mobile phone could be defined as an alarm clock that allows its owner to play games, communicate with friends (by text message only), listen to music and avoid being spoken to by the kid in your class who wants to go out with you when waiting alone at the bus stop. It is also an ideal means to reverse those parent – offspring roles and keep constant track of your genitors – a bit like Argos transmitters on migratory birds. When I leave the house at the weekend, I have approximately ten minutes of freedom before the tracking squad kicks in with regular calls demanding where I am and what time I will be back. This makes me feel like a fifteen-year-old girl who’s been caught sneaking out the back door in her sister’s high heels and sequined boob tube when I’m just on a mission to fill the fridge for the second time in three days.

Anyway, I digress. When PF, Bigfoot, Little My and Rugby Boy took me off to choose my new phone for my birthday, I was a happy cookie. My offspring pointed excitedly at ultra thin phones – the technological equivalent of Paris Hilton after a run-in with a steam roller. The things just oozed sexiness, and when I saw the price label I realised why – they’d had enough microchip surgery to keep them looking young until the next model elbowed them off the telecommunications catwalk into early retirement six months later.

A salesman cruised around the corner and mooched over to us. Flashing a pearly white smile, he smoothly ran off the characteristics of the über-sexy model in his hand. When he stopped for breath, I asked, “So, does it phone?” He drew himself up to his full height – somewhere around my belly button. “Yes, madame. You can also takes pictures and videos, surf the web, get the weather all over the world, the news…” When he had finished, I asked: “Does it do the washing-up and bring me breakfast in bed too?”

He blinked. I explained that although it may appear strange, I don’t have an internet package for my phone – I actually enjoy the freedom of not being followed by social media and emails when I’m out. I just needed a phone that phones. I pointed behind him to a bright red candy-bar that could survive being dropped in the Atlantic, thrown off a cliff and run over by a tank. This little beauty had probably been designed by Playschool, and would survive well after the scorpions had kicked the bucket in the Apocalypse. I quickly found myself imagining the scene – I would tuck it under my lycra knicker elastic and be the new Lara Croft, albeit with less generous boobs and extra padding on my bottom half, bounding around the scorched remains of the earth. Yeah. The only girl with a phone that would work to call the President when the other survivor, Bruce Willis, got the network up and running…

The iStone: at the cutting edge of technology.

The iStone: at the cutting edge of technology.

Little My shook her head and dragged me out of my dream to show me another phone. Her siblings agreed: this was the real McCoy. And ever since, I have been the adoptive mother of Gizmo. Gizmo is a smart phone who is too big to fit in my jeans pocket but small enough to disappear in my handbag. He’s not just a smart phone, he’s a smarty-pants phone. His insatiable need for attention has driven me to lobotomise him by depriving him of his lifeline to the internet router after more disturbances than I care to mention. A night with a teething child is probably more restful than a night with a phone that pops its cheek at you through the dark every time someone on the other side of the world posts a picture of their lunch on Facebook.

Gizmo is obviously a man – he is very touchy-feely, and constantly requests stroking and TLC. Like a Gremlin, Gizmo must be kept away from water at all costs. Whereas I could just wipe my hands on my jeans and press the button to take a call with Norbert when I was peeling the spuds, Gizmo has to wait until I’ve washed and dried my hands before I can tend to his needs. When he rings in my pocket and it’s raining, I find myself reassuring him that I will release him from the dark just as soon as I find a dry place to stand. The idea of him getting covered in warts, and evil baby smart phones popping up all over the place scares the hell out of me. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go… Gizmo’s ringing.

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Caught With His Hand In The Cootchie Jar!

Internationally, the French have a certain reputation for being somewhat hot to trot. Perhaps not as much so as the Italians (as Berlusconi has proved again and again), but as far as infidelity goes, French politicians are high up on the scandal scale. The last remarkable ding-a-ling ding-dong concerned Dominic Strauss-Kahn, after he somehow managed to mistake the cleaning lady for his wife in a hotel room. So when French President François Hollande was caught with his hand in the cootchie cookie jar this week, nobody should really have been surprised.

Cookie Monster Sesame Street

The Cootchie Monster (Photo credits: Giphy)

When a French personality is caught with his trousers down, the first people to enthusiastically bare all about the ins and outs of his relationship with another member of France’s high-society quagmire are generally the French tabloids and gossip magazines. This motley crew vie for attention on the kiosk shelves, all scraping the bottom of the barrel with shocking, tacky titles just like like the one I deliberately chose for this post. They reassure Mr and Mrs Average that even rich, famous, and influential people suffer from hair loss, get fat, are badly dressed or rampantly unfaithful (or both). These magazines include a garish rag called Closer, a magazine I refuse to even touch in the doctor’s waiting room in case I catch some nasty disease (like the inability to write a correct sentence, or an inexplicable need to spy on my neighbours with my Canon and a zoom lens).

This week, Closer magazine orchestrated its own big break – after years of sitting it out on waiting room tables and being perused by sun-bathing bimbos seeking to live the high life by people-press proxy, this people magazine finally had a real audience. Their front page was flashed across TV screens all over the world. The magazine was even read with interest by people who wouldn’t usually be seen dead reading a publication based on compromising photographs and texts containing words of two syllables or less.

It caused such a kerfuffle that I even came across a new term on Google this morning: “Closergate”. My jaw dropped. To quote a well-known tennis man, “you cannot be serious!” Watergate was a political earthquake. In comparison, “Closergate” is no more than a fart in the tepid French bathtub of mediocrity, and will have zero impact on anything except François Hollande’s credibility and popularity, which is at an all-time low anyway.

So what’s the big deal? Monsieur le Président eez ‘aveeng an affaire. And not just any affair – that wouldn’t sell enough copies. An « affaire extra-conjugale » – an extra-marital relationship.

“Well, whoopee doo, another French politician having sex. Tell me something new,” MM grunted into her coffee. “Mon Dieu! Quelle horreur!”, screamed a large proportion of the French population, a huge grin on their faces, before rushing out of the door to fight tooth and nail for the last copy, lock themselves in the bathroom and check out the photos of François escaping from his golden cage and biking across Paris for a night with his “secret” lover.

Paris Match

Public Figure? Got a secret? See how long you can safeguard it.  (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Well, I’m sorry to be a party-pooper, but President Hollande is not married, so unless you have a very flexible definition of the word “conjugal”, this is not an extra-conjugal relationship. However, Mr Hollande did invite his partner to shack up with him at the Elysée when he was elected, thus putting her both in the limelight and in the taxpayers’ budget, and ipso facto making her France’s first lady – married or not. She has her own page on the Elysée website, and her own press team (who are no doubt now drawing strawers for the next press conference). Seen in this light, even someone with lorryloads of flegme britannique could perceive his behaviour as somewhat inappropriate. Poor wee Val has been dragged through the mud – by a Prince Charming with eyes bigger than his belly who has bitten off more than he can chew. Her recent tweet was unambiguous: “I chose an ugly man so I didn’t have to worry. #All men are bastards”. Who can blame her?

Caught “with his hand in the sack,” as the French say, Monsieur le Président is now indignantly bleating for “the respect of his private life” by the media. He’s just like everyone else, of course: Joe Bloggs the President. I couldn’t agree more – just like him, any humble citizen who is regularly seen leaving his home and knocking at a lady’s door in the middle of the night will eventually end up getting rumbled. Although we mere mortals don’t get international coverage, you can bet your bottom dollar that immeasurable numbers of unfaithful spouses have been named and shamed by the greatest and most unforgiving media network out: the village grapevine.

I would show some compassion, Mr Hollande, but I’m sure that you cringed and laughed along with the rest of the world – admit it, you did – when Clinton got egg on his face during “Monicagate”. (There is an opportunity for crude wordplay there, but I will behave.) You were in France when Chirac’s infidelity was brought to light, and again when Mitterand’s illegitimate daughter was mercilessly tracked down by the media and pulled out of anonymity. You saw how much private life President Sarkozy didn’t get. Incidentally, I don’t recall hearing you screaming indignantly to defend your previous rival DSK’s rights to privacy when details of his (very) personal life were copiously smeared all over the media not so long ago, either.

Your naive belief that the media should treat you differently is touching, and even concerning. As President, you’re being watched 24/7 by the very same media you welcomed with open arms and used as a legitimate means to blow your own trumpet in the run-up to your election. So… I have bad news for you, François. Yes, there are mean people out there who were waiting to see you trip up. Yes, they are enjoying it, and yes, they will make happily make money and forge a sad reputation out of your misery. That’s the way the leadership cookie crumbles, cupcake. You can’t have your brioche and eat it.

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