Tour Guiding Again

I did some tour-guiding three summers ago when I was pregnant with Léonie in my belly. It was in a coach, along the perillous, twisty-turny road that follows the twisty-turny Ardèche river and its famous and gorgeous gorges. You can read about that here. I was covering for another guide who had asked me to step in when she was busy guiding elsewhere. I wasn’t sure about it to begin with but she was convinced I’d be fine, and even good at it. So I tried, it worked out well for me and I really enjoyed the whole experience. Even the twisty-turny roads, as they were beautiful and every now and then I’d spot a wild goat with crazy horns munching on a bush.

Last year I began tour-guiding for Viviers tourist office. They phoned me up out of the blue and asked me if I would be interested in playing a ghost. I said no. Not on your nelly. The idea of dressing up as a phantom and “scaring” tourists felt like the equivalent of playing Santa in Tesco’s, or one of Mickey’s nephews at Disneyland. The tourist office persuaded me to at least go and see the actor already doing the job, so one freezing December evening I bundled myself up in a duvet and went along to watch him doing his ghosty stuff in very tight tights (him, not me). He was funny and he made the job look like a laugh, so I told the tourist office I’d give it a go. I got free reign to create my own mad, medieval ghost, mistress to a certain notorious Noel Albert who had lived (and loved) in Viviers the 16th century. My audience was made up of groups of Australian tourists whose luxury cruise boat was moored at Viviers port. It was fun performing the scenes, but there was a lot of hanging about in cold courtyards, waiting for the groups to arrive, and running through the cobbled streets in a medieval dress at 11 p.m. trying to avoid Viviers’ teenagers. One sweltering August evening I had to clean up cat poo and sick before the tourists arrived in that particular courtyard. And the whole thing was a bit cheesy. I felt like a character in ‘Allo ‘Allo, mostly because I was speaking English with a heavy French accent, but partly because my text could well have been written by the same screenwriters (ahem… I wrote my text). But the tourists laughed loudly and I got good feedback. However, the whole solo thing was getting me down (the actor playing Noel Albert and I never performed on the same evening, so our two characters never met), so I was relieved when the tourist office announced that I wouldn’t be ghosting this year as that particular boat has changed its itinerary, or something like that. I celebrated the end of my ghost career with champagne that evening.

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Marguerite de Lévis. A character worthy of ‘Allo ‘Allo.

The other thing the tourist office asked me to do last year was actual tour guiding. Once again, I said no. I had no interest in medieval or Renaissance history, or architecture, or religion, and the walking tour through Viviers is basically all of those things. But once again, they persuaded me to have a go, so I spent 6 weeks reading up about Viviers as if I was studying for my finals, swotting and cramming and wandering about the town on my own, talking to myself and imagining what I would say to 30 Americans. As I worked I realised I had actually become interested and even passionate about the history and architecture of Viviers. When you can link the past to a building or a feature or a tree for example, it becomes real all of a sudden. I also followed a few different guides to get an idea of what to do, but in fact I learned more about what not to do. For example, panting heavily into your microphone whilst climbing the steep slope to the cathedral is not a good idea; your headphone-equipped tourists get your heavy breathing right in their ears and after five minutes of this they will be ready to kill you. The same goes for chewing gum noisily whilst wearing your microphone headset. I also didn’t like those who talked about “The French” as if the French were an inferior species. But I did follow a couple of really good guides too, that made me start to look forward to my first walking tour.

It went well. Really well. And it kept going really well. I enjoyed the job, I felt good about myself because I knew I was doing a good job, I was using my English and my skills as an actress and storyteller, and as an added bonus, I was pocketing fantastic tips which paid for all our shopping throughout the spring and summer. I hit it off with the tourists and was invited to visit a few of them in New York, Toronto and Edinburgh, and I became good friends with a lot of the other tour guides. But… there were a few of the tour guides who were very unwelcoming and hostile towards me from Day 1, and this only got worse throughout the season. I even received a couple of angry emails, one of which ended with “Good Riddance.”

Except, I’m not gone. I’m still here. Ha ha. And I begin this season’s tour-guiding on Saturday. I’ve been swotting up and I’m looking forward to starting again. On Saturday I’m with a bunch of friendly guides, which always makes the whole experience just lovely, as there are no killer looks or backs turned on me or curses muttered or clay effigies of me spiked with rusty pins and trampled underfoot. The downside is, it’s going to rain.  A walking tour of a medieval town in the rain with umbrellas up and blocking all the Renaissance buildings and gothic spires and view across the valley is always a bit frustrating. But given the choice between a rainy day with friendly colleagues and a sunny day with a group of griping, frustrated battle-axes, and I know which configuration I’d choose every time.

Some readers may have guessed that my blog has already been found and read by the aforementioned begrudging harpies. Or maybe you yourself are one of them, reading this with eyes wide open and feeling (hopefully) slightly sick as your stomach turns. If that is the case, just remember that I invited all of you to sit down with a cup of coffee and discuss what went wrong last season. No-one took me up on my offer. There was either total silence, a refusal to meet or a jolly “good riddance”. I did all I could to open up a dialogue and try to understand each other better, but nobody was interested. So here we go, for another season of pointless dark looks and hostility. I shall be countering this by totally ignoring it all and getting on with my job. And actually, I can’t wait to start.

Roll on tourists, I’ll be waiting for you on the quayside. I’m the one grinning and imitating all of your accents.

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Rue Chèvrerie, Viviers, Ardèche.

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No, this isn’t me guest-appearing with France’s latest boys band, it’s the only photo I’ve got of me guiding, except this lot aren’t off the luxury cruise boats…

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Meilleurs Voeux 2014

This year I had decided to make some Happy New Year cards, or “Meilleur Voeux” cards as the French say. Here they don’t send Christmas cards but they do send cards in January, wishing the best for the year to come. We went on a family walk in the sunshine on the 1st of January and by a total fluke we managed to take a few photos of us all together that would make good cards. So, feeling very creative and very organised, I immediately downloaded one of the photos onto a site to get them printed into cards and drew up a list of friends and family to send cards to. However, they arrived a week later and they were tiny. Photoweb had got the order wrong. I reckoned that by the time I sent them back, complained, reordered and received the order, it would be mid-February and my Meilleurs Voeux cards would look ridiculous. So instead of sending lovely handwritten cards with silvery envelopes and pretty stamps, I am sending emails. Not at all what I had planned on, but better than nothing I suppose. Here is our family photo… Meilleurs Voeux to you all.  x x x

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2014

Here we go, tip-toeing into another brand new, shiny year full of promises. Mostly promises of keeping the promises that we made last year but then broke. Mine are : to stretch every single day of this year (I have 20 mins before midnight), to pick up an instrument on a regular basis and blow down it/strum it/press its keys, to write daily, and to be more patient with the children. Ha ha ha, I can hear most of my readers laugh to themselves (most of them being family and close friends and/or hostages in my own home), as you all know in 20 minutes I will have broken at least one of my resolutions. But the 1st of January doesn’t count as most of us are recovering from last night’s party.

I would just like to say Happy New Year to those of you who do actually read my blog once or twice a year or even more. HAPPY NEW YEAR. I hope 2014 brings good things you were hoping for and other good things that you didn’t imagine in your wildest dreams. Good things galore to all of you. To everyone!

I barely wrote last year (that’s 2013), my blog slipped down to Very Low Priority status while I went back to work, a new sort of work, and started to earn my living again. This year is already filling up with quite a few projects, either lucrative or artistic (rarely both at the same time) and all very enjoyable, which means I don’t have to put in as much time re-training or finding work, I just have to do the work, which somehow is easier then looking for it. So… I’m hoping to write more often.

No promises, mind. Just a Happy New Year to y’all.

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Hunters Backlash …

Well, it had to take something pretty strong to get my writing my blog again. I just had a very angry comment about a post I wrote just over 2 years ago: The Wild Boar Hunting Society. The person writing the comment was so angry at me, threatening to spray pig slurry on my home, that I went and re-read the post. And I have to admit that reading it with fresh eyes, I realised that I had made some big sweeping statements two years ago. In the blog post I come across as a raging extremist. I think it was partly because like the person who was angry at me, I was also very angry when I wrote the post. That week I had been in close, conflictual contact with some very drunken, selfish, rude hunters who had blocked the road to our house with their massive jeeps. And it was the two year anniversary of the death of a young man who had been out on his mountain bike and shot and killed by hunters. And I was breast-feeding and hormonally sensitive. Especially when walking past the cut-off tails of baby wild boars that had been nailed to the door of the hunters’ hide-out. But that doesn’t excuse everything. I did write “I hate hunters. I hate them with all my might. I delight in tales of them accidentally shooting each other.” That was pretty nasty of me, I have to admit. And I went on to write, “When I see them, I scowl and send out deadly rays of painful cell-shrivelling terror, aiming for their inner organs. The more hunters who perish, the happier I am. This is because all the hunters I have ever met are : 1/ boorish, 2/thoughtless, 3/self-important, 4/narrow-minded, 5/ macho. They are also all red-faced and ugly.” Ahem. I can imagine that someone who doesn’t know me might have read that post and come to the conclusion that I am an absolute raving loon, wrapped up in a fog of hatred and bitterness. And to lump all hunters into one category is totally unfair, I know. I can’t stand people doing that, yet I did it 2 years ago having just had a run-in with a nasty bunch of blokes who all happen to like shooting animals of a winter morning.

Since then I have met some nice hunters. Ones who are careful and respectful of nature and the families living in the countryside. Ones who warn you they’re hunting in a certain area so that you don’t stumble into their crossfire. On two different occasions I have found a couple of lost hunting dogs and have phoned their owners so they could be reunited with their faithful friend. I even offered them a coffee. I have had a meal with some very nice hunters who are friends of a friend. One of my colleagues, who is now a friend, turns out to be an occasional hunter. So my view of hunters has changed. Some of them are utter idiots, still stumbling drunkenly through the valley shooting too close to the village houses, but some of them are very decent chaps.

Here is the angry comment on my original ‘Hunters” post:

“If only you could see yourself for what you are. In my opinion the sort of Brit who gives other English people in France a bad name. Who or what gives you the right to be critical of the local traditional culture. Hunting in France has been practiced for a very long time & certainly long before you imported your intolerant towny views. Rarely have I read such a demonic rant as yours about the hunters. You are obviously the wrong sort of person in the wrong place at the wrong time. Either you should ship-out or get professional therapy for your intolerance & try to blend with your locality. Thank God you don’t live anywhere near me or I’d be delivering a couple of tons of pig slurry via pressure pump all over your house. Surpised no one has done so already, it’s long overdue.”

In response to this, I have a few things to say.

Who or what gives you the right to be critical of the local traditional culture.” Well, anyone has ‘the right’ to criticise anyone or anything, including local traditional culture. It’s called freedom of expression. And criticism shouldn’t come as a surprise when certain participants of a traditional pastime are disrespectful of the people actually living there. The hunters who tend to block the village square and all access to the houses below the village don’t actually come from around here. They’re not locals at all. They drive down from Lyon and St Etienne, hunt, drink, hunt a bit more while still drunk, drink more, then drink-drive their way to their weekend gîte. I’m not the only one who is annoyed with the behaviour of these particular hunters; lots of other villagers are bothered by them, our mayor too. They are renowned for being disrespectful and aggressive. Very different to the hunters I have met who live around here. The local hunters are far more careful of the environment and the villagers.

“Hunting in France has been practiced for a very long time & certainly long before you imported your intolerant towny views.” Hmmm. How do you know I’m a “towny”? I’ve been living in France for 18 years, most of that time in the countryside. When I lived in central France I ran a farm with my French boyfriend. I have birthed lambs, calves and foals. I tended to a vegetable plot so huge we didn’t need to buy any vegetables for five years. I know my plants, my trees, my mushrooms. Not exactly a towny then. It’s these particular hunters who are “towny”, driving down from the big cities to have careless fun in the countryside. And even if I was a towny, just because something has been practiced for a very long time doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be criticised. Hanging was practised for a very long time until someone started to make noises about it not being a very nice ‘tradition’.

“Rarely have I read such a demonic rant as yours about the hunters.” Yeah, you’re right there. I did indeed sound demonic. And I was indeed ranting. Sorry about that. I was really pissed off with those disrespectful drunken men. And I went and lumped all hunters in the same bucket, which isn’t fair, I know. It’s quite a revelation to read something I wrote so long ago, now in a very different state of mind, and to actually be regrettably surprised at what I wrote.

You are obviously the wrong sort of person in the wrong place at the wrong time”. Erm… hang on. Maybe those drunken hunters were actually the wrong sort of people in the wrong place at the wrong time. ie: rowdy, drunken blokes in a sleepy little village at 2 in the morning, parked so that the inhabitants couldn’t drive down to their houses, or out again in the event of an accident and/or a dash to the hospital.

Either you should ship-out or get professional therapy for your intolerance & try to blend with your locality.” Yeah, thanks mate. I help the local farmers out when they need a hand, visit the elderly ladies in the village, only buy local produce from the local farmers, give free English lessons to the neighbourhood schoolchildren, translate all sorts of things for the villagers and help them when they don’t understand documents in English, take all our vegetable peelings and leftovers down to the farm to feed the pigs, give guided tours based on the local architecture, history and geology of this corner of the Ardèche, speak fluent French with local slang thrown in… if that’s not blending in with my locality then I don’t know what is. You have hastily judged me on one angry blog post without knowing anything about me or my life.

“Thank God you don’t live anywhere near me or I’d be delivering a couple of tons of pig slurry via pressure pump all over your house.” Wow. And you talk about intolerance and demonic behaviour. Nice one, the pig slurry and the pressure pump.

Surpised no one has done so already, it’s long overdue.” Well, now things are getting interesting because I have never been “ranted at” before in my life, yet just yesterday someone had an email rant at me for something entirely unrelated. Or was it? I am beginning to wonder whether the two angry rants are in fact coming from the same source. It’s so easy to find people on the internet. All it takes is typing my name into Google and there my blog is. But maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’s pure coincidence. But the writing styles are VERY similar… which makes me wonder… hmmm…

Frightened of the Frog

Every evening, when it gets dark, Léonie (2) points to the window, shivers and says “Mummy, me frightened of the frog.” Tommy (5) and I always chip in to check we understand what she means, “do you mean frightened of the dark?”. She nods and replies, “Yes. Me frightened of the frog.” So we just assume she is mis-pronouncing the word dark.

But maybe we are wrong.

Maybe there is a gigantic, drooling frog out there in the garden, one who creeps up from the valley every night and waits for me to feed the cats outside or get the laundry in, ready to leap on me and suffocate me in his frog slime, or simply blight me with his dreaded frog curse: “You will never EVER return to the stage again, NEVER! You will forever be wiping bottoms and carrying potties in your handbag and will never EVER get to sit down to eat a meal without getting up every 90 seconds to get a spoon/the ketchup/more kitchen paper. Your eyes will forever look tired and your eardrums will suffer permanent damage from toddler screams. Your friends in the theatre and film world will drift away, referring to you as ‘The Lost One’, you will end up filming yourself in character and putting the videos on YouTube in a sad attempt to continue acting, but NEVER EVER AGAIN will you reboot your career. HA HA HA HA HAAAAAAAAA!!!”

Blimey. Now I’m frightened of the frog.

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Blogfast

For those of you that receive my blog posts automatically, this one may come as a surprise, as you probably assumed that having spent so many months with only under-5’s and sheep for company, I had lost the faculty for writing. But no. I have been on a blog fast.

A blog fast is the direct opposite of a Blogfest. A Blogfest involves hundreds, nay thousands of bloggers, all writing furiously, whereas a blog fast involves just me, not writing anything at all.

It was not intentional. I just had too many things going in my life that I simply could not write about. Things that were either too personal, or too boring, or too grim, or too involved with famous people (no names mentioned but he is the best children’s illustrator ever), or too involved with close family members, or too incriminating of other family members… my family members are now all sitting up straight, spilling hot tea in their laps, going “Who?!” “Me?!”… yes you, I might be talking about you, watch out, and send me a Cadbury’s Flake and some nice pants just to cover your backs.

Speaking of pants…

Léonie has decided she has had enough of nappies and wants to wear pants. The ‘had enough of nappies’ bit is fine, as long as she stays butt naked, as then she remembers to go and sit on the potty for her pee. However, with pants on, the sensation must be very nappy-like, especially when she wears six pairs of pants at the same time, which is her current desire, so she just ends up peeing through six pairs of pants. Today it was warm and sunny so I persuaded her to play outside with nothing on her bottom and she delighted in sitting on the potty in the sunshine. I only tell you this as I just discovered the UK is swamped in snow and ice and I want to make you jealous. Let’s face it, the climate difference is probably the only thing you might feel envious about where my life is concerned, so I’m going to make the most of it.

More on the theme of undergarments… (me? trying desperately to find a through line for this blog post? never). We watched Mary Poppins yesterday and this morning Tommy was singing “Let’s go fly a kite” at the top of his voice. Here is his version of the song:

Let’s go fly a kite
Up up, in the sky!
Let’s go fly a kite and send it boring,
Up through the underwear
Up where the air is air,
Oh, let’s go fly a kite!

Cowgirl and her faithful potty.

Cowgirl and her faithful potty.

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Six pairs of pants. Layering is in.

All that just to say, I’ve finished my blog fast and am now crossing my fingers to make it to a Blogfest.

R.I.P. Queen of Labrador(ish) Dogs

I have been neglecting my blog. It is a bit like neglecting to clean the fridge. You know the longer you leave it the more hassle it will be, but then again it’s not a matter of utmost priority; the worst that will happen is a lettuce will turn into sludge or a pot of home-made jam will cultivate its own brain cells. In a blog’s case, the worst that will happen is your reader statistics will shrivel up into single figures. At the moment I’m not really bothered about that, but I promised a friend to write something this week, and to prove I can keep a promise, I am writing this.

My friend is French. He speaks pretty damn good English. But like a lot of my French friends, my blog is one of the only sources of English language he reads on a regular basis (poor him… poor them), so it it my duty to the people of France to keep writing, no matter what, in order to keep their English fit and healthy (if a little tainted with words made up by me which should exist anyway and which make perfect sense in the given context).

I have either been too busy to write – an unfamiliar situation in my current life despite racing about after the kids as I usually have nap-times and evenings to write, or I have been too happy – no-one wants to read about how great someone else’s life is, or I have been too sad – no-one wants to read about someone in tears over a pet who has disappeared. I did a week of dancing at Valence with a brilliant choreographer (I must write about that soon), followed by a week in the UK, followed by our return to France and the discovery that our trusty 15-year old Queen of Labradors had gone missing. She is, indeed, still missing. I think that means she is in Labrador Paradise by now, frolicking with other dogs of sexually diverse orientation; Baloo fancied males and females alike and didn’t care who knew. Neither did I, although my then-boyfriend was always very embarrassed to see her mounting other bitches, yo.

Anyway, Baloo turned 15 on October the 16th this year and I have just seen that my last post (an absurd one which does not merit being read) was indeed written on the morning of her birthday. Wicked mistress, I didn’t write anything about Baloo this year, partly so as not to bore readers, having written about her last year here. I sincerely thought she wouldn’t make it to her 15th birthday, but she did, if a little creakily. We celebrated it with some leftover cherry tart and candles and a dog bowl with stars and the word “DOG” written in it.

She seemed a little perturbed by the whole thing. But then, I suppose that when you get to 90-odd years (I think that’s the equivalent of a 15 yr old labrador), you’re not really into sweet desserts and loud singing, although she was deaf so she probably just wondered why we kept opening our mouths so wide and holding them there, while advancing with a bowl full of flames.

Tommy, our lighting engineer dealt with the pyrotechnics.

So Baloo made it to the grand old age of fifteen dog years. Which is like us hitting 90, 95 or so. That’s pretty damn good going. She had a painful hip and had started taking anti-inflammatory drugs every morning, but that was all she had wrong with her. When I dropped her off at my friend’s house, she was slow and creaky, but fine. Or so I thought.

Apparently one evening she just got up and wandered off.

She has never gone further than a few metres from the person looking after her. But this time she went far, far away. And no-one has seen her since. I was in England when I heard she had been missing for two days so I phoned round neighbours and the local authorities but no-one had seen her. When I got home I went looking for her in the countryside and woodland around our friend’s house, where she had been staying. But it really was like looking for a needle in a haystack. After a while I wondered if I even wanted to find her. What would I find anyway? Grisly remains? Did I really want to see her like that? I imagined what it must be like when it’s not an old dog you’re searching for, but a lost child. I suddenly felt very cold. I thought how lucky I was to have my kids safe at home in the warm. In the end I turned back to my car and drove home.

We are still getting used to Baloo not being around. Every time we arrive home Léonie calls her. Every time we drive past our friend’s house Tommy goes very quiet and sometimes cries a bit. I had a good old bawl the day I spent the morning searching for her in the woods. But in the end it’s typical of Baloo to spare us of the trouble of dealing with her death and the pain of seeing her dead. She was such a gentle, easy, loving dog.

R.I.P. Baloo. We loved you so very much.

NB: For those of you who can’t stand people going on about their pets, Normal Service will be resumed post hastily.

And then there was light.

This weekend we decided to knock a hole in our kitchen wall and wham a window in. In terms of how your body feels the next morning, it’s the physical equivalent of taking a load of drugs and dancing all night in a field, then sleeping in a damp sleeping bag in the back of a van. That’s how we get our kicks nowadays. Crazy 30’s-nearly-40-year-olds that we are.

L’Homme arrived home on Saturday at midday. We ate lunch and L’Homme started power-drilling the kitchen wall from the top of a ladder… A few hours later and there was a massive hole in the wall, just along from the sink. A MUCH bigger hole than expected because, well, that’s old stone walls for you. You inevitably end up having to knock out more stones than you expected just because a tiny nobble was in the way. (knobble? nobble?) L’Homme put the window in and set it with that gungy stuff that sets really fast – no not Superglue, although he would have used anything at that point as it was getting dark. We went to bed with a window surrounded by mostly hole, hoping it wouldn’t rain in the night.

It didn’t. And in the morning we came down to a kitchen full of light. We had breakfast admiring the view and cooing at the sunlight on the hills, as if we had never seen sunlight or hills before. The rest of the day was a manic rush to build the wall back up again around the window as L’Homme was due to leave at 5 p.m. He found a very old piece of oak and shaved it down to the right size to make a lintel. Then it was up and down the ladder (the window is five metres up the outside wall as our house is built on a slope) carrying stones and mortar, with me working from the inside of the kitchen, mostly moral support at that point (and pointing out bits that weren’t right), passing pints of lemon fizzy water through and a lot of cleaning of centimetre-thick dust that had settled over everything. L’Homme miraculously managed to finish the job before having to drive off to Bourgogne, although he ended up leaving at 8, with jelly-legs and a sore back. He’ll do the finishing touches next weekend when the mortar has dried, but the kitchen is already transformed. Hallelujah, we have light! Especially over the sink. I even enjoyed doing the washing up today (hmmm, is this a ploy?…) I can also watch the builders next door which is hugely exciting entertainment when you live in a village of 30 inhabitants and the highlight of your day is throwing fallen figs at to the farm pigs.

My step-mum commented that it takes some men ten times as long to change a light bulb. She is right, L’Homme is brilliant at all that home-renovation-maintenance-bangin’-in-windows-and-building-walls stuff. Ten out of ten there. But even though few women would manage such a physically heavy job as the one L’Homme just took on (the window weighs nearly as much as I do and he was balancing it up a ladder), most women CAN change lightbulbs. Go on girls, try it! Once you’ve changed one you’ll realise it’s mad to wait for weeks for the boys to do it. Let there be light!

BEFORE…

… AND AFTER

From the outside…

 

PS: the t-shirt says it all.

Go ahead punk, make my day.

This was waiting for me in the bathroom this morning.

I live a life of danger wherever I tread.

I then trod on a Kwazi Octonaut which was very painful as he had a shark on a lead.

When we first moved to the Ardèche and were working on the house we discovered a ton of scorpions. We were doing a lot of dusty demolition work which mainly involved L’Homme banging at unwanted walls and me lugging the fallen stones and rocks back and forth in a wheelbarrow. Every now and again I also had a go at banging at the odd chimneyplace but it isn’t as much fun as it looks and my meagre muscles meant a lot of banging with not much rock-falling. So I went back to wheelbarrowing and sorting the stones. And lo, I discovered many a scorpion.

My first scorpion had me screaming and running in the opposite direction. I just assumed they were poisonous and that with one fell flick of that tail in my direction, I’d be a goner. It felt like coming across a boa constrictor, or a tarantula. Scorpions were part of that terrible group of crawling, slithering animals that don’t say much but kill ruthlessly. I didn’t even try to get rid of the scorpions as they looked to me like they would raise themselves up on their pointy claws, do a recoiled spring style backflip onto my face and plant their stinging thing in my eye. So I just ran and got L’Homme to come and scare them away. L’Homme wearing a builder’s face mask and just having ingested a kilo of dust is frightening enough to scare anything away. He would try to crush them with his steel toe-capped workman’s boot but they just stubbornly wriggled away. “There’s no point” I told him knowingly, “Scorpions are invincible. Nothing can kill them. Not even a nuclear bomb. After Hiroshima the only things that survived were cockroaches and scorpions.” And then L’Homme killed one. Squashed it to bits. Blimey. Is L’Homme really more destructive than an atomic explosion? This was a bit worrying so I looked into the matter and discovered that insects, being small and armoured, can withstand much worse explosions than humans and are more resistant to radiation. Especially cockroaches. Dunno where I got the scorpions from then. I also discovered that French scorpion bites are no worse than a wasp sting. Ah-ha! I felt empowered. No longer would I run screaming from a scorpion.

I am now fearless where scorpions are concerned. I use the spider-catching technique – a glass over them and a postcard slipped underneath. Then I flush them down the loo, or if I’m feeling nice I release them into the valley. The toilet route also flushes them out into the valley, if they can hold their breath long enough. This morning I tackled two scorpions before I had even finished my cup of tea. It’s going to be a good day, according to the famous dictum:

“Flush a scorpion down the loo, very soon your dreams will come true.”

At least, I like to believe that’s how it works.

Hospital Still

(NB: I wrote this yesterday morning…)

We’re still here. It’s been 9 days. We have hit saturation point. Tommy screams if the nurses so much as approach him with a sticky anaesthetic patch, he sucks his thumb from morning to night and barely talks to anyone. He just wants the telly on which shuts him off even more. His major fear is having another blood test but to be allowed to go home the doctors need to check that the infection marker has gone back down, which means, yes, another blood test. His antibiotics are administered via a drip into a little sonde inserted in the back of his hand. The sonde stays there all day, they just hook him up when it’s time for the antibiotics, but he screams each time and says it really hurts. He yells his head off and everyone else in the room just wants to run. The nurses get stressed, I get stressed, Tommy is definitely very stressed. So they might have to put a new sonde in which means sticking yet another needle in. He is grumpy and ungrateful and I understand why he’s in such a foul mood but it doesn’t make it any easier for me. My eyes sting from the air-conditioning, my skin feels dry, I am absolutely exhausted from 19 months of non-sleeping baby and now the broken nights here. I have the eyes of a 75 year old. The summer is half gone and so far it has been utter shite. Give me rain but healthy kids anyday.

Yesterday when Tommy fell asleep after lunch I drove off to the neighbouring town, Vals-les-Bains, known for its thermal cures and healing water. Not that I can afford to go and bathe in their magical waters. Instead I went to the swimming pool, recommended by one of the nurses for its beautiful setting and 50m of length. It was just what I needed.

A very effective (but short-term) cure for hospital overdose. Bottoms, beware of the sun.

I swam up and down up and down up and down and when I got bored I got out and read my book* and when I got too hot I went back to swimming up and down up and down up and down. Mindless swimming, perfect. I did that for a couple of hours and then drove back to the hospital feeling slightly cheerier.

Sitting with Tommy in his bed playing cards I realised the backs of my legs were all prickly. Strange. And my back also felt odd. My bottom too. Ah. A fine case of sunburn. I wonder at what age my brain will actually register the fact that water doesn’t protect skin from the sun’s rays. I make this mistake pretty much every year. So now I have a sharply defined white triangle on my bottom and even the tangled strings of my bikini drawn on my back. And it’s not very comfortable sitting down. Which isn’t great when you’re in a hospital all day with your little boy. The doctor will be round soon, I think it’s the one I don’t like, the one who talks to me like I’m a piece of of balsa wood. Extremely condescending and highly superior. Well, I feel like a fight today so he’s welcome to come and visit us. It will relieve the boredom of being here and I can lash all my sunburnt fury at him. I just hope they’ll let Tommy go home tomorrow.

(I just read this back and realised that for the parents of children who are hospitalised for much more serious ailments and much longer stretches of time, this may well seem quite trivial. And they are right, it is quite trivial – Tommy has nothing seriously wrong with him, he’ll be fine in a week or two, and one spoiled summer is nothing compared to a life of illness. I’m just feeling selfishly pissed off and over-tired, and having a blog means I can write it all down and feel marginally better.)

* “The Help” by Kathryn Stockett – ’tis FAB.