While driving to Lyon last Friday I found myself behind this lorry. I nearly giggled myself off the road and was forced to take a photo so as to de-sensitise other Anglophone drivers in France should they also get stuck behind this lorry company. Having said that, taking a photo whilst driving is probably one of the most dangerous things you can do. No officer, I’m not saying I took the photo, I have an automatic camera in my Aston Martin just like all sensible secret agents. My eyes remained firmly focused on the road. And sometimes on the back end of Transhit Transport Company.
This is not my writing, it’s my step-mama’s (alias Gedmom). It’s a comment on my last post which happened to mention what absolute ladle-heads Ryanair are and how I HATE them. Her comment is too good to remain just a comment (if you don’t click on “comments” you’ll never discover its existence), so here it is for all and sundry to peruse.
“Ryanair’s word limit for complaints about them is 799.5 words and must fit onto a piece of web page NOT MORE THAN 2.3 square centimetres. This information is easily available by visiting Michael O’Leary’s office between the hours of 11 and 11.30 pm on alternate Thursdays and looking in the file in the bottom drawer of the left-hand side of his desk. Since you have chosen not to comply with this entirely reasonable rule which is designed for the comfort and safety of our the suckers who fly with us (note: edit to read “our passengers”), Ryanair had no choice but to reach into your blog and remove the whole of the offending passage. Failure to comply with regulations in future may result in your being denied entry to your blog altogether, however, this can easily be avoided by depositing the sum of €850 in our bank account which also entitles you to a FREE Ryanair scratchcard!!”
I just wrote a huge long blog post, the first in ages, and the WordPress format for writing it was different, so I just assumed things had changed while I’d been away and this was the new set-up for writing posts. There was no “Save Draft” button though. I assumed it was saving it automatically. I finished writing, added a photo (all that set-up was new too), hit “publish” and WordPress just published the photo. 800 words and 20 minutes of precious Léonie’s naptime down the drain. That really pisses me off so I’m not writing anything ever again, ever, and that’ll show WordPress. Harumph.
Here’s the photo. It came at the end of a paragraph where I blathered on about how much I HATE Ryanair but even that gives them publicity so I’m definitely not writing anything else about those incompetent tossers.
PS: oh alright, I’ll write something tomorrow. Except L’Homme will be back by then and he frowns at me if I spend more than seven minutes on my computer, despite him spending bloody hours on his iphone reading Le Monde and that other internationally renowned intellectual website, ebay.
… is a holiday. At least, it is at the moment, for me. I am utterly exhausted, wiped out, end-of-tethered, squishmazzled. It is even official. Medically certified. I saw a doctor on Friday who confirmed that I am not going crazy for feeling so knackered, that it is normal for a mother of two little non-sleepers/big-breast-feeders (as in, big on feeding, not big breasts, although once upon a time they were indeed quite big… sniff) to feel this way and that I am probably anaemic, de-mineralised, lacking in vitamins and oligo-elements and losing brain cells fast. The latter is almost certainly true as I recently noticed I can no longer do basic addition whereas I used to be a whizz at maths. 77 + 77? I came up with 144. The Post Office lady looked at me with pity. I pretended it was a language thing and that I was merely on holiday here in France, not a full-time inhabitant and garlic obsessive since 1995. But anyway, my entire body and brain is worn out and I need a break. Not the sort of break when you go away with your children and end up doing pretty much what you do at home but with the added danger of drowning, sunstroke and not having the right sort if breakfast cereal, no, I mean a real break from round-the-clock childcare, child protection and child entertainment. One where you get up when you want, go to bed when you want and fill your days with just doing what you want, generally involving a lot of lying horizontally, swimming, reading books, eating good food and messing about with friends you’ve known long enough to not care what you look like.
And this, Dear Reader, is exactly the sort of holiday I’m about to have.
About a month ago L’Homme announced that he had changed my summer plans. “Look on the fridge” he said, which was not down to his dodgy English but because our calendar is on the fridge. Pencilled across the 21st of August was “Claire – Italie”. Return date : the 28th. He had borrowed some money and booked plane tickets for Puglia where we holidayed last year. my heart leapt with excitement and then plummeted straight back down as panic struck me at the idea of being away from Léonie for a whole week. I mumbled “erm, without Léonie?”. I was worried I might not seem very grateful nor appreciative of his generous, thoughtful gesture. “No Léonie. Just you.” he replied, “tu as besoin des vraies vacances.” Oh. A real holiday. Just me. With friends. In one of my favourite places in the world.
I am sitting in Orly airport, just outside Paris. I have spent the last few weeks looking forward to this. I have also spent the last few weeks agonising over the thought of leaving Léonie, and even Tommy, for 8 whole days. A few days ago I felt so guilty about going that I went a bit mad and angrily declared that I would NOT leave my baby girl and would be booking her onto the flight with me. I sulked with everyone that day and breastfed Léonie whenever she signed ‘milk’ at me, which meant every 30 minutes. I slept in her room and consequently was woken up twice and then far too early. In the morning I was a wreck. I did the maths: 2 x 9 months of pregnancy + 18 months of breastfeeding Tommy + 20 months of breastfeeding Léonie + nearly 4 years of broken sleep In the last 5 years = mother’s body and mind totally and utterly frazzled. I’m surprised I can even write this. In fact, I’m going to stop, buy myself a coffee and go back to my book. My holiday has already started and I’m going to make the most of each second. The kids are perfectly fine with L’Homme, I’m not indispensable to their survival, this week is going to be good for all of us. So off I fly, with just one bag, a phone full of photos of the kids and the reassuring knowledge that a week away doesn’t mean the end of breastfeeding… unless Léonie doesn’t ask when I get back. This time tomorrow I will be covered in sea salt from my morning swim in the Adriatic sea, full of lunch and Italian coffee, asleep in the hammock.
THANK YOU L’HOMME.
I am in a train. I am on my own. Well, there are other passengers in the train but what I mean is, I am travelling unaccompanied. No Léonie. No Tommy. No nappy bag sippy cup biscuits banana apples crayons dinosaurs pirates playmobil figures spare babygro wipes tissues cuddly toys dog or donkey. Just me, a tiny suitcase on wheels and a nearly empty handbag. This is a new experience. Not brand new, but one I haven’t had for a year and a half, when Léonie was born. I was really looking forward to it but now I’m here, in a comfortable train on my own with loads of time to read, doze, listen to music, phone friends, I’m not doing any of those things and instead am feeling a little lost.
And this is just the beginning. I’ll be On My Own until Thursday evening when I get home. Blimey, I’m already thinking about getting home. This is ridiculous. Hopefully I’ll get used to this feeling of lightness and freedom fast. My yearning to be back with Léonie and Tommy should fade when I get to Paris and see friends. Tomorrow I’ll be working in a recording studio all day (sounds very glamourous but it isn’t really, I promise) so that should keep me occupied, and in the evening I’m going to the theatre. Thursday I’ll be busy doing more recording work, having a drink at Gare de Lyon with @Rosbif and then jumping on the evening train home. If I stay busy maybe I won’t miss the kids too much. Just one hitch. The Milk Thing.
Léonie is still breastfeeding. Quite a lot. She is going to have to make do without me and my milk for a couple of days, which she might not like but it won’t harm her. However, it might harm me. Or anyone sitting within spurting distance around about this time tomorrow which is when I reckon things are going to get out of hand, and out of nipple. I could take someone’s eye out if I’m not careful. By Thursday morning I could probably hit the top of the Eiffel Tower if I aim well. And by the evening when I get the train home I may well flood the Gare de Lyon. Parisians, beware. Colleagues in the recording studio, do not be surprised if you get milky coffee from the expresso machine. Just me expressing myself. If you see what I mean.
Hum ho. Still here. In the train. On my own. Oh for goodness sake, I should make the most of this and sit back for a snooze. Or daydream as I watch the countryside roll by. Off I go.
Here we are, in Malaga, Spain, on HO – LI – DAY. I stress the word holiday as we have to regularly remind ourselves that it is indeed a holiday. This is because we have come to Malaga with two small goblins: a nearly-5 year old one who keeps sulking and testing his daddy’s anger management skills, and a 17 month old one who has a filthy cold and is also teething and waking up all night every night. We are in a place of potential idyll; we have our own little flat that gives onto a garden and a pool with grandparents just above us in the big house regularly conjuring up delicious meals and cups of tea, we are five minutes from the beach and the fish restaurants, ten minutes from Malaga town centre, it has been warm and sunny (erm, except for today which makes me realise I have brought very little in the way of warmish clothes for any of us and by this evening we will all be wearing towels wrapped around us), there are tons of toys, kids books, bikes, trikes and an inflatable whale for the pool, all to keep the goblins busy. Which sometimes works… for about ten minutes. And the rest of the time we are constantly rushing around them, just like at home, except here even more so because of the pool and the Seven Thousand Stone Steps. Every now and then Tommy will be absorbed in an activity (CBeebies.co.uk games, thanks Granny) while Leonie is having her nap, so in a heady, euphoric moment of freedom, I jump in the pool and swim as many lengths as is physically possible before anyone needs me to find their armbands, feed them a chocolate biscuit or wipe their bottom. Yesterday I nearly passed out in the pool as a) I had just blown up the huge inflatable whale with my own lung power, b) I had drunk too much coffee, and c) the water is cold when you leap in, lovely after 3 lengths and then you go blue 20 minutes later.
We have played on the beach (warm days), seen a dinosaur exhibition (rainy day), collected shells and pebbles (windy day), eaten fish at a restaurant at the seaside (children unusually quiet day), been to the most amazing, beautiful zoo I have ever seen (children hypercrazyexcited day) and done a lot of playing in the garden and the pool, post-fishing-pine-needles-out-of-aforementioned-pool. L’Homme and I even got to go out one evening for a walk along the seafront and have a meal together. We felt like a couple. It was a strange, unfamiliar feeling. The last time we did that was 2 years ago, here in Malaga, while Granny listened out for any Tommy awakenings and I carried Leonie in my newly-pregnant belly. The time before that was before we had kids. This means that we go out as a couple on average once every two and a half years. Hmmm. Not good statistics. No wonder we don’t get on as well as we did pre-kids. But we will get there. I think. I hope. Our evening out made us realise that we need to spend time together just the two of us FAR more often. L’Homme might stop seeing me as a Giant Monster Mother Superior (without the nun bit, just the superior bit) and I might stop thinking he’s an Overgrown Teenaged Temper-Grump. We have also realised (today; we’re flying back to France tomorrow) that a week here is too damn short. It takes a couple of days for everyone to find their bearings and for the kids to calm down and stop out-shouting each other, a day or two of enjoying ourselves and then all of a sudden we’re going. So next time, we’ll try and come for ten days (Granny & Grandad BEWARE).
Another thing we have learned is the Count-To-Five Technique. ie. when children/partner/failed technology/sandy bikini bottoms piss you off, instead of reacting and shouting, huffing and puffing, you count to five (in L’Homme’s case twenty-five because he counts fast when he’s angry) and by the time you’ve finished you’re not very pissed-off anymore. You have diffused your anger extremely efficiently and you deal with the situation far more calmly and often with a sense of humour. This has already transformed both of us and thus the general atmosphere. Aaaaaaahhhhh. Now that feels like a REAL holiday.
Look, let’s just say I have a raging ear infection, viral pharyngitis – which both kids have too – I’ve just had two nights in a row of hourly crying baby awakenings (sore throat? sore gums? who knows? we certainly never will), I have spent the day racing about taking myself and the kids to the doctor which involves a 20 minute (usually takes 30 but we were late) Starsky and Hutch car drive down windy Gorges death-roads, a 25 minute queue at the pharmacy while Léonie kept wandering out the door into the carpark and I relied on Tommy to bring her back in (he was dressed as a pirate with national health specs on – he’d been trying them out), then a lunchtime of de-ticking Baloo and delivering her to our dogsitters’ home, a drive to the hairdressers with the windscreen wiper sticking to the windscreen which made driving in the pouring rain a tad tricky, a haircut – I looked fab for precisely 5 minutes and then I stepped out into the rain and by the time I got back to the car I looked like a drowned, ratty rat … back home the kids were fighting, Léonie has discovered she has nails and can scratch her brother, L’Homme dealt with all this plus cooking dinner too late by huffing and puffing and blowing raspberries like the French do when they’re pissed off and I ended up packing at 9 p.m. and then fighting with the Ryanair site which kept telling me my “session has expired” when I was trying to print out our boarding cards to avoid paying £500 tomorrow morning. Oh, and of course I receive an email asking me for a demo CD of my voice STRAIGHT AWAY, which is why I’m still down here, waiting for the CD to burn. And tomorrow, we get up at 5:30 a.m. and drive to Nimes airport for ten days in the UK, starting in Newport Pagnell with Papa Le Bike and my mum who’s just come out of hospital and is overly anxious about pretty much everything. Oh, and I’m on my own again. L’Homme will be
having fun working in Arles while I’m driving up and down the England in the pissing rain, high on antibiotics, chucking biscuits into the back seat to keep the kids quiet and concentrating VERY hard on driving on the left. Especially at roundabouts.
But sometimes, when you’re expecting the ride to be a rough one, it somehow, magically turns out right. Erm, just pray for me anyway. I don’t care to who. I’m sure any god will look down with pity upon me. And laugh. And then change channels.
Each time I go to Italy I am full of overly high expectations. I imagine fantastic weather, stunning landscapes and architecture, friendly, excited, gesticulating people who welcome you into their homes as if you are a skinny long-lost cousin who needs feeding up, food that makes your taste buds pop with pleasure, the best coffee in the universe. And each time I go to Italy, Italy meets my expectations. I am never EVER disappointed, which is a lot to say for a country. This time we drove right down to the south; to the tip of the heel of the boot. “Puglia” in italian, “Les Pouilles” in French, god knows what in English as I doubt any members of the UK have yet made it down that far. It is a poor region of Italy, not yet hit by major tourism, and it remains wild and beautiful. Even the beachside “kiosks” selling ice-creams and Campari are charming in their thrown-together simplicity.
Now I think of it, I should probably delete the last four lines so that our secret remains a secret. But to hell with it, there are only about five of you out there reading my stuff and I know who YOU are. So I know none of you are crazy enough to drive that far. And there are no direct planes from where YOU live. So I doubt you’ll be swelling the teeny tourist numbers in the next few years. And seeing as you’re all English, to your ears “Puglia” sounds like the name of a small, female, snouty-nose dog dressed in pink knickerbockers. Which would put anyone off from going anywhere near it. Unless you’re a small, male, snouty-nose dog. Which you’re not. At least, four out of five of you aren’t. Anyway, back to Italy – it was fantastic. I was going to write “it was a fantastic holiday” but going anywhere with an 8 month old baby and a 4 year old boy going through an existential crisis cannot technically be called a holiday. However, despite this fact, I loved my two weeks down there, sleeping in a big marble-floored room with a high star-shaped ceiling, swimming down by the rocks every morning, hanging out on the beach in the evenings with friends, taking cool showers in the garden to wash the sea-salt off, eating fresh figs, melon, italian ham and cheese and fried peppers, not to mention the pasta and seafood and that magical coffee. We carried seven kilos of the stuff back home in the back of the car to sup back at home … ah … which reminds me – NEVER EVER EVER DRIVE 1700km with two kids.
Never ever EVER.
Especially when one of them has just started crawling and decrees LOUD AND CLEAR AND IN A SCREAMING FASHION that the last thing she wants to do is to sit for hours in a car. “Well of course not”, you are thinking to yourselves, “how ridiculous to even imagine driving half that distance with small ones strapped into car seats? Not in our wildest nightmares. ” But we – L’Homme and I (NB: I will soon be changing his pseudonym to Fatty-Boy in the vague hope it might help kick him out of his current bulimic phase of gluttony, not that he ever reads this …) – are more stupid than the rest of you and we naively thought that 3 days of solid driving would be fine, all squished into the car with some chocolate and apple juice. Two hours into the journey we realised our mistake. I spent my time juggling baby, breasts, biscuits, phone and Disney DVDs and balancing a computer, all this in a web of twisted seatbelts, stuffed toys, nappies and tissues. Tears were shed in streams. Mostly mine. By the end of the second day we arrived at our friends’ home in the region of the “Marches” and threw ouselves at their feet, begging them to let us stay an extra day to recover from the artery-bursting stress of the journey, nurse our psychological wounds and to prepare ourselves for the last day of driving. And on the way back we did the same, ending up driving throughout the night as at least the children were safely and silently asleep. But now we need a holiday to recover. Next year we will be flying to wherever we go, or else we’ll be holidaying in the neighbouring village “Les Crottes” (translation: “The Poos”) which requires just a ten minute drive and no psychiatric help when we get home.
I am on holiday. It IS a holiday: Spain, sunny, warm, no shopping, no cooking, no housework, no paperwork. Delicious meals that waltz out of the kitchen and dirty plates that disappear back in there. Not having to try and fit in the things on my Things-To-Do List in between unsynchronised naps and calm gurgly baby moments. Here I don’t have a Things-To-Do List, which is why it is indeed a holiday. But then again, having two small children to juggle means I might, if I’m lucky, snatch ten minutes a day to myself; the ten minutes having been broken down into four chunks of around 2 and a half minutes, which means I hardly notice I have had a break from playing with non-lego lego, making up obstacle courses, squeezing Tommy into a wetsuit and then another wetsuit because the first one was too big and then peeling it off him again ten minutes later, breastfeeding, nappy-changing, baby-jiggling, reading books, picking up clothes, finding the lost pyjamas and giving baths; often doing two or three of these things at the same time. Grandparents take the edge of things. A bit of Grandad bat’n’ball means I can breastfeed sitting quietly in the afternoon sun rather than fending Tommy off with one foot as he tries to force a beach bat on me. A book with Granny means I can send a couple of photos to L’Homme who thinks he’s the one working. The gung-ho tree-surgeons that are here today have been doing a great job of keeping Tommy busy picking up branches and pine cones and feeding them into their chipper machine. So it is a lot easier than when I’m at home on my own with the two kids. But right now, as I write, they are BOTH ASLEEP. AT THE SAME TIME. And I barely know what to do with myself. So what am I doing with this unexpected, magical moment of free time? … writing about my children. Ridiculous. I am off to watch those young tree-surgeons in their harnesses, swinging chainsaws off their belts as they climb up the pine trees.
(the chipper machine was turned off while Tommy was anywhere near it; I may crave more time to myself but not at the expense of letting my little boy turn himself into sawdust)