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.

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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.

Here I go again.

Alas, this is not a reference to Whitesnake’s epic hit: ‘Here I go again on my o-o-own, goin’ down the only road I’ve ever kno-own, like a gypsy I was born to roam alo-o-one, but I’ve made up my mi-i-ind, I ain’t wastin’ no more ti-i-ime…’ or something like that. I can’t remember the exact words, despite having listened to it 500 times, over half of them on a coach crossing Brazil when I was a 15 year old glam metal fan. Oh yes, I am not ashamed of my youthful folly, of my crush on men with long backcombed hair and carefully-applied eye make-up and spandex, indeed, it made me what I am today: a 39 year old woman with accidentally backcombed hair (what I believe Fifty Shades of Grey would describe as ‘just fucked hair’ although in my case it generally signifies ‘just slept with the pillow on my head so as not to hear anyone snoring/crying hair’), no time for carefully applied eye make-up, and a loathing of anything vaguely spandex including rubber gloves. Def Leppard, Kiss, Van Halen, Guns’n’Roses, you name it (in the glittery, pouty, rock category), I listened to it. I probably even went to see them and stood too close to the speakers which might explain my early-deafness nowadays. I’m not actually deaf, I just don’t hear certain things, or so L’Homme says, although he’s the only one who says that and now I come to think of it I often DO hear him but just pretend I haven’t. So in fact, I’m not at all deaf. In the space of two sentences I have regained my full aural faculties.

But back to the point of this post, which is to say that L’Homme has gone back on tour which effectively means that once I put the kids to bed the evenings are mine ALL MINE (cue evil crazy professor laugh), so I can get back to writing this thing. Hoorah! – for time to myself in the evenings. Boooooooo! – to doing all the daily drudgery on my own and not having company once the kids are in bed. Mind you, L’Homme hasn’t vanished from our lives for the next 9 months in one single whammy, he will be back nearly every weekend and sometimes even for a few days in a row. So I can look forward to spending evenings arguing about whether or not to trade in our car and where the potato peelers should or shouldn’t be hanged/hung. In moments like those, I can think of only one place where I would like to hang those potato peelers.

But bless him, he means well.

Kind of.

Sometimes.

And the other times it’s not his fault, honest guv, it’s just his male pride forcing him to behave like an egotistical macho Stormtrooper with a Mission To Get His Own Way.

I can say this because at the moment that is not the case; the last three days have seen a Nouveau Homme around the place. No, I haven’t got a new man in my life. Or maybe I have, but he has borrowed the outer envelope of my old L’Homme. They look exactly the same, but Nouveau Homme is calmer, more patient and when I say, “I’m going to a different market to do the shopping”, he doesn’t construe it as “fuck you, I REFUSE to buy you any saucisson.” He actually hears what I say. And even more mind-blowing, he doesn’t mind if I have an opinion that differs to his own. Yesterday I started to sand down an old garden table using a couple of bits of sandpaper and he came along with a proper sanding machine and took over the job. I went for a bike ride with Léonie and when we came back an hour later he was still sanding like a maniac and the entire terrace was covered in 3 inches of dust. “I’m going to sand it down so it’s all metal and then varnish it” he declared. “Oh”, I replied, “I was planning on painting it a bright colour. That was the whole point of sanding down the rusty bits. I fancy a brightly coloured table for the winter. Not a grey metal one.” I winced and prepared myself for the backlash but none came. “Oh” he said. AND THAT WAS IT. I went into cardiogenic shock and had to lie down on the floor. I thought maybe the blow-up would come later but it never did. At lunchtime he just said he was silly and had gotten carried away with the sanding machine. I choked on my cheese.

This radical change of behaviour from L’Homme came after I had spent 2 days in Lyon dancing my socks off, seeing a load of shows, hanging out with friends and meeting new people. He said I returned home “changed” and maybe he’s right; I was definitely bouncier. But I was also bouncier because he was being so NICE. Nice is not something L’Homme does really. Funny, yes. Generous, yes. Impulsive, yes. But nice? Very wierd. And very… erm… nice. I hope it lasts. The odds are it won’t, as once he’s back on tour and effectively living most of his week as a single man out on the town it’s difficult for him to adjust to 2 small, demanding children, a selectively-deaf girlfriend and a totally deaf labrador, along with all our needs, wants, desires and loud voices. The result tends to be lots of short-tempered hurtful comments sprinkled with some angry shouting and a couple of slammed doors, but often we don’t notice as there are some baby kittens living out behind the house and we’re busy discussing whether they’ve eaten the food we put out and what we’ll call them once they decide to adopt us. But maybe, just maybe, L’Homme will manage to keep his Nouveau side to him when he comes home. He still thinks I’m the one who has changed and is now sending me on more dance courses in the hope I’ll remain buoyant. I’m not arguing with that one.

And talking of buoyant, or the opposite of buoyant (which is probably ‘sunk’), a friend came for lunch the other day, a reader-of-my-blog friend, and he made the remark that my writing had become ‘not so fun’ over the past couple of months. He is indeed right, which is why I have written so little, as I just felt like screaming and complaining and whining and whinging and no-one wants to read that. In fact, I apologise for my last post, which came across as a total downer whereas I thought I had tweaked it enough to make it sort of funny. Alas, it wasn’t, and I’m sorry about that, it won’t happen again. However, I did get a ton of comments on Facebook which did encourage me in my flipper research and made me feel a lot better, so thank you for that, dear readers. The same friend suggested that when I’m feeling that down I shouldn’t write but instead should go round to his place for a cup of tea. So he’d better get a hefty stock of  good tea in as I shall be taking him up on the offer.

NB: I just checked the Whitesnake lyrics. I wasn’t far off. I changed hobo for gypsy, being English and not actually knowing what a hobo was at the age of fifteen. It truly is a beautiful world when you can find the lyrics to an old Whitesnake song in a matter of seconds, rather than digging out the old dusty cassette tape, borrowing a cassette player from the 90 year old neighbours, changing the plug, rewinding and fastforwarding the cassette until you find the chorus and transcribing the words onto paper with a feathered plume.

“An’ here I go again on my own
Goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known,
Like a hobo I was born to walk alone
An’ I’ve made up my mind
I ain’t wasting no more time…”

Pure poetry. Good old Whitesnake. I shall be returning to the subject of their lyrics soon, as I have just read a number of their songs I used to sing along to as a very young teenager and only now realise what they were banging on about. Basically, screwing women to shut them up. I prefer the sanding tables option.

Plan B

Sometimes I feel my Plan A is not working. Plan A being : raise my two gorgeous children with father of aforementioned children in happy, loving, open-minded family atmosphere, see both children off to university/decent jobs, go travelling together, go grey together, enjoy each other’s company and get really good at cryptic crosswords and/or cultivating rhododendrons

However, for the past couple of weeks Plan A has not being going to plan.

L’Homme is currently suffering from Technician-On-Tour Syndrome (T.O.T.S) which basically means he gets so used to living a life of freedom and adult organisation/social codes/wild fun, that he can’t adapt to life with a strong-minded, loud-mouthed woman, two small, bouncy kids with high-pitched squeals and a creaky, deaf labrador when he comes home. He is no longer capable of taking other living entities into account. All runs smoothly as long as I happen to be in agreement with EVERYTHING he suggests, but the moment I have an alternative thought on something – anything – it could be a tiny weeny minor detail such as what plate to put the potatoes on, I metamorphose into a SHE-DEVIL HELL-CAT. How dare I suggest something that he doesn’t agree with? What kind of a maniac am I? I should be concentrating on “making things simple”, which means basically never having a single thought/opinion/urge that isn’t neatly aligned with his own. And what the hell am I doing out of the kitchen/laundry-room/mop-room anyway?

At times like this I secretly work on Plan B. This involves my friend Ms. Harila (who is an anagram). Her man suffers from the same awful syndrome.

Plan B would mean the two of us moving in together, with our kids, and spending our days giggling, drinking tea and then coffee, organising absolutely everything that could possible be organised, having ideas and exchanging them freely without being subjected to eye-rolling, putting 80’s pop bands in order of hairstyle ridiculousness, eating muesli for lunch, swimming in the pool, swimming in the river, painting our toenails, reading books, drinking wine in the evenings and enjoying life without the stress of (French theatre technician) male life-partners. We would have many lovers which we would swap and then chuck out when they started to get annoying. We would grow old happily as Nila, Tommy and Léonie grew up in our loving care.

Meanwhile, our blokes would be forced to live together and would kill each other by the end of the year  month  week for not agreeing on how thickly one should slice the saucisson. We would feel slightly remorseful but would soon get over it and order a load more second-hand Booker prize novels on Amazon.
Well, it makes me smile anyway.
Ah, I feel better already!

DAAAAAA DEEEEEEE!

L’Homme is home. That is, he’s not away touring for an entire week, but every other day he does a training course down in Montélimar. He gets home around 5pm, to the joy of all three of us. Ah, that good ole’ Daddy energy. Unshackled by the repetitiveness of our daily routine and yet another meal to wipe off the high-chair, he bowls on in and swoops us all off our feet, creating massive destruction, noise and untidiness but oh such fun and larks. He has had enough of eating out in restaurants and enjoying lush 4-star hotel breakfasts (aahh, poor him) and instead wants to cook, cook and cook again. Thick vegetable soups and purées and sausages and apple pies. He even cleans the kitchen up afterwards. It positively sparkles. He has missed changing Léonie’s pooey nappies, so leaps up whenever the occasion arises and whisks her off to the bathroom. He even de-snots her nose; something he never dared do when Tommy was a baby for fear of sucking his brain out of his nostrils. He is SuperDaddy. He is such a SuperDaddy that that is all Léonie says now he’s home.

DAAAAA DEEEEEEEEE! 

She uses it to call him, to call me, Tommy, Baloo the dog, and whatever is on the telly or on her spoon. But mostly to call her Daddy. DAAAAAAA DEEEEEEEEE! Her vague mumblings of Mamammamamama or YAYEEY! (which is what she calls me – pardon – what she used to call me) are no longer. The only word she says now – loudly – is DAAAAA DEEEEEEEEEE. And it is driving me mad.

WHO does 95% of all the loving, cuddling, changing, bathing, dressing, undressing, cooking, feeding, playing, comforting, kissing, reading, walking, carrying, soothing, singing, putting to bed and getting up in the night? Not to mention 100% of the breast-feeding? ME. MUMMY. NOT DADDY. MUMMY. And I am beginning to feel quite miffed about the fact that I am clearly not as interesting as Daddy.

Yesterday I was sick. Literally. Some sort of tummy bug that knocked me out for the day and left me lying in bed with parched lips and a blue washing-up bowl by my bed. As I lay there shivering and hating the entire world I could hear Léonie calling out over and over again DAA DEEE! DAAAAAA DEEEEEEEEE! And SuperDaddy would reply “Oui! J’arrive, ma belle.” And I felt quite redundant. The kids had barely noticed I wasn’t around, they were having such fun with SuperDaddy. The cold weather broke and the sun came out so they all went out to play in the garden, for the first time in 2 weeks, whooping and laughing together. The smell of sausages wafted up into our bedroom and made me feel even worse. I wondered when, and if,  Léonie would want to see me. Having spent the last 2 weeks hankering for some ‘me’ time, I now had it but was too ill to enjoy it, plus I wanted my little baby girl to come and see me. She did eventually miss me – just around naptime – so we had a cuddle and I gave her a feed and she was out for the count. “Great” I thought. “So I’m a milk bar. She only wants to see me for her milk fix. That’s all I am. A milky, comfort thing.”

It always amazes me how bleak things look when I am ill.

Today I am better, if a bit wobbly and only capable of eating small bits of toast. L’Homme is away on his training course. Léonie has called me “Yayyeee” a couple of times and she is very affectionate, but as SOON as L’Homme walks back through the door I can bet what little I have in my bank account that she will be shouting DAAAAA DEEEEEEEE all evening. I am not sure how to deal with my jealousy. Because that’s what it is, if I’m honest, sheer jealousy that I am not Number One ALL the time, like I was with Tommy. L’Homme reckons it’s the father-daughter relationship phenomenon. Yeah, yeah, whatever. I am loathed to accept that even though I do so much of the parenting, he should reap more of the rewards.  Quite frankly, it’s just not fair. I know I am being childish. I know that Léonie loves me. I WOULD JUST LIKE HER TO SAY MUMMY.

Ah, I can hear her waking up. Off I go. I am going to repeat Mummymummymummymummymummymummymummymummy non-stop all afternoon until she is brainwashed.

Hello 2012.

I am still here. Just. I spent the 1st and 2nd of January wondering if I was going to make it much further into the new year. I had so many symptoms I considered phoning the screenwriters for House so that they could base an episode on my mysterious condition. At least then my death would not be in vain. My calf muscles had seized up (peripheral vascular disease!), I couldn’t walk (sarcoidosis!), I couldn’t turn my neck nor lift and lower my chin (meningitis! encephalitis!), my head was spinning non-stop (acoustic neuroma!), I kept crashing out on the sofa, unable to get up again, weak, chronically fatigued, exhausted (Myasthenia gravis! Guillain-Barré syndrome!), I felt so bad I couldn’t imagine ever again feeling anything but so bad. What was I dying of?? Who could help me?

And then my brain slightly unfuzzed for a few seconds and I had one single, clear thought : this was all related to my overly enthusiastic, hyper-energetic, borderline mental participation in the New Year’s Eve party we went to. It was a wickedly indulgent, over-the-top party which had me drinking the most delicious champagne in copious quantities and dancing from midnight until 5 a.m. on a concrete, tiled floor. The champagne explains the head symptoms, the tiled floor is responsible for my torn calf muscles. Aaaaahhhhh! All of a sudden my symptoms started to feel quite cool. They were Party Wounds! The result of having had a damn good night out. And seeing as it has been over 2 years since I danced or drank like that, my body was clearly in shock. It still is a bit. My head is okay now, but I’m still walking stiffly. The last time I danced on concrete for hours, it took a week before I stopped hobbling along like someone’s great grandma. Which would be okay, except stairs are especially painful and L’Homme has just vanished from our lives which means I’m doing double stair duty. “What?!” you scream, “He left you! What did you do? Snog someone at the party? Worse? Interrupt his ‘reading time’ on the loo? Ask him to help you with the housework?! You idiot! You crazy fool!!” Calm down. He has just gone back to work. Touring two immensely successful shows for THE French contemporary theatre company of the moment. So that’s that. From now until the end of May I will be seeing him not a lot. He pops back every week-end or so, for a day, or two if we’re lucky, and then he’s off again, to another bit of France, stage-managing, racing about backstage changing the set and carrying the actors to their spot and for the first time in his life, playing a character – with lines! – a dodgy dealer. He has been practising his lines and breaking out into a cold sweat each time I correct him, which is most of the time because a) he’s having a hard time remembering in what order he says what, and b) having gone through the text four or five times I had hoovered the lines up into my brain and knew them by heart. I kept batting them back at him while he struggled to work out what was said when. God, I am annoying. I know that must drive him crazy. But it’s as close as I’m going to get at the moment to actually saying any lines so I thought I’d make the most of it. Poor little starved actress that I am.

Anyway, L’Homme is gone and I’m back to looking after a 4 year old and a one year old in a tiny weeny village where some (most) people think that the Theory of Evolution is about as real as The Mister Men. Right on cue, an hour after L’Homme had left, Léonie came down with a fever – 38,5°C and rising – and didn’t want to be ANYWHERE but in my arms with her head rammed under my chin. This didn’t help with the aching neck thing, and hobbling around the house with killer-painful calf muscles and a baby in your arms is not the best way to spend the evening. But one of my New Year Resolutions (are you meant to put capitals in there?) is TO NOT COMPLAIN. So, I am not complaining. I am just stating facts. And on the bright side, Léonie is so feverish she slept for 3 hours in a row this afternoon and I got more done than I had in the entire year of 2011. And it’s still warm and sunny here. So there. Two roses even came out on New Year’s Day. And I picked my last chilli peppers from the garden. It’s downright wierd, but I AM NOT COMPLAINING. 

Solo mum warm-up

For those of you who know my blog and have been loyally and mysteriously following my many exciting adventures for months, nay years on end (and for those of your who have just tuned in click here to read about fighting with the fascist, cranky, bloke who used to run the village bar – er, he’s dead now – no, it WASN’T me, or here to discover why my 3 week old baby ended up in hospital, or even here to be warned of the heated perils of living in the south of France in the summer) … erm, I’ve lost track of what I was saying now … oh yes, some of you will know that I spend most of my time living in this tiny village of 30 inhabitants as a single parent with two small, loud children. This is not because I am separated from the father of my children (L’Homme) but because he works, as a technician/stage manager, with probably the most successful touring theatre company in France at the moment. This is good because it means he has lots of work and bad because it means he is mostly away touring. Which when it comes down to it, is a bit like being separated from him; he nips back every now and again for a day or two during which time I complain he does s*d all around the house, he complains I do too much and am not wearing a see-through basque with suspenders as I open the kitchen door to him, packets of condoms hanging from my ears, Tommy insists ONLY Mummy can wipe his bum and cut up his fish fingers, Léonie just screams and grabs onto my tracksuit bottoms thus yanking them down for L’Homme to recoil in horror at the realisation I haven’t waxed my entire body in honour of his homecoming, and once we’ve all calmed down it’s time for him to leave on tour again.

However, L’Homme has now been home with us since June. He worked a bit in July, on an opera festival in Orange which meant he came home every night (except for the ones when he got rat-assed with the technical director and slept on the floor), we all went on holiday to Italy in August, but since September we have been living a normal family life as a foursome-with-dog on a day to day basis. I say ‘normal’ – well it’s not actually very normal, because no-one is going off to work … we are together 24 hours a day.

TWENTY FOUR HOURS A DAY.

Bloody Hell I hear some of you scream, at the thought of your blokes being home all day, everyday. Yes. I know. I have been there. I have the cyanide capsules ready. At first it was horrific in all the ways you can imagine, but having then come closer to separating than we have ever done in our entire flamethrower relationship, we had to make a grown-up decision to stick things out, at least until Léonie started sleeping through the night and we could begin to see things as less of a suicidal blur. L’Homme urged me to “laissez aller” – to let things go, which after a tremendous effort, I did, and this had the magical effect of him doing the washing-up, tidying, cooking and a lot of baby-minding while I got out, went running in the hills, drank coffee with friends, played the drums with a band, saw a show, went to Marseille, got drunk, ate too much pizza, had a handstand lesson, did a car boot sale. Just not all on the same day.

We have managed to find a sort of balance where we share the drudgery and share the fun. We even watch Doctor House together (once I had got over the initial shock of Hugh Laurie being serious and American and stiff). Autumn is stretching on, we still have at least three hours of glorious sunshine in the afternoon each day, when we can work in the garden or just drink coffee on the balcony together. We are (mostly) getting along and are both in semi-shock about this, quite happily. However, it is all to end soon. Someone has to earn some money pretty damn fast. The new show with the company  kicks off in January and the tour schedule is as intensive as Abba’s in 1977. L’Homme will vanish from our lives, only to return for brief snippets with differing lengths of stubble on his chin, fill the fridge with stinky cheese and then implode in a puff of train dust. I will be back to round-the-clock housework, nappy-changing, high-chair wiping, reading “I wrote to the zoo to send me a pet, they sent me an ELEPHANT!” thirty times in a row and wondering what my name is. Tonight I got a little reminder of this as L’Homme is out at a wine-tasting party with our dentist (who is no doubt persuading him to buy 4 cartons of wine which will mean next month we can only eat frozen peas and crackers), and I am home alone with the kids.

As L’Homme left, he put our old, broken phone in Tommy’s garden playhouse, forgetting he had repainted it this afternoon and storming back up to the kitchen with a paint-stained jacket, swearing life is too complicated, why had I even suggested we give Tommy the phone to play with? I was meant to apologise but was too busy shovelling quinoa in Léonie’s mouth and pretending to feed it to a Playmobile knight so that she would keep eating, and anyway, why should I apologise, it wasn’t my fault? L’Homme left wearing just a jumper, I got to work on the stains with the white spirit and a toothbrush while Léonie splashed, slipped and nearly drowned in the bath and Tommy cried on the sofa because Daddy had gone.

“He’s only going out for the evening, sweetie, he’ll be back later”.

“But Daddy is gone!”

“Yes honey, he will be home in about three hours, when you’re in bed.”

“But him is gone!”

“YES. AND. HE. WILL. BE. BACK. LATER”.

To no avail whatsoever. If it’s after seven in the evening, Tommy is a drama king. He kept crying, heartbroken. Léonie started screaming too. The baked beans bubbled over. The phone went. Tommy banged into the door as he walked through to the kitchen. he screamed. Léonie screamed. I healed Tommy’s mortal injury with a hug and a rub, took a slippery Léonie out of the bath, balanced her on my hip, served up a plate of baked beans, burnt myself in doing so, boiled an egg, didn’t set my iphone timer properly, Tommy refused to eat the egg until he heard the timer go off, I had to set a fake timer, fight Léonie into a nappy and a babygrow, spoon out the edges of the boiled egg for Tommy, put him in the bath, retrieve Léonie from halfway up our Danger Staircase (stone steps, uneven, steep, with razor blades upturned and spears that jab out from the wall), get Tommy out of the bath, dump him in front of a cartoon, carry Léonie up to her bedroom (narrowly avoiding the spears), fight her into her gro-bag, breastfeed her to sleep, put her in bed, tiptoe out, find Tommy asleep on the sofa, carry him up to his bedroom, fall back down the stairs, unload the dishwasher, load it again (have you fallen alseep yet?), wash up the burnt bean pan and the rest of the kitchen, put L’Homme’s jacket in the washing machine on HOT, fold the laundry, make myself a cup of tea which is now cold, and wonder how I’m going to do this on a daily basis when L’Homme is away, without killing someone.

This makes me think I should perhaps make the most of him while he is still here. Appreciate his presence and the things he does around the house. Make him feel that he’s doing a good job. So I’m off to wax my entire body and dig out that see-through basque complete with condom earrings.

Baby sleep, baby scorpion.

After ten days of bunged up nose, cough, night-waking baby and thus sleepless nights, L’Homme realised I was close to extinction and banished me to the sofa downstairs. He announced he would be dealing with Léonie that night and that she was going to have to learn how to go back to sleep on her own without a mouthful of nipple and a tummy refilled with breastmilk. Good luck, I thought as I snuggled up on the sofa, my head propped up at 90° so I could breath, the room wafting in eucalyptus oil fumes. I shoved a couple of earplugs in my ears and shut the door. I slept for an hour and a half, waking up to a vision of L’Homme standing over me, cradling an excited baby. It wasn’t a vision. It was a real life flesh and blood, knickers-in-a-twist man. “Je ne comprends pas!” he said. He’d spent an hour singing to Léonie and rolling her back onto her back, to no avail. She stubbornly rolls back onto her tummy and starts doing push-ups. Real push-ups. Her hands and toes are the only thing touching the mattress and she stays there for about seven seconds before coming down for a rest and pushing back up again. She does this all day and all night. She is clearly in training for a triathlon. Either that or some hardcore crawling. Muscling up her limbs and testing out the all fours position has become an obsession. Only occasionally does she put her knees down like a real crawling baby and I think, ah, that must be a break from those terrible push-ups, but a few seconds later and she’ll be back on her toes and hands. She just can’t stop. A little live-wire. When I told my sister about this she laughed and said, “Just like her mum.”

Anyway, L’Homme couldn’t get her back to sleep so I gave her a feed which she was so happy about that she drifted back off to sleep. I carried her upstairs and put her back in her cot. “Mais si on continue comme ça, elle va toujours vouloir téter pour dormir” L’Homme said, pissed off with himself for having woken me up already. “Yeah, I know” I replied, “but I’m too exhausted to do anything else”. I went back down to my sofa and fell asleep snuffling through my blocked nose.

The next I knew is was 03h15 and I could hear Léonie crying. Loudly. I tiptoed upstairs but L’Homme’s voice stopped me before I could open the door to our room. He was in what will be Léonie’s room – lying on a mattress, furious with Léonie, with himself and with the entire world. She had woken up at 2 a.m. and he had spent yet another hour cooing and singing to her. She couldn’t care less; she wanted Mummy and milk and she wasn’t going to accept anything less. “Well?” I said, “Shall I go and feed her?” “NON!” said L’Homme. He was determined that his Master Plan should at least see the night out. I forced myself to go back downstairs to my sofa, despite my entire body craving to pick Léonie up, cuddle and feed her back to sleep. Lying in the living room, I nearly drowned in milk as my breasts tried desperately to awaken me to the fact I should be soothing my baby. But not only was I wiped out with fatigue and a poorly spinning head, I also feared the Wrath of L’Homme standing guard at Léonie’s door. In the end I dozed off, uncomfortably.

I awoke with light streaming through the shutters. It was 8 a.m. The house was silent. I felt rough. I had been bitten all over. I scratched my way into the kitchen and blew ten tons of green stuff out of my nose. I felt marginally better. And then I started coughing and felt a lot worse. I did some menial task-work around the house and drank water until I could feel it sloshing about inside. Tommy woke at half past eight, I heard his footsteps as he raced over to the fan in his room and switched it off. I intercepted him in the hallway before he could go into our room and wake Léonie and L’Homme, and we quietly ate breakfast cereals together outside on the terrace (“Mummy, me wait for my bunny clock coming on, me so nice.”) Half an hour later and the other half of the family emerged – L’Homme looking like he’d spent a night on the floor of a dungeon, and Léonie perky and smiley as ever. We thought this was a triumph – we had started the Ferber method of sleep training and our baby seemed perfectly fine about it the next morning. Hoorah! Another night or two to go and all would be resolved – our baby would sleep throught the night and we too! Life would be full of joy and blossom and dancing bunnies with frosting on the top.

Erm, that was a few nights ago. Since then I have turned my back on the crying-it-out school of thought and will never try it again. It may work for other babies – for ours IT DOESN’T. All it has done is turn me into a guilty, nervous wreck, L’Homme into an exhausted husk of a daddy, and Léonie into a baby now terrified of her cot and wanting to spend all day in my arms. Oh, and all night. It may be that this is the wrong time to try anything where sleep and nights are concerned; it’s still BLOODY HOT – the bedrooms hit 28°C at the worst and despite our fans (the whirring, air-stirring ones, not the teeming mass queuing at the front door for autographs) on non-stop, you wake up in a sweat, your mouth parched, your head dizzy. Léonie might well be waking up thirsty, crying for Mummy’s all-hours refreshment bar. Or it might well be the recent phenomenon of twelve-poos-a-day she’s going through (I am not exaggerating – I counted them yesterday), which go on throughout the night hours. Or it might be the scorpion I found in her bed the night before last. Yes, a scorpion. A baby one, but a scorpion nonetheless. That’s the south of France in the summer for you. I hope it banishes your idyllic visions of lavender and stone wall villages and markets lush with fruit and old French people in peasant headscarves and berets … we have those too, but we also have an uglier side : scorching drought, tourists in slow, wide camper vans and scorpions.

I now pick Léonie up as soon as she cries out in the night, give her a feed and a cuddle and let her fall asleep in my arms. This is probably the road to Many Future Sleep Problems but for the moment I don’t care.

going underground?

There is a hitch about being me. Well, actually there are lots of hitches about being me, but quite specifically I mean there’s a hitch about people knowing who I am when it comes to blog-writing. A huge great whopping hitch that hangs over me like a big, heavy cloud of frustration: I can’t write about friends, neighbours, my man or my family without being nice. Or at least careful. And I’m not very good at being nice, or careful. In fact, being nice and careful often makes for pretty dull writing, so in general, I just don’t write about these people and the things they do and say. It is a shame as these people provide me with strange and funny stories, insights into human foibles and my own twisted way of seeing the world. If I could write about, for example, the little cross-eyed lady who screeches at the top of her voice just to say good morning and catches flies in her mouth, or the village floozy (she’s pushing 70), or the zillions of moments of total machoism when I conclude that L’Homme must be the love-child of Rambo and Schwarzenegger, then I would write something everyday, as I have a ton of material. But I can’t. Despite L’Homme reading my blog about as often as France experiences a total eclipse, and the locals probably thinking a blog is a joke with an accent, I can’t risk it. I can’t risk hurting anyone’s feelings. Here in the village they would truss me up and burn me over hot coals alongside a sheep. And L’Homme would never change another lightbulb ever again. I just can’t take that risk. So I’m thinking of starting up another blog, totally incognito. Then I could write about who I want, when I want. But then probably no-one would find the blog which would mean no readers and so what’s the point in writing a blog? Hmmm. This means I have to write in code. ommeHL si a ckid. Ym bourneigh si a tucks-pu lomen-uckser. A tad laborious. For me and for you. The other option is to simply lie a bit. Change names and places. The only person resisting this ruse would of course be L’Homme as there is only one of him. I only have one partner, although I often wish I had a few and that I could rotate them throughout the week depending on my mood and their willingness to bow to my every desire and do the shopping. Well, in any case L’Homme probably won’t read this. But our friends might, and this could create embarrassing and potentially relationship-wrecking possibilities when they drop bombshells into the conversation about L’Homme’s tendency to disappear twice a day for 45 minute sessions of sitting on the loo and reading the news on his iphone while I clean up after whichever meal we’ve just eaten and juggle small children into clothes/baths/wellington boots. Oh well. I’m ready to fight fire with fire. If he doesn’t like it, I shall simply write more. And as for all the other people in my life, I’ll be writing about you but using names like “Miss Flossy” or “Reginald Tweet”. We’ll see if you work out who you are and if you keep sending me Christmas cards or not.

Spiderman doesn’t wear pants.

“Mummy, why other boys in my school say Speeeederman and me say Spiderman?”

“Because they’re French, honey.”

“They is stupid?”

“No sweetie, they’re just French.”

“French is stupid?”

“No … well, sometimes … I mean some French people can sometimes act stupidly, just like some English people can be stupid sometimes.”

“Daddy is stupid sometimes.”

“What do you mean?”

“When Daddy is being in bad mood and very grumpy, you say ‘stupid man’. Mummy, Stupidman is like Spiderman?”

“No, honey …”

“Stupidman is Spiderman friend?”

“Erm … ”

“Me like Spiderman. Spiderman is my friend. Mummy, me can put my Spiderman costume?”

“It’s really hot today honey, you’ll melt if you put it on.”

“Me not melt.”

“You’ll be too hot, darling.”

“No Mummy, me promise me not be too hot. Me promise you.”

“Okay, fine, but if you’re too hot you take it off.”

Tommy goes to the dressing up box and pulls out his synthetic, skin-tight, all-in-one Spiderman costume. It used to have gloves attached to the ends of the sleeves but they got so skanky they became hygienically unsound, so I cut them off, much to mini-Spiderman’s horror. He reacted so badly I felt like I’d cut his actual hands off. He goes into his ‘changing room’ (behind the sofa) and a few minutes later comes out naked.

“Mummy, you can help me?”

“Honey, you need to at least wear your pants* underneath the costume.”

(*for those American readers, pants = underpants)

“No Mummy. Spiderman not wear pants.”

“Yes he does.”

“No Mummy. No pants.”

“Then no Spiderman costume.”

“But me want be like Spiderman!”

“You will be just like Spiderman.”

“BUT MUMMY, SPIDERMAN NO WEAR PANTS!”

I take a breath. “He does. I know he does.”

“How you know, Mummy?”

“Well … I just know. I can see he wears pants underneath his costume.”

“Me no can see. Where you see?”

Tommy brings me his Spiderman cartoon CD which is smothered in pictures of Spiderman in various positions of painful looking contortion. His costume really is skin tight, but there is not a panty-line in sight. He clearly must wear something to hold all his bits together, maybe a G-string; his packet is neatly welded into a mound of almost nothingness. In fact, he can’t have much in there. Maybe that’s why he became Spiderman – to prove his manhood. So why then choose to wear an outfit that wouldn’t look out of place on Jennifer Lopez?  Or even Jane Fonda? Surely it would be better to hide the fact he didn’t have much in the way of Christmas baubles? And how can I explain all this to Tommy who is three and a half years old?

“Honey, just believe me. Spiderman does wear pants. And even if he didn’t, I would still make you wear pants underneath your costume. Otherwise your bottom and willy will get too hot and sweaty and it might start to hurt. Spiderman doesn’t live in a hot place like the south of France. But you do. Okay?”

“Okay Mummy. Me understand.”

“Do you?” I am surprised and thrilled that he has accepted my argument so easily. “Good boy. Now put your pants on and I will help you do your costume up at the back.” Tommy pulls his pants on and squirms his way into his Spiderman costume.

“Mummy, and Stupidman?”

“What about Stupidman?”

“Stupidman wear pants too?”

“I don’t know, sweetie.”

“Me ask Daddy.”

“Good idea.”

I am counting on the fact that L’Homme won’t know what on earth Tommy is talking about.

Surely he must wear pants? It all seems to be held in pretty snugly.

Ah - I shall show this to Tommy as proof. Although I will have to find a good explanation for the hot half-undressed blonde in a g-string.