When I’m Chopping Onions…

Who writes the helpful tips and friendly advice for keeping young children entertained for Babycenter.com? Clearly not a parent. Or else a totally hypocritical parent. Or an alien from a planet where what we like to imagine actually IS. I just received this in my email inbox; it’s a link for various articles on the babycenter.com site including one entitled “Nine alternatives to television sure to entertain the kids“. Well the only time I let my kids watch telly (and it’s not even telly, we don’t have telly out here in France because French telly is utter crap and I haven’t yet sorted my life out to get BBC stuff beamed in to my house, so we just have CDs of Madagascar, Toy Story, Dangermouse and Top Cat amongst other classics), is when I’m cooking their dinner. So I didn’t really need to click on the link, but I did and in fact the article is based on that exact period of time; ie. preparing dinner time, and as I read the article I discovered that putting cartoons on for kids while I’m busy in the kitchen is now NOT RIGHT. It can, and I quote, “restrict a child’s ability to think and imagine”. Yikes. Even forty minutes a day? Now, I’m sure too much screen watching is not a good thing for anyone, especially not kids, but we all know that when it comes to cooking dinner at the end of the day and simultaneously refereeing a small children’s wrestling match, the most sensible thing to do is to wham a bit of Hong Kong Phooey on while the fish is frying. Or the cheese is grating. Or whatever. But once I had read the first line of the “Nine Alternatives to TV” article, guilt crept into my bones and I had to read on.

It turns out all nine ideas are great ones. Get your child involved in helping make the dinner, make a mini-kitchen, pretend you’re at your child’s favourite restaurant and set a table up for all his/her stuffed animals, get your child pouring water and rice through a funnel, ask him/her to sort the cutlery, make some play dough, set up a crafts table and get your child to make a place mat with glue and pasta shapes… YEAH, RIGHT, AND THEN WEEP AS THE WATER AND THE RICE AND GLUE AND THE PASTA BITS AND THE STUFFED ANIMALS AND THE CUTLERY ALL END UP ON THE FLOOR AND YOU SLIP ON THE PASTA AND LAND ON A SMALL POINTY TRACTOR WHICH THEN REMAINS GLUED TO YOUR BOTTOM AND YOU SWEAR YOU WILL BURN BABYCENTER.COM DOWN TO THE GROUND IF IT’S THE LAST THING YOU DO.

images Has the person writing the article ever had to look after a small child, or two, or three, or four, on a daily basis? Has this person ever made 365 dinners in a year? Not counting lunches and breakfasts of course? Does this person realise that ALL nine of the ideas involve triple the amount of energy and patience and then another 20 minutes of tidying up at the end, and that’s not counting cleaning up the plates and pots and pans after the meal. I’m all for creative activities and playing games but not at the end of the day thanks. Not while I’m cooking yet another meal and then doing the bath-brush-books countdown to bedtime. As I chop carrots and fight with the freezer drawer I thank the Gods of Light Entertainment for creating cartoons and bringing them to me, here in the nether regions of southern France, so that while I make dinner, Tommy and Léonie are momentarily transfixed, immobile and very VERY quiet. So there.

Long Live Pingu. All Hail Shreck. Wallace and Gromit for President. That’s what I say.


2013, here I come (very slowly)


I have given myself ten days to savour this new year and so far I can say it tastes a bit like a yoghurt that has just slightly turned. Or wine that you’re not sure is corked or just a bit weird. Or a nearly-but-not-quite stale biscuit. I’m not sure why these things spring to mind. I think it’s the feeling of looking forward to a fresh, new start, and then realising I need some new spark plugs if things are going to go anywhere.

I began this year with a damaged coccyx, which rather puts a damper on anything involving sitting down, moving from sitting down to standing up (and vice-versa), and picking anything up. Which, I discovered, is most things when you are the mother of a 5 year old and a 2 year old. I am proud to say it was the result of a motorbike accident. Yes, me, the daring, racy motorbike rider, all leather and denim and long blonde hair in the wind. I am less proud to say the motorbike is about 50 cm high, pink and yellow and made of plastic. It is a fine source of amusement for those between 2 and 7 as they race down the concrete drive at 90 mph and onto the lawn. Tommy was managing to pick up enough speed to go right round the tree at the bottom of the lawn. It looked like such fun I thought I’d have a go. And it was fun, really fun, all the way down the drive, the kids and I screaming with laughter… until I hit the bump which leads onto the lawn. The motorbike went up, so did my bottom, and then came crashing back down onto the plastic saddle which has a little upward curving protuberence at the tail-end. In flight, my own tail-end shifted backwards a couple of centimetres, only to meet whackingly with the knobbly bit. In terms of pain I would rate childbirth as the most painful thing I have experienced, followed by toothache and ear infections, followed by this. I have never ever hurt this part of my body so it was a surprising pain as it made me realise that bit of my body really REALLY exists.

This happened on Christmas Eve. For two weeks I couldn’t sit down properly. I had to twist sidewards or lean right forward. We had a long drive back from Barcelona during which I hung on to the passenger seat handle above the door and swayed my way home. We went straight to a friend’s surprise birthday party. She is an osteopath and told me to get it checked out straight away as it’s easy to break or fracture your coccyx without realising. There’s not much you can do about it except let time heal the bones, but if you know it’s broken or fractured you should take it really easy. This was the perfect excuse to get out of the house and read one of my Christmas books so the next day I drove to E&R and spent a few hours standing in a waiting room (still too painful to sit) and then had a x-ray done. Result: no broken bones (hoorah), but the coccyx had been “twisted” (yikes). The doctor explained it’s like twisting your ankle and that once the inflammation goes down it all goes back to normal, but could really benefit from an osteopathy session. Great, I thought, I’ll just see my osteopath friend as soon as possible. Alas, she doesn’t ‘do’ the coccyx. The look on her face worried me. “What does ‘doing the coccyx’ involve?” I asked. She winced. “Interior intervention.” Ah. “You mean, finger up the bum?” She nodded. I winced.

I have found an osteopath who ‘does the coccyx’. Thankfully, for the moment, L’Homme is away for 10 days so I can’t book an appointment as I don’t really want to take Léonie with me while having someone wiggle their finger up my bum. In fact, maybe I’ll keep on finding excuses until things heal all on their own. In fact, my coccyx already feels much better.

No, I’m NOT perching on the edge of my chair to write this. Honest. ish.

Another reason for not starting this year on jet-skis is illness descending upon both kids and me (it’s a family tradition to be really poorly for the first ten days of the year) and my friend Bernie slowly vanishing into the afterworld; wherever that may be. I’m not going to write much more about him right now as I’m not ready to, but I am thinking of him constantly at the moment, as he slips from here to there. Another brilliant, beloved soul who doesn’t deserve to go so soon.

It is 9:30 pm and Léonie (age 2) is leaping around the kitchen singing “Mummy, Mummy, MUMMYYYYYYYY, woter, woter WOTERRRRRR”, whilst tossing a sippy cup in the air and biting through the skin of a banana, sideways. Tommy is asleep on the sofa having had a worm intervention earlier on in the evening (me, Doc. Harrison-Bullett, P.H.D. in Worms – I won’t go into the details). I should carry them both up to bed but my coccyx won’t take it.

Welcome to my world, 2013.

The motorbike on which I had my Christmas Eve accident.

The motorbike on which I had my Christmas Eve accident.

Someone (else) is wearing the (very small) trousers.



A blood-curdling scream rips through our home. The kind that turns your heart inside out and liquidizes your stomach and has you dropping everything and running towards the source of the scream because a small child is in mortal pain, accidentally burnt or broken and close to death.




Léonie does not want to put on her socks.

She wants to go outside, she has managed to put her Crocs on, but she does not want to put on her socks.

“It’s cold outside.” I tell her. “You can wear your crocs if you really want, but you need socks on to keep your feet warm!”


“Okay, okay! Then no socks, but that means no crocs either! We’re going to the farm, you will walk in wet grass and some sort of poo and it will go through the holes in your crocs and then your feet will be cold, wet and pooey! Take the crocs off and put your fleecy boots on instead.”

EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!  (throwing of fleecy boots across kitchen, re-throwing of socks, kicking of cartons-to-be-recycled.)

“Okay. Fine. Wear your crocs without socks. We have to leave right now or we’ll miss the post office. Come on, move it, let’s go!”

I bundle Léonie into Tommy’s red puffa jacket (because that’s what she has chosen as a coat), carry her out of the kitchen and down the stairs and try heading for the post office.


And so I strap her into the babyseat on my bike, put her helmet on and we bike up the hill, with the parcel I’m sending in my mouth, my teeth clenching onto it for dear life. We make it to the post office just before it shuts at midday, I hurl the parcel at our postmistress and off we bike down the hill towards the farm, Léonie singing quite happily behind me.

We visit the pigs, who look pissed off because today we didn’t bring anything for them to eat, then we visit the sheep and the hens and even the people because they are very nice farmers indeed. Often they’ll invite us in and Léonie will raid their baguette box (the Brits have breadboxes, the French have baguette boxes), a trick taught to her by her elder brother (we must owe them a couple of hundred euros in bread) and I’ll buy some eggs, but not today because Léonie has walked through wet grass and some sort of poo and her feet are cold and wet and pooey. And now she wants to be carried and I have no desire whatsoever to carry her with her pooey crocs on as they will wipe across my jeans and jumper rendering me pooey too. So I put her back on the bike and we’re just about to head off when the farmer’s charming son pops out of his essential oils boutique and I ask him whether he saw L’Homme’s show in Lyon and he says yes and starts to tell me about the evening he spent at the theatre but Léonie is ready to go home because her feet are cold and wet and pooey so she bangs on my bike saddle shouting “Mummy! Mummy! MummyMummyMummyMummyMummyMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMY MUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMYMUMMY!!!!!!!    EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!!!!! and that works a treat, I start pedaling straight back up the hill.

Just another morning in my life as a stay-at-home mummy in the middle of the French countryside.

Up Late Léonie Love

It is ten p.m. This is supposed to be “my time”, when the kids are both peacefully sleeping in their beds, and I can sit down to read and write emails and blogs and books. However, Léonie, who usually goes down so easily – a feed, a cuddle and she drops off to sleep in her cot – is in MummyMummyMummyMUMMY mode and each time I try to creep out of her room she bursts into tears and sobs unconsolably as if I was leaving for the West Indies for a year. I have spent over an hour bent over her cot (I can now not only put my hands flat on the floor but can get my elbows down there too), cradling her in my arms as I jigger-jig gently up and down her bedroom, lying with her on the single mattress on the floor… all to no avail WHATSOEVER. As soon as I try to extract myself from the room and from her grip, she starts bawling her eyes out again. Trying yet again to get her off to deep sleep, I kept thinking of the salad awaiting me outside on the terrace so in the end I brought her down and she sat on my lap nicking my salad leaves until it got a bit too chilly for her little pyjama-clad body so now we are in here, in the living room, on the sofa. She is sitting next to me pointing at the screen and chattering away, no doubt advising me on my writing style. She has brought me a lego speedboat. She is feeding me tiny bits of salad from her mouth (they’ve been in there for fifteen minutes). Now she is unzipping my hoody and pulling at my vest straps. Baby-signing ‘milk’ and looking cheerful. Messing about with the touchpad on my computer, stroking my hair, hiding under the cushions and babbling away quite happily. Ah, the milk sign again. Maybe she is actually ready to go to bed. I’m going to try once more. So this post might just stop here, as I suspect I’m going to fall asleep with Little Miss Ardèche. This is not the post I was planning on writing this evening. But I can happily say that I don’t actually mind. I am so madly in love with this little girl, so utterly loved-up, fuzzily high on LOVE whenever I look at her (yes, I’ve just used the word love three times in a row but that’s the point) that I am going to accept that for once my evening is not my own, go and brush my teeth and fall asleep with her in my bed.

Just look at her. I am so in love I could pop.

PS: In the end she fell asleep on the sofa with me stroking her back, blissfully.

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.


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!”


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.


Oh poop, oh piddle, oh pee, I’ve gone and left it too late to write anything of any worth. It’s nearly midnight and I’m wiped and I have a sinking feeling that a certain very small person shall be waking up way before daybreak to tell me about sea turtles and the sun still sleeping and Daddy coming on the train. So I’m going to go to bed and dream of all my ex-boyfriends and potential future boyfriends, just like I did last night which was rather nice actually. Unfortunately I woke up and discovered ‘it was all just a dream’ and got on with real life which involved porridge and laundry and potty rinsing and other extremely unsexy  things. I wonder when life is going to jazz up a bit. Get hot and steamy (and I’m not talking about the porridge nor the laundry) and racey and risky. I do miss all that. I didn’t think it would all stop with motherhood. Well, it hasn’t entirely, but I still feel very hungry, I’d even go so far as to say starved of all that fun. Oh, which reminds me, the French also say “c’est fun”. Now I really have to go to bed before I throw something at the wall. Oh well, here I come, lads.


That’s it. Snowed in for the third day. Just Tommy and I and a woodburner to attend to and twelve hours a day to fill with activities for a two and a half year old. I am beginning to saturate. I even found myself curled on the sofa this morning with a pillow on my head hoping Tommy would forget I was there and just go and play with his toys on his own wthout me having to simulate a fire engine siren, a pram-chase, a Gruffalo monster fight on the bed or a building site in full swing. It didn’t work. I got poked in the eye with a two metre long cardboard tube (WHO gave that to him?) which had a small plastic sausage sliding down the inside so that when I opened my stabbed eye I got a second hit from the sausage. So we went to the farm in the thick snow, which involved me chasing Tommy down the hill as he perillously ran ahead of me unaware of the ice-stricken killer roads, and then carrying him all the way back on my shoulders squashing a few vertebra cushions in the process, painfully de-snowing the car with no gloves because I’d lost them somewhere on the way and hauling five baskets of logs up the stairs to the house. And we made bread, which involved about twenty minutes of breadmaking and three hours of cleaning up plus a fight with the bread machine which wouldn’t let go of the bread tin. The bread was good though. Total fluke. Anyway, as I awoke from an unplanned two hour nap with Tommy I realised that my body, partly from the cold, partly from boredom, was slipping into hibernation and that on no account should I stay up writing until midnight. So today’s entry is short and not even very sweet, but I leave you with the promise of tomorrow’s subject: “C’est le top” and “c’est le most”. I kid you not.

No promises…

So I’m not making any promises. Not to myself, not to anyone out there. Just because I’m writing something today doesn’t mean that I won’t disappear again for ten and a half months. Or years. So just make the most of this weeny missive, take it for what it is ; a snippet of burblings from my little life in the French countryside. Not a promise of genius novels to come.

Last time I wrote I was just surfacing from a long, bleak, nipple-freezing winter, most of which I spent on my own in this lost Ardèche village looking after a repeatedly bronchiolitis-ridden toddler, hauling baskets of logs up to the kitchen woodburner and cursing myself for having made such ridiculous choices for an actress with ambition and a promising career.

Now it’s the end of November. A new winter is looming but already looking to be short and sweet ; we were still eating lunch outdoors the day before yesterday. Tommy is sleeping through the night AT LONG LAST, we’ve found a wonderful “nounou” (nanny) who looks after him four mornings a week, and I have intermittent work in Marseille and Paris which means I get to flit and flirt and party all night long every now and again. All this helps keep me happy and healthy and I’m actually looking forward to frosty mornings and hot chocolate and warm croissants. I’m even wondering whether having a second baby would be a wonderful idea or a bit like shooting my career in the foot. Probably a bit of both. Feet heal anyway. My feet do anyway. I have very healing feet.

Another new wonder in my life is the discovery of certain podcasts. Stephen Fry. Timeghost, with Craig Children and Martin Baine-Jones. They make me laugh until the earphones pop out of my ears (when you have very small ears, earphones designed for the general public tend to have a hard time staying in there and any wide smile action dislodges them). They make me feel more in touch with the UK and with what’s going on and most importantly, with British irony and wit and self-depreciation which I so love and so miss and which just a scattering of French people even vaguely get. I would move back to England if only I could have tea with Stephen Fry, Craig Children and Martin Baine-Jones every other afternoon. It’s a lot to ask, I know, and I’m sure they’re busy writing and recording and starring and presenting, which is why it looks like I’ll be staying here in France listening to their podcasts.

I should invite them out in the springtime or the summer though. I shall do that. I shall copy-stick this into an email and send it to Craig Children who gave me (and thousands of other listeners) his email address last year whilst having a good old rant about the BBC clamping down on the right to say, amongst other things, “lock up your Dads”. I would explain further but Craig and Martin do it a lot better in their podcast.

I must go and calm my 2 year old son down as he is bouncing off our 6 year old little neighbour who looks like she is already seriously considering the advantages of being lesbian or a nun.

Paris too far.

So I should be in Paris right now. Out dancing or drinking in a bar or jumping up and down in a concert. Flirting and laughing and toying with the option of doing something very naughty no doubt. Alas, my cotton-wool head and piles of antibiotics have kept me home in the Ardèche, have kept me home being a good girl, being a deliciously perfect Mummy, taking Tommy to the farm (again), making him omelettes and tofu dinners, sleeping with him when he has his nap, reading another fantastic novel before I go to bed. Thank god, in a manner of speaking, for fantastic novels. But I dream of Paris, I dream of the lights at nightime, of the bars and bistros, of my friends and of strangers who might become friends, of the excitement of being part of Paris. I especially dream of being back onstage. And backstage too, with all the fun and complicity that involves being in a troupe. And yet at the same time I get a strange, deep, warm satisfaction from being here in the middle of the countryside with my little boy, just spending my time playing with him, looking after him, watching him grow and learn and flourish and turn into a confident, loving little person. Intelligent, funny, observant, friendly. He really is one of the nicest people I have ever met. I call him Angel a lot of the time and he is 16 months old today. And when I think about it, although Paris is calling to me, and raciness and naughtiness are tempting me out there, maybe for the time being this is where I am meant to be.