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.

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Poo Removals

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.

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.

Ten Easy Steps…

Well. I have discovered a totally new way to thoroughly depress oneself…

… Work on a solo show for small children, entirely on your own, in a barn.

This breaks down into small steps, each of which efficiently beaks your spirit until you are nothing but a gibbering wreck lying in the foetal position on the cold floor.

1/ hole oneself up in your barn for a few hours a day, on ones own, with no real direction, just a pair of huge green flippers, some jam jars and some water.

2/ find some stuff you think could be good, or potentially good, ie. some mini-scenes to develop, based on music, rhythm, funny fish/frog dances.

3/ go round in circles with your mini-scenes and wonder what made you think they were any good in the first place. Start to think it’s all just a big pile of poo.

4/ make sure nobody in your close circle of family/friends is even vaguely interested and/or shows the slightest bit of encouragement and/or asks any questions whatsoever.

5/ go and look at websites of other shows for small children. Especially this site which has a selection of beautiful little shows, most of them as duets.

6/ long to work with someone else, not all on your own.

7/ go back to your (now damp, cos it’s been raining) ‘rehearsal room’, on your own and go over what you’ve been ‘working’ on for the last few days.

8/ realise it is total and utter shit and not at all adapted for tiny children in the first place.

9/ decide you should start all over again but then hear your toddler waking up (NB: you are slightly relieved as this is a good excuse not to battle on with your pile of shit).

10/ Try to talk about this situation in which you are forced to create your own little show for kids with an insensitive partner who has nothing to say on the matter except “all your friends in the theatre world couldn’t care less otherwise they’d have offered you some work by now”. When you sarcastically (and shakily) try to defend yourself with “maybe I’m not such a great actress then”, your partner replies “maybe”.

There you go. Ten Easy Steps to Deep Depression and a Broken Spirit. I have tried and tested them. They definitely work.

Back to the green flippers and jam jars of water. Gosh, how original of me.

Ryanair’s rules regarding complaints.

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!!”

WordPress what happened?

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.

Thank goodness Léonie weighs under 10 kilos. They let her on.

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.

The Greatest Gift in the World…

… 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.

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The Pirate Returns

At last. He escaped. Captain Tommy Sparrow, or Pirate Peg-Leg as he is now known, managed to flee the clutches of Le Hospital and swim back to his own ship. He got away the day before yesterday and is still hopping around the house ship, bravely battling on, never giving up, despite foul poison being poured down his throat twice a day by the dreaded Captain Mummy.

We have warned Pirate Peg-Leg that we are planning on selling our house ship but nothing phases him now. He is looking forward to making new pirate friends on strange seas. Plus there’s a castle in the town we’d like to move to. With treasure hidden in one of the walls. I know this because when we visited it a few weeks ago, when Pirate Peg-Leg still had two fully working legs, I found him scraping at a 400 year old wall with a stick. I had to hide a fifty pence piece of eight in the grounds of the castle so that he could find some treasure before we left the castle, to avoid him bringing a turret down.

He is still limping and hopping and regularly falling over, yet doggedly continues his pirate cutlass training. His sister is simultaneously thrilled to have him home and also a wee bit jealous of all the attention he is getting. She has taken to opera screeching in order to remind us that she is still here. She is even letting me put pretty dresses on her rather than refusing to wear anything but her “My Pop is Da Bomb” t-shirt (a hand-me-down from 23 cousins) as she knows we will coo and aaahh every time she walks into the room. I took the opportunity to take a photo but she continued her opera squealing.

(NB: the dress is from Heavens-to-Betsy in case you were wondering.)

Hospital Still

(NB: I wrote this yesterday morning…)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laboratory Larks

“I’ll stay with Tommy another day ” L’Homme said to me yesterday evening, down the phone from the hospital. “You stay at home with Léonie and have a day off. No driving 50km in the blazing sun, no hospital, no dodgy camp-bed, no nurses coming in all night. I’ll stay here with Tommy. You can take over on Saturday.”

Hoorah, I thought, and considered keeping L’Homme for another few years. His thoughtful side is coming out now he’s 35. I flopped down on the sofa, weary from a day at the hospital and the long drive home, relieved not to have to do it again the next day. I wrote a list of things to do, with or without Léonie, in or out of the shade, during naptime or during wide-awake time, and then I went to bed.

I was woken up at 8 a.m. (erm, not counting the two Léonie awakenings in the night), “MUMMY! MUUUMMMMYYYY!” and I went to get my little girl out of her cot. She was standing up, bouncing about, desperate to jump into my arms. I took her back into my room, keeping the shutters closed and waited for her to stare at me with those huge blue eyes of hers and start flashing her fingers from fists to star hands and back again which of course means “milk”. So I fed her and sat her back on the pillow on L’Homme’s side of the bed, listening to her babble. But it wasn’t just her mouth babbling. A funny gurgling sound was coming from her tummy, a churning, burbling sound. Before I could react, she was sick all over the sheets. Once… twice… and a third time all over me as by then I had her in my arms and was cuddling her. When she had finished being sick and was just hiccuping, I stripped the bed and carried her and the sheets down to the kitchen. She was thirsty so she had a glass of water, looked at me, blinked and promptly filled her nappy up with what I could only imagine was the equivalent of the glass of water but a different colour. I took her into the bathroom, stood her in the shower and took her nappy off. Indeed. Diarrhea explosion. I gave her a shower, wrapped her up in a towel and called the doctor.

This morning was the third time she had been sick in the last ten days and she has had diarrhea for nearly a week. I had hoped it was just a tummy bug that would clear up on its own but it’s just getting worse and she is getting thinner. And so the day unfolded: doctor’s clinic, laboratory (try to get a urine sample from a 19 month old – it took us 2 hours) and even hospital to visit Tommy seeing as the lab is just over the road. Léonie went through 9 nappies (we had to steal some from the hospital) and I became a dab hand at dealing with stinky mud landslides in public places, not to mention applying mini pee bags onto a mini fanny. I also discovered how to get a small child to have a pee when you want them to: you play “Sip & Ah’ which involves each of you taking turns having a sip of water and then exclaiming “AH!” afterwards. After at least 3 cupfuls of water have been downed, you then wait a bit and move onto the game “Cold Water Feet” where you sit your child on the edge of a sink (it’s easier if it’s a sink that’s just sunk into a surface) and you run cold water onto his/her feet. This is a surefire way of making them have a pee. Do not say you never learn anything from my blog. One day you will thank me for this.

Cold Water Feet

Oh and here’s another tip: when your toddler opens up the cupboard beneath the sink and discovers all the test tubes and needles and special sterilised equipment, distract him/her by taking a latex glove from the box of 1000 latex gloves, blowing it up and making it into a punk/a chicken/a cow’s udder.

Punk is alive and rocking in a medical lab in the Ardèche.