Thursday, 21 February 2008


Have you ever schlepped round the supermarket for an hour or so, loaded your trolley with about £200-worth of stuff, got all the way through the check-out, then realised that your bank card is in the pocket of your jeans and not in your wallet? And that your jeans are, of course, languishing over the back of a chair in your bedroom instead of wrapped around your bottom because today ‘seemed like a skirt-day’? Well, dear reader, that was me yesterday. One of those pure cheek-reddening, bowel loosening, wanna go pee-pee moments. To make matters worse I had the Pickle in tow and I had just told him I was not going to buy him the cute teddy bear slippers he had fallen in love with. So I had the begging and pleading going on round my trembling knees - …‘pleeeeeease mummeeeee! I looooove them! I reeeeally want them! I won’t be your friend any more if you don’t buy them!’… you know the drill. Meanwhile the queue behind me is starting to get a little restless as I hastily rummage in my handbag, craning for a better view as my face gets ever more beetroot-coloured and I inevitably decide I need to dump out the entire contents just in case I did remember to slip the card back into the bag as I was going to bed then let the event slip out of my mind; stranger things have happened. Thankfully no tampons or condoms immerged, but the studded dog collar and gimp mask raised an eyebrow or two... just kidding Mum! Luckily I had my English bank card on me AND I could remember the pin number so we were saved and could scuttle away before Pickle could start up the ‘I need a wee-wee’ chant. Phew!

Since then, Pickle has been examining the Chinese calendar we were given by the local takeaway. It lists the different animal years and we have been able to work out that Poppet was born in the Year Of The Dragon, Nobby and Pickle are both Year Of The Horse, and I’m a Dog (Year Of The, do you mind?) But Pickle is not happy. Having seen that he could have been a Monkey or a Snake he has decided that Horses are boring and he wants to change his year. I have gently informed him that he can’t change the year he was born in so he has come up with an alternative solution which he’s decided he can live with. The Year Of The Horse is now the Year Of The Zebra. ‘Because a zebra is a type of horse, isn’t it Mum?’ You can’t argue with Kid-Logic; just nod sagely and agree with everything.

Oh and finally, Nobby has given me Athlete’s Foot. What a kind, generous bugger. He says he didn’t know it was contagious. Personally I didn’t know it was so blummin’ painful. But Nobby reckons I only caught it because he’s such a fun-gi (guy) to be with… (cue Basil Brush laughter, boom boom!)

Sunday, 17 February 2008


I need to confess. I shaved my son’s head. Not deliberately, and not all of it, which of course makes it a lot worse. Let me explain.

Being a sad cheapskate I often trim his hair with the clippers in between trips to the barber and since he was looking rather more ‘Pixie’ than ‘Pickle’ this morning, with a growth resembling one of those 80’s rats tails down the back of his neck, I sat him down on the bathroom stool and told him to keep still. Bless him, he didn’t move. I, on the other hand, didn’t concentrate. I’d already done most of it, including the downy growth on the back of his neck with the bare clippers. I just wanted to tidy up the little bit by his right temple on a number 21. But although I checked it was set to the right length I failed to check I’d put the guard back on and 2 seconds later poor Pickle had a bald patch the size of a bus ticket on the side of his head. Oh, I feel so guilty. He was so sweet about it, he forgave me straight away and Poppet has been primed not to tease him. Not sure what awaits him at school though. Thankfully he always wears his little red woolly hat when he’s outside but I dread seeing the look on his teachers face tomorrow morning when he takes it off. I contemplated doing the other side to match, making him just a little bit punk for a couple of weeks but Nobby bravely talked me down, gently persuading me to put the clippers down and vacate the area. As he said, it could have been worse, I could have done it to him as he was next in the hot seat for a side-burn trim! He’s decided to do them himself this month. Very sensible in my opinion.

Friday, 15 February 2008

English – know your limits

Well, I have been put in my place good and proper today… again. I’d like to think that I am not so stuck up and full of myself that I need putting in my place very often but it’s been notably more frequent since moving to France. Maybe it’s because of the all the French people here. Read ‘Talk to the Snail’ by Stephen Clarke - his Ten Commandments for understanding the French, the first of which is ‘Thou shalt be wrong (if you’re not French)’. Ohmygod I couldn’t agree more (and then some).

I was forced to accept long ago in my cultural integration/baptism of fire that the French are indeed all perfect and their children are all angels and it is their bounden duty to iron out the kinks in lesser mortals like myself. But it still grates when they loudly point out your faults, insist on having the last word and never, ever admit that they are wrong. Take, for example, Mr Smelly-Bonfire from Tuesday. I forgot to mention in my last post that when I went round there on the rant, it was his female helper who came over, commented on how angry I was and where someone else might have said ‘I’m so sorry’ she simply said ‘well, if it’s been bothering you that much why didn’t you come round sooner?’ Er, what?!! One:love to her and the ball is back in my court. (And the smoke is still in my garden.) It’s very clever.

Given that I now have confidence to do the ranting thing, maybe I should consider going native so I can join in this other national sport. Of course I’d have to jump through the bureaucratic hoops first which I don’t really fancy after my experience with the doggy passport - I’ve heard that hoop number one for naturalisation is to present your grandparents original birth certificates… and the that’s the easy one. Of course I’d need a bit of training on ‘having an answer for everything’ since I am usually left resembling a goldfish seeking the right retort in the heat of the moment and only thinking of the fitting response hours later. For example, when the pushy door-to-door handyman told me I should definitely pay him €400 to spray bleach and weed killer all over the moss on my roof tiles so that in two months time, when ‘the rain had done its work’, I would have a clean, bryophyte-free house, the correct response would have been ‘in 2 months time I’ll just have 8 weeks more moss growth and you’ll be laughing all the way to the Caribbean, so sod off.’ Of course all I managed was ‘I‘ll have to ask my husband.’ Pretty feeble I know. Clearly all those bras were burned in vain when I am cornered by a fanatical Polish doorstep botherer. Then there was the fur-coated estate agent who rang my bell whilst she was on her mobile, broke off her heated conversation to demand to know if I was ‘Mr Ferier’ and when I said ‘no, you have the wrong house’ she started to interrogate me on how long I had lived in this house, who lived there before me and what are the names of all my neighbours, in between berating the person on the other end of the phone for sending her to the wrong place. Did I say ‘look, lady, my name is written on the bell you just rang and you’re being bloody rude now go away’? No, I offered her the phone directory so she could check the name.

It would take some serious work to make me French I think. They’d never let me in. You can take the girl out of England but you can’t take Englishness out of the girl.

So anyway, today I took my new neighbour, let’s call her Lily, to the French school to collect her son who had just spent his first morning in his new class with none other than the Headmistress herself, who we affectionately nickname The Hag. I think I have described her here once before - poodle hair, sunbed tan, vertically challenged, all the charm of a rottweiler and somewhat Anglophobic. During my first meeting with her almost 4 years ago, when I was already suffering from a severe case of Culture Shock and struggling to string a coherent sentence together in my ‘O’ Level French, she told me my children were badly behaved because they wouldn’t sit still for 30 minutes (they were 2 and 3 years old) and basically made me feel about as welcome as a fart in a spacesuit. I warned Lily before her own enrolment meeting to expect the worst, so when she returned and told me that The Hag had spoken to her in English and had spoken very highly of me I thought perhaps Lily had seen someone else instead. Shirley Temple curls? Check. Head about the right height to rest your pint on? Check. Complexion à la Dale Winton? Check. Maybe she’s warmed to my charms over the years, I thought. So it was with confidence that I followed Lily into the classroom when we collected her son this morning and even chose to show off the improvement in my French and ask the lady herself how it had gone. Apparently he handled it very well although there had been a bit of crying. So I remarked, ‘Ah, do you remember my Pickle was just the same at the start.’ To which she replied, ‘Oh no, your son was much worse, Madame.’

So that told me didn’t it. Luckily said son now love school and has been reminiscing today on what he will do with his life. He told us this evening that he is going to work on a farm and he will also own a restaurant which he will only open on Sundays ‘so the customers won’t get cold.’ ...? Ahem, he meant ‘sunny days’. He’s lived in France most of his life, naturally he is never wrong.

Tuesday, 12 February 2008

I’ve arrived!

I am now truly integrated into the French culture – I have just had my first French tantrum, all in French, at my French neighbours! Hurrah! And then I set my other French neighbours on them to reinforce the message in case my shouting, screaming and stamping wasn’t quite enough.

And I feel a lot better now, I can now see why French people do it so much. It’s a common sight all over the place, raised voices, raised fists, stamping, fingers wagging, fantastic words like ‘insupportable’ and ‘intolerable.’ It’s the cause of many a traffic hold-up round here, two people abandoning their cars for a good old verbal scrap in the middle of the road while everyone else joins in on their car horns to inflame things still further. It’s quite the spectator sport too, a good argument in the street can gather a fair crowd. You just don’t see it in England where if someone bumps into you it’s you who apologises for daring to exist and straying into their path. Over there you risk being beaten up, glassed or shot if you stand up for yourself. Over here it would be unreasonable not to take the person to task at the top of your voice for not looking where they are going. (Although it works the other way too, of course, the good old French irregularities: a friend of mine once spoke up to some doddering old bird when she trampled her 5-year-old while he was walking in a nice straight line beside the pushchair at one side of the pavement and the old dear responded by having a right go at the child for getting in her way! But then the under 7’s are persona non grata to the stuffy Parisian old folk so the poor boy was onto a loser the minute he stepped out the front door in my humble opinion.)

Anyway, what did this neighbour of mine do to incur my righteous wrath? He’s been having a bonfire-fest. He’s built the smokiest bonfires in living memory for the last 3 days and when he started again this morning I saw red and marched round there. I probably wouldn’t have said a word if the wind was blowing the other way or the sun wasn’t out for the first time in weeks but we’ve been trapped indoors for 3 days now by his smoke and I couldn’t take any more. And what a sight met my eyes – he’s had someone in to cut back the fir tree that towers over his house and instead of paying the tree-surgeons to take the detritus away the tight-fisted old bastard must have told them to leave it all where it fell because the garden is completely buried in huge green branches which he is merrily throwing onto such a miniscule bonfire that we’ll be kippered for the next fortnight before he’s got through it all. Aaaargh! I had set out to be all polite and neighbourly but when I saw that I totally lost it. And you know what? my French was pretty coherent for once. It’s amazing what a bit of adrenalin can do for your grammar. I was on such a roll that when I came home and saw my landlord in his garden next door I proudly told him what I’d done and, bless him, he went round there too just to ram the message home.

Aaaaand… relax. My sister would tell me ‘In with anger, out with love’. But nothing beats a good rant, believe me. Except a gem from one of the little ones of course. Pickle decided to name all the children in his French class on the way home from school. When he got to Innanuit (not sure if that’s how you spell it, she’s really cute though) I said, ‘You quite like her don’t you?’ To which he replied, ‘Yes, and she loves me too, all the way to my feet.’

Saynomore. All is calm now. (and it's my birthday, but I don't want to talk about it ...)

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Ingenuity à la francais

Tiggy’s little playmate, Camille (the whippet), couldn’t play today because she has a poorly paw. Apparently she ran off after a deer in the forest and knowing how fast she can go from past experience I think the deer did well to get away. But she came back bleeding and now she has a bandage on her paw and has to stay on the lead. When we met up today I noticed that her ‘Mummy’ had covered the bandage with something to keep it from getting dirty.
‘Ah, she’s got a little plastic bag on her foot!’ says I.
‘It’s not a plastic bag,’ says her Mummy.
I looked closer. No, it wasn’t a plastic bag. It was a condom.

Monday, 4 February 2008

Oh, is that new dear…?

Nobby has been home from work for two hours now and hasn’t yet noticed that I have had my hair cut. Oh dear. Does he have any idea at all of the mortal peril he is in? Say your goodbyes now, friends and family, this guy is toast. I have to say though, I do have a slightly guilty feeling about the haircut as I was ‘seen to’ by the boss of the establishment, a young and attractive young man, who ran his fingers through my hair for a blissful 45 minutes this morning. Ooh, it was nice. And totally helped me get over the disconcerting feeling I had during the shampooing that the shampoo smelled just like Matey Bubble Bath.

Maybe he’s being cool because I didn’t manage to pick up his new trousers from the shop today. In theory I had all last week to do it, but , ahem, the car was available to him all weekend as well you know. I did make an attempt; I went all the way to town, paid 2 euros for parking only to find the store closed. It’s another French oddity, not as bad as refusing to sell stamps in the Post Office of course, but many places become a ghost town on Mondays and I am still not used to it after four years. Mostly because, as with French verbs, there are exceptions to the rule but you’ll never remember them all so you just have to try and be prepared to fall flat on your face. The toy shop is open on Mondays, but only after 2.30pm, the supermarkets are open all day as normal, but the menswear boutique we happened to find the perfect trousers in was shuttered and dark. Just my luck.

…The ladies wear shop next door was open though so I gave myself an early birthday present, which he won’t notice either because I will put it in the wardrobe for a few weeks so that when he sees it and says ‘When did you get that?’ I can truthfully say ‘What, this? oh ages ago dear.’

I have no idea why men have such problems keeping up with the rules. You have to comment on the hair but you might want to let the expensive cashmere cardy pass you by until the credit card’s paid off. Unless of course it’s a weekend when of course you absolutely have to tell her how wonderful it looks and so worth the money.

No, don’t try to follow it, boys, the rules will all be different tomorrow anyway. So stay awake!