Monday, 29 September 2008

Ups and Downs

Nobby has instructed me to find some friends here. It could have something to do with the phone bill. I didn’t think that £100 was too unreasonable, until he pointed out that was for one month… hmm, I think I see his point.

Anyway, I am working on it, and the kids are helping. They have been making little friends at school so we Mummies have been thrown together to arrange the play dates. And even the dog is chipping in – she has grown very attached to Oscar, a Labrador–cross and it turns out his owner knows where I live because the previous tenant is a friend of hers. While we were chatting on our last walk she mentioned that there are wild boars in the woods and that they have made a wallow quite near to the car park. We went to have a look and sure enough there it was – a huge muddy hole, filled with sticky, slimy goo… and my dog. Great. You never saw such a mess, and she was grinning all over her face as she came bounding over to try and cover me in it too. Never mind, I said, she’s due a shampoo anyway, I’ll just get the hose out when we get home. However, when I got home there was a piercing squealing coming from the boiler room. It’s the alarm to say that the pressure has plummeted – there was s a burst water main down the road and our water was off all day. Mr Sod has followed me to Hungary!!! Poor Tiggy was confined to the garden until her fur dried and I could brush the mud out and, dammit I couldn’t do any laundry all day either. Shame.

I might have known there would be some shenanigans to round off the roller coaster week. Monday dawned with Pickle absolutely full of the joys of spring. He was bursting with Positive Mental Attitude all the way to school as he told us he needed to get all his French homework done straight away and couldn’t wait for Jerome to come back for another lesson. He was totally in love with the world and announced which of his classmates he plans to marry. However by Friday the homework wasn’t done and Pickle didn’t even want to get dressed let alone go to school. Oh how quickly it all changes. Now he knows how Mummy felt on the Monday school run, still trying to peel back her eyelids and keep the car going in a straight line after an hour of running round getting the school bags and the PE bags and the swimming bags and the coats and the wellies and the shoes ready and into the car along with the kids and the husband and the dog.

But I have to say, we did find Little Boy Paradise the previous Sunday which may have spawned the good humour – the Hungarian Railway Museum. You can keep Didcot, even if it does have Thomas the tank engine. This place has a huge collection of steam engines from little Percy types that once chuffed around the good yards to enormous Russian monsters with red stars on the front and wheels taller than a man. There is an engine shed with 34 doors surrounding a working turntable; you can have a go at driving a modern train on the simulator, or creep along the track in a hand cranked contraption. There are several model railways indoors for the real anoraks and a mini-ride-on one for the children. Even Poppet had a great time climbing up into the steam engines and wondering how they were supposed to see where they were going when the windows are only the size of a dinner plate and covered in soot.

In fact Poppet was on great form on Monday too – she learned to swim! They’ve been taking lessons twice a week with their new school. Pickle was terribly proud – at first. He bounded over yelling ‘did you see her?! Did you see her?!’ then promptly burst into tears sobbing ‘I want to swim too, but I can’t!’ You just can’t win, huh.

So the rest of the week was a similar minefield of minge. I finally made it back to the furniture shop lugging the extra bedstead we somehow ended up with to customer service to ask for a refund. Not one of the four people in the little office spoke a word of English (fair enough, you know, I am the stranger here; I am not expecting everyone to be bilingual, before anyone points that out). My phrase book had the basics covered with ‘ I would like to return this’ and ‘I would like a refund’ which I read out as best I could while they all looked on cringing as I murdered their mother tongue. Sadly it was missing the translation for ‘Sorry you can’t return that bit without the mattress because it’s part of a set’ so I had to phone a friend to bail me out.

Then as I am lugging the thing back to the car the school calls and puts Poppet on the line. ‘Mummy I have a tummy ache and my throat hurts, can you come and get me?’ Knowing that she is rarely ill (she lets Pickle have all the colds and just breaks the odd limb here and there) I abandoned the rest of my shopping plan – Tescos was right next door, it was quite a wrench – I dashed off to school where she was lying down in the medical room with a glass of water and a tissue looking very sorry for herself. So I brought her home, made a bed up on the couch, stuck Mulan in the DVD player and prepared to play nurse for the next few days. Then this little voice pipes up with ‘Mummy, I’m hungry.’ And the little monkey proceeded to eat 4 rounds of toast and 3 chocolate cookies and declared herself all better.

Have I just been taken for a mug?

Things perked up this last weekend though with a free trip to the zoo with Nobbys company. It felt great waltzing past all the queues to the hospitality desk for our VIP wristbands and competition forms – we had to visit 10 tables in various locations round the zoo and complete an activity to get a stamp on the form. The first couple were nice and easy - naming shells, touching snake skins, and drawing elephants - but the children came over all shy when asked to ‘walk like a polar bear’ in the middle of the path so Mummy had to make an a*se of herself instead while people wandered past wondering why on earth eight people were lumbering round in a circle with their hands on their knees. I had my revenge though when we came to the ‘holding a cockroach’ table. No way. Luckily Pickle would rather let a nasty creepy crawly scuttle up his arm than feel a fool in front of total strangers so we were OK.

So my goal this week is to cut out the phone calls and get out and meet some people, and I am already making progress with the latter: having recently held my hand up to possibly helping out with an upcoming ‘International Day’ event at the school and I just got an email to say I am now on the organising committee and the first meeting is tomorrow morning. Oh god, what have I done? Here’s hoping this is a good thing and not the road to being stuck with some power hungry, bossy mega-mummies who will try and turn it into some major gala event so they have something new to put on their CVs. I’ll keep you posted.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Small People

The great thing about living with children is you never know what they are going to do or say next. Each day is a whole new realm of possibilities from loudly pointing out the flaws on total strangers e.g. Pickle: (looking at a hapless acne-ridden teenager in the lift at the shopping centre) ‘Look Mummy, that lady’s covered in chicken pox!’ – to unabashedly blurting out random thoughts e.g. Pickle: (on a crowded tram) ‘You know, I think I fart so much because I eat so much ketchup…’
Thankfully the language barrier here may hide a multitude of faux pas in public, although you never really know.

And then there are the indiscriminate acts of stupidity designed to get Mummy a little bit greyer.

Like sliding down a glass roof.

Yes, believe it; last weekend while Nobby was out watching a football match I let my little ones outside for a final play before bed time and smiled to myself while I washed up as I heard them laughing and giggling. I went out to call them inside to find them crawling up the sloping glass roof which covers next doors empty swimming pool and sliding down it. On scarves, to make them go faster. How I didn’t faint I have no idea. I decided not to yell at them, I had them talk through the possible consequences instead - What happens when you knock glass too hard? What happens when broken glass touches your skin? What happens when you fall 6 metres onto the tiled floor of an empty swimming pool? How does Mummy get into a locked house to rescue you? When realisation struck we all had a good cry about that one.

And then a couple of days later Pickle disappeared again. We were having a lovely walk with Tiggy while Poppet had her first Craft class after school. Usual scenario: Mummy turns her back for a second and the boy is gone. Half an hour later I am back at the school getting one of the bi-lingual teachers to write down ‘Have you seen a little boy on his own with a Scooby-Doo hat on?’ in Hungarian because I haven’t found him yet, there are hundreds of people around at after-school clubs but none of them understand a word I am saying. It comes out afterwards that he had found his way back to the school when he realised he’d lost me but when he saw the security guard he thought he was going to get in trouble for being on his own and ran off again!! We were eventually tearfully reunited after he heard me calling for him. He told me it’s a good job I get so much practice at shouting loudly. Ha! Anyway, that was one way to get introduced to the new headmistress of the school and have her remember me forever more.

See, that time when Poppet was about 10 months old and I came back into the lounge after making a cup of tea to find that the baby was missing was just a warm up. I still had all my blonde intact when I eventually found her up two flights of stairs emerging from under my bed in hot pursuit of the CD player with the cool button that makes the lid pop up. Here we are a couple of years on and I’m almost ready for my blue rinse.
When I told my Mum I found a grey hair last week, she was very sympathetic and told me it was totally unfair and I shouldn’t be getting greys before I am forty. Pansy, on the other hand (formally known as Peony, but she requested the change and if you know who I am talking about you’ll agree it suits her better!) laughed out loud and said ‘Good! About time too - I’ve already got about 50!’ Not quite what I wanted to hear of course, and besides I have never noticed a single grey on her head. Of course I always assumed she would be hiding a couple in there given that she has a French mother-in-law and all (!). But if greys are indeed little souvenirs from our darling children for each disaster then I reckon I am doomed to resemble my granny by the time I make it back to Blighty.

Just to add insult to injury the car has been joining in the fun recently. The new one has a sophisticated system whereby when you unlock the car it has to detect this little black box thingy that you keep on the key ring so the car knows it’s you. If it doesn’t detect the box then you get a warning beep then the alarm goes off. And when that happens ‘Skyguard’ know about it and they phone for a password. I have one password for ‘Quick, the car’s been stolen!’ and another one for ‘Sorreeeee, I set the alarm off by mistake.’

Well, it got to the point where the alarm was going off each and every time I tried to unlock the car, even though the black box was right there on the key ring. And I couldn’t turn the deafening alarm off either. I stopped having to actually say the password when Skyguard called, I just held the phone out towards the honking hunk of metal to prove that I still had it in my possession, however much I actually wanted to push it off a cliff at that moment. In the end I was leaving it unlocked with the dog inside, until someone suggested changing the battery in the little black box. How was I supposed to know it runs off a battery? But it does, so we did, and now all is calm once more, although Poppet still keeps her hands clamped over her ears until we have made it a good mile or so down the road.
It’s nice to know I can get my own back and put the willies up the kiddies every now and then.

Thursday, 4 September 2008


Mummy: How was your first day at your new school?
Pickle: Excellent thanks. Can I go back again tomorrow?

Well, it looks as though the new school is working out so far, except for the lunches from Poppets point of view. She can’t help being a fussy eater, bless her, but I had promised her it would be different from the sloppy veal casseroles she used to get in France only to find that there is an awful lot of goulash and ragout going on over here. Oops, should have thought of that. Hey, but at least they give them morning and afternoon snacks too so she’s not pouncing on the fridge as soon as she gets home any more.

They have both made some new friends already, which is great news. Pickle can’t remember anyone’s names of course but the whole class is his friend. Poppet is best pals with Dora and has already conspired with her to sneak makeup in to class so they can play with it in the corner of the playground. I’m not sure it was such a good idea to share those sorts of plans with Mummy who is somewhat expected to enforce the school rules. I am now a spoilsport of course but I fully expect she'll find a way to get past me.

I still haven’t made any friends myself, yet, although I have chatted a little bit with Dora’s Mummy. And I did get another reply to my leaflet drop – another divorced chap at the other end of the road, this one with cats. I also had a long natter with a fellow dog-walker in the forest, also a man though. I am feeling somewhat starved of female company and as a consequence Nobby is going to get one pretty vast phone bill since I was on it for almost 2 hours yesterday.

But perhaps he can claim it on the medical insurance as psychotherapy. In particular yesterday I needed to vent my spleen to a mate after another dog incident in a car park. (Uh-oh, not again! Flashback to school car park and irate French woman.) Tiggy didn’t walk in front of any cars this time. She just did what dogs do and sauntered over to a fellow doggy, a little West Highland White on a lead next its Mummy and two other women, for a sniff and a wag. However, we must have slipped through a worm-hole on the way because all of a sudden I swear we were back in Paris when the owner, who was on the phone, went into a wide-eyed panic and tried to scoop up her precious Westie on seeing my scruffy mongrel approaching. But she didn’t want to miss her phone call or let go of her designer handbag so she ended up lifting it off the ground by its collar and lead with her spare hand and dangling it out of reach. Thankfully one of her friends grew a brain and caught hold of it before she throttled it, although she needed to hold it at arms length so it wouldn’t mark her lovely T-shirt. Whereupon the other one turned on me and said,
‘You know, what you’re doing is illegal; your dog needs to be on a leash.’

They were Americans! They were the first female English-speakers and potential expat buddies I had encountered in days! And they turned out to be clones of the total barm pots I thought I had left behind in Paris!

I tried to make light of things with:
‘Oh, she’s quite harmless, she just wants to say hello and play,’ whilst inside I was thinking, ‘I don’t bl**dy believe this, no-one else in this entire park has their dog on a lead. I bet she never said a word to the 3 male joggers and their boxer dogs.’
To which I got (again),
‘It’s illegal to have your dog off the leash.’
I was stunned. It was that afternoon at the bank in St Germain en Laye all over again, learning the hard way that in France the only way they know to handle objections is to repeat the rules over and over until the silly objector goes away. And I quote:
‘Can I see someone to explain this letter I have just received?’
‘Non, madame, you ‘ave to contact your own branch.’
‘But this is the same bank.’
‘You ‘ave to contact your own branch.’
‘Well, my branch is in the middle of Paris so can’t someone here help me instead?’
‘You ‘ave to contact your own branch. You could phone zem.’
‘My French is not good on the phone; can’t someone here help me make the call?’
‘You ‘ave to contact your own branch.’

Ah, how I missed all that since moving to this friendly, easy going country where you get congratulations if you attempt to speak the local language rather than the full-body shrug and ‘comment?’ I was used to. I really should thank those three lovely Americans for the trip down memory lane, if they hadn't made me feel about as welcome as a maggot in a Big Mac.

In the end, in good British fashion I gritted my teeth and smiled and said,
‘Gosh, I’m soooo sorry, I’m new here, just moved in last month, and I don’t know all the rules yet. Lovely to meet you. Bye.’ At which my dog obediently jumped into the car and I drove off, planning to leave them feeling ashamed at their lack of sympathy for the new girl on the block and mourning the squandered opportunity to make a new expat friend.

However my wheel-spin out of the car park was sadly spoiled by the sodding car alarm going off for the 100th time and immobilising the car in the middle of the road with the horn blaring and the lights flashing. I could hear them tutting and puffing in a familiar Paris-esque manner behind me while I wrestled to turn the damn thing off.