Thursday, May 28, 2009

Gloria our new bull terrier puppy is 11 weeks tomorrow and today she awoke with the devil in her.  Or perhaps our honeymoon period of angelic sleepy puppy is over and we've gone straight to the stroppy teen stage.

By 9.30am I had loaded the boys into the car to nurse their puncture wounds and headed to Vive Le Jardin's extensive dog department at top speed.  Because it didn't actually open till 10am, we thought we'd take a tour by L'Eclerc as it has become my new favourite obsession since Monday.  And I wanted to see how my yoghurt was coming along.  But oh how dull.  It was a carpark once more.  Apparently the farmers stopped picketing at 17h30 last night after a 30 hour protest and the smell of sour milk had clearly grown too potent.  The boys were bitterly disappointed there was no pyre of tyres or free handouts from hi-jacked delivery trucks.  But hey, what's that?  They'd written 'Voleur' using the medium of cow shit in huge letters underneath the huge letters of L'Eclerc way up high on the side of the building.  Thanks to the overnight rain, the letters had run giving it a Hammer House of Horror font.  And it absolutely made our detour completely worthwhile.  S mulled over the logistics of how they got up that high and wrote it and B just focused on the fact it was written in poo.  Excellent.

 Came back home, still talking about the farmer's penmanshit, armed with a silky yet furry skinny skunk which had not one squeaker but twin squeakers. Marvellous.  Or at least we thought it would be.  It's currently resting, pegged to the washing line, high out of her reach as it drives her so wild with joy that her circuits blow a fuse and she has to be put in her crate to find her inner zen again.  Thank goodness for the bagful of  the hugest pigs ears I've ever flipping seen to fall back on in trying times.  Not that we're running low on those at all at the moment; there's one available on all floors, in all rooms.  I actually tried to slip one on my foot yesterday, mistaking it for a Fitflop as I cursed about being awake so soon and fumbled about in the dim light of dawn.  I can't comment on it's cellulite-busting, arse-toning qualities but as a pacifier for teething, hairy bowling balls, they work a right treat.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

La Journée Blanche

Quelle journée hier.

In the morning during the last seven minutes of my final tennis lesson this season I managed to put my face between the ball and my partner's racquet during some volley practice.  My instructor may be some regional champion but he's a right grunter when he hits a ball over the net to me and aside from making me party to a side of him that only his wife should get to hear, his sex noises put me right off my stroke.  I left, my normal shade of tomato (why on earth I put myself through this weekly humiliation of being the dolt of the tennis club, I don't know - it's not like I'm ever going to make Roland Garros unless they have a Passed-It-Housewives category) and spent the rest of the morning checking if my front teeth were about to fall out and whether I was looking any less like a post-collagen Leslie Ash who'd badly applied her Maybe-it's-Maybelline-Permanent-Lip-Stain-Lipstick.  

As if this was not enough pain for one day, I spent the afternoon trying to break through the blockades at L'Eclerc to try and refill my empty fridge and store cupboard.  Jeesh.

Rocked up to do my weekly shop only to find every single entrance was barred by angry farmers who'd up-ended the trolleys (some had taken the wheels off them, Longleat monkey destruction style) and parked their tractors to make a mean metal perimeter.  Having spent the morning at the nearby dairy in Créhen burning tyres outside and handing out pilfered slabs of cheese they'd looted from inside, the farmers were still clearly high from fumes and euphoria of their successful morning protests  and adamant that no-one was getting through; nope, not even one really furious bloke who rammed their trolley line with his Clio would deter them.  

As I circled the bases, thinking only of my empty fridge, I drew up alongside one picket line and made up some cock and bull story about how I had to pick up some wood from Mr Bricolage in an attempt to get in and parked and secretly slide into the adjacent supermarket to get my shopping.  As I was filled in on the pitiful details of why they had scrawled "Voleur" over all the L'Eclerc signs, I caught sight of the gimlets in the eyes of other hard-done-by herdsmen and dairy farmers and had second thoughts.  And visions of me being pelted by a shower of trolley wheels and shouts of "Croute" (unsure whether 'scab' would be so directly translated under the circumstances) as I strolled back to my car, pushing my trolley full of groceries and whistling nonchalantly, blatantly having cocked a snook at their plight.  Mmm.  Maybe not.  

Instead I ended up in Carrefour which was heaving with similarly die-hard yet disorientated shoppers, unsure of the aisle layout and mentally price-checking each item with what they would usually pay back in L'Eclerc.  Carrefour had taken on the air of a Russian grocery store circa 1970; empty shelves, no fresh dairy produce, only nasty carbs and pink wafer biscuits in plentiful supply.  Entirely depressing.  Unlike back at L'Eclerc where five 1000 litre milk tankers ominously rolled up at the by-now eerily empty parking lot.  Incidentally in my mind I like to see the owners of the parked cars running to their vehicles, hands raised and squealing, in a kind of imminent Godzilla attack style as the tankers are spotted rolling round the roundabout, but I'm probably asking too much of the laissez faire Frenchies to make this a reality.  Then, and this is where it gets really quite 'citing and why it is worth paying dues to belong to a union, the picket lines pushed aside their trolley barricades (no doubt regretting taking the wheels off as they're probably quite heavy and immovable without them, the bottoms catching and grating on the tarmac), the tankers parked up and promptedly disgorged 5000 litres of fresh milk to make one huge white puddle in  the empty parking lot.  Wowsy.  

I'm thinking that if this warm weather and the farmers' schutzpah holds, I reckon in three days' time it'll probably make quite good yoghurt.  And I, armed with my growing boys, some sachets of sugar and a teaspoon each will be making a bee line down there to scrape it up in our craws. That is if we're not too weak and brittle-boned by that stage.  This whole situation of supermarkets charging 1€ for a litre of milk to the consumer and giving only 0.30c to the farmer has to change.  If I'm going to sign on to tennis again in September, a high intake of calcium-rich foods in the summer break is key.  I need to make sure my teeth are super-resilient to future shocks.  

Friday, April 3, 2009

After spending an afternoon handing out easter chocolates, I will be glad with this particular religious festival is over.  Chocolate and extra kilos aside, it has coincided with B's obsession swinging from people in authority with a uniform to one person in authority in a loin cloth - The Big J.  Very helpfully, the school have been fanning the flames of his obsession, supplying him with a high volume of religious information in a coloriage format which is throwing up all sorts of questions.  Sadly none of which I know the answers to, forcing me to toss aside Roald Dahl of an evening and reach for the My First Bible for our bedtime story because I cannot stand the nitpicking that goes on of my poor theological knowledge.

This morning, even before I'd had my first sacred expresso, B started quizzing me on what did the Romans do to Jesus and why.  Cut me some slack.  I cannot actually function without high levels of caffine so I rattled off a thirty second frank rundown on events as my cup filled.   Job done, turned round and B had crumpled with misery into his coca-pops because the Romans had nailed a really nice man to a cross because they thought he was trouble.  S tried to jolly him up with a "Did You Know That?" Jesus's nom de famille was "Christ" and that their Playmobil Romans were the good guys because there wasn't a cross in the set but it didn't work.   Because I had ill-spent all my time in RE lessons writing irreverent captions under the drawings in my St Mark's Gospel I had no great insight to soothe the situation; B was still sobbing when we finally got round to putting shoes on and S tried to drown it out with a monologue mulling over why the Romans didn't make Jesus fight the lions instead of putting him on a cross - "because he would have definitely won against the lions".

I'm worried that unless some divine intervention occurs during the Easter Break to give me strength and some bona fide answers, I may not actually survive these holidays.  If the worst comes to the worst,  I guess I could always check into a crap hotel for two weeks and live off chocolate.  Mmm.  I might even find time to flick through the hotel issue Gideon bible whilst I am there and could leave with more solid religious foundations.  And possibly very wodgey thighs from eating all that chocolate.  Mmm.  Maybe I'll just tough it out.

Friday, March 6, 2009

As of this week, I have resolutely turned my thoughts to paid work.  Two nice four letter words unlike 'cash poor' which is what I am and 'fuck-all" which is what everyone thinks I do all day.  It is definitely time to set the record straight and finally release my inner capitalist tiger that has been caged for far too long.

So, on Monday I scoured the ads for gameful employ.   And I scoured.  And I scoured.  And I scoured.

By Tuesday I had come to realise that was really nothing out there aside from sitting at a reception desk from the hours of 20h00-06h00  in a two star hotel in St Malo for the months of July and August.  Kind of grim but a job.  And it is a job I could do if I forgot that I had children and that I have already held that position and fluctated between being referred to as "Benson the doorman" (from the series 'Soap') and 'The Letch on Receptch'.  Mmm. And then again, perhaps not.

Nevertheless on Wednesday I typed my CV.

On Thursday I finished, read through it and immediately plunged into a trough of despair.  Who cares that I have qualifications and experience?  The bottom line is I am not in my 20s anymore and almost out of my 30s; I am old.  I have reached an age when my fellow employees will be wondering how I am still alive, let alone allowed to work and be around other people.  Oh and when they are huddled around the photocopier, snickering, I will know that they'll be discussing what I am wearing or the something that I've said that morning and they'll think that I won't know they're doing it. Because I am, in their eyes, old.  Oh yes.  I'll know alright.  I was guilty of doing just that when I was last worked.  Just the once, but I did it nevertheless.  To my shame.

But today, Friday,  I have dried my eyes and seen sense.  There is one workplace left where I already take comfort in knowing that they would be helpless without me: One which will nuture, support and encourage me into being someone who can earn some money and a greater sense of self-worth; one where the AGMs are far from 'boardroom style' (pens, pads, mints and mineral waters, as defined by the Hilton group of hotels); and one that I could do the whole damn day through in my pyjamas and no-one would bat an eyelid.  Yep.   Chez nous.  Two nice four letter words.

Must dash.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Today, we drove past two teenaged blokes who were standing at the corner of a busy roundabout with their thumbs out, looking very bored, very cold and very going nowhere soon. 

B looked at them as we passed and let out a long, drawn out "Ooh la la la la".  A favourite expression of his where the last syllable is so long and low it is impossible to ignore it as anything other than an acknowledgement of doom and as such is usually reserved for crimes committed by his fellow maternelle-ettes.  

S leaned towards him,  "You know, they were left there by their mummy" and left a well-timed pause so that his small brother could soak up that terrible fact, before adding "She'd had enough of them arguing in the back so she stopped and put them out.  And she might never ever come back".  Long pause.  Then he switched back to his usual upbeat twitter of "Eh, maman, c'est vrai?".

Mmm.  Now, do I  agree with S and let my boys think that the ritual turfing out onto the roadside for bickering is commonplace and whereas I may only threaten to do it, other mothers ACTUALLY do it?  And to boys who are even quite big!  And look!  There's the absolute proof of it, seen with your own actual eyes.  Or do I tell them that there is such a thing called hitchhiking?

Friday, January 23, 2009

23 days into 2009.

Fuck my old boots - it's already 23 January 2009.  Being caught in the yuletide maelstrom that was blowing around Corseul, I have been unable to get my trotters to my keyboard until now.  Shameful.  But something I will learn to live with, I'm sure.

Just 21 days into the new year, and we have lurched into the full scale drama of having to sort out a condemned woodburner.  Having already just spent 24,000 euros on a heat pump in November so that we actually have hot water and heating simultaneously (not much to ask in today's modern times, surely?), our woodburner on the ground floor was condemned by the chimney sweep and we are unable to use it until a liner has been installed and the correct, slightly pedantic, legislative procedures for owning a woodburner are followed.  Mmm.  Seeing as père Noël gave me a Singer sewing machine for Christmas (to speed up work in future Chinese Christmas sweatshop ventures on behalf of the school), I am considering running up a gown consisting of 10€ notes, taking to the streets and allowing passer-bys to just pick notes off me, as and when.  Or perhaps, I could run up 20 metres of chimney lining out of a length of flame retardant toile de jouy.  And then again, maybe not.

Since the condemnation, there has been a steady ant trail of representatives from various chimney companies, and fear and panic has risen to unprecidented levels; knowledge is a dangerous thing.  Confirmed.  With no carbon monoxide alarms positioned next to any of our fireplaces, I'm now thinking that the odorless, deadly gas will smite me and my family at any moment.  As I light the second floor's woodburner of a chilly evening, I believe I can smell the mouldering smokey smell of burning beams in the attic where the legal 16cm gap between the woodburner's liner and the main roof beams is missing, along with the reinforced steel plate required by law.  And since the Sweep of Doom passed by, I have woken every hour during the night in a cold panic that the house is burning down and the first thing the firemen and police will notice is not the charred remains of my children and dog - but no - there are no air grills in the windows where a fireplace is present.  For crying out loud.  The windows are so draughty that there seems little point in putting a council house style twirly thing in a pane of glass, but apparently if there isn't one in each room where there's a woodburner, our home insurance will be null and void.  Every single flipping year, it seems that the rules change and more alterations and tweakings are needed to escape death and comply with the insurance company's small print.  In about 8 years' time, I will actually be living in what can only be described as a brick colander.  And I will die of hypothermia.

In between fielding appointments with specialists in panic-mongering, thievery and chimneys, the school is still keeping me busy - natch.  Thank the Lord there are no manifestations planned till March, but am already slowly cranking towards the Easter fete.  There was I, all poised with my Singer, ready to rattle off rabbits and shit (oh, perhaps the latter won't be a big seller), only to realise that the French do not get their Easter eggs delivered by the Easter Bunny and the only significance a rabbit holds for them is for a bit of a boil up in the pot of an evening, with some petits pois à la française.  No, the French get their Easter eggs from a bell with wings that flies through the air from Rome and as it tolls, deposits an egg.  Freakish, but true.  I think they have some issues left over from 1944 to work through still.  A winged bell is so much less charming than a rabbit.  The fête de Paques has disaster written all over it already that not even an egg fashioned from a pretty cotton lawn from Liberty's will fix.

And as if that wasn't enough to set the standards for 2009, there is further grimness on the horizon; me and my little Ming dynasty must break out from mainland Europe to celebrate my mother's "significant" birthday in London in February.  I am trying to be positive about it.  I am.  But she is highly complicated and keen to see the bad side of things so am readying myself for a difficult day.  My sister has booked all 17 family members for a whirl round on the London Eye as the starting point.  Mmm.  I'm already planning my wardrobe according; low heels with a good grip so they can get a good purchase on the pavement as we all have to get behind and push my mother into the pod much like a wilful racehorse into the starting blocks, only for her to lie prostrate on the central benches throughout the 'flight' with her eyes glued tight as it affects her middle ear too much to stand.  

It can only get better.  Can't it?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Christmas market

With the spectre of the Christmas market looming ever closer, for the past two weeks I have been trying to motivate my fellow mamans into helping create gorgeous bijoux items to sell on the school's stall.  Mmm.  Whoever thought the French had impeccable style and taste obviously never hung out with the creative hotshots round here.  I am, in short, rapidly losing the will to live.  Whilst I have dug deep and released my inner Martha Stewart, fashioning christmas trees from ric rac I found whilst jostling for service for some embroidery threads in a tiny haberdashery shop in Plancoet that smelt of wheat and talc, the other mothers are taking inspiration from colour blind two year olds and magazines that show, in 10 easy to make steps, how to turn ugly rubbish into, well, different ugly rubbish yet with a decorative slant.

On Monday I held a workshop for the willing few and thought I'd hit creative gold by roping in someone who told me that they made "stunning" table decorations.  Turns out she lied.  "Stunning" is not the term I would have used for blob of stale bread with two holes gouged out and plugged with two red candles so that they stick out like Spacehopper handles and then gluing clots of tinsel and random plastic figurines on sale from Lidl (which, incidentally, when said by S. in his heavy Eurotrash accent, actually sounds like an exclusive thermal spa resort of the 1920's) before receiving a final squirt of fake snow.  All of the maman helpers were delighted with their efforts and went onto to gamefully churn out 16 of these creations that will provide the mainstay of our stall.  Yesterday, I wrapped them in cellophane to give them the wedding veil treatment and when the big reveal is made at the customer's home, we luckily will have already pocketed their six euros and packed up for the day. 

Back in Camp Anglais, I am hand-stitching button snowmen onto toile, loosely stuffed with cinnamon and lavender to hang off the christmas tree so when they fall off for the millionth time over Christmas at least they will emit a faint puff of scent.  Mmm.  Last count?  Why, nine of them.  Ahh.  Understanding why  Nike employ children for their similarly thankless task of stitching footballs.  They are not fools.  I, however, clearly am.  For when I'm finally through with my bodkin and buttons, I'm on door wreath-making duty, weaving together foliage harvested from the hedgerows, local produce and the skin from my finger tips and I, quite frankly, I don't think they'll be lurid and gling gling enough for the target market.  God damn it.

One mother gave me a magazine that she said was full of great ideas and thought they were so marvellous she actually wrote her name on the magazine lest it slip unnoticed into my collection, or I might be tempted to keep it.  Or perhaps she feared that it may end up in my recycling pile whilst on loan.  I tell you, it was so difficult to choose between making the reindeer place settings using an old wine cork, four burnt matchsticks, a jolly glitter tassel tail and a paper cut-out head and the tea light made from an old glass yoghurt pot rolled in glitter that I put the magazine down and haven't looked at it since for inspiration.  I know thrift is the new black this season, but taste never goes out of style.

Don't get me wrong.  I am very grateful for the help that is being offered by the other maman helpers, it's just that it needs such careful channelling.  And they need to WANT to be channelled.  And that, is hard to come by in these parts.

It really doesn't help that the one mother who is really very good at art is avoiding me after I made a careless, glib comment to her weeks ago that just did not translate in the way it was meant and I have managed to mortally offend her for ever more.  The short of it was her complaining about the amount of toy catalogues coming through the door in the build-up to Christmas.  I snorted in agreement and said (or thought I was saying) that the Jouet Club magazine, in particular, was like "toddler porn". Mmm.  After the loud whoosh of complete stillness, she looked at me, all horrified and said very slowly "You give your children porn to read?".  No.  No.  No.  I desperately trying to re-explain and say "I don't give them porn to read; it's just that those magazines, for them, are like I would imagine porn is to over 18s, not that I've ever really seen any anyway...not even films or that...or...well", I ended up trailing off  rather hopelessly as Mme I'll-Never-Draw-Again-For-This-School-Again mother's stoney stare silenced me. We haven't made eye contact since.   And right now? Why I curse the moment I thought I was being insightful about christmas marketing tactics aimed at the maternelle.

Yep. Two weeks.  Eight creatively challenged helpers.  Three puncture wounds.  And one big cold shoulder.  My presidential cabinet is looking a little wobbly.