Imagine (A Mother’s Letter to her Teenage Son)

January 6, 2013

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Don’t laugh at a youth for his affectations; he is only trying on one face after another to find a face of his own.  ~Logan Pearsall Smith, “Age and Death,” Afterthoughts, 1931

 

 

Happy Birthday dear Jamie, 

You are Thirteen today. Imagine!  We can, as we have always pictured your every turn of year; changing face, different hairstyles, interactions with your siblings and friends. How your being here may have affected family decisions and random events, as so often it only takes one person’s words and feelings to effect a wholly different outcome to an occurrence. How your own needs and wants would have shaped our everyday lives, with all the joys and sorrows that life brings. Your life, sweet boy, is a mystery always imagined.

The last time I wrote for you was on your tenth birthday. It was, I think, a much sadder time, brought about by the passage of a generation and a need to reminisce about life as it was then or could have been. I still dreaded Christmas and New Year. Trying to create an atmosphere of jollity with a heavy heart is a task in itself, but something shifted after that year. Whether it was just time easing loss or watching Eli and Hannah completely grow out of all infancy, I don’t know. You became no longer the baby I mourned, but rather the young boy I imagined you to be. Today is another milestone, your imagined passage towards becoming a young man and a new leap for your family into a renewed start. 

What would we be doing today, young man? Laser game, cinema, your pals over for some gaming, pizza and music? I imagine you tall with dark, unruly hair – we still have a curled baby lock in your old case – sporty maybe, as your brother most definitely is not! Hanging out with Edward, our fourteen year old neighbour and a great kid. Scouts possibly, girls probably. Would you have had ‘the chat’ with Dad already and beg me to park 50 yards down when collecting you?

Spats and Tiger, your two girl dogs, who lay gently on our bed with you when we brought you home as a baby have both moved on to chasing cats in another place. Iggy, our first boy dog, ensures we don’t forget our place in the scheme of things with strategic wee puddles and reminding us that our house isn’t a home without tumbleweeds of dust and dog hair in all corners. 

Your brother and sister continue to amaze me every day, when they’re not driving me crazy. Eli lives in a world of his wonderful imagination; storifying, characterising, inventing. How much of his world would be changed by having an older brother as mentor and menace? Hannah, the practical. She sees all and understands all in a flash. Musical and artistic, with the ability to twist your Mama’s arm with humour and hugs. I can live with that.

So, for your special day today, Jamie, we’ve cooked up a couple of guinea fowl (I imagine that, like your Dad, you’d appreciate some wild bird). For pudding there is a mousse framboise chosen by your sister.

“I think Jamie would love that, Mama.”

“I imagine he would, bunny.”

Happy Birthday. xx

Jamie, 10 Years Later

January 6, 2010

There’s a song that they sing when they take to the highway

A song that they sing when they take to the sea

A song that they sing of their home in the sky

Maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep

But singing works just fine for me…

Rock-a-bye sweet baby James.

(James Taylor)

Continue reading

This Man of Eighty

December 4, 2009

“The advantage of being eighty years old is that one has many people to love.”

- Jean Renoir (1894-1979)

My father has reached his “fourscore years and ten”.  As I watch him trudge grudgingly into his elder years, I struggle to remember that he was, at one time, a man of twenty.

I struggle to remember that he was a young lad who, like thousands of others, embarked upon one of the many ships to cross the seas in the late 1940s; riding a prolonged wave of post-war, Irish emigration to Australia, America and England.  He chose England because it was closer to home and family.

I struggle to remember that he had a separate existence before my brothers and I were born; that he was a person unto himself.  I would like to have known him then. Not in a daughterly fashion, but as a friend: sharing a guinness, a joke, a good story, a song. But, no matter how many times I gaze at the cracked and tattered photographs, I seem to look beyond the fresh-faced, handsome young man setting out on his life’s odyssey.  I see always, the weathered, mature features of the man I can only ever know as my father.  This man of eighty, this man of few words, this man whose eloquence lies in the faint cock of an eyebrow, a tilt of the head.

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(O’Connell Bridge, Dublin – 1948)

Born and raised on a farm in County Tipperary, the great city of London must have come as quite a shock, but he was an astute and practical young fellow: “I learned how to make the city suit me, not the other way around.”  He met and married my mother several years later and, as is the way of things, they settled in to raise a family, always with hearts and minds firmly fixed on a return to the home country; when the time was right.  In the summer of 1972, with three additional small heads in the backseat of the old Hillman Minx and another ‘in utero’, my father ferried his family back to Ireland.

(Highgate, London – 1959)

Fast forward thirty seven years, to a time of reminiscences and gatherings.  From far and wide, immediate and extended family made the trip to the west coast of Ireland, to celebrate the life and health of this wonderful man.  The second youngest of five, his three elder siblings did not live to see eighty, a poignancy which was not lost on all who were present.

My three brothers and I reunited with long lost first and second cousins, aunts and uncle. In the space of an evening we tried to catch up with each other’s lives. We harked back to tales of shared childhoods, commiserated with losses and disappointments, and discussed the merits of good gun dogs for the pheasant season. We indulged in a kind of giddy relief that we were together for a party and not another funeral.  Then, towards the evening’s end, when whiskey and cognac had mellowed throats and inhibitions, the old dining-room hummed along to the songs which hushed it.

Five noisy grandchildren were ecstatic to be all together again with Grandad. They were psychedelically fueled, long into the night, by the chocolate fountain, birthday cake, and (it being Oíche Shamhna), bags of sweets . Additional glee came in the form of coins and notes furtively stuffed into little pockets – “Mama, I am SO rich now!”  Indeed.

It is a continual joy for me to observe the easy and loving relationship which my  children have with their Grandad.  They delight in hearing stories of “long years times ago” and being gently teased by him.  When he visits, they squirrel their way into his chest for a hug as he tousles their hair before bed.  Then, when he says to them, “Grandad loves you”, I feel a restriction in my throat.  It’s a deep, childish, emotional cauldron of pride and envy.  It’s the sixteen year old me wanting to blurt out, “Why can’t I remember you telling me that you loved me when I was small?”  It’s the adult, mother me, saying, “Thanks, Dad, they love to hear that the most.”

And it’s absurd of course.  I have known very few men of my father’s generation who were comfortable expressing their feelings in words.  That was always the mother’s role.  The love he felt for us was demonstrated in a non-wordy manner.  The nighttime routine of peeping into our bedrooms, to check if a stray arm or leg needed to be tucked in, while kissing our foreheads.  The way he had to quickly walk out of the living room one Christmas Day morning, when he opened his gift from us, and saw a magnificent pair of suede, fur lined slippers, for which we had sacrificed our pocket money for months.  The way he would let us tag along on fishing excursions, when they were his only escape from the constant tumult in the house.  The way he simply said, “God bless you”.

(Regent’s Park, London – 1963)

On the night of the party, Dad walked into the room with a look of stunned bemusement.  I was struck by how long it had been since I had seen him look so happy, the recurring bouts of painful rheumatism and sciatica taking an increasingly longer time to ease.  Always a dapper dresser, he still easily outshone many of the younger, male assembly; I thought he looked resplendent.

It took him quite a while to move through the crowd of well wishers.  As he came closer to where I stood, I could see his brimmed eyes and trembling hands.  I hugged him very, very hard:

“Happy Birthday, Dad.”

This man of eighty, with tears sliding down his cheeks, hugged me back, very hard:

“God bless you, love.  Thank you. I love you.”

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Advent and St. Nicolas

November 30, 2009

December 1st.  This dreaded, parental date in central Europe, heralds the beginning of the chocolat overload season.  In this house, the date announces itself by the need to create a miniature ‘Santa’s Little Repair Grotto’ in order to glue, hammer, wire and restring the various receptacles in which said chocolat is housed, along with the other Christmas countdown relics.

(Glued the Santa back on, hammered in tiny nails to hold roof together, applied new wire holder to back)

(Re-glued number pegs, re-attached wire at back)

Truly, my Xmas D.I.Y. skills are second to none.

‘Tis the start of the season whenThings One & Two’ leap out of bed at 6 a.m. every morning to race, squabbling all the way, down the stairs to check if St. Nicolas, er, remembered to place the chocolate squares in the Advent house and to argue ferociously over who gets to open the daily box of the Playmobile ‘tableau’ calendar.

By 7 a.m., the combined sugar hits of the chocolate and breakfast Cougnou (a traditional sweet bread, in the form of the baby Jesus, with raisins and sugar) peak. It’s kind of like the over-excitable kids from ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’, on acid. This early morning horror scenario will last for TWENTY FIVE DAYS. By Christmas Eve, this Mama will have lost her baubles.

(Who knew baby Jesus had two heads?)

As if this were not all bad enough, on the night of December 5th, St. Nicolas and his band of not-so-merry men (armed with switches), are due to pop in.  The children put their slippers outside the bedroom doors.  If they have been good, St. Nicolas will fill them with goodies; if bad, I think one of the ‘companions’ of the blessed Saint, um, beats the child with a switch…

You know what, I’m going to leave it up to David Sedaris to explain the whole thing to you.


David Sedaris: 6 to 8 Black Men

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Armistice Day, Belgium

November 11, 2009

Armistice-Day

“The eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the  eleventh month”  (1918).

November 11th, 2009.  The only significance of this date yet to my children is that they are on congé from school.  At seven and five they have yet to study history, a subject which I loved in school but which also left me bewildered as to the extent fellow humans would go to kill each other for the sake of “power and glory”.  Nearly thirty years have passed since I last picked up a history book; the wars may have become more sophisticated but alas it seems, the motives of man mostly remain unchanged.

Sometime during my sixteenth Summer, I travelled alone, back to England for the first time since our family had made the move to Ireland when I was nine.  I went to stay with my Auntie Pat who was a professor of social anthropology at Clare college, Cambridge.  In those days I was much consumed by the poetry of those who had fought during World War I; Wilfred Owen, Siegfried Sassoon, Julian Grenfell and most especially, Rupert Brooke.  One sunny afternoon, we took a leisurely walk to the village of Grantchester, where my aunt gave me a beautiful little Sidgwick & Jackson, 1931 edition, Selected Poems by Rupert Brooke. For the remainder of that year, I carried that book with me everywhere.  There is a handwritten inscription before the title page and frontispiece, which reads:

“To Joan, with much love and best wishes, from R.A. Liddell, (Xmas, 1934)”.

And directly underneath in different handwriting:

“On behalf of Subaltern R.A. Liddell, killed in action on 7th, January, 1944″.

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The first time I read this inscription I cried, and even as I write this my heart aches for the terrible waste of life brought about by human folly and greed.

Here, on the border of Belgium and Luxembourg, we are surrounded by testimonials to those who died in both World Wars.  Whether it be an engraved wall of a judicial building in the larger town squares, with a hundred names, or a small tablet in a village, with just five, the impact is the same.  Military cemeteries are scattered across the landscape. Nothing that is written in any history of conflict prepares you for the stark sight of thousands upon thousands of white crosses; so many young men, known and unknown; a weeping continent of mothers and fathers.

Unknown

Today, we will watch some of the ceremonies at Ieper (Ypres) together.  At eleven o’clock we will be silent for as long as the children can bear it, (probably 30 seconds or less).  I will read this, even though they won’t yet grasp any real meaning; but they will like the image of red poppies in a field and larks in the sky and that their world is perhaps safer because of many, many brave men.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

- Lt. Col. John McCrae (1872-1918)

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A Titian On The Plinth

September 18, 2009

cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22Growing older in the midst of a youthful technological era is a curious conundrum.

While one half of your brain has resigned itself  to cynicism and world weariness, the other half  is startled out of all reverie by the daily barrage of images and information spilling from our computers, television screens and mobile devices.

It’s a visual media deluge, which can either confirm your increasingly jaundiced view of life or, every now and then, make you glad that your cells are still functioning in a relatively normal manner.

Confusion has never been this baffling and for me, yesterday in particular, was a day of such conflicting emotions.

In the early half of the day, my faith in human nature took a considerable nosedive when the news sites that I visited were full of images like this,

art.obama.protest.sign.cnn

with people actually having discussions as to whether this is racism or satire?

Aristophanes, Alexander Pope, Aldous Huxley, Mark Twain, H.L. Mencken, Matt Groening; these are some of the names that come to mind when satire is mentioned.  Tea Party wingnuts wielding inflammatory, disrespectful posters and spouting dangerous bullshit, is not.

Despite heading out to enjoy a semi-boozy lunch with a good friend, this picture drifted around my head for the rest of the day, causing much sighing and feeling of malaise until, later in the evening, an event occurred which lifted the gloom.

In July this year, I joined the social networking site Twitter.  Well, to tell the truth, I signed on in February, but was so freaked out when the only people following me were spam bots and porn bots (and this is before I even knew what a ‘bot‘ was), that I ran away, back to the comforting familiarity of Facebook.  Over the next few months I read and heard more about Twitter until finally, the events surrounding the Iran elections persuaded me to give it another try.

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I knew nothing about Twitter etiquette, retweeting, direct messaging or who saw whose messages.  I felt vaguely uneasy about just jumping in to talk to total strangers and for a couple of weeks suffered from stalking perception anxiety.  I made silly mistakes and probably tweeted inane drivel but ploughed ahead.  Any networking activity involves a learning curve, right?

Maybe I just got lucky with the people I chose to follow on Twitter.  Any error was gently corrected and despite being a ‘newbie’ (ack, I hate that term), I was made to feel welcome by all.  People join social networking sites for a myriad of reasons. For me, the fact that from my small corner of Belgium, I can connect with writers, journalists, scientists, artists, fashionistas, photographers, comedians, musicians, mothers, fathers, nutcases – “the whole gamut of human emotion” – is a mind boggling wonderment.

As humans we live to connect.  It forms part of our makeup.  Yesterday evening, at 7p.m. GMT, in London, I watched and was part of,  a connection which negated the hate images of earlier in the day and raised my awareness as to “the kindness of strangers”.

The Fourth Plinth, Trafalgar Square, London, is currently home to sculptor Anthony Gormley’s ‘living monument’ art project  One & Other .  It is a daunting 3 meters (10ft) high, open to the elements pedestal, where each participant may showcase their point of view of life; their juggling, dancing, oration or ability to turn into a tomato skills, for one hour.  If a week is a long time in politics, one hour on a plinth must feel like an eternity.

one_and_other_large

A quiet buzz had been starting to build in the ‘Twitterverse’ as we all became slowly aware that one of the ‘ladies who tweet’ was preparing to be forklifted up and become one of the ‘living monuments’.  Events may move quickly on Twitter but support shifts like the wind.  Within the space of a few short hours, women living in or around London re-organised their schedules, ignored their partners, donated their children to charity and flocked to Trafalgar Square to stand by their girl (women are superb at this).

Henri Hunter’s hour began at 7pm GMT.  Here in Belgium, it was 8pm, the kids put themselves to bed;  no teeth brushed.  In California it was 11am and the girls were coffee primed.  In New York, it was 2pm, work or no work, they were glued. In Rome, it was aperitivo time – online – (yipee!).  All over the UK, the usual routines stopped as the “Trafalgar Sq. Online Crew” (thanks, Nene), tuned in to tweet support and comments.  In the wilds of beautiful Scotland, one woman was looking, listening and helping to direct the web cameras.  Kiz,  Photographer extraordinaire found the best angles for the onlookers and sweet-talked lovely Felix and Zoom (the ‘One & Other ‘ Camera Operators), into pointing out the best spots for close-ups of:

Henri – (@titianred)

Henri screenshots1

The flame-haired, Autumn Goddess of the Plinth.

The Shoes -

Henri screenshots2

Sister, I would SWIM to Finland to pick up a pair of those….

The Tweet Support Gang -

Henri screenshots6

Jeez girls, aren’t you supposed to be looking UP..?

See what I mean?  It’s an addiction, I know.

The male support were keeping quiet in the background.  The ‘Silent One’ proferred the champagne  and goodies for the ‘après-plinth’.  Cheers, O Silent One!

The other male had to run off to Somerset House for work, but as he said to me once in my earlier days:

“It was a good thing”.

Yes. Yes, it was a marvelous thing.

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All thanks for the screenshots in this post go to Kiz (@deililly).  Check out her superb photography by clicking on the link above – if it works – God, when am I going to GET this stuff…?

Even more thanks to Henri (@titianred) for allowing me to use her magnificence for this post.  Will you finally adopt me now?

To the ‘Twitter Girls & Boys’: too many to name, but you are all there, in my heart & laptop, until some virus wipes you all out. Thanks.

To my paren….all right, already….

Try the Russian Embassy, Ma’am?

September 11, 2009

cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22There are times when you simply cannot avoid overhearing other people’s embarrassing conversations.

No matter how much you desperately shuffle around in your handbag, pretend to frantically text or hum nonsensically to yourself while avoiding eye contact at all costs, the very air you are sharing seems fraught with humiliation.

Banks, post offices, hairdressers, supermarket check-out lines, public transport; we are assaulted daily by a constant barrage of misfortunes.  Most are instantly forgettable or serve as amusing anecdotes over the dinner table, but if you are lucky, you may find yourself rooted to the spot

Such a conversation was overheard this week.

LOCATION:

Visa & Immigration Dept., U.S. Embassy, Brussels.

THE SCENE:

A large room with eight or nine individual, bullet-proof glass booths.  The interviewer communicates with the applicant via a microphone, thus causing the interviewees to bellow out their replies.  Excellent.

THE APPLICANT:

Frumpish, elderly lady (early 70′s or so); blue rinse needing a touch-up, Aldi eco grocery bag, undetermined European accent ( maybe Swiss).  Possibly like this, but minus the pearls.

smallgranny

THE INTERVIEWER:

Passably handsome, mid-thirties, American male; gelled hair, small shaving nick on chin, pen twiddler.  Obvious boredom with Civil Service job hugely alleviated by the encounter.

THE CONVERSATION:

INT:  Good morning, Ma’am, (ruffles through sheaf of papers).  You are applying for an Immigrant Visa to move to the United States?

APP:  Yes sir, yes I am.

INT:  And you are retired; no longer working?

APP:  For five years now, yes.

INT:  Ma’am, (leans forward to glass, twiddling pen, staring intently). I see you have checked the ‘yes‘ box of the ‘Have you ever been arrested or convicted for any offense or crime‘ question.  Is this correct?

APP:  (Slight glance around, nervous shuffle).  Well, that would be correct, sir.

Everybody in room concentrating HARD on cracks in floor tiles.

INT:  How long ago was this?

APP:  Umm, about…oh, about seven years ago. *cough* (Nervous fiddling with hair).

INT:  And you were convicted for how long, Ma’am?

APP:   Five years.

INT:  Of which you served?

APP:  Two and a half. (Brightening), I was released on good behaviour, you know.

INT:  And what, exactly, was the nature of your crime?

APP:  Um…embezzlement, sir.

INT:  I see, (visibly excited but trying to remain stern).  How much did you embezzle, Ma’am?

APP:  Oh, let me see, um….about 91,000 Euro, I think…

INT:  *Pause*  (increasingly rapid pen twirling and seat shifting)

Even the flies are agog:

tinyfly

INT:  *Ahem*  Ma’am, the Government of the United States of America generally do not take kindly to convicted embezzlers looking to move there.  Do you have relatives in the country?

APP:  No.

INT:  Anyone who can vouch for you at all?

APP:  Em, no.

INT:  *Perplexed sigh*  Why do you want to move to the U.S., Ma’am?

APP:  Sir, I feel that Europe no longer has anything to offer me….

INT:  (Large stamp in hand) – APPLICATION DENIED.

Overcome with incredulity and mirth, my trusty eavesdropper made her way directly to the nearest Brasserie to knock back several kir vin blancs and reflect on the amount of ‘crazy’ in the world.

Me, I like degrees of crazy in all their variance.  We are, each of us, well equipped with it; only the way in which we choose to display our crazy differs.

And, between you and me, I think embezzling lady had balls.

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When We Had More Hair..

September 6, 2009

cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22…The Twelve Year Anniversary Edition

“A husband is what is left of a lover, after the nerve has been extracted.”

Helen Rowland: A Guide to Men (1922)

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It’s Sunday morning, 6.00am, Belgian time.  Twelve years ago it was Saturday morning, 6.00am, Irish time, with a low Atlantic mist comfortably settled on the grounds of our chosen castle.  There, six hours later, The Drummer and I would glide ceremoniously into the next phase of our lives together.  Suckers truly are born every minute.

Symb07It wasn’t the most conventional of weddings. Our cake was flat and black, in the form of the Celtic Triskele.  The Celts believed that the essence of life was tripartite; earth, water, sky; past, present, future; birth, death, rebirth; sun, energy, motion.  Looking back now, I think we were both just raving, hippy fruitcakes who preferred sponge.

The Drummer had recently returned from touring in Japan where he had been presented with the ‘traditional’ Japanese bride and groom wedding cake figures, representing the whole “until death do us part” thing.  The perplexed guests snapped more photos of our ‘Death Cake’ than us and Great-Aunt Maud was so visibly shaken, that we had the Red Cross ambulance service on stand-by for the rest of the night.

weddingcake

It was a crazy day of love and laughter, music, dancing, camaraderie and excessive alcohol consumption.  The omens looked good for the future.

So came the Anniversaries.  The closest we ever got to exchanging the customary ‘by year’ gifts was on our 1st Anniversary when I taught the Drummer how to change a toilet-paper roll in the bathroom.  It was a seminal moment in our relationship and probably the last time we have actually been together to celebrate this day.

Even as I write, I is here and he is rehearsing in Dublin, (back tomorrow). But that’s OK.  After twenty-one years of being in love with the same person, it’s not about the fake ‘Hallmark’ phrasing in a hastily chosen card or the tension that comes with a wrongly chosen gift.  It’s all about waking up again tomorrow, in the same bed, with the same person, grafting out the daily, repetitive routines and trying to make it work for both of you.  It’s about finding the ‘common ground’ in which to live, so that you don’t impale him with a skewer in the ear when he mixes his coloureds with the whites and he won’t plunge your head down the toilet when you transform into ‘Were-Mama’ with every full moon.  It’s about being able to argue ferociously and love ferociously in turn.

So, I’m keeping my gifts simple for tomorrow:

  • Have sewn on two missing buttons from that white shirt which he loves; (not the same buttons, but chances of him noticing are slim).
  • His gift to me of the fascinating “Puppetry of the Penis” book two years ago will be reciprocated by my surprise find of  “The Ancient Art of Labia Pleating”. Now we can both find solace during those long weeks of absence.
  • A T-Shirt printed with “My Dad Is A Rock Star!” from the kids, because he is.  To them.
  • For one night only, I will refrain from bitching about…anything.

As an extra bonus, I am including this image of us in all our insanity, taken on this day 12 years ago.  For some bizarre reason, it formed part of a series of portraits taken about the city in which we lived, the whole of which later became a book.  Probably well out of print by now.  My Mother hates this picture.

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And although I do kind of feel as though I looked like something out of a 1980′s John Landis horror flick, this one somehow sums up that day for me. Plus, both of us had more hair. Lots.

Happy Anniversary, dear Drummer.

Happy Birthday too, babe.  xx

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Doing ‘Champagne’

August 13, 2009

cec477bbc5396f6e3fa5a23aa73d50e22Just a quickie as we are in the process of preparing for what could be loosely termed as a Vacance en Famille.

It is mid-August, which means that ‘The Monsters’ have successfully completed their transition from semi-wild to totally feral.  The aged and decrepit mutt has become even more senile (do dogs get Alzheimers?).

The Drummer has taken to sleeping ‘al fresco’ under the cherry tree to reap the benefit of the “bracing night air”, and I can now no longer distinguish between a simple ‘night sweat’ and a ‘fear-of-what-I’ve-forgotten-to-do sweat’ which renders me wide awake and gibbering at 3.36am EVERY night.

The roof box has yet to be put on the car.  There are piles of clothes on tables, chairs, beds and dog basket.  The only bag fully packed is that containing the medicaments. This will cater for every possible injury or virus which could be encountered; immodium, motillium, savlon, dettol wipes, mosquito spray, neurofen for kids, neurofen for adults (3 boxes), five bottles of sun-cream (factors 15 to 50), St. John’s Wort, lithium and kid repellent.  I’m taking no chances, people.

Now, The Drummer being available to holiday with his nearest and dearest during the month of August is about as rare as a sighting of Halley’s Comet.   He is either holed up in some airless studio composing offbeat music for quaint television shows or sweating it out on a tour circuit of South East Asia.  When deciding on where to relocate the brood for the vacation, the fact that he would actually be here was much cause for celebration and what better way to whoop it up than with and to be in, ‘La Champagne’!


newyears_26

Moments of true inspiration are rare with me, but this has to rank up there with the other one.  Having inveigled our very dear, old friends to accompany us with their less feral, better dressed offspring, we found our perfect holiday rental smack dab on the ‘Cote des Bar’ Champagne route.  We will be a ten minute drive to Les Lacs D’Aube, three enormous lakes with plenty of water sports, swimming and exotic French ‘bird’ watching (the men are oddly eager to engage in the latter.  There has even been talk of buying binoculars).  A large children’s amusement park called ‘Nigloland’ (pronounced Nee-glow-land) is situated but a few kilometers from our cottage.  Le Pippin and La Pipette are spewing with excitement about this and despite constant correction, keep gleefully informing everyone they meet that they are going to ‘Negroland‘ “pour les vacances”.

I will not even begin to describe to you what scenarios this conjures up in my unhealthy imagination.

But the best part of all, the icing on the ‘gateau’ if you will, is that yours truly and ‘The Wise One’ will be able to indulge in our most favourite activity: Cellar Hopping.  Thirty-eight glorious kilometers of vineyards and Champagne houses offering copious quantities of ‘degustation’ (tasting). We shall nourish ourselves along the way by sampling super-stinky cheeses in tiny hamlets and keeping a crusty baguette to hand at all times.  Come evening, cock-eyed and helpless, we shall stagger home to our loved ones and be, to quote ‘Charlie & Lola’, “completely ready to do sleeping”.

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All that remains to be seen is whether our aging livers will cope with the excess.

All that remains to be said is:

“A Bientot”!

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Dear ‘Bonne Maman’….

August 5, 2009

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There are two things in life of which I can be completely certain:

- Death.

- Another pointless Dairy Product.

Because I am a caring kind of harridan and if I can prevent even ONE other person from experiencing this abhorrence, I will share with you now the letter I felt compelled to post this morning. It was written in French but I will do the best I can with the translation.

Some parts just do not translate.

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August, 4th, 2009.

Cher Bonne Maman,

For many years now you have provided the warmth and security for my family.

Scarcely a day passes without your loving presence on our table. Whether it be your teeth-coating ‘Gelee de Framboises‘ (much beloved by ‘les enfants’ for the breakfast) or your truly remarkable ‘Confiture de Cerise Griotte‘ which, I must confess, is used more than the Ketchup a la Heinz in this house – do you know how well that is the match sublime with the Steak au Cheval?!

You can imagine therefore, Messieurs, our delight totale when today we saw, while walking through the ‘Produits Laitiers’ aisle of our supermarket, the sign -

“NOUVEAU!”,   Petit Pot Nature

- accompanied by the red/white tablecloth ‘ancienne’ design which can only be ‘Bonne Maman‘.

“Youpi!”, cried my progeny, beside each other with the joy. “Maman, may we, pleeeese…?”.

Because mes enfants are more sticking to me than La Bruni to your Nicolas, I agreed with sagacity and having completed the courses, we returned to our home.

Ensuing was the happy scene in our foyer:

"Miam, miam!"

"Miam, miam!"

With the eagerness of the weasels who chase the rodents, they tore open the ‘Petits Pots’;  Messieurs, such moments of harmonie are rare with us.

Helas, what was to follow was the disaster totale:

Le collapse

Le collapse

“My small fleas!”, I screamed as they hit the terrasse.  With the horror I peered within one of your ‘Petits Pots’, entered my spoon and took the taste.

Nom de Dieu, Messieurs!  This mess of lumpy coddles, this pale melange of addled eggs, milk and sugar, this insult to even the most bland of produits culinaires.   Let me assure you ‘Bonne Maman‘, there can be nothing “natural” about your ‘nature’ .  Do you make to presume that your consumers are possessed with the palates of the goats?

Upon the revival of my dazed and choking enfants, they made the decision to send to you this message:

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I fear to have to tell you, ‘Bonne Maman‘ that we shall now be returning to the products dairy provided by the ‘Aldi‘.  At the least, with their addition of 25 enhancers of flavour and the gum in every pot, they have the understanding of the pleasures of the young.

Enfin, we place your odourless preparation to rest:

"Adieu"

"Adieu"

Please agree with me Messieurs, my fullest sentiments of distress,

etc, etc.

P.S. We shall be happy to accept a large carton of your assorted jams and fruit merchandise to aid in our recovery. Merci.

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