I thought I had the French numbering system worked out.
Even the nineties.
I’m currently working in a travel and tourism office in France.
I am now thinking of having a t-shirt printed with the legend ‘YOU CAN’T SCARE ME, PART OF MY JOB INVOLVES ME ASKING FRENCH PEOPLE FOR THEIR POSTCODES’
In case you are unfamiliar with the French postcode system, and are wondering what this sounds like I will use 94440 as an example. They will start with the ninety-four, this will then be followed by the four-hundred, they will then finish with the forty.
It looks easy when I type it like that, doesn’t it?
Now imagine that being delivered at a speed slightly faster than that of a bullet exiting a gun. Then throw in thick regional accents, beards, mumbling, sandwiches, pipes and dogs excitedly yapping while you try to decipher what has just been said to you.
I love it when people from Belgium come in. Because then when I ask them for their postcode, they simply say ‘Belgium’ and then I can just go on the computer and click on the box that says ‘Belgium”. Except it’s in French so it says ‘Belgique’.
I think it’s the best way to hammer home the numbers. You just need to make sure you’ve got some painkillers handy when you finish your shift – for your headache.
And the French are lovely. If I’m ever slightly dubious of what they’ve just said, I’ll hold up my little pad and ask them if it’s right. If it’s wrong they’ll correct me. And if it’s right they’ll look at me with a slightly fond look, as if they want to pat my head.
Or give me a sweet.
Yes, pretty much exactly like you would with a dog that’s just learned a new trick.
Another part of my job involves me taking their email addresses down via the telephone. I’ve mastered that fine art with relative ease – I pass the phone to my French colleagues.
I teach retired French people English every month.
You may have heard me mention it before.
Last night I took them a handout ‘18 Tips To Help With Your English Pronunciation‘.
How to make the ‘th’ sound was covered.
It had pictures and everything.
They liked that.
This was great because, amongst other things, I’m trying to help them say ‘the’ and ‘this’ and ‘that’ properly.
So then when they want to say ‘Hello, is the theatre this way, or that way?’ they say ‘Hello, is the theatre this way, or that way?’ and not: ‘Hello, iz ze see-a-ter zis way, or zat way?’ or: ‘Hello, iz ve ve-a-ter vis way, or vat way?’
There were suggestions for how to improve your English e.g: watch Youtube, listen to podcasts, watch the news in English and practice in the park by asking other English speakers if they sound alright.
It also suggested recording yourself, and then playing back your recording so you could hear where you were going wrong.
‘This is great’ I thought ‘They can do that later’.
‘This is great’ they said ‘We can do that now’
They all pulled out their mobile phones, which were far more impressive than mine, (which struggles to play ‘Snake’) and started recording themselves reading from the handout.
‘This is great’ I thought ‘My work here is done’.
Michelle looked at me. I like Michelle, she looks like everyone’s favourite grandma. And I bet she bakes really nice cakes.
‘Why don’t we get Phil to read some French?’
I’ve gone off Michelle.
‘We can record it and listen to it’ she added.
Now I think she looks more like that woman with the gingerbread house, the one in the forest that tried to shove those two bread-crumb kids in the oven.
‘Here, you can read this advert from my Aldi flyer’ she finished, handing me the brochure, and indicating what she meant.
I bet her cakes taste horrible.
I looked at the advert. It was on my personal favourite, Mastermind subject: hen houses.
The word for hen house in French is a nightmare to pronounce, for me anyway. It’s ‘poulailler’, which is really easy to copy and paste from Google (after three badly-spelled attempts, anyway) but horrible to say.
The closest I’ve ever gotten to a hen house is buying one for my French mother-in-law, and it’s this one awful word that makes me remember it so vividly.
‘You want a hen house?’ I’d said to her, on the sunny day of June 12th, 2018 (12.43pm) ‘Yes’ she said to me ‘From Amazon UK, I don’t have an account’ I clicked on Amazon France, ‘What about all these hundreds of hen houses?’ I said to her. ‘No’ she said to me ‘I want that one’. ‘Right’ I said to her ‘And what is it in French? a poulailler?’. ‘No’, she said to me, ‘It’s pronounced ‘poulailler”
‘Nearly, it’s Poulailler’
This went on for three-and-a-half days. Actually it was probably only ten minutes, but when you can’t pronounce something in French and you’re sat opposite an implacable French person repeatedly saying it perfectly, blinking at you like that penguin from ‘Wallace And Gromit: The Wrong Trousers‘, time seems to go funny and stretch out.
So back in class and I read the passage out. Poulailler didn’t disappoint and was still no friend to my tongue.
I finished and they made positive noises. ‘Hmmm’ they said and ‘Bien’ and ‘pas mal’ and stuff like that.
Then Christine pressed play on her phone.
Now I hate my voice, with a passion, and have been affectionately referred to as ‘Orville’ in the past by friends. So I was not looking forward to what was to come.
I was not let down.
The room was filled with a God-awful noise that sounded like Inspector Clouseau met that bloke off ‘Allo, ‘Allo’ and somehow managed to conceive a child. A child that took all the very worst aspects of their voices and dialled it up to 11. I felt like a French Borat.
My mind has thankfully blanked it out, as though it can’t keep such an awful memory in. Surely, I thought on the way home, I can’t be that bad.
I turned to my rock, my moon and stars, the mother of my children, my partner – surely she would reassure me?
Oh, and she’s French too.
‘Hey’ I said to her.
‘Hmmm?’ she looked at me.
‘What do I sound like when I speak French?’
She looked at me, blinking like that penguin from ‘Wallace and Gromit: The Wrong Trousers’.
‘Weird’ she finally replied, sticking it and snapping it off.
Since moving to France, and particularly since moving into our new home, I have become somewhat obsessed with making it as lovely as possible.
And that’s a sentence I never thought I would type.
So far I have redesigned the living room, laid new floors in the upstairs bathroom and downstairs kitchen, painted the front of the house, repainted our external buildings, repainted the interior of our dependence….the list goes on. This has met with some resistance from my partner, as she sees it as me taking over control of her house and styling it to my tastes. She’s right, to a degree, but I see it another way, I see it as MY job to do this. I’m the stay-at-home dad, remember, so I have the time to do this, whereas she is busy at work, earning the pennies.
So on to the point of this blog, a little insight into what I like to do – maximise potential of items that we aren’t using. Things that are lying around, that just need a few ‘tweaks’ to bring them back to life, so to speak.
With that in mind, here’s what I did with a cupboard discarded by my Belle Mere (mother-in-law) and a Crayola table (the one with the multi-colour legs that look like crayons) that the kids had managed to break.
I sanded down the cupboard and each leg and then varnished everything. I then attached the legs to the cupboard and placed it in our kitchen.
My main goal was to make use of something that – on its own – wouldn’t work anywhere. In addition I wanted something to replace our tea-towel basket – those upright wicker-type things – as I cannot stand them. So now the tea-towels live in here and we have a bit of space on top too, to add pretty things (all marbles and wavy bottles found at brocantes).
I should add I’m no Mr DIY and also if you think it looks uneven, it may be. But equally it may be the house/floor/wall that’s uneven – we seem to be completely lacking in straight walls/floors/ceilings etc in this house (which just adds to its charm)
There are loads of games you can play with your kids aren’t there? Hide n’ Seek, tag, musical statues, sleeping lions etc. I however have become a pioneer in this field and have decided to do what no other parent has ever done: I have invented my own kids’ games.
Wow! I mean, I bet your mind is blown right now, isn’t it?*
So without further ado here is my current selection of games. I say current because the games change as they grow older, and what they love today they may not necessarily love next week. Or tomorrow for that matter.
To The Moon
For: both kids
Necessary props? A swing set
This game involves me having one or more of my kids on the swings. I then ‘check their tickets’, these tickets being purely imaginary. All details on the tickets have to correspond with each child, and they must agree with each and every detail. So for instance if I say that their name is Lord Poopy Pants the Third, and that their favourite hobby is eating rotten squids with snails, then they have to agree.
I also say all this in an South African accent. I do not know why I do this.
Once they have agreed to all details on the tickets then they may ‘go to the moon’. This simply involves me counting down from 1,000,000 or sometimes just 100 in a very haphazard manner e.g: 999, 12, 6, 57, ZERO! And I then launch them as hard as I safely can on the swings.
I am then obliged to relaunch them multiple times, verifying new details on new tickets each time, and must also keep their momentum up by pushing them several times – even though they both now know how to do it themselves.
Plants VS Zombies
For: both kids
Necessary props? just us
This is a variation on the popular mobile video game. Except played in real life of course. Now before you start thinking I am one of those amazing parents who designs plant costumes for his kids, and wears authentic zombie make-up to chase them around the garden let me reassure you: I could honestly not be bothered to do any of that, so it’s just me in my coat (depending on the weather) slowly chasing my kids around the garden and moaning and shambling like a zombie.
I am always the zombie. They let me be a plant once, oh what a happy day that was.
I also get hit now and again as the kids have to ‘defeat’ me, and they are both at that age where they are somewhat dangerous. My son because he is eight and can throw things with some force, and my daughter because she is five and is at the same level as my testicles.
For: my daughter
Necessary props? lights and a dark night (is nighttime a prop?)
This game is one which we generally play at night before bedtime. This is because it involves us looking out of our upstairs bedroom window and counting how many poo lamps we can see.
Now for the uninitiated – by which I mean everyone – poo lamps are poos that have been laid by cats in our garden that glow in the night.
In reality they are actually my many, many solar lights and any other neighbourhood lights that may be lit at that time. So three solar lights, two lights in the neighbour’s house = five poo lamps that night.
Sometimes my daughter improvises and counts the moon and the stars too. On nights like that the game can go on a while.
As it’s not dark now until after she goes to bed she has taken to counting the next-door neighbour’s chickens – around ten of them in total – and she still classifies them as poo lamps…
Pizza Delivery Foot Phone Call
For: my daughter
Necessary props? one of my daughter’s sweaty little feet
This game involves me using one of my daughter’s feet as a mock telephone. I place one of these damp little things – left or right, we have no set preference – next to my ear and pretend to phone a pizza shop. My daughter is the ‘chef’ and answers the call. I then place an order and verify each item, however I must always, always pretend to get annoyed with her if she does not have what I ask, or if she has something that I think she shouldn’t. Here’s a brief example:
Me: Can I order a pizza please?
Her: Yes of course, what would you like on it?
Me: Can I have mushrooms?
Me: And do you sell Anchovies?
Me: Why would you sell Anchovies? they are disgusting and taste awful, you should be shut down for serving those things they smell like poo and make my eyes water! You know each time you eat an Anchovie a demon is born in hell? What are you thinking?
Her: (laughing) OK! OK! We won’t sell Anchovies any more
And so on…
I Can’t Talk Properly Because My Son Is Crushing My Chest With His Powerful Muscles And Making My Voice Go All Funny
For: my son (surprise, surprise!)
Necessary props? Just me and my son
My son is at that age where he thinks he is very strong and likes to display this power by occasionally pushing over his five-year-old sister and squashing my chest. So this game involves me lying in bed next to him and just having a casual chat with him about day-to-day life. While I am talking however he will start pushing himself – using his bedside cabinet as leverage – into my side and so making my chest constrict and causing my voice to alter.
Of course as my son weighs about the same as a bag of sugar this means I have to pretend that he is very strong and he is doing this, when in fact I am just modulating my voice, much to his amusement. My son is however made out of elbows. Hard, bony elbows, approximately 67 I would guess, and these things can really dig into you. The result is that the next day you generally end up with a new bruise that you didn’t have before.
But at least he doesn’t bite like his sister.
So that’s the current crop of games that I have invented for my kids, your read it here first, you don’t need to be constrained by the world’s selection, you can make your own!
All it takes is a bit of imagination and a desire to make your kids shut their bloody mouths for more than five minutes.
*Tune in next time when I will be showing you how you can teach your kids to go the wrong way UP A SLIDE! OMG! Rule breaker right here!!!
‘I’m a Barbie girl, in a Barbie world’ sings my daughter as we walk down the road. ‘Come on Barbie!’ my son tunelessly adds next to her ‘Let’s go party’. Their warbles bounce off the walls off the (mercifully deserted) street. My partner squeezes my hand a little too tightly and glares at me. Yes, I am responsible for this.
I’m on a serious nineties music kick at the moment. It’s probable all down to that period being tied up with my years of going out ‘dancing’ and drinking. I added quote marks to dancing as if you ever saw me ‘dancing’ you would probably tell me that if at any time in the future I wrote about my ‘dancing’ I would need to use quote marks to differentiate between what most people class as dancing and what I do.
Demon-possessed person being flung around probably covers it best.
It was these tunes that were the background to my youth, or early-to-mid twenties anyway. And so it’s with wistful nostalgia that I’ve been hitting that repository of everything that is YouTube, in order to get my vintage fix. It pains me to type ‘vintage fix’ when referring to the nineties I’m not going to type ‘retro’.
One of the tunes that I wouldn’t normally listen to though is Aqua’s Barbie Girl. That’s because Barbie Girl is, by any definition, a bloody awful song. It’s even worse when you watch the music video of it, then it’s as if someone has vomited skittles into your ears AND your eyes.
It would never be made these days – with its lyrics objectifying women and giving men all the power.
That plus it’s bloody, bloody awful.
I did feel that my daughter would like it though, as she’s very much a girlie girl, and loves all things pink. And all things Barbie. I also thought it might be nice for her to view it with her brother, as a kind of history lesson, and insight into what we used to send to number one in the music charts back in ‘the day’. Sigh.
So yes, I made the mistake of letting them watch it on my tablet, one wet boring Sunday (It’s April so basically pick any Sunday). Oh dear. Whatever possessed me (Not the dance demon at least, his days are done)?
I made the further mistake of leaving my daughter alone with my tablet while I helped my son with some of his crafts. She watched it on a loop, again, and again, and again…
So now I’m in the envious position of being unable to escape the lyrics of the Danish-Norwegian dance-pop. It follows me around, like the worst backing soundtrack you could ever imagine. To be fair to them both they aren’t causing anywhere near the amount of aural damage that the original song was responsible for.
What’s possibly worse, even worse than the way my partner now looks at me when they start singing it, is the fact that I now hum it to myself. I also correct them if they sing the lyrics incorrectly. So when my daughter sang ‘Come on Barbie let’s go Barbie’ I told her that instead of the second Barbie she should actually sing ‘Let’s go party’.
I’m not the most observant of Catholics. That’s why this post is going up nearly a week after Lent has ended, and not the next following day or so. I also started my social media sojourn early, and finished late. Again, because I’m not the most observant of Catholics.
Why did I choose to forego Facebook for 40 days? Because I always choose to give up things that I think will cause me discomfort, I don’t like taking the easy option. So I’m not going to give up chocolate for forty days because, honestly, I wouldn’t really miss it that much.
As a member of the current generation of ‘linked in’ social media people that walk the earth, and there are many of us, I was also curious about how this abstinence would affect me.
It was great.
It’s funny how Facebook insidiously infects your thoughts and actions. What’s even funnier – or more disturbing – is how much more you notice it when you stop. It’s almost like one of those toxic relationships that you are so locked inside that you can’t see the problems until you are outside of it, looking in. You are blinkered to a certain degree.
So after I quit, and after the first few days of ‘cold turkey’ I actually noticed how my thoughts were my own. I wasn’t thinking up things, just to share with strangers (and I appreciate the irony of typing that sentence in order to just share it with strangers*). Likewise I didn’t whip my phone out to take a photograph of a lovely scene, or particularly enchanting sunset, because I thought it would garner me 52 ‘likes’.
No, my thoughts were mine, and mine alone and anything I enjoyed I enjoyed for what it was, and not for what it would gain me.
And now I’ve had this time apart and have finally delved back in it’s changed. It’s like it’s become this odd thing that I can now view from a distance, and observe it coolly. A bit like the invaders from Mars in War Of The Worlds. Except I have no plans to let it kill me, figuratively speaking, through (re) infection.
No, I think I’ll make the most of this opportunity and recognise the gift that I’ve been given for what it is, a social-media detox.
Every year I give up something new, but I don’t always get something new from it. This year has been different, and I will always try to remain grateful for that.
Maybe next year I will try giving up alcohol for Lent.
Oh wait, I’ve just remembered, I have kids…so maybe not.
On tonight’s menu in Mr Mum’s house we have a veritable feast of delightful foodstuffs, all lovingly prepared to cater to the needs of the individual’s requirements. It may be only sandwiches, but no corners have been cut (literally BOOM BOOM!) in the efforts of the Michelin starred chef that has created this bounty of bread-based, bite-sized taste-bombs, that will surely set the tongues of the tasters alight with joy.
Carefully sectioned into quarters, this sumptuous feast features only the (supermarket) freshest ham available, and with all the fatty bits trimmed off and shoved in the bin, there remains only the choicest pieces of ham to ensure the palate is treated to a veritable pork-based party.
Cucumber has been loving rinsed for three seconds and then sliced to make it look slightly posher than it actually is, and the segments have each been painstakingly, and liberally, salted, to avoid cries of ‘SALT! SALT!’ as has happened from time to time.
Fresh (ish) tomatoes have been added for a little variety, and also because there’s nothing better than cleaning the seed explosion from off of the sofa cover (purchased to protect the sofa underneath from seed explosions* (*and other things)) when madam bites into them like some kind of animal.
The whole dish is served up on a dazzlingly blue plate emblazoned with Ella and Elsa, or Sarah and Sue or whatever they are called, from the tragi-comedy that is ‘Frozen‘.
Grunts and chewing noises can be heard and there seems to be a word emitted from the thing on the sofa. Could be ‘Merci‘ or ‘Thanks daddy, I love you‘ or ‘This is delicious, I’m so lucky to have you making this for me‘ but in all likelihood it’s probably ‘Where’s my water?‘.
Eschewing the needless frivolities of cucumbers or tomatoes, this dish is served up in as bare a bones style as possible. This suits the needs of that most exacting of connoisseurs: my son. Who has rigid rules, very much like Fight Club.
These rules basically boil down to:
I don’t want any fruit
I don’t want any veg
I just want ham
Or sometimes pasta
With this in mind the meal for sir has been carefully prepared on seedless brown bread – oh yeah, rule number six, I forgot:
6. I don’t want any seeds in my bread
Again all traces of fat have been removed from the ham to ensure only the best meat passes sir’s lips. The resulting mix of bread and ham and butter has been loving shaped in to what one hopes resembles a face. Six consecutive attempts were made to try to lovingly shape it into this, after the first five were what could lovingly be described as ‘nightmare-inducing‘.
The whole meal is beautifully presented on a random beige plate due to sir’s ‘Marvel’s The Avengers‘ plate being out of commission due to an earlier incident involving chocolate.
‘What’s that?’ (after being told it’s a face) ‘No, it looks weird, it doesn’t look right…where’s my water?’
So it’s Sunday, it’s miserable and threatening to rain, and so the kids, the missus and I decide to head off to the local fair. It’s organised by our village church and so is full of lots of people of, to be kind, advancing years. I always find that slightly depressing, when you find yourself to be the youngest people there even though you are in your forties.
But at the same time I also enjoy the chance to bask in my youthfulness because, even though I’m in my forties, I’m one of the youngest ones there.
It’s an indoor affair – which is a huge bonus on a day like this – and is held in our local ‘salle de fetes’ or community hall, for the non-French speakers reading this.
When we get there there are a group of line-dancing ladies keeping the crowds entertained with their rather sedate routine (average age of dancers: 76). We wait for a suitable pause and take a seat at a table near the stage where, we are informed, the grand raffle will shortly be held.
The compere for this soon arrives and it’s none other than Madame Maurice, a local character who I know from my English classes and keeps insisting I call her Kristiane, and I do. To her face anyway: whenever I’m referring to her to others though I switch back to Madame Maurice.
You know those people who just seem like they will forever be referred to by Mr or Mrs such and such, and to use their Christian name would be sacrilege? Well that’s Madame Maurice, she’s one of those people.
She bustles over to us and says her hellos, steals my children, and then heads off on to the stage. She needs my kids to pick out the winning tickets you see. She also steals my partner, as she needs her to control my kids to in order to facilitate the picking out of the wining tickets.
The raffle kicks off and my kids hand her the winning tickets, alternately taking their place at the giant plastic ball and selecting the green ticket. The prize is then displayed by a glamorous assistant (approximately 82) before Madame Maurice, with the aid of a very powerful microphone calls out the name and number on the winning ticket. This is not the only information she divulges to the crowd (approximately 100-or-so, average age 71) however. She also comments on the current location and well being of the winners, in association with their prize.
It goes a little something like this:
Madame Maurice: ‘Ok what is this, hmmm a toaster and the winning number is 1,257 and the winner is Madame DuChamp. Well that’s no good for her, she’s been in the retirement home for 3 months now, maybe she can give it to her daughter?’
Madame Maurice: ‘And this next one is for a lovely scarf, and it’s been won by Monsieur Lafage with ticket number 245, but I don’t think he’ll be wearing it. Not for long anyway if what his doctor told me is true’.
Madame Maurice: ‘276, 276 for Madam Lafayette, yes, she’s not well she’s been at the retirement home for two years now and she’s a bit lost, so I don’t really think these roller blades will be very good for her’
Madame Maurice: ‘What’s this? Another bloody scarf? OK, stop messing around you two and give me a number. Yes, that one’s 1,035 and it’s for Madame Soriano, well she can wear it when she goes to the doctor’s. Again. She’s not well. She’s not well at all’
Madame Maurice: ‘A balloon trip? She won’t be able to get outside, never mind up in a balloon, lost the use of her legs two years ago. And that’s 365, for Madam Kristoff, 365 for Madame Kristoff’
I should add that the majority – but not all – of the people Madame Maurice discussed were not actually present in the hall. Or if they were they didn’t hear her – due to deafness of being asleep, it was hard to tell. I am now going to see if Madame Maurice will be the DJ at any future events we may decide to hold, she’s got a definite talent for keeping the crowds entertained.
We didn’t win anything by the way but, judging by the comments, I’m quite pleased about that…
What would we have gotten away with? An pleasant Christmas break, pleasant half-term holiday, an enjoyable trip to the swimming pool, an incident-free trip to the park, a shout-free bath time routine, ten seconds of peace, the ability to blink without something going wrong…
Yes, our children are at that wonderful age where they are a complete nightmare.
When they are together.
They are like some kind of horrendous combining Transformer (a Decepticon, to be clear). Mildly threatening when on their own and a menace to society when they join to create the fearsome Whine-or, or Moan-or – or maybe Parentgreyhairmaker. I don’t know, I’m not fixed on a name for the monstrosity they become when they ‘play’ together yet. Play. Ha. Ha ha ha. Sigh.
I remember back in the good old days (last year) when we could leave them together and the worst that could happen would perhaps be something got knocked over, or the TV would be turned off, or they would build a fort. Now everything is violence and pain.
I suppose it comes with the increase in body mass = the bigger the kid the bigger the problem.
And it’s never their fault, always the fault of the other one.
So when you reenter the room you will get some cock-and-bull story from my daughter about how no, it was actually her brother who took off his own glasses and snapped the arm off on one side. Or it was actually my daughter that punched and then kicked herself in the head.
I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get what I mean.
Individually, as a rule, they are quite easy going and manageable. But together, these days, you can mentally set a clock in your head from the time you exit the room to the time it takes them to start fighting/break something/open a door/activate a nuclear weapon silo.
Sometimes I don’t even get out of the room before mayhem is ensuing.
This means that, at the moment, all holidays are a constant battle of maintaining order via separation, and the constant search for newer, better, and pain-free options of how to regain/maintain control. Oh and by pain-free, I mean for us, not them – the only damage they receive is from each other. Can’t say the same for us – especially if we get caught in the midst of the chaos.
I often used to see parents in the park during the day smelling of alcohol – grandparents too – and I mentally despaired that someone could be in that state at such an hour.
I don’t despair so much these days. I empathise. But don’t worry, I won’t be reaching for any alcohol.
Because it’s just a phase, isn’t it? That’s what I keep telling myself. It’s just a phase.