Archive for July, 2008

Post Holiday Post
July 30, 2008

 

I hate coming back from holiday! As soon as I walk through the door I can feel the post holiday blues kicking in. And the trigger is usually my post. I have to open it straightaway. I can’t relax until I know there is nothing nasty lurking in one of the envelopes. I am like a woman possessed. Suitcases in the hallway, jacket still on, I rip open each letter, frantically scanning the contents for any bad news – which there invariably is!

 

Last year’s post was particularly memorable! After 2 weeks in Spain I came home to a letter from the French government saying they were going to remove 1000 euros from my bank account (which they are able to do in France) for not paying tax on a house I moved out of in 2005. On a salary of 700 Euros a month, I went into panic mode! I had no I idea why they were pursuing me for this when it was my ex who was living in the house, not me. It turned out that he had ‘forgotten’ to pay the bill and because I am still on the title deeds and part of the French tax system (he isn’t, as he has never worked over here) they had all my details and had decided to come after me for it instead.

 

This year’s post has left me feeling equally uneasy – I don’t have any! 10 days away and my postbox is empty. This is particularly strange as I get post most days, even if it is just junk mail, but there is nothing – not even my mobile phone bill, which comes without fail around the 20th of each month. My initial thought was that it had been put to one side by my helpful, 70-yr-old neighbour, Golden Balls (I gave him this name after witnessing him hanging out his washing in nothing more than a T-shirt. When standing normally it was long enough preserve his modesty, but when he reached up to peg each item on the line it rode up past his waist, revealing his manly treasures). He has access to my postbox, which is next to his in the street below, and is the kind of person who would empty it if it looked a bit full. I have even asked him to do it when I am away, as I worry it will alert someone to the fact that my flat is empty.

 

Arriving home at midnight I had to wait until the following morning before I could knock on Golden Balls’ door. I expected to be invited in, have a cup of coffee and for my post to be on the table. Instead he peered round his door and asked what I was doing back so soon – he thought I was away for 2 weeks, which I do remember saying. When I asked if he had needed to empty my postbox a guilty look shot across his face, he shook his head, then nervously closed the door with a curt ‘au revoir’. This was very out of character for him as he is usually so friendly and is always looking for an opportunity to invite me in for a chat. As I walked away I had the feeling that something wasn’t quite right, then I began to remember a strange conversation I once had with the 69-year-old lady who used to live in the flat above him. One day when I went down to collect my post I caught her hiding round the corner, keeping a watchful eye on her postbox. She beckoned me over and whispered in my ear that Golden Balls had been stealing her mail and that she was standing there so she could catch him at it. I asked her why he would do a thing like that and she said he was stalking her. On several occasions she had caught him listening in at her door or sitting on the stairs waiting for her to go out. He had also ‘offered’ himself to her in a sexual way and it was just after she had turned him down (having seen what he had to offer, she could have done worse!) that her post began to go missing. She had told half the village, including the police, that she was being stalked but no one believed her. The general consensus was that Golden Balls was far too old and gentlemanly (he has lived here all his life and is a well respected member of the community) to be a post-stealing, sex pest and that she was just another old lady ‘losing her marbles.’ I am not sure if she ever did catch him tampering with her postbox, but I do know that she was so traumatised by the whole affair that she had to move out and I haven’t seen her since.

 

I am now starting to think that there may have been some truth in her story. Did Golden Balls flash his balls at me on purpose? He knew I was sitting on my terrace when he came out with his washing. Maybe he was offering himself to me then and my failure to respond has forced him to go sniffing through my letters instead? Come to think of it, he is always popping round to see how I am. And when my mum is here he comes round even more. Even my friends have noticed that he is a bit nosey, always sticking his head out the window when they walk by. Sometimes my post looks like it has been opened, but I have never thought anything of it until now. Maybe he steals the odd letter here and there, then replaces it a day later when I am not looking? Could this lonely, old do-gooder really be a stalker who gets his kicks out exposing himself and reading (and I hope that is all he does with them!) ladies’ letters? I sincerely hope not, but if he has snaffled my post he has probably done me a favour anyway. Ignorance is bliss and if there are any letters like the one I received last summer, he is welcome to them, bills and all!

 

 

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Happy Holidays
July 15, 2008

 

 

Tomorrow I am going to visit ‘the family.’ Not just my parents but my grandparents, aunties, uncles and cousins. The last time I saw them was just before I moved to France 6 years ago. I did the ‘goodbye tour’ thinking it might be the last time I would see some of my grandparents – they are in their late 80’s/early 90’s – but miraculously they are all still here.

 

This is going to take me ‘off air’ for a couple of weeks, as I will be travelling the length and breadth of the UK, doing my best impression of a girl who is coping on her own! When they saw me last I was happy with my ex, cradling a baby and off to live in a beautiful farmhouse in France, full of hope for the future. I come back to them now, by ‘their standards’ a failure – no husband, no job and a living in rented accomodation. I know I will have to spend the entire trip justifying my ‘alternative’ lifestyle. I can even imagine the questions now:

 

 

·        Have you found another man yet? – yes and no. I do have someone at the moment, but I have been briefed by mother not to tell the grandparents as they ‘couldn’t deal with the age difference’ (he is 18 years older than me).

·        So you are living on state benefit (raised eyebrows, tut, tut). You used to have such a good career…it is such a shame – I did work for 2 years in a crèche, but by the time I had paid out for school dinners, childcare and my taxes I was 30 euros a month worse off than when I wasn’t working – no excuse I know, but I hardly ever saw my son, the job was tough, the hours were crazy and the pay was dire. My contract came to an end in November and I am ‘living off the state’ until I can sit a Teaching exam in September. If I pass, I will do one year’s teacher training and then, hopefully, be able to get a job that pays more than the minimum wage – it’s a long shot but I have got to give it a try.

·        What are you going to do about getting your half of the house? (my ex is still living in it and doesn’t want to sell) – absolutely nothing for the time being as my son’s happiness is paramount and if I take my ex to court, all hell will break loose, and neither Sonny nor I are strong enough for that yet.

 

 

The worst part will be having to answer these questions over and over again, without being impolite or jumping down anyone’s throat. Two weeks of being happy, smiley and engaging is going to be a killer, so if I am a bit ‘crotchety’ when I get back, you know why!

 

That aside, Sonny will have a lot of fun with his cousins and I will be able to update my underwear in M&S and gorge myself on Indian takeaways – bliss! 

 

 

Camping in High Heels
July 11, 2008

I ‘do’ camping but I don’t ‘do’ the relaxed clothing that seems to come with the territory. Tracksuits, shorts and fleeces just make me look      

fat(ter). Yes, I’m the kind of girl that goes camping in high heels. You are probably thinking that I’d be much better off in a hotel, and you would probably be right, but it is a financial thing – a three figure monthly income doesn’t quite stretch to a bed on legs and a mini-bar. 

 

It was for this very reason that I found myself ‘sleeping under the stars’ last August. My son and I had been invited to a family reunion at friend’s villa north of Malaga and I needed to find an affordable way of getting there. The plane was too expensive, the train was too complicated and after a particularly bad experience in a coach toilet as a teenager (I had food poisoning, it was coming out both ends and the toilet wouldn’t flush), I swore I would never get on a coach again: not even as a pensioner, and most definitely not as the mother of a 5-yr-old wriggly boy. Driving was my only option. In an old banger like mine, Toulouse to Malaga would take 3 days and I would have to stay in campsites on the way. Hurrah!

 

I didn’t want to drive. In fact, the thought of doing a 16 hr journey on my own with a small child filled me with dread. I was in a nasty car accident when I was 11 and it has left its scars, both physical and mental. Driving to Spain was my idea of hell, but I was determined not to let it beat me – this was going to be some heavy-duty therapy of the ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ kind.

 

 

The thought of having to camp was equally as pleasurable. As a child camping entailed gagging on warm UHT milk, throwing-up powdered orange juice, listening to my entire family pee in a bucket in the middle of the night and being bitten alive by mosquitoes – one year I got blood poisoning from just 1 bite. As a teenager it wasn’t much better. My greatest ‘tent moment’ was at the Reading festival. It was the year when it was particularly muddy and the toilets, which where a good 10 minutes from my tent, were overflowing and not worth the walk. I had drunk a bottle of cider and was busting for a wee. Out of desperation and in a lot of pain, I came up with my own portable toilet – a plastic bag from the supermarket…genius! It was about mid-flow that I began to feel a warm sensation on the back of my legs. The plastic bag had holes in it (the little ones to stop babies from suffocating that I had forgotten to check for) and my pee was spurting out in four different directions all over the tent. When my boyfriend returned several hours later and asked why his sleeping bag was ‘a bit damp,’ I said it was some cider (which does smell a bit like pee) I had spilt earlier – well, it is not something you can confess to at the time or in a blog either, probably!

 

When our day of departure (my day of reckoning) finally came, it was with deep joy that I entered my car. In true ‘Girl Guide’ style (they kicked me out for sticking my badges on with rubber glue, when I thought it showed initiative) I was fully prepared for the journey ahead. In the passenger seat lay my ‘anti-get-lost’ device – every motorway exit I needed to take, on 12 sheets of A4 paper courtesy of those thoughtful people at ‘Michelin Route Planner.’ In the boot was a flimsy, pop-up tent (perfect for the lazy camper like me) I had bought for 35 Euros from the local ‘budget’ supermarket and in the back – drowning in sweets, games, colouring pens and pillows – was my son, excited about going camping for the first time in his little life. 

 

We hit the first campsite in Huesca bang on schedule at 5 pm. I could have kissed the ground on arrival. I had managed to drive for 6 hours without getting lost or being involved in a pile-up – it is amazing what you can achieve when you put you mind to it! It was a nice enough place, just on the outskirts of town, but it was practically empty. We had our choice of pitches, so I chose one next to the toilets – no peeing in buckets, or bags, for me! The tent went up in a flash, I filled it with the sponge from my Ikea chairs (they make great mattresses) and within 30 minutes of arriving we were languishing by the pool. After a wonderful 3 course meal (with wine and not a drop of powdered orange juice in sight) we went to bed and slept like babies.

 

The following morning saw me wrestling with the tent. I twisted it this way and that, then wedged it between my knees while I tried to get hold of the cover, and just when I thought I had it licked, it would spring back up again and whack me in the face. After 10 minutes I admitted defeat, stuffed it behind the passenger seat, covered it with bags and slammed the door as fast as I could – hoping it wouldn’t explode in my son’s face. With the tent finally under control, we left for Santa Elena. This leg of the journey was a real slog. It was only 7 hours on the road but it felt like twenty. Not being able to share the driving was tough and I was really starting to tire. When we arrived at the second campsite all I wanted to do was dive into the swimming pool, have a good meal then fall onto my little bit of sponge. This time it wasn’t going to be quite so easy!

 

For a start, this campsite was nothing like the one we had stayed in the night before. It was busy and most of the people had permanent pitches, with fridges, comfy chairs and satellite television. These were ‘serious’ campers who no doubt laughed at part-timers like me. I was given a small parcel of land between 4 of the largest tents I have ever seen and as soon as I stepped out of the car I could feel myself being watched. I was wearing a floaty, black skirt that came just above the knee, a pretty, white shirt and a pair of sexy, 2 inch mules from LK Bennett (flat shoes do nothing for my legs in a short skirt.) They were wearing t-shirts, shorts and flip-flops – the appropriate camping attire! My tent exploded as soon as I opened the side door, so I had to carry it fully erect to the middle of my pitch. As I placed it on the ground I realised how ridiculous it looked in comparison to the surrounding tents: like something you might let a child play in, or a dog sleep in. What had been a lovely little tent last night now felt like a Wendy house – great! I still cringe today at what happened next. There was a slight wind so I decided that I had better use the pegs to secure the tent this time (the mattress had been enough to keep it in place the night before.) As I removed them from the bag I heard someone across the way chuckle and someone else mutter ‘you won’t be able to get those in the ground.’ He probably had a point, as they did look a bit spindly, but I smiled politely and carried on regardless. As I bent over to put the first peg in I could see a small gathering of about 6 of men – who had come out of their tents, beer in hand, to watch the show  – tilting their heads in unison as they tried to get an eyeful of my knickers, which were clearly on display! Trying to preserve what little dignity I had left, I quickly readjusted my position to one where my legs were bent and my knees were very firmly together. Leaning awkwardly to the right I began to tap away, praying the peg would go in. The ground was like cement and it bent on the first hit – shit! There was a small jeer from the sidelines and with flushed cheeks, I scurried round to the other side of the tent where I was far less visible and tried again. This time the peg bent right over – double shit! This was public humiliation of the worst kind. I knew exactly what they were thinking: ‘what is this silly, little, city girl with unsuitable footwear, skimpy, French knickers and a toy tent doing on a campsite?’ Or worse still: ‘maybe she has kidnapped her child and is on the run from her partner and the police ?’ I couldn’t have looked more out of place if I had tried.

 

Whatever they thought, they were gentlemen enough not to let me struggle on my own for too long. On seeing the sorry state of my pegs, one of the men took pity on me and decided to come to my rescue. Brandishing a king size mallet and some of the biggest rusty nails I have ever seen, he ran around my tent sliding them into the ground with about the same amount of effort it takes to put candles on cake. When he had finished, without uttering a word, he walked back to his tent, took a swig of beer and gave me the smuggest of grins – bastard! I said a few ‘grazias,’ grabbed my ‘stolen’ child and hid in the bar until I could slip back to my tent unnoticed under the dead of night! The following day I decided to reinforce my ‘mum on the run’ image and left at the crack of dawn. As I slid onto the motorway, only 3 hours away from the comfort a ‘real’ bed, I swore that for the return trip I would invest in some bigger pegs, and some even bigger knickers!

 

Falling Hair
July 4, 2008

Today I did something I didn’t want to do – I shaved my friend’s head. As the clippers ran across her scalp, the last few delicate wisps of what had been a beautiful head of hair floated to the floor – it was special hair, hair that she had longed to keep. When the last strand had fallen, I soaked a washcloth in warm water and placed it over her newly naked skin. I hoped its warmth would bring her comfort – from the sounds she made, I think it did. When I took the cloth away she looked beautiful, if a little sad. With eyes wide she turned to look at me – they echoed the uncertainty of what was to come. I saw fragility balanced by strength and I was moved. My friend has cancer. Today was the day she had feared the most. I hope she didn’t feel like she had faced it alone.

Turds in the Pantry – Bon Appétit
July 1, 2008

If you have read my last post, you will recall the nightmare we had getting the previous owners of the house we bought in France to move out. We had to live with them for 3 weeks before they finally decided to go – and only then because we forced them. When they left it was a joyous occasion. I celebrated by throwing open every window, shutter and door. It was a form of exorcism. As the fresh air came in the old was drawn out, and with it the negativity that had been building since our arrival was slowly replaced with a sense of calm.

 

My next task was to remove the net curtains. They kept out the light, obscured the view and in my opinion, were completely pointless! I can understand them in a busy village where there might be an issue with privacy, but in the middle of the countryside, where the views are so magnificent – it seems such a shame. If they had been made out of beautiful, old French lace they would have been worth keeping (on one or two of the windows), but they were new, they were nylon and there was no way I could live with them! I knew their removal would offend the previous occupants – who could see what I was up to from their new house in the next field – but this was partly why I was doing it. They had caused us so much grief that I wanted to cause some back. I knew how much they adored these nets (the farmer’s wife had once said how pretty they were), and in doing this I was sending a very clear signal, that they were out and we were in – petty, I know!

 

With the nets gone, it was time to give the place a damn good clean. I started in the spare room where the shutters looked as if they hadn’t been opened years. To get to the window I had to clamber over a mountain of black bin bags. There must have been at least a hundred, as I couldn’t see the floor, and in some places they were stacked as high as my head. They belonged to the previous owners (naturally) and were filled with all kinds of junk: empty jam jars, old clothes, magazines, wool, unwanted wedding presents, shoes, toys, material, glasses, broken kitchen equipment…..it was incredible. They were obviously hoarders and had been stockpiling this stuff for a while. I had asked them to clear the room when they moved out, but they ‘didn’t have enough storage space in their new house to accommodate it, so it would have to stay for a bit, if that was ok?’ It wasn’t, so I set about the long task of removing it myself. Up and down the stairs I went, bin bag after bin bag, until it was tucked out of sight in an outbuilding at the bottom of the garden. In hindsight, I should have chucked it out the window and ordered them to come and get it before it rained – being assertive has never been my strongpoint!

 

With the worst room sorted, my next stop was the pantry. It was under the stairs and looked like it hadn’t seen a wet cloth in years. It was a rubber glove job, and boy, was I glad to be wearing them when I came across this little beauty – A MUMMIFIED DOG TURD! It was vile! I have no idea how long it had been there but it was hard and it was dusty. I knew straightway whose little derrière it had popped out of – the previous owner’s incontinent Yorkshire terrier, Jessie. When we were living together, she was forever leaving little ‘presents’ on the floor and, more often than not, they would be accompanied by a small puddle of her delightful pee-pee. Her favourite place was at the foot of the stairs, which often caught you by surprise if you came down for a glass of water in the middle of the night or were a bit bleary-eyed in the morning. Wiping it off the hands and knees of my son – who was learning to crawl at the time – was also a pleasurable experience!

 

 

Unfortunately, Jessie’s little offerings were the least of our worries. What we found round the back of the house was far worse: let’s just say there was lots of it, it was human and it required more than a pair of gloves to remove…