Close to home…

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This is something I wasn’t going to post as it’s a bit ‘outside my wheelhouse’ so to speak, as well as being somewhat political. However I’m tired of all the handwringing that goes on in my old country (England) for other countries – mainly by people on Facebook and other social media platforms – when we/they have more than enough problems of their own to deal with.

This is not to say I am in anyway wanting to diminish from some of the atrocities, the slaughter that goes on in other countries, not at all. However when you see/read about some of the things that are ongoing in England, with nary a word being spoken or very little in the way of effective action being taken, things like this just grate.

 

Why do we cast our net so wide

when death and bloodshed are right outside

We look across the oceans deep

While down the road the children weep

For deaths in America our tears they pour

But rape and murder is on our shore

Why try to take guns out of foreign hands

While troubles multiply in our homelands

The guns still fire, the deaths still mount

The girls in England are raped, do they not count?

The young in London are killed on a daily basis

And yet here we are, worrying about distant places

So before ranting about lives that guns have marred

Maybe look first at the problems in your own back yard

A Brit In Need…

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I’m working in a tourism office in France at the moment. A desperate-looking English woman came in today. They usually look a bit desperate when they come in here. Either for an English-speaker or for the toilet.

Or both.

‘Can you help me?’ she says to me ‘I’m out of books, are there any bookshops round here that sell books in English?’.

I lean out of the doorway and scan the sleepy French high street for a WH Smiths, not finding one I report back to her: ‘No’

However not wanting to leave a fellow Brit bereft of books – especially as she’s here for two more weeks and she’s  read both of her John Grisham’s and her one (large) Harlan Coben* – I tell her that I will see if we have any at home.

‘My partner likes Harlan Coben’ I tell her ‘She’ll probably have a few tucked away, come back tomorrow and I’ll give them to you’ .

‘But you have to promise to take Fifty Shades Of Grey and Bridget Jones’ Diary as well’ I silently add in my mind.

She comes back the next day, a hopeful smile beaming on her face.

‘She didn’t have any’ I tell her, instantly crushing her dreams of detectives or lovers or vampires or aliens or whatever Harlan Coben writes about.

She looks so crestfallen that I tell her I’ve got some English-language books lying around she can have, but they’re nothing like Harlan Coben (or maybe they are?) but she is welcome to them. And some of them may be Fifty Shades of Grey and Bridget Jones’ Diary.

‘Anything!’ she says joyfully ‘I’ll take anything!’

She may regret that when she sees what I have found for her.

Have you ever seen such an eclectic mix of books?

 

*She showed them to me as some sort of ‘proof of readership’ or something, I’m not really sure.

 

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Butt In The Queue…

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She was milling around in front of me and I had a trolley full of items and two kids, so I needed to know what the French lady near the tills was doing. ‘Are you in the queue?’ I said to her. She turned around, gave me a withering look and headed off in the opposite direction. I didn’t mind, I just joined the line and waited my turn.

Later on that day I bumped into my friend in the bakery shop. As usual we were at the back of around 15 people. ‘It’s always busy in here isn’t it?’ I said to him. He nodded his agreement. ‘Always such a big queue’ I added. He looked at me, puzzled. ‘What?’ he said to me. ‘In here, there’s always a big queue’. ‘Yes’ he replied, turning away and still looking somewhat puzzled.

Following these exchanges, and after conferring with my (French) missus and my (French) work colleagues I have come to the following conclusions.

  1. I need to work on my pronunciation.
  2. I need to learn to differentiate between the French word for queue – queue – and the French word for arse – cul.

Bloody kids…

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‘You speak French badly’ she says to me.

‘I speak English better than you though’ I says to her.

‘NO!’ she says to me.

‘What does antidisestablishmentarianism mean?’ I says to her.

That shut her up.

I walked away from that exchange with a smile on my face, the clear victor, having put her in her place.

Knowing my five-year-old daughter though, she’ll probably go and look that word up. Bloody kids.

Fun With Numbers…

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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.

Great, Now I Hate My Voice In Two Languages…

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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’.

It wasn’t.

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”

‘Poulailler?’

‘No, Poulailler’

‘Poulailler?’

‘No, Poulailler’

‘Poulailler?’

‘Nearly, it’s Poulailler’

‘Poulailler?’

‘No, Poulailler’

‘Poulailler?’

‘No, 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.

Mr Home Improvement…

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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) 

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Games I Play With My Kids (That I Invented)…

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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.

 

Poo Lamps

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?

Her: Yes.

Me: And do you sell Anchovies?

Her: Yes.

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 Blame Me, And I’m Not Alone…

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‘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’.

What’s wrong with me?

I’m going to let them listen to STEPS next.

Tragedy? Yes, yes it is.

King Of The Castle…

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So we’re having work done on our road at the moment, to drag us kicking and screaming into the 21st century and upgrade our internet to fibre. Woooh!

This has resulted in a LOT of upheaval to parking, traffic, access etc. etc.

One of the bonuses from all this work however is all the machinery that the workers use. The kids love it.

They especially love it when the workers dump a ton of rocks right outside our front door too. I look at it and see something vaguely annoying, and wonder why they couldn’t put it somewhere else.

This is because I am old and grumpy.

My kids see something else, this is because they are young, and have fresh eyes. They see Everest and want to conquer it. So that’s what my son did:

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Yay! Round of applause! Now go clean your bedroom…son? Son? Why are you running away????