I’m hosting a birthday party for my son.
First parent rolls up and deposits a kid.
We chit chat.
Then he looks at me, eyebrow raised quizzically à la Roger Moore – the universal parent’s sign for ‘What time shall I pick my kid back up?’.
‘Dix-sept heure’ I say.
‘Cinq heure?’ he replies.
I nod my head, mentally correcting my French lingo.
Parent two rolls up and deposits a kid.
We chit chat.
Then she looks at me, eyebrow raised quizzically à la Roger Moore – the universal parent’s sign for ‘What time shall I pick my kid back up?’.
‘Cinq heure’ I say
‘Dix-sept heure?’ she replies.
I nod my head, mentally screaming at the French lingo.
Parent three rolls up and deposits a kid.
We chit chat.
Then he looks at me, eyebrow raised quizzically à la Roger Moore – the universal parent’s sign for ‘What time shall I pick my kid back up?’.
I hold my hand up with five fingers splayed out, point at it and nod my head smiling.
Tune in next week to hear me moan as I try to work out when to say ‘des fois’ and when to say ‘parfois’
I sell things on eBay in France quite regularly.
It’s the same as in the UK really, except they don’t use decimal points, they use commas. This is a fairly easy thing to remember, but if you don’t know about it, you may end up nearly throwing your laptop through the window after your listing is rejected for the 12th time. Not that I’m speaking from experience or anything.
This frequent selling has led me to get to know the workers at my local post office quite well, especially Pierre. Pierre is a lovely friendly bloke in his mid-fifties, and was one of the first people in France to ask me to change from the ‘vous’ form to the ‘tu’ form.
I’m still waiting on my mother-in-law to ask me to do that.
I told Pierre to call me Phil, as I don’t like Phillip. I think being called Phillip is only good if you are being called it by your grandparents and, as I told him, they are all dead.
‘Ah yes!’ He said to me when I made this request ‘Like Phil Collins?’. I nodded my head at him, yes, just like Phil Collins.
But with more hair.
I nipped in the other day with a couple of eBay parcels to send off, and he dutifully attached the postage slips that I had already filled out, while I babbled on to him in my approximation of the French language.
Then two days later I received a message with a photograph attached from one of my buyers.
Receiving a message from one of your buyers on eBay is, generally speaking, never a good sign. I can count on one hand the number of buyers who have messaged me to say ‘This item is great, thanks so much!’ or ‘Thanks for the speedy dispatch, five stars!’. However the ones who have messaged me to complain would require the use of my hands and several others to count them.
I’m not saying I’m a bad seller, just that sometimes people have unrealistic expectations of what they have purchased, regardless of the lengths you go to to accurately describe the item. Like if you list something as ‘A big pile of junk’ with photographs highlighting the low quality of said junk, and point out how junky the junk is. Then they message you after receiving their junk and query why their big pile of junk is a big pile of junk. You get what I mean.
Also if you receive a message with a photograph attached forget it – you have a serious problem. If someone’s gone to the length of taking a photograph, and attaching it to an email then it’s not going to be of them smiling and wearing the jumper you’ve just sold them with a message saying ‘I LUVZ THIS JUMPER IT IS SO WARM AND SNUGGLY‘, equally it’s unlikely to be of the PS4 you sold them, slotted in next to their Orange Live box, with a caption stating ‘She looks beautiful next to my Orange LiveBox, I am going to give you a five star rating and PS I love you‘. No, that photograph will be exhibit ‘A’ in their case as to why they don’t like what you sold them, and why they want their money back now, please (please is optional – some people jump straight to swearys).
Turns out item one – which sold for around forty euros – had gone to buyer ‘A’ and item two – which sold for nearly four times that price – had gone to buyer ‘B’. This was a problem.
Thankfully both buyers were more than patient and polite, and both agreed to send the items back to me so that I could then swap them over, and send the correct item to the correct address. I of course apologised to them both profusely.
This had never happened to me before. Maybe I was getting old and forgetful?
Then I received the items back and realised what had happened. You see I always write the address down on the packages twice, once on the actual packages themselves, and then on the delivery note that is attached to it, kind of an insurance policy in case one of them falls off/is made illegible in any way.
The parcels each had the correct address written on them, it was simply the labels that had been attached incorrectly.
I explained this in a lengthy email to the two buyers, however I also stated that it was still my fault. You see I realised what the problem had been. It wasn’t that Pierre had mixed them up that was really the issue. Well, it was, but it wasn’t his fault.
No, the fault lay with the Englishman that had kept up an unending stream of French gibberish while he was trying to do his job, evidently causing him to become so distracted that he hadn’t been able to pay enough attention to what he was doing, and so had put the wrong labels on the packages.
I’ve re-posted the items and received the feedback and everybody is happy – albeit I’m out of pocket a few quid. I haven’t told Pierre about this mix up though, and I doubt I ever will.
However in future I’m going to wait to start talking ‘French’ to him until AFTER he has labelled up my packages.
I’m also going to buy him a bottle of wine for Christmas.
As well as a large box of headache tablets.
The missus has been working away a lot recently, last week in Birmingham in the UK and this week in Cannes in France. Birmingham to Cannes – that’s roughly the equivalent of one week in a Thailand prison vs one week in a…well, one week in Cannes.
This working away malarkey has led to me being on my own-some with the kids. Or should I say ‘kid’. You see at the moment my daughter is going through a somewhat annoying phase where she prefers the company of females. This is despite me raising her for the last six years. Therefore, to avoid unnecessary upset (for both her and myself), when my partner works away she stays with her grandma – or ‘mamie’, as they prefer to be called in France.
If I’m honest I really can’t complain too much, after all as anyone reading this who is a parent will know – or anyone with half a brain cell for that matter – one kid is much easier than two. I do still miss the kisses and cuddles at bedtime though, I’m not a completely cold-hearted monster.
So I’ve have had lot more time recently to spend just with my son, and this has led me to reflect on how similar we are to each other. It’s something that’s been pretty obvious for the last few years – or maybe since ‘day one’ if I really think about it – but these last few days have really hammered it home.
He loves reading, he loves having a laugh, he loves video games, he loves to draw, he loves films, he daydreams (a lot) he’s annoying, he whines (a lot) , he’s lazy (very) and sometimes I suspect he wouldn’t be able to find his glasses if they were sat right on the end of his nose. He’s also got a very high-pitched voice that can cut through any other conversation with all the effortless precision of a dentist’s drill.
Yup. He is me.
Obviously not all those characteristics still hold true for me. I’m nowhere near as lazy as I was when I was younger, but this is something that we often lose as we get older. Well, some of us anyway (I’m specifically thinking of my father here, who wouldn’t get out of bed even if his house was on fire, and whose catchphrase was ‘No’, usually in response to the question ‘Can you help me with *insert generic favour here*’ but more often in response to the question ‘Are you physically active?’.)
He even sits to read the same way that I do – curled up in a corner, one legged crossed over the other, completely lost in a far-away world. We both enter creative ‘fugues’ as well now and again – him much more often than me. This is where he becomes obsessed with creating some new thing, drawing some new creature or painting some new portrait. He will not be distracted from his goal until he is spent/it is finished (whichever comes first).
This, obviously, leads us to my daughter. Who is a perfect clone of her mother.
Organised. Strong-minded. Laid back. Friendly. Easy going. Mature.
Yes, unfortunately with this one I think a little bit of me slipped in during the ‘cloning procedure’.
Apart from that though, she is just a mirror image. 2/5 scale size mini-mum, if you like. This also means that she has a tendency to mother her older sibling, something that he used to find annoying, but which he is relying on and appreciating more and more (see: lazy.) Needs his shoes? His sister brings them. Needs more tomato ketchup on his chips? It’s already in her hands. His glasses are dirty? She’s cleaning them. Getting picked on by a bigger kid? She’ll beat them up for him (this last one is a joke, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it turned out to be true one day.)
Yes, we’ve cloned ourselves quite effectively, and can see ourselves in our kids each day. More and more as they get older.
He has blonde hair though.
Just like our old milkman did back in England.
I’m just saying….
Bit of before and after malarkey. I’ve got my exercise equipment set up in my garage and I got tired of working out in a gloomy, cobweb-infested cave, so decided to give it a face-lift.
I’ve fitted a material ceiling and will see long-term how that works out with regards to insects/dust but it gives it a fresh, airy look for now. If when I am doing pulls up I come back down with a face full of arachnids then I will fit a proper ceiling.
Hanging/floating chair in place so that me or the missus have a nice quiet place to come and read/nap/avoid kids.
Strip lighting in various places for when I’m working out at night/evening as the current one bulb is not up to the task of illuminating the whole room.
Picture is there so that while doing curls I can escape in my mind to a sunny place and imagine myself diving off the deck into the cool, fresh water (5 Euro in the reduced section of Aldi’s shit aisle). Took me a couple of weeks just doing the odd hour here or there, see what you think to the results … (apologies for quality of pics, I have a pauper’s phone).
All I ever seem to do at the moment is say negative things to the kids. And I don’t mean I’m just hurling abuse at them and saying nasty things – well, perhaps a bit. No, I mean all I’m ever saying is ‘no’ or ‘stop that’ or ‘give up’ or ‘put that down’ or…
The problem, for us anyway, is that they refuse to learn by their mistakes, so instead of understanding that what they have done is wrong, followed by them stopping doing it, they just do it again. It may not be that exact day, but they will inevitably repeat it.
Hitting each other, leaving rubbish everywhere, not doing what they are told, hitting each other, not tidying their rooms, interrupting people when they are talking, fidgeting ALL THE TIME, talking too loudly, being disrespectful, hitting each other…
I’ve been working a lot recently, in a travel and tourism office, and so my partner has had the kids to herself full time at the weekends, as tourism offices have family-unfriendly hours. This has led to her experiencing what I am only too familiar with: being bored by the sound of your own voice.
It’s generally after lunch that it hits you, after you have spent all morning with the kids, telling them to stop doing whatever it is they shouldn’t be doing. You sort of step outside of your body and start hearing what you sound like: a stuck record. A stuck record that just drones on and on and on in a Yorkshire accent.
I know some people may be thinking things like ‘why don’t you try to be nicer’ and ‘it’s your own fault’ and ‘what’s Yorkshire?’. And I wish I could be nicer and I know it’s my own fault to a degree, but I’m just not that sort of a parent. Oh and Yorkshire is a county in England.
Sometimes I see ‘positive reinforcement’ parents babbling away at their kids, in soothing tones, talking about ‘unkind words’ and ‘unkind hands’ and calling their kids things like ‘angel’ and ‘darling’ and ‘sweetheart’, and I want to be them.
But then I see their kids kick them in the knees two minutes later, before running away after refusing to eat their fruit-based-snack and I realise that they are just the same as I am. They are just fighting the natural order of things. But they will learn, they will turn to the dark side once Tarquin or Felicity has drawn ‘Mummy is a Dog’ on the wall in their own faeces.
I wonder if there will ever be a day when I get through a full 24 hours without shouting at my kids, a blissful day of no arguments, and no fighting. But that day will never come to pass, and I know why.
Because they are my kids, and they have my spirit flowing through them – and I was an even bigger dick in my day than they are.
And you know what, after all that moaning that I’ve just made you read? I don’t think I would really want to have it any other way…
…OK, maybe a quiet Saturday morning once a year would be nice. One can but dream…
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.
- I need to work on my pronunciation.
- I need to learn to differentiate between the French word for queue – queue – and the French word for arse – cul.
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.
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!!!