Monday, 17 September 2012

Clowning in Dublin

I had been clowning around among my family and friends for many years (36, if I am to be completely honest) when I decided to look for clowning workshops in Dublin. My excuse was to look into the possibility of creating a clown workshop for toddlers. That was my official reason, but I think I also had a hidden agenda, whether I knew it or not.

So I went up to Belfast on my own for a whole weekend of training, back in January. I met Simon Thompson from the Limerick-based Orchard Theatre Company and learnt the basic principles of clowning. It was fascinating and hugely instructive. Yet the experience, in all, was quite traumatic. Imagine standing in front of a dozen strangers with the ambition to make them laugh – and no script.


Much scarier than the classic nightmare where you suddenly find yourself stark naked in front of everybody you know from school or from work. And even scarier than jumping out of a plane, albeit with a parachute, and that’s saying something – I know that from experience.

In short, they didn’t laugh.

'S'not fair!' I thought. The other ‘students’ all got laughs for their solo skits. Incidentally, they were all professional performers of one sort or another. So was it that they were good and I was crap? Or was it – the most likely explanation, I felt – that they were all ganging up on me? They all knew each other from before and wouldn’t let me be part of the in-crowd, I knew… My rampant paranoia was getting the better of me, and I feared that maybe I’d knocked on the wrong door and clowning wouldn’t provide the sort of therapy I needed.

Although I’d choose a good laugh over a good couch any day.

So I was shook-up and vexed – among other things. I suppose it’s not as painful as breaking your shoulder (been there too), but it was really tough. Not to mention Simon’s verdict: ‘It looks like your clown is childlike and vulnerable.’ (Which is exactly, needless to say, what I don’t want to be.) ‘You seem to need love even more than laughs.’

I felt like I’d seen a shrink and he’d turned on me. But it got me thinking. I started digging deeper. Without medical help, I’ll hastily add. I was bruised, but I was hooked. I decided to go and study with world-famous drama and clowning master Philippe Gaulier, who, as luck will have it, is teaching a workshop in London soon. London is close enough, and I’ve been taught to always get back on the horse after a fall.

I am petrified though, because that week-long enterprise sounds like serious stuff aimed at professionals and Gaulier is well-known for saying ‘This is shit’ when you suck, so I thought a little training in the meantime would help. Luckily a friend pointed out another workshop that would take place before the Gaulier one, and in Dublin this time. This is how I met Susan Coughlan and Piotr Bujak, who follow the approach of Nose to Nose. A wonderful, wonderful day. I left their 8 hour-long workshop at the Lantern Centre with shaky legs and an ecstatic grin on my face.

I’d met really interesting people. I only caught a glimpse of the other ‘students’, even though I chatted with most of them, because each of us were on our own personal journey, but these were moving and meaningful human encounters all the same. You get to know a lot about someone when they (metaphorically) strip naked in front of you. Such beautiful moments, such intriguing characters. ‘I loved being a human being’, one of them commented earnestly after an exercise involving trust and letting someone guide you while you kept your eyes shut.

The teachers were brilliant – hilarious, subtle and encouraging. I’d got lost on my way to the workshop in the morning, ringing the doorbell of sleepy strangers (I won’t go into how street numbers are organised in Ireland, because I might be the only one in this country who does not find it perfectly natural that number 17 is not next to numbers 18 and 19 in an ordinary Dublin street, but all the way over next to number 39), then, when I located the Lantern Centre at last, I was gently but firmly led to a yoga class by a smiley giant – I quite like yoga and smiley giants, but I sure am glad I eventually found what I was looking for. Very few clowning workshops are available in Ireland, Susan told me, and it’s a shame because it can be so beneficial. ‘Especially for Irish people’, she mysteriously added.

Albeit being a Frog, I certainly learnt a lot. But for me, the highlight of the day was the solos. I've done two improvisations in front of the class and they were a hit. Ahem, am still gloating. Everybody seemed to be laughing. It’s a huge deal for a shy little mouse like me. Especially after my first attempt was such a bitter flop. Once on stage, even though it was a makeshift stage, I felt like I had reached a state of grace where I wasn’t scared anymore, and I could stop analysing everything. My body and my instincts took over. My emotions were taking the lead instead of my rational mind. I felt a sort of communion with the spectators, who were helping me along, guiding me with their laughter. I had gotten them to like me because I was true, I was myself and I was everybody else as well, I was sharing universal miseries and turning them into something funny – for my sake and the public’s. Ah, the bliss of hearing the laughs. It felt magical, surreal. I was completely present and yet I wasn’t totally there. I was absolutely myself and yet I was transfigured. All of a sudden, everything seemed to make sense.

Oops, getting lyrical here. At home that night, an unconvinced Mr Grumble asked me what I’d done on stage to deserve such a success. I wish he’d been there. I wish you had been there. I’m not sure I would be able to explain properly, to recreate the sheer comedy of it with words. Hell, I’m not even sure I would be able to do it again. There is no recipe. Basically, I hid behind a blanket. And in the second bout, I dressed up and made a fake phone call. That’s the story line. The rest was… Was it magic? I simply went with the flow.

Piotr had just introduced a notion that was new to me: Grammelot (or Grommelot in French), aka gibberish or gobbledygook – the sort of made-up language that is sometimes used in comedy and that George Orwell might have called Clownspeak – and it opened a huge door for me. Until then, I’d been a silent clown. Because I like the beauty of silence, and because I was too shy to use my voice. But my clown was lacking a dimension, and when I added sound, I added the power of emotion.

(Thinking it would sound hilarious to English-speaking people, I had tried ranting in French in front of a stony-faced audience at my first workshop, and wisely concluded that using my mother-tongue wasn’t working for my clown. Not in Ireland anyway.)

So I went for inarticulate sounds. This allowed me to express myself without thinking too much. I regaled my public with an uncensored flow of squeaky and burbling sounds, and they seemed to get exactly what I meant. They were nodding and laughing and sharing my emotions.

At that stage I was wearing a red rain hat, a yellow robe tied to the front of my body like an apron and a flowery scarf hanging down my back like a cape on top of my normal chequered shirt, black leggings and big (I can’t help it if I’ve long feet) clownish shoes. My emotional level was pretty high and I was feeling quite self-conscious about my attire – but no more than I had when I’d left home with my normal gear on in the morning, unsure I’d found something appropriate and nice-looking to wear. Which is a big problem for somebody as coquettish as I am. Soon after I’d gotten out the door, I nearly turned back to go and change, at the risk of arriving late, until I realised that looking silly was actually the whole point of the day ahead. I used that in my improv.

Piotr interestingly pointed out that clowning is not really about the laughs you get, or about being liked. It’s about being yourself.

Being yourself. A worthy goal.

Life can get stifling when you always bottle up your emotions and do what is expected of you – or what you think is expected of you. Now I look at my 3 year-old Little Miss Sunshine and I can see how she is the perfect clown. I don’t want to be all about the rules and washing your hands and getting to school on time and tidying up the mess in the house. I realise that she is right when she climbs on the neighbour’s wall and dances on the table and stops after every step to admire a dandelion or a stone, and insists on wearing odd socks and a rug for a hat. The world would be a better place if more people were clowning around instead of acting all bland and stuck-up and accepting things the way they are.

This workshop has made me hopeful. At times I feel unsatisfied with my life and I want to change it. I have so many dreams. Impossible dreams, maybe. But clowning no longer seems impossible.

‘I can do this’, I thought giddily on my way home. ‘And maybe I will.’

Friday, 27 April 2012

If you're happy and you know it, clap your hands

I met a wonderful madman outside school today. Little Miss Sunshine was in a huff because I'd just refused to carry her (the bloody shoulder still acting up, added to the fact that the Little Miss weighs a trifling 18 tons), when he started talking to her. Trying to cheer her up, he pointedly addressed her in a heavily accented French even though it obviously wasn't his native language — I guess he is the father of a child attending the same school, because a young boy was sitting in his car, cowering away. My heart went out to him, as I had the same sort of dad when I was growing up: loud, funny and outrageous, saying weird things to total strangers, constantly making a show of himself.

The car, by the way, was quite something as well. I had noticed it before and I loved it: it was very old and decorated with dozens of magnets, stickers and furry toys. Was it for the amusement of the child or that of the parent, I idly wondered. Meanwhile, your man had started pretending that the stuffed shark affixed to the roof rack was devouring his arm and was growling theatrically. That got him a smile from my grumpy offspring. Then she noticed a fluffy cat on the roof of the car and pointed at it with a determined look while miaowing for Ireland. Your man promptly gave it to her, adding that the cat was sad because it only had one eye, and drove away in his old weezing car. He had never said a word to me.

I was left there gaping, open-mouthed. At first, when the man had popped out, I wasn't sure if I should maybe grab my child under one arm and bolt. Finally, I mumbled an awed "Thank you" before he disappeared. As I said, that kind of behaviour reminds me of someone and I find it endearing, now that I have shed my cringing adolescent skin. Little Miss Sunshine is the happiest little girl ever with her new sooty and frayed one-eyed friend. This man is my hero of the day.

It certainly isn't my doctor, because my eyes are worse than ever. I was weary of him from the start anyway, as while I was listing my symptoms, he made several attempts at spelling "nauseous" before he gave up, leaving it at "nauceis". Honestly, aren't these people supposed to study for about a decade before they get their licence? A week on, I still decidedly have that vampire look with my bloodshot eyes. Maybe it's a professional hazard and I should stop translating teen fiction — though my current opus is about firebreathers and not bloodsuckers. Or maybe I am getting magical powers — one look and I can kill you instantly if you don't behave. Watch out, Mr Property Manager...
Ooh, darling, you have such beautiful red eyes

Before you ask, yes, the house is still leaking from various places and the latest development is that the air vent fell off in Little Miss Sunshine's bedroom. I guess I shouldn't be surprised as, typically, it was held in place with sticky tack. Behind the vent, I discovered a ragged gaping hole full of rubble, with a loose bit of rusty wire mesh fluttering in front of it. Basically nothing stops the howling winds and the crawling beasts from rushing into my baby's bedroom. I went crazy with sticky tape, then angrily typed a passionate missive to my BFF from the management company. I know he will just blissfully ignore it, but I am plotting my revenge. The wrathful forces of the County Council will soon be set loose on him. Wait and see. (Told you my ruby eyes are a sign of superpowers.)

As for the car, a wonderful mechanic fixed it for free, but it went on to fail its NCT test. Considering I only just bought it a few months ago, it is rather vexing. But I am looking into the bike issue and in the meantime, we can always walk to school (it would only take about an hour). Never mind the lashing rain, we are hardly going to melt. I will let nothing undermine my morale.

So all in all, a nice, uneventful week. I watched a harsh Canadian film called Incendies ("Fires"), reminiscent of a Greek tragedy even though it is about Lebanon in the last 3 or 4 decades, and I suddenly felt really happy in my life. Lucky, even. I think I might buy a lottery ticket (really need that damned bike).

Monday, 23 April 2012

My house hates me, part II

Today I saw a red and yellow sunset and I thought, How insignificant I am! 
Of course, I thought that yesterday too, and it rained. 
I was overcome with self-loathing and contemplated suicide 
again — this time by inhaling next to an insurance salesman.
Woody Allen

Today I was staring at the latest leak in my home and I got so depressed I contemplated inhaling next to a property manager. In 6 months, TWENTY differents parts of the house have stopped working, fallen apart or started leaking profusely. Naturally, I have to harass the management company for weeks or even months each time to get them to fix it. And they don't go down without a fight. I have to resort to photographic evidence and lyrically detailed correspondence and a stubborn determination. This morning, my incredibly rude property manager informed me that the landlady has had it with us and would rather see us go than pay for another repair. He was yelling at me because I ring him every week about a new problem in the house.

Wait a minute there. Shouldn't it be the other way around?

You've heard about the quirks of our house before. Indeed every week brings new excitement: the lock in the front door gets permanently stuck; it starts raining heavily in the living room, right under the bathtub; the oven won't work; the window won't close; lately, around the time we found suspicious poo in the garden, the flush started producing scary clanking sounds as if the pipes were about to explode, and a faulty heater flooded my daughter's bed. The management company eventually sent us a plumber.

Like many other things, plumbing in Ireland can be... I'm looking for the right word. Poetic? Inventive? Neurotic? Each repairman we've seen was crazier than the next. Our latest has provided a fair amount of entertainment.

For starters, when he rang me, the first thing he said was a flirtatious "Bonjour". I had no idea who was calling me, so I found it a little scary that a total stranger was addressing me this way. He couldn't possibly have found me out just by the way I say "Hello"! (Apparently, as I discovered later, plumbers gossip among themselves and your man had chatted with a colleague.) Yeah, I'm French. So what? And why do non-French people always imagine it's cute to lavish their two broken words of French on any unsuspecting Gallic creature coming their way? Do they think it makes them irresistible? Help!

When he arrived, he started working on the heater in Little Miss Sunshine's bedroom and... immediately proceeded to flood said bedroom. Oddly enough, he wasn't prepared for that, so he just grabbed an empty Lego box that was lying there and used that to collect the water pouring out of the pipe — and I'm talking black, sticky water here. Then he realized the dratted box has little holes in the bottom. Admittedly toy boxes aren't usually meant to be used as a plumbing device, but your man was shocked nonetheless and complained to my stunned friend G., who was visiting. He used up an entire roll of toilet paper from our bathroom to clean the mess and... blocked the toilet with it. But this didn't deter him from emptying the faulty radiator in there too. Oh no. When I found him staring at the black liquid ominously filling the bowl up to the rim, he shamelessly insisted the toilet must have been blocked before he arrived...

I guess I just don't get the Irish sense of humour.

When he ran out of toilet paper, he just used one of our bath towels as a floorcloth to wipe the remaining black goo. And this bundle of fun went on for two days as he didn't have the part he needed to fix the heater. The next day, your man repaired the flush, and immediately after that the cistern overflowed. Apparently, he had never seen that happen. But he did fix it eventually, leaving in his wake a trail of black fingerprints and wet patches around the house. After this memorable visit, the central heating didn't work anymore. And the toilet cistern was leaking.

Here it might be amusing to note that my new best friend — our property manager — angrily wondered why we still have plumbing problems in the house since he sent us a very competent professional plumber a short time ago. I admit I guffawed a bit at that, yet I didn't have the heart to set him straight. But to our landlady's dismay, we do need another visit from a "competent professional", because we still have leaks here, including an abnormal amount of water pouring out of the side of the house. Admittedly, it's gushing outside, not inside. So why do I complain?

As for my mystery pooper, I haven't identified him yet. I did spot a stray cat in the garden, but it was only... eating the lilies.
I know, it's odd.

Ah, well, it's just one of those weeks. I don't know how much more fighting it will take to get a leak-free house, and a sudden bout of conjunctivitis makes me look like a rabbit with myxomatosis or a severe drug problem. To top it all, my car now keeps stalling every time I slow down, so maybe my next post will be "My car hates me". Told you I need a bike... (and maybe a voodoo doll or something.)

Saturday, 14 April 2012

I love Paris in the springtime...

Last time I wrote, a heater had flooded my daughter's bedroom, a fox or some other unidentified creature was pooping in our garden, Little Miss Sunshine was decidedly acting like a teenager ten years early and work was being slightly nerve-racking. To cut a long story short, we were in dire need of a holiday.

So the prospect of our imminent week in Paris, even though I mostly go there to see grumpy relatives, unsympathetic bankers and useless doctors, seemed rather exciting. But the trip didn't start well. At Dublin airport, a security guy demanded that I throw away Little Miss Sunshine's milk bottle and fruit pouch before we went through. Now, I travel a lot and I am aware of the whole liquids-and-pastes-in-a-plastic-bag shenanigan. I come well prepared, everything is neatly packed in 100 ml containers, and albeit the inane regulations, nobody at an airport security checkpoint had ever asked me to throw away my baby's stuff, even if there was an offensive 200 ml of it. As opposed to the highly dangerous toothpaste and shampoo, growing-up milk and organic fruit purée didn't seem to pass as potential explosives. The worst these people had come up with before was to have her taste some of it in front of them. No big deal.

But this guy wouldn't be budged. Bin it or leg it. And I, the shy little mouse, went ape. To my credit, he really wasn't helping. He declared that only infant food was allowed and that my child was not an infant (hell, she's 3; admittedly, she's 3 going on 13, but his absurd heroism was about to guarantee me and everybody else on the plane a milk withdrawal-induced 2 hour-long tantrum), and he argued that I could buy her a burger and fries as soon as we cleared security. Let's just say I'm not a big fan of junk food, so you can imagine how I liked that sensitive suggestion. Niceties were exchanged, while Little Miss Sunshine started piling up the plastic trays and climbing on the conveyor belt. "It's not a playground here, Ma'am", he helpfully added. Then came the highlight of our conversation: "Those are not stupid rules, Ma'am, those are aviation rules."

When I left my new friend, in shock because of my fresh discovery of the world's stupidity and my inner vengeful Gorgon, I was clinging to my trophy: the milk I'd managed to hang on to. After a teary phone call to Mr Grumble, who had to stay in Dublin because of work ("I briefly turned into YOU! I cried. And I didn't enjoy the experience!"), I took a deep breath and braced myself for the long and exhausting adventure of travelling alone with a lively 3 year-old, 2 heavy bags and an injured arm.

My treacherous family had insisted the temperature in Paris would be a summery 20 to 25°C all week, so I arrived in open-toed sandals, cool shades, a short-sleeved top and an eager smile to be met by... a freezing cold. Grey clouds, biting rain, chilly wind — I really don't see why my French relatives and friends feel compelled to mock us poor sods who live in Ireland. I dearly regretted the nice, warm jumpers and scarves I'd left at home.

Yet I have to say I appreciate Paris now that I only visit my home town as a tourist. Not everyone is rude and hurried, and there are a lot of nice things to do, eat and drink. Even Irish whiskey is cheaper there than in Ireland, as logic will have it. And they do bake a mean croissant. Not to mention the sizzling sunshine they get in the springtime. Usually. Nonetheless, staying with your folks when you're old enough to say you did something 20 years ago can be rather trying.

Almost disappointingly, my various family crises didn't come to an explosive end, so nothing extraordinary happened, apart from a humongous hangover gained from a night out with my 22 year-old brother. Trust me, I like my wine and my whiskey, so I'm a veteran, but I NEVER had it that bad. From what I remember of it, our night was great fun. The only problem was that my younger brother has worked as a barman and knows a lot of nice people who lavished a lot of free drinks on us. When I woke up the next morning around 2 pm, I got up and immediately lay back down, lest I would pass out.  No, it was never, ever that bad.

Our Dad looked stern; he was about to host an important meeting at home. We had to either be presentable in less than half an hour or vacate the premises. My brother had stumbled into the sofabed with his shoes on and looked rough. I felt so horrible that I actually considered attending the meeting, as I didn't feel fit for travel. But I really couldn't. Giving up the idea of taking a shower when my brother mumbled "What for?", I quickly gathered my stuff and ran for the door with my grey-faced sibling in tow. Suddenly the thought of crawling home to Mum seemed strangely appealing.

It took forever. We may have taken a few wrong turns here and there. We certainly didn't manage to grab lunch on the way — too complicated. And the métro is the most loathsome thing. Crowded, noisy, dirty, shaky... But we did make it to our mum's place eventually, and she delivered the compassion and the food we craved. Little Miss Sunshine had spent the night at her grandmother's and I was wondering how competent a mum I would manage to be in my current exhausted and sickly state. Amazingly, my sweet little demon went up to bed spontaneously when it was still technically the afternoon and fell asleep on her own without dinner. Needless to say, this had NEVER happened before as she usually needs a lot of milk, stories, songs and hugs to grudgingly go to sleep around the time I feel ready for bed too. I guess she too had been partying quite hard at her Gran's place the day before. Unless it's the sight of my hungover self that shocked her into an early sleep.

Over the week, Little Miss Sunshine and I gorged on chocolate, checked that each and every member of our family is still barking mad*, caught a few bugs, met a few friends and used the métro far too much, and our holiday was over before we knew it. On the plane back to Dublin, between a coughing and a sneezing fit, I got a fresh gust of the Irish sense of humour when a voice said over the loudspeakers: "The weather is bright and sunny between the showers."
Aaaaaah. Home, sweet home.

*I might say more on the topic of my dysfunctional family later. For now, suffice it to say that my medical student of a younger brother uses his slippers to pratice his stitching abilities...
Oh, and I'm sorry if this post sounds more like a lamely ironical whine than an Ella Fitzgerald song. Will try to do better next time.

Wednesday, 28 March 2012

Too cool for school

Aaagh! School. I used to like school when I was a little girl — I expected Little Miss Sunshine to like it too. But the first few months have been tough, as I have mentioned in earlier posts. For starters, the kiddies are due in class at 8.25 sharp, which means we are expected to get up at 7 am. Now what proper human can stand that? I'm happy to report that my daughter is a proper human — she definitely likes her sleep. She didn't take to being dragged out of bed at the crack of dawn too well and tended to mutate into a bawling yeti (a bit like her mum used to in similar situations, I guess — it's in our genes). Next she would stubbornly refuse to get dressed and quite efficiently stave off my attempts to pull down a T-shirt or pull up a pair of trousers on her wriggling body. Even the peace pipe (a bottle full of milk) didn't help much as the Little Miss was too proud to accept the bribe.

I'll just skip the part where she bluntly refused any sort of food I tried to offer as breakfast. The next of our morning delights was trying to hoist up a struggling she-devil weighing nearly 20 kg into her car seat. Please shoot whoever invented those blasted things right now. Why do car seats have to be so goddamn complicated? Little Miss Sunshine's one (her nickname was never meant to be ironical, by the way) is so ridiculously bulky and high that I have to press her poor little head against the ceiling of the car in order to get her little bum in. (Quite a feat in itself as I'm still recovering from an injured shoulder and elbow I broke some time ago.) I am already the only person I know who is able to adjust and fasten the seat belt of the contraption at the best of times, so closing the buckle on my miniature bucking bronco in the morning is a herculean task.

Then, crying tears of frustration, I'm left to face the morning traffic. Oh joy. About three hundred cars driving in both directions in a maze of narrow little streets with space for only one line of traffic around the school, maneuvered by crazed people who are so late and flustered they think it's OK to drive on the footpath or veer onto your lane because somebody's car is actually parked in their way. These people make angry gestures at you if you have the cheek to cross their path, and try to barge their way past you at any cost. Let's just say this is not where I make new friends. I was never that fond of bumper cars anyway.

(I'm begging Mr Grumble to let me cycle to school, but he's too scared our little girl would get run over. Seeing how most people drive around here — often without a licence as that trivial sort of paperwork was totally optional in Ireland until recently —, I must admit he has a point.)

The rest was easy: parking the car somewhere on somebody's flowerbed, dragging the tearful wench up the hill and into her school, and lastly peeling her off my leg to push her into class (which took about half an hour as the little mite is as strong as an ox and fiercely determined), while simultaneously trying to stop her from sticking out her tongue at the admittedly stern teacher. Then trudging back to my car with a heavy heart, wondering if moving here and enrolling her into that school was the biggest mistake ever.

Then there were the other parents. It was rather comical in the beginning when we were all looking at each other shyly at finishing time while waiting for our offspring to be released. It felt like we were back at school ourselves and wondering who would be our friends. But mostly it felt very weird to be one of them — an adult. I have no problem with the notion that I am somebody's mother, but somehow I was still seeing myself as this sort of kooky teenager who is not quite sure what she wants to do when she grows up. Waiting outside school with the rest of the old folks has made me realize I have gone over to the dark side — adulthood. Gah. (Or have I?)

Salvation came from the dark side though, because it really soothed me to find out they'd been just as miserable as we had for the first few months. Playdates helped too. Little Miss Sunshine soon announced that she had a best friend. (Never mind the fact that said best friend seems to be a different person every day.) Five months on, life is easier. No tears in the morning. But Little Miss Sunshine still stubbornly keeps her mouth shut all day in school — won't say a single word to her teachers, and would often rather miaow to her friends than use any sort of human language. She makes up for all that silence once she gets home, so there is no need to worry about her speech abilities. I just wish my little rebel would enjoy school a bit more, poor sod. I mean hey, you can see the sea from the schoolyard!

So we're now looking forward to the Easter holidays. We're going to Paris but I'm close to dreading it — I'm going home to a bunch of family problems and a string of assorted doctors who may or may not help with my mangled arm. Ah well. The more horrible the experience, the better the tale should be afterwards...

Saturday, 24 March 2012

My house hates me

Gorgeous, scorching day today — it must have been about 17°C, which is great for Ireland. (Mr Grumble's comment: it's probably the best day we will have all year.) Little Miss Sunshine started playing in her sun tent outside, while Mr Grumble took care of his garden and I tried to sunbathe. We even had lunch outside. It looked like nothing could dampen the mood — not even Mr G's comments or the neighbour starting to mow the lawn right the instant we sat down for lunch.

Later on Mr Grumble came back from the garden with a pale face. "Have you seen a dog around here? There is a dog turd in my vegetable patch." He was so shocked he didn't even start a rant.

Now, Mr G and I hate dogs. We are not moved in the slightest when a dog stares at us with wet, servile eyes, or rubs its groin adoringly against our leg, or pees on our bike, or barks at us, or leaves a turd on the beach where our little one like to gambol. We usually share bitter words rather than melting glances with their owners. Mr G was even bitten by a dog once, and trust me, he is one to bear a grudge. In short, we are not big fans of dogs in the first place, so this was like THE UNTHINKABLE had happened.

I went out to enquire and, sure enough, there was a big, soft turd in the middle of Mr G's dirt patch. The horror! Oddly, I suddenly imagined my mother saying, "Oh well, it's good fertilizer!" But that sort of fertilizer on our fragrant basil and fresh peas, and worst of all, on my little girl's future raspberries? That really gave me the shivers. I looked around. We are at the end of a row of terraced houses. Our next-door neighbours don't have a dog and, on the other side, a high wall separates us from the next development. There is no way a dog could climb something this high. A cat? "It would have to weigh 20 kg to produce this", retorted Mr G., ever the scientist.

Back inside, tried to forget the unpleasant incident while Mr G heroically removed the offensive thing from his vegetable patch. Miracle of miracles, Little Miss Sunshine went down for a nap without screaming the house down (or only for a few minutes, anyway). When she emerged all refreshed and in a delicious mood after her reluctant two-hour rest (luxury!), I realised that she had gotten her own back by wetting her bed. Or had she? Turned the mattress over: huge stain on the cover, the whole floor was dripping wet underneath and the floorboards had even started to lift up. Quite a pee. Actually the culprit was the heater. I had indeed noticed a little leak (and dutifully informed the property manager, who couldn't care less), but I had failed to realize it was that bad.

I am a rather patient person but this is about the SEVENTEENTH problem we have in this house (see previous post). Leaking washing machine, neurotic oven, unhealthy fridge, dud lights, stuck locks, draughty windows, dripping ceiling... I'm not even mentioning the assorted holes, cracks, missing tiles, dangerous nails sticking out of walls, peeling wallpaper and the altogether APPALLING work that has been done in this place. And I really don't like it when the appliances actually start attacking my daughter's bed. Will have to move said bed (a plain mattress laid directly on the sodden floor) to another corner of her postage stamp-sized bedroom until the agency sorts this out (around the same time next year probably).

Have you ever had the feeling that your house hates you? You know, when the problems pile up so high that you just want to give up? At first, when you have just moved in, you fanatically repair and repaint the tiniest scratch or stain, and you call the property manager as soon as the plumbing hiccups. After months or years of vain phone calls and ignored emails, you start thinking it's not the end of the world if it rains in the living room. (I did, anyway. In another lifetime.) But eventually, it gets so bad that you start feeling ready to endure the trauma of moving house... yet again.

We're not quite there yet — after all, we haven't been here six months and I want to enjoy some time in this house with NOTHING TO FIX. It's a matter of pride. It should work out eventually. I am an optimistic kind of girl.

Was writing that when Mr G called: "There's ANOTHER dog turd in the garden!"

Went to have a look. Nah, this is too small to be a dog's turd. (I am a specialist of faeces. After all, I translated two books on the subject: A Natural History of the Unmentionable and What's Your Poo Telling You? by an eminent MD!) It could be owl poo, I said, look, it's all hairy from all the rodents it had eaten... Mr G didn't agree. Insisted it was just from a dog with a hairy arse. Then came up with what is probably (alas) the right answer: "It could be a fox!"

I like foxes. Cute little red balls of fur. But I am not too fond of the idea of a fox coming that close to us, especially if it is to do its business right outside the kitchen window. Will keep an eye out...
I just need to know who's pooping in my garden.

(And for those of you who wondered: no, Mr Grumpy is not THAT ill-behaved.)

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The slight trauma of moving house...

I'm back. Started blogging a few years ago, but it was about my life in Ireland and yet I was writing in French, so it didn't really work. Then, to top it all, I was permanently put off when I found out I had reached my maximum quota of uploaded photos and couldn't add any more pictures to my scribbles. Unbearable for a photoholic like myself! Now that my schizophrenic fret about bilingualism is (partly) sorted, I think I'll give this game another try.

So, moving house. I went through that very special kind of ordeal a few months ago when I left the Irish capital for Blackrock, its reputedly posh suburb in the South of Dublin Bay. I've got the feeling that moving house always starts a new era for me, that my life is generally punctuated by my moves.

My last move before this one was when I left France for Ireland, 5 and a half years ago. The sheer excitement put aside, it was quite scary to try and convince a) all my publishers that I would work just as well for them from a little further away and that my emigrating to another country wouldn't change a thing, and b) my family and friends that I would NOT disappear forever and would stay in close contact through email/Skype/phone calls/frequent visits, etc.

I remember the existential angst when I tried to make my whole life fit into a measly 20 kg suitcase (the mean allowance bestowed by Ruinair, whether you are in the process of emigrating or just off for a few days' holiday). Admittedly I was only leaving a small studio flat, but I had somehow managed to stuff 40 boxes' worth of books in there, along with a mind-boggling amount of papers, photos, clothes and paraphernalia. Luckily and life-savingly my friend V. offered to lend me her cellar, where I could stack the mountains of stuff I wasn't going to bring with me for some time. Once I had shed most of my belongings, I was lighter and free to go.

A complex and slightly traumatic business all (the amount of things you need to do when you move house is simply amazing, especially if you are moving to another country, and packing when you are NOT going to unpack anytime soon is a bit of a headache), but following my beloved Mr Grumble (who admittedly hadn't yet shown the whole extent of his talent for grumbliness) to his adopted country was well worth all that.

Oddly enough, the large 2-bed flat I just left was much more streamlined that my Parisian studio and the belongings of our little family of 3 people only took up about 20 boxes in all. I guess I have to thank Mr Grumble's hate of clutter and consumerism for that. But also the trauma I underwent when I left France and the good resolutions that ensued: I would not accumulate stuff. I would keep my things to a strict minimum (yes, shoes too). I would borrow whatever I read from the library and sort out my wardrobe BEFORE buying anything new. I would give away everything I wasn't using. I would be zen.

After five years in that apartment and the addition of a child to the household, moving house did require more than a measly 20 kg suitcase this time around. Mr Grumble stuck to his stubborn decision of moving EVERYTHING on his own one weekend and hasn't quite recovered yet. I had to do the whole packing singlehandedly while also minding a 2 and a half year old whirlwind most of the time, frantically hunting for an acceptable if not fantastic house near the new school we had chosen for her, desperately trying to finish a 450 pages-long translation in time (a feat at which I spectacularly failed, getting angrier and angrier emails from my hysterical publisher) and packing our bags for an ill-timed trip to France.

My father-in-law died while we were there, so at least it was easy to hop on a train to Brittany to say a last farewell to dear Grandpa F., but his death made coming back to our new house and facing our new life in the burbs even harsher.

Mr Grumble was horribly sad even though he was doing the manly thing, never crying or saying a word about it apart from a single "I'm OK", and his natural grumbliness and negativity hit an all-time peak. Little Miss Sunshine turned dark too and had a severely hard time adjusting to her new school, bluntly reasoning that I didn't love her since I was leaving her in that dreary place every day for HOURS. She took to the habit of waking up 3 to 4 times a night because "the wolves" (the howling winds of Dublin Bay?) were scaring her, and the sleep deprivation seriously shattered my emotional balance. Little Miss Sunshine was crying when I woke her up in the morning, crying when I dropped her off in her class, crying when I collected her, and I too felt like crying most of the time.

The house turned out to be made of cardboard, impossible to heat and severly leaking from various places, among other niceties. It produced scary creakings when anyone was upstairs and most lights had blown off downstairs. But no such trivia would frazzle my adamant optimism — I was determined to make the most of our new life, even if Little Miss Sunshine was shakily clinging to me and refusing to venture anywhere in the house on her own, for fear of encountering a monster of some sort or an unpacked box. There was the sea at our doorstep (actually a 20 minutes gallop away, and it's freezing and polluted, Mr Grumble would point out). A real decent-sized garden (an ugly patch of nothingness, ill-conceived and in constant shade, Mr Grumble would insist). A quiet development with really nice neighbours (overpriced and in the middle of nowhere, Mr Grumble would retort). A romantic fireplace in our living room (a foul-smelling, expensive and dangerous GAS fire letting in monstrous draughts, Mr Grumble would correct).

But I will somehow manage to recreate a happy bubble for me, my grumpy partner and my hyperactive toddler/teenager. Somehow. Some day. This is a new beginning...