Saturday, February 28

Rubbery Housework Opportunity

28th February
I’ve come back to the UK where our house has been completely taken over by preparations for filming - it’s chaos.

The Director and Camera Boys are busy making devices to hold and move cameras, this involves drilling metal plates, attaching the bits together and adding motors to Heath Robinson-inspired contraptions. The obvious place to do this is the kitchen table, stray screws and metal shavings find their way into the sugar bag and worse. Food preparation would be asking for trouble so we’re taking turns to go out and forage for sandwiches and curry.

The kit is tested out in the garden and a muddy path now leads inwards from the back door showing the boys movements around the house. After 24 hours of this I started looking for escape routes and came across this ad on Gumtree
Cleaner required for various hours at small 6 bed B&B.
All equipment supplied.
Rubber uniform provided and must be worn.
£8 per hour for experienced and open minded cleaner.
Replies required asap

It didn’t strike me as very well paid so I showed the ad to our Production Manager Miss Whiplash, she told me that her friend in Cheam has a man in rubber who comes round to do the cleaning for free ... she has to follow him around a bit and humiliate him - but she doesn’t have to touch him or anything

Wednesday, February 25

Lost in Translation

25th February
A French man called Gaston works for the family I spent last week with, he was explaining in English to the Man why the cooker didn't work. When he had gone, the Man turned to me and said

Normally I don't understand French, but I can understand Gaston perfectly

Saturday, February 21

How To Make Friends And Influence People

21st February
There are still a couple of weeks to go before Bug Film Lift Off, so I’m going to write about the job I’ve been doing this week.

In another life I am a cook, a couple of weeks ago I got a call from one of my clients, a Man With a Chateau, asking if I could go and cook for him and his teenage children during the half term holiday. They are a funny, happy family and most of them, including the Man have asperger’s syndrome.

The Man is mostly thinking about numbers, he’s really good at them (this activity has made him very wealthy) his idea of fun is to compile lists of naval personnel on WWII warships. He has the same sort of problems understanding social interaction as I have with string theory but he realises that Other People are an unavoidable fact of life and that he has to help his children negotiate the World of Other People, and here we have it, my principle purpose is not so much about cooking - I’m a target for social skills practise

Lesson one: How to make conversation (Tip: People like compliments especially women)
The Man comes in to the kitchen with Lilly and casts around for something to compliment, he focuses on the very ordinary cardigan I am wearing and says, That’s a nice … er… woven thing… what is it? Did you make it?

Lilly has a go, Is that your hair?

Lesson Two: avoiding confrontation (i) everything gets a positive answer
Me: What would you like for supper, are there any dislikes or allergies I should know about?

The Man: We like everything
Lilly: I like Miley Cyrus

In reality everyone in the family has very complicated food issues. The Man can’t remember what they are, if he goes to the supermarket he comes back with bags full of tomato ketchup, mayonnaise, coco pops and fizzy drinks, the aisles of produce are simply too overwhelming to deal with. What normally happens is that they eat out a lot. I ask what they’d order in a restaurant

The Man says, Meat, I think, and ice cream

I ask Lilly what she likes eating but she can only hear white noise coming out of my mouth, she has learned that it is polite to stay quiet and look at me while I am making this noise (and remember to smile a bit – but don’t laugh) she has also understood that when I stop making the noise she is expected to say something, so she says whatever is going on in her head. I must wait until her chat cycles round to food, finally it happens:

Yeah, no bits, I don’t like stuff in food, will you make a carrot cake? I’m gonna tell you how to do it – right? You’ve got to get whitey stuff right, but without bits in it? Then you make it flat and put it in a thing and you put that in the oven. Then you cook it all day then you take it out and cover it with whitey icing – right?

By now I know that the only food Lilly willingly eats is Fanta (is that food?) and cake, the cake becomes a bribe - she gets to slather the cake with 'whitey' icing while I make lasagne, at suppertime the cake must sit on the table in all it’s drippy glory until she has eaten enough lasagne.

Lilly eats some lasagne - but there is one more hurdle

lesson three: lying
The Man: The lasagne was nice wasn’t it?
Lilly: yes

the cake is hers

It's been an interesting week, I have watched the Man struggling to eat a grapefruit with a knife and fork, I’ve made hamburger lollipops and chocolate cheese. This is a household where people take off their clothes to dance in the kitchen, see no reason to close the door when they’re using the lavatory and if I’m careless enough to bring my handbag into the kitchen it will be sorted through for 'interesting things’. It's all this that makes the village of hair rubbing and druids seem completely normal.

Sunday, February 15

Death In The Afternoon

15th February
I am not sportive and I’m certainly not competitive about anything that requires me to freeze, get sweaty or wear unflattering clothes in public.

While the weather was pleasant I enjoyed the weekly pétanque games at the local bar, I viewed these events as a sort of themed cocktail party. Kitty and I set standards in the hat, eyewear and daft shoe departments, the men talked about lawnmowers and concrete and we all poked fun at each other. The French club members meanwhile made moves to get the club registered so that we could become sérieux. The rest of us joked around and failed to forsee the consequences of all their activity, or at least I did until today when I found Courtney and the club captain on my doorstep and discovered what signing up for a French pétanque club really means:

The first interclub tournament of the season was starting this afternoon, if we didn’t put up a team for the first match, our club would be disgraced. It is cold outside and the interclub boulodrome is distant. No-one had turned up for the rendez-vous at the bar – Courtney felt sorry for the captain and volunteered hers and my services, I tried pleading ill health, lack of interest and incompetence but was battered into submission and found myself climbing into an unroadworthy ashtray of a vehicle that tipped us out, semi-kippered, at the ‘boulodrome’ .

A boulodrome is like a big car park with a shed in the middle. Hundreds of people were milling around, wearing ill-fitting jeans and lurid sweatshirts blazing dayglo slogans declaring allegiance to their club. During the drive we had been lectured on our comportment: it is forbidden to walk around during a match, we must be quiet. We were also warned that there are a lot of rules about clothing, our appearance for this first match would be overlooked but in future we must all be dressed in a team uniform, like the other participants.

Serious pétanque matches involve a lot of heated discussion and the measuring of spaces between boules. It is like being trapped in a statistics conference in a walk-in freezer. We lost every game, by the time I was returned to my house I was so traumatized by the experience that I had developed one of those stupefied Frankenstein Monster walks.

I’ve had a bath and thawed out, but the house is still filled with the odour of pub carpet that is emanating from my coat in the hallway.

Thursday, February 12

Bar Strife

12th February
In order to keep up with any hot insect-related gossip and generally find out who’s who around here, my best networking territory is the village bar, so I have a vested interest in it’s continued existence.

Mr and Mrs Strange (a British couple) took over the bar last summer, the pétanque club got started, supper events happened, it was popular with the French, British and Dutch communities - then Mr Strange needed to disappear.

One day the Strange parents were replaced* by their eldest son Kurt, a goth rocker/death metal fan and his Scandanavian wife, Courtney. This couple have spent the last few months looking as though they had accidentally pressed the wrong buttons on the teleporter.

Mrs Strange recently came back to visit her bar and there was a big shouting match, this resulted in her son buying air tickets back to Denmark, he has not mentioned this to his mother. Courtney asked me to keep quiet about it because they wanted to break the news at an 'appropriate moment’.

The 'appropriate moment’ didn’t happen and Mrs Strange has gone away again. Courtney said that she thinks the news will sound better in an email. She’d like me to stay quiet about their departure because they are hoping that the other, younger, brother will turn up to take over - a minor obstacle being that he doesn’t want to.

I’m useless at secrets and I really don’t want to keep this one. The pétanque club has just become registered to host tournaments at the village bar, the process has taken months, when it was finalised there was huge joy from the players, match dates for the year are now fixed.

*Mrs Strange did tell me about their flit some time before they left. I was sworn to secrecy on pain of death.

Tuesday, February 10

Sleazeball Cat

sleazy cat
Build your own Blingee

10th Feb
After the overfeeding incident the cats are more or less back in shape, Julie is hunting again but Kevin has decided to become a full time pimp. His coat is looking luxuriant and he has got ridiculously cocky, he will now jump up on the table to steal my food if I try to eat outside.

I put out some food for the cats now and again, they each have bowls placed as far apart as possible, Kevin hangs around waiting for me to feed him. Passing the woodshed this morning I heard a commotion in the pidgeon loft. I looked up and saw Julie having a fight with another, smaller, creature, I left them to it and went back a bit later to see Julie perched on some logs looking very grumpy - Kevin was guarding a dead mouse draped over the edge of his food bowl. I gave both cats some food and transferred the mouse to Julie’s bowl. Kevin hissed at his sister, scoffed both bowls of food, then picked the mouse up and replaced it, delicately, in his own bowl.

Sunday, February 8

Introducing Mr Fabre

8th February
I have just received a scribbling award from Saucy Scarlet Blue, a lady who’s been making me laugh a lot lately - thank you Scarlet I feel very honoured and flattered. Apparently I have earned it for my quirky style, I'm supposed to pass it on but am crippled by indecision, I'm enjoying too many blogs to make a top 4 - if you're on my side bar I bestow it on you.

If you like quirky, the French entomologist JH Fabre is the man for you. Fabre’s books have been a great resource on this insect-ridden project, but the man deserves several programmes devoted to himself.

A teacher, scientist and author, Fabre was writing copiously at the end of the nineteenth century on the subject of natural history and in particular the insect world. An extraordinary character emerges through his writings. He records his experiments and observations with charm and humour; I’ve just been reading his description of a pair of dung beetles who have finally managed to roll a ball of dung into a burrow, they block the entrance to prevent interruption, and prepare to feast;

…the ball by itself fills almost the whole of the room; the rich repast rises from floor to ceiling ... here sit the banqueters, two at most ... belly to table, backs to the wall. Once the seat is chosen, no one stirs; all the vital forces are absorbed by the digestive faculties.

Fabre’s writing is florid, poetic and at times hilarious, his style was questioned by the more establishment figures of the time. Reading about Fabre I came across a quote that I had trouble understanding and asked my friend Florence for her translation of his thoughts on willfully obscure writing by academics;

Should one page bristling with barbarian and so-called scientific locutions come to my attention then I would say to myself: “take care! This author does not know exactly what he is talking about, otherwise he would have found among the vocabulary hammered out by great minds, the proper way to express clearly his thoughts"

Well quite

Thursday, February 5

Luftwaffe Gretcha

5th February
The day after the hair rubbing supper I made an English Sunday Roast lunch for some French neighbours. They found many aspects of the meal bizarre, I demonstrated pouring gravy over my plate of chicken and roast vegetables, my friends watched agog and commented that it was un idée trés original, in a tone that translated as 'that looks weird and disgusting'.

Later, as I was about to serve the fabulous walnut and treacle tart, I heard a car draw up - one of the guests said
That'll be Bic Biro and his wife, I have asked them to bring my ducks here
I invited the Bics to join us for dessert and coffee, the ducks, being dead, are stuffed in the (food) fridge*.

Ducks sorted, diners resettled and seated, knife poised above the tart, we heard another car squeal into the yard then someone pushing open the front door and shouting. A strange old lady burst into the dining room waving a shoebox and raving. She gradually calmed down and I understood through her strong German accent that she was called Gretcha ... had been at the November film show ... wanted to give me her butterfly collection ... kept forgetting ... came straight over before she forgot again.

We all stood up and peered as Gretcha lifted the box lid revealing a mass of jumbled up bits of butterflies and moths. I accepted the gift and thanked her, then she pulled out a screwed up knob of tissue from her pocket saying;
I though you might like this too
Everyone recoiled as I unwrapped a grey and rapidly decomposing leech.
Without thinking I said,
Lovely, I’ll put it in the fridge with the others
There was quiet and I realised that people were looking at me strangely.

* I have two fridges, one for the usual reasons and the other for dormant ants, butterfly pupae and any other creature we might find useful for filming later on

Tuesday, February 3

A Long Dark Tea Time Of The Soul

3rd February
Mrs Strange came by for coffee - and a rant about her slutty daughter-in-law. I didn't mention the tickets already bought for their return to Denmark but I did ask what will happen if they decide to leave.
That won't happen!
There is so much and nothing to say - luckily my house is too uncomfortable for anyone to want to stay long.

I'm a bit tired of all this and missing The Director. Going back to the UK would be worse, our house there is full of people getting ready for the next session of filming (there will be a machine to knurl metal clamped to the kitchen table and the floor will be scattered with polystyrene peanuts). There will also be people on phones arguing about contracts, scripts and money.

It seemed churlish not to attend the fundraising supper in the village at the weekend, but I hadn't reckoned on Bruno The Knob Destroyer. Bruno's been turning up here with bags of knobbly vegetables a lot lately. I've noticed that his drinking problem is getting worse, his wife has left him again and he smells of wee.

When I got to the hall, a phalanx of big-chested ladies were taking ticket money for the meal. Bruno was waiting at the door and had already bought my ticket, the ladies beamed at me. I gave in and went and sat opposite him on a long table, Bruno attempted to eat soup and focus his watery eyes on me at the same time – it was not a success.

At some point during the meal Mrs Druid got up, stood behind the man seated next to her and started massaging his neck. I find it fascinating what is and isn't tolerated around here, my neighbours believe that Mrs Druid is a member of a (probably) harmless cult, the massage provoked a lot of joking and general ribaldry. Bruno, slowly got up and swayed his way round the table until he was behind me and started stirring his hands around on my head, it was like the pretend hair washing I used to do on my Nan as a child. This had everyone falling about, I managed to convince Bruno that he had achieved miraculous results, even with a very small amount of stirring, he then went round the whole table rubbing everyone’s head a little bit until he found his seat again - He passed out soon after that.

Monday, February 2

More Secrets and Lies

2nd February
Mrs Strange has come back to France to visit her bar and see how her son and his new wife are coping. I thought it would be nice to drop by for a coffee and say hello - too late I realised that I’d stepped into the aftermath of a massive row. Mrs Strange has stormed off to town and Courtney is steaming behind the bar. She has been online booking tickets for a flight back to Denmark at the end of the month, she tells me this adding:
Don’t mention it to anyone as we have to wait until the cow has calmed down before we tell her
This has happened to me before
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