Tuesday, 29 July 2008


The first day of the school summer holidays and all is as it should be, that is, chaos and disarray with me tearing my hair out and wailing to the gods. Hubby has yet to go on leave, so it has been down to me as ever to maintain a night-time vigil with one of my many children. This time it was the turn of the six year old. She started screaming and clutching her ear at midnight and continued until the doctor saw her very early the following morning. My constant sponging of her in tepid water did little to ease her temperature and the journey to the surgery in her pyjamas did even less for her tummy, given that she spectacularly threw up in the chemist as we waited for the magic medicine. One can only imagine the horrors of pre-antibiotic and Calpol Britain, although even I remember having earache as a child and my mother pouring warm olive oil into my ear, then plugging it with cotton wool. There was never a sweet elixir to swallow in the 60’s, instead we had to drink dissolved junior Disprol instead which left a chalky film on the side of the glass. Nor were there day long cartoons and DVDs to entertain us as we languished on the sofa, but at least our mothers knew that were drugs available to cure us and eventually relieve our pain. Their own mothers and grandmothers were far less fortunate.
Even less fortunate were my foreign students who had woken whilst I had been out and were patiently waiting for their petit dejeuner. The necessity of being in plenty of time for the ferry in the morning has yet to sink in and so I am to be found, minutes before the bus they require is on the ferry, ushering them out of the front door with wild gesticulations, histrionic pointing to my watch and bloody awful Franglais, yelling, “You are late, you are late, vite, vite”, like some Wonderland white rabbit on speed.
As I walked through the front door clutching the six year old, who was wan and pale, they all greeted me with a very cheery “Bonjour Madame Band”. How very far removed from my previous, discourteous lot.
I attempted cheeriness, but to be honest being up all night does little for a cheery countenance and I tried to explain that I was sorry that breakfast was late but that I’d been “to le docteur avec my fille because she has a bad ear”.
“She ‘as bad hair?” asked the boy in wonder. You could see him thinking this must be a peculiarly British thing.
“No, no”, I laughed, “Bad ear” I repeated, tugging at my lobe.
“Ah!” The penny dropped and they too all laughed. I escorted my sick child into the sitting room and onto the sofa and returned to the kitchen and provided my students with the requisite chocolatey cereals that all young people seem to love, along with a basket of toast. On the table were the usual selection of Nutella and jam and peanut butter. I poured them three cups of tea, made sure all was well, then went back to my role of nurse.
As I bent down to feel my daughter’s forehead and almighty ruckus emanated from the dining room.
“Mon dieu, mon dieu. C’est poison!” I ran in only to find the boy spitting and gagging onto his side plate.
“Pardonnez moi Madam, mais J’ai ete empoisonne!”, he coughed.
“You have been poisoned?” I had to get this right; what on earth had I done to him. How could toast and cereal cause such a vehement reaction? His sister exclaimed,
“Oui, oui, ze chocolate eez bad”, and I had to resist the urge to laugh out loud as she brandished an industrial sized jar of Marmite at me. In my sleep deprived stupor I had inadvertently put out the Marmite instead of the Nutella and in my experience, Marmite is a curiously British taste sensation, one that you have to be brought up on to appreciate and enjoy, which is why I have never put it on the table for my foreign visitors to thus avoid the exact situation in which I know found myself.
“Oh I am so sorry”, I said unable to stop myself smiling, “It is not poison and it is not chocolate”. They looked blank.
“Pas chocolate. It is a salty spread”. They now looked even more baffled but then trying to explain Marmite is nigh on impossible. ‘A black, tar like substance. Very sticky, it is made from yeast extract and is very salty but use it sparingly and it is very good. Infants are brought up on it’. It must be a marketing nightmare.
“You eat zis?” asked his sister shaking her head and peering at the ingredients. The Spanish girl had been quiet throughout the drama but suddenly spoke out.
“I have seen it before when I am in Southampton. I know it is not chocolate. But my French is not good. I cannot explain. In Southampton they did not have it so thick zo”. I looked at the boy’s toast which was lavishly smeared in the offending spread and gasped. Poor, poor boy, what a terrible mistake to make. I gave him a little hug and repeated, “Pardon! Pardon! Je suis desole”, repeatedly. By the time this episode had been resolved and the boy had been reassured that he would not drop dead their bus had long since gone. The next one wasn’t for hours and, as it was my fault for all the hullaballoo there was no alternative but to drive them to college. I dragged a protesting 12 year old daughter out of bed and gave her nursing instructions then texted my son who sleeps next to his mobile phone: ‘Lk aftr sisters. The merde has hit da fan’.


Anonymous said...

omigod - if that happened to me - I am one of the Marmite haters! Can't even eat Twiglets. Makes me feel ill just to think of such a mistake but 'je suis poisonnee'sounds a fantastic thing to say if you are presented with a foodstuff you hate (after a tiny, tiny bite!)

hope 6 year old is feeling better


Eloise said...

Oh, Alice, I know I should not laugh at your misadventure, but that was too too funny! You are such a marvelous storyteller (storyteller merveilleuse?).

I am so sorry about your daughter's ear and about your lost night of sleep. I remember my mother boiling some sort of capsule that had warm oil in it and then puncturing it with a pin and putting it in my ear with cotton for an earache. It always felt so good. That's not in practice any longer in the States either, though, so the "hot oil treatment" must have fallen out of favor sometime between the 60's and now.

I'm so glad that your current visitors are much friendlier and more courteous than your previous guests!

Get some rest.

Anonymous said...

Alice - forgot to ask - can you get into enidd's site - I keep getting an error but know she has posted about the dogs and wanted to empathise.


Anonymous said...

LOL, Marmite instead of Nutella!! That would definitely be some bad chocolate! *snicker* I'm sorry, I'm only laughing because it wasn't me eating it... *snicker*
Your current houseguests are much improved from your last ones, and I hope your daughter's ear feels much better today.
Onion juice or garlic juice, spooned into the ear, also takes away the pain, if you are ever in a pinch again. Side benefit: she'll smell like an Italian restaurant for days! Or you can do what my MIL's mother did: puff cigarette smoke into the ear. (No one smoked, but there was always a spare cig for that purpose.)

It's just me said...

That's just excellent.

I've always thought that Marmite had very clever advertising - I used to think it was OK, but now I LOVE IT!

Daft hey..

Alice Band said...

rosneath - someone posted soemthing nasty on poor enidd's blog about the dogs and it was just too much for her to bear, so she took her blog down. The world is a crappier place becasue enidd's blog has now gone forever.

Anonymous said...

oh no! Poor, poor enidd. People are so nasty. I agree, the world is the poorer!


Sally Lomax said...

Oh that's terrible about Enidd.....

I knows I have been a really sporadic blogger of late, but I love Enidd's blog.

I loved this blog. That's hilarious!!!!

I expect he will have gone back to France though telling eveyone that
the British tried to poison him....

Sally Lomax said...

P.S.I Have finally posted about our Foreign visitor.... It's only taken me a month......