Monday, September 03, 2012

Interpol agents based in France should be on High Alert right now as they have an expert thief in their midst.  The culprit is there, relatively unattended, for a week and anything not nailed down is in danger......

Don't let the kindly face and silver hair of the lady on the far right fool you, dear reader: my mother is an utterly possessed pilfering pensioner with a penchant to purloin pretty much anything her paws can poach and place into her pockets.

My parents have been over here visiting us and we've spent a fair chunk of the summer holiday in Austria, Germany and France.

With rail passes and hotels already booked and paid for, Pauline Florence is a Sneaky Septuagenarian seeking surreptitious stimulation from stealing things.

Usually, she restricts her nimble fingers to airline biscuits, sugar cubes and plastic spoons, but a continental breakfast included in a two star hotel tariff was far too tempting to turn down.

"Look Katherine*," she whispered excitedly. "I've got lunch all organised."

Her right hand proudly waggled a clear plastic ziplock bag, smuggled all the way from Australia for just this purpose. Inside were several slices of Swiss cheese and pale pink ham. "The bread rolls and apples are already in my handbag," she continued, green eyes gleaming with glee.

Bread rolls and apples I could handle, but risking salmonella on a 34C day in Berlin was not on my 'top ten holiday moments' list. Not even in the top hundred, if I'm brutally honest.

I gently pushed her hand down, subduing her joy even further with a patronising pat on her knee. "Mum, you know I love you. You know that your handbag outdoes Dr Who's tardis for all the life saving items it contains but ----- yes Mum, there is a but, and this time it's not me being rude and talking about butts ---- we are not - repeat, NOT --- going to risk our lives by letting you keep some flaccid slices of already rather dodgy-looking dairy foods and meat products in your handbag for five hours on a hot day before you carve open some rock hard rolls with a Howard-era plastic knife on a park bench in order to save a few euros at lunchtime. Okay?"

She had the grace to accept my opinion and then was immediately racked with guilt.

Not at the act of stealing but at the waste. "I don't feel like eating this right now but it's awful to throw good food out." She brightened at an idea. "Why don't I just slip up to the buffet and put them back..."

"No, Mum. No-one in the entire hotel is going to want to see an old woman put some second-hand cheese that's already starting to curl up at the edges and ham with early stages of slime BACK on the cold savoury tray."

She made to interrupt. "------No, not even if placed there by someone as wholesome-looking as you, dear heart."

For the remainder of our trip, she refrained from misappropriating meat but stubbornly stuck to cheese. "You can't have bread without cheese," she said. Failing that, my parents' lunch rolls were filled via sachets of nutella, honey or jam. Hotels that had suffered from pillaging Paulines in the past were getting better at thwarting such manoevres, setting up their confitures and condiments with shared spoons in open bowls. Needless to say, these weren't my mother's favourite places to stay.

One evening, she had her head bent over her (thankfully paid for) evening meal, right hand shaking furiously over the napkin resting in her lap. Closer inspection by Sapphire ("What on earth are you doing, Grandma?") revealed that she was shaking the living shite out of the salt so that she could rinse out her sore tooth cavity with some warm water in her hotel room later on. "How about unscrewing the cap, Grandma? You'll get more salt and it'll be quicker that way," Sapphire suggested.

To be fair, Mum's skills in swiping helped us in other ways. We all caught a bad cold on the trip and she set herself a challenge beyond a free lunch - no tissues to be purchased by any of us. Instead, we blew our noses on green/yellow/monogrammed cafe napkins, hand towelettes from hotel lobbies, dried out wet ones and railway paper hand towels. She bragged at one stage that she could even furnish the paperless ladies' loos at Neuschwanstein castle by passing some spares around to grateful female tourists under their doors.

Our bought coffees were sweetened courtesy of her sugar swindlin' digits, access to public fountains improved with pinched plastic cups, shorts mended with sewing kits and bottles of water looted from cleaners' carts.

On our last day we had a check out time that coincided with the opening time of the hotel breakfast. This posed yet another dare for our Pauline - zip in, zip out as the rest of her party wheeled the cases onto the street. She dashed out with freshly-buttered rolls, sachet after sachet of spread and several apples under her jumper. Seeing my smile, she pinched two fingers together and said, "I was that tempted to buzz off with two hot teas for your Dad and me, but they only had china cups."

Yep, that Wife, Mother, Auntie, Grandmother, CWA and Probus committee member there has a Hedgren handbag heaving with illegal lunch.

I love you, Mum.

* She'll never abbreviate me to 'Kath'


Hannah said...

This is hilarious, because it's just such a different frame or reference for traveling. Some of my old school friends used to stock up on hostel breakfast goodies to eat all day, but for me the primary goal of traveling (or one of them) is to eat delicious things, so I'd never waste tummy space on purloined breakfast food instead of delicious fresh pastries and gelato!

drwife said...

So happy that you had a lovely holiday and so happy you are back. My 70 year old aunt discovered your blog through my blog and she's a follower now--she sent me an email to find out "who the hilarious lady in the burbs" is. She'll be so pleased that you are back to writing.

This is a hilarious entry. Remind me not to invite your mother over until I get everything glued down to the surfaces.

And, Saphire looks absolutely stunning in the 80's inspired sunglasses. For a moment I thought she had also gotten a very cool pixie haircut.

MedicatedMoo said...

Thanks Hannah. I've got a foot in both camps - love to economise on lunches but also love a good feed that doesn't include rock hard rolls and handbag-warm cheese.

Thanks drwife - rest assured that Pauline is in France for another week before getting back to Switzerland for two. Prices here are so high that I'm fearful of what she'll cram into that handbag of hers.....

River said...

Your mum sounds just like mine. my gosh, the things my mum used to come home with even from a simple trip into the city!
A slight difference with foods though. On a trip to the Centrepoint tower in Sydney, when my kids didn't finish their sandwiches she took the meat out of them and added it to her plate to finish off "because it's paid for so we can't just throw it away. The kids were old enough to be horrified, so I had to speak to her about it after they were in bed later. She wasn't at all happy with me critisising (sp?) her.

Anonymous said...

A new twist on 'never pay retail'. Good laugh.

Wally said...

Sound like my Mum. Frugal. And when your breakfast is costing something like 20 euro (or I think the worst I paid was 15 Swiss Francs) PER PERSON, you want to get your moneys worth.

I must confess that in Switzerland we took to purloining stuff from breakfast, to eat for lunch, because everything was hidously expensive. The cheapest food actually came from a pizza place in the Railway station. And "cheap" meant it was about twice what a pizza costs in Australia.

drb said...

Oh dear, I have to admit that P adopted the 'lunch packing habit' from my mum when we were all on the 2 week Italian group tour. It all started with my mum telling Rob to smuggle some rolls and fruits into paperbag (for which he earned tonnes of brownie points because neither my dad nor bros would ever comply), then your mum joined forces to grab cheese and hams etc. I didn't try to stop them. It was fun though to be a concerted effort and for all involved to bond. Later when the rest of the herd was paying through their noses in some roadhouse cafe, we were having a nice picnic outside in the sunshine on the lawn, admiring the scenery.

Pandora Behr said...

Bless her - and I hate to say it but I've been known to do the same thing on European vacations (thought not the cheese and ham... oh dear)

cherish this time with your mum xx

franzy said...

Part of me wants to scoff at the olde worlde 'waste not' attitude that sticks to our oldies and aren't they ridiculous/embarrassing/un-self-conscious/etc.

But then I realised: that's exactly what I did when I was traveling. If it was edible and it wasn't nailed down by someone's teeth (or nails) - in the pocket it went!

Strangely though, I got lazier as I got older (and richer). I couldn't be bothered cobbling together lunch from stolen breakfast. Shell out the euros. Get the fresh sandwich.

On a side note: it's probably a good thing you're in Switzerland because I hear they have excellent convents in which I'm sure Sapphire will be very secure.

JahTeh said...

I'm with your mum, not with the food but I can't leave a plastic anything or serviette on a table if I haven't used it.
And if they didn't want us to take the sugar packets they wouldn't put them on the table.

Elephant's Child said...

Loud smiles here. It seems to go with the generation. My mother was partial to cuttings from other peoples gardens. I was a tad (much more) distressed to learn that she had a digger, some ziploc bags and secateurs in her handbag at all times.

Jenny Stark said...

Loved reading about your adventures and our beloved Pauline. Glad to see someone is joining us in as one of our daughters called it....'Adventure before Dementia.'

Red Nomad OZ said...

Hahaha, you DO give great alliteration!!!

Maybe the symptoms you describe are 'Depression-era syndrome'?? Or at least a hangover from more straitened economic times. My mum pioneered the refilling-water-bottle era (although she used amenities taps) and Pilchard's mum has a fine collection of mint-condition paper serviettes from all over OZ which MUST be valuable.

Or maybe your mum was just giving you some no-brainer blog post fodder ...

MedicatedMoo said...

River, your mother's approach to eating the leftovers is what my *father* would do. He really was the garbage bin of our house.

Thanks Andrew. I'll hazard a guess that they did not purchase lunch once during their week away.

You're correct, Wally, prices are hideously expensive in Switzerland and distinctly cheaper in Austria, France and Germany. Evening meals in particular were frightening in Zurich and Basel - try 200 Swiss francs for five people to eat crap pasta you'd make better at home, compared to 69 Euros for terrific Thai food in Berlin.

Rest easy, drb. Pauline has been an eager lunch-lifter for years - not so much during my childhood as our holidays were tent and caravan-based but give her a buffet or a hotel room and the eyes get an evil glint in them....

I will, Pandora. Mum has her quirks, but is prepared to laugh along with us!

Franzy, my attitude's pretty much the same. In my travelling twenties I even used 'toilet paper' via a wad of stolen maccas serviettes but these days, is saving six euros worth the effort? As for convents, I'm sure that Love Chunks is already doing some research as we've noticed a few more head swivels from passing young men on our holiday.

JahTeh, she'd agree with you. Damn those infernal opened containers that must be shared amongst all hotel breakfasters!

E-Child, you won't be surprised to discover that Pauline loves collecting cuttings too. However she does possess the green thumb to bring them to life in her own garden at least.

Thanks Jenny. I think, if/when dementia hits, she'll need an electronic ankle bracelet and a pat down....

Red, there's definitely 'depression era' thinking there, even though she was born in 1940. The 'waste not, want not' would have been instilled in her from birth from parents who ran a grocery shop and yet could only afford the broken biscuits and stale bread for themselves.

Anji said...

I can imagine your mum had a great time; it's amazing what they put into stealable sized packets nowadays. Rob goes for the sachets of tea, he takes them to work and gives them out as pressies.

Every evening I'm presented with the cinnamon biscuit he gets with his morning coffee on the way to work.

If men could carry handbags as big as your mum's he would own one.

ExposeYourBlog! Joining up bloggers for over two years.

MedicatedMoo said...

Ah yes Anji, the teabags ..... she got her fair share of the green tea ones to use later in the (rather rare) rooms that provided kettles.

diane b said...

You are tolerant of your mu, I think I would be embarrassed. My brother was a good one for that sort of thing. He had a whole collection of Qantas wine glasses and plates and whatever else wasn't nailed down. Serviettes too. TOH is adept at collecting sugar tubes and then offering them to guests with coffee. I must admit that I might take fruit for later.
I wonder what your mum's handbag smells like after her escapades? I wonder if the sniffer dogs at the Australian airports will run up to her and sit. hee hee that would be funny. It happened to a friend travelling with us.

MedicatedMoo said...

Diane_b, I reckon the beagles at Adelaide Airport are going to have a field day!

Plastic Mancunian said...

Bonjour Katherine ;-)

Your mum sounds great - not least of all because I am a little bit of a swiper myself and know exactly where she's coming from.

I will explain all in a future post...




Jackie K said...

My parents used to "collect" (STEAL) monogrammed ashtrays from hotels and restaurants. Embarrassing! Once at somewhere really well known and palatial the stolen ashtray fell out of Mum's coat pocket and rolled across the lobby floor. The concierge didn't bat an eye, she picked it up and off they went!

Nuttynoton said...

I was brought up like this in times of limited food and money, so when we have a breakfast I always take some fruit and pastries for later, as others have said enjoy the time with your parents and child they are precious. Sounds like you had agreat real and really good post