Sunday, January 29, 2012

They're dreamin'

Darryl Kerrigan, the classic working class Aussie father from The Castle used to like reading the 'For Sale' adverts in the Trading Post.

"Hey Dad - guess how much they want for these jousting sticks?" 
Darryl would hear the outlandish price and scoff, "They're dreamin'!"

It's amazing how often I think of him - a fictional character - when I'm out with Robyn on a brocanting (flea market) jaunt. We tend to meet each other at the Genevan equivalent of Rundle Mall's Balls - The Broken Chair.

This little group regularly demonstrates on the quadrangle out the front and is noticed by, well, no-one much. They're dreamin....

Over at the actual flea market in Plain Palais, I had a five franc budget for the day (that's what having a now-healthy twelve year old does to you) and a determination to photograph anything that elicited a 'They're dreamin'!" response.

Like this. A box of skipping rope handles.

Still, our friend Jenny later remarked that they could in fact be good for those of us who tend to fall over the rope. "Just twirl the handles and jump," she suggested, "without then being in danger of having your ankles whipped out from under you."  A nice idea, but a week later when she went brocanting with Bruce, they were still for sale.

So if a workout partly coordinated by The Invisible Man wasn't a bargain hunters' dream, perhaps a second-hand trophy was.  Hold me back - it was the Inter Banques Petanque Victory Cup from..... *rushed past the 1870s Singer sewing machine* ...... 1988!

Better still, he only wanted a teeny five francs for it!

But we'd only just begun and on the very next stall was a bewildering combination of retro racism, nineties ugliness and mismatched ornamentation:

I'd venture that the blues bass player would not have even heard of a compact disc, let alone be allowed to sit down next to the white men who were developing them several decades after his night club gigs ended.  Sixty francs - they're dreamin'!

But wait ...... what was this I saw before me....?  Something the Abominable Snowman used as his school satchel?

A hairy backpack. Not a euphemism, but slightly mange-affected and with a distinct aroma of armpit. I tentatively stroked it and decided not to ask the price. Coarse hairs had stubbornly stuck to my fingertips and it took several wipes on my jeans to get rid of them.

Gone with the wind in German?  We all know that der Deutschland is the poetic language of lust, love and longing, much as we all tend to say, 'Jeez I'm starving. I'm really hanging out for some German tonight. Cancel the Thai Palace, let's find us some stuffed sausage!'

This stall owner wasn't even trying to convince us that these wooden shoe molds were worth considering, as they were carelessly tipped out on the ground next to some curtains and motorbike helmets.  The effect was slightly creepy and at ten francs per foot, it was beyond 'dreamin'.

Moving right along to get that sad little scene out of my mind, I noticed a masterpiece:

Nude musicians, Picasso-style, for thirty francs. With a bonus empty banana box to carry it home in. Very, very tempting, as was Shazza Stone, featuring in a 1993 magazine shortly after flashing her map of Tassie to fame:

Still my five franc coin stayed in my pocket, now with a few hairy backpack fibres clinging to it. Would it ever be spent on something unique, something special, something that would find a fond spot in our home?

These were five francs each but looked too disgusting to touch, let alone read the labels or sniff the corks. A shrug was all we got in response to "What kind of wine is it? Quelle age?"  
We suspected that the real answer was Le Ancient Garage.

Still, a glug or eleven of Dodgy plonk might have helped convince me that a blowfish lamp could soften the blunt impact of our IKEA-laden apartment:

....or that a set of photographs depicting eye surgery might look a treat when framed and hung up on the eastern wall of the living room.

Maybe the poor patient was given these menthols to help in their recovery afterwards.

Onto Spanish comedy magazines from the nineteen seventies, with Super Senorita's head concealing part of the title so that I originally read it as 'El Pus' magazine and was reluctant to open the pages.

It must be said that a big part of brocanting is the rummaging, especially in neglected boxes of assorted junk. It is there that silver jugs, rare saucers and vintage medical equipment can sometimes be found.  

This box of old mice and cords didn't scream out that usual siren song, however.  Dust, desperation and despair was more like it.

Jenny had already wandered off and found some terrific pewter plates with very intricate inlays on them, hand engraved and dating from the 1920s.  With her halting French, she managed to convince this top-hatted fella to drop the price.

He had some pretty unique and genuinely antique pieces for sale, but the ambience was made slightly challenging by the death metal blasting out of the speakers in the open doors of his van.  Jenny's sign language possibly proved more effective than her spoken French.

Stop the search...... could this be something I put away for Love Chunks, I wondered.  A turn right sign and a yellow bike frame?

Er no.

And this world weary chick agreed with me.

Here it was, finally! THE piece that would make our Allen-Key Apartment a home. A quirky one perhaps, but an individual one.... Tacky, funny, furry and grotesque - flea market perfection.

Yes. This was where my five francs was going to be spent!  A triple-legged lamp stand!

One hundred and fifty? Was monsieur quite sure?  No, I didn't want to take a look at single cow horn night light as a forty franc alternative, so I was on my way.... finding some real art. Art done by the people, for the people.

Well, blind people perhaps.

If the box of Commodore 64-era computer equipment for sale wasn't optimistic enough, we came to these - unloved remotes for five francs each.

Nope, couldn't do it. My coin stayed with me for another hour until I found the complete works of Jane Austen crammed into one bulging paperback - in English - for two francs and a cup of coffee for three.

Four hours of fun for five francs. I'm starting to love living in this bewildering, slightly odd, tiny little city.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Walking against the wind

Love Chunks and Sapphire often like to laugh at my tendency to use charades and sound effects in my conversations.

"For a writer, you rely a hell of a lot on acting out particular fart noises."

"Mum, did you really have to make that face to the post man?"

They claim that my whole family has this tendency and when we get together for big celebrations, there's a lot of 'Brrrrrrring' and 'Ppppphphtttttt' and 'Wockita whockita whockitas' being thrown into the mix. We understand each other completely and, if anything, this Read Family proclivity has served me pretty well as a non-French speaker (or comprehender) in la Suisse.

A few weeks back I was in the amusingly named XXX Sports Shop purchasing no, not porn, but three sets of cycling socks for LC. At the checkout, I'm always relieved when a 'Bonjour' whilst handing over my credit card is all the language skills I need.

The lady smiled at me and did her swiping thing when a huge wave of putrescent PONG swept us over both, the heat and strength making us both sway on our feet a little.

Her nostrils twitched slightly and all of a sudden she broke off eye contact with me, our shared smile now gone.

She thought that I had popped out a burst of flatulence so turgid that the sale posters were flapping up and down in the breeze. Now, it's a fair assumption that I do emit my share, but I'm always prepared to own up to them. But when it's not mine I'm far less willing to have it assigned to me. Besides, if I'd pushed out something this gaseous I'd be straight off to buy a new pair of pants before my appointment with the proctologist....

I was in a bind. The words for 'fart' and 'that old man who walked in behind me who is now browsing in the fishing gear section is the culprit' were way beyond me.

So I did what any member of the Read family would do and used my body and my voice to get my message across. Reaching to tap her arm, I said in French, "Non moi--------" and waved the air near my arse before pointing dramatically north, "------Il!"

Translation: No me...... HE!

I hopped on one leg, pinched my nose shut and violently shook my head. "Non Moi!"

"NO ME!"

She laughed, rolled her eyes at the Flatulent old Fart now holding up some hiking boots and bid me farewell. My reputation was safe.

But other occasions have also seen me rely on anything other than acceptable, clearly spoken words. Love Chunks works in a UN organisation where the official language is English, so most things are professionally-run, understood by everyone participating and no crossed wires occur.

Out in the real world, with drivers of mini-tractors full of compost who want you off the footpath, plumbers who apologise for being five minutes late and coffee shop ladies who detest all of their customers, it's more of a challenge to communicate.

Once again I found myself pointing to my own bottom, frantically fanning my hands around it in pantomimed disgust and shaking my head "NO" in order to get the concierge to understand that the lingering, dead-squirrel odour in Sapphire's unused bidet was not of our making.

I later discovered that grotesquely rubbing my stomach and screwing up my face before pointing to Milly and wrinkling up my nose was a good way to explain to the old lady who wanted to pat her that my dog had just run through the park and was covered in mud. "Orange, Madame, Orange," I said, pointing to a stripe on my top. "Milly is usually orange in colour and not the chocolate brown you see before you. Pat at your peril," my actions said.

Guillaime, our upstairs neighbour, joined me in the lift. With my hands forming a rectangular shape and my mouth emitting 'brrm brrrm' noises, he was made aware that we have a spare car parking space to rent. He nodded politely in that 'I don't know what the hell she's doing, but I'll let her talk so that I don't have to admit anything' kind of way before almost pushing me out when the doors opened to my floor.

At the chemist, I pointed to my shoulder and put on what I thought was a Meryl Streep-worthy sad face. "Ow," I groaned, my bottom lip folded over almost to the ground. "Chaud?"

"Hot?" Rubbing my shoulder, I continued to say, "Chaud?" and put on a smile to show that it would help me recover. Ten minutes later, I had a tube of Deutschland Deep Heat in my hands; exhausted after ten minutes of acting and not helped by the mother and toddler who wanted to 'help' the pharmacist guess my ailment.

Game show hostesses' gracious arm movements are another big help for this non-French speaker. "Yes, you can take the last tub of Quark," I say in English, sweeping my arm across the refrigerated cabinet in a 'Look at all these wonderful prizes' gesture of awe and generosity. The woman does, snatching it up and wheeling off before she has to thank the lunatic who let her.

Still, at the end of the day, I mostly end up completing my list of chores, buying the food we need and arriving home in one piece. Not, however, without a least one snigger.

Today's was at LaCoste; the over-priced polo tops with crocodiles on the pockets. A huge sign was in the window:

Boy oh boy, who knew that they'd expanded their range that far?

* SALE MENS BAGS. Nowhere near as amusing to the locals who saw me bent over laughing.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sunday Selections

Every Sunday, River, one of my favourite bloggers, posts up some photos she's not used or blogged about before, and links back to the originator of this meme, Kim from Frog Ponds Rock.

It was 8am yesterday morning, and time to take Milly for her long walk.  We were about to exit the pristine Marble, Wood Grain and Terracotta Tile Shrine to the 1970s, otherwise known as the foyer. This is kept spotlessly clean by the Fratman and is the reason why I had my Wellington boots and a towel in a plastic bag to put on the second we landed on the mat outside.  It is to remain clean enough to eat off at all times (not that such a thing is permitted, of course)

But hey ..... wait a second ...... peering through the doors leading to the neighbouring building was a sad little figure.

I'd seen her before, usually sunning herself outside in the planter boxes and always ignored by Milly because of the siren scent of squirrels in the air.  This may surprise you, but I've always had a soft spot for cats as well as dogs; it's just that I've been worn down over the years by living and loving people who are allergic to the critters and have (rightful) concerns about their bird-killing abilities.

Our little resident cutie, however, was doing neither of those things.  She was starting straight at me and miaowing pitifully.

"Oh you poor little thing; did you follow your owner downstairs and get locked in the foyer?"

Conveying this sort of empty sympathy was more difficult than it reads because both of my hands were full.  One with the mud-repellent equipment I was officially required to put on, and the other with a now very, very stimulated and determined orange dog.

She yanked herself free and smacked into the opposite door, paws slipping and sliding like a blind beginner out ice skating.


So much for respecting the 'No discernible noise to be made my residents before 8am' rule. The echo of my admonishment thundered against all the shiny surfaces and back again, making my ears ring.

Milly surprised me by being bright enough to nudge the door that she knew was the one that opened. She was going to get that cat somehow.

She then didn't surprise me by ending up with slightly squashed face and leaving a damp and smeared impression of Disappointed Dog on the glass.

It was a good thing I had my towel with me and gave it a quick wipe down before dragging Milly outside.

She's been sniffing for the cat at those doors ever since.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Morning tea with Madonna

'Tis a funny thing, having dreams. Despite preferring to think of myself as a relatively creative person, it is a very rare occurrence to have any that stay in my memory after I've turned off the alarm, groaned and stretched.

Last night, however, I was in a thick, dark jungle. Vines were all around me with remnants of ropes and wooden step ladders hanging haphazardly overhead. This jungle must have been a contender for bio-versatility because it also housed nordic pine trees, pre-historic cycad ferns and, of all things, heavily-laden but unsupervised donkeys calmly wandering the leaf-strewn floor.

It was imperative that I get to the Front of the Line and swing nimbly like Tarzan on a Triple Espresso past the other contenders. I wasn't smug as I passed them, just relieved, and immediately focussed my efforts on overtaking the next person working their way through the jungle and so on and so forth.

"Crikey, getting myself that treadmill's certainly helped in the fitness stakes," I thought to myself, in that bizarre window of realisation that:
a) you're dreaming; and
b) you're providing some kind of commentary on the dream you're currently having.

The Front of the Line was eventually reached and was a collection of Spanish-looking white-daubed haciendas in a muddy clearing. The hide-out of Columbian drug lords? A dodgy two-star resort? Murray Bridge's new housing estate circa 1976?  I wasn't sure, except it was nowhere I'd ever been before.

The other side of the buildings revealed a crowd of dishevelled and distressed refugees. I knew that they were refugees even though they didn't identify themselves as such; it was just one of those things you accept in dream states. These refugees were all white, hippie-looking folk and talked of how long they'd been waiting to get accepted into a better country. Years, for most of them.

My heart sank a little, but I took a number from a machine that looked rather like the one at La Poste and leaned against a stone wall, content to wait. The donkeys had by this time made it to the Haciendas with their packs on, let me pat them and, without having their loads checked or unpacked, seemed to head back in the direction they'd already come from. I didn't mind, because I'd found a pineapple that had just been spat out of the number machine. It was deliciously ripe and the skin was able to be peeled off like a mandarin.

A wooden customer service counter appeared out of the ground and my name was called.

"Here you go," said a beaming, chubby-cheeked man. "We knew that you were coming and your allotted new country is.... Switzerland!"

He leaned over to shake my hand and in the other he gave me a swizzle stick used in cocktails. This one had the Australian flag on it. I jabbed it into the remains of my pineapple and walked proudly on towards the exit sign.

None of the other refugees were outraged but wished me well. "Onyer, love," called out the tallest one with a dreadlocked beard covering his chest.

"Ta," I called back and waved.

As I turned around, I found myself back in our Geneva apartment, nervously peering through the fish eye in the door.

"Oh bugger it, it's bloody Madonna again."

Her Madge was imperiously pushing open the lift doors, clad in shiny black designer S&M threads with lacquered yellow hair that accentuated her newly pointy, stretched face. What the hell was I going to feed her, I fretted. She's a macro-biotic fuss-budget and all I've got is chocolate and coffee.

She buzzed the door and I ignored it.

"I know you're in there, Kath. I need to talk to you. Urgently."

Sighing so that she'd hear what an unwanted inconvenience she was, I slowly opened the door, making sure to roll my eyes the very moment she saw my face.

Unsurprisingly, Madonna was undeterred, and confidently swept past me with a squeak of leather and latex before plonking herself on our IKEA sofa.

Seated opposite her, I pushed my tracksuit pants into my ugg boots and zipped up my polar fleece top in a self-protective gesture. These few seconds of preparation gave me the edge:
she was going to have to wait until I was ready to speak. And I was.

"Look, I think you're great at what you do. Honestly. But I've never been a huge fan and don't have time - no, hear me out, please don't interrupt - or the inclination to give you tips on your love life, OK?"

Her bottom lip started to quiver and she whispered, 'Can I please have a tissue,' just as my alarm went off.

........ I must have pulled a muscle in my neck because it's killing me this morning. I guess that swinging on vines, emigrating and rejecting superstars does that to you.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Confusing Crapauds

Bogans in Australian parks like to muck around there late at night.

Presumably this is because none of them have homes decent or large enough to host parties in or, most likely, they'd rather do their depraved activities and leave their filth where someone else has to clean it up.

American author John Zeaman describes them as Shadow People; never seen by regular folk but identified only by what they leave behind.

Classic examples of Shadow People (aka Bogan)'s rubbish includes beer bottles (invariably smashed), crushed cans, syringes, Maccas wrappers and urine.

Milly regularly snuffled up free bonus feeds from left-over Red Rooster chicken bones, discarded Krazy Kebab wrappers and the occasional spilt thick shake that had solidified during its downward slide into the gutter.

Here in Geneva, the parks too are the favoured haunts of the Swiss-French Shadow People/Bogans, who we'll call Crapauds to distinguish them from their US and Antipodean counterparts.

Crapauds in our park leave behind iced tea boxes, mandarin peels, boulangerie bags and exploded fireworks.

Free food for Milly this morning was half an apple, several stale baguettes and a sly lick of an upended bottle of Guinness.

I'm yet to decide what conclusions to draw.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Pulling up my socks as high as they'll go

I know I'm getting old when I realise that:

Walking slowly - with Milly sniffing, scampering and leaping around in the leaves and bushes nearby - is much nicer with my hands clasped behind my back, old-professor style.

Going out during week nights is a chore, not fun. Home is my favourite night spot - no make up, no shoes - no effort.

Saying, "I'm going to tape this show because it's on after 10pm so I'll watch it tomorrow before dinner" is doubling the old-bag-o-meter. 'Taping' betrays my origins way back to video cassettes and staying up later than 10pm is just, well, too tiring these days.

Drinking an ice cold, strongbow cider in front of the telly is best when accompanied by .... knitting. One gulp, two rows, one gulp, two rows.

Junk mail for weekly supermarket specials are now read from cover to cover. "Oh, so is that why we have two 100 jumbo packs of bog rolls jammed in where my suitcase should be," says Love Chunks.

There's no point trying to find the end of the roll of sticky tape when you're tired or in a hurry.

Once you've rubbed in all the cream on your face, mirrors are best avoided.

There really is no nicer feeling than having all the dishes done and kitchen lights off by 8pm.

And my mother was right. Tucking my t-shirt into my undies and jeans *does* make me feel warmer under my jacket.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Colin, crumbed

Revered South Aussie blogger River has recently shared photos of the cheeses she found (and is contemplating tasting) at Adelaide's Central Market.

Now, without wanting to come all Annie Get Your Gun over you and sing the entire song of 'Anything you can do I can do better,' she got me thinking about cheese available here, as well as other foods.

Cheesus.....! The variety here is mind boggling. Even modest old Migros, home to everything made in Switzerland with Swiss ingredients by only certified Swiss-nation-loving, national interest folk, has a fridge section that's a hundred metres long and full of cheese. If that's not good enough you can also visit their deli and have someone cut off a specific chunk of something different for you or get the unrefrigerated long-life soapy stuff next to the eggs.

In France, a mere 5 kilometres away, LeClerc has three aisles dedicated to cheese + the separate deli section but our newest discovery, Carrefour, outranks them both.

People with lactose intolerances start to double over in abdominal pain the moment they pull into the car park because this place sells not only televisions, champagne and bullock tongues but cheese. It's easily the largest supermarket I've ever been inside and roughly 40% of it is devoted to all things cheesey. Think goat, sheep, cow, buffalo and also ash, fig, garlic, vine leaf, straw, cloth and a ten thousand moulds and you might be partway there.

But cheese is the tip of the culinary iceberg (lettuce). Australia, Switzerland and France may all be commonly considered as well-off western nations with similar cultural concerns but foods found here still surprise me.

Take the humble yoghurt, for example. Plain, Greek or fruit is about all you get at Coles, but here we can freely grab pots of hazelnut, maple leaf, coconut and chocolate (nowhere near as nice as you'd think), mocha (ditto), prune and pineapple, rhubarb, cranberry, orange and ginger, caramel, winter chestnut.

The Christmas selection not only included Apple Strudel and Marzipan flavours but also caramelised pear and coffee bean. There might be a couple of reasons why these are only placed on the shelves for a couple of weeks per year: you only want to try them once and you either have locals with bad memories or trustful new UN arrivals who like the sound of them.

My utter favourite (apart from all and every permutation of berry) was fig and honey in Greek-style yoghurt. Sweet, creamy and delectable, so why-oh-why did I go and ruin it all by turning around to the back to read the nutritional (read: depressional) panel? Thirty grams of fat. Oh. Might as well be scoffing mascarpone...

The French-Suisse don't shy away from fats (see cheese above) or the origins of their foods. Some birds still have their heads, beaks and feet on not just in rustic market stalls but also in the supermarket meat section and nine times out of ten LC and I look at a tray of meat and, once the usual suspects of chicken, beef, pork, veal, duck, horse and rabbit are eliminated, are still none the wiser. Lambs' brains are vacuum packed in groups of three and were right alongside sheep hearts; inexplicably glad-wrapped in fours. (Did the butcher feel peckish and have the fourth brain on a baguette during his lunch break?)

Frogs (grenoille) started appearing just before the Silly Season all stacked up on kebab sticks like pink scallops, and snail cooking kits were lining the shelves next to the fondue kits. Yes, fondue is truly honestly eaten here by the locals, with Gruyere and Emmental (prepared ready for the pot) outselling the other million varieties of cheeses by ten to one.

Frozen fish comes from Alaska and Iceland and one particular brand caught my eye: Colin. Colin comes crumbed, but I've yet to find out what they did to Trevor or Dennis.

Yesterday, as we dawdled up and down the immense aisles of Carrefour in the afternoon***, at the end of each one, like Australia, there featured a small display of a special (or 'action') for the week. Packets of chips on one, bottles of pear cider on another and the obligatory stale Christmas cakes further along. However, seeing rabbit set up at aisle five was a bit confronting. They may have been mercifully stripped of their fur, but the butcher had displayed them agonisingly stretched out and left their eyes in, so we had an meaty mix of painfully nude and melted-wax-like pink bugs bunny displayed to win over our stomachs (nope) and our wallets (double nope).

I vowed to Sapphire that I would never eat rabbit. We owned and loved the adorable mini-lop bunny Skipper for three years before tearfully seeing him head off in Taka's car to the fertile, green organic garden of their home in Murrumbeena. The little bugger's apparently having a better time there than he ever had with us, with free reign to eat all the spinach he can handle, dig wherever he likes and stroll inside to take his place in front of the flatscreen in the evenings.

So when Love Chunks was peering at some pots of terrine to try, I hissed, "NO! Not that one! Try this one instead!" Not having Google Translate with us meant that we didn't know that the other flavours were, so he said, "Oh, she won't know," and popped it into our trolley. 

My heart sank with shame: I had promised our child that no relative of Skipper's would end up in my stomach and I'd stick with that to the very end.

..... My heart sank again later in the same day when I took the time to read the peel-back foil lid from Milly's dinner. Lapin !

They say things happen in threes, so I'm reading every single label before inserting whatever's inside into my mouth. Perhaps I'll stick to chocolate; it's a much safer option.

Ah Skipper - I miss the little guy.

*** The best time to go shopping is after 3pm when the rush is over. Peaceful and quick to the checkouts even if the crazy day's specials have all been snapped up and you're left with buying the 'Razzle Dazzle' scented laundry detergent based only on price and not knowledge of what the hell 'razzle dazzle' smells like.....

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

The Fratman

Like all apartment buildings in Geneva - and there are lots - ours has a Concierge.

Now that sounds a lot posher than it really is because he's not a 'I'll do anything for you' smarmy chap at the luxury hotel counter or a French-speaker who offers to walk your poodles.  Nope, he (normally a 'he' as one of the unofficial job requisites is unruly facial hair) just lives in the building and keeps the gardens, hallways, lifts and garages clean.

It's very hard work.  Our guy, let's call him Fratman in a slight nod to his real name and because I've been using it in real life and it's stuck, is a busy little bee.

If he's not up before 6am putting out the green bins for collection on Monday, he's doing something similar for the rubbish on Tuesday and Friday or the 'Papier Receptacles' on Wednesdays.  He brings them in no later than fifteen minutes after the garbage truck has been and cleans up any spills or blow outs.  Considering he has six eleven-storey buildings with several hundred residents who share his street address, he has a huge amount of rubbish, cigarette butts, garden spaces and parking spots to keep tidy. He polishes windows, shared door knobs and letter boxes and - if bored and seeking a do-able dare - you could eat dinner off the parking bays.

He and I have a complicated relationship.

He can't help looking like an Orc with reading glasses (as I can't help looking like a baked potato) but he doesn't speak a word of English and I only speak about four in French.  Like a Middle Earth baddie he seems to believe that if he YELLS AT ME the language will magically ooze its way into my blonde brain and we'll be able to converse eloquently ala Francais.  Invariably he ends up waiting expectantly for my answer and is visibly disappointed when he only ever gets my inane grin and a 'thumbs up' sign.

Sapphire and I were shooed off the lawn when eating our lunch on a sunny summers' day because it is only for looking at not using; and the day I unthinkingly strolled across the just-mopped marble foyer saw his one eye steam up with rage before gesturing at me to "Sortez! Utilisez l'autre porte!" Merde and tete might have been muttered a few times as well.....

Then again, he apparently really loves me because I commented to Anne - a friend who lives on the first floor and is fluent in French - that Sapphire and I have noticed how hard he works. "Fratman never stops; he's like the Duracell bunny but with a big set of keys instead of drum sticks."  She told him and he now beams at me with his one good eye.

Anne is now unwittingly involved in our relationship. The Fratman knows that we are friends. She is, after all, a nurse from New Zealand and I, the clueless cretin from Australia.  Geographic proximity is enough.

"He's going to write a letter to the Regie," Anne exclaimed one morning, slightly out of breath from indignation and eight flights of stairs. "He knows that it's you who traipses mud into the foyer."

We'd had this sort-of-discussion via Anne before. Oh no, I reassured her. I mean him. Tell The Fratman that I wipe my feet very carefully and that mud gets stuck in the tread of everybody's shoes now that it's raining and snowing.

This appeased him for a while until he was out chatting to the gardeners (they literally hoover up the autumn leaves every week. Milly runs out to her dog forest afterwards and is absolutely puzzled at where her crunchy ground cover has gone) and he saw them. My rubber boots.

The Orc inside him knew - these weren't your everyday shoes; they were made for mud.  And that Aussie Idiot was prancing around in them, dropping off clods at every step.  He putt-putted past me in his mini-tractor with six steel wheelie bins trailing on chains behind him towards the bike cave.  There was anger in the clouds of exhaust farting out behind him.

I wasn't surprised that he'd put the blame onto my shoulders and mine alone. "He's been watching you," Anne gasped. "He told me to tell you to leave your boots outside or...." she paused, in a bind between upsetting me and the shock of the information she was about to impart, " could be outside."

Since that indirect ultimatum, I now clip on Milly's lead, put on my Dog Walking Parka and head downstairs.  In my other hand is a huge plastic bag containing my rubber boots and a large towel.  When the foyer doors shut behind us, I take off my slippers and step into the boots, making sure they're resting on top of the grate should any chunks of dried mud fall off, and then reach over to fold up the bag, place the towel on top and my slippers on top of that.

After our walk, I again stand on the grate and deftly lift one foot at a time out of the boots and into the slippers and then put the boots in the bag. The towel is then used to wipe off any mud and water from Milly's legs, stomach and feet so that, several long minutes later, we can enter the foyer without leaving any significant signs on the floor that we were ever there.

The Fratman saw me a couple of days after this technique was initiated. "Tres Bien!" "Merci Beaucoup" and "Bravo" were gleefully yelled on his side and my go-to 'Thumbs Up' sign was acted out on mine: we'd found a solution that suited us all - Orcs, Concierges, Renters, Dumb Aussies, Dogs and Mud Magnets.

So can you imagine how annoyed I was when Milly and I returned from a lovely long walk around Parc de Trembly this morning and there was the plastic boot bag, her tummy towel but NOT my slippers?

WHO would want to flog a manky pair of second-hand slippers? They're worn down at the heel, have brownish stains where there was once fluffy blue lining and the outer velvet is festooned with orange dog fur.

..... I'm not risking any other pairs of shoes, so now it's a rapid tip-toe across a very slippery marble floor and a kind of half somersault from the door mat straight into my rubber boots that are still sitting in the bag with the straps wide apart for my landing. It reminds me of the awful first stages of puberty when our mothers would say, "Don't be impatient, you'll grow like the others soon."  

Substitute 'grow' for 'become a glamorous international resident' and you'll see my predicament: will he now complain that I'm making the place look untidy with my amateur gymnastics?