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Can Two People?

by Jane Shortall

One of my very favourite movies is that old classic, Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple, which starred those two all time greats, Water Matthau and Jack Lemmon. Years later I used to watch the TV series with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall. As far as I can remember, part of the voiceover went, ‘Can two divorced men live together without driving each other nuts?

Recently, I have had one or two hilarious moments; reasons to silently query whether any two people can live together full time without driving each other nuts? Since coming to France to live, both of us now without full time occupations, unlike in Ireland where we left the house each morning and only saw each other late in the evenings, it has been a revelation to note how the other half lives!

I had decided to have one day, a full Monday, to myself. A day off if you like, catching up on some reading, making notes, eat a nice non-hurried lunch, after which the plan was to have a couple of hours devoted to a face and body overhaul. I had planned a day just for me, a day without interruption. This was the thinking anyway. But oh dear, on this day, I should have decided to climb Mont Valier, one of the peaks of the mighty Pyrenees. At least I might have ended the day with a sense of achievement, even if I had to be brought down by the rescue team ...

Monday morning found me sitting in the kitchen at a small marble table, just right for one person to eat and read at the same time. The day had begun.

Larry had said that he was going to be working in the garden that day. Right. The window was open, as usual. It was really pleasant to be sitting there, the sun shining, in, my pen poised and notebook open.

‘Can you hand me out my special knife please — it‘s in the top drawer, I think?’ said a voice at the window. Getting up I found his little garden knife and passed it out. Sat back down and picked up pen. Then.

‘You know those special gloves, I think I left them in the bedroom on top of the chest of drawers. Would you pass them out to me? I don’t want to go all the way back down the stairs.’

Up I got again and went to the bedroom. Gloves were indeed on top of chest. Back to kitchen window and passed them out.

‘Right. Here they are’.

Minutes later.

’Eh, do you know where that really good disinfectant is? The one we bought in the very beginning, for under the stone steps where the wild cats pee?’

‘No, I haven’t seen that for ages’ I said, staying sitting and not taking the specs off this time, just looking up over the top, as you do.

‘Well, would you look under the sink since you’re actually in there, and see if there’s any left?’

No sign of embarrassment whatsoever for these interruptions. Getting down on my hands and knees in order to see into the back of the press under the sink, where so many unknown things have now found a home, I first dragged out the plastic holder thing. It’s about a foot and a half tall and should of course hang on the back of the little door of the press under the sink. But it had fallen off ages ago, thanks to us just putting two nails instead of hooks into the door. It has since then just been sort of balancing on the floor under the sink. Naturally it fell over when I hauled it out, and all the things tumbled out onto the floor. Rolls of little blue bags for the bin, packets of Mr Proper wipes, spare rubber gloves and silvery pot scrubber things. Oh and there’s that special stuff for the ceramic hob. I tried to peer in over the debris to the back of the press where all the spray containers were.

‘Any luck?’ said a clipped voice at the window, a voice with just the slightest trace of ‘can you hurry it up in there?’ to it.

‘Hold on’ said the woman on the floor.

I rooted in around the back and a bottle of something fell over. The top was loose and the stuff poured out making a nice puddle around the bases of all the other containers. It was a very strong product for use in drains and my eyes began to water. I coughed. Then I heard a distinct sigh high up at the window.

‘Oh don’t worry about it, I’m just thinking I used it all up anyway. I will get some more in the market later this afternoon’.

From outside the window came the sound of footsteps going up the steps to the garden. From down under the murky depths of the sink came the sound of a woman cursing in absolutely perfect French.

Later in the afternoon I went in to the bathroom to prepare for my overhaul. I got all my pre-shower products together and laid them out. Hair removal cream and accompanying bits and pieces. Products for nasty, hard skin that was due to become soft skin by evening; a bar of scrumptious Spanish Maja soap and a loofah were ready. I took out and hung up my special big fluffy towels, ready for after showering. After shower products and a bottle of stunning body lotion stood by. To be able to do all this on Monday afternoon is to me one of the greatest things about this life.

My watch — timing is everything — and a magazine to read while the creams worked their magic completed my preparations. All was ready for the off.

I peeled off my clothes and put on my little blue and white bonnet de douche, the most unsexy shower cap in the world, only to be worn when totally alone. Deliberately not turning to look in the full length mirror; (a mirror which I insisted be put there in the early days, to stop me from putting on all the weight everybody said I would), I began that most pleasant way to spend a little time. The agreeable, relaxing, timeless occupation practiced by women forever, the process of looking after, of attending to your own body.

Hair removal first. Spatula in hand, leg on edge of bath. Then noises outside the window. Larry appeared to be working nearby as opposed to up at the top of the garden, which I though was the plan. I closed the window over and covered the relevant bits of the body with the bright green cream. Lovely sight. Picking up my magazine I settled down for a leisurely fifteen minute read. The Woman's magazine which comes with our Sunday paper, has helped my French no end. Each week it is simply full of splendid advice covering all aspects of care of the body and face. In the beginning I read it with a dictionary beside me, but now I have the gist of things. It’s amazing how you can improve when you concentrate on where your interests lie.

I had hardly begun to read when the door burst open. Larry needed to get something urgently, and he thought he had left it in the bathroom. He began to ask me, in exasperated tones, if I had seen the object. He did not seem to truly notice me, having leaped off the chair, standing naked and appalled, hideously shower capped, spectacles on nose of blotchy, unmade up face. My cellulite adorned thighs seemed white and enormous, sandwiched as they were between various parts of me covered in that peculiar, viscous shade of bright green hair removal cream.

I tried to protest that the room was in use, off bounds for a while, and he just looked at me, and then around the little room. Announcing rather tersely that ‘this bloody day was going nowhere - garden work wise‘, he marched out of the room leaving the door wide open, and then the window blew fully open with the draught and knocked some of the body beautiful items crashing to the floor. One spilt most of its contents before I could save it. Just as I was bending down to retrieve another a voice said at the window;

‘It’s ok, I’ll tidy up everything out here.‘

I got the distinct impression that couched in that sentence was a definite reference to my ridiculous ‘beauty’ routines being a complete waste of time. Made even more so, I imagine, by the sight of me from behind trying to scoop up my spilt lotion off the tiled floor, clad only in the wretched shower cap (you would think the French could invent something better?) and dollops of the green hair remover.

Felt the thinking was that I would be far better off helping with whatever was going on outside. Ah yes, all that important men’s work, which necessitated me having to find endless items or tell him where he had left his various tools all day it, seemed. Mental note made there and then never, ever to try to have these days to myself again, except when husband is guaranteed to be out of the house for hours.

During these days of beauty routines and ‘getting that great body’ ideas, I drink even more water than I do normally, and that can add up to quite a lot. Drinking all this water has the desired effect of sending one to ‘le toilette’ all day long. It makes sense to me on those cleansing days to just stay at home.

So we come almost to the end of my ‘day to myself‘. The very best, or very worst time then, depending on your sense of humour, your capacity to see the funny side of things, came that evening. I came out of the loo and was almost knocked down by Larry who was rushing in. He flew past me, said nothing and I assumed he was dying to use it too. But the door didn’t close and I looked back to see was everything ok. Imagine my surprise to see that he had unbelievably lifted the toilet seat, and was peering in to the bowl.

Speechless, I watched him, wondering what on earth was coming next. Not knowing I was standing behind him in the doorway, thinking I had gone back downstairs, he shouted to me, “Jane, did you give this a quick flush or a slow flush — I was downstairs and I couldn't hear properly.’ He continued to gaze into the bowl, muttering to himself.

Convinced he was losing it, I asked gently enough,

‘Are you quite all right today?’

He jumped and spun around.

‘Yes! Yes, of course I am, absolutely fine.‘ he replied. ‘It’s just that I must remember to tell anybody who comes to visit as well. I’ve changed the ball cock in the cistern and I am experimenting.’

‘With what?’

‘Slow flush or quick flush of course! Quick flush is best. It also uses less water.’ he said, as if to an idiot. ‘We have to tell people.’

Did I mention a sense of humour? I burst out laughing and ran. Down a flight and through another landing, down another flight and then I actually ran out of the house and up to the top of our beautiful village. And it was here, where the views of the Pyrenees under the bluest of skies more than made up for me not having that particular Monday off after all.

(Still, not for a King’s ransom would I change anything here, even though we may be from Venus and Mars, respectively!)


Jane Shortall was born in Ireland and now lives in a tiny mediaeval village in a remote part of the South of France, close to the Pyrenees.

She has had various careers, including the Aerospace business — tough but lucrative and, nearer to her heart, some years with the Equestrian Federation of Ireland.

Interests: writing, reading, history of art, music, nature, food & wine, horses. She loves New York, North Africa and Italy and would live in a matchbox in Florence if she could afford it!

She intends to write full time and can be reached by email.


Copyright©2005 Jane Shortall for SeniorWomenWeb
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