Monday, 24 December 2007

And A Very Happy...

I'd wish my faithful readership a happy Christmas if I had one, but seeing as I don't I'll dedicate it to my good friend, Pos Terity. It's too late to be witty, coherent or imaginative so I'll just post a few thoughts in the existing mould. Most of my brain went to bed quite a long time ago and I think I'll follow it in just a few lines' time.

One Christmas I'd like to have a real few days off without having to worry about what's starting up on December 27th and trying to organise what's currently on the plate around it. It'd be nice for Mrs. F and the Fingernails, too. The idea of taking a car (which we don't have) up to a weekend retreat with comfy sofas and a log fire (which we don't have, either) is too good to write off completely so there is a point to the current schedule and its inanities. Nice bits of this Christmas period have been making mince pies and finding imaginative ways of cooking vegetables so that Fingernail 2 eats them without me having forcibly to stuff them down her throat and holding her mouth shut. Little victories which make you not dread mealtimes.

It's no good, I'm falling asleep on the screen.

Thursday, 13 December 2007

Mulled wine and mince pies

So my singers came up trumps! They sang really well and everyone was delighted with the evening. Just a shame we got lost on the way to the reception, severely curtailing the time we could spend around the mulled wine stall and mince pie stand. Fingernail 1 was fading fast so we headed home. We're going to put something on at Easter then do the carol thing again next year. It's a real joy and they're a great bunch. If anyone ever reads this blog, you're heartily welcome; that is, if you can ever work out where it is we're doing it.

The latest production is going fine and quite a few people are requesting private sessions with me, so that helps the Christmas shopping bill. I can't believe we're starting the next production before the New Year (someone's a bit nervous about not having enough time, the usual problem), so the pressure is on us to be ready. Grief, as if there wasn't enough to worry about at the moment without losing a week at this juncture.

All those amusing little anecdotes one acquires over the course of the day seem to disappear into thin air by the time I get around to writing these posts. Oh well, can't argue with a tired brain, I suppose. Better get to bed and start collecting more things to forget tomorrow.

Friday, 7 December 2007

Future Times

The future's brighter than it was a few weeks ago. Work offers from summer 2008 are trickling in and this should make life easier whilst talking to the new boss next week. He's the one who'll decide whether or not I'll be offered a new contract come 2009 so evidence of employment elsewhere will ensure I'm not in that awful position of hoping to God that they won't dump me in the landfill. I've just decided you should never lose confidence or ambition, no matter how many mouths you have to feed; it'll only gnaw away at your credibility and no-one wants to hang on to someone who doesn't want to hang on to himself.

Our entire lives are determined by either activity or reactivity; the former is good, the latter bad. Yet it seems that many wait for the phone to ring rather than picking up the receiver. Are strikes active or reactive? Faced with a monotonous routine the temptation to just do nothing and wait for the monthly pay cheque must be very powerful. Our current political climate requires us to work more if we want to surround ourselves with all the nonsense that contemporary society deems necessary: mobile phones ("Hi, it's me. I'm ringing the bell now. Yes, that's me. Could you let me in?" How did we ever survive without them?), another, 'better', car; a more powerful computer (even though we never used more than 1% of the capacity of the previous one), ever more clothes (for God's sake) etc etc etc. The list is endless. Still, generating more money to provide a buffer zone in case of emergency is not a bad thing, though that's rarely a problem for many in a country where lifelong employment is demanded of right. I can understand it up to a point: the State is omnipresent in France, especially around pay day, so it's understandable that the populace should expect reciprocal favours. Still, I think there's a balance to be struck, one which would benefit everybody and not just there where it hurts.

Any striving out to improve one's lot entails an increase in self-confidence and activation of previously under-used areas of the brain. Even if nothing comes of the venture(s) we will have learned something. This increased awareness manifests itself in your everyday life: in your relationships, at work, in casual encounters. It's impossible to quantify but could make the difference between being one of those people one likes to be around as opposed to one who inspires indifference or even hostility. We've all had instinctive reactions to new acquaintances and, in turn, people have had them towards us. It's about survival; those people who are not required to fight for their survival will, more often as not, neglect to nurture themselves in this way. Anyone who has had dealings with any kind of bureaucrat will understand what I'm trying to say. There are delightful exceptions, but that's what they remain. Exceptions.

On a more prosaic note, we're having a new window fitted this morning. I don't honestly see how that could be of interest to anyone, it's not even interesting to me. Still, it could knock a couple of euros off the annual heating bill. And next year's tax bill.

Thursday, 29 November 2007


It's one of the three words in the famous motto of the French State: Equality, and two letters which arrived on the same day summed it up. One was to tell us that we earned too much to get state aid with our mortgage repayments (OK, fair do; never thought we'd get it, anyway), the other to inform Mrs. Fingers that, as an 'official job seeker' she would find enclosed a free rail pass with which to tour around the department as often as the mood takes her. In one delivery, our household was classed as 'sufficiently well-off not to need' yet also 'in need of help'. Go figure. Why not just give us the cash to help with the mortgage and we'll have a day out on it with the Fingernails somewhere? It's a grand scheme, though, and maybe I'll be happy of it one day, though I'm not sure a free trip on SNCF down the boondocks will yield much in my line of work. Still, as Equality goes, it's not bad, though judging by customer service in this country I think the 'Fraternity' bit needs a bit of work.

Tuesday, 20 November 2007

The Discontents

They're all having a wail: civil servants, train drivers, energy workers, students, teachers. You name it, they're cheesed off. The protagonists of French National Therapy week are making headlines for, er, something they do regularly. In terms of news, it's about as significant as those predicatable driver interviews on clogged motorways the first few days of the summer holidays. Why strikes in France are considered of any interest to anybody is beyond me; it's not as if society changes radically after a few days of transport chaos and blocked universities. What is incredible, though, is the ability of certain employees to continue defending rights which have no place in any country outside of Wonderland and students who rally around to keep a higher educational system which consistently fails its members. It's crap. OK, let's reform it. NO!! Anything but that! Solutions on a postcard, please. Or a postage stamp.

I sometimes wish the French could be foreigners in their own country for a while. Then they'd see how lucky they already are.

Monday, 19 November 2007


Well, my Christmas singers are getting better and better and ever more numerous. We had 18 there, tonight and they're really sounding good. The carrot cake at the interval was arguably the star, though, and the Fingernails along with Mrs. F wil probably polish it off, tomorrow. I got a lift back from a the patrons (and cooks) in their hybrid car. It's amazing; you don't hear a thing when you've pulled up at traffic lights or wherever. In fact, the car is so silent that, just after they bought it, they ran over their dog and killed it. This could ultimately make it a selling point for those looking to improve the state of the pavements in this city.

In all seriousness, if electric or hybrid cars really do catch on some time before the planet disintegrates like soap in a bowl, there's going to have to be some other way to alert people to your presence. How quickly will everyone adapt to the concept of always looking both ways before crossing a road? We're so used to hearing cars, lorries and motorbikes that the idea they could move about silently is unthinkable: it's already dangerous for cyclists but being noiseless and motorised will spell a huge danger for others. Will people just wind their windows down and shout at pedestrians the entire time? Will they play music full blast (as if they didn't, already)? Will the cars have 'pedestrian sensors' which bellow out warnings if small families look like they're going to cross the road at the wrong time? Basically, we can't win: either the fumes will kill you or the car itself will.

Thursday, 15 November 2007

It's nearly over. Maybe.

Mrs. Fingers is off to start a computer course, tomorrow. Nothing remarkable in that, you say. Well, you would if you were reading this, but no-one does, so there. Mrs. F stopped working when we left Paris for Germany in 2001, started making people (with a little help from me) and hasn't been seen inside a place of work since. "Enough is enough" she cried recently, possibly in French, and will now abandon, at least for the next two weeks, two very well-adjusted and loving children to their father, who can't claim the same. Thanks to the vagaries of my work I have two weeks free, so it's all going to work out just fine, unless it doesn't. Racking my brains for things to do, I suddenly realised that my two daughters, aged five and two, know NEXT TO NOTHING either about British pubs or the UEFA Champions' League and that now would be the perfect time to fill in some gaps in their education. They're pretty shaky on French First Division football, too, and with the stadium just fifteen minutes' walk away there'll be the chance to catch up on a bit of homework.

Being a househusband, if only temporarily, is something I always fear but end up enjoying immensely. It's like reading the whole story instead of getting home tired at night and immediately having to act out the last three pages. Apart from November 20th, when all the staff at school are on strike, there'll be pockets of a few hours each day when I can get ready for going back to work. Maybe it'll make me more productive and efficient, too. Then Mrs. F will return, now an Office virtuoso, get snapped up by some wonderful company and we' more income tax. Every silver lining etc etc.

Tuesday, 13 November 2007

False Dawn

Well, the announcement on the board was there this afternoon. Not only Madame from Class 4 will be on strike on November 20th but all the others, aswell. I suppose that way she can hide behind the collective shield of discontent. To be fair, it's rare for the others to take a stand and when they do, the headmistress always writes a long note of explanation or holds a meeting. The strikes in Britain in the 70's virtually turned us into a Banana Republic under Callaghan but I fail to understand the seemingly interminable anger that the French seem to have regarding their society. Maybe it's the incessant protests and subsequent governmental back-downs that have led to creating what we perceive as such an attractive way of life but it's left the State in a financial mess. Whatever happens, France won't close but it needs to work to its full potential.

Called to order

I can only imagine that Fingernail 1's teacher has been called to order; either that or she's had a fit of conscience. Fearing the worst when we went back to school after the holidays we found there was nothing - NOTHING - at all written on the announcements board. This was a huge surprise. Today - still nothing. It seems that Class 4 is going to have a few weeks of uninterrupted tuition without parents having to continually re-explain strikes to their children. No wonder they love downing tools over here: they get masterclasses in it as early as nursery school. What's more, the teacher looks very cheery: it's either genuine or a real shit-eating smile but I really don't care. Fingernail 1 adores her and loves going to school because of her. That's good enough for anyone.

Fingernail 2 has got another bout of gastrointeritis. So far she seems to have kept it to herself but not without some pretty impressive performance artistry. If our washing machine were French it would have struck by now.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Home Again?

I've just seen a job advertised which interests me very much; the only thing is that it's in the UK. I'd love to do it if the conditions were right, but how different would the pay have to be from what I earn now to at least reproduce our standard of living? Apart from that little detail, this new job would be a major step up, so we'd have to look at an IMPROVEMENT of our situation. I have the feeling this might push the cash-o-meter off the scale, but there's no harm in trying.

There's no way we could live this way in the UK with the job I have now. I'd get fat sitting in traffic, eating abysmal convenience food through lack of time and risk the sack for being late. I like the idea of the Fingernails wearing school uniform, though, and Mrs. Fingers loves Britain, so there'd be no problem, there. It just seems strange when everyone and his dog is moving in this direction to up sticks and take over their seat on the bus. After all, you never hear French couples saying they're dreaming of selling their farmhouse in Provence to go and buy a 3-bed flat in Coventry. There's also the issue of healthcare: here, we can see a doctor when we want, pay on the spot and get the money back within a working week. In Britain, having that convenience would mean going private. We'd probably need - it pains me to even consider this - a car, so there's even more expense right there.

Ah, we'll see. I'll send the forms in and see what happens. My contract here runs until 2009. I could probably stay, but there's no way of knowing for certain so it behoves me to look around. It could also strengthen my hand if I do get offered another contract in France.

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Urban Poison

City life in France is not much different to city life anywhere else: hooded youths with sad, sagging trousers, the odd beggar, dog pooh, car fumes and the like. Another thing they have in common with their foreign counterparts is 'Graffiti Shops'. These are spray-can emporia whose products, albeit sold entirely legally, are destined to deface buildings. Delightful, huh? The joke wears a little thin when you hear stories like I heard when I got home from work this evening. Mrs. Fingers, a friend, the Fingernails and the friendettes went out for a walk around 5pm. All of a sudden, all four children started wailing and crying; their eyes were streaming and they were coughing profusely. It turned out that this was the result of the fumes from one of these appalling spray cans. Thanks, Mr. Hooded Cretin; if our kids develop some kind of anomaly in later life we'll know who to thank.

And nobody here ever says a thing.

Monday, 5 November 2007

Park like a local

Went off to a local church this evening to train an English choir. They've got a Carol Concert coming up and have decided that I would be the best person to help them, based on the fact that a) their regular chorusmaster is abroad and b) when asked, I said 'yes'. It's a very laid-back affair with an awful lot of focus on the interval refreshments. Virtually everyone comes with a large bag or box chock full of cups, plates, cakes, mulled wine, coffee and tea. The music folder may or may not be found under all of this. They're enthusiastic and sing pretty well, so it's a pleasant evening out.

When we arrived, we did as most civilised people do and parked in the car park. This is, apparently, not what the priest does. Not for him the risk of leaving his car amongst the conveyances of the faithful: he opens the double front doors, folds in his wing mirrors, slips into first and cruises towards the Almighty. The congregation has to squeeze past his Renault to get in. OK, he doesn't park in the nave itself but most of the reception area does get transformed into a rather sad version of the Paris Car Show.

The lady who gave me a lift in told me that her daughter was 'learning how to drive at a French driving school'. Anyone who has ever tried to cross a road in this country would find that at least mildly contradictory. Yesterday, she nearly backed into a Mercedes 4x4; no doubt her instructor will work hard on improving her aim. I trust he'll inform her that it's illegal to change down into second for any corner less than than 90°, too.

The pavements of this ancient city are peppered with bollards to prevent 'drivers' parking on them. Very often, they are so narrow that only pedestrians in their fourth month of hunger strike can walk down them without toppling over into the road. Add the bollards and you're stymied. Bring a pushchair into the equation and you've no choice: you're in the street. Pretty soon you're being honked at for obstructing traffic by the self same people whose indiscipline and selfishness pushed you into their way in the first place. On the plus side, it's a very good way of learning new vocabulary and gestures.

The problem is not new in Old Europe: how to arrange an immobile architectural infrastructure to accomodate the senseless love of the motor car. People who insist on driving 400 yards to the corner café and then spend fifteen minutes trying to park will not, generally, be receptive to any campaign aimed at reducing car dependance. Politicians are loath to enforce anti-car legislation for fear of not being re-elected onto the gravy train that is French politics, so we're stuck with half-arsed measures such as 'Pedestrian Priority Streets' and the like. Lovely in theory, abysmal in practice; any right-thinking person is going to save his own skin rather than risk being in the right and spending a few months in traction.

There's often talk of the lunacy of the Italians and Spanish on the road but I'm convinved that the only safe French car is a parked one. Unless you're trying to take communion.

Friday, 2 November 2007


Just found out tonight that the school holidays don't finish until next Wednesday. That seems awfully long, considering the Fingernails have only been back since the beginning of September. Take away the two strikes that Fingernail 1's teacher has already 'participated in' i.e. probably staying at home with breakfast in bed, watching some scrofulous re-run of an unfunny film from 1953, and the times she's been off sick (at least two weeks), it doesn't add up to much tuition time. Her little work book has virtually nothing in it so I really wonder if they've had any kind of activities these past two months at all. Don't get me wrong: Fingernail 1 is only five and I'd only just started infant school at her age, so I'm very much in favour of her discovering through playing and enjoying these precious years; she has her whole life to put her nose to the grindstone. But at the same time I'd like to see some evidence of her doing something, ANYTHING, which could expand her mind. She doesn't have to write joined-up yet, doesn't have to reproduce Caravaggios without going over the edges, but I'd like to see proof of some kind of nurturing input on the side of the staff. We've spoken to the headmistress about this woman, but, in true bureaucratic style, she is powerless to address any kind of disciplinarian issue with her. That's the job of the Academy, and they're unlikely to hoover off their cobwebs and act. My mother was a teacher in England for many years, and they didn't even have the right to strike in those days. I don't know whether it's any different, now, but at least the children were able to form a relationship with their teacher and not be held hostage to the puerile displays of solidarity, defending the indefensible, which so often passes for 'industrial action' in France. With more strikes against Sarkozy's planned reforms coming up in November I can see this creature band-wagonning any further excuse to not go to work while the parents of Class 4 run around trying to reorganise their lives and find even more ways to juggle having children and making sure they have the money to clothe and feed them. And no-one will say a word to the teacher. They can't. The right to strike is there in the Constitution of the Fifth Republic but it wouldn't surprise me if a lot of people here regarded it as a duty. My heart sank when I saw Fingernail 1 was going to be in her class this year. Sadly, my fears have already been borne out.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

And upwards...

Today at work just HAD to be a confirmation of the events of last night. And it was. Every ballsaching minute spent 'participating' in the goings-on made me even more determined to pursue this new path and move on. It won't be for a couple of years, but I'll need that time to prepare the shift, anyway. It will have been eight years in this particular discipline, and that will have been enough. Great school, thanks and bye-bye; fortune favours the brave, 'n' all that. Won't be the first time, probably won't be the last.

Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Things are moving.

There's nothing worse in life than to have no goals. When you have the feeling you've stopped growing personally, professionally or in whatever direction you choose, you reach an impasse. For many, the solution is either the bottle, the affair, the ludicrous clothes or golf. Not wanting any of these options, I decided to pick up the phone and start reviving old contacts. Within an hour there was the prospect of a more productive future and that's good enough for the time being. All that has to be done now is to pencil in some dates and get talking to the right people to ensure there's something concrete for the diary, prepare and execute. All you need is an idea, a phone that works and people available at the other end who don't bear you a grudge for running off with their wife, stealing their prize marrow or setting fire to their dog. E-mail works, too, but the human voice is more effective, providing you can suppress your desperation to turn your life around.

I'm only writing this blog as a personal diary. After losing three tomes of thoughts and memoirs to hard disk failure I decided to store them on the internet. Just in case anyone does read this one day I've taken the precaution to mask who I am, what I do, where I live and anything which could compromise the privacy of my family. I'll remember what job I was doing later on, but I probably won't recall how I felt at the time.

The Fingernails are at home all this week. Either it's the school holidays or the children are all on strike; it's difficult to know in France, sometimes.

Monday, 29 October 2007

Profile. Again.

Sorry to go on about this profile thing, but the 'Profession' menu doesn't even list the branch I'm in. Considering that it was the n°1 earner for the EU in 2005 (€14.7 billion) I find it remarkable to have to select 'Arts' while 'Consulting' or 'Law Enforcement' get their own tabs. Big Al's Mutant Flea Circus counts as 'Arts' and we're much better than them.

Something new, by God!

It's incredible to think we've been here three years and have only today hit upon the wonderful (and, let's face it, remarkably basic) idea to get pedalling and explore a bit of the countryside. Armed with two bikes with a Fingernail each on the back we ploughed through the detritus of the city centre and headed south along the canal before having lunch at a collective farm. Even at my age I never cease to wonder how far away you can seem from your workaday life in such a short time. Nice for the Fingernails to inhale something other than carbon monoxide for a few hours, too. The idea to make this a habit is now too strong to resist; having no car does tend to make one stop thinking about possible excursions, even if my suggestions of taking a train somewhere - anywhere! - and just winging it often fell on resigned ears. The upside is that the bairns zonked out within two minutes of lights out, leaving Mrs. F and I to contemplate what we could possibly do with all this newly-one free time. In true romantic tradition, she took her saddle-soreness of to bed to read and I sat down and checked my e-mails. Now, that's romance in the computer age.

The only disadvantage with having Monday as your only free day is that anything worth seeing - The Museum of Discarded Drawer Handles, Frère Jacques' Antique Modem Emporium and the like - is closed. The locals need to recuperate after slaving all day Saturday and striking on Wednesday, so as one of professional society's oddbods, you're on your own. Even a charming-looking café, situated next to one of the busiest locks on the canal (even on Monday), offered us nothing more refreshing than the knowledge it would be open all the six days of the week we're engaged in our primary occupation, namely slaloming around dog shit and playing chicken with cars doing 70 in a 30 zone.

On a lighter note, the general mood is lightening at Chateau Fingers. I read these last few posts back and didn't recognise myself, to be honest. The ambition and optimism which has led me through life to this point has been alarmingly absent since starting this blog, but can now feel a turning point. I've always had goals in life; they've taken me around the world a few times, I've seen and done things that many people never will, but recently, all I've wanted to do is curl up into a ball and hope the whole darned mess just goes away. I've got a wife, children and job that zillions would kill for, but the internal spark went out for a while, there. Thanks to a couple of rented bicycles and a bit of greenery, I can feel it coming back. Sometimes I think that's how close we all are to the abyss: just a few inches. But a few inches in the other direction can take you where you really want to be.

Sunday, 28 October 2007


I've just looked at the page "Edit your profile" and saw that the initial choices for 'Country of Residence' and 'Profession' were 'Afghanistan' and 'Accounting' respectively. I think I'll go with that: there are few things more glamorous than number-crunching in Kabul.

Onwards and upwards

We're all out of the woods. After Fingernail 2's modeling of Jackson Pollock's new pyjama range at 2am the other night and Fingernail 1's performance artistry in the bathroom, Mrs. F and I successfully navigated our bouts without any recourse to Generation Game-like redecoration fantasies and can envisage a happy bug-free week while we go out and get ourselves poisoned by car fumes. Ah, the glamour of France! From what I've observed these last twenty-odd years of being a foreigner, is that it's only really the Scandinavians and the Teutons who really know how to live in cities. It requires a lot of mutual respect, limited traffic and as much green as the city limits can cope with. Dear old France fails on all three counts. We're getting rent-a-bike stations, semi-pedestrianised areas in the historic centre and the rest, but it's an uphill struggle if the populace stubbornly refuses to take public transport, preferring to sit in traffic for two hours than risk the humiliation of getting on a bus or underground train to get home in less than half that time. God only knows what it must be like to live in Mexico City full-time; I was there for a month a few years ago and the air nearly did for me in that short period...

Saturday, 27 October 2007


So that didn't really turn out too well at all. The Fingernails passed on their germs and Mrs. F and I were laid low the whole day. Rather than infect all my colleagues I called in sick and slept most of the afternoon. Having taken care of the Fingernails the whole morning I passed the baton just before lunch and hit the sack. It would have been nice to have started this blog whilst surfing a tide of good fortune, but ach, 'twas not to be. With any luck, things will be better by the morning and I can take the Fingernails out to the market, get a paper and then sit with them on a café terrace while they sip their little drinks. It's a simple pleasure but a delightful one. That also gives Mrs. F a couple of hours to do whatever it is than women do when holed up on their own for a limited period. Monday heralds the start of the autumn half term holiday in our region. Thankfully, it's only a week and Fingernail 2 will still be going to her crèche, so it's not so bad. Growing up in England, we always lived in a house with a couple of gardens and it seemed everyone else did, too. French cities are low on green and high on pollution and dog turds, so battling your way through the streets to the park in the afternoon is not always rosy. The first time I saw a family living in a flat was when I moved to Germany about twenty years ago. They were clearly well-heeled, so I couldn't understand their choice. Here, having a house and garden here would mean moving a long way out, getting two cars and buying a timeshare on the ring road. The Fingernails would breathe much better air, but I'd hardly ever see them. Living the way we do, I take one or both to school in the morning, pick one or both up at lunchtime, have lunch en famille, then I go off to work in the afternoon, generally being back before they go to bed. The park is close, so it's a fair compromise.

Friday, 26 October 2007

So here we are...

It's late. Not as late as when I was 25, but that's time for you. Mrs. Fingers is asleep in bed and the Fingernails are sleeping off a 24-hour bug which has caused the washing machine to nearly overheat. Still, things are returning to normal and tomorrow's Saturday, but I don't get off work that easily. Monday's my only free day so while I'm off tackling Mozart the rest of the Finger Family will be at their grandmother's, chewing paella and getting bitten by insects the size of small dogs in the overgrown garden.

I met Mrs. Fingers while working in London over ten years ago. After spending time in Scotland, Los Angeles, Chicago, Paris and Germany my work took us to her home town in France. Like many in France, she's descended from foreign stock, so I can add instant family in France and Spain to the English and Australian on my side. That was three years ago. We arrived with Fingernail 1, born in Germany and now five, then added Fingernail 2 two years ago. Life was pretty carefree before, but then we started making people and it all changed. Nipping off to Las Vegas on a whim has been replaced by the usual cares of parenthood i.e. making sure your children don't try to eat broken glass or play hide-and-seek in the dishwasher. Fingernail 1 has just woken up with a headache but she's a stoic; Fingernail 2 will save all her energy and zest for life for 6am, just when we're enjoying the end of a good night's sleep with -haha- the prospect of not having to get up too early. We tell ourselves this every Friday night, but we've yet to be pleasantly surprised.

I'm not a clichéd English expat. I'm not retired, I don't live in the country. We bought a flat in the centre of the city and I go to work every day like anyone else. We don't own a car, we have no mobiles and since greasing the palm of every parasite involved in our real estate purchase we have no savings, either. Still, our children are healthy (except when they're redesigning their pyjamas) and Mrs. Fingers hasn't left me for a wealthier model. Yet.