The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Monday, 15 October 2018

Our latest board game evening - and just too much partying for this old bird!

On Saturday night we had our latest, monthly board game evening at my neighbours' house. There were only eight of us there this time as quite a few of our group already had plans and I did wonder if it would be as much fun as usual - but it was every bit as much fun, probably because we could all easily play the same game. Yet again there was way too much food, although I found that we were very reasonable in the wine department, thankfully. We spent most of the evening playing a game called "Time's Up" where we split into four teams of two and each had to get our team mate to say certain words or phrases, either by giving clues or by miming, all the while being up against the clock! It wasn't easy as many of the answers were very "French-specific" - by which I mean French culture, TV, expressions and so on. I don't even have French TV so a lot of it went straight over my head but on occasion we stumbled across a few anglophone answers which tended to make up for all the "Frenchie" stuff. For instance, what is the name of the main character in The Big Bang Theory (answer: Sheldon Cooper - hope you got that one!).

Anyway, at one point I had to get D, my English friend, to say "Harrison Ford". Easy right! Well bugger me but do you think I could think of the name "Indiana Jones". It went straight out my mind. I seriously couldn't be on a programme like "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire" because even if I knew the answers (unlikely, I admit) my brain just doesn't fire properly when I'm under pressure! So my solution to getting her to say "Ford" was to start singing "climb every mountain, FORD every stream"!!! Seriously! The French just looked at me like I was mad!! So Jen, my daughter-in-law (to be) suggested she say the word "hedgehog" in French - i.e. "hérisson" - which, for some reason, to Jen, sounded like "Harrison". OK, I can go with that I suppose, but I can't say we were on the same wavelength really. Then she asked D what make of car I drive - to which somebody yelled out "Toyota" (I drive a Ford). So in the end, "Harrison Ford" ended up coming out like "Hedgehog Toyota"! I guess you had to be there but I was doubled up, it was so funny! I also had to get her to say "Claude Monnet", so just said "how do you say "argent" in English?" and she stared at me and said "money"! I took that one as a win even if D had no idea what I was talking about!

We finally finished that game around 1 a.m. when Isabelle, our hostess, suggested another game - "Six qui prend" - a rather good card game which was new to me but good fun anyway. I ended up trudging home exhausted (all 20 metres of it) at around 2.30 a.m.!!!! Goodness, I'm too old for this partying malarky, I was so out of it the next day that I had to have a three hour siesta! The sooner I retire the better, I must say, if I'm going to keep partying like this!

Isabelle - miming God alone knows what!

A "smaller" mime obviously!

Jen - either with her swag bag or being Father Christmas!

Not sure what Philippe was miming with such gay abandon!

Jordan all smiley-faced!

Isabelle - looks like she's singing opera!

Friday, 12 October 2018

If there were ever any doubt ...

... that I made the right choice to hand my notice in, that doubt disappeared this morning when it took me three hours to get to work!!!

Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Sicily - la fin!


Our last couple of days in Sicily were spent visiting the ancient Greek town of Agrigento and the Valley of the Temples. The remains here were quite spectacular with the Temple of Concord and the Temple of Zeus being incredibly intact - the Temple of Zeus is also the largest temple built by the Greeks. As we were being given the background at the Temple of Zeus there was a modern day section of the "Oracles" - basically screaming women who predicted the future. I (and many others) didn't like it at all (call it art, call it what you want but it was still just a bunch of screaming women to this pleb) but our guide was saying that they believe there had been sulphur and other gas emissions in the area and it is quite possible that the "Oracles" were driven crazy and given to screaming as a result of being subjected to these gasses. Now that is interesting.


I loved this olive tree - many hundreds of years old.


Our last day was spent in the beautiful town of Cefalú, a lovely fishing port dominated by one of Sicily's finest Norman cathedrals. Now this town I really loved. I don't know why, but it had so much character and was just so pretty.


Cefalú

There were small, pretty beaches - uncrowded - and loads of interesting back streets to explore. All in all a lovely way to end our stay.

As for our group, they were pretty nice. Well, I have usually found my travelling companions to be pleasant, to be honest. Of course there are always a couple that everyone tends to avoid like the plague but all in all they were a nice bunch. There was an 80 year old lady who was not a widow but who was the carer for her husband who suffered from both Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. The poor thing occasionally took a short break in order to get away from the constant strain of being a never-ending care giver. She did it willingly, of course, but 24/7 that has got to be so hard. Her name was Marion. Now I have a sister called Marion and a sister called Brenda, and I'm pretty sure I called her Brenda right up to the last day - but she didn't bat an eyelid! She was quite bent over and just a diddy little thing to begin with but she and I boogied on my birthday like there was no tomorrow. When it came time to doing The Twist and we had to go "round and round and up and down" she laughed and said she had a head start because she was already that much nearer the floor! What a lovely lady she was! There was also a very distinguished older chappie who was a former RAF fighter pilot. It was his first trip since losing his wife and he was quite quiet to begin with - very reserved - but even he came out of his shell a little by the end of the week. As you can see, I love my trips and I tend to really enjoy these people's company so maybe our Tour Manager was right - I might like to consider applying to become a Tour Manager myself at some point. The area I live in is a big draw for these kinds of tours - be it in the summer for the lakes or the winter for the skiing. Since I know the area and speak the language I would obviously have an advantage, although the Tour Manager is not the local guide, he just makes sure everyone gets on the right bus and nobody leaves their false teeth in a glass by the bed! Moreover, I like people (well most of them and can usually fake it till I make it with the others), so I am seriously giving it some thought - maybe next year after the wedding. Who knows, the world is your oyster isn't it!

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Sicily part deux!

Before I post about the next part of my trip to Sicily, this morning I had my last "MOT" physical before retiring. I think I had mentioned before that I was getting pain in my jaw, down my neck and into my chest and since this can be symptomatic of a heart attack I decided to get it checked out. I came back with a clean bill of health from the cardiologist/hospital and also from the gynae, who nevertheless decided to send me for another mammogram just to be sure since I take HRT. Well for the second time in a row I got a male technician (which I found weird last time) but at least this one was taller as the last guy's eye line was just level with my nipple as he was trying to get my boob squashed between two transparent discuses! Sweet (or not). It is weird though staring down to see your boob looking like a pitta bread with a nipple isn't it! Still, at least that's over and done with. I had this done in the clinic where I had my second son and yet again I marvel at how spotlessly clean (and luxurious) this clinic is. Ok, it comes at the price of very expensive medical treatment in Switzerland but it really is spot on! I'm glad to say all is well, so I can only think the chest pain was coming from stress caused by grinding my teeth and my interminable commute - but that too will soon be sorted so what's not to love!

After a short wait the lady radiologist came in to do more tests and give me my results. I had had her before and recognized her South African accent so when she asked me about a couple of red blotches on my chest I told her I had been bitten by mosquitoes in Sicily and cured the occasional spot of boredom by scratching them! She just laughed and started asking me about Sicily and became more and more interested when I told her it was a "solos" holiday - one of many! So then she started asking me about all my other "solos" trips and seemed very impressed. She told me that she was also divorced and her dream was to give up her job, get herself a camper van with wifi and become a "mobile radiologist"! Wow, that sounds pretty impressive doesn't it! She had been looking into a convoy trip across the desert in Morocco where campers are provided for you. You don't have to travel in convoy in actual fact, but the guide is always the last one to head through and she was really excited about the prospect, although she said she would be renting a van solo as she didn't want to share with anyone (I can understand that. I'm pretty sociable but need my own space also). So I told her that we had had a camper for 15 years when we were married and that the ex had got the camper in the divorce while I got the kids! She just roared laughing, but when I told her I had bought myself a camper after the divorce she became more interested. To be honest, I think my camping days are over as not having anyone to travel with at the time it wasn't so much fun, but we just yacked on and on and I swear my appointment overran by about 30 minutes! The upshot of all this is I walked away with her phone number and gave her mine. I told them at work that I had been for a mammogram and had come away with the doctor's phone number - haven't told 'em she was a "she", not a "he"! Let them assume what they want!

Anyway, back to Sicily! After three nights in our first hotel we started making our way to the resort of Campfelice di Roccella, further north towards Palermo, where we would be staying for the rest of our trip. On the way there we stopped at another UNESCO World Heritage Site - the 4th century Roman Villa del Casale - a fascinating and complex collection of Roman mosaics. To be honest, we were unlucky in that it was a bit crowded (and pretty hot) but it was definitely worth it - such amazing mosaics and of course having a guide explain them was really worth it. You get so much more out of it with a local guide.




The first bikinis - worn for sports!


On the way there we visited Montreale and its stunning cathedral square. Some places, though, just had me start humming the theme from the Godfather in my head! You could really feel the atmosphere. We never did get to visit Corleone (Marlon Brando's namesake in the Godfather) but there was definitely an "ambiance"! To be fair though, our guide was saying that while the mafia still exists, of course, (as it does everywhere sadly) it is nowhere near as pervasive as it was in the 1980s and 90s, as a result of the murderous attacks on the likes of Judge Giovanni Falcone, the anti-mafia crusader who was blown up in his vehicle in 1992.

The cathedral in Montreale


Corleone
I tell you, there was just so much to see that we were on the go constantly, so I suspect the rest will have to wait until another day! But would I recommend Sicily for a visit? Absolutely!

Monday, 8 October 2018

Sicily!

Well it's taken me a few days to get round to writing a bit about Sicily but things have been a bit "hectic" here trying to dodge the hit squad about my having handed in my resignation!

I flew to London on the Friday to spend the night at the airport because our flight out to Sicily the next day was at some God awful time - 06.40 a.m. I think. Nothing like getting up at 3 a.m. to stand waiting for a bus back to the terminal at 4 a.m. but I made it. Knowing Gatwick Airport a bit better though, next time I will simply stay at the hotel in North Terminal as it is about 100 metres from the airport and it only takes maybe three minutes on the shuttle train to get to South Terminal so one less thing to worry about. On a slightly related note I have already got back to the travel company to say that it is ridiculous to have to fly to the UK in order to fly back east - it seems I'm not the only one because they have now "seen the light" and will be allowing people to make their own travel arrangements in future. Score then!

We were met at the airport in Catania by our Turkish guide, Ayrtan, (yes Turkish, to show us round Sicily) and what a treasure he turned out to be. I have always had good guides on my trips to be fair, but some are more fun than others and I think he got it just right. He paced himself well and was very good with everyone but, as I later found out, he also loved to boogie!

We checked into our hotel about an hour from the airport - a very large room in my case with a lovely view. Very nice too. I like a bit of luxury! And very sweetly, on my birthday, Ayrtan arranged for a bottle of plonk to be placed in my room! Now that's the way I like to celebrate!

The view from my window


Next day it was up early (well, every day it was "up early and off" to be honest) to visit Mount Etna. Mounta Etna is a volcano and part of UNESCO World Heritage. It stands at 3,329m so we had to take a cable car up and then a 4x4 up to the top after that. To be honest (and I know I'm going to sound like a peasant) but it just seemed to be a lot of black sand to me! At the top there was a very small burst of steam but other than that it was very quiet, thankfully, because when those babies wake up you really hope they wake up in a good mood!

Mount Etna
Then later that afternoon we set off to visit Taormina - a beautiful old town with a Greco-Roman theatre. A new friend and I set off to find the theatre but somehow managed to get lost in the back streets. I reckon we came within about 100 metres of it in the end but had to hot foot it back to the bus. Not to worry of course, because Sicily isn't exactly lacking in ancient relics (most were on our bus - in which group I now include myself of course)!






The next day it was up early (again) and off to visit Syracuse and the old town of Ortigia with its Greek theatre carved into the hillside (see, I told you there were plenty of "old relics" to see)!







Il Duomo - Syracuse Cathedral
I love looking at old buildings and ancient theatres, but I must admit I don't take too much in regarding dates etc. I mean, there's just too much to take in unless you want to make it a full-time job or have a burning interest in it. Suffice it to say Syracuse was just stunning but .... and this is where my interest really does get peaked ... inside this lovely Cathedral is buried the body of Father "Pino" Puglisi, a brave Catholic priest who set up schemes to try to get the young people of Sicily to pull away from the mafia and take another road. He knew the mafia would come for him eventually, and that they did. He was shot on his 57th birthday in 1993 but apparently the young man who killed him could not live with what he had done and so handed himself in to the authorities. He is now serving life in prison!  More to follow tomorrow.

Father Giuseppe "Pino" Puglisi



Friday, 5 October 2018

A message from Ian!

Continuing with the seemingly never-ending saga of my resignation, my director called me in on Wednesday to say that he was "worried" about my resignation letter. When I asked him why he said because I had used the word "resignation" rather than "early retirement". So I asked what difference that made to the end result and he said that he thought that in the private sector "resigning" meant you lost all you repatriation benefits (I have expat benefits) and also your pension!  What a crock of BS! I just looked at him and said "I wouldn't know what happens with people's repat benefits in the private sector but I find it hard to believe that someone would lose their pension rights because they resigned rather than retired. I mean, even the Swiss courts can't touch your pension fund. But in any case, aren't we lucky we work in the public sector"!

So I'm starting to smell a rat at this point but bloody hell, don't try to intimidate me - or baffle me with bullshit as we say - in an area that I spent the past 20 years working in!  The upshot is that he wanted me to change the word "resign" to "retire", but "of course if you resign, the big boss can't refuse you - but you know, you might lose your repatriation benefits and your pension, whereas if you retire you maintain your rights to your repat benefits and your pension but here the big boss could refuse your request to take early retirement"!!!! WTF. Is that the best crap you can come up with!

When I pointed out that our chief economist took early retirement and even the last Pope got to "retire" early, I couldn't see why a little old secretary like me leaving would pose a problem. In reply to that I got "work exigencies"!!!! Oh for Pete's sake. So I pointed out that I had verbally forewarned him in July that I wanted to leave, that I had given them the requisite three months' notice and that by Christmas my heavy workload would be over and done with until it started picking up again in March/April. Now in April I do have a piddly little meeting but I told him that just working with S - the main economist for this meeting - was enough to make me want to leave as he is a bully and a twat. Moreover I told him that it was inadmissible that S could make girls cry and have them refuse to work with him in future. He doesn't bother me because I will tell him where to shove it, but did he realize that S was harassing people, to which my director replied "I know". So bloody hell - eye roll here please - I said "you know he is harassing people and you do nothing about it! What does that make you look like"! At this point he nearly slid under the desk, but when he got up he asked me if I would "speak to S about it"!!!!! What the flip! To which I replied "you're the director, that's not my job"! Bloody hell, will someone please stop me from banging my head against the wall or even just shoot me to put me out of my misery!

Anyway, the moral of the above is don't try to intimidate someone who knows more about the subject than you do and especially don't try to BS a menopausal woman! I was fit to explode when I left his office so I told my supervisor that even if he came in and offered me full-time working from home he could shove it where the sun don't shine - intimidate me. That'll be the day!

On an only slightly related noted, remember my friend Ian who died suddenly in April - well I got the thumbs up from him on Wednesday night too! Seriously. I'm seemingly at the unfortunate stage in my life where I pretty much have to get up once a night to go to the loo. Well on Wednesday night (or more correctly, Thursday morning I suppose) I woke up around 3 a.m. because I needed to use the bathroom. So I leaned over and tapped my phone to see what time it was and saw that there was a message there.  A FB message of some kind but I needed my glasses to see who it was from. So I put the light on, dashed off to the bathroom, put my glasses on and picked up my phone - and it was a message from Ian!  I kid you not! I have no idea how that happened but I remember writing a message to him on FB which got "zapped" somehow. So I wrote him again and said "sorry, my message disappeared into cyberspace somehow" or words to that effect and Ian's thumb's up/smiley face emoji came back as the response AT 3 A.M. LAST THURSDAY MORNING. He was buried on 4 May!  Good grief. I suppose it somehow got caught up in some kind of time warp as I don't think anyone would be in his FB account so many months later or if so, why at 3 in the morning? But you know what, it was actually a real pleasure to get that message from him - weird of course - but a pleasure. I wasn't dreaming/drunk/drugged at all - I was wide awake and that message stayed on my phone for about a minute before it disappeared. Wow, I can't find it on FB messenger but I know I sent the incoming message to him. Anyway, my take on that is he was giving me the thumbs up for resigning (or should that be "retiring") because he took that leap of faith and left England with just his van and his tools in 2011 in order to escape the rat race. He loved his life in Bulgaria and had no intention of moving back to England. I'm sorry he didn't get to live that life longer but I'm so glad that he did indeed get to "live that life". So if you're "reading" this Ian, thanks for the encouragement mate!

Monday, 1 October 2018

I did it!

I lobbed yet another grenade and handed in my resignation this afternoon due to "inflexibility" on the part of my director! He's not in today (but reads his emails) so I might be going up to bat tomorrow. Oh well, we'll see!