The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Friday, 19 May 2017

A Time to Live

US blogger Sam recently posted about the tragic sudden death of a very young and very dear friend. Quite by coincidence I had seen a trailer for a BBC documentary called "A Time to Live" which aired on Wednesday. It recounted the story of a group of people in the UK (around 12 I think - I didn't count) who had all been diagnosed with terminal illnesses and had been given XX number of months/years to live. While I'm sure to most of us that would be a horrific experience, the way the documentary unfolded, while it was indeed terribly sad, it was also thought-provoking and strangely uplifting.

If I remember right, the youngest person they interviewed was diagnosed with malignant melanoma at age 23. The oldest (that I remember) was a gentleman of 69. All were sad that they would not get more time with their loved ones, and some with younger children were very concerned about making sure they would be ok once that parent died. But the over-riding emotion that seemed to emanate from all of these people was gratitude for the chance to really live life to the full! Sounds weird I know. So I started writing down comments that they made to try to make sense of it all afterwards, and here are just a few (paraphrased as best I can remember them).

One lady, upon learning her diagnosis, talked to her children and with their agreement left her husband of 28 years to travel, indulge in her passion for art and learn salsa. It wasn't quite as "clinical" as it sounds and she and her husband both moved on but ....."It allows you to do things instead of just dreaming about doing them"!

Another young woman was asked if she would like to go back in time with the possibility of "eternal life" (well, as "eternal" as any of us have it). She thought for a minute and said "if 'eternal life' meant going back to how I was living before then no, I don't want it. All the stress and rushing around just living to work, and so on - no, I don't want it. Not now I really know what it feels like to be alive"!

One man who was naturally devastated at being told that his illness was terminal "started to shuffle", like the sick person that he now was! He was "a sick old man" so he knew he had to "shuffle". And then he decided that he bloody well didn't have to shuffle - or indeed have his behaviour conform to any particular way of being just because he was sick! So he started running constantly. I get the impression he was a runner anyway, but he explained how wonderful and "full of life" he felt when he ran despite being "terminal". I don't remember the proper name but he entered "the great desert race" not knowing whether he would still be alive when the time came. He was and he completed it! To him, the fact of enrolling was the important thing - finishing it was very much secondary.

Another lady said it was a blessing knowing that her time was "finite" because it allowed her to put all her affairs in order - but more importantly sort the children's photos for them and slip little messages on postcards in amongst their photos for when they would feel sad or lonely.

There was an overriding positivity to them all. "Knowing how long you have gives you a game plan/clarity, and reinforces the gift of life when you realize it is finite"!

And lastly, an older lady who had been diagnosed with motor neurone disease, seemed like she had been a heck of a character during her life, a frequent traveller and a "grab life by the horns" kind of person. So after diagnosis she joined a group of solo-travelling women and continued to travel as long as her health would allow. Then she met up with them in the UK in her wheelchair when she was no longer able to travel. She said she had "no intention of seeing this disease through to the end" but would be travelling to Dignitas in Switzerland when the time came to end her own life. Her sadness was that she would have to do this "before she was ready" because after that she would no longer be well enough to travel. Her final comment was that she would have liked to have remained in her own home and "do it here" (in the UK) but sadly it is not (yet) legal.

As I said, very sad, thought-provoking, but incredibly uplifting too.

The narrator's final words were that all these people had made the choice to live life to the full knowing that their time was running out. And she (the narrator) had also made a choice to not tell her audience the names of those who had died since the documentary had been filmed. The right decision I think. RIP those who have passed!

Wednesday, 17 May 2017

I'll have what she's having!


As I mentioned previously my brother, his son and son's gf came out last week for a long weekend, and although rotten weather was forecast we actually didn't do too bad - for one day at least - and then not so bad on the others. As their first day here was warm and sunny I decided to head up to Lac des Confins. Despite appearances (see the snow in the background) it was actually beautiful and Lady Luck was yet again on our side as the restaurant I wanted to take them to was open for the last day before it closes until July. Their busy season (cross-country skiing in this case) has just wound down so they take a few weeks off before gearing up for the lesser, summer season.

Not the greatest picture of me and my brother but we were looking into the sun!


Linda, Darren, Anna and Phil
We then drove down to my favourite ski resort of La Clusaz and while it was also pretty much closed up for the season it was still very pretty. After that we picnicked a bit further down the road (Nathalie, sorry I couldn't get a picture of the "Thônes" signpost for you but traffic was diverted and we ended up taking the "even more scenic route" - i.e. we got lost), arriving in Annecy to spend a few hours walking round the old town before my kids were to join us later for a dinner-dance boat trip around Lake Annecy. It turned into a bit of a nail-biter as my oldest and his wife (that still sounds so funny to me to be saying that) were driving from Geneva after work and he called to say that the traffic was horrendous but he "hoped to make it before the boat set sail". Crikey, I mean there is no leeway in that is there - you either make it before the boat leaves or you don't! But as luck would have it, they made it with minutes to spare, and what a lovely trip that was. You know, I came to Geneva in 1980 and have been to Annecy many, many times but have never taken a boat trip. We always stay up one end of the lake when we visit - but what a mistake that was as the "far end" is stunning. As this was the beginning of the season for the boat operators there was barely anyone on board so we more or less had it to ourselves. The food and service was excellent - I can't say it was overly expensive for what we got, and when we reached the far end of the lake the little town was all lit up and very beautiful. I can't believe I have never done that trip before in all these years. After dinner, a lady got up to sing and again, it was a real treat. I hate to have to shout over loud music to talk and hate it even more if it isn't my type of music, but she was excellent, not too loud, and seemed to sing just the right combination of songs in different languages to keep everyone happy. When we got back to port we could have stayed on board to dance until 1.00 a.m. but since no-one was really up for that we all headed home.  My eldest and Darren talked "politics", as is their want, but it was really nice to see them all get to know each other better. I also took a few of those "helium balloon" photos of everyone so we all had a good laugh.  I'll try to post a few when I get my act together. But it really was a lovely, lovely evening.

Just before the boat sets off
Then on the Saturday we headed off to Lavey-les-Bains. It was raining so my concern was that if there were storms we would not be allowed in the hot springs, but again as luck would have it, while it rained there were no storms so we got to spend a few hours there. My youngest had suggested that instead of taking my usual route along the north bank of Lake Geneva it would be shorter to go through Chamonix and down to Martigny. At Chamonix we decided to stop and have some lunch and here it did rain quite a bit but we had a lovely lunch anyway and got to see the cable cars taking supplies (and a few hardy tourists I imagine) up to the top of the Mont Blanc/Aiguille du Midi.

Aiguille du Midi
Since this wasn't my usual route to Lavey I ended up going the wrong direction on the motorway for quite a while but we made it in the end, although I think we were all tired of being on the road at that point. So on the way back we decided to skip stopping off at Evian in favour of just getting home and getting out of our wet clothes.

On the last full day of their visit the weather picked up a little. It wasn't great but at least it wasn't raining so we were able to get out to Sixt Fer à Cheval and Cascade de Rouget.

This is what Fer à Cheval looks like on a good day


Darren and Linda - not so bad weather really!

At Cascade de Rouget

On Monday before I was to take them back to the airport we had a little time to kill so we decided to stop in at Yvoire, which is just starting to open up for the season, followed by a quick stop in Geneva's old town for coffee before heading out to the airport.

Yvoire
We almost came a cropper though because as we headed out for the airport we became aware of a strong smell of smoke, only to discover that one of the hotels being renovated in central Geneva had gone up in flames. Emergency services had closed the roads but luckily we were early enough that I was able to take another route (and no-one was injured in the fire).

This was my brother's first trip since he lost his wife last year and I think it did him the world of good. He and his son kept joking (I hope) about leaving clothes and toiletries behind for "when they move out here" - yikes! I told them Brexit was gonna be really, really hard and I wasn't sure the French were going to let any more Brits in ever again - not sure they bought it though!

After the excitement of that weekend last weekend was back to normal. I had driven up to my youngest's to get him to sign his US tax declaration and then my friend and I decided to take a trip out to a vide-grenier (car boot/garage sale) near him.  There wasn't much of interest there, to be honest, but I did pick up a nice little dish with a smaller dish embedded into it (you know, where you serve olives and there is a little dish to put the stones). After that we had heard that there was a "garden sale" up at Combloux and since we had tried to make it to Combloux several times in the past and got lost we decided to give it another shot - and WOW - just WOW! I had obviously been to/through Combloux years ago when I used to ski in Megève, but I had totally forgotten how spectacular it is.

Combloux


My little haul!
And finally (gosh don't I yack on!) on Monday night I had my weekly sewing club. One of the ladies showed up late as she "there was a radio programme on about sex toys and she wanted to listen to the end of it"! Now all of these ladies are older than me so you can imagine how that was greeted. The other ladies were in uproar and the conversation definitely took a "turn for the worse". I won't go into great detail but to say it was ribald would be an understatement. And you think men are bad - they ain't got nothing on little old ladies! In fact, in a previous post I had mentioned that sometimes when I go to my local fabric store, if I can't get a parking place I have to park round the corner at the Easy Love sex store! Well I think the evening ended with a kinda "Charlies' Angels pact" where all us little old ladies are gonna go to the fabric store together and then do a "granny sortie" into the sex store (the subject of another post I imagine).

And last night, was my final - for this year - once-a-month patchwork lesson in Cluses. The ladies there got to talking about the French Presidential election. To be fair it was really interesting as I didn't know much about all the candidates and these ladies had some interesting views. But eventually they got to discussing the new (39-year old) President, Emmanuel Macron, and his 64-year old wife, Brigitte. The discussion was more along the lines of "like him or not give him a chance to actually do something" and for the most part the conversation was cautiously optimistic. But, of course, inevitably, the conversation got around to the 24-year age difference with his wife. These ladies were all for it, even if the conversation, yet again, turned somewhat ribald in the kinda "I'll have what she's having" kind of way. And this being France and a sewing class, the new First Lady's outfit was put under the microscope. For me the colour was beautiful but it was way too short (she's got knobbly knees) and to be honest she ruined the look as she struggled to walk in six-inch stilettos over the cobbled stones of the Elysee Palace. (On that note, I once saw a picture of Sarah Jessica Parker in killer heels hobbling like a cane toad over an icy New York pavement and she looked ridiculous - and I love SJP)! 

France's new First Lady
Yeah, yeah, I know, women always get judged on their looks and nobody ever comments on the also 24-year age difference between the tangerine buffoon with the haystack hair and the US First Lady! But like I said, these ladies' comments were pretty darn positive, though I'm not sure I'd like to be 64 years old with a 39 year-old husband and subject to all that scrutiny! Could someone pass me my fluffy slippers please!




Monday, 1 May 2017

What we women have to put up with!

At my latest gynae check up last week he pointed out that it was time for another mamo (every two years in my case). I know we all have to go through these things but really .... don't we women have to put up with it! I had dropped my son and his girlfriend off at the airport on Friday and have to pick them up again tonight, so had to bring the car in to work. I hate driving into Geneva and much prefer to get the bus at the border so I can ignore the traffic and read. But today being 1st May and a holiday in France (but not in Switzerland) I thought it would be a good time to try to get a mamo booked up, reasoning that traffic would still be fairly calm today. And wonder of wonders, I managed to get an early morning slot. My appointment was at the clinic where I had my youngest almost 25 years ago and I have to say it is still just as luxurious. I mean, if you have to be in hospital if there is a bit of luxury so much the better right?  In Switzerland we have privatized medicine and by law everyone has to have medical insurance. I am lucky enough to have very good coverage through my employer so have the luxury of being able to use Swiss facilities. I can use French facilities also of course but since I lived in Switzerland previously I have kept some of my main doctors here. The other thing is everything is to hand in Geneva - hospitals, clinics, specialists etc. whereas in France it means running all over the place as they are much further spread out. Of course they are also one quarter of the price of Swiss medical facilities but you can also end up waiting months to get an appointment, so for the time being I will be sticking this side of the border.

Up till now I have always had female radiologists but I don't know why I was so surprised to get a young man this time. I know it's no big deal but I was just a bit surprised. And of course there is always the ignominy of him crawling under the machine to try to push my boobs into the right position for the x-ray. I suppose it could be worse - I mean, if there was a fire alarm while your boob was stuck in that thing then what do you do? Of course he and the doctor were obviously extremely professional but yuck ... I hate those bloody things. Still, it is better to be safe than sorry I guess and I do understand how lucky I am that these things are routinely covered by my insurance.  I also realize I am lucky in that being "stacked" the mamograms don't hurt either. Some colleagues have told me that it is agony, but for me not a bit of it. In fact one friend described it as "open the fridge door, stick your boob in, then slam the door"! She frightened me half to death as I had never had one at that point but now I know it's no big deal!

Anyway, enough about my boobs. One of my new year's resolutions for 2015 was to join a hiking group. I live in perfect hiking country and rarely ever do any walking, so I actually went out and joined three groups. Problem is, I don't think I was specific enough in my resolution 'cos it turns out you actually have to turn up for these hikes, not just join the group! Damn, who would have thought! Trouble is, I am so unfit that what the locals consider "easy" is usually enough to have me on my knees so I wanted to start off really slowly. The other week a colleague mentioned that our local villages had organized their annual hike and did we want to go. So in for a penny, I said yes. It was advertised as being 13 km long but I knew it wasn't going to be a flat 13 km. Nevertheless, three of us set off on Sunday morning to join up with the group. I was quite proud of myself actually because Sunday morning I really didn't want to go, but I knew I wasn't going to be able to think up an excuse fast enough. So we set off to pick up our paperwork from a very well organized meeting spot and headed off. On one side of Lake Geneva are the alps (the side where I live) and on the other side are the Jura mountains, and kinda slap bang in the middle is the Salève. The first part of our hike was up the Petit Salève, which actually wasn't too bad.

Salève
Then back down to one of the local villages where soup was available for those who wanted it. At the entrance to the "soup kitchen" there was a display of old photos and a lovely elderly man representing "Friends of Old Monnetier" who took the time to explain all the old photos to anyone who was interested.  The trip back through the villages was lovely with tons of wisteria everywhere - apparently the area is known for it. At one point we came across a house with a plaque on it saying that Richard Wagner and John Ruskin had lived here (although not together!).

View of the alps from Petit Salève

Wagner wrote Walkyrie here
I suppose in the olden days it was common for wealthy people to travel to various beauty spots to take the air, take the water, etc.. The Salève would most likely have been visited for its pure air and is en route to Chamonix/Mont Blanc, although what we would cover in probably 90 minutes by car must have taken them days!  On the way down we came across a lovely tree stump that someone had taken the time to make into a "hobbit house"!


After that we headed back towards another village called Esery. This was somewhat flatter but at this point we were starting to flag.

On the road to Esery

Since it was no longer "fun" we decided to call it a day. So we trecked back to K's house where she had tea and the most wonderful apricot and almond cake waiting. While we didn't make the full circuit (we managed about 11 km), I think we were all pleased with what we managed to achieve for our first outing. The old bones are creaking a bit this morning though!