The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Thursday, 16 September 2021

In praise of small businesses!

So I finally gave in and ordered a new iPhone from Amazon on 24 August. When it hadn't arrived after about 10 days I  just put it down to ... well, whatever the excuse is at the moment, really. Not to worry, though, as my current phone still works, albeit in a somewhat temperamental manner when I'm out and about. But the other day I thought it really was taking a long time so I looked up my order on Amazon France and saw that it had been "delivered on 26 August"! Well not a bit of it! I haven't seen hide nor hair of that thing and since it was being transported by Chronopost (meaning it had to be signed for), I contacted Amazon by email to ask what gives. To be fair, they have always been very efficient, and they got back to me immediately saying they would put a trace on it, even though they "expected it to be delivered in the next 48 hours, but in any case they would get back to me by 3 September at the latest". When that didn't happen I waited a bit longer and contacted them again, but this time by phone. After a few goes back and forth with the young woman I asked why it was so difficult to trace something that had to be signed for and she couldn't answer me. Anyway, she told me she would have to contact her supervisor and we made arrangements for someone to call me at 10 a.m. last Monday - and you guessed it, nobody called! Again I have to say that this is most unusual for Amazon as on the rare occasion I have had a problem, they have always resolved it very quickly!

So yesterday I got p...ssed off and sent yet another email giving a résumé of the situation and asking when I was going to get my money back (€700 if you're interested). Well I finally got an email from the young woman I spoke to on the phone and she said she had issued a reimbursement order and to give it between five and seven days! Just on the off-chance I tried checking my credit card on my phone but so far, nothing yet. Trouble is, checking my credit card on my phone only works once every couple of times at the moment. Ditto trying to update my French banking app to incorporate a new security code that they are insisting on. Every time I try to do this I get a message telling me "this service is currently unavailable", so today I received a letter from them giving me a second code that I will have to input any time I want to make a purchase online. On a side note, I would be absolutely delighted if Amazon reimbursed me and then my phone finally showed up because on the couple of occasions I've had this happen and contacted them to find out how to return the item when it subsequently showed up, they've told me to keep it!!! Somehow I don't see that happening though, do you! I also have another large package which is waaayyy delayed too (two compendiums of the complete works of Gary Larsen. I have one myself and wanted to get one each for my sons for Christmas since they love mine). Well these haven't turned up yet either (although order tracking confirms "the plane has landed" - though where, I have no idea!). So now I'm wondering if these delays are due to the pandemic, a labour shortage or the global economic situation - who knows!

Then last week I received my new wifi box since my old one must be about 15 years old and is also on its last legs. Well I messed around with that thing for ages and couldn't get it to work, which again is odd because I had no problem setting the first one up. So in the end I asked my neighbour for help and he realized that the sim card codes I was trying to input were for my telephone and not for the wifi box. Just FYI, if you are ever told to insert a sim card into a wifi box (or into anything really) where you have to push it out of its plastic support, for goodness sakes don't throw that little piece of plastic away because that is where your codes and passwords are, in tiny, tiny letters on the back! I didn't know that but thankfully hadn't thrown it away and he was able to get it up and running! Just as a test, he called his wife using my home phone (which was now running off the new wifi) and everything seemed hunky dory - well that is until about 30 minutes later when I realized that my home phone no longer worked!

Well I've tried everything to get it to work and even ran down to a little shop in town (where André bought a whole bunch of stuff for his apartment) and explained my problem to them. The guy took his time and explained to me exactly where the cables should be hooked up and when I asked to buy a specific cable to do the hook up he just handed one over and told me to take it home and try it out - and come back tomorrow to pay for it if it worked! And he doesn't even know me (even though I've shopped there a few times). I have to admit I was a bit surprised at that. I mean, why should they trust me to come back and pay the next day? Oddly enough, about 15 years ago my husband and I were looking at furniture in a town about 30 minutes from here when we spotted a couple of paintings that we liked that were done by art students, but couldn't decide which one we preferred - so the guy told us to take them both home to get a better look at them and then come back later and settle up with him!!! Seriously, how great is it that there are still such trusting people around!

In the end I found my own cable to hook up the phone and the wifi box but yet again, my phone worked for one call and then nada! In any case I ran back into town today to take their cable back and the guy said they might well be working on a problem on the line so to give my phone carrier a call back. And that was when I got a text message from my carrier saying they were indeed working on the line and would let me know in a couple of days when everything was up and running again!

So the upshot is that I no longer have a working home phone but you know what - I'm not sure I mind because I'm no longer getting the telemarketing calls! How cool is that! I guess the only downside to doing away with it all together is that I don't like handing out my mobile number to all and sundry so I usually give out my home number and tell people to start leaving a message when the answering machine kicks in! We'll see what happens, I guess, but in the meantime it's really not such a hardship to do without it (again, first world problems right)! That being said, while getting rid of the telemarketers is a definite plus, I'm still getting the occasional email from someone wanting to put millions of $$$$$ into my bank account. Actually I got one yesterday from Dr. Fatima XXXX who had "a bank account with $10 million in it and she didn't know what to do with it" - so I went ahead and told her exactly what to do with it! Do you think that might be why they keep coming back?

But this got me thinking, if my wifi starts playing up (it's very slow in the evenings right now), my mobile phone hasn't arrived, and my home phone isn't working, how vulnerable are we if our access to these things gets completely cut for whatever reason? More and more today they are closing bank branches (they haven't used cheques in Switzerland since 2003) and pretty much everything has to be done online now. So if "they" cut off our access to these things where would that leave us? It's the ultimate control, really, isn't it!

Last year I was reading about the wildfires (in California, I think) and one lady said that she had painted her phone number onto her horses' hooves in nail polish before setting them free to get away, (she knew that if she painted it onto their flanks if they got singed or burned it would disappear), and she was also saying that she was going to get her hands on as much cash as she could in case "everything went down". I must admit I had never thought about this but of course if the banking system went down for whatever reason (hurricane, earthquake, flooding, revolution!) we'd all be screwed for getting cash wouldn't we. I also remember seeing a man in Sicily at the beginning of the pandemic trying to buy food for his family but because he had no access to cash and his card wouldn't work, they refused him! I don't really know where I'm going with all this, but I guess my struggling to get everything back up and running here at the moment brought home to me how much we are at the mercy of the online system and, potentially, the powers-that-be!

And finally, I started watching The Queen's Gambit the other night because I'd heard it was good. Well I'm on episode four (of seven) and yet again, so far, it's just not doing it for me. I've sat through three hours more or less watching people play chess so I'm hoping things improve in the remaining episodes because it's a bit like watching paint dry at the moment. Or maybe it's just me being difficult. I loved Downton Abbey, The Sopranos and Dr. Foster. Grace and Frankie was ok, The Kominsky Method was frankly painful, and here I am again half falling asleep watching a programme about playing chess and fixating on how wide set the main actress's eyes are! Maybe I'm just too hard to please, but if you have any suggestions for something a bit more stimulating feel free to let me know!

Monday, 13 September 2021

All quiet here!

There's not much going on around here to be honest - hence my not posting for a while. But at least not having much planned has given me more time to binge watch a few programmes and read several books (at the same time, usually). I've not long finished reading The Governess (thank you Ms Moon I believe) and I really enjoyed it. While I know it was fiction Marion Crawford was indeed the governess to Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret and it's written from her perspective as someone who wanted to work teaching poor kids in the slums - and ended up becoming the governess of the future Queen of England! She doesn't write particularly favourably about the "dear old Queen Mum" and, for whatever reason, I always felt that the Queen Mother was calculating, to say the least. How would I know? Well I don't of course, but she was just someone I didn't take to for some reason. Then I started reading Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss, which I'm enjoying too, after finishing All The Things I Never Told You. I suppose I go from wanting to read the "fluffy stuff" for a while and then feel I need something a bit more substantial to get my teeth into, so I started reading The Looming Tower, which is all about the rise of Osama bin Laden and Al-Queda! It's hard going because so many of them have the same name but in the end there really are only a few names that you need to hang on to. It takes you from the establishment of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt at the time of Nasser and how the different factions fought against each other, with the progressives pitted against those who wanted a return to a more fundamentalist State. It has tended to be a book that I put down and pick up again every so often as I have to be in the right mood for it, but one thing that stands out immediately is what a clever man bin Laden's father was. An illiterate, penniless Yemeni, he made his way to Saudi Arabia as a labourer and worked his way up through the ranks to become head of the largest construction company in Saudi Arabia. Of course he apparently also sired 54 children by 22 wives, with Osama's mother being just 14 when he married her and while that way of life is totally alien to me, of course, there's no denying he was a clever man!

One thing that struck me in the book was that it was not unknown for men to be "offered" the possibility to take a wife during the afternoon and then to divorce her the next day (so State sanctioned prostitution then, or more accurately, State sanctioned sexual abuse!), and when I mentioned this to the Dutchman he told me that he had been offered such an "arrangement" on one of his many work trips if he was ever "at a loss for something to do in the evenings"! Thankfully he turned the offer down!

I have also started reading Skint Estate by Cash Carraway, detailing her horrific life in poverty in England. Her mother was violent and her father abandoned them, so she was left to make a living any way she could - with the obvious answer being prostitution and performing in a peep show flop house in London. The story pretty much starts with her finding out she is pregnant by her violent boyfriend and running away to a women's refuge in order to be able to keep her baby. Her story is gross and stomach-churning, but for someone with so little education - except what she received on the streets - she is a clever and talented writer who, I believe, was able to drag herself and her daughter up out of the gutter on the strength of that book deal!

Talking of the Dutchman, I'm pleased to say that after about eight weeks he finally seems to be back to his old self. He came over the other Friday and we walked into Cluses as I had to drop off my old wifi box with my service provider, and we easily walked 12 km that day - and this from a man who couldn't walk 500 metres these past few months! When we got back we started watching The Irishman on Netflix, as he had wanted to see it for sometime (I don't think it ever came out in cinemas here). As it's three-and-a-half hours long we didn't get all the way through it, so something tells me he'll be coming back over to finish watching that soon!

I managed to slog my way through The Kominsky Method (there's another how many hours of my life I'll never get back?) but I wasn't impressed with it. Oh Alan Arkin stole the show and much of the dialogue was very clever but it just seemed to me a showcase for Michael Douglas playing an old lech so it wasn't for me. I should have realized when I started fast-forwarding through the parts where he's teaching in his acting studio that I should have given up right there and then! But I then finally discovered that I could get Doctor Foster on a streaming network called Salto and binge-watched that this past week (I told you I've really done bugger all lately). I thoroughly enjoyed Dr. Foster but I do wonder if she was almost as psychopathic as her husband. It was all very gripping, but all that bed-hopping in merry old England - well, whatever next!

Jen started the babe off on "solids" (well mush really) and he's loving it. She gives him his own spoon at the same time as she's feeding him and you just have to keep ducking if you don't want to get puréed broccoli all over your hair and clothes. She's puréeing everything herself from fresh, except for a couple of veggies that she thinks might be a bit stringy for him as yet, so she bought a couple of pots of baby food. When I asked her if they were for the crèche she said no, that the crèche makes all the food for the children themselves - the parents don't have to provide it. I was dead impressed! When I told my sister how little they pay for the crèche (around €180/month for three days a week) she almost fainted. Heck, I was paying 720 Swiss francs a month back in 1989 for André in Switzerland (it'd be over SF 2,000/month now) and when you see what a lovely crèche it is and how well it's run, I guess you have to admit it's one of the benefits of a socialist state!

Anyway, that's about it for today. The only thing that grew in my garden this year was tomatoes so I've got to go downstairs and process some of that lovely produce before it goes off. Other than tomatoes I don't really know why I bother planting a garden really. I'm all gung-ho at the beginning and then just think "sod it" by the end of the summer and leave it to Mother Nature, who gives me a few tomatoes and makes the rest over to the slugs!

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Apparently I've been cancelled!

I've been on a bit of a roll this past week, getting stuff sorted and out of here and it's been great! I'd guess it's got more to do with the cooler temperatures than any "come to Jesus" moment on my part, but either way it's felt good to make some progress around here. Last Wednesday I looked after the babe while Jordan and Jen were getting André's stuff out of their garage (now André can deal with it at his own place)! After they'd finished Jen mentioned an old dresser that my ex and I had had in our bedroom (he took the bedroom furniture when he left) so I asked how they were going to get it out of there as it was heavy. She said she was going to put a load of stuff on FB Marketplace for a few €€€€€ to try to get rid of it - unless I wanted it back! Ha, I didn't like it when we bought it so I really didn't want it back 36 years later with water damage to the top! Frankly, I didn't think she would be able to sell it but within about 20 minutes she'd had offers on that, one of the night stands that went with it and a few other things that I would have just dropped off at the recycling centre! Who wudda guessed that people would actually pay money for that stuff. Not me, that's for sure. So then I mentioned that I had a whole bunch of stuff at home that I was planning to take to the charity shop and if she had the time and patience to post it on FB she was welcome to keep the money. For instance, my sister pushed me to buy a sterilizer when the babe was born but new moms don't sterilize bottles these days (true apparently) so I have a brand new sterilizer and bottle warmer that she can try to get rid of. Plus maybe eight copper pans in the basement that my ex bought and I didn't know what to do with. They seem to be quite sought after so anything she can make on the side will be money in their pockets! Which is just as well really because she is working this week, then taking the rest of September off on leave she has to take or she will lose it - and then from 1 October she goes on parental leave for six months to which she is entitled under French law for a first baby under the age of one year! She won't get paid for it (this is where my financial help will kick in) but at least it will get her away from this business of hospital staff having to be vaccinated and will give them six months to decide where to take it from there. I guess Jordan could look for work in Switzerland (and quite easily double his salary), Jen can retrain or she can see where her job situation stands at the end of six months. One thing I had thought though is that she might use these six months to take courses in small business management/accountability since I reckon the way forward for them would be for Jordan to set himself up as a small business owner and easily triple the salary that he is making now. You know, doing the small plumbing jobs that you can't get a bigger business to take on for love nor money around here. To me that's the way it would make sense for them to head - I'll have to bring it up with them next time I see them. And to be honest, I would be happy to take the same course at the Chamber of Commerce too as it wouldn't do any harm would it. Talking of Jen's job (as a psychiatric nurse in an out-patient hospital), I've mentioned before that they are supposed to be 12 nurses when they've only been eight for the past couple of years. Now Jen is taking parental leave and at least one nurse has just resigned so where does that leave the unit? Up the proverbial shit creek without a paddle, I would guess! Jen was telling me that the Director of the hospital where she works has asked all staff to provide information on their vaccination status, and out of around 500 staff, only 125 have so far complied!

What a bloody mess! Since firefighters and first responders also face mandatory vaccination or be put on unpaid leave as from 15 September, one of their firefighter friends was telling Jen that all of the volunteer firefighers at the local firehouse have resigned, and since around 75% of the firefighters are volunteers, well they're in a bloody mess there too. Apparently in the small area they cover, they have lost three people to heart attacks in the last few weeks because they didn't have enough first responder teams to get to them in time! He said they are devastated, of course, but I suspect we're going to hear this more and more as time goes on and the stand-off continues. Conversely they were called out to a person taken ill in a residential home the other week and when the crew got there the lady director of the home asked the fireman for his pass (vaccine passport). When he told her he didn't have one and in any case didn't have to provide one until 15 September she refused to let him in!!! So they ended up in a stand-off, with the director calling his supervisor who, thankfully, stood up for the fireman, and who was eventually allowed in and was able to save that person's life!

I also managed to get my backside into gear and go walking with my friend at the lake in Passy last week and it was just beautiful. I was telling her that I'd ordered a new wifi box and phone (both of which are now on their last legs), but that I hated setting this stuff up and activating sim cards and whatnot but needs must, I suppose. And then I laughed because there was a group of young kids walking behind us and I'm sure if they had understood English they would have roared laughing at the two old biddies in front of them who "didn't know how to set up a wifi network and activate a phone"! You know, just the way we laughed at our parents when they couldn't "get the hang of all this new-fangled stuff"! Heck, when my sister married a Dane and they were packing her stuff to move to Denmark, my mom told her to buy a TV in England before she left, and when my sister asked why, my mom told her that then she'd be able to get the BBC in Denmark!

The lake at Passy last week!

We usually do one circuit of the lake and then stop for a drink at the little outdoor cabana there. Well this time we needed the pass, of course, and since my friend has been vaccinated she went up and ordered two take-out drinks. When the girl called us to say that our drinks were ready I went up to pay and she told me to tell my friend that she couldn't sit at that outdoor table if she didn't have the pass (she did, but this young woman didn't know that)! So my friend was sitting at an outdoor table under the trees, with no other table being occupied and about 30 metres away from anyone and she couldn't sit there! Don't get me wrong, I'm not knocking the restaurant. They have to do what they have to do, but we ended up going from the sublime to the ridiculous, with my friend sitting on the bench and me sitting on the grass next to her!! She came over and sat with me in the grass "in solidarity" but might have regretted it as we both ended up looking like beached whales when we tried to get up!

So this got me to thinking about how this vaccine is so polarizing in, say, the States, and yet not at all over here, and then I realized it's a matter of numbers. From what I see in the States the situation is horrendous but here? Nope, can't see it at all. I've mentioned before that I check the government statistics every day for Haute Savoie (this département - State, if you like) and there have only been 10 deaths attributed to covid in the past 10 weeks! And current bed occupation in ICUs in this State is only at 37%, including all medically sick, not just covid patients. In fact, the hospital statistics are for the State of Haute Savoie and the State of l'Ain, because Ain doesn't have any hospitals and anyone getting sick there either goes into Geneva (if they are covered in Switzerland) or comes into Haute Savoie. In fact, one of the ladies from my sewing club called me yesterday re sewing and when does it start up again and so on. She's a nurse in the second-largest hospital in Haute Savoie and was saying that while they have had a few covid patients on the wards (not in ICU), it's mostly been a case of "a bad cold" (her words, not mine) and they have been able to release them after a few days in hospital. So you see, we're not seeing a pandemic - at least not round here - and so whether or not you're vaccinated is not dividing society and pitting people against each other!

Another thing that is not only not dividing people - in fact it's uniting them, if anything - is this bloody vaccine pass, which I don't think is working out the way the government were hoping. Since it was introduced, all shopping centres larger than 20,000 square metres (so shopping malls, basically) are off limits to anyone without a pass. Except, lawyers have been filing complaints against this (so far four have been overturned), supported by the malls themselves, (of course €€€€ talk), who have seen their revenue go down by between 15 and 40%! Over here, if you want to use a shopping cart you have to insert either a coin or a token and it frees your cart from the storage bay (that ensures that you take your own cart back and they don't have to pay anyone to round up stray carts). Well protesters near Marseilles recently rounded up all the shopping carts in the parking lot and strung them together across the entrance to the mall, thus blocking access to anyone and everyone! Then you have the ridiculous situation where you can get on the Paris metro (the underground train line) without a pass but you can't sit on a café terrace and have a cup of coffee, so in Reims recently, protesters staged a sit-in picnic in the pedestrian area in front of the cafés and restaurants where they would normally be spending their money!

A protest picnic in Reims!

Goodness knows the French could have an argument in an empty room, but it has been surprising even to me how much people are sticking together and boycotting the places that require the pass. Masks are still mandatory in any indoor public places and I have never seen anyone kick off about that, but the pass? It seems to be a big "no thanks" all round!

Then on Monday night I attended an emergency meeting at the Mairie where we have our sewing club, the point of which being to inform all the different associations/clubs about the situation regarding the vaccine pass. One of the ladies had been the President of the entire Association for many, many years, and had taught theatre to adolescents (on a voluntary basis) for over 30 years. Well Catherine let rip a rant which was worthy of a balcony in Buenos Aires, all the while being vaccinated herself. She was so lit up, saying that the whole point of this pass was to divide the nation (it hasn't) and how ridiculous it was that you could go to Sunday services at church without a pass, but you couldn't attend the same church in the afternoon to listen to a recital! She went on and on as she was so angry about the whole thing and when she'd finished I started clapping - and everyone joined in! And she's right! There is no coherence at all to this damn pass and everyone knows it. Like I've said before, firemen have to get vaccinated but not police officers, gendarmes have to get it but not politicians (who can number 500 people when the National Assembly is in full session)! Damn, it makes your head spin! So Catherine's response was that she would not be checking anyone's pass if they want to attend her workshop, the yoga lady said the same thing and that she would suspend activities in solidarity. I told them that I intended to resign rather than check passes for a club that I was not allowed to attend and on and on it went! The MJC (where I used to take pilates classes) has seen its membership drop through the floor, the MJC where I take my Italian lessons is off limits to me without the pass, so Italian has gone out the window, and I've just learned that the Tuesday afternoon yoga class is "mandatory pass" too, so that's off limits to me too (actually I suspect no-one will re-enrol). But you know what, I can live without all of this stuff but how are these associations going to survive if this keeps on? They're probably not, right! In theory the pass is mandated until 15 November and is legal under the Constitution as an "urgent, temporary measure". I guess it remains to be seen if they will try to extend it beyond 15 November and/or if they have the stomach to watch so many of these small businesses go under as a result!

In other news, I managed to get another six bags of stuff out of the garage and dropped off at the charity shop the other day, as well as tearing the top bedroom apart and getting it scrubbed from top to bottom now that André has moved out. While he was here I flicked the vaccuum around on occasion but nothing more than that. Since he's moved out I've managed to pull all the furniture away from the walls and get in every nook and cranny to clean and boy does it look better up there (but eeewww, behind the wardrobe)!

All 12 of the apartments in André's building are apparently sold but so far only six people have moved in, so the other day he had an apéritif and invited all the neighbours as a "get to know you" kinda thing. It seems that they are mostly young people so it could turn out well for him. He'd already met Priscilla, his immediate neighbour, but when he had some friends round last week he invited her also. At around 11 p.m. she said she was leaving as she had to work the next morning but they stayed up until 5 a.m. chatting. So at 5 a.m. she sent him a text message, words to the effect "you dirty stop-out, staying up all night and here's me getting up to start work", so he went round to her apartment with a coffee for her and rang the doorbell - and she burst out laughing! Hmmm, she's single and cute so .... (or is it just me adding two and two together and getting five)?

And finally, on Tuesday night I was invited to dinner at my friend's house in Switzerland. He was the person I worked most closely with during my last five years at work. It was only when I got there, though, that I found out I was the only woman. Oh well, not a problem, I knew everyone, except one new colleague anyway. So we ended up being the new guy (a very nice Bolivian), a Chinese colleague, a Pakistani, my Uruguayan friend and me! They were already on the G &Ts when I got there but I turned that down in favour of a glass of wine. It was all right for them as they all lived in Geneva and were taxiing home but nope, not for me. I had two small glasses of wine over a five-hour period and then switched to water as I had a long drive home! But - and I don't know if it's age or what - the wine seemed to give me a stinking headache almost immediately so maybe I can no longer tolerate the histamines/sulfites(?) in white wine either. Damn, I may well end up teetotal before I know it! In any case, C cooked us a lovely meal and I had great fun meeting back up with these guys. Ali, the Pakistani, is a real hoot and can tell story after story! He was the guy who staggered into my office on my last day bearing wine and snacks because he wasn't letting me go without a party. If you remember I was so pissed off at my director that I decided I was leaving (after 35 years) without giving a drink. Well Ali had other ideas and soon everyone was crowding into my office and I ended up having what I reckon was the best leaving do ever! So yep, I had a great evening and it was so lovely to see them again amid all this doom and gloom. C will be helping his father retire back to Uruguay (from Belgium) soon, helping his Romanian grandma move back to Australia and will have his mom moving in with him as she doesn't want to go to Romania, Australia or Uruguay, so Geneva it is! Not sure when I'll get to meet up with him again but I'm sure it'll be great fun living with his mom (NOT!). He says he's moving in with me when that happens so I guess it's just as well I've managed to clean the skeletons out from behind the wardrobe in André's room. Oh happy days - poor guy! That'll be something for him to look forward to, I guess!

Sunday, 22 August 2021

Just needed a break!

I decided to take a break from the news and social media for a few days this week because it was starting to get me down. "Starting to get me down"? Maybe not, I'm sure it's been affecting all of us in some way or other for the past goodness knows how long, right? I guess sometimes you have to say to yourself "well there's nothing I can do about it is there" - by which I mean for me at the moment the appalling situation in Afghanistan. My heart breaks for those people - more especially the women and girls who are stuck there with a bunch of swaggering neanderthals and who will shortly be laying down their own version of the law and how these women will be "allowed" to live their lives! So I had to turn it off for a while!

That's not to say that we don't have our own problems closer to home, of course. I'm sure many of you see what's going on here in France and the passe sanitaire which will supposedly only be required until 15 November. Well if you believe that I've got a bridge in Paris I can sell you. The only way I can deal with that is basically keep myself to myself for the most part, which was when I realized the other day that other than going grocery shopping I haven't been out for weeks - well not counting seeing my kids. I haven't seen the Dutchman in about six weeks, though I spoke to him today and thankfully he is starting to feel better. So we haven't been out walking and I think that might be part of the problem. I haven't been out walking and I realize how much I need some form of exercise for my sanity. Mind you, I reckon I always get a bit like this in summer in any case because I just can't function in the heat. Still, from what I've seen we had about 10 days of "summer" and our temperatures are already going back down to "autumn" levels, so maybe I'll take myself out walking this week and become all Pollyanna-ish again! I guess also having André move out might have had an impact because at least I had someone to talk to occasionally, even if he did spend a lot of the time in front of his computer. Jen asked me if I would watch the babe on Wednesday while they get the rest of André's stuff out of their garage, so that'll be something to look forward to. He's just started taking more and bigger bottles per day so as she reckons he's getting hungrier and needs more than just milk, she puréed courgettes yesterday and has started trying him with a couple of spoons of that. Judging by the turned up nose the jury's still out on that one (I told him to push for chocolate ice cream tomorrow), but he's eating it slowly anyway so it's a start!

Since I've been at home so much lately I'm also getting the full force of the bloody telemarketers. The other day I got seven calls on my home phone and I reckon they are all from two different companies because the only things that change each time are the last two digits on the number calling. I mostly just black list them on my phone but they obviously have more numbers available to them than I have fingers to hit the "black list" button. Still, I never answer them, just let them go to the answering machine and of course the big give away is that they never leave a message. I reckon at least one of them is from my mobile phone carrier because my contract with them expired in May and they are obviously desperate to get me to sign up again. I still haven't decided whether I will take up another two-year contract and maybe update my phone through them, or just go ahead and update my phone without signing back up. The jury's still out on that one too!

I did finally get my backside into gear though and sorted out a whole ton of bed linen to put in the charity bin - some of it still in the original packaging! It was all in good condition (I cut the "iffy" stuff up for rags) and I matched sheets with duvet covers and pillow cases but in all honesty, how many sets of linen do I need? Jen took one set that she liked and André took two others but all in all I threw out seven 30 litre trash bags of linen, one bag of clothes and I have two more bags of stuff that actually needs to be taken to the charity shop. I also picked out a few Patricia Cornwell and Kathy Reichs books to put in the book exchange at the local supermarket, where I'm glad to say they've already been taken! I initially liked Patricia Cornwell very much but eventually decided there were only so many books I could read about "exhausted forensic pathologists" so put them in the "donate" bag without taking the time to check if I'd already read them. Next job has to be sorting all the pretty plant pots, vases and trinkets I've collected over the years. Sure they're pretty, but as Anne was saying (at New Happenings) if you haven't used an item in years, why hang on to it when someone else might get some pleasure out of it!

In other news, I follow a couple of vloggers on Youtube, one of whom I really like for his down-to-earth no-nonsense approach, mainly to the ever-more-evident benefits of Brexit (I'm being sarcastic) and while I don't agree with him on everything, I have to admit I enjoy listening to him slam Boris Johnson and this Conservative government for their complete lack of ability (or desire?) to govern. On that I agree with him completely. I heard someone (I think it was Michael Heseltine) once describe Johnson as "someone who looks to see which way the crowd is running, dashes to the front and shouts 'follow me lads'" and I think he's spot on! (The vlogger in question is Phil Moorhouse at A Different Bias, if you're interested)!

Another vlogger who is quite interesting (but I really don't like his delivery style) made a vlog this week about "a kipper" as he calls them - someone who voted for Brexit but who has been living in France on the quiet for years! While the guy had every right to live in France, after a period of 183 days of living in the country you are considered fiscally resident and yet so many of these Brits (mainly in Spain and France) never registered their cars in their E.U. countries and you can be pretty damn certain they claimed to be still living in the U.K. and never regularized their status here. Well he just found out that this one guy stated that he was "going back home" and when asked why it was because "he didn't want to lose his Britishness?????" (what, buck teeth and a face like a horse)? No the real reason would be because now that deadlines have passed for applying for residence permits (we three have ours thankfully), the local authorities will start chasing up these "temporary residents" in the British registered cars and coming after them for unpaid taxes. What's more, the vlogger also found out that the "kipper" had a council house in the U.K. (subsidized housing) which was paid for by the local council and he had a mate living in it and paying him £1,000/month in rent on the quiet, so he was getting the best of both worlds! That kind of thing makes me so mad so I guess you can see why I had to get off social media for a while!

Then we had the rather satisfying case of that other prat, Nigel Farage, finally getting somewhat of a comeuppance the other week. He's another politician who plays the "hail fellow, well met, friend of the people" but who, in my opinion, is just in it to line his pockets like so many of the others. Well he made a comment the other day that the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) were basically now just a taxi service helping refugees to cross the channel in rubber dinghies into Britain and they should be prosecuted! I can't quite remember but I think he actually mentioned introducing a draft law into Parliament to propose just that - prosecuting the RNLI and others in the same situation. On a side note, if the powers that be can't solve the refugee crisis then I'm sure I wouldn't know how to, but to expect the RNLI not to provide assistance to anyone in distress in the middle of the Channel is downright evil. The RNLI are my favourite charity, well respected and staffed totally by volunteers, but they are not a charity in the sense that they receive no funding from the British government because they want to have complete control over the way they operate. Well the uproar caused by Farage's comment was so great he ended up back-tracking as fast as his little legs could peddle, but someone set up a Go Fund Me in favour of the RNLI and it raised over £200,000 in one day! Way to go that person!

So thankfully I seem to be coming out of my funk for now and have yet again realized that the best way to keep a positive attitude in these rotten times is to keep plodding on with the exercise. And apparently Facebook seems to agree with me because I'm still getting the "sites that may interest you" which all seem to be about competitive cycling! I have no idea what kind of algorithm they use to suggest these sites - or maybe I'm getting a bit masculine looking in my old age, but I've just received one suggestion for a bodybuilding site called "Men's Physique - Posing and Flexing"!! Ha, maybe I'd better make an appointment to get my whiskers taken care of sooner rather than later!

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Hmmm, so what if ...?

Well summer seems to finally be upon us, arriving in one fell swoop since last week and it's scorching here. While it's been a pain in the butt to have had so much rain for so long, I can't say I mind having missed out on these temperatures for the last six weeks or so as I just I can't take it. Which I guess is kinda sod's law that André and I ended up moving the vast majority of his stuff out to his new place this week. On Wednesday I was up and down stairs like a mad woman, packing and loading stuff and then in the afternoon we went back to the store where he bought most of his furniture to get a few extra items (coffee tables, book cases, shelves for the garage) and by the end of the day we were both wrecked. Then on Thursday I took him to a store where he could get most of the remaining stuff he needed (you know, like trash cans, linen baskets) at a reasonable price, a quick drive through Mickey D's for lunch and then back to his place to unload. Friday I told him he really needed to get some grocery shopping done because the truckers' union had threatened to bring the country to a stand still starting this weekend over the pass sanitaire and he might not make it out his front door. Oddly enough it hasn't happened because Macron decided that truckers (along with the police, the military and politicians???) should be exempt from being required to have this vaccine for their work and their truck stops/watering holes would also remain open to them! So there's method in his madness because (so far) they haven't gone on strike, but the fact that those four categories of people will not be required by law to get the vaccine proves - to my mind at least - that this pass is anything but sanitaire! But ... I digress. So I showed André where I got all my fresh stuff if I didn't want to go to the market, then on to the frozen food store which is excellent (I'm sensing he will be living at this place), and finally to the regular store for the rest of his stuff. Now this supermarket chain regularly has promotions whereby you get a sticker for every €10 you spend and it enables you to buy other goods at much reduced prices. They were doing that with wine glasses and then Tupperware recently, but I only collected the stickers because my neighbours wanted them. But this time they are doing a good deal on towels and for 10 stickers and €10 you can get one very good quality bath towel, so I started collecting them thinking they would come in useful for André. Well I had parked and gotten there before him and while I was waiting a man came up to me and asked if I collected the stickers only he had a whole pile of them and had no use for them. When I said yes I would be glad of them he handed me an envelope full, so André now has a whole pile of bath and hand towels on order for about a quarter of the regular price. I hate to even think what he has spent this past week though, but he's keeping track of it and said he is still fine. I sure hope so! 

Then yesterday I went over to Jordan's to make sure Leni the horrible cat was ok and decided to spend an hour there with him reading (me, not him) so that he would have some company. Can you believe I even gave him cat treats and the little rat still treats me with utter contempt (well after he'd had the treats that is). Oh well, I did my bit, cleaned up his food and put fresh water down for him and heck, I even emptied the cat shit out of his litter and there's not one bit of gratitude! While I know most cats are more affectionate than Leni, it just confirms to me that I'm not a cat person as I don't want to go shit shovelling for an ungrateful cat, and in the end, although I like dogs more, I really don't want to do it for dogs either, so that, at least, has put any idea I might have had about getting a pet to rest!

After that I went back up to André's (he was out running around) and spent about five hours emptying boxes and putting stuff away in this bloody heat! Man does he owe me big time. But you know what, I love his apartment and it's giving me vague thoughts of "hey, why don't I move too"? I'm very impressed with the builder and who needs a house when a two or possibly three-bedroomed apartment will do the job just nicely? I reckon I could sell this, buy an apartment and walk away with about €100,000 so it would make sense too.  Hmmmm, has the seed of an idea just been planted?

Now I love where I live, the village is beautiful and my neighbours are great, so there's that to consider, but more and more I like the idea of being able to at least walk to a shop or a restaurant rather than having to take the car everywhere. Oh I wouldn't get that where André lives either so the choice of location would have to be carefully considered, but I'm beginning to like the sound of it. Of course it would mean some serious down-sizing/decluttering this end, so with that in mind, after I'd finished cleaning today I worked for about two hours sorting and putting stuff aside for either André to take or for Goodwill! We'll see I guess, because this burst of enthusiasm has so far lasted 24 hours. I really do love this village as it is so picturesque but who knows what the future holds. It's kinda exciting just thinking about it all the same!

Jordan and Jen leave Brittany tomorrow and will drive through the night in the hope that the babe will get as much sleep as possible. They've had a great time and wonderful weather, although Charlie didn't like his first experience of the sea - he was afraid of the waves! 

But talking of the heat, I saw on the news that Syracuse in Sicily has just registered the highest temperature in Europe (I believe) - 118°F!!!! Wow, it was scorching the day I visited and it was nowhere near that temperature - but what a stunning place that was!

Syracuse, Sicily

I bumped into my friend at the mailbox the other day and we were discussing her upcoming trip to Spain (I'll be taking her to the airport) and I was saying how much I would actually like to go back to the UK and travel around, something I feel Steve and I would have done together if he hadn't died! She feels the same as I do in that when we used to go back home, it was always to see family, so you never really visited other places and there are so many places I would like to explore. André and Lily fell in love with Yorkshire and the Isle of Skye on their last trip to the UK, and my niece has just spent a week in the Lake District (I have fond memories of Youth Hostelling there) after which she and her family made their way slowly back to their home in the south of England, stopping off in various beauty spots for a night or two on the way back. She always takes loads of photos and it's really whetted my appetite to go back home whenever that might be possible and do a long trip! It ain't happening yet of course but it's nice to dream isn't it!

This isn't a very good picture, but it's of The Shambles
in York, which was the inspiration for Diagon Alley 
in the Harry Potter movies!

Wednesday, 11 August 2021

All change!

Things are starting to move again around here, starting with the weather, which has finally hit the kind of temperatures we would normally expect this time of year. Would you believe last week we only managed 16°C (60°F) and it rained all day? I mean, by the time August gets here we're usually desperate for the 15th to roll around in the hope that it might start to cool down a bit, but this year? Not a bit of it! Well that was until this week when we've finally started getting up to about 33°C (90°F) - even though this time of year we'd normally be hitting as high as 38°- 40°C. Still, I'm not complaining about missing those temperatures!

The people showed up to André's new place yesterday to install the kitchen and need to come back tomorrow to provide the finishing touches and then he's pretty much set to go. I think he's talking about moving out good and proper on Friday night, but there's no rush as he can stay here as long as he wants, obviously. Still, nine months of having him here hasn't been bad at all and he was able to save up a good amount of money, which has allowed him to get pretty much everything he needs for the apartment. I guess it's sod's law though that today was the day we ended up moving most of his stuff out of my place - and also the hottest day of the year so far! We had a pretty good removal system going between the two of us but given that my house is on four floors I was a sweaty mess by the time we'd got most of it loaded up into our cars! Still, his place is lovely and we got to sit and enjoy a beer on the balcony when we were done (for as long as we could stand it, because the sun was scorching)! First thing he's gonna have to buy tomorrow will be a couple of parasols for the balcony because we could barely open our eyes, it was so bright! So tomorrow we're off to IKEA, Geneva, to have a shufty and pick up some smaller decorative items! I love going to IKEA, but I also love leaving the place as it can be so tiring - that's if you can even find your way out of there. Very crafty bit of consumer-promotion that - make the buggers keep walking round and round until they promise to buy something if only you'll let them leave!

My ex was supposed to be arriving here to meet Charlie for the first time on 25th August, but when I commented to André that his dad would love his new place he told me that he wasn't coming, but was pushing his trip back to next March! Say what???? Although he has had both vaccinations it turns out that he can't provide a "QR code" to prove this and so would not be allowed to land in Switzerland (although crossing the border into France is usually not a problem)! When I asked how he proves he's been vaccinated in the States André said he doesn't have to (at least not in PA), nor do they have to wear masks. I don't know, I don't understand any of this any more because I thought there was some sort of equivalence to allow foreign travel to start up again - but apparently not! Who knows!

Jordan and Jen are in Brittany at the moment staying at Jen's best friend's and the weather looks lovely up there too, although it can be very windy. I'm so glad they've got to have something of a break too because it's been a tough year for them both - well, like for most people, I guess!

I'm starting to get itchy feet a little with the travel bug but since I won't be going anywhere until at least next spring I'll have to get back out into the mountains as soon as the weather cools off a bit, just to make it feel like I've actually done something this year! Not a lot, admittedly, but at least something! It's been about 15 months since we were supposed to go to Holland (to see the tulips) and come back via Germany, but that was cancelled because of covid of course, so I'm thinking that in a couple of months I should be getting the money back for that trip (as well as a short trip to Italy) - crikey, it's amazing how much you save when you never do anything isn't it!

My house phone has been ringing off the hook these past couple of months (I always let it go to the answering machine), when I realized the other day that my mobile phone contract with SFR (my carrier) had expired so it's probably them plugging me into speed dial so that they can sign me back up to a contract. Just out of curiosity I looked to see what they were offering by way of incentive, and did the calculations on renewing with them and getting myself an iPhone 12 at a much reduced price. But, I'm getting quite good at sitting on these things too because while I think I probably need to upgrade my phone, to be honest, I don't really care that much about phones either. I also looked into buying an iPhone through the Apple site and the prices aren't too bad there, but I think I'll leave it for a bit as my current phone is ok, even though I had to change the battery last year. And talking of phones, somehow I stumbled across a couple of Youtubers called "Payette Forward" (basically "iPhones for idiots") and they walk you through which phone settings you can easily turn off in order to not only save your battery but also to limit somewhat the apps that can track your phone usage. While I knew that Facebook was automatically loaded onto my phone when I got it, I hadn't realized that the FB tracker is defaulted to "on" when you get your phone. So they explained that by turning this one particular setting "off" (and loads of others), you can not only save your battery but also afford yourself just a tad more privacy, although I know darn well Big Brother is constantly watching of course. I tend to use my computer rather than my phone for FB but oddly enough, since I turned off this app setting on my phone, I'm now getting the weirdest suggestions of "sites you might like" when I log into FB on my computer! Half the bloody things seem to think I'm some kind of cycling fanatic and could give a toss about where the latest races are or what the best deals on bikes are! Well I guess, if Big Brother is watching me at the moment, he must be slightly drunk, because I can't block these cycling ads quick enough!

And finally, whenever someone mentions a book, a movie or a series that they've enjoyed I write it down for "the times when I can't think of anything better to do" .... which will most likely be more often now that André is moving out. So with that in mind I started watching The Kominsky Method on Netflix and I have to admit it's growing on me. I've never been much of a fan of Michael Douglas, but the writing is very clever and I think Alan Arkin (so far) has just stolen the show. To be continued, I guess!

Thursday, 5 August 2021

In praise of the stay-at-home mom (or dad)!

I've been taking care of Charlie full-time this week as the crèche closes for the month of August and Jordan and Jen only start their vacation (they're off to Brittany) next week. Now that he's well again he is his usual adorable self but I'd forgotten just how hard it is taking care of a baby full-time. You can't do anything on the spur of the moment and have to plan everything around the baby's schedule! Plus if you do have to go out you basically end up packing for a Himalayan trekking expedition! Oh I know you build up to it and you definitely develop a routine as time goes on with your own kids, but it brought back to me just how hard a job being a stay-at-home (SAHM) is! I would have given my right arm to be a SAHM, but since I earned more than my husband and I was the one with the wonderful expat benefits it wasn't to be. Ultimately the fact that I kept my job worked in my favour because I was able to comfortably divorce my husband (receiving no spousal or child support of course) when he decided the bar room skank was a better fit for him (she was)! More than once I've wondered where I would have ended up if I had stayed home with my kids with no income of my own, only to be abandoned for a skank at 51. Thankfully I never had to find out!

Of course working full-time with young kids I, like so many others, had the constant pressure of having to run, run, run and the stress of keeping all those plates spinning was tremendous - as any working mom knows! But to anyone who wonders "what on earth SAHM's do all day", I would just say try it for yourself and then get back to me in a year's time! Because of course it's not just about the kids is it. There's the cooking and cleaning and shopping and homework and all the other duties that usually fall to the person that stays home. It can also be mind-blowingly stultifying to sing Old MacDonald Had A Farm on an endless loop to try to calm a cranky baby (ask me how I know - tee hee - at least Charlie knows all the names of the farmyard animals in English at this point)!

At one point, when we were in the thick of raising kids and both working full-time, I spoke to my husband about the possibility of him giving up work to stay home because I felt that if we were careful financially we could have pulled it off. Trouble with that was the words "financial prudence" and "my husband" should never feature in the same sentence - as I learned to my cost after getting married. I mean this was the guy who, while drunk, went out one Saturday afternoon and bought himself a car (on credit, of course) for €40,000 (which was around $60,000 at the time), while I was driving a car that would generously be valued at around €1,000 in the divorce!!! So no, we would quickly have gotten into a real financial mess if he had given up work and we depended solely on my income. The other problem with having him being a stay-at-home dad was that I learned - through experience when he lost his job in the US - that his idea of being a SAHD was feeding the baby and maybe making dinner - but that was it. I remember coming home from work one night and he hadn't washed or dressed the baby at all that day, the washing was piled up and he was doing his usual, sitting there playing guitar. For him, as I say, being a SAHD didn't involve grocery shopping, cleaning, ironing or anything other than - well "staying home", so I dropped that idea poste haste! It was a shame though because I always felt life would have been easier in so many ways if one of us - it didn't matter who - had been able to stay home! So having spent a few days with Charlie, who I reckon needs an inordinate amount of sleep at the moment, it reminded me again of just how much "unseen" work stay-at-home moms do, Ladies (and the occasional gent), I salute you!

By Katie Kirby, Hurrah For Gin

I used to follow Katie Kirby's blog "Hurrah for Gin" years ago, and I think she captured what was often the real truth about what it's like staying home with young children!

In other news, André got the keys to his apartment on Tuesday so I packed for the aforementioned Himalayan expedition and took Charlie over to see it - and it's just lovely. It's on the top (second) floor of a small, new build apartment block about 30 minutes from my place. 

The view from his very large balcony.
It's not a very good picture as I had babe on one arm and
was trying to get the picture with the other. The mountains
in the distance are where my house is - so he can
wave good night to me every evening if he feels like it!

On Wednesday most of his furniture was delivered and assembled, with more being delivered today. The kitchen will only go in next Tuesday but he said it is already looking good. Unfortunately he can't get a wifi connection before 18 August as so many people are on holiday, so he was initially thinking he would have to continue to work from my place. But with Jordan and Jen being away as from next week they asked him to move into their place until they get back - which works out well for them also because he can take care of Leni, the horrible cat! Seriously, this cat is a nasty piece of work who would scratch you rather than look at you (thankfully he's ok with the baby so far). I mean, the other day I had put my bag on the table with my car keys next to it. Well Leni has a handbag fetish and is forever sniffing around it. As I wanted to leave I managed to nudge my bag away from him, but in order to get my car keys I had to go get a large hooked pole (you know, the kind you close roller blinds with) and surreptitiously hook my keys away from him! The good news is that with me going over there more often to take care of the baby he now just treats me with mild contempt - and I can live with that because the feeling is mutual. But André has a better relationship with him as he lived with J and J for three months so I guess a short period of cohabitation between them will work out okay!

So I'm really pleased to see that things are working out well for him and he's happy. I was asking him about work the other day and apparently he is good to work from home (primarily) for the next four years, because his employer is renovating their main building with a view to getting rid of an annex and what I presume is a ridiculously high rent. Of course he and the rest of the staff will have periods when they will have to be on site (and he is happy to go in to work anyway), but to be able to telecommute pretty much indefinitely will be a dream come true (if he did but know it), given the horrendous traffic problems we have round here. Heck, I was only asking for the occasional telecommuting days and my boss refused - hence I handed my notice in two years earlier than I intended to. But then whaddayaknow, a few months later the pandemic arrives and everyone has been telecommuting ever since. But, as I've said before, I don't regret quitting because the freedom I have gained was so worth it. And now I'm off to sing Old MacDonald to try to get the Munchkin down for his nap! Freedom? What freedom? Did I say freedom????