The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Tuesday 15 December 2015

By the rivers of Babylon ...

As I have mentioned previously, I love working in Geneva, not only because of the stunning scenery but also because it is a multicultural city, with all the added benefits that that brings.  A real Babylon.

Picture Cornelis Anthonisz
Switzerland has four official languages (bet ya didn't know that).  It is principally Swiss-German speaking (around 70% I think, maybe a little more), followed by French and then Italian.  The fourth language is a language called Romantsch, which is spoken in a very small part of the Grisons area of Switzerland.  In fact, here in Geneva, signs are pretty much written in either three or four languages (German, French and Italian, and very often English is also added).  Signs like "do not use the lift in the event of an emergency", for example, would most likely be written out in those four languages. Thankfully (for me), Geneva is French-speaking, as my German is "iffy" to say the least. But, with Swiss-German being so prominent, there are a lot of Germanic names, with lots of "zeit", "stein", "hoch", etc. in them.

Recently my company held a large meeting with different "interests" being represented from all over the world.  One particular European company had recently changed its representative, and we were trying to find the name of the new person representing them so that the Chairman could have the name available, if necessary.  I started looking through lists and had to stifle the giggles. There was one person whose Germanic-sounding name - had I had to read it out loud - I would have pronounced as "horse-shite".  My colleague took one look at the name and immediately came up with "oh shite"! I don't know what we would have done if this had turned out to be the new rep - luckily for us, it wasn't him.  Phew.

In a similar vein, many years ago I was on a training course in Geneva when I got talking to a woman who worked as an interpreter.  She told me that during meetings dealing with the Palestinian situation, the Palestinian peoples were referred to as the Palestinian population of the West Bank - forgive me if I got that wrong but it was quite some time ago.  Anyway, she explained that during simultaneous interpretation you simply don't have the time to refer to the "Palestinian population of the West Bank", so the interpreters had to shorten it to "West Bankers".  She was in the interpreters' both one day when one of her colleagues came out with the supreme Malapropism of "Best Wankers" - she said they didn't know where to put themselves but had to forge on and hope no-one noticed!

And finally, as my mom is Welsh I spent most of my summers up in Betws-y-Coed with family, and it was fascinating (to me at least) to see things such as signs written out bilingually in English and Welsh.  Of course not everyone speaks Welsh so when information was available in English and they needed an official translation into Welsh the text would have to be sent off to the translation department.  The sign below made the news some years ago and certainly gave me a chuckle.

The English text is self-evident.  The Welsh, however, apparently reads "I am not in the office at the moment ....".  Ha - lovely.  So it's not just me then!

Thursday 10 December 2015

A different post from the one I had planned!

Well as of a couple of hours ago Geneva is on high security alert with police actively looking for several young men who may (or may not) be deemed to have terrorist intentions.  It has something to do with a car with Belgian plates coming through the border Tuesday night (I think) and being seen leaving again 24 hours later.  The UN and other organizations under intense security, police outside the Russian and French missions, in particular.  The US mission is pretty well protected anyway.  Not a nice feeling at all, particularly when you think tens of thousands of people cross the Franco/Swiss borders here every day - me included.  Let's hope .....

Wednesday 2 December 2015

Why you should always wear your Sunday best!

As I mentioned in a previous post, from a fairly young age my dad suffered from heart problems, having several heart attacks, numerous scares and two by-pass surgeries.  Indeed, as a young girl I remember lying in bed at night listening for the creak of the floorboards and just praying it wasn't mom running downstairs to call the ambulance again.  A horrible time for all of us of course but, in retrospect, it was funny on occasion too.
Now while I know I probably shouldn't be talking about my dad's underwear here it is central to the story.  Dad - and most men of his generation I guess - wore boxer shorts, for comfort and probably because there wasn't much by way of choice anyway.  One particular day when he was at work, the elastic around the waistband of his boxers and the actual material separated company but the elastic didn't actually break.  So dad, not really knowing what else to do, just pulled the elastic up and put it over his head in order to keep his "drawers" from falling down.
Well as (bad) luck would have it, that day he was taken ill at work.  They called the ambulance to take him to hospital and called my mom at her place of work to meet the ambulance at the hospital. Several hours later it was determined to be a false alarm and that dad had not suffered another heart attack.  That of course was when mom spotted his boxers in the little cupboard next to his bed.  Well she went somewhat "ballistic" - "oh for God's sake, of all the decent pairs of underpants you have in the drawer you had to wear those!  I swear you do this just to embarrass me sometimes!"  You get the gist of it. To be honest, I suspect it was mostly relief that he was all right and she was just letting off nervous energy, but poor old dad got it in the neck that day I can tell you.

Of course, he made matters worse when he was explaining to her that after they admitted him and the young nurse was trying to undress him as he was lying on the bed, every time she tried to pull his underpants off he sat up!  We all cracked up laughing, but I'm pretty sure he had to dodge a few expletives from mom all the same.  Ahhh tales from another era I think.
Picture by Dreamstime

Tuesday 1 December 2015

Organ donation

I just recently discovered that in Wales, as from today, people who die will be deemed to have consented to becoming organ donors, unless they have opted out of the scheme. I'm not quite sure of all the modalities of it but (as I understand it), anyone over the age of 18 and who has lived in Wales for at least 12 months will be deemed to have given their prior consent to organ donation unless they have specifically opted out.  From what I understand, in the event of someone's death, if there is no "opt out" or if no close relative can be found to "opt out" on the deceased person's behalf, then organs can be taken and used for transplant purposes.  While the scheme  currently only applies in Wales, any organs harvested can be made available to suitable recipients anywhere in the UK.

And you know what, I think this is a wonderful initiative.  Of course people have every right to opt out for religious or whatever other reasons they may have, and I respect that, but for me personally making the assumption that organs can be taken in the absence of information to the contrary is a wonderful step forward to saving lives.  I know if my sons or someone else I loved were in danger of dying for lack of a donor kidney I would be so grateful to any grieving family who took the courageous and selfless decision to donate their loved one's organs, particularly at such a difficult time.

Many years ago I signed an organ donor's card and carried it in my purse.  That must have been over 30 years ago I guess so I am pretty sure that card is now shredded beyond repair somewhere. Which makes me think I must get hold of another one and do the necessary, or at the very least make my wishes known to my family.  Nobody likes thinking of this stuff of course and I'm sure many of us think that as soon as we "sign up", we will then be killed and used as a donor.  Just like making a will - "well if I make a will I'm sure I'm going to snuff it the week after".  But I for one want to be cremated when I die and want my ashes scattered in the mountains, as I don't want a place where my family need to go to feel sad.  For me the dearly departed are all around us so I don't need to be buried anywhere in order for my family to show respect.

Sadly in the last few days rugby great Jonah Lomu died suddenly of complications linked to kidney disease. He was only 40 and left behind two very young sons who now have to grow up without their dad.  Jonah did, I believe, get a kidney transplant but it failed and he died as a result of his illness.  I don't know if another transplant would have been possible for him or even if it would have done any good, but I personally believe that that option should be out there.  To be burying viable organs when our loved ones are dying for want of a transplant is somehow just wrong to me.  Of course I totally respect people's wishes not to be involved with organ donation, but in cases where people don't really have strong views one way or another, I for one praise the Welsh initiative and hope it will prove such a success that it can be rolled out UK-wide, thereby saving lives that otherwise would be lost.

RIP Jonah Lomu!

Wednesday 25 November 2015

Say cheese!

My dad suffered from heart disease from a pretty young age.  I'm not exactly sure but I think he had his first heart attack around the age of 48, when I was in my early teens.  It was a very traumatic time for all concerned of course, all the more so since he then went on to have a triple by-pass in 1974, at a time when that operation was a really major intervention.  Horrible, horrible time, but thanks to the skill of the surgeon and the hospital staff he survived and even though he subsequently had more heart attacks and another by-pass he lived to the ripe old age of 85.

Now all that is just the background to today's post really.  Around the time that he first got sick, it was decided that he should have all his teeth out since bacteria entering the body through the gums can infect the heart and do serious damage.  (To any medical personnel out there, please excuse the ah-hem paraphrasing here, but that is how I understood it).  So dad had to have all his teeth out and in those days false teeth was the only option, there either wasn't the possibility of implants or they were just way beyond his budget.  But dad hated those false teeth and to be honest, they spent more time wrapped in a hanky than in his mouth - and boy did the lack of teeth make him look old when he took them out.

Anyway, one day he had been sitting on the sofa when his hanky/teeth fell out of his pocket and ended up down the back of the sofa.  Now we had an adorable mutt - border collie mixed with goodness knows what else - and said dog proceeded to jump up on the sofa and go "fishing" down the back of it - only to emerge from its inner depths with the most perfect set of knashers - courtesy of the NHS!  Not the same dog but he ended up something like this:

Picture by Melissa Hardy

Now that really was hilarious!  Another time, dad got up to get ready to go to work and rather than put his teeth in he just grabbed them from the glass on the bathroom window sill where they were twinkling away adding to the posh feel of the bathroom and again put the teeth/hanky into his pocket and set off for work.  The only trouble was, by that time mom had also lost her teeth and had a complete set of matching false teeth twinkling away in the bathroom window.  And - you've guessed it - dad picked up the wrong teeth! Mom was furious as she had to go to work and of course as soon as she tried to put her teeth in they wouldn't fit - because they weren't hers obviously!  So she had to catch the bus into town (about a 30 minute ride) to get to my dad's place of work so they could exchange teeth.

Image by Photobucket

I think dad was in the dog house for quite a while after that.  But at least we got a good giggle out of it!  And to be honest, I'm glad we now have the option (albeit a very expensive one) of having implants should we ever lose our teeth.  Running to the loo in the middle of the night to find someone's teeth staring at you in the darkness can do serious damage to an impressionable young mind I can tell you!

Monday 23 November 2015

Round Robin letters

With Christmas nearly upon us I suppose it will soon be open season for the Round Robin letter-writers, in fact I have already received my first!  I used to get quite a few (I suppose being an expat your friends tend to be more widely dispersed) and while I don't get as many as I used to I still hate the bloody things.  I don't know why really, but I sense it is because I just got so sick of all the perfect friends, with the perfect spouses and the perfect kids who excel at everything.  You know the kind "oh Hyacinth and Hortense are just coming along screamingly with their viola lessons, and Cuthbert's percussion teacher says he is a natural".  Now don't get me wrong, I understand that if you want to send out a lot of letters to friends and family (particularly at Christmas), in this day and age it is probably a lot easier to write a basic text about what you and your family have been up to, but for goodness sake at least make some attempt to personalize it a bit.  One bland, bog-standard Round Robin letter about the perfect achievements of the perfect family just about does my head in.  I mean, am I the only one who doesn't have perfect kids who excel at everything they do?  I sincerely hope not. I love em to bits anyway but they are normal not over-achieving spawn!  In fact, I'm sure most of the kids mentioned in these letters are also happily far from perfect, it's just that the letter-writer feels somehow obliged to blow all their achievements up beyond recognition.

And as for the perfect spouse with the perfect job - well I guess I should just roll over and concede defeat on that one right away.  Anyone who has read any of my previous posts knows where I stand on the "perfect spouse" bit - yeah, you got me - he was about as much use as a chocolate teapot but far less interesting.

Maybe these letters don't bother other people, or maybe you don't all have perfect (long-distance) acquaintances like I do (you know, the ones you rarely see so you have no way of telling if Hyacinth really knows her viola from a hole in the ground), but just a little cri du coeur - for goodness sake personalize it so that the recipient at least knows you have given them some thought.

And on that note, Mrs. Bah-Humbug here will get off her high horse and get back to contemplating Christmas with her less-than-perfect kids!

Friday 20 November 2015

Fake Britain

Has anyone been watching the documentary series Fake Britain?  Along with other programmes like Hugh's War on Waste and Watchdog, I really enjoy this kind of programme.  Love Matt Allwright too, and his war on rogue traders.  I think he seems to have the perfect personality for this kind of programme and (in my opinion anyway) he is very watchable!

Anyway, I watched Fake Britain this week and what an eye opener it was, not so much for what they were exposing as fake but the prices some people were (seemingly) willing to pay for the real McCoy. I mean, Customs had seized counterfeit cosmetics with a street value of around £12 million I believe. Some of the items seized were supposedly brand name cosmetics bags - you know Coco Channel, Yves St. Laurent stuff - small make-up pouches containing, say, a mascara, lipstick, some eye shadow, maybe some blusher - and the prices on these pouches, marked as though they were legit, were from £450 to £600!!!!  I mean, even if they were real who on earth pays out that kind of money for a couple of items of make-up?  I just could not get my head around the fact that if these goods hadn't been intercepted some fool might have been tempted to buy them at, say, a knock-off price of around £250 - for a couple of items of cosmetics.  I mean, what's wrong with Boots or Rimmel?  And even if they were legit, would they have been any better than the stuff from Boots, etc. to reflect their retail price?  I don't think so.  It was just amazing.

When I was thinking about it, I thought maybe someone might not see anything wrong with paying a few pound for one these "knock-off" items - I mean, we all like a bargain right.  But one of the officers explained just why these goods are so dangerous.  The lipstick, for instance, contained paint stripper to make it run smoother!!! And the mascara contained some form of acid-like chemical to stop it from clogging! Can you imagine putting that near your eyes!

They then went on to showcase knock-off batteries/chargers, for laptops, for instance. Now I'm not quite sure of all the "technical" terms but they said that while all batteries are capable of catching fire, the knock-off versions are so much more likely to catch fire and then proceeded to put several of them "under stress" to show the effect.  The last battery they did this to had flames leaping about 3 feet into the air.  The officer then went on to say that this exact scenario had happened a couple of years ago on a flight from Hong Kong to London (just after the flight had landed), and invited viewers to imagine what might have been the outcome if this had happened mid-flight. It really made me think I can tell you.

I also got to see Matt in action last night on Watchdog where one of the scams they showed was a call centre purporting to help people find work, when in reality the aim of these scammers was to keep their poor victim on the line for a minimum of 14 minutes in order to rack up phone bills of almost £30 per time.  Just last week I got a message on my answering machine regarding a "delivery they had pending for me".  I actually did call the number back and it was some scheme where they wanted to send me a case for my mobile phone.  In fact the call automatically cost €3 to start with plus however long they could keep me on the phone I guess.  Luckily I hung up immediately and don't think I will be returning any calls again, but then it can sometimes be difficult if you are expecting some kind of delivery anyway.

And you know, you and I may think we are smart enough not to be taken in by scams - and I'm sure we are for the most part - but very often these people are very practised in what they do and we will probably all fall for it sometimes, however street-smart we may think we are.  Hell, I was robbed by a gypsy in Barcelona right under my nose .... but then they don't come much more "practised" than them do they!

Wednesday 18 November 2015

Ups and downs

Well the weather here continues to be amazing - it really has been a wonderful Indian summer - and so it seems strange to me that when I call my family in the UK they are up to their eyeballs in rain, wind and storms.  The latter, frankly, is more what I would be expecting, as it is our weather that really is oddball (although not to last much longer apparently).

On Saturday I took myself off grocery shopping for the first time since my son and his girlfriend moved out and it was really weird.  I mean, I have so much foodstuff at home already that I actually didn't need anything, but I do enjoy going to the market.  I only spent a grand total of €5 - wow talk about Mrs. Rich (if you've got it flaunt it is my motto). I think the fruit and veg stallowner wondered what had hit him when I spent so little. After a quick tootle round the supermarket I stopped in at my friend, Stan's, little bar for a coffee, and if it is nearing 1.30 pm when he closes up for his siesta I usually hang around and give him a ride home if he doesn't have his car.  While we were chatting his wife, Martine, pulled in to let him know she was going mushroom "hunting", so I jumped at the chance to ask if I could go with her.  I have never been out mushrooming and had always wanted to give it a shot.  Now most people will only tell you where they go mushrooming with the proviso that they get to shoot you afterwards as they will never give away their "secret" spots, but Martine said "sure, let's drop your groceries off at home and we can take my car".

As we left Stan called after her to take care when out mushrooming and not to forget to take a jacket!  Now city-slicker me thought "how sweet, he wants her to take care and doesn't want her to catch cold".  So while I had visions of us gracefully strolling through green fields in flowing dresses with our little "mushroom baskets" full to the brim, the reality was quite different.  Martine told me to put hiking boots on as although it was dry it would be wet up in the mountains because of the streams.  She then proceeded to put on her bright yellow "high viz" jacket, with me thinking "well that's not going to keep her very warm is it"! Of course the light bulb moment wasn't long coming - it's hunting season, we were in the woods and we needed to be seen (see what I mean about "City Slickers" or as Homer Simpson would say "dohh"!).  We did hear gunshot and while I was told later that they are not allowed to hunt on Saturdays they seemed to be ignoring that particular rule so it was better to be safe than sorry.

Another thing about being a City Slicker is that I am unfit and know it, so while Martine gradually plodded her way uphill looking for mushrooms, I kept having to pretend I had found something interesting just so I could stop and catch my breath!!!!  In fact, for most of the time, all I could see ahead of me was Martine's backside and high viz jacket - see if you can spot her waaaay ahead!

Then of course, another good "trick" is to stop and take photos of the mountains.

I think she eventually rumbled me and slowed up a bit.  Well we didn't have much luck at all.  I know nothing about mushrooms and Martine wisely says she only picks what she knows well.  I don't know about elsewhere but here in France you can take any mushrooms you find into a pharmacy and they will tell you if they are edible or poisonous or whatever.  They are fascinating though and when our next "mushroom" exhibition rolls into town I shall have to go visit.

As I mentioned previously, my son and his girlfriend have finally moved into a small place of their own but as I have been working late and not wanting to drive up those mountain roads in the dark, I waited until Sunday to drive up for my first visit, and it is lovely.  Only one bedroom but they don't need any more for the time being.  It has already served them well as my boys' band were playing in a concert in Lyon on the Friday night of the atrocities in Paris and since my oldest son lives in Switzerland and the borders were already starting to be battened down he spent the night on their sofa.

This is the view from their rather nice balcony and while the mountain opposite may not look that high, we are already up at 800 metres on a plateau, so you can see it really is a very pleasant little village.

Of course the downside was that the borders between France and Switzerland were really ramped up when I set off to work on Monday - two hours to get in to work and three to get home!  Not that anyone was complaining of course.  People were very good natured and the reinforced security was reassuring.

As for the Indian summer, it is about to end, although we have had a good innings, I have to admit. This is a picture I took from my bedroom window on Saturday:

and this is what is headed our way on Sunday:

with a drop of 20 degrees, from 14 C today to -6 C on Sunday!!!    Brrrrhhh, glad I've already got my winter tyres on!  Winter drawers on everyone!

Saturday 14 November 2015

Shout out to Fourmis in Paris

Hi Fourmis, I see that you took your blog down.  I'm not prying but just hoping you and your family are ok.  Anna

So sad for France

I woke this morning to hear the dreadful news of the attacks in Paris.  I have lived here for almost 30 years and love the country and the people.  I guess we all knew that these monsters would attack here in Western Europe (and sadly I think they haven't finished), but my heart breaks for those that died or were injured in my lovely adopted country.  May they rest in peace.

Friday 6 November 2015

Remembrance Day

It is not easy to get hold of poppies for Remembrance Day here in Geneva, but I am lucky enough to have a colleague who was able to get some from the UK Mission, so am proudly wearing my poppy until next week.  A colleague from Honduras asked me what the poppy was all about, so I explained to her that it was a symbol of remembrance for those who fought in all wars, and a way of raising funds to help the injured and the families of former combatants from all conflicts.  I guess it was initially meant as a reminder of the "war to end all wars" (WW1) but sadly the "war to end all wars" didn't turn out to be that and so many more have lost their lives or been injured since.  I believe, the poppy was chosen as the symbol because of its red colour reminding us of the poppies in Flanders Field - full of poppies but also flowing with the blood of the young men who died there.

I showed her the pictures of the wonderful display at Windsor Castle - so beautiful and to my mind a shame that it couldn't be permanent, but then I suppose if it had been a permanent display people would not have appreciated its beauty.

From what I understand, that display has been dismantled and moved on to other sites around the UK. I hope so, as it truly was a work of art.

Being of that generation, my dad and his brothers served in WW2.  In fact, my paternal grandma had 3 sons who (I believe) served in WW2 - my dad, my uncle George and my uncle Phil.  I'm not sure about uncle George's background, dad I know served in Europe and uncle Phil had part of his foot blown off in Singapore.  My dad's dad served in WW1 and was wounded in the Dardanelles, from where he was shipped back to England.  He died a few years later as a result of his injuries.  My grandma was then left a widowed mother of 6 children from a poor background, but was lucky enough to meet and marry a good man with whom she later had two more children.  As dad said, he was as good a father to me as I could ever have wished for - a compliment indeed, particularly in those awful times.


This picture of my grandad is about 100 years old - printed on cardboard!

Actually, I would like to get hold of duplicates of my dad's medals.  I have been told that I can get them through the British Legion, so I will have a shot at getting copies of both his and my grandad's medals.  I have a little bit of information regarding my grandad - a press clipping giving basic information about his service in WW1 - so if anyone knows how to go about doing this I would be very grateful for any info.

On that note, I wish you all a safe and happy weekend, where we will hopefully all be able to show our gratitude and respect to those who went before and gave so much!

Tuesday 3 November 2015

And so the Cup is over!

By "Cup", I mean the rugby world cup.  I just love rugby and really enjoy the four-yearly treat which is the world cup.  I suppose because it only happens once every four years it makes it more special, like the Olympic Games or the football world cup. Either way, I love it.  I think one thing I really enjoy is the fact that in rugby the games really do seem to be unpredictable. Sometimes you think "oh they'll be a walkover" and it's quite the opposite. In 2007 (I think) Argentina made it to the semi-finals and they were all amateurs, you know, bank managers and accountants back home.  And this year, Uruguay also fielded a mostly-amateur team, but made it to the cup anyway. And I love the fact that it is fast and rough but that the giants of players who all tower over the ref actually listen to and respect the guy - who is - usually - only about 5 feet 4!

New Zealand won this cup,

The All Blacks haka

and very deservedly so, but even more impressive (for me at least) was the behaviour of Sonny Bill Williams during their victory parade.  For those that missed it, a young lad jumped over the fence and ran out to the team, only to be promptly decked by a security officer.  Sonny Bill went over and comforted the lad, walked over so that they could have pictures taken together, and then, amazingly, took off his medal and put it over the boy's head!  I think the pictures speak for themselves don't you?

Lovely sportsmanship and the look on the young boy's face is priceless.  (Now in the unlikely event that I ever won a rugby world cup medal, I may just have magnanimously had my picture taken with the young lad, and may just have put my medal round his neck but then .... when reality set in .... I would probably have chased him down the field, tackled him with a flying scrum and got my medal back, but then maybe that's just me - selfish B that I am).  But what a lovely gesture by a gorgeous man (and that fact didn't go unnoticed either)!

And talking of sportsmanship, I remember watching a match many years ago (I think it was South Africa against Wales), when a Welsh player was absolutely clobbered in a tackle by his South African opponent.  While play carried on towards the try line, the South African player turned and saw that the Welsh player was still down, so he left the play and ran back to him, took his gum shield out and turned him into the recovery position, staying with him until the medics got to him.  I believe the player was ok in the end but that display of sportsmanship has always stayed with me.

The nice thing about rugby also is that, unlike at football matches, supporters are free to sit anywhere they want in the grounds, as there is no inter-fan violence.  When my younger son played we got tickets to see England/France in Marseille, and the two of us ended up sitting down the "French" end, the targets of much banter from the French fans. When my then 10-year-old son turned round and answered them in perfect French (despite us wearing our England shirts) they were absolutely gob-smacked - and the joke ended up being on them!

The few years that he played were great for us as a family too.  Ok it was a lot of running around but the atmosphere - particularly at tournaments - was lovely and very family-oriented.  In fact, one of my son's friends, D, grew up to be a man-mountain and has just been signed for Oyonnax Club as a professional at the young age of 20!  I can't believe this was the little boy who used to come over to play with my son - I mean, he is just an absolute giant now.   Makes me feel very old.  D has already played for France against South Africa in SA as an under-21 so here's hoping he makes it to the big time.  They certainly deserve it for all the hard work they put in, I can tell you.

Goooo D!!!

Monday 26 October 2015

This and that

These past few weeks have just been absolutely glorious.  Hardly any rain (even though it is the season for it) but beautiful sunshine and glorious autumn colours.  Every time I drive past the village sign I think "now I must stop someday and get a picture of that" - you know, the mountains with all the leaves changing, and before I realize it I have driven out the other side of the village.  Oh well, I will get around to it someday, I guess.

This weekend was lovely.  I am a rugby fan so got to watch a great game on Saturday (New Zealand/South Africa) and then again on Sunday (Australia/Argentina), and while I didn't have a preference for who won, both times the game could have been won in the last minutes by the "underdog" - in this case South Africa and Argentina.  That makes for a really thrilling match, I can tell you.

On Sunday I went with a friend to an exhibition of "hand-made creations" and even though I say it every time, I really am stunned at just how much talent there is out there. Of course there is all the usual beautiful jewelry, leather work, art work, needlework and so on, but one young man really impressed me with his wonderful woodwork.  And when I say "young" I mean maybe early 20s. Such talent.  What really caught my eye was a beautiful coffee table that he had made principally out of old skis!!!  Very unusual indeed. Of course, given the amount of work and skill involved it was also pretty expensive.  Naturally I don't begrudge this at all because I cannot even begin to imagine how much time, skill and effort went into it - but a bit outside my price range all the same. But take a look at a lovely rocking chair and set of stools he had made.

It's the kind of stuff that really does look good here in the mountains in a lovely wooden chalet (complete with log fire?).  If you are interested, he has a web site too.

After that we headed out to a place called Sallanches where they were having their traditional foire froide (that is incredibly difficult for us anglo-saxons to say!) - or "cold fair".  They had the usual vide-greniers (car boots), craft stalls, local food market, plus cattle fair and small fun fair.  Lovely! I bought three different local cheeses, some Lebanese spices that are often difficult to get hold of here, and a lovely warm jacket.  I already have a very heavy jacket for the winter, but frankly unless I am going to be climbing Annapurna anytime soon (which I highly doubt) I find it too heavy as I prefer to wear less clothing underneath and have a warmer outer jacket.  I'm very pleased with that I can tell you.

So what else is there?  Oh yes, this last Friday I made my first "extra" payment on my mortgage. Yipee.  Well "yippee" - that was a helluva lot of money to be going out of my bank account in one go, but I'm sure you know what I mean.  Under the terms of my mortgage the minimum additional payment I can make is 10% of the total initial amount of the mortgage.  As you can imagine, that takes some saving up for, but it was so nice to see my outstanding mortgage go down by the corresponding amount.  Now I just have to keep plodding away at it for a while longer, I suppose. Depending on how it works out, I'm pretty sure I can have it paid off in four years, which will mean paying off a 17-year mortgage in just seven, so I am well pleased with that I can tell you, and that's a great thought after going through a divorce at a later age.

Other than that, the kids get the key to their apartment on Monday (2nd November) so I imagine we will be spending the next few week-ends moving them in to their own little "nest" - and very pleased I am for them too.  So I really will be a (very happy) empty nester.  Lovely.

OH spent a few days working in China, arriving back on Saturday night, so hopefully I will get to see him this week too.  Absence really does make the heart grow fonder!  And I am off to my patchwork club tonight - only the second time I have been to this club - and a really nice, friendly bunch they are too.  We get just as much chin-wagging done as patchworking, so you can see I am a happy bunny at the moment.  So on that note,  will love you and leave you and wish you all a "bonne semaine".  Cheers.

Thursday 15 October 2015


Well it looks like it is finally going to happen - my son and his girlfriend are moving out. They put in a dossier for a small apartment in a place called La Vallée Verte and it has been accepted. They sign tomorrow and can pick up the keys on 2 November.  So while they will take their time moving out, they will shortly be in their own place and for the first time in over 30 years, I will only have myself to think about! And I am delighted!!!

Now the truth of course is that I have enjoyed having them at home, but there comes a time when they need to be out on their own and have a place of their own.  I remember how I flew out to Switzerland when I was 21 and got my first place.  I slept on the floor with a small lamp for what seemed like ages until I got enough money to buy my own stuff.  But you know what, I loved it (and I was obviously a lot younger).  The kids, on the other hand, have all my ex' stuff that he left behind when he went back to the States, so to say they have a flying start would probably be an understatement.  And even better, my basement (currently full of my ex' stuff) will shortly no longer look like this:

The kids have got themselves a small 1-bedroomed apartment in a lovely little village near Habere Poche/Peillonex.

I did wonder if they would like to move closer to town but neither of them do. My son was adamant that having grown up in the countryside he wanted to stay in the countryside. His girlfriend felt pretty much the same and since it is still close to work for both of them it shouldn't be a problem. It is, however, at 800 metres altitude and since they are predicting snow this weekend at 800 metres it's probably time to get the snow tyres on, but - what the heck - we do that every year anyway, as I live at 700 metres myself.

I am really excited for them.  And guess what, I am REALLY excited for me to be totally footloose and fancy free after all these years.  Geez, if I don't look in the mirror I could be 21 again!  In reality I suspect I will see quite a bit of my son anyway (they are only moving 15 minutes away), as I don't see him making himself dinner when his girlfriend is on the late shift, so I'm not complaining, but for the day-to-day living I'll be FREEEEEEEEEE........

And what an exciting thought that is!

Tuesday 6 October 2015

Do not try this at home!

My oldest sister is eight years older than me, so was a teenager in the swinging '60s and '70s. Mini-skirts were all the rage and M was very fashionable.  I mean, it's only to be expected of a young girl earning her first salary while still living at home. She was always right up to the minute fashion-wise.

As a family we got on well with our neighbours, so one day, as my sister was going out for the evening wearing yet another new outfit N, the husband from next door, decided to follow her down the road pointing out to everyone that she was wearing her new clothes. She was really embarrassed and furious with him so decided to get her own back.

She was quite the joker and working in central Birmingham she had access to several joke shops in the city centre. So she bought some trick soap and climbed over the neighbours' fence (with his wife's blessing) and put the trick soap in the soap dish in their bathroom.  Now N had really short hair - he always kept it more or less crew cut - so didn't really bother with shampoo so much as just run a bar of soap over his head while showering. Problem was, the trick soap had blue ink in it and the more N slathered on the soap the faster his hair and face turned completely blue!

As you can image, the women were all roaring laughing, including N's wife, despite the fact that they were supposed to be going out later that evening.  This all took place at the beginning of November and since 5 November is Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night it was one of the few nights of the year where people would have had fireworks in their homes ready for the Bonfire Night celebrations.

So N leaped over the garden fence yelling for my sister.  She took off running as she could see by the look on his face that he was furious.  He caught her up at the top of the path near a lamp post and somehow managed to tie her to it with the rope that he had grabbed for the purpose.  Then, in an act of total madness, he ran into his house and got some fireworks (bangers we called them), put them down by her feet and lit them!  Total madness I know. Anything could have happened and she could have been hurt but I guess you have to remember that this was about 45 years ago and in all honestly the bangers probably weren't that great shakes - more of a slow fizzle and pop but nevertheless .....  Anyway, what happened happened. N died some years ago and my sister laughs about it to this day but I guess that taught her a lesson not to mess with N.

Monday 5 October 2015

There's just so much talent around - I'm hoping it's contagious!

I have always been drawn to crafts like sewing, patchwork, etc., especially when I see some of the amazing things people create.  Trouble is, I have never been particularly "crafty" or artistic.  It's just like I love salsa music but still dance like I have two left feet - even after a year of lessons.  No rhythm you see.  Still, one of the benefits of getting older (for me at least) is that I don't actually care what I look like when I'm dancing, although it's probably pretty rough on other people's eyes, I have to admit!

Many years ago, as a singleton, I took sewing lessons in Geneva, and while I was the youngest by about - oh 50 years - I really enjoyed my evenings spent learning to sew (a little) with these older ladies.  I found it very therapeutic.  Even when I married and moved to the States, after leaving Washington, D.C. and having a baby, I still found time to take a sewing class one night a week.  The problem with that was, you know how very occasionally you meet someone who feels like he/she was just made to be your lifelong best friend - admittedly not very often - well the sewing teacher turned out to be just that.  J was lovely and I felt like I had known her all my life.  We used to yack so much that in the end I never really did learn how to sew, but man did my jaws ache at the end of each lesson.

Then J moved to Florida with her new husband and we moved back to Switzerland, and even though we lost touch, we have skyped a couple of times (with a 20-odd year gap in between times) and it always turns out just like old times.  In fact, J skyped me one Saturday while she was at the hairdresser's and from not having seen her in over 20 years, she pops up on my screen complete with aluminium wraps in her hair while waiting for the colour to take, and neither of us batted an eyelid.

Anyway, I digress.  Last year I spotted a flyer for a sewing class taking place in a local village on Monday evenings from 8-10 pm.  This was exactly what I was looking for because although Geneva has all this to offer it is usually about four times the price and means trekking back into Geneva in the evenings.  That gets old very quickly I can tell you, especially in the winter.  Moreover, while I love Geneva and everything it has to offer, many friendships can only be transitory at best because people move on, are transferred with their jobs etc. - it's the nature of the beast.  And since I am almost certainly planning to stay here in France when I retire - even though this area is expensive - I want the majority of my social life to revolve around France and not the international community in Geneva.

So I went along to this sewing class on the first Monday and it proved to be lovely.  The classes are actually free, except that they ask for an annual contribution of €40 to put towards buying material and supplies etc.  People bring in whatever they want to make and the two or three volunteer teachers help whenever people need help.  The local commune gives us the use of the room for free (my only complaint would be that it feels like a sauna most of the time - but the others don't seem to notice it - must be my English blood).  The only proviso is that the sewing ladies agree to participate in the village carnival which takes place in March (bloody stupid time of year for a carnival if you ask me - but I digress).  The women decide what they want to dress up as and the fabric is again provided free of charge by the commune.  One year they went dressed up as colourful Caribbean women, something like this:

But what did they decide to do last year - get this - sweets/candies/bonbons!  I kid you not.  Well I knew I wasn't going to have as much time as the others to make my costume as I was going to Cuba for two weeks at the beginning of March, but I ended up going dressed as an M & M (something like the picture below - sorry I don't have any pictures - thank God!).

Bearing in mind I had flown back from Cuba on the Wednesday (34 degrees and beautiful) and then had to traipse round the local villages in the pouring rain and freezing cold dressed as an M & M four days later I showed, I thought, what must be the epitome of dedication!  I leave to your imagination what we all looked like, given that most of the ladies are even older than me, but what good sports they all are.

Over the course of the year I was supposed to be making a dress but I bought the wrong sized pattern, bought the right sized pattern, put on weight and didn't like the dress anyway so didn't actually finish it, but in any case, what a lovely time I had over the course of the year, getting more yacking done than sewing of course (can you begin to see a pattern (pun intended) here).  At the end of the year in July, one of the ladies invited us all over to "her place" for an apéro - "her place" being a wholesale wine and beer outlet that she and her family run.  (It's not what you know but who you know that's important - obviously).  After the apéro we went up to a place called the Plateau de Solaison to have lunch in one of the four restaurants up there and it was lovely.  This was also paid for out of the €40 annual contribution, so you can see what a great little class this is.

Plateau de Solaison

At the same time I thought I would treat myself to a new sewing machine, my old one being over 35 years old and second-hand even when I bought it all those years ago (but still running sweet as a nut). The lady who sold my new machine to me told me it was "the Michael Schumacher" of the sewing world and indeed it does seem to have everything except GPS, although I fear I might need a PhD to figure it all out.  I mean, it is a "self-threader" - it only took me about six months to get that down pat!  This lady also gives patchwork lessons once a month so I jumped at that - once a month, in all honesty, being enough to allow some time during the week to get ahead.  Her husband also services and repairs sewing machines in their "Aladdin's cave" of a shop. To be honest, there just aren't the same number of outlets for crafts/patchworking as there are in the UK (or the States!!!) so you jump at everything you find here.

First year she had us make a sampler in order to give us the basics of patchworking, appliqué etc. The course starts again tomorrow and while four of the ladies want to make a bag, I want to make a kit to carry my supplies.  We'll see what that turns out like in due course, I suppose.

On top of that, I had spotted an advert for a patchwork and craft exhibition taking place this weekend in a small village about 15 minutes from me so I went along expecting to spend 15 minutes there at most.  Well, I was stunned. Considering it is such a small village, the quilters' club (which includes one very artistic man) produced such beautiful work and made us feel so welcome that we stayed over an hour-and-a-half.  I was taking photos saying "oh this one's my favourite", "no sorry, this one's my favourite" - and in the end couldn't decide. Everything was just so beautiful - judge for yourself (sorry if a few of the photos are a bit blurred).

Actually I think this might be my favourite - a "friendship" quilt - each piece made by a different "friend"

Well this small quilters' club meets twice during the weekday afternoons (no good for me) but once a week on a Monday night so I have signed up.  Again only €35 for the year and (so I'm told) it's a sew-a-bit, chat-a-bit kind of club (just my kind of club then) where the ladies chose what they want to make and everyone offers guidance and assistance freely.  I can't believe I have been lucky enough to find this club just down the road from me.  If I were in the UK I would probably know where to find these things but here in France it is not so obvious (to me at least) to locate these groups - but I'm so glad I kept looking. Unfortunately, being on a Monday night, it clashes with my sewing class so I think I will end up doing one week sewing, one week quilting.  Well, that's the plan anyway, but who knows.

But you know, I think I'm really going to have to re-think this "working full-time business" - I mean, it is seriously interfering with my social life!

Friday 2 October 2015

Sad news

When my kids were growing up there were always loads of other kids to hang around with.  Just a little further out of the village were two houses that were a little bit "rough". We were pretty sure they were dealing some form of illegal drugs out of the one - you know the kind - no visible sign of income but loads of big cars.  Not sure, but I think the police were well aware of this place.

In the house next door were another family, and my kids were friendly with one of their sons - Jean-Michel.  Jean-Michel was a skinny little devil and I always had the feeling that he hung around with kids younger than himself (principally my oldest son's age group) in order to feel like he was "the big guy".  Still, he wasn't a bad lad, maybe a bit rough around the edges.  I'm not sure where the dad was - if indeed he was around - but mom seemed like a pretty decent lady.

As time went by and our kids grew up we pretty much lost track of Jean-Michel. Occasionally you would see him on his scooter with this blooming great big dog sitting between his legs on the footrest of the scooter.  It was pretty comical to see (if probably rather dangerous).

Anyway, about 3 years ago, Jean-Michel simply disappeared into thin air - or so it would seem - along with his dogs.  Nobody had any news of him or had any idea why he might have left or where he had gone to.

Every morning I glance through the local Geneva newspaper, which also runs stories on the surrounding French area.  They had a short article last week where a hunter had stumbled across human remains in the mountains above a place called Cluses.  Well, my son came home last night and told me that the remains had been found to be those of Jean-Michel!!!  I still can't believe it! From what they can gather he had taken his dogs off walking up in the mountains and must have fallen. The area where he was found was pretty inaccessible and despite numerous searches he had never been spotted, nor have his dogs been found.

How terribly sad to think that he has lain out in the mountains for these past three years. At least his mom can now give him a decent burial - but it breaks my heart to think about it.

Thursday 1 October 2015

Who says the art of romance is dead!

Last Thursday (24th September) was my 57th birthday. I got an sms from my oldest son who was at a wedding in Portugal and my younger son and his girlfriend surprised me with a lovely pair of earrings, a beautiful artisanal scarf and a lovely bouquet of flowers. Aren't they pretty!

Then I got a message from OH suggesting that he take me to dinner.  Again a beautiful bouquet of flowers.  I mean, I really was spoilt.

We discussed where we should go for dinner and I suggested a Canadian restaurant that had just opened up in town and which was getting pretty good reviews, to the point where you needed a reservation as they were generally pretty full.  So I googled them to get their phone number and on checking out Tripadvisor the reviews were indeed pretty good but there was more than one mention of slow service (probably because they are just starting up and trying to keep staff overheads low, I would think).  When I pointed this out to OH he said to forget it as he wouldn't be putting up with slow service.  I knew what would happen, he would get all snitty if he was not happy with the service and the evening would be ruined.  So rather than try this place (I can always go another time with a girlfriend who has more patience than OH) I mentioned another of my favourite places and again OH wasn't sure so - rather sarcastically I thought - he said "what about going to Stan's"!!!

Well Stan is a Nigerian friend of mine who has opened a "bijou" little place in the village.  In fact, in our village there was only one restaurant - no shops, no taxi rank, no bus stop even - nothing, nada, zilch - until Stan came along.  The existing restaurant in the village is very good but was not open on this particular evening.

Stan is married to a French woman and our kids became firm friends when their family moved here.  Stan saw a need in the village and somehow or other managed to persuade the village council to let him rent a small piece of land and put up a couple of portacabin-style huts to house a little shop.  Part of the hut is indeed a small shop for basic necessities and the rest is given over to "haute cuisine".  Well not really "haute cuisine", more like plastic plates and a few non-chipped glasses.  But you know what, the place is working out.  It fills a need in the village to have a place where local people can get together for a chinwag and a glass of wine while putting the world to rights under Stan's eagle eye.

Now Stan doesn't exactly move with the speed of a leopard or the grace of a gazelle.  More of a slow, steady plod and squelch.  In fact I'm not sure if it is his knees or his shoes but something makes a squelching sound with every step he takes (actually it's more of a loud farting sound but I am trying to keep this blog classy!).  "Anna, what do you want with your fries?" (please imagine this said with a strong Nigerian accent).  "Mustard please Stan" (this would be me - with a strong Brummie accent).  Squelch, squelch, squelch.  "C, what do you want with your fries?" (Nigerian accent again). "Mayonnaise please Stan" (OH - Dutch accent this time - are you keeping up - you will be tested later).  Squelch, squelch, squelch (not quite sure why he couldn't get the mustard and the mayo at the same time but I digress).  In any case, he has a simple menu (pizza, moules/frites, salad, burgers, etc.) and a friendly welcome so he is popular among the locals - I mean, some of the farmers just drive up on their tractors to buy a baguette and have a beer.  Another impressive thing is that the local kids actually respect and like Stan too - none of them would ever dream of giving him any trouble!

Anyhoo (and moving seamlessly on), we decided that instead of going to some fancy-schmancy place in town we would go to Stan's so OH and Stan could put the world to rights, OH having travelled extensively in Nigeria for his work.  I ordered something Stan bills as "nico-frites" - which is basically a plate of fries with melted reblochon cheese on top.  Uuummmm!  OH said he didn't want anything.  Turned out that he knew I wouldn't finish what I had ordered which would leave him to finish the rest.  So all in all, my romantic, no-expense-spared birthday night out cost OH €13 for one plate of nico-frites and a couple of glasses of wine.  Don't tell me we don't know how to live!  But you know what, we both agreed we had had a lovely time.  Back home in time to watch the rugby, a good movie and a lovely evening all round.

Next day a friend called to invite me out to lunch for my birthday.  When I explained to her that D and I had planned to go to a couple of vide-greniers (car boots - to all intents and purposes) she asked if she could come along.  We went to a first vide-grenier in a place called Scientrier.  Well actually they call it a "vogue" which is basically a funfair and car boot, where you get the added pleasure of watching little kids with candy floss in hand get chased around the fun fair by a swarm of wasps!

I picked up a nice glass bottle and my friend, indeed treated me to a birthday lunch.  Another plate of fries but this time with a grilled sausage and mustard.  Ahh this is the life.  Then on to another car boot at a place called Nangy.  This was much bigger and quite the treasure trove.  I could have spent a small fortune (well one or two more euros) if I had been let loose.  As it was, for the grand total of €4, I did, indeed, pick up a few gems.


I realized afterwards that the big jar is actually a rumtopf - a jar to make rum punch in - the ingredients are shown on the outside - you simply add rum and sugar cane!  I shall have to give that a try!

As I turned 57 on my birthday I am technically eligible for early retirement but since I had to take out a mortgage to buy my ex out of the house I won't be able to take advantage of this just yet.  Another 4-5 years I'm thinking.  In the meantime, I feel thoroughly spoilt, all those pretty presents for my birthday and one-and-a-half plates of chips all to myself.  Bliss indeed!