The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Thursday 30 July 2015

Epicurean delights!

I grew up in a large family (7 kids) in central Birmingham in a council house.  Dad was a sheet-metal worker by trade and my mom stayed at home with the kids until the youngest (me) was 11, when she went out to work part-time.  We were obviously not well off but certainly grew up with lots of love, a roof over our heads and food in our bellies.

The food of course in those days was nothing fancy.  There was not the limitless supply of foreign goods and even if there were, there wasn't the money.  We seemed to grow up on endless variations of potatoes in some form or another - not that I am complaining - I love em.  (As an aside, you have to admit, the Italians and the Asians were smart having pasta and rice as their staples - they didn't have to peel em!)  I hate to imagine how many tons of spuds my mom has peeled over the years!  It's mind-boggling.

Having all those mouths to feed and limited resources, needless to say mom was not an "enthusiastic" cook, and who can blame her, when that was added to the washing, ironing, cleaning and so on for a huge household with none of today's labour-saving devices.  In those early days there was also not much available in the way of fast-food - by which I mean frozen stuff.  I guess it was just starting to make its way into the shops when I was in my teens in the '70s, or thereabouts.  And while I really don't like ready-made stuff - partly because I love to cook and partly because I have the "luxury" of only having 2 kids to cater for - I can certainly understand when she took to it as a relief from the never-ending potato-peeling.

Anway, one time she had been to the shops and came back with ready-made frozen chicken pies and frozen apple pies in plain plastic wrapping and just stuffed them in the freezer.  One night my older brother was eating his dinner of pie and chips when he asked "what's in this pie mom?" To which she replied "chicken".  So he said "oh, it tastes like apple!"  Well we all just burst out laughing - but he finished it anway.  Apple pie and chips with ketchup!  So I said "well guess what you've got for desert - chicken pie and custard"!  Can't remember but he probably ate that as well.  And you know what, it didn't kill any of us either did it?  So you see:

does NOT equal

Friday 24 July 2015

It's so bloody hot!!!!

According to my colleague, we had the hottest June in Geneva since records began (130 years ago apparently).  And the hottest March and the hottest April.  It hadn't rained for over a month until 2 nights ago when it bucketed down for about an hour then stopped.  But the ground was so parched it all drained away in the space of a few minutes.  I mean, my grass was so painful to walk on, it was like walking on razor blades.  A couple of weeks ago we hit 40 degrees and have been regularly up between 35 and 40 non-stop ever since.  Bloody hell.  Now I know many countries routinely get these temperatures but we don't, or at least not for such a prolonged period, and while most shops etc are air-conditioned homes are not so we have to try to make do with whatever cross breezes we can get.  I'm not sure how much longer this will go on for.  They are predicting down to 28 degrees for the next few days but then back up.  Anyway, I cracked at the weekend and bought myself a 3 metre diametre paddling pool which I will be assembling this weekend and then throwing myself in. (Watch out for the tidal wave)!

Growing up in the UK I have to say I am accustomed to the cold and don't really mind the rain.  But the heat just about does me in.  And to think I even considered moving to Spain when I retire!  Much as I love Spain I think I will stay in France where I have made my life for many years now, and just tootle off to warmer climes in the winter for a few weeks.

Talking of warmer climes, now that I am divorced and the kids are grown up I am again indulging in my life-long passion for travel.  As a single girl all my money was spent on travel.  Then along came marriage, two kids and a mortgage so that kinda slowed things down, but now, with careful planning (and saving), I am aiming to take a European break every autumn - if only for a week - (summer is lovely here so why go away) and (again hopefully) a long-haul break every winter.

This March I was lucky enough to make it to Cuba for 2 weeks and what a beautiful country it is.  And while I woudn't presume to pontificate on the revolution, something definitely worked there.  The people are educated, cultivated and musically-inclined for the most part.  It really is quite amazing.  Our guide told us that higher education was mandatory (and free), as was training in music and the arts.  Add to that the free health care it was a complete eye-opener.  Of course, they are also desperately poor, something which I hope the easing of relations with the US will change.

But what a lovely country.  We spent 4 nights in Havana. Visited an amazing cigar factory, a great musical show and beautiful old town Havana.

We also visited the home that Hemmingway lived in for many years - so beautiful - I mean, I really want that life.  He split his time between his lovely home and a hotel room in central Havana.  Must have taken a few $$$$$$ but absolutely stunning all the same.

We then spent 3 nights in a place called Cienfuegos.  Not the greatest of hotels but it was here that we got to swim with dolphins.  I have to say that that experience was the absolute highlight of our trip.  We were allowed in the sea with them for 30 minutes and got to play with them with very few restrictions.  One of the trainers was a vet and he told us that he had the best job in the world, and it was obvious that the trainers just loved them.

(I'm the one in the life jacket)!

Other people we met went on different "dolphin trips" and had nowhere near the experience that we had.  It was out of this world.  We then spent 7 lovely days at a beach hotel.  Now I'm not a beach person but it was so relaxing to potter around, read, take a siesta and then watch the entertainment in the evenings.  A great way to re-charge I have to say.
I also got to meet up with a friend who had retired out there with her Cuban husband and they told me just how difficult it was with the embargo. Just trying to get her hands on her pension was a major feat.  I really really hope for everyone there that things ease up for them.  At the same time, I really hope that they can hold on to their wonderful culture and not lose it to the almighty dollar.  Who knows.  Good luck to them though.

Monday 13 July 2015

Culturally diverse

I work in Geneva, Switzerland, in an internationally diverse organization.  I love it.  It is so interesting to learn about different cultures and nationalities, not to mention the fact that everyone seems to plod along like they are at Babylon - I mean, you can't think of a word in one language, you just say it in another.  Well at least it seems to work out ok for the most part.

One thing I do notice, however, is that the different nationalities' sense of humour is so varied.  I have come across this time and time again.  I mean, my ex-husband is American and you would think,  having a common(ish) language, that we would have a common sense of humour, but not a bit of it.

Take this photo for example.  Someone posted it on Facebook and I thought it was so funny.  I showed it to my Irish colleague and she got a fit of the giggles.  So I showed it to my English colleague, and again a fit of the giggles.  Anway, I thought it was so funny I stuck a copy on the door to our little kitchenette and waited for reactions.  I have to say my German colleague, V, has a great sense of humour, but she stood there and looked at it and said "so, what's funny about that?"  My French colleague just said "oh, so you mean people actually steal food out of the fridge?"  In fact, their non-reactions were probably funnier than our reactions.  It is really strange and I have found it over and over again.  Humour (for the most part) just doesn't seem to translate.


Having said that, some years ago I treated myself to two huge tomes of the complete works of Gary Larson and I LOVE it.  It was expensive but every time I take out one of the volumes and start flicking through it I get a fit of the giggles again.  I guess I just love visual humour and Gary Larson certainly does it for me.

Friday 10 July 2015

Blind man's buff

One of my favourite family stories is of "us" kids playing blind man's buff down by the river at Stratford-on-Avon.  When I say "us" I don't mean me, because I was as yet a twinkle in my dad's eye, but I mean "the others".

My parents, like many of their generation, had a large family - seven kids.  Probably not by choice.  Well to be honest, absolutely not by choice but that was the way it was in those days.  Dad was from Birmingham and Mom from North Wales but they raised the family in central Birmingham because, as mom said, "that was where the work was".  We didn't have much money but never went without the essentials of food, warmth and love.

Particularly in their younger days, my parents couldn't afford "holidays" as such but, along with various uncles, aunts and cousins, we would go off on a day trip for the men to go fishing, the women to have a good chinwag and the kids to all get together in one big group to run and play.  Happy days indeed, although frankly how they organized it all is beyond me.  In fact, I have wonderful memories of the women breaking out the old calor gas and making bacon sandwiches for everyone by the side of the river.  Ah that smell makes my mouth water even now and still brings back wonderful memories of times when it (obviously) never rained and we all had such fun.


Anway, I was not yet born but my sister tells me of the time when the kids all got together on the banks of the River Avon to play blind man's buff.  Being typical kids they didn't see danger anywhere and so they blindfolded my sister, Gill, spun her around and then all the kids darted off in different directions.  The only problem was, Gill was dizzy (I mean, that was the point), and the river was right there, so of course within a few seconds Gill had gone straight into the River Avon blindfolded.

As luck would have it, Gill was tiny and the reeds and lilies broke her fall.  The men flew over to where she had gone in and dad was able to fish her out with the help of his huge fishing net!!!!  No-one saw any danger at that age (well none of the kids at least) and thankfully all ended well.

Sadly Gill died at age six, but like the little angel in the lilies, she is not forgotten.

Gill and dad

Tuesday 7 July 2015

The famous St. S professional dance troop - or not!

If you remember I wrote sometime ago about having a busy weekend, what with theatre on the Friday night, a day trip to Turin on the Saturday and our local neighbourhood clean-up/BBQ on the Sunday.  What an exhausting weekend that was, but very pleasurable indeed.

As I said, after the clean-up of our little neighbourhood of around 25 houses, we got together to have a pot-luck BBQ.  In addition, just one week before my immediate neighbour's hedge had caught fire while his son was weed-whacking and about 10 families dashed out and for 30 minutes or so fought the fire until we brought it under control.  Man, hedges go up like - well tinder I guess.  It was and has been scorching hot (over 100 degrees) so I suppose we shouldn't have been surprised, but everyone pitched in and helped to get the fire out in the nick of time.

So, this particular neighbour cracked out the champagne at the BBQ to thank everyone for their help.  Add to that, there was plenty of other booze, good food, noise and sunshine, so all in all a lovely day.

However, I learnt to my cost that when said neighbour's wife mouths at you over the noise while doing a little jig, you must - on no account - nod your head in agreement!  Seemingly, what I had agreed to was to attend a lesson (stage in French) for tap-dancing on the evenings of 6th and 7th July for 2 and 1/2 hours a time!!!!  BUUUUUT I wasn't the only one.  All together we ended up being 6 "budding artists" who had agreed to go with her to a tap-dancing stage!!!  Now she has been taking tap lessons for the past year and loves it and, generously, thought we might too, so at the BBQ she took down names for the stage, signed us up and paid for it.  Bloody hell.  It has been consistently over 100 degrees for the past while here so who the hell wants to flail around for 150 minutes (non-stop) doing their dying swan impersonation in that?

But since I secretly had visions of ending up like this:

or even like this:

I put my money where my mouth was and went along.

WELL!  I don't know how I didn't snuff it.  But it wasn't just me.  It was SOOOOOOO hot, no air, and the teacher went SOOOOOOOOOOO fast and barely stopped to let us drink.  After a while I tried discreetly tap-dancing out the front door but he always caught up with us and hauled us back.  I did manage to grab my friend's 14-year old daughter and we tap-danced into a cupboard hoping he wouldn't notice, but no, we got dragged back in again.  I don't think I have ever sweated so much - none of us in fact.  But, I have to say, we had the greatest evening in fits of giggles, being a bunch of (mainly) middle-aged, overweight neighbours who all had our sense of rythmn amputated at birth!  We were in hysterics by the time we crawled walked back home.

I have to admit we looked more like this:

Er not even actually. (That photo is taken from the Liza Minelli movie "Stepping Out" - which I can highly recommend btw).  To say the least, we were crap artistically challenged!!! But what a fun evening it was.
However, I think the next time I'll stick to tiddlywinks.