The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

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!!!