The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Friday 26 February 2016

One year already!

Wow, that is hard to believe. I wrote my first post for this blog one year ago today. Goodness, where did the time go? And to think I dithered about "shall I/shan't I?" for so long and in the end all I had to do was start writing.

I think I was a little bit intimidated by the thought of actually using blogging software since I am not particularly techno minded, but I have to admit blogger has been really easy to use, except for the occasional upside down or sideways photos. And you know what, I'm so glad I started it - not that I did it with a view to having others read it, but more as a way to keep a kind of personal diary for me and my family and to write down some of the daft stories from the time when ..........

So to that lovely lady in Turkey who urged me to go for it, and to Chris in Cuba who said the same thing, thanks. Your encouragement was just what I needed.

Tuesday 23 February 2016

Food for thought

As I was on the bus going home on Friday night a young man got on at the station with his McDonald's takeaway and sat right next to me on the back seat, squashing me up against the window. I'm guessing he had already eaten the hamburger as he promptly stuffed a load of paper behind his seat and proceeded to devour his chips. Now he was quite a big lad so by the time he had spread his enormous thighs out in both directions and made his puffa jacket comfortable I was well and truly squashed in the corner. So now he is filling his face with chips, smacking his lips and occasionally burping out loud in my direction - and all the while I am getting madder and madder.When he had finally finished he wiped his hands back and forth across his jeans, at the same time managing to wipe some of the salt and grease on me too. I'm thinking "keep your temper, keep your temper". I'm a very placid person by nature. I mean, if some young kid walks around with his arse hanging out of his pants because he thinks it looks cool I don't have a problem with that. We were all young and stupid once and as long as it doesn't affect me I say go for it. But this young man was starting to really get on my t**ts. On top of that, I guess all the carbohydrates in his meal gave him that post-prandial slump because he spent the next 30 minutes yawning really, really loud, never covering his mouth and basically burping his shit straight into my face. He then proceeded to call his mom and tell her at least ten times that he was indeed on the number 25 bus.  From the way he talked I got to thinking that maybe he wasn't the full quid, to be honest, so all the more reason to just bite my tongue. However, when he finished his packet of chips and shoved that down the side of my seat I had to really debate what I was going to do. I guess the choices were (1) shut up and wimp out, or (2) confront him about it. So I decided I was going to (politely) do something about it, thinking all the while that he could give me a mouth full of abuse or become more threatening (at which point I had decided to just throw his rubbish at him). As it turns out he ended up getting off at my stop so I thought "in for a penny, in for a pound" and picked up his rubbish, tapped him on the shoulder and handed it to him saying I thought it would be better for everyone if he found a bin for his rubbish (all the while preparing to duck and weave just in case).

Well I guess I caught him completely off guard because he actually turned round and said "oh merci" and proceeded to put his rubbish in the bin which was right at hand. One older man gave me the thumbs up and I have to admit I was pretty pleased with myself as I had been mulling it over all the while getting madder and madder and then half expecting to get thumped by his mom who would no doubt be waiting for him at the bus stop. So you see, you never know how things will work out, and hopefully he will be less of a slob next time he gets on the bus.

On another note, did anyone see that Stephen Fry documentary that revisited the programme he made ten years ago dealing with his bi-polar? I thought it was firstly very brave of him but secondly very interesting, not least because my ex was invalided out of his job three years ago with bi-polar.

Had we known more about it I guess the signs were there for anyone who knew what they were looking for, but of course we didn't. In the manic phases he was capable of staying up for three days or so without sleep, which of course meant that I wasn't allowed to sleep because he would be playing guitar, watching TV really loudly or, one time, cooking a full English breakfast for all of us at 4 a.m. on a school night, then going ape shit when no-one of wanted to eat it. There is also the issue of compulsive spending which again was a very typical trait of my ex. One time he went out (pissed) and ordered a € 40,000 car for himself, which of course I then had to pay for, although that was the only thing that I did insist was written into the divorce papers - that he had to take over all payments relating to his car. (Never mind the fact that he routinely trashed it drunk - at least from now on the problems were all his). In fact, I remember some time ago there was a programme on the lovely Frank Bruno and his issues with bi-polar. His daughter eventually had him sectioned for his own protection and she was explaining that though her dad had earned millions over the years, with his illness he was more than capable of going through the whole lot and being left penniless. In fact, she explained how one time he had flown to New York for the day, bought six suitcases and bought God knows how many identical tracksuits, filling the suitcases and then flown home again. Stephen Fry said pretty much the same thing - his obsession if I remember correctly was ipads and when he was "manic" he just had to have another one, despite the fact that he already had several. Of course (as he said) he was fortunate enough to be able to afford this financially but the compulsion was still there all the same.

Having seen some of what my ex went through I felt very much for the people on the programme who explained their feelings of never been able to switch off. My ex once likened it to having flash bulbs going off in his brain but thousands of times a minute and not being able to turn them off.

Rather pathetically a French colleague of mine, when I explained that he had been invalided out of his job with bi-polar, commented that it was just another one of those "made-up" illnesses! I asked her if she would like to live with my husband for a month and see how much sleep she got and then re-assess her judgement. (And to be honest, half of her compatriots seem to have many of the same "made-up" illnesses judging by some of the sick leave they account for at work - but I digress!)

A few days later there was another programme which talked about a new law which was enacted in the UK in December 2015 regarding "coercive control". Basically, if I understood correctly, it means that under the law "abuse" can now be prosecuted not only when it is physical but any other form of abuse whereby the abuser effectively seeks to control the victim by coercion.

Now overwhelmingly the numbers of victims are female, although there are of course many cases of female on male abuse, although they are in the minority. But since men are usually stronger than women, physical abuse is most often carried out by men - or at least that is my experience.

This programme explained that under the new law, controlling behaviour such as as cutting people off from family and friends, controlling their access to money, deciding who they could see or speak to would now constitute possible cause for prosecution. While I tried for the longest time to help my ex, particularly once we realized he had this problem, his behaviour really was the ultimate in controlling or "coercive control". For instance, he would hide my handbag (which had my car keys, etc. in it) making me have to scramble just to get to work. Then when I made sure I had hidden my handbag somewhere else he would lock the bedroom door so I couldn't get at my clothes, or he would lock me out of the house when I came home from work by leaving the key in the door. I once took all the keys to one particular door so that he could no longer lock me out so what did he do? He took a different key and jammed that in the lock so I couldn't get my own key in the door. He also once locked me outside in my nightie at midnight for an hour in the month of February - how the hell do you fight that!

A colleague and indeed family told me to move and make sure he didn't have my new address, but you know, you can't run from these people, you have to stand and fight. He knew where I worked and could and would follow me home if I had done that so there really is no choice but to stand your ground.

I had wanted a divorce for many years but with him running up debts (that under French law I would also ultimately be responsible for) and trying to function on very little sleep, I wasn't in a position to even try to get my divorce, knowing that he would make my life extremely difficult (if not dangerous) and fight me for the kids.

I admit I started drinking way too much and I'm not proud of it, but when you are so beaten down you just want some kind of anaesthetic to "make it all go away". Of course it doesn't go away but that doesn't stop you trying.

And yet I was one of the lucky ones, as I have a strong character, a supportive family and employer and a good job. Heaven alone knows how those who don't have all that manage, if indeed they do. I never hid what was going on either thinking that the shame is on him not me, but even so it was incredibly difficult to get through - in fact I don't know how I did get through it, truth be told.

Eventually he buggered off with some tart he met in the scummy bar in town and I could only think "hallelujah", although actually that was one of the hardest times because the idiot and the tart behaved like two overgrown schoolkids and would have a spat about once a month, at which point the idiot would move back in on the grounds that "it's still my home". That was pure hell I can tell you.

Although I had called the police on him several times because of his violence, I always held back from making a formal complaint because as an American he needed a carte de séjour (green card) for France and I was afraid he would get kicked out of both his job and the county if he had a criminal conviction. What eventually did it for me though was when I came home one evening and he (having drunk 16 beers that day and started on the whiskey) claimed I had "stolen" his whiskey bottle because he couldn't find it (my youngest eventually found it stuffed down the sofa). That spiralled into a full-blown row and he pinned me to the bed by sitting on my chest and threatened me with his (now found) whiskey bottle, saying "I can kill you and I don't mind doing the time for it". At that point I knew enough was enough, so I shot off to the hospital to get a doctor's report and then on to the police station to file a complaint.

He was eventually convicted of domestic assault and should (in reality) have done prison time, after taking into account his various drink-drive convictions. Somehow though he slipped through the cracks and never did go to prison.

And eventually the divorce came through, I bought him out of the house and he has buggered off back to the States and is now living with some poor, unsuspecting sod over there.

Why am I writing all this down? I guess because I want to get it out of my mind, on to paper and be done with it. There are so many, many incidents which, if you haven't lived through them would seem just unbelievable. Like him saying I was having an affair "because you take too long to do the grocery shopping", or the fact that I wore my apron to go fetch the mail on Saturday was proof that I was trying to show everyone that I was doing everything in the household! I mean, how do you counter insanity like that?

The Stephen Fry documentary made me question whether I should have "stuck it out" because of his mental illness, but the second documentary about coercive control showed me just what I had been putting up with all these years and the fact that I had been using his illness to make excuses for him all along. I didn't love him - in fact I hated him - but I felt for so long that I "should" stick around because he wasn't well.  But you know what, there is never an acceptable excuse for violence. They don't change. Only inadequate men (or women) have to use violence or coercion, so if you are in that situation, for God's sake don't believe it is your fault or that it will get better - it won't. Get out before it is too late.

Thursday 18 February 2016

Getting rid of stuff

I was just reading (yet another) article on decluttering and while most of the articles are repetitive, for me at least getting rid of stuff is such a de-stressor. It's true what they say, getting rid of clutter also frees up your mind. I did read the majority of the ubiquitous Marie Kondo book on decluttering and while it makes sense I personally think she seems nuttier than a fruitcake, although she can't be that daft if she has made good money out of showing people how to fold clothes and declutter. I mean "you have to thank your stuff for its service and then let it go"! Maybe it's cultural but it seems a little over the top for me. That being said, I go with the basic premise of what she says.

In the last 18 months I had started to (slowly) get rid of some of my stuff. I suppose with my divorce and His Nibs moving out and taking what he wanted I inevitably got left with a bunch of stuff that belonged to him but that neither I (nor seemingly he) had any use for. 30-year-old US-bought video camera the size of a small apartment building anyone? A 30-year-old music recording studio about the size of Pennsylvania? All very nice stuff in its day but positively Jurassic now.

Then of course when he upped sticks and buggered off back to the States last June abandoning his three-bedroom rented farmhouse guess where the "stuff" went, on the premise that my youngest son might want said "stuff" some day?  If you ask me it was a good excuse to just lock the front door and leave it to the idiots left behind to clear up. Of course, all the stuff that didn't get taken to the tip was then stored in my rather large basement. My youngest did eventually move into a one-bedroom flat with his girlfriend last November and did indeed take whatever he wanted of his dad's, but of course that leaves all the other stuff still in my basement.

That's not to say I don't have my own junk of course - I do - particularly given that my home is relatively large and of course having a large basement what do you do - you fill it with stuff. So the next massive job on the horizon is to get rid of more stuff before it becomes necessary to do so. I would find it very stressful to try to do something like that in a short amount of time, so I really want to get on with doing this slowly while there is no rush. I have some lovely stuff too of course and the main thing has to be finding a good home for that. I have offered stuff to friends and family and put stuff on Freecycle. I will also try a couple of vide-greniers (car boots to all  intents and purposes) this year and what doesn't get sold will go straight to the charity shops.

The strange thing is, while you think you will miss all this stuff, once it is gone, for me at least, it is a case of out of sight, out of mind, and a feeling as though a great weight has been lifted. So now I guess all I need is one of these:

Tuesday 16 February 2016

Saving €100 - or not!

The traffic on Thursday to get to work was just awful (for a change)). We have to go through a motorway toll and the border of course to get to work, and usually it is the border where the tail-back occurs, but not this time. My heart just sank when I saw "traffic jam 7 km" flashing overhead. It turned out it was the toll that was the cause of it - or should I say the volume of traffic at the toll. There must be eight different booths you can go through but for some reason the number of vehicles was horrendous on Thursday morning. Once we got to the border it was fine though. I can't figure it out so I guess you just have to go with the flow.

Then on the bus from the border I had the "good" fortune to end up sitting next to someone who had brought his breakfast to eat on the bus. I have to admit this still shocks me as (I'm pretty sure) eating is not allowed on the bus in the UK. I may be wrong but I'm pretty sure that still applies. It probably goes back to the days of discarded fish and chip newspaper wrapping being strewn around willy-nilly. Not that Swiss buses are dirty though - quite the opposite in fact - but I still can't get used to the idea of somebody ploughing through their breakfast on the bus. Add to that I'm pretty sure it was tuna and egg mayonnaise sandwich so pardon me while I throw up.  Yuck.

On Friday we had a helluva snow storm, I mean, it was really bucketing down so as I had finished my work my boss told me to leave early. Now the journey to and from work is bad enough under normal circumstances but with the snow and the arrival of the next "zone" of skiers/holiday-makers, traffic was expected to be pretty rough, and it didn't disappoint. The good thing, I suppose, is that since the weather was so rough people had to drive more carefully. That being said, there was an accident right next to me when I finally made it into my little town, which involved some poor bugger on a driving lesson - not that he was the cause of the accident. A white truck behind him couldn't stop and ended up causing a three-car fender bender, but luckily no-one was hurt and (even more luckily) I wasn't caught up in it!

Then on Saturday, after getting the shopping in, I decided to take a couple of strimmers/weed-whackers down to our local DIY store to see if I could get them overhauled. My ex had two of them (what the hell for I don't know as he didn't have a garden and couldn't be buggered to use them on the five rose bushes that he did have). Anyway, I knew these cost over €250 each as he never bought anything cheap (and never looked after anything either but that's by the way), so I thought if I could get them overhauled I might be able to sell them with spring on the way as they are both too heavy for me. Unfortunately, they had been so neglected that they would easily have cost over €100 each to repair so frankly I thought it just wasn't worth the time and effort. Then I had the bright idea to put them on Freecycle to see if anyone had the skill and/or the inclination to repair them. But then, an even bigger inspiration - why not just take them to the tip, let the guys there know that they were still repairable and do without the hassle of getting rid of them on Freecycle. It really galls me to "throw away" this kind of stuff since they were bought when the ex still lived at home so effectively I paid for them but you know what, life's too short so now I have dropped them off at the tip and I guess someone might be able to get some use out of them. On top of that it's a saving in time and effort for me. Out of sight out of mind, as they say.

Fat Fighters wasn't wonderful on Wednesday but as I had just come back from Wales and had made no effort to follow "the Plan" while I was there I was surprised to actually have lost a few hundred grams rather than put any on. We shall see what tomorrow holds I guess.

On Saturday it was again bucketing down and as I wandered over to the market I saw and old lady struggling with what really was just a bunch of metal spikes that were trying to pass for an umbrella. I don't know what came over me but I walked over to her and offered her my umbrella, on the grounds that I had another three in my car (all of which I inherited from my ex of course). Well you would have thought I had given her the world, she was so thrilled. She then insisted on inviting me for coffee in the little café opposite and promptly told the world and his uncle what I had done. I was cringing with embarrassment by that time, of course, but I got a big kiss on the cheek from her and a promise to invite me for coffee next time she sees me. It's funny how little it can take to make someone's day isn't it?

Tuesday 9 February 2016

I had forgotten how pretty Wales is!

While going to the funeral of a loved one is never a happy time of course, I have to admit how good it was to see North Wales again after - oh it must be almost 30 years! I can't believe it. I know I went when I was pregnant with my oldest and he will be 29 this year but I hadn't realized exactly how long ago it was, and just how pretty it is. Of course the weather was dreadful but - hey - you don't go to Wales for the weather and there is a reason it's so green.

Luckily I was able to get on a flight to Liverpool at short notice and my nephew, who lives just 15 minutes from the airport, was able to meet me and drag me round the rail system. For someone who has travelled a lot, I hold my hand up to being pretty useless when it comes to trains in whichever country!

My brother lives in Conwy and the view as we crossed the bridge of the castle and Conwy quai was just stunning.

Later that day my older sister and her family arrived. We had a few emotional moments but all in all we held it together pretty well I thought. In order to leave my brother and his family in peace for a while, we then made our way to our B & B in Llandudno, and again I was amazed at how pretty it is.

My gran and my uncle owned boarding houses in Betws-y-Coed and, coming from Birmingham, I understand now why I always spent my summer holidays in either Betws or Conwy.


Our B & B in Llandudno was very nice, although having to lug my suitcase up three floors (no lift you see) I realized, yet again, how unfit I am.  But the owners were very friendly and the full English breakfast an absolute treat - Weight Watchers be damned! Later that night we went out to dinner in a local restaurant, which had formerly found fame as a theatre - what a lovely place to have dinner.

And I have to say, compared to prices over here, it felt like they were virtually giving the food away - and again it was of excellent quality!  After we decided to take a walk along Llandudno's promenade. We held up for about an hour but I think the prospect of losing our noses to frostbite finally got the better of us.

Of course the next day we had the funeral. My brother had chosen very beautiful music ("oh mio babbino caro" - not sure of the spelling - and a lovely Maori song - which was also very beautiful). And while it was for all the wrong reasons, it was lovely to see how many friends and relatives had made the trip up to North Wales to pay their respects - some of whom I hadn't seen for 30 or 40 years. A fitting tribute to a lovely lady.

Next day I had to head back to Liverpool for my flight back to Geneva. I wasn't too thrilled about flying in such windy weather but I have to admit it went well and I made it back late in the evening. It's strange how life can turn on a dime though - one minute all is well with the world and the next - well - all is no longer well!

Tuesday 2 February 2016

Another weekend come and gone

Well my visitor Brian arrived from England on Friday night. Traffic getting home was awful and then I finally cottoned on that spring break is upon us in certain parts of France and the skiers are starting to arrive. For the schools they have three separate "zones" and each zone gets a different two-week break, hence we have the majority of our tourists arriving over the next six weeks. I guess that is good news for the resorts, who have finally had some snow, while for us it isn't too bad as long as we remember to take the back roads at the weekends and avoid the tailbacks on the motorways.

We had dinner Friday night with a friend in the one and only restaurant in the village. This restaurant changed hands a few years ago and I have to say the quality has improved greatly. Dinner was good and the view from the restaurant is just stunning. Then on Saturday I had planned to take Brian to a hot springs around 150 km from here. By taking the "north" side of Lake Geneva you get the most amazing view as the motorway snakes up the mountain for a spectacular shot of the lake and Montreux taken from near Vevey (where Charlie Chaplin made his home). They have a little motorway cafe at the highest point so we stopped and ate there to take in the view. Considering it was a motorway cafe the food was bloody expensive (but good), so I guess in reality we were actually paying for the view more than anything.

View from Vevey over Montreux

Another half an hour and we were at the hot springs of Lavey les Bains.  I had discovered this place some years ago after a friend recommended it. In fact, when my family came out one New Year's we spent the evening of the 31st at the springs and then drove back along the south side of the lake, stopping in Evian for a drink and a wander before heading home.  It was actually one of my favourite New Year's ever, as it had turned cold and we all looked like sea monsters swimming through the mist created by the hot springs.

Lavey les Bains

The thing is, you can spend a few hours in there relaxing and getting pummeled by the strong water jets and you end up feeling battered, bruised and very wobbly but supremely relaxed afterwards. I felt like I had been doing Jane Fonda's workout over and over again when in fact I had just been slouching around in the water for three hours.

After that it was back home and dinner in our local town, again a real treat.

The next day we weren't so lucky with the weather but since Brian wanted to go back to Annecy I was happy to oblige, despite the fact that it was pouring down and the wind was howling. I suppose on the positive side, Annecy doesn't get so crowded when the weather is bad!

The old prison in the old town of Annecy

We spent a few hours wandering round Annecy, stopping for a coffee (oh and a piece of cheesecake for me - Weight Watchers be damned for this week) before heading back home for a cup of tea and a chat and then heading back to the airport.

We certainly managed to squeeze an awful lot into one short weekend but I know Brian enjoyed it and it was good for me to do something "different" from my normal weekend routine.

Then it was back to sewing club number 1 last night, which is always nice, more so for the chatting than the sewing but hey, that's life.  I will miss Fat Fighters weigh-in this week as I am off to the UK tomorrow for my sister-in-law's funeral.  A flying visit - arrive in Wales on Wednesday and back to France on Friday.  Sad times.