The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Tuesday 19 April 2016

God bless

My lovely mom died yesterday morning, totally unexpectedly. Well when I say "totally unexpectedly", I mean she had not been ill and seemed to be in fine fettle. That being said, she was 94 but you know, when someone has been as well as she had, I think you just don't expect them to die - I thought she was invincible. Sadly, that wasn't the case.

Whichever way you look at it, I/we were very lucky to have had her in our lives for so long. She and dad didn't have it easy, but then I suppose most of their generation had it tough. Not a lot of money, large families (not necessarily by choice) and the horror and uncertainty of living through the second world war - something I hope future generations never have to face.

We were a large family of seven kids (I am number seven) and they tragically had to cope with the loss of two of those children, one to heart problems and another to a brain tumour. Sadly, as mom once said, if they had been born today in all likelihood both of those children would have survived, but it wasn't to be.

Having had a family of my own - but only two children - I wonder how they did it. You know, the days out fishing in Stratford, piling all the kids into the car, along with the fishing tackle, the deckchairs and the calor gas stove because of course we always had to have our bacon sandwiches while out fishing. Spending a day on the river with the men fishing, the women chatting and we kids playing seemed like something out of heaven. And of course it never rained (although I suspect I may have my rose tinted glasses on with that bit). Then stopping off at the pub on the way home for a packet of crisps and a glass of lemonade, or even an ice cream in Henley if we were really lucky!

I was only little when we were all moved out of "the old end" because the houses were set to be demolished, but mom told me about the parties they would have and how the floor had to be reinforced because of all the dancing, and how, since they were the first in the yard to have a television set, all the men would come over to watch the match (it probably had one of those old circular, two-pronged aerials that someone had to hold aloft so that the others could watch the game)!

But you know, without idealizing it, those were good times. Nobody had much of anything but everyone shared and looked out for each other. Our idea of heaven was jam sandwiches and a bottle of water down at the local park, and while we all came back looking like members of the ragbag gang, whenever we went anywhere as a family we were all spotlessly clean and scrubbed to within an inch of our lives.

One of the enduring memories I have of my mom is when, as a child, they would take me with them when they went out dancing. I remember the sound of the shoes on the salt that was thrown on the dance floor and how everyone - both men and women - looked so elegant and how they could all dance - not like us today bopping around with no clue! And then we would go home and I would sit on my mom's lap in the front seat (no seatbelts - health and safety hadn't been invented yet) and I could smell the smell of her face powder. That to me will always be the smell of my mom.

She outlived my dad by eleven years, and retained her sense of humour till the end. So while I am sad to lose her I count myself extremely lucky to have had her in my life for so long. At least now I know that she is at peace and back as the lovely, young woman she once was and with my dad in that great dance hall in the sky.

God bless mom.  Love you always.  A

Monday 11 April 2016

The refugee crisis

As I caught the bus from the border this morning, a colleague got on and we were lucky enough to get two seats together. She has just come back from a week volunteering in Lesbos, Greece, where many of the refugee boats have been running aground. I knew she was going beforehand as she said she wanted to do something that would put her own situation into perspective. So through the magic of the internet she was able to google "Lesbos volunteers" and managed to hook up with a very well run group of volunteers working there.

She flew through Athens to Lesbos and had reserved a studio in an area which turned out not to be at all suitable for her work tasks so, after contacting one of the coordinators, she moved on to another area nearer to where she would be expected to work. The surreal thing is, during her week's stay there she never saw a single refugee, and only one boat arrived in all that time! The volunteers were of course on duty 24/7 just in case but she said that since 20 March when the EU began turning the boats around, only one boat had arrived on the island. From what she could understand, they were all massing at the land border with Macedonia.

She said volunteers were arriving and departing every day but that the group was well organized and very motivated. One of the tasks assigned to her was to help out in the "warehouse". Apparently, at the beginning, when refugees arrived they were taken to changing rooms (women/children and a separate area for men) and their wet and dirty clothing was simply dumped in landfill. Now the volunteers were getting the clothing washed and dried in order to pass it back on to new arrivals. The amazing thing was though that when clean clothes were offered to some of the refugees they said that they "didn't want that colour or that particular item"! She was amazed. It turns out that some had paid people smugglers around $1,500 to make the journey and had been assured that they would be met upon arrival and taken care of. Sadly, that sounds eerily familiar doesn't it. Of course they had been taken in by the scumball people smugglers, who I suspect are the only ones benefiting from the current crisis.

The refugees were told by the smugglers to puncture their boats when they got nearer to land because if it was sinking they would definitely be picked up, whereas a viable boat would be towed back in the direction it came from. She heard of one boat where two fathers had died because they were sitting in the middle of the boat, that, of course, being where the water pools the fastest once the boat is punctured.

She said many of the volunteers were very "idealistic" in their views so she preferred to keep her own counsel. My feeling is that I feel so sorry for the genuine refugees, whose plight has been made worse by the economic migrants trying to sneak into Europe. Interestingly, many of those being sent back are Bangladeshis and Pakistanis and while I understand people's wish to better their lot in life, it has to be done through legal channels. Her take on that was that Bangladeshis have always come to Greece for seasonal work and so their plight was also being made worse by the current situation.

She said that she had no idea what to expect but that it was an amazing experience and she hopes to go back to volunteer when she has more leave. When they weren't working at the warehouse they worked shifts cleaning up debris from the beaches and while it was hard physical work she would do it again in a heartbeat.

I'm not sure how she would have reacted had she been there with boats arriving and people drowning, but I have to say I admire what she did (and what others continue to do) and I take my hat off to her.

Thursday 7 April 2016

A cunning business plan!

Yesterday I had one of my regular visits to the gynae - one of the joys of being a woman I guess! Still, I suppose you get used to it and while just like the dentist it is never fun, keeping up with your routine check-ups, to my mind, far outweighs the alternative of sticking your head in the sand.

When I came back from St. Lucia I noticed a small, burn-like mark on my right inner thigh. At first I thought I had scratched myself but this "blemish" just didn't go away and almost looked like a blister. There had been nothing there before - no freckle, no birthmark, etc. - so after a while it began to bother me since I realized that you should be aware of what your skin looks like "on a normal day". On top of that, I had been daft enough to burn in St. Lucia so I decided to keep an eye on it.

So while I was at the gynae's I'm lying there thinking "well, he's a doctor and since his head is down that way anyway ....." What do you do? Do you think "in for a penny, in for a pound" or do you stick to the job at hand? I guess one of the joys of getting older is that in the end you really don't give too much of a shit about what it looks like so eventually I asked him what he thought. He said he didn't think it was anything to worry about but since it had appeared suddenly and was not going away maybe it would be a good idea to check it out with a dermatologist.  When I got back to work, I got the name of a dermatologist from the phone book, called up and have an appointment in a couple of days time.

The reason behind this rambling is because it got me to thinking how fortunate we are here in Geneva to call up to make an appointment to see a doctor and get an appointment in the next couple of days. It certainly isn't like that in France, I can tell you, and from what I understand it isn't like that in the U.K. either. I mean, in France you need to make your gynae or optician's appointment 6-9 months in advance and while that is probably ok if it is just routine stuff, what do you do if it is more urgent?

Of course the reason it is easier in Switzerland is because it is privatized medicine; moreover it is far from cheap! We are very lucky to have excellent medical insurance through work and I was discussing this with my colleague afterwards. The cunning business plan that came to me while sitting on the bus was that say, for instance in the U.K., if you needed to see a doctor but could wait a week, well then that was fine and your visit should continue to be free. (Yes I know it's not free, it's paid through your taxes, but bear with me here). But say you were worried about something and really wanted to get in to see the doctor within the next 48 hours - how about proposing a small charge - say £10 for that "speedy" visit. The logic here being that the £10 charge might stop some people who really didn't need to see the doctor from clogging up the surgery time.

So then we were on a roll. Now non-urgent visits would continue to be free and urgent visits would be charged a flat rate of £10. Then my colleague chipped in that, better still, if it turned out that you hadn't been wasting the doctor's valuable time and that you really did have something seriously wrong with you, well then you would get your £10 back.

We both looked at each other and she said "well there's good news and bad news. The good news is 'here's your £10 back', the bad news is ....." and we both burst into fits of laughter ("sorry mate but it's terminal").

Somehow I think our master business plan needs a little fine-tuning!

Wednesday 6 April 2016

Like mother like daughter - somewhat!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I am a great rugby fan and love to watch the internationals in particular. For a while, my second son and I were members of the England Rugby Supporters Club and would travel to a match if possible. One particular match, in around 2003 I think, had England playing France in Marseille, so while it was a good trek to get down to Marseille, we were lucky enough to have friends who live in Cavaillon and who were kind enough to put us up the night before.

The nice thing about rugby (apart from the game of course) is the atmosphere and camaraderie, so at a rugby match you never have supporters segregated like you would at a football match - which is the way it should be for heaven's sake - it's supposed to be sport! Anyway, Jordan was about 10 at the time, I would guess, and he and I went to the match in our England shirts but ended up sitting right in the middle of a huge group of French supporters. We could hear them ribbing us in French of course but it was all good natured and we didn't let on that we understood every word they were saying. The look on their faces when this little boy turned round and answered them back in perfect French was sheer bliss!

Now the cockerel is the symbol of France, hence "le coq sportif", and at one particular break in play, when the trumpeters started up, the man sitting next to us pulled a live cockerel out of his backpack and it started crowing like crazy, probably relieved to be out of that bloody back pack.  Was it cruel - probably - but the cock didn't seem to be too much the worse for wear (unlike the French supporter), but it was indeed pretty funny.

When Jordan was about eight he and his friends joined the local rugby club - Rugby Club le Môle, named after the local Môle mountain.

Anyway, Jordan and his friends were only young and it was a great way for them to socialize and get plenty of exercise, and while the parents do end up running around like crazy to get the kids to matches and practice, the atmosphere is always great.

One year, "pap" and "ammie" were over from the States and we took them down to watch Jordan training. It was a scorching hot afternoon so we tried to stay in the shade near the buvette (the little drinks stand). This being France, they didn't only sell coffee and soft drinks, but also wine, beer and probably a few other things hidden surreptitiously behind the counter! So my husband, "pap" and I had a couple of beers, much to the disapproval of "ammie". After a while, of course, I was bursting to pee, so I tootled all the way over to the other side of the grounds to get to the locker rooms, only to realize after I got there that they were locked - of course! So I had to tootle slightly faster back to the buvette to get the key off old pappy behind the bar. Again I tootled back, this time somewhat more urgently, key in hand, and began looking for the loo, only to be horrified at the sight of what are called "toilettes turques" here - I hate the bloody things. I mean I really cannot see any point to them at all and being a woman makes it even worse!

Anyway, I was desperate so after a bit of acrobatic manoeuvering I managed to pee, keeping my feet relatively dry and not falling down the hole. As I got up I grabbed hold of the chain to flush it - and got completely soaked from top to toe! As you can imagine, I didn't really know what to do except trudge my way back to the stands to puzzled looks.When I told my son what had happened he burst out laughing - apparently I had peed in the main shower - the first shower that they go into fully clothed when they are really muddy to wash off as much crap as possible, before stripping and getting into the "real" showers! The toilets were off to the right!

I said before that "ammie" didn't approve of us drinking beer - well she was even less impressed by the state of me when I got back from the loo, I can tell you. Perhaps one too many?

Jordan eventually quit rugby after breaking his collar bone for the third time. His friend Daniel went on playing and is now a young man mountain playing professionally for a local club. I was lucky enough to watch him play on Sunday as the match was on TV and I have to say I am pretty impressed - but then I would be wouldn't I!

Anyhoo, moving seemlssly on, I saw the sad news that comedian Ronnie Corbett had died last week, and while I can't say I was a particular fan, I will leave you with one of his "one-liners" that had me tittering.

"It has today been reported that a van carrying 10 prisoners has collided with a cement lorry on the M25. Police have been warning people to be on the on the look-out for 'hardened criminals'!