The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Thursday 26 October 2017


For the third time since I took out my mortgage at the age of 53, I have just paid back an extra 10% of the initial sum! Ouch indeed. My poor savings account looks very sad, I can tell you!  Under the terms of my mortgage, the only time I can pay an additional amount is if I pay a minimum of 10% of the initial mortgage (they obviously don't want people doing this), so since I took out a mortgage of 321,000 Swiss francs, that means I have to save up around 33,000 Swiss francs - and it's bloody hard going obviously.

Even though I live in France (think euros), my mortgage is in Swiss francs, since the French banks want to get their hands on that lovely, stable currency! When I first signed on in order to buy my ex out of the house I couldn't put much extra away since my overheads were pretty high and I didn't know what my new "solo" overheads were going to be. Turns out he was one helluva drain (and not only emotionally)! In very short order I was able to knock around 1,000 euros off my monthly bills without noticing any discernible difference in my and my kids standard of living. It's absolutely ridiculous to live the way we (he) lived - I have been so much better off in so many ways since he has been gone. Ha! Anyway, three years ago I was able to pay my first extra 10%, then the following year the same, and now the same again for the third year in a row. I'm a bit miffed in a way because over three years I have "only" paid off an extra 99,000 Swiss francs - not that I'm knocking that of course - but an extra 1,000 Swissies would have put me at 100,000, which kinda has a magic ring to it don't you think. Still, I have been working on the assumption that I will be able to pay off my 17-year mortgage in nine years, but looking at it now it may even work out at around eight years, if I have done my sums right! And that sounds pretty darn good to me. So I am on schedule to pay the whole thing off in under three years and then I can retire. And that sounds even better! So in my depleted state, if anyone can throw me some breadcrumbs and a little gruel it would be gratefully received (just kidding - "let them eat cake" - said Marie-Antoinette never!). I calculated (haphazardly) once that I reckoned it would save me around 40,000 Swissies in interest. Not sure if that's correct - I will probably have to wait until the end to see how much I have saved - but either way I'll take that!

In other news, "ouch" was also the way I felt when I came back from Greece. I was down 7 lbs in weight but when I got back had pretty much put it all back on. Aaaarghh!!!! That Steve was a bloody bad influence, I can tell you. So, it's nose back to the grindstone and on to the serious business (yet again) of trying to shift the blubber. Oh dear! How come I can do it with money but not with the weight? Beats me!

Monday 23 October 2017

Such fun!

On Saturday I went for my first ever lesson in cake decorating and thoroughly enjoyed myself, although I have to say it is more difficult than it looks. I have to admit I tend to be a bit "slap dash" and kinda think "oh, I've got this" and then find out that really I haven't! I ended up with quite a few holes in the icing because I rolled it too thin but for a first attempt it wasn't bad.

These are the cakes we six ladies decorated - not bad for first efforts are they (mine's the green hat in the middle)!

It was a bit hectic to be honest as I had people coming over on Saturday night so had to dash out and get some shopping in, then race into Geneva for my class, then back and get ready for our "board game evening".  A couple of years ago I had joined the local MJC (community centre, if you like) where they had a board game evening once a month. They said it started at 5 pm so I showed up at 5 on the dot, only to be surrounded by little kids playing tiddly-winks! Apparently the adults show up around 8 pm but nobody thought to let me know! I went a couple of times but as there were already established groups it was kind of difficult to integrate, although the people were nice, of course. Then last year, as we were having our annual neighbourhood clean up I got chatting with Valérie and she said how she would like to join too. Well we went a couple of times but again it was difficult to join in a group that was already used to each other, so rather inspiringly Valérie suggested we do it ourselves in our own homes once a month. So Saturday night was our first "date" at my place and though a couple couldn't make it we ended up being six in the end and had a great time.

I had bought the game "Big Mouth" where you put a kind of "mouth stretcher" in and then have to read words off a card and get your team mates to say them. It was so much fun. I got a great video of Isabelle trying to get her husband to get the phrase but I'll be buggered if I can get it to post. Still, here are a few pictures anyway! A great game if ever you need to liven things up a bit (but watch out for the drool)!


Thursday 19 October 2017

The Psychopath Next Door .....

.... is the name of a book I read a couple of years ago following the appointment of a new head of HR in the large corporation where I work. I obviously can't go into specifics but to say that she was a ***+***++  ***+***++@@ would probably be an understatement! I am lucky I guess in that I rarely sense office "tensions" and "sensitivities" so they hardly ever bother me, but in this case - good God alive - even I couldn't miss it! The terms "sociopath" and "psychopath" are used interchangeably by many, but for me "psychopath" seems to be the more "depraved", for want of a better word. Of course not all sociopaths are evil nor are they criminal but ....... They say 4% of the population are sociopaths, or 1 in 25, so it seems to me that I must be a bit weird never to have realized I was dealing with one before this "gem" came along. As I read this book she lept off the page to me constantly - it was surreal, to put it mildly!

This woman was such an extreme case that even I couldn't fail to see it. Sociopaths are supposedly lacking in any empathy or remorse, which is why they often make good business managers - they are willing to do whatever it takes in the name of the almighty dollar, and to hell with anyone that gets hurt (as long as it's not them)! It also seems to me that they would make good surgeons and the like (for instance) because I guess no-one wants an "emotional" surgeon operating on them do they? Anyway, the She Devil was totally devoid of any talent or competence but with an opinion of herself that must almost have made her head explode. 10 of us filed a complaint against her whereupon she made our lives very, very difficult while scratching and clawing to save her empty soul. It wasn't just us of course - most people in this corporation hated her and we therefore had tremendous support behind the scenes pushing ahead with our complaint. But the price we paid in terms of our physical and mental health was appalling. It is significant that - as far as we know - she was fired from the last four jobs she held and is more than likely continuing in the same vein given that a leopard never changes its spots!

Since coming across so blatant a psychopath that even I couldn't gloss over, I have been absolutely fascinated by them, to the extent that I have just finished another book by M.E. Thomas (a pseudonym) who is apparently a diagnosed sociopath. If you are interested in this, it is quite an eye-opening read! (I suppose I must have looked like a bit of a nutter on the bus reading this too, come to think of it!)

The main characteristics (in a very small nutshell) are lack of empathy, lack of remorse, an opinion of themselves and their skills which rarely has any correlation to reality, an enormous sense of entitlement ... and the list goes on and on! Of course, just like autism, there is a spectrum and I suppose we are all on that scale to some degree or another, but if you ever have the misfortune to end up dealing with someone like we did, this book is an absolute revelation!

My dad used to call them "the wise boys", with their fancy qualifications who used to fly in to a company, throw everything into upheaval, destroy the staff's health and mental stability while wreaking havoc on the company itself, and then fly off leaving a trail of destruction behind them, all the while chalking up another notch on their CV. So if you ever see the mad witch on her broomstick flying over your house with her long blond hair trailing behind her - run for your lives. She is worse than something you would scrape off the bottom of your shoe and she just ain't worth it!

Wednesday 18 October 2017

Giggling schoolgirls!

There is a free newspaper available here in Geneva every day called "20 Minutes". You can always find a copy on the bus or pick one up at the bus stop. I usually don't bother reading it but this morning I didn't feel like reading my book so I grabbed a copy of the 20 Minutes to read. Ha! In yesterday's post I mentioned that we had visited the local exhibition centre on Sunday for the "Creative Hobbies" fair. Well yesterday, they had a practice drill at said exhibition centre to put police, firemen, first responders etc. through their paces in the event of a terrorist event. Apparently it involved over 700 people, and while I'm sure the "hostages" were all volunteers one chap said what a really weird feeling it was with people hiding wherever they could and some feeding information on the "terrorists" to emergency services on their phones. Uughh, it's the kind of place that wouldn't have many hiding places to be honest, but the thought of getting caught up in something like that makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. Having watched another episode last night of "Saving Lives at Sea" (the fabulous RNLI volunteers in the UK), I can only say how eternally grateful we should all be to our emergency personnel!

On another note, and still on the bus this morning, there were two sets of schoolgirls who giggled non-stop from the time they got on until they got off about 20 minutes later! I don't knock 'em because I was one of them many, many moons ago. Oh, how I remember sitting with my friend Vanessa at about age 15 and giggling all the way into town. We must have driven people mad but whadda ya wanna do? That's what schoolgirls do!

I remember one time I was going to compete in a swimming gala and Van was coming into town with me to watch. In those days you got a paper ticket before you got on the bus (if I remember right) and occasionally an inspector (we called them "conductors") would get on and check that everyone had a ticket. Well Van and I were giggling away and she would fold her ticket, then bite down on it with her teeth, then fold it again, giggle some more and so on. Eventually a conductor got on and asked for our tickets. I had mine of course, but she looked up at him all horrified and just said "I ate it!" And I confirmed to him that she had indeed done just that! He must have been so baffled he just let her get away with it and didn't charge her for another ticket!

Then another time, I was sitting with Van on the bus coming home from college. We were sitting on the side seats and I had my arm bent at the elbow hanging on to a support pole. Anyway, a man got on and accidentally stood on my foot.  As he leaned over to apologize to me a stream of drool came out of his mouth, went down my sleeve and pooled in the crook of my elbow. I didn't want to say anything in order not to embarrass him but trying not to giggle with her tittering away by my side almost gave me a coronary!

Another time we caught the late night bus from town back home around 11 pm on a Saturday night, I guess. Of course in the UK we have the double deckers and this particular route had a nasty left turn over quite a sharp bump which made the bus really keel over to the right (since we drive on the left in England). We always sat up top at the back on this particular route (being connaisseurs of that left turn) and this particular night a man who was a little bit the worse for wear sat in the seat immediately in front of us. Well he must have dozed off because when we went round that bend he fell right off his seat and landed on his backside in the middle of the aisle! On hearing our stifled guffaws behind him he turned round and glared at us and said "I suppose you think that was bleedin' funny don't you?" All we could do was say "Who me? No, not me, I didn't think that was funny at all, did you Van?" and then try to stifle our giggles for the rest of the way home.

And finally, one day as we were on the bus going to college, Van was sitting nearest the window and I was sitting in the aisle seat. It was fairly crowded but there were still some seats further up the bus. Eventually a man got on and stood right next to me, leaning up against my left side. I didn't say anything but Van tried to shuffle over nearer to the window, so I followed suit. She then tried to shuffle a bit more but obviously there is a limit to how much you can "shuffle over"! She was again trying to stifle her giggles but I had no idea why, until the man got off and she said "he does that all the time, stands right next to a young girl and rubs himself up and down on her arm!!!!!!!" He had already done it to her so she knew what I was feeling (frankly at this point I could almost tell what religion he was). After that we looked out for him and would break into fits of giggles every time he got on the bus. I only hope he knew why we were laughing, is all I can say. Oh happy days .......

Tuesday 17 October 2017

This and that!

What a glorious weekend that was. Perfect autumn weather and temperatures with just the right mixture of relaxation and getting out and about thrown in.

I have mentioned before that my friends and I frequently go to the theatre to watch what is a very good and very large anglophone drama group. They put on some fabulous stuff and we get to watch plays and musicals that we probably wouldn't otherwise get to see. Simply Theatre is the kids group - ages 18 and under - so when I saw an ad for their latest show - The Magic Toy Shop - my friends and I booked for last Saturday. The show started at 17.30h so we figured it was going to be the younger kids performing, but in fact it turned out to be a simple two-man show, but which was excellent. The main protagonist, "Charlie", went to the magic toy shop as he wanted to be come a wizard's apprentice. The wizard - who conveniently enough was looking for an apprentice (how about that for a coincidence) - decided to set Charlie some tasks to see if he was worthy of becoming his apprentice! It took place on the small stage at the Academy itself and as people walked in Charlie and the Wizard greeted everyone and somehow managed to make a running list of the names of all the "important" people - i.e. the little kids - as they walked in. They called out to the kids by name asking for their help and put on what turned out to be such a great little show. We were the only ones without a little kid with us but it was so, so worth it. All the more so for me as I had a real little giggler sitting next to me and it was a joy to listen to her!

Then on Sunday, our local town held, for the first time, the Foire des Loisirs Créatifs (Creative Hobbies' Fair, I guess). This Fair was usually held in either Lyon or Grenoble but apparently having it in my local town was a roaring success, by all accounts.  Here's hoping it will be repeated. Not exactly a big Fair but good nonetheless. Rather foolishly I bought myself a couple of cross-stitch projects. Goodness knows when I will get time to do those but they were so pretty I just couldn't resist. And, being goody two-shoes, my friend and I decided to walk there and back so got in a 90-minute walk to boot.

In fact, the ladies from my patchwork group were exhibiting some of their work there also and it really was very impressive!

On a totally different subject, a colleague hopped on the same bus to work as me this morning and we got chatting, as you do. Her mom and dad are over from England for three weeks and she was telling me that the neighbours' kids (aged about 7 or 8 I think) asked if they could "borrow" dad to take him to school for show and tell! Dad went along very happily, said there were some "bright little buttons" in those classes and was delighted to be prize exhibit no. 1 as the "funny little foreign man". I told her she should have sent her mom in too as her mom is German, but they thought  "one funny little foreigner" was probably enough for one day. He was really tickled when the kids asked if we had wild animals in England - he should have said yes, lions and tigers and bears, oh my! But I thought it was great that he went along with it all so willingly.

Which got me to thinking ..... year ago, my husband's nephew mailed to us here in France a "flat Stanley" (only this guy was "flat Justin" - for obvious reasons). For those that don't know, flat Justin was a school project that the kids sent wherever they could to friends and family all over to see how far he could travel in the given length of time. In our case flat Justin was about 4 feet tall and folded up nicely into an envelope to make his travel plans easier. We took flat Justin down to our favourite local restaurant and got the owners and kitchen staff to pose, somewhat emabarrasingly, for a photo with flat Justin before he was sent back to his home in Pittsburgh. Aaah, the things you do for kids eh!

Flat Justin

Friday 13 October 2017

Literally speaking

.... otherwise known as "say what you mean"!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I flew out to Greece to meet up with Steve, a friend I met in Peru almost five years ago. We have remained in touch (albeit sporadically) over the years with him coming out to Geneva to visit me for a weekend a couple of years ago, and then again over Christmas 2016. The weather cooperated on that last trip and we had a good laugh together, I guess because we have a similar, very silly sense of humour!

I remember one day as we were driving somewhere Steve mentioned that he would shortly be visiting a friend who had a lovely house called The Round House "because it's round"! Bearing in mind we really didn't know each other that well I suppose it just isn't done to look at someone and say "ya don't say" (meaning "you pillock"!). I just laughed and he realized what he had said. Then when we were in Greece last week, he got talking to a couple in the lovely restaurant I mentioned in my previous post. He was telling them about a place we had "discovered" (another restaurant I think), and it would be easy for them to find "because the walls are white"! Again, I'm thinking "you pillock". What I actually said was "we're in Greece, all the walls are white"! At which point the lady he was speaking to burst out laughing!

I suppose I could be accused of being a bit "literal" myself too though, because I remember giving  one of my recipes to a colleague and saying "first open the packet"!!!! (If you are interested, I mix raw potato cubes with oil and a packet of dried onion soup mix. In the oven for about 45 minutes and "bingo" you have lovely oniony-tasting potatoes). Anyway, I digress, but somehow I don't think it was necessary to tell her to "first open the packet"!

Listening to Steve and his brother talk in Greece I think I know where he gets his "literal" thinking from - it seems it's genetic! Their dad was Polish and had fought in the Free Polish Army during WW2.  After the war he was given the choice of going back to Poland, or emigrating to either Canada or Britain. He chose Britain, where he met his future wife and the rest, as they say, is history!

Anyway, they were both laughing at how dad used to make his sandwiches for his lunch - how he would carefully spread whatever he was having on them to all four corners of the perfectly aligned sliced bread leaving nary an inch of bread uncovered.  Well one day, having bought a pair of shoes which were marked "waterproof", dad decided to find out if that was really true.  So he took a washing up bowl, filled it with water, put his shoes in and carefully weighted each shoe down with a can of baked beans - and then left them there to see if they really were "waterproof"!  I thought this was hilarious and asked if I could put it on my blog - to which the response was "of course".  So, in tribute to Marian W - also known as Charlie the Weaver (I guess we Brits couldn't get our heads around the name "Marian" for a man), I give you the saga of the waterproof shoes!

Marian W ,,,

... otherwise known as Charlie the Weaver!

Wednesday 11 October 2017

Now what have I let myself in for!!

I got back off holiday late on Sunday night. Monday was back to work and Monday night was the "annual general meeting" of our patchwork club. It's funny really because the other sewing club I go to on Monday nights (I alternate) is pretty much tea and a natter - oh and you can bring a bit of sewing along if you want. But this one is much more serious. The lady president takes her job very seriously and in fairness does an excellent job. Now I had had about five hours sleep in the last 48 hours and really did not want to go but ... I also don't think it's right to just not show up to these things. Anyway, Marie droned on and on (in my exhausted opinion) about the different projects they would tackle during the year, plans for the club's 20th anniversary, the date for the Christmas dinner and so on. Also (and this is where she is so dynamic) she was sounding out the ladies' opinions on which kinds of techniques to develop over the year and any courses they would like to invite guest presenters to give. I am very much a beginner and haven't heard of half of these techniques and since 95% of this stuff takes place during the day when I am at work, as you can imagine I was starting to nod off. Then, towards the end, Marie pulled a rabbit out of her hat and, holding up a leaflet, asked what the ladies thought about maybe attending the annual quilting exhibition at the National Exhibition Centre (NEC) in Birmingham, England next year!

At that I stopped snoring and just gave a little laugh. When she asked why I laughed I told her that I grew up 20 minutes from the NEC and knew the place like the back of my hand. In fact, I had considered attending this exhibition this August but didn't get my act together in time to book flights. The NEC is a huge exhibition centre built right next to Birmingham airport and the quilting exhibition is apparently the biggest in Europe, hosting (I think) over 300 exhibitors and with 700 quilts being presented in competition last year!

So on a very preliminary show of hands around eight people said they might be interested, particularly now that "we have someone who speaks English going with us and who knows the area"! My mind immediately went into a mixture of panic and delirium, thinking "oh we could go to Stratford or Warwick Castle or to the Cotswolds" and so on and then I was hit with the thought of dragging 10 elderly French ladies round a massive conference centre and on an off the planes etc. ("Do we have to get pounds? How much is that in 'real' money? Ooooh isn't it scary driving on the left!" and so on). I tell you, I was so dog tired when I got home but still I couldn't sleep - I was having dreams of being chased round the NEC by elderly French ladies with zimmer frames.  Then of course I was dumb enough to mention that Birmingham had a massive "rag" market that was only 30 minutes away by train. Looking it up it has over 350 stalls (not all fabric stalls) but an absolute treasure trove of a market, so again my dreams switched to nightmares of losing an old biddy somewhere in central Birmingham!

My mind has calmed down a bit now, probably due to a decent night's sleep, but it could prove an interesting weekend if we manage to pin numbers/flights/hotel rooms down properly.  We'll see!

One of the many, many halls at the NEC

Birmingham rag market - in the Bullring
On a totally different subject, Tuesday night is the night our local food bank is open to its customers, so Tuesday is the night I take down my donations whenever I have a full crate of goods to donate. The door opens at 7 pm so I make sure to go around 8.30 pm in order not to embarrass any recipients (I have recognized a few people on occasion). When I got there last night the lady looked at me and said how great it was to see me because "take a look at our empty shelves"! I knew from last year that around this period their shelves really empty out as they are only allowed to collect donations outside supermarkets once a year at the end of October. There really was hardly anything left at all! The one older gent explained that they had collected less than expected last year and that there had been more and more demand so they were really hurting at this point to the point that the ladies had had to go out and spend some of the centre's financial donations in order to buy groceries. I was thinking maybe €500 or something like that but no, they spent €100 because they really had to try to eke out their finances!!!! Going down to the food bank always makes me eternally grateful to be in the financial situation that I am, but having just got back off holiday in Greece and to already be thinking about maybe going to Birmingham for what will be an expensive weekend at the NEC, really put into context exactly how lucky I and so many of us are! I make no apologies for my situation, but I sure am grateful for it!

Monday 9 October 2017

And so it's back to work I go ......

Well that went quickly! Crikey! Still, even though time flew by it was a lovely, restful few days - well that is until I spent all those hours flying back! I mean, what kind of idiot flies west to the UK in order to fly back east to Greece? Me I guess. Problem is, in order to get into the same hotel as Steve I had to fly out of the UK so I ended up spending two nights in London before and after my trip. We'll have to re-think that next time, I think.

Still, it was lovely. I have always liked Greece but being able to go at the end of the summer season is wonderful. Nowhere near as hot as it can get in July and August and no crowds! What's not to like. The hotel was ok although had I been on my own I would not have chosen self-catering. But in the end, that was fine too and although I had no intention of "self-catering" anything, not having meals included in the deal meant that we avoided the breakfast, lunch and dinner crush in a buffet-style hotel.  Steve and I stayed on Pefkos Beach in one hotel and his brother and his wife a little further down the road. They were a lovely couple and while we didn't spend our days with them we went out with them a couple of times for dinner and/or drinks (and while both the men wanted to watch the rugby league final towards the end of our stay since I like rugby too that wasn't a problem). The other thing is his brother and wife were both sun birds and spent most days by the pool, while Steve and I dashed from cover to cover trying to stay out of the sun. I suppose in the end, we just did what they did all day except we did it in the shade.

We decided to avoid organized day trips because Rhodes really isn't very big and you can get around on the local buses anyway. I think the organized trip to Lindos was something like €40 and we paid €6 each on the local bus (a 15 minute trip). And oh how lovely Lindos was.

It's not very big at all but has streets like rabbit warrens full of lovely touristy shops. Add in some lovely spice smells and you could be in the souk in Marrakech! I bought a few table cloths/runners while I was there to brighten up my house. I'm sure Steve was thrilled being dragged round all the shops but being the good sport that he is he just kept nodding his head diligently and saying "that's nice". Aaah, love him!

We stumbled across a lovely little restaurant which really drew me because of all the greenery inside and it was a gem. There were only three couples in there (all Brits) and we quickly got chatting to the one couple. They were, I guess, in their 70s and I suspect the man was a widower as he had a ring on his wedding finger.  They explained that they were a couple - with him living in Edinburgh and her living in Brighton and they flew up and down the country regularly to meet up, and then shooting off to (usually) Greece or Spain when the fancy took them. The background music was lovely and at one point the man took her hand and waltzed her gently round the restaurant. It really was sweet to behold!

The owner spent much time chatting with all three couples and when we had finished our lovely main course, he came over with complementary cheese cake for us, followed by limoncello, followed by a shot of something else ..... Steve couldn't believe how friendly they were. In fact, we found everyone to be friendly and hard-working, but you certainly got an earful about "those b"""stards in government" if you had the inclination to listen (we did).

Our regular waiter at the hotel told us that 64% of the population had voted not to accept the bail out plan proposed by the European Union so "what did that jerk of a Prime Minister do? He double-crossed us! At least in the UK you had a vote on Brexit and went with it - that's what democracy is all about!" That was pretty much the sentiment we got from other Greeks too. Our waiter told us that out of season he worked on a small fishing boat with a licence to sell his catch in Lindos twice a week, but the cost of that licence had gone up from €700 last year to €1,800 this year with nothing in return. He worked extremely long days and said that while he was still a young man he could do it, but he was worried about what would happen later. Again, this sentiment was repeated by anyone we spoke to. There was also much resentment that the islands brought in tourist revenue which went straight back to Athens and none of it was reinvested on the islands!

Anyway, back to the plot. We spent a couple of days at the hotel reading (or yacking really - we could both yack for England) and then decided to catch another local bus to visit the old town of Rhodes. We spent a couple of very pleasant hours having lunch in the shade of a wonderful old tree before visiting the old town (more shopping for me, more bag-carrying for Steve).

Rhodes' old town
Then on my final night, dinner with Steve's family (the food was invariably good) and back to dear old Blighty for my flight back to Geneva next day.

Dinner on the last night
The weather in Geneva is glorious, but after the temperatures in Greece I feel like I need my long-johns on! And 6 a.m. sure comes early when you have to get up to go to work .....