The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Wednesday 28 February 2018

And so it's back to the grindstone for me!

I got back from Costa Rica on Monday and so on Tuesday it was back to work for me. I had a wonderful time, with a great guide and travelling companions, wonderful weather and of course it's a beautiful country anyway, so what's not to like. I'll have to get my photos sorted before I post them here but suffice it to say I just fell in love with the wonderful animals and vegetation as well as the beautiful country, so I will post more next time.

I flew into London the night before my departure just in case an upcoming snow storm might stop me from leaving Geneva the next day. Before I made my way to the hotel I stopped over at the Air Canada desk in Heathrow to ask about the possibility of upgrading my flights. The lady was very helpful and told me that there looked to be quite a few empty upgrade seats but that she would advise me to do it the next day (the day of travel) as the seat upgrades would then be much cheaper. "Oh, and you do have your ETA visa don't you?" Say what! She was talking about the entry visa into Canada. I explained that my travel company hadn't mentioned that and I hadn't thought to look as I was only transiting Toronto Airport. I had checked visa requirements for Costa Rica of course but not for Canada as I assumed that since I wasn't leaving the airport I wouldn't need one. Wrong!!! But she gave me the link to the site and within about 10 minutes I had my visa ....... buuuuuuuttttt the visa was sent to my email and I couldn't access it! I tried over and over again but no luck. Bloody hell, fancy falling at the first gate. However, once I had made my way to my hotel I mentioned my problem to the lovely young (Polish) girl on the desk who then spent ages with me trying to get into my email via my phone and her phone and so on. In the end she had me do the visa request again but send it to the hotel's email and she was able to print it for me. Thank goodness. In fact, as I found out afterwards, Canadian immigration can check your visa status by your passport number so it would have been all right in any case but I didn't know that at the time. I was so relieved that later that night I logged on to the Premier Inn's web site and thanked the young woman by name for spending so much time with me and told management that she was a credit it to them. I know I've said it before but I say it again, these institutions wouldn't be able to function without the hard-working Eastern Europeans in their employ in addition to the hard-working Brits, hence my referencing her nationality. Well done and thank you Nikky.

So the next day I went back to the Air Canada desk and was able to upgrade the first leg of my journey - from London to Toronto. I was dead chuffed with myself as I hate flying and having a little more comfort has got to help. On a whim I decided to make my way up to the Maple Leaf Air Canada lounge and in the lift on the way up there I chatted briefly to a Canadian lady heading the same way. She went into the lounge first and afterwards I asked if my upgrade entitled me to use the lounge too but the receptionist said unfortunately not. Well the Canadian lady overheard this (not that it bothered me one way or the other) and she came back and said that she thought that she was entitled to bring a guest in and so I became a "guest" and went off to treat myself to a lovely free breakfast. So thank you again kind Canadian lady! You see, there are nice people in the world.

Not that I was "gifted" with a "nice" person sat in front of me on the flight though! An older man and what turned out to be his 35-ish year-old son sat in front of me in the bulkhead - you know, where the extra leg room is. Fair enough, they had already reserved their seats. The son looked like Shaggy in Scooby Doo, and immediately after take off he jammed his seat straight back into my face. Now, I don't like reclining my seat into the face of the person behind me as I don't think it's fair, but I didn't say anything as he is entitled to do what he wants. When they came round with the meal, though, I asked the flight attendant to ask him to put his seat up while we ate - which he did. However, "Shaggy" literally inhaled his food, stood up, looked over at me and said "coming back", at which point he rammed his seat back knocking my tray all over me. So I tapped him on the shoulder and asked if he would mind putting his seat upright just until I had finished my meal. But get this, his answer was "if you wanted more space you should be in business"! I was stunned. Luckily for once I thought fast and said I didn't want more space I just wanted the space I had paid for but he obviously didn't give a sh*t. So I just said "I've got two words for you and the second one is off - figure the other one out if you can!" Then I looked at his dad and said "you must be so proud", after which I got up and moved to a vacant seat to avoid the asshole completely. But the poor chap who had been sitting next to me got to put up with "Shaggy" bouncing around in his seat to the beat of his very loud music, banging into the seat back constantly. I told the guy to move but he decided to go to sleep instead.  When "Shaggy" and his dad got off I saw him going through business class, pick something up off one of the seats (a blanket I think) and stuff it in his rucksack. Way to go Shaggy - I hope you get everything you deserve in life!

I don't like confrontation but this guy's behaviour was totally out of line.  Still, the world was put to right again once in Canada by a lovely old Sikh security officer at Toronto airport. One of my lady travelling companions set off the alarm going through the scanner on the way home so he pulled her over. She explained to him that she had had a hip replacement that had some metal in it so he called a lady over to check her out. Then I set it off because of the metal in my shoe lace eyes so he made me sit down and take my shoes off to go through again. As I was doing that two of our travelling companions waved goodbye to us so I ran over and gave them both a kiss, as did Ruth, the "hip" lady. So the elderly Sikh started complaining that how come he never got to get any kisses and life just wasn't fair and so on - really good naturedly. After we were found to be no longer a "security threat" he called us both back and handed us a candy! At which point Ruth said "take a look at his feet, he's got odd socks on (he had). How would you fancy trusting your security to a guy that can't even match his socks?" It was really funny but I don't really think anyone's security was compromised by the state of his footwear in the end. Still, a little harmless banter certainly makes the miserable business of travelling so much easier, don't you think.

And finally, as we were just a small group of six Brits on this tour, one night we were discussing our favourite comedy shows and someone mentioned The Vicar of Dibley (I loved that programme).I was therefore so sad to learn that Dawn French's half-witted sidekick verger (the lovely Emma Chambers) had died of a heart attack. She was only 53 and from what I understand was severely allergic to animals and also severely asthmatic which (I believe) triggered the heart attack. Rest in peace Emma Chambers and thank you for the laughs!

Thursday 15 February 2018

Screaming kids!

That bastion of truth in journalism, the Daily Fail, had this video posted on its website yesterday. I sometimes check out the site just for a laugh at Kim K and the likes but more and more I just find it irritating so I don't bother with it. This video, however, was taken by a passenger on a flight from Germany to New Jersey and apparently this kid screamed for the whole eight hour flight.

Now I don't know if he possibly had health problems (autism?) that made him act like this but I can't help feeling that if that were the case I just wouldn't fly with him, or at least get his doctor to give him something to calm him down. I happen to love kids (even those that aren't my own!!) but I have to admit putting up with this for an entire flight would test my metal, I can tell you. Judgmental? Maybe, but eight hours of that would test the patience of a saint - and surely that of his mother!

If on the other hand there is nothing wrong with the kid, how the hell is this mother (those parents?) raising their kid. Sorry but in my house I was always the boss and while I loved my kids to bits there is no way they would have got away with it.

Since we were an anglo-american couple working in Switzerland my kids have flown from day one and they never behaved like that. It was bloody hard work on me though as I would spend the entire flight making sure that they were amused/happy/fed - whatever it took to keep them from disturbing others. Other people seem to manage to do it too. I know it's hard work but that's the price you pay for travelling with kids I'm afraid. I don't think anyone would ever blame a very young child for crying on take off and landing because the change in cabin pressure can obviously hurt their ears, but I am talking about babies here, and this was obviously not caused by cabin pressure!

And talking of hard work, I remember one time many years ago flying to England with my kids. The little one was probably about six or seven so the oldest would have been about 10 or 11. That day there was a problem with the entire civil aviation radar covering the south of England so our flight, which should have landed at Gatwick, was diverted to Stansted Airport. And we sat on that bloody tarmac for about four hours, if I remember right. Now if we had been allowed I would have left the plane there, rented a car and driven the rest of the journey, but of course we weren't allowed to do that. So I set about getting games and papers and pencils out and played with my kids for the entire four hours.

For about an hour we played hangman. Jordan being only little his spelling wasn't that great so he would look around for a word somewhere in the plane and use that. It became a bit obvious when we got

S E A T B E L ?

don't you think. So just to wind him up I would suggest the last letter was "O"! He would go "Mommy, SEATBEL-OOOOOO! Don't be so silly". And on and on it went. Eventually we were able to re-route back to Gatwick Airport, very tired but glad to have made it. As I was travelling with kids I waited until everyone else got off and one man - businessman type - stopped by our seats as he was leaving, leaned over and said "I think your children have been marvelous. So absolutely perfectly behaved!" I could have cried as I was exhausted but thank you Mr. Businessman, you made my day!

I'm off on my trip to Costa Rica tomorrow (well, first spending tomorrow night in London then on to CR on Saturday) so I may be "incomunicada" for a while. Let's hope that kid isn't on my flight!

Monday 12 February 2018

This and that!

It was a pretty quiet weekend "chez moi", which was rather nice. No real plans and since the weather was crappy I like it "quiet". After running to the market I made the mistake of thinking I would "just pop in" to a local store as I wanted to replace both bedside tables in my bedroom. They were originally from IKEA and while I have nothing against IKEA stuff these had seen better days. So I decided to hop on the motorway and go to a store near the Swiss border. Big mistake! You see, the Swiss schools are out this week for spring break so the bloody motorway was chocabloc in both directions with people heading up into the mountains to ski. It was made all the more chaotic since there is a large toll point on this particular stretch of motorway (about 18 toll booths) which would slow the traffic down anyway, but this traffic was just such a royal pain in the butt! Had I given it any thought I would have realized it would have been better to take the back roads but you live and learn I guess. I did buy a couple of cheap and cheerful bedside tables and two new rugs to go with them and they are a vast improvement over the previous look so all was not lost.

Later on Saturday I got to watch England play Wales in the rugby six nations! Lovely! It was a pretty good match which England won (yay) although against anyone else I support Wales as my mom was Welsh. After that I managed to catch British chef Nigel Slater on his culinary travels through Turkey. He was invited into various Turkish homes, many of them peasant farmers, but the food they cooked looked out of this world. I am no expert on Turkey as I have only been there twice but it is a country I would definitely take great pleasure in going back to. The next evening he was travelling throughout Lebanon and again, although I didn't catch much of that programme, the food looked fabulous. I have to say though, that while the ingredients in these countries are usually first class, there is a reason it takes so many women to make such fabulous feasts. The workload involved serving up meals like these would probably be beyond most modern day Western families where both partners work outside the home. Shame really as the act of sitting down together with family and friends to such wonderful food is something that I feel we have lost out on.

And talking of wonderful food, I found the time to type up the Pad Thai recipe from my course last month. Again I have to stress that the seasonings/sauces are all very personal so I think you can "wing it" an awful lot once you have the basic ideas. I hope you give it a shot.

Pad Thai
(for 4 people)

For the sauce

-           1 litre of water
-           300 cl tamarind juice (we just put a couple of good dollops/tablespoons if I remember right)
-           4 tablespoons fish sauce
-           200g palm sugar
-           5 tablespoons sugar (I would probably put less as I find it a bit sweet)
-           4 shallot onions finely chopped
-           soy sauce (to taste)
-           salt

Boil it up and simmer all together for about 20 minutes.

Pad Thai

-        800g rice noodles. This teacher soaked the raw noodles in cold water for about two hours. Another teacher that I had covered them with boiling water for about 20 minutes, then rinsed them out in cold water before cooking with them. Your choice!
-        3 or 4 tablespoons of the above Pad Thai sauce
-        32 shrimp (about 8 per person). We de-veined them and butterflied them but left the tails on.
-        60g beansprouts
-        40g fried tofu, cut into cubes. This wasn't easy to find so I guess you could just use regular, firm tofu (not silken)
-        4 tablespoons roasted and crushed peanuts
-        small quantity of chives
-        3 garlic cloves, crushed
-        2 eggs
-        2 tablespoons vegetable oil
-        3-4 tablespoons oyster sauce
-        4 tablespoons sugar (again I would probably reduce this slightly, but that is just my taste)
-        2 limes sliced (for decorating) and a little chili poweder

Add oil to pan and cook the garlic gently. Don't let it burn. Add the Pad Thai sauce (as above) and the shrimp plus a drizzle of water. Then add the tofu.  Cook for a little while. Add the beaten eggs, a handful of noodles and a little water, if needed.

Add the oyster sauce, the sugar, the chives and the beansprouts. Mix thoroughly. Sprinkle with the peanuts and the chili pepper and serve with lime wedges. Enjoy!

Back to the weekend, later on Saturday evening I had a binge watch of season 2 of "Desperate Housewives" (I know, which planet have I been on these last 10 years). When it first came out I saw about 20 minutes of the first episode and thought "yuck" - just a bunch of too pretty women with too pretty homes running around being vacuous. Which probably just about sums it up really but when my friend offered to lend me the series I kinda became hooked. Of course that has nothing to do with the fact that I find "Carlos" absolutely gorgeous. Nothing at all!

"Carlos Solis"
Strangely enough I did the same thing with "Downton Abbey". Couldn't be bothered to watch it and then when someone lent me the box set I got hooked. It doesn't always work out that way though as another colleague lent me "Dexter" and I tried valiantly to get through two DVDs but it was just way too weird and waaaay too violent for me so I gave it back unwatched.

I was slightly more productive on Sunday mind, and made a madeira cake (I have had a craving for one of those for ages - reminds me of my childhood), a lentil soup and a potato dish that my former boyfriend's (Algerian) mother gave me the recipe for. Delicious!

Then a friend and I decided to brave the cold and catch the last day of a patchwork exhibition by a small club in Geneva. And again, as always, it never ceases to amaze me how talented these ladies are. I can only hope to be half that good sometime in the distant future (and that's pushing my luck, to be honest).

The lady that made this patchwork is 93 years old!

I've seriously got to retire. I mean all this "working" baloney is seriously eating into my interests! Just another couple of years to wait!

Friday 9 February 2018

A recipe for Sam (I think)!

Sam mentioned in one of her comments would it be possible for me to write up some of the recipes from my Thai cookery course. While the course was very good the lady's written recipe sheets were a bit "hit and miss", to say the least. While she indicated that the recipe was for four people when it came time to add in the sauces I suspect the amounts indicated were for one person since she wanted us each to cook our own individual meal. So this is what I made of her missive. Will try to type up the others when I get the chance!

Beef with Thai basil

For 1 person

-        2 tablespoons vegetable oil
-        400 g good quality filet steak (about 14 oz), finely sliced
(I suspect this is for 4 people so for one person you probably need less. I guess you would have to "wing it" as far as quantity goes)
-        2 tablespoons oyster sauce
-        1 tablespoon soy sauce
-        2 teaspoons sugar
-        one or two tablespoons water
-        1 tablespoon fish sauce
-        ½ pepper (red or yellow look prettiest) sliced into strips
-        ½ onion cut quite chunky
-        2 garlic cloves, finely minced
-        1 birds eye chili
-         a few Thai basil leaves
-         ground pepper to taste

*        Heat the oil in a pan (it doesn't have to be a wok). Add crushed garlic and chilli pepper and cook gently.

*        Add onion and sliced pepper and cook slightly. Add oyster sauce, soy sauce, sugar, fish sauce and 1 or 2 tablespoons of water.

*        Cook for a few minutes before adding the beef and the Thai basil. Do not overcook the beef.

Serve with jasmine rice which has been rinsed in cold water before cooking.

Note:          The quantities for the sauces are very personal – they are what was written on my recipe sheet and I think they are for 1 person, but I suspect the 400g of beef is for 4 people not 1 person. I like my food quite salty so I would probably add more fish sauce/soy sauce. Our lady teacher was rather vague about quantities as it is very personal.

Thursday 8 February 2018

Votes for women!

I was pleased to see many articles/programmes this week to mark the 100th anniversary of the "Representation of the People Act 1918" wherein some women in Great Britain and Ireland were finally granted the right to vote under certain circumstances. Under this Act, all men over 21 were granted the right to vote but only certain women over the age of 30 who held £5 of property or whose husbands did were granted that right. There is much debate about the tactics used by the militant suffragettes as opposed to the lobbying of the moderates but whichever way you look at it, 100 years later we women owe a debt of gratitude to those ladies, many of whom suffered indignities, force feeding, imprisonment and torture in order to obtain what I consider a basic human right.

Mrs. Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters
In the same vein, I very much enjoyed the film Made in Dagenham which was based on the 1968 strike of machinists at the Ford factory in Dagenham, Essex, to lobby for equal pay with the men. Those brave women took their case to the then Secretary of State, Barbara Castle, and when Ford threatened to pull out of England if they continued to push for equal pay, the wonderful Barbara Castle stood with the women and went head-to-head against Ford. Amazingly Ford eventually backed down and went on to become, apparently, a "model employer as a result". The actions of these women became the catalyst for the 1970 Equal Pay Act. It's a funny and moving film but I don't think we women today realize just how brave those wonderful ladies were going up against such a patriarchal society.

The original ladies - Barbara Castle is 4th from the right.

Made in Dagenham - the movie!
When we were talking about this on the bus the other day my colleague was telling me that she had just watched the latest episode of The Secret Life of Kids and in tribute to the suffragette movement they had, for the first time ever, filmed a programme entirely with little girls. In this episode, the girls were asked what game they wanted to play buuuuuttt not all of the girls were given the vote. After that, they were invited to choose what they wanted to have for desert - ice cream or a cupcake - and again they weren't all allowed to choose. Finally, a little later they were all given the vote on a third subject and my colleague was saying how quickly these little kids realized that only some people getting to "choose" was totally unfair!

On another note, we had our third boardgame evening last Saturday at our former neighbours' new home. Crikey that was quite the "drive from hell" getting up to their place, it being at 1,200 metres with narrow roads slick with ice, but we got there (and back) all right and had a lovely evening. This time round there were 12 of us (one new gent - a friend of our hosts - joined us). At one point poor Alexandre, our other neighbours' 15 year old son, had to mime a striptease artist playing golf. Poor kid. He is pretty shy at the best of times so for him to get that one really tested him but showed what a good sport he was by giving it his all. We spent the last hour or so of the evening playing (or, re-learning how to play, I should say) a card game called belote. I had played it many, many years ago, before I was married, and I remember it being the kind of game that you could start playing at 9 p.m. and keep on going until you keeled over at around 5 a.m. so I'm kinda hoping we keep this game as one of our mainstays. My youngest son and his gf also came along again and I have to say it is really nice to have the "youngsters" joining in with us old fogies by their own choice!  Jordan had to mime being a thief climbing onto an elephant (or something like that) and it proved to be a simple but fun game. There was waaaay too much food of course, although I was rather pleased with the way my Victoria sponge turned out. I haven't made one of them in donkey's years so it was  real treat.

My son being "a thief"!

It was slightly awkward at the end of the evening as one of our group had been "collared" at the mail box by another neighbour (who is not known for her friendly disposition) and having heard about our little group somehow she was basically fishing for an invite to join! What to do? In the end we decided that the group was already snowballing and 12 seemed to be a reasonable enough sized group to accommodate in one person's home. Since this particular neighbour and her husband wouldn't be anyone's first choice on the Christmas list we decided to limit our group size for the moment. I think when my friend mentioned that if we let the Bs join our group then Mrs. Tupperware (so-called because she was a Tupperware rep) would probably want to join, and with the best will in the world she can (and does) talk the hind leg off a donkey so I think our decision became a no-brainer at that point. We'll see how it evolves I guess, as it might be easier to accommodate a bigger group in the summer when we can play outside. Until then it will sadly have to be by invitation only!

Thursday 1 February 2018

Blue moon!

I hope you all got to see what a pretty moon we had last night. It was apparently a magical combination of three different factors that made this "blue moon" such an exceptional one, that combination being so rare that these moons really do only occur "once in a blue moon" - hence the expression. We had glorious weather the past couple of days so I was able to appreciate it over the mountains as I drove home but by about 8 p.m. the clouds had moved in ready to wreak havoc and the moon was hidden. Still it was just beautiful, and judging by some of the photos I saw today some people got even better views than we did.

Photo by Islandvisions - Isle of White
Photo by Peter Mcdiarmid - London
And I couldn't resist Raul Malo singing this:

In other matters, not a lot going on here. We finally had a couple of days of good weather so I have been able to get out and walk at lunchtime and I have also been to the gym here at work when it has been wet. Trouble is, when it is wet, of course, everyone else seems to decide to go to the gym too instead of running outside so it can get a bit crowded. Still, at least I get a bit of exercise in. After I came back from slogging my way round the Botanical Gardens yesterday I saw an article in the news about Angelina Jolie visiting the French President's wife, Brigitte Macron, and taking in a trip to the Louvre. Crikey, beautiful outfit but look at those heels!!! I mean, who among us trudges round the Louvre in those killers!

As I trotted out of our building into the park along the lake for my walk, I noticed that flowers had been left next to a sculpture that I had seen before but never taken the time to really look at, assuming it was some Viking hero.

Turns out it was a sculpture of Georges Kastrioti Skanderberg, an Albanian nobleman. The story (part truth, part myth I suspect) surrounding Skanderbeg is "built in part of the antemurale myth complex which portrays Albanians united by Skanderbeg as protectors of the nation and Christendom against "invading Turks" (taken from Wikipedia so who knows). Anyway, his statue being strewn with flowers, I guess by local Albanians, at least it drew my attention enough to actually go up and read the attendant plaque after all these years.

And moving seamlessly on, on Monday night I went to my usual sewing club for a good natter and to try to catch up on some household/patchwork sewing which I can't be arsed to do during the week. I caught up with a bit of homework from my last patchwork course in December, shortened a pair of trousers and was working on cutting down a couple of pillowcases that were just too big for my pillows. One lady there had made a beautiful, totally reversible polka dot jacket, so she kinda made my pillow case repair look slightly sad but to be honest I enjoy the yacking as much as I appreciate getting some things repaired that I am just too tired to attack that on a regular work night!

Then on Tuesday I had my once-a-month patchwork lesson in Cluses. We were having a go at free motion quilting and to be honest I didn't really enjoy it. Lydie, our teacher, was quite honest about how difficult it can be and how uninspiring until you get the hang of it, but at this early stage I think I would rather quilt by hand than have that thing run away with me! Add to that the fact that the machine foot required to free motion quilt on my machine costs over €100 and the rulers/stencils being pretty darn expensive too, I think for the moment I will give it a miss.  Next lesson we are going to start making a rather pretty storage bag so we will see how that turns out.  Because I had missed the last lesson as I had to work late Lydie very kindly stayed late to help me catch up with the others. She never makes an issue of staying late anyway as long as someone needs help but it meant I didn't leave till 11 pm so a long day all in all. I go straight from work and since I leave for work at 7 a.m. I am pretty much on my knees after these lessons.  Still, I am still enjoying it so I guess I shouldn't complain too much.

And finally, Steve called me last night, just back from his trip to Antarctica. He said it was just wonderful and neither words nor pictures can do it justice. It's a pretty expensive trip but one I guess I might consider once I'm retired as he waxed lyrical about it. It's great to see he's just as enthusiastic as ever. Good for him is all I can say!