The view from my window

The view from my window
The view from my window

Tuesday 26 June 2018


I've been missing in action for a while due to the frantic pace of things here. It's not unexpected at this time of the year and I don't mind at all - but hence the reason I haven't posted much lately. I know when my busy periods are and can work around them but it does mean that sometimes I am just too tired to blog!

So what's new? Oh yes, the Fête de la Musique is over and my goodness what an event that was. There are music events all over - here in Geneva and in France too of course. It's pretty much constant for a few days - one solid, jam packed session, if you will. What I think is a nice touch is that in Geneva they put out pianos on the pavements for people to play if and when they feel like it, and there was a lovely video in the local newspaper recently of a Swiss police officer playing (rather well, I thought) at Geneva train station.

I read in today's newspaper that there were 550 events in 28 different locations attended by approximately 200,000 people. Not bad eh!

Talking of the local newspaper, this morning when I got on the bus I just made it ahead of a gaggle of school kids - about 30 of them I would say, around 10 years old. Oh the noise - it sounded like a fishing trawler coming back to harbour! Not that I mind as I like kids really. Anyway, I was flicking through the local "20 Minutes" freebie newspaper on the bus to check out the weather when I realized two young lads were surreptitiously trying to read over my shoulder! In the end I just handed them the newspaper and said "here you go". Well the one started complaining that "why couldn't he read the newspaper" so I fished my book out of my bag and handed it to him. (The Last Tudor, by Philippa Gregory). It took him about five minutes to realize that it wasn't in French - though I'm not sure quite why it took so long to figure that out. Then the other young man asked if he could read it, so I handed it to him and he could seemingly read a little English. He ended up keeping my book for the entire length of my journey. The teachers were laughing because they were absolutely silent trying to figure my book out. The funny thing is that the ticket inspectors got on and I had since picked up the 20 Minutes again and was doing that little puzzle - you know the one where there are two seemingly identical cartoons and you have to spot the seven differences. So here's me struggling with the "spot the difference" cartoon and Little Billy next to me reading "The Last Tudor". Irony at its best!

In other matters, some time ago a colleague had given me the names of various beauty spots that were worth visiting in the local area. I always write down the names of these places but recently decided it was time to get back into exploration mode. I decided on a place called Chanaz, which is about 75 km from here. So on Sunday two friends and I set off down the motorway towards Annecy to try to find it. Now I didn't want to follow my GPS which was trying to take me through a place called Rumilly, so decided to take another route which seemed to be more direct! Ha, it was more direct all right - it took us over a mountain pass called Col de la Chambotte, and while I don't mind mountain driving I swear if there had been another coat of paint on my left side the cars coming up the pass would have taken the side off my car!  Talk about tight!  But, buuuuuut, oh my goodness, when we got to the top we had a view over Lac de Bourget which just took your breath away! I mean, I have been here over 35 years and this place is still capable of taking my breath away!

Col de la Chambotte
Eventually we made it down the other side and in about 20 minutes we found Chanaz, and again it was absolutely stunning. I can see why my colleague had been telling me to visit.  It is located on the Canal de Savières, which leads directly into the Lac de Bourget, which is (apparently) France's biggest natural lake!


We had actually planned to visit Chanaz last Sunday but for some reason didn't get around to it - which turned out to be a great piece of procrastination in the end because, unbeknownst to us this Sunday was the day they were holding their annual Venetian Carnaval parade - and we arrived right in the middle of it!  Of course we didn't have a snowflake's chance in hell of being able to eat on the waterfront since it was "by reservation only" so we scrambled up hill to what turned out to be a delightful little outdoor restaurant serving a very limited menu but of wonderful food.

By the time we had finished eating the Carnaval procession was just setting off so we were again in the right place at the right time! Aren't they fabulous!

They all looked wonderful but goodness knows they must have been so hot in those costumes as it was scorching. After that we decided to have a little "shufty" in one of the local gift shops which was beautifully presented on a stationary barge. I bought a couple of things as Christmas presents (I like to pick up Christmas presents all year round), and a lovely bag of hand-made chocolate for work.

The Sale Gosse gift shop!
After that we took a 90 minute boat trip along the canal up to the lake - again very pretty!

And finally, on the way back to the car, we got to see the lock being used to raise and lower boats in and out of the lake and onto the canal. No matter how many times I see it I am still in awe of the engineering!

Our boat coming back from the lake to the canal.
What a beautiful day that was - like I say, some days really are just diamonds!

In other news, I am still looking into the figures for possibly retiring early - that is to say at Christmas this year. It is coming as quite a shock to me even as I have always had it in my mind that I will go at end 2020 and now here I am (potentially) just six months away from retirement!  Our pension fund has confirmed my calculations and I keep running the figures through the French tax system to see if there will be any nasty surprises but so far nothing. The last thing I am waiting for is confirmation from the French bank of the total amount payable in Swiss francs in order to pay off my mortgage in January 2019. Depending on that figure (and I have pretty much calculated the worst case scenario), then it is up to me, but I am very much leaning towards leaving! It's a bit of a shock actually as I really hadn't given any thought to it until about two weeks ago. I will lose around €1,000 a month, which is enormous of course, but I will still have a reasonable pension. So many people have said "just do it" so I really am inclined to go for it. I can take the stress at work as it really doesn't bother me but having not been well the other week and then with my friend dying suddenly I really think it would be good to go in order to get away from this awful commute, which is currently at three hours a day and rising!  More to follow!

Friday 15 June 2018

This and that!

Oh it's been a really busy couple of weeks here so I haven't had time to blog or even read my favourites blogs - still got a lot of catching up to do!

So where to start? Oh yes, last Saturday we had our latest board game evening at my neighbour's house. Although it threatened rain all day (all spring frankly!!!) we really lucked out and had a lovely afternoon and evening. We ended up simply splitting into two groups this time and playing card games all evening, which made a nice change. D has loads (and I mean loads) of plants, pots, decorations, ornaments and so on in her garden and it all takes an awful lot of work, but like I commented to her, just occasionally all that hard work comes together and you get a snapshot of just what a stunning garden she has created!

Jordan and M playing rummy!

Then the next day we had our annual "clean up the neighbourhood" get together, where our small group of (around) 24 houses all spend an hour cleaning up the area around our homes - to be followed by the annual  "let's all get together to eat and chinwag for the next eight hours" - so that's what we did! I must admit, for the little bit of effort that we all put in our little neighbourhood really does look lovely afterwards.  


Jumping on to totally different news, there seems to be some kind of "push" from the powers-that-be in the UK at the moment to promote weight loss in a bid to cut levels of diabetes II - or at least, that's what it seems like to me as there have been a few, very interesting documentaries on lately promoting pretty harsh calorie-restricted diets in a bid to achieve rapid weight loss and lower the risk of diabetes. The one programme, which I think was called The Fast Fix, took a group of volunteers who showed a higher risk of developing type II, and relocated them for four weeks in a test programme on a strict diet of 800 calories a day in a bid to lower their risk factors. Now a couple of them weren't even fat, which just goes to show that heredity can also be a big risk factor. It was a tough diet to follow but they all succeeded in significantly lowering their blood markers (I can't remember the "proper" names for half this stuff) in addition to dropping weight. One thing though, that kind of diet might be feasible in a control situation like they were in but I, personally, couldn't see me sticking to it if I had also to be looking after kids and a family and going to work. However, the guinea pigs were then asked to follow the same diet once they left the control centre. It was difficult, of course, but they all did it and the results, from a diabetes standpoint alone, were amazing. It was a diet along the lines of the eight-week blood sugar diet or indeed the "Fixing Dad" diet I mentioned in a previous post. All very interesting, to me at least. They mentioned that if you wanted to find out what your own markers/risk factor looked like you should measure your waist at its narrowest point (just above the belly button) then divide that measurement by your hip measurement. Guess who did it! For a woman your result should be below 0.85 (mine was 0.97) in order to be out of the "risk" category, particularly if you have a BMI of 30 or more (I just come under that but "yikes" all the same!)

I can understand why the government would want to push this as the UK is now, justifiably in my opinion, the fat man of Europe and type II diabetes treatment is apparently costing the National Health Service millions! Makes sense doesn't it!  So with that in mind, I have been browsing through pinterest looking at different fitness regimes (well that and the cake recipes and patchwork patterns!!!) and I stumbled across some amazing pictures of older women bodybuilders. Just wow.  Take a look at this lady!

The lady on the left is the amazing Ernestine Shepherd - now 82 years old!
Ernestine in her younger days!

Quite the inspiration, isn't she!

Since I have been really busy (I don't mind at all) I didn't exercise last week and you know what, I missed it. I only managed to walk the last 30 minutes to work three times this week but hope to get back to the gym also next week. Oh, and did I mention that in a bid to get rid of my bingo wings I have been lifting a few (rather puny) weights!  Nothing to write home about but you've got to start somewhere haven't you.  

Image by Shutterstock

Anyway, last weekend I went to the local sports shop to buy some weights. The nearest weights to the ones I wanted were 5 kg each so I bought a box of two - and almost fell over when I picked the bloody box up! I see there is work to do then!  Ernestine can rest on her laurels just a little longer!

Only slightly linked to the above, I wrote a recent blog post on the sudden death of my friend, Ian, and what a shock it was, so with the uncertainty of the future brought home so abruptly to me I started taking a look at the maths and have come up with the notion that I could, if I wanted to, actually retire at Christmas! That's quite an amazing thought after 40 years of work, I can tell you! It would mean I would have to take a lump sum from my pension in order to pay my house off and thus have a smaller pension but it certainly is feasible. In all honesty I am looking at going in two years time at the age of 62 because although my house will be paid off it does need work doing and I want to save up for that first (complete replacement of the heating system to start with). So knowing that I could leave the rat race at Christmas if I wanted to is a very nice feeling. As I said, I'm pretty sure I won't go then but .... Add to that that I want to help out with my son's wedding next year (we booked the château in the village last night - it is beautiful) and that his contract as an apprentice expires end July I will be staying on for a bit, although in reality an unemployed plumber has got to be an oxymoron hasn't it!

"Kick me" (to leave the rat race) - image by Jonathan Marsh
That being said, my sister-in-law's sudden death two years ago knocked my brother for a six and I think brought home to him that life is moving inexorably on. He now has a very dynamic lady friend, also a widow, who seems to be a little ball of energy dragging him (well he's going along willingly) here, there and everywhere! There is such a change in my brother it is amazing. And it's no disrespect to my sister-in-law - she was the dynamo/the doer in that relationship - but, like I say, I think losing her brought home to Phil that life was for living now because you never know!


Phil and M at Rockley Park

Wednesday 6 June 2018

A different kind of happy memory!

Thank you all for your lovely comments in reply to my last post. I have to admit learning of Ian's death knocked the stuffing out of me but it has also brought home to me the urgency of living life in the "now" rather than for one day in the future. Of course, all that has to be within reason, but if Ian hadn't taken the plunge and gone to Bulgaria in 2011 he might still have been waiting for "the day when" .... which of course, in his case, never came!

I remember years ago at college our shorthand teacher gave us all a round disk with the word "TUIT" on it. When someone asked what it was she said it was to be used on those occasions when you were putting things off until you got a "round tuit"! Clever huh! So with that in mind, I went ahead and booked my 60th birthday trip for September. I do not want to be at work for my 60th if only because I can't stand the fuss so had planned to book a holiday in Spain that week. Unfortunately, as I hadn't got a "round TUIT", when I came to booking it that particular trip was fully booked so I had to "settle" for Sicily, although going to Sicily doesn't actually involve "settling" at all does it. It is another one of my solos trips and does therefore mean having to fly back to the UK and then back out to Sicily but I don't mind spending the night before in London. Then for my next winter break I finally cracked and have booked a trip to Sri Lanka at the beginning of March. This trip is with the company I went to Costa Rica with and since I can book my own flights and do not have to go via London I managed to get a pretty good deal with Edelweiss Air from Zurich. Oh how I love my trips! That being said, I can't wait to have more time (i.e. retirement, God willing) so that I can spend more time rediscovering the UK and maybe more locally in France, but all in good time I guess.

And on the basis of "don't wait until you get a round tuit" I booked myself on another vegan cookery course for next Tuesday. Hopefully it will be better than the last one, but I reckon it should be as it is with an up-and-coming vegan restaurant here in Geneva. I am neither vegetarian nor vegan but am interested in both, so last night I thought I would try out a vegan recipe from Deliciously Ella. It wasn't bad but I certainly hope the whole vegan experience is worth all that washing up! Crikey, I don't think I have made such a mess in the kitchen in a long while! Anyway, while I was crashing around in the kitchen I missed a call from U, an old friend who retired back to England five years ago. When I had finished cleaning up Armaggedon (a.k.a. the kitchen) I called her back for a natter, as we hadn't had a good chinwag in ages!

I worked for HR for 20 years and many of those years overlapped with U being the Chief of Personnel's secretary and man did we have a laugh. I obviously can't go into too much detail here but some of things we saw had us in stitches.  Such as:

-  we had a Norwegian chappie who applied repeatedly but unsuccessfully for various vacancies. He was obviously a keen fisherman because every time he applied to us he attached a photo of himself, and in it he was holding a fish he had just caught! Only thing was, with every fresh application the fish got bigger and bigger! Sadly we never recruited him but we both liked his style!

-  then there was the guy who attached a photo (which was pretty usual in those days) but obviously didn't have time to get a professional head shot done. When we looked at his photo he had obviously just taken an old photo of himself at a party or somewhere or other and had cropped the other people out of it - all, that is, except for the hand of whoever was standing next to him with his arm draped mysteriously over his shoulder like something out of the Addams family!

- in "the good old days" every single application got a reply - a "no, sorry", a "let's give this one some further thought" or a "let's take this one a step further". It was a tremendous amount of work and eventually we had to put a disclaimer on vacancy announcements just saying "if you don't hear from us .... sorry"! Anyway, one time U's boss was sifting through the mountains of applications and had put one guy on the "no, sorry" file. Now looking at his photo U decided that he was pretty cute, so she put his application back on the "maybe" file. After which the boss put it back on the "no" file. Rinse and repeat a few times and eventually the boss just had to tell her "nice try, but it's still a no"! Oh well, you can't say she didn't try! Sorry mate!

Now in our company we work in English (mainly), French and Spanish so applicants can apply in any of those three languages. Sometimes, though, you would get letters in purporting to be in English but which had obviously been run through some kind of  "google translate" (had it existed at the time - it didn't) and which was completely undecipherable in any language, so U would put on her best "foreign" accent and read it out to us. Politically correct? Probably not but you have to laugh sometimes don't you!  And then there was the guy who "desperately wanted to work for your organization because he had always wanted to work with mentally disabled people"!!!! Say what! I mean, if this were Doctors Without Borders or something just maybe but really!!! In the end, looking at some colleagues who were around at the time maybe that wasn't so far fetched. Another time we had a lady apply who had no relevant qualifications whatsoever - in fact she had a long-term career as a midwife. Very laudable career of course but not something that would have been particularly relevant to a United Nations-type organization (we're not the UN, but you get the idea).

I remember one time I took a call from a lady in France who worked for XXXX Mairie in France. She spoke so quickly that I didn't really get the gist of what she was saying, but assuming it was a staff member who needed some administrative paper for France I let her continue. Turns out she had a son who "wanted to go on mission". So I asked what kind of qualifications he had - "he just wants to go on mission"! "So is he an economist?" "No, he just wants to go on mission!" "Is he a lawyer specialized in X?" "No he just wants to go on mission!" "Well could he work as a translator?" "No he just wants to go on mission!" In the end, I had to tell her I didn't hold out much hope for her son but he should fill out an online application and we would see. Oh, and by the way lady, assuming your son is over 13 years old, it doesn't really look that good to have mommy phoning trying to get him a job (I didn't say that last bit but I was very tempted! Ever polite me!)!

And finally, at one point I shared an office with an Australian colleague who handled the main input for applications for various vacancies. We would always have a laugh and a joke but she would never tell me anything about who had applied for what - and for that I respect her. It was confidential after all! Buuuut one time she burst out laughing and said "oh the poor sod". When I asked her what she was on about she said that this same person had applied for two vacancies in our company - one as Chief Economist and the other as a delivery driver!!! You know, a bit like "can I apply for the position of Governor of the Bank of England, but failing that are there any openings in the mailing room?"

Happy days indeed. I didn't know until last night but U told me that she reads my blog so in case you're there "hallo matey, good to chat again"!